September has come and while we wave goodbye to “Tourist Summer” with its crowded beaches fading in the rear view mirror, we now welcome in “Locals Summer” where the beaches are empty and fishermen replace the general ruckus of beach umbrellas and red Solo cups! The post Labor Day weeks are some of the most beautiful of the year at the shore and the first autumnal vibrations spark saltwater species to get on the bite. Most anglers will be getting their last licks in with fluke as the season closes on September 22. Canyon tuna fishing should really get its momentum moving this month. Unfortunately, black sea bass season is closed for the month of September but will reopen again on October 8th. There is simply no excuse to be inside. Get out into the salt and feel the first kiss of fall fishing!
Historically, R-Bay is the place to be for fluke fishing in September as flatties will move out of the bay and hunker down in the 70 foot depths of Ambrose Channel, Swash Channel and Chapel Hill Channel. Go big with baits, meaning break out 10 to 14-inch fluke bellies or bluefish strips, 2 to 4 ounce bucktails and peruvian spearing to target the largest of fluke plastering the bottom. As we get near the final days of the season, try and bump out of the mouth of the bay out to the Sticks to follow those fish as they move into the ocean. Throughout August, porgy fishing was pretty darn hot off the bay piers at Belford, Keansburg and Monmouth as squid strips and clam bits were able to hook 9-inch plus keeper class porgies. That fishery should still be going on well into the month. The mouth of the bay, especially at the Rip, is a good spot to find the first false albacore schools to rip through as the churning, washing machine like waves mix up all the sand eels, spearing and peanut bunker schools where tunny come speeding through to pick them off. Cast Ava 007 jigs, Crippled Herrings and Deadly Dick metals to hook into a speedster.
Fluke fishing has been kind of a pick throughout the summer months with spurts of activity of keeper class fish in between lulls of short fish. For the fluke season swan song, it’s a good bet to go a little bit deeper in the 60 to 90 foot range or hit structure piles on the way out to the midshore grounds in the 3 to 12 mile range. The Sea Girt Reef is a solid bet, as well as the Manasquan Ridge, Long Branch lumps and out to the Shark River Reef. There will be a ton of bottomfishing action all over this section of coast, especially at the low-lying rubble piles of the Farms, 17 Fathoms, Klondike and the Rattlesnake areas as a variety of bottom dwellers will be on tap including ling, porgies, blackfish and even a few cod and pollock. Ling fishing once again was “over the rail and into the pail” type of fishing with catches of 10 to 40 per man on average for the guys who had them dialed in. Try using bergall strips or Gulp! Swimming minnow baits that stay on the hook for a bunch of fish to keep you in the game longer instead of having to reel in constantly to rebait with clams. Don’t be afraid to bring a few green crabs too to drop down on the structure piles to see if you can scratch up your one fish limit of blackfish while out there. Looking up top in the water column, keep your eyes peeled for speedsters to be cruising through the area anywhere from the Manasquan and Shark River inlets up to the Highlands area as little tunny and bonito schools will be zipping through the waters during sunup and sundown hours. Bring an array of slim profile metals, rubber baits and poppers to cast and blast to the roving wolfpacks. Motor up ahead of a moving school to intercept their path and launch out the lures, bringing them back through the outskirts of the schools for a hookup.
Might as well start with fluke here too. Deeper water areas on this stretch include the Barnegat Ridge North and South, Garden State Reef North and South, as well as the Harvey Cedars Lump, Seaside Lump and the Mohawk Wreck. Same offerings go here with 2 to 4 ounce bucktails tipped with long strip baits. That Barnegat Ridge area will not only hold larger doormat fluke but get out after some pelagics in the area as mahimahi, bonito, skipjack tuna and albies should be patrolling the area. Hit the yellow buoy on the north end of the ridge with small bucktails or slim metals, casting around the buoy to find all sorts of species. Also, be sure to have live eels on board to toss at any cobia that may be lurking around as there have already been some 20-pound classers caught in the area this summer. Back inside Barnegat Bay, there should be plenty of species available to put a bend in the rod, albeit most will be on the small side. A simple clam or grass shrimp slick can bring in kingfish, porgies, weakfish, bass and blues, especially in the area near Myer’s Hole. If the weakies show up, they will sit in that hole and feed on the incoming tides. Cast out a slip float rig on a size #4 baitholder hook with three or four grass shrimp and send it back into the slick. Weakfish will feed aggressively in schools of hundreds, so if you find one, chances are you’re going to be in them for awhile. Anglers looking for a different type of fight can try to target the Barnegat Inlet jetties by pitching back grass shrimp or Asian crabs on lightly weighted leaders to see if any sheepshead are home punching around the submerged rocks.
Legendary. Historic. Epic. Those were some of the words to describe the bigeye tuna bite this summer. The southern canyons at the Poormans, Washington and Baltimore were loaded with bigeye tuna as some charters reported catching over 20 fish per trip, with average anglers finding up to a half dozen on a day out. Trolling with squid spreader bars produced fish best. Look for those eyeballs to possibly move up into the Hudson canyon area this month. Yellowfin tuna should be all over the canyons now, with the night chunk bite materializing. Get out during evening hours to establish a solid chum slick and send back the butterfish, sardine and squid baits down with the slick. Fish throughout the night and into the morning hours before pulling up the slick and trying to find the schools to drop jigs on. Swordfish could also be in the mix, and anytime you are on a slick, send a live squid bait down deep about 200 to 300 feet with a Cyalume light stick to attract any broadbills to the bait. September always ushers in the canyon season in earnest. Follow the warm water eddies on the temperature charts and develop your canyon game plan from there as the conditions will be changing by the day.