As I pen this in early April, Jersey anglers are still left in limbo on what exactly the summer flounder regulations are going to be. Add to that the uncertainty of black sea bass regulations, as we still don’t know the exact scope of either season. Ughhhh…such is life as a Jersey angler…If all goes well, May should have both fluke and sea bass seasons open. More on the details of that next issue. The good news is that May ushers in what is generally considered the best month of the spring for both bass and bluefish action. Plus, winter flounder should still be on the chew in the backwaters as they prepare to make their push out of the inlets into the Atlantic. Most importantly, Memorial Day weekend and the official kick off of summertime fun is here! With such a crazy long winter behind us, be sure to make the most of every moment in the sun! Here’s the lowdown on where to find the fish.
Early April had the bass snappin’ in the back coves of Raritan Bay. Spots such as Union Beach, Keyport Beach, Cliffwood and Pebble all gave up bass for anglers dunking bloodworms from the sodbanks. As May hits, the R-Bay should be going off with stripers on the feed. Bass migrating up the Hudson River will be on their way back down near the end of the month and prime spots to intercept them are back by Great Kills Harbor, the Old Orchard area lighthouse rocks, West Bank and surrounding waters. A piece of cut bunker back sent out on a fishfinder slide rig will easily get whacked by a patrolling linesider. Just be sure to switch up to size 8/0 to 10/0 Octopus Circle hooks to insure a jaw hookset and not a gut-hooked fish as a lot of the bass will be breeding stock of 20 to 40 pounders. Blue dogs should be running rampant inside the big bay, and you definitely don’t want to be undergunned when it comes to battling heavy duty 15 to 20-pound gators. Employ a 7-foot Penn Slammer stick rated for 30 to 50-pound and use a 6500 class reel to put maximum pressure on behemoth blues. Its always a good bet to spool up with monofilament line instead of braided line when targeting blues as their searing runs generally can cause trouble with braided lines cutting through fingers and such. Bunker chunks are obvious best baits, but always bring an assortment of topwater poppers to chuck out as blitzing blues should be visible on the surface as they blow up on bait schools.
If you’re not into big bass this month up on this stretch, then there are no bass around. The boat fleet will be omnipresent from Sandy Hook down to Manasquan Inlet and bass pods could be hanging anywhere and everywhere in between, its just a matter of first, finding the bunker schools, then second, marking them underneath and getting them to feed. While bass will be gravitating to the bunker, don’t fall into the trap of having to be right in the middle of the school to hook up. Many times the bass will hang around the outside of the bunker pod, gobbling down injured bunker that fall out of the protection of the pack. General hot spots delineated by name where striper packs like to congregate include the Shrewsbury Rocks, Jetty Country, Spring Lake Hotel, Red Church and the Deal Seawall. As the bunker bite is usually a good bet fishing from sunup to about 10 AM, work off the jetty tips then, but after 10 AM head out to the 65 to 70 foot depths inside the 3 mile limit to find fish as they move to deeper water once the sun is up. You may also opt to start trolling bunker spoons when the bunker schools become hard to find during late morning hours. Winter flounder pounders should be catching the end of the backwater bite in Shark River as the flatties make an exodus out into the Atlantic to settle into the Mud Hole area waters. Continue to drop bloodworms and fresh clam pieces down in the Shark River harbor to pull on the last of the flatbacks. Chum heavy and hard during morning high tides for your best shot at hooking up. Fluke should be biting pretty good by the end of the month as they start to move out of the back bays and settle up in the 25 to 40 foot depths off the coast. The Manasquan River will probably be the finest spot to target fluke in the early part of the season as keepers up to 4 pounds or so should be hanging on the ledges of the ICW between the Route 35 and Route 70 bridges. Go with fresh baits for early fluke, as in squid strips, live killies, and spearing where fish will be feeding mainly on scent in the relatively cooler waters.
Of course stripers will be a main fare here, but two species will really shine in this area – bluefish and fluke. First, big nuclear sized mutant bluefish of 15 to 23 pounds have been stormtrooping the Barnegat Bay, Silver Bay, Point Pleasant Canal and Manasquan River system the past four years. Its been an all-out insane fishery as all sorts of lures from topwater poppers to plugs to metals are all getting crushed with reckless abandon. Bring only lures you don’t mind losing as the basketball sized mouths of choppers will easily snap off lures and break them relentlessly. Always tie on a top shot of 50 to 60-pound mono leader and utilize a 125-pound TA Power Clip to switch out lures. Blues seem to be biting all day and even into the night. Daytime, simply blindcast lures from the shore or look for blitzing schools if by boat. Night time, try chunking bunker at spots like the seaside Heights Docks at 5th ave or at the Mantoloking Pier. Fluke fishing will be prime time pickins inside of Barnegat Bay within the Oyster Creek Channel, especially between the 33 and 35 cans, Double Creek Channel, the backside of the Dike and further down behind LBI in Marshelder Channel and Grassy Channel. Light 3/8 to ½-ounce bucktails are best bets to drop on the heads of flatfish, just be sure to tip them with 3-inch white Berkeley Gulp! Swimmin’ Minnows along with a fresh spearing. Also, be sure to have a top dropper rigged with a size 3/0 Octopus hook and tip with the same offerings. Don’t be surprised if you pull up fish in the 5 to 8-pound mark with possible doormats in those backflat shallows as the post spawn doormats will hang and warm up in the bay waters until satisfied to move out of the inlet into the warming ocean waters by early June. Early morning sorties along the Barnegat sodbanks could have you into some fun and wild times throwing topwaters against the banks for schoolie stripers. Be on the lookout for those roving packs of big blues intercepting the casts as well. You’ll know when you hook into them.
Short cod have been littering the wrecks from 10 to 15 miles offshore all April long, but early May just might bring in larger model fish. Don’t be afraid to ty further reaching wrecks on the 20 to 50 mile range where resident cod up to 35 pounds stick themselves into with no real fishing pressure to thin the schools out. Shark fishing will be starting up as the first blue sharks are usually hooked this month, with an occasional thresher or early season mako. Once the water temps hit the 66 degree mark, look for sharking to really pick up steam at spots like the Resor Wreck, Fingers, Triple Wrecks and the Mako Hotel. And keep your eyes open for a spectacular sight, this is when we usually have reports of Jaws in the waters – big great whites patrolling the Jersey Shore as they migrate up to their pupping grounds!