As we hit June running in full swing for the summer, there’s a lot of business Jersey anglers should be on top of for the month. First off, blackfish season is closed. Second, fluke season opened on May 25 and extends to September 22 with an 18-inch minimum size at 3 fish per angler in NJ waters, except Delaware Bay where it’s a 17-inch minimum size and 3 fish bag limit. Thirdly, black sea bass season is open from May 15 to June 22 with a 12-1/2-inch minimum size and a 10 fish bag limit. Striped bass, bluefish, winter flounder, cod and pollock are all still open. Whew! Now that we’ve got that straight for this month, let’s get into it. Summer starts kicking off with plenty of bass, blues and fluke in the near shore waters. Fire up the grill and start gathering fresh fillets for the fire!
After fantastic April and May striped bass fishing, will the Raritan Bay continue on its super drive putting up both quality and quantity numbers of bass? Only time will tell, but we should still be seeing linesiders rolling around the waters off the Ammo Pier, between the 9 and 11 buoys, off Romer Shoal and at the mouth of the R-Bay at Flynn’s Knoll, Raritan Reach and Swash Channel. Mojo trolling has really taken off the in area as anglers have been pulling 8-ounce and 4-ounce combo mojos in chartreuse or white and running between 2.5 and 3 knots to get the Mojo rigs working their magic. Not only were boaters into the mix, but shore bound casters were all over pig bass up to 58 pounds! Union Beach, Keansburg, Belford, and Cliffwood Beaches all gave up bass from 23 inches to 35 pounds on a daily basis and it didn’t matter what you threw – bunker chunks, clams, plugs, poppers – they all seemed to produce day and night and they may just still be hanging around the area in June. As of early May, it’s tough to say if the blues are going to be representing hard in the bay, but if they do show, they will be hanging throughout from the Highlands Bridge out to way back in Great Kills Harbor. Bunker chunks will entice them, as will topwater poppers and plugs, just be sure to switch out the treble hooks for single hooks to prevent any hand hooksets from thrashing mouths.
All things considering, a fairly liberal 10 fish limit on black sea bass may just be enough to get anglers out pounding the rock and reef rubble to scratch up a few biscuits. Best spots to hang sea bass will be the Klondike, Farms, Sandy Hook Reef, Elberon Rocks and any other structure in the 40 to 65 foot depths from Spring Lake up to the Highlands. Sea bassing can be done simultaneously while fluke fishing as both fisheries will produce when on the drift. For sea bass, use 40-pound fluorocarbon leader and tie a hi-lo rig fixed with size 2/0 Baitholder hooks and drift with squid and sand eel baits. Depending on the actual water temperatures, flukers will either be concentrating in the back of Shark River, Shrewsbury River and Navesink Rivers if the water is below 63 degrees, but will move to work the frontal grounds in 25 to 55 feet of water if the water temps are in the mid 60’s or higher in June. Start off by using fresh baits for fluke as they tend to key in on the scent when the water is colder and they are moving more sluggish. Drift with a simple three-way swivel rig and use fresh strips of bluefish, mackerel, squid or fluke belly, as well as spearing and sand eels. Hook any bait only once on the hook so it flows and flutters naturally along the sea floor. Stripers could very well be thick as thieves in June, blasting bunker schools from Manasquan through Asbury Park and Long Branch, and the same snag-n-drop tactics on live bunker will work, but look to toss large 3-ounce Polaris Poppers around the bunker schools to pull big bass off for a wild surface strike. And of course, if bluefish are around, they will be all over the poppers and bunker. If they become too much of a nuisance switch your leader up to 80-pound mono or tie on a steel leader.
As of early May, fluke had already been caught in the Manasquan River and Barnegat Bay inadvertently by winter flounder fishermen. That means two things. One, winter flounder fishing should really be firing on all cylinders as the winter flatties prepare to move out of Manasquan Inlet. Try hitting the Inlet, Dog Beach and areas east of the Route 35 Bridge to find the flatties stacked on their exodus out. And two – fluke fishing could really be firing in the river systems in June! Look to drift the ICW between the Route 35 and Route 70 bridges in the Squan River, or if fishing Barnegat Bay, look to make your drifts anywhere from the BI Buoy out to the 33 can and even out to the Barnegat Inlet in Oyster Creek Channel. Small ½-ounce bucktails tipped with bluefish or mackerel strips will get hangers on nearly every drift, also be sure to tip any bucktail or teaser with a Berkley Gulp! Swimming Minnow for added insurance. If you want to tackle a different type of fare, try setting up on a clam chum slick in Barnegat Bay, especially on the lower end of LBI, where black drum of 15 to 50 pounds will be feeding on the mussel and clam beds around the new and full moon tides in June. Simply use a usual striper chunking rig with a size 10/0 Octopus circle hook and use a big gob of fresh clam as bait. While on May 1st, we still hadn’t seen any bluefish come through the area as they have in the past 4 years, there is real hope that June will be the avalanche of choppers. Look to find blues crushing poppers, metals and plugs anywhere from the Toms River Route 37 Bridge, up through the Mantoloking Bridge, Point Pleasant Canal, and Manasquan River system.
Historically, June has been the most active month to target mako, thresher and blue sharks, but with pretty severe restrictions on sharking, many people may not be headed out to target the primordial beasts. As it stands now, regulations call for a minimum size of 83 inches for mako sharks and mandatory use of circle hooks. A better game plan is to put your sights on bluefin tuna, as last year was a tremendous fishery for the bullets, even in mid-June. Hot spots were the 250 to 300 foot depths at the Chicken Canyon, Triple Wrecks, Corvallis and Texas Tower areas where 50 to 250-pound bluefin tuna were aggressive enough to blast topwater poppers into oblivion! The normal plan was to set the trolling lines out with a mix of squid spreader bars, daisy chains, jetheads, feathers and cedar plugs and troll the temperature breaks and structures until the rods tripped. Morning hours were solid for the troll, but by 11 AM, it was best to try and find fishing blowing up the surface on baits like sardines or herring and toss poppers, or if you could mark them, drop Vortex or Butterfly jigs down on top of them to jig ‘em up. The regs for BFT state 2 fish between 27 and 47 inches and 1 BFT 47 to 73 inches. That’s the most liberal regs we’ve had in some time on bluefin, so get out and take advantage of the gift!
Man, tuna steaks, fluke fillets and striper cakes. What could be better to kick off the summer?! See you on the water….