We’re basically through the boat show season and have rounded the corner into fishing season. March 1st kicks off all sorts of saltwater seasons. Striped bass fishing reopens in the backwaters, meaning those resident schoolies that have wintered over can now be targeted. Regs still call for a two fish limit, one between 28 and 43 inches and one over 43 inches. Winter flounder are also on the menu, with a two fish bag and 12-inch minimum size restriction. As well, now that fishing is once again a daily pursuit, don’t forget to register for the mandatory NJ saltwater fishing registry at http://www.nj.gov/dep/saltwaterregistry/ It’s free and you can fill out the whole form in less than a minute.
The shallow backwaters way back inside Raritan Bay usually see the first rumblings of striped bass as the 6 to 10 foot depths generally warm up quicker with the glaring sun shining on the black mudflats. Bayshore shadowmen will be working the banksides, especially during northeast winds along Cliffwood, Union and Pebble Beaches to cast clams, sandworms and bloodworms, with prime times revolving around nighttime incoming tides. You can find bloodworms and sandworms in the hard packed sedge you can pluck out for fresh baits. Via boat, motor all the way back to the Atlantic Highlands, Morgan Creek and Keyport as the bay shallows hold bass with the bite sparking when the outgoing tides bring out the warmer water of the back creeks. Settle in with a clam chum pot and dish out the pieces of clam setting back fishfinder slide rigs equipped with smaller 3/0 Baitholder hooks and fresh clams for bait. Most of the bass taken at this time of year won’t break 26 inches, but you can hang double digit catches on a tide out. Its almost not even worth mentioning anymore, but if you want to give it a shot, winter flounder used to stack thick by Morgan Creek and Keyport during the olden days, but we simply have not seen any real fishing in the past few years, though I am suspect that it may be due to a lack of angler participation with such miniscule limits. Anyway, its always worth a shot if you’ve got the boat in the water. Chum heavy with clam and mussel and use size #6 chestertown hooks with yellow beads.
Mackerel could very well be running anywhere from 5 to 15 miles off this section of coast, as they did show up last month. Macks can be jigged using Christmas tree rigs with green, yellow and re tubes with a metal jig like an Ava 27 on the sinker clip. Simply drop it down and reel it up at a slow pace or if you know the depth they are staging, drop to that level and gently lift the rod tip up and down. Mylar flash sabiki rigs will also get whacked by the macks, but also be on the lookout for Atlantic herring that usually hang with the mack packs. The herring will also hit the tube and flash rigs. Flounder hounds can try to target Shark River for the first bite, but it all depends on how warm the waters are. If we are into high 40’s and low 50’s in March, there will be a bite, if not, the blackbacks will still lay down tight in the mud, waiting for warmer water temps before they get active. Flounder could also be piling up in the Shrewsbury and Navesink River systems, with a relatively hot spot existing where the two rivers meet up. Look for striped bass hanging around the inlet areas, especially Shark River Inlet out to the Bell Buoy. Drop down some Mojo ball rigs or shad bars with large paddletails and figure 8 the area between the buoy and the inlet, down to Spring Lake and up to Asbury Park to try and get any local bass to strike. Mud Hole anglers have been enjoying an early spring ling fishery in recent years as that chew has really moved on from a winter time affair into the vernal months. Drop clam bits and Gulp! Baits down on 3/0 Octopus hooks and concentrate around depths from 85 to 120 feet. Ling can either be sticking around the mud bottom or most likely on the outskirts of shipwrecks and rubble piles. Head on up to the Farms and 17 Fathoms as well to find ling sliding in and out of the rockpiles.
I’d say give flounder fishing a try up here when March 1st rolls around. Spots I always hit first are the southern entrance to the Point Pleasant Canal, right off the docks at the public launch platform. You can access that area via foot, but if you have a vessel, you can slide back into Silver Bay there off of Dale’s Point and near the mouth of the Metedeconk River where early season flounder usually mud out when the sun starts warming those bay flats. As the month unfolds, look to target flatties down by the Mantoloking Bridge, especially on the south side, then near the Toms River bridge, east side by Pelican Island bridge, moving all the way down into Barnegat Bay where the grounds from the BB to the BI buoys and the 40 marker all seem to hold fish in the shallow waters of 5 to 10 feet deep. Chum heavy and chum often to get those slow moving flatfish sparked to feed. There’s always a chance we could see the first bluefish come through late in the month, especially around the Route 37 bridge, Barnegat Inlet and on the backside of the dike in Oyster Creek, as well as the Manasquan River system. But stripers will be a main draw, especially in the Manasquan River and Barnegat Inlet, where clam slicks can get those first season stripers hooked as they look to wolf down an easy meal in the cold water. Hardcore bankcasters have been having loads of luck in the Toms River, especially off the Island Heights docks and bulkheads as evening hours into the night had produced heavily last year for those casting bloodworm bit baits on small pill float hi-lo rigs. Some nights put up catches of over 80 bass for groups of anglers and mixed in were a bunch of tasty big 2-pound white perch. The perch will hit the same baits and presentations as the bass. You may even see a bluefish or two move into the river system eager to scarp up a bloodworm bait, but pay attention to the last week of March as blues had been filtering into the river and hitting poppers in the past few years.
About the only thing going on offshore in February was the stellar porgy fishing on the offshore wrecks, but that’s really only because the sea bass season was closed and a lot of party boats hauled out for the winter. You can bet those dinner plate sized pork chops up to 3.5 pounds will be machine gunning worm and clam baits on hi-lo 1/0 beak hooks. Mixed in with the porgies were a smattering of pollock, a few cod, and there were even reports of a haddock or two in the Jersey area, which is really unusual. That would be something if a haddock fishery started to develop in the Garden State. As long as I can remember, we have never had a fishery for them. Look for blackfishing to also be pretty hot in the 25 to 30 mile range wrecks. Most whtiechinner tog will be deep in the 130 to 200 foot depths, but will start to migrate into shallower waters as April rolls in.
To keep you warm and amped up for the fishing season ahead, come check out my new online fishing show – Saltwater Underground -which is found at www.saltwaterunderground.com. All episodes are filmed in the NJ/NY area and we’ve covered blackfishing, false albacore, striped bass, fluke and sea bass so far. Let me know what you think!