No doubt, February is a challenging month to get through as saltwater fishing options are more limited, but if you can’t get out on the water, there are certainly no lack of boat and outdoor shows to pop in and check out. A few noteworthy shows include the Connecticut Outdoor Expo February 14 to the 17th, the Philadelphia Boat Show February 22nd to the 24th, and the Atlantic City Boat Show running from February 28 to March 3th. Another reason to stop by those aforementioned shows is that I will be conducting fishing seminars on various saltwater topics at all three events, so please stop by and say hello! Also on tap is George Poveromo’s SaltWater Sportsman Fishing Seminar Series set for February 9th in Atlantic City, NJ as I will be co-hosting with George with a panel of seasoned Jersey captains in a round robin format on NY/NJ fishing tactics. For more info, check out www.nationalseminarseries.com , hope to see you there! As well, before you get your year started, don’t forget to sign up for the Saltwater Angler Registry card which is required for all NJ anglers. Click on https://www.nj.gov/dep/saltwaterregistry/index.html
As I pen this in January, striper fishing was still hoppin’ along the Belmar, Spring Lake and Sandy Hook shores, and though I wouldn’t expect those fish to be there in February, there always is a chance they’ll stick around if it’s a mild winter. Meantime, efforts should be concentrated on blackfish in the area, especially around the 5 to 15 mile range and off the Mud Hole area wrecks that lay in deeper waters of 120 to 150 feet. The Shark River reef will be a centerpiece of bottomfish activity this month as blackfish, cod and ling should be hanging all over the structure piles and wrecks. There are some interesting beasties to be found out on the winter wrecks this time of year. Mixed in with the aforementioned target species, you can find large bergalls, aka ocean perch, which are excellent eating, as well as ocean pout, purple hake, conger eels and possibly even a monkfish. Many party boats will run daily trips out to 17 Fathoms, Cholera Bank and the Farms to bounce sinkers with crabs and clam baits over the rocky bottom to find a bite. If you want to explore the area and test for winter flounder, start by checking the docks at Shark River where the bite on flounder left off in December. You can’t keep any fish until March 1st, but it would be interesting to see if the flatfish are around. Shark River may also hold some herring through the winter months.
Blackfishing was humming at the end of 2018 along this stretch as day togging at the Axel Carlson Reef put up limit catches for most togheads. Some titanic tog of 10 to 18 pounds were caught in only 75 feet of water at the start of the year, though those fish have probably moved offshore and southward by the time you read this. Nonetheless, tog fishing should be revving in the 120 to 180 foot depths offshore. Stripers were still hounding sand eel schools from Point Pleasant down through Seaside Heights, and word even had it that peanut bunker was still in the area at the start of the year. Its possible remnant stripers could be hanging around just outside the breakers in February. Try tossing out Tsunami Sand eels or 3-inch Storm shads to trick up a bite. Herring may also be in favor, especially around the inlet areas at Manasquan and Barnegat, where sabiki rigs or small mylar flash teasers can hook the herring in order to keep and make some tasty pickled treats. Off on the wrecks and reefs, porgy fishing could be hot and heavy, as well as ling targets. The Garden State North and South reefs may be holding both species. If you’re looking to put a major bend in the rod, pop on out to the 20 to 50 mile wrecks where there will be no real pressure on the grounds and stocks of cod and pollock up to 30 pounds could readily be available to hang. Throw in white hake and purple hake that can push the 10-pound mark and there’s plenty to motivate you to take the boat offshore.
BLACK SEA BASS RE-OPENED
As it stands now, NOAA has reopened the federal black sea bass fishing season in New Jersey for the entire month of February. Current recreational management measures of a 12.5-inch minimum size and 15-fish possession limit apply during this season. This is insanely good news as black sea bass are mainly hanging in the 200 to 300 foot depths offshore from 40 to 80 miles off as the stocks winter over on the edge of the continental shelf. Most of the black sea bass found offshore during the heart of winter are true knuckleheads, averaging in the 3 to 8 pound class. Sea bass will eagerly pounce on baits such as clams, squid, sand eels, spearing and crabs, but are also apt to hit bounced 10 to 16-ounce Hammered metal jigs. If you’ve got a chance to get after sea bass this month, don’t pass it up as the fish should be biting hot and heavy as the winter fishery hasn’t been opened in a few years.
MODERN FISH ACT
In a positive win for recreational anglers, President Trump signed the Modern Fish Act into law on January 2nd. The Act will incorporate more flexibility when instituting recreational regulations, allocations and quotas, pulling from sanctioned data collection resources to produce more sound laws. Its not a winner take all scenario in the act, but no doubt is a step in the right direction to correcting and implementing smarter mechanisms taking into consideration the recreational angling community’s concerns while applying sounder science. With the passage of the act, for now at least, it seems the voice of a strong recreational angling community will have a little more weight and power.
With a medley of spectacular boat and outdoor shows spicing up the saltwater fishing opportunity, February just might not be as bad as you think.