April is such a breath of fresh air! Thankfully, winter seemed to have left us early as water temperatures were definitely on a warming trend even at the end of February. Striped bass were already biting in the backwaters in February, which means by the time this hits the newsstands, there could be a real deal bass bite going down all over Jersey. Add to that the fact that gorilla bluefish have been storm trooping the back bays late April for the past four years and we could have a torrential start to the spring season. Also to note, blackfish season once again reopens on April 1st to April 30th with a four fish limit at a 15-inch minimum size.
How about some winter flounder? Well, actually we don’t really know yet if any flatties have been caught in R-Bay yet, but as flounder stocks seemed to rebound the past three years, I would expect that old school haunts like the Keyport flats, the Morgan Creek flats and Leonardo area to be holding fish in the shallow bay mud. Meantime, it’s all about bass and blues. Early season wormers will be tossing whole sandworm and bloodworm baits from the sod banks at Union Beach, Cliffwood Beach and Pebble Beach, hoping to score with a keeper, though no doubt plenty of shorty bass will be there to gobble up the baits. If you can’t access worms, substitute clams for fresh baits. Big bluefish of 15 to 20 pounds had been ripping through the bay like tornadoes the past few years and this year should be no exception. Look to cast old, mangy topwater poppers switching the treble hooks out with single hooks to prevent any hooks in the hand when releasing the wriggling gators on deck. Look to find schools blowing up bait anywhere in the back by the Ammo Pier to Romer Shoal to Swash Channel and anywhere in between. As bunker schools filter into the big bay, be sure to drift live bunker or chunk bunker inside the bay to target 20 to 40-pound stripers. Those bass could push all the way back into the Highlands Bridge area, but will mainly be hanging around the mouth of the R-Bay, and will be pushing well into the bay back by Old Orchard and Great Kills Harbor as they make their way up the Hudson River system to spawn out.
Since I just got off the water here in early March from flounder fishing, let’s start there. April waters begin to hit the 50 degree mark, and winter flatties should be stacked up in many areas up north, most notably Shark River, the Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers. The gas dock at Shark River is a good bet to anchor up on as mussel beds attract flounder to feed on the outgoing tides. You can also cast from the L Street Pier there and reach the mussel beds or walk down a little bit and make some casts from the Tennis Court bulkhead. Since April marks the reopening of blackfish season, try to target the tog around the inshore areas such as the Shark River Inlet rocks, or even on the rockpiles and structures in 20 to 30 feet of water off of Elberon and Deal. Drop down fresh clams on the Sandy Hook Reef rubble too to search out tautog. I know this may sound strange, but it’s worth a shot to head out to 17 Fathoms, the Farms or Cholera Bank to try for some ling as the past few years, the fishery has transitioned from a winter game into a spring and summer endeavor nowadays and usually by late April, we see them beginning to colonize the wrecks and rockpiles. First run stripers will be patrolling the area waters from Manasquan up to the Atlantic Highlands, and it’s just about intercepting them at any given point in between. The best way to find bass is to either troll around with shad bars and Stretch plugs or do look for the rippling bunker schools and employ snag-n-drop tactics and liveline the bunker under the school. It’s a crapshoot, but generally, the stripers seem to hang around the Asbury Park, Long Branch and Deal area where there are more rocks and snags to hang around.
Yup, flounder here too. Last year offered up flounder poundin the likes I hadn’t seen in years in Upper Silver Bay, the Manasquan River and by the Mantoloking Bridge. We would anchor up in the early part of April and fill the limits up off of Dale’s Point, mainly on the slack and start of the outgoing tide. Those fish moved through the Point Pleasant Canal by month’s end, then stacked up in the Manasquan River by the canal outflow, the Route 70 Bridge, then by the Route 35 Bridge. It was easy to score a two fish limit most days, so you could load the boat with 5 or 6 guys to put together a respectable catch to bring home. From Barnegat Bay to the Route 37 Bridge at Toms River, up into Silver Bay and the Manasquan River and Inlet, look for wolfpacks of huge, and I mean huge like 16 to 22 pound gorilla bluefish crushing bunker schools that seem to be invading the backwaters every spring lately. These big choppers will hit anything from poppers to plugs to metals to fresh bunker and chunk bunker. The fights are insane, just be sure to switch all your treble hooks out with single hooks and to bring pliers to extract hooks out of the knifeblade maws of the blues. The best thing is you can tangle with the choppers by boat or by foot at the Mantoloking Pier, Seaside docks, Point Canal bulkhead or even Dog Beach in the Squan River. Stripers will be making their push into the Barnegat Bay waters, moving through the Barnegat Inlet. A well established clam slick in Oyster Creek channel will attract bass up to 25 pounds and greater to suck down gobs of fresh clams on fishfinder slide rigs with the clicker on. Drifting live spot through the rips of the inlet will also put bass on deck. Surfcasters will tie into their first schoolies by tossing out fresh clams around the low tide hours anywhere from Bay Head down through IBSP. Noontime, low tide hours on super sunny days offer best shots at getting bites as the fish will feed more aggressively as the waters are at their warmest then. Look for water temps to reach the mid 50’s by the end of April.
Offshore wreck fishing was pretty darn slow this past winter, and we can only hope that it picks up in April. Be on the lookout to hit the 20 to 50-mile wrecks to find cod and pollock hanging on the wrecks, starting out by going deep in the 160 to 200 foot range, then plumbing the grounds inward to the 150 to 120 foot depths to see where the stocks may be gravitating to. There’s a chance that porgies may also be sticking around the offshore wrecks. Drop down with a three-hook dropper rig equipped with size #4 baitholder hooks tipped with tiny bits of fresh or salted clam. As you are wreck fishing on the offshore grounds, always keep a keen eye open for any big dorsal fins cruising through the waters which could be thresher sharks or even early mako sharks as well as the haunting great white, which is off limits to catch, but nonetheless wild to witness.
No matter if the fish are biting like mad or not, it’s finally good to turn the corner and have springtime weather here to get outside and smell the salt! Enjoy the month and good luck!