Nothing compares to the hope that April brings to the saltwater angler. Truly, it’s when we can finally wave at winter in the rear view mirror and head full on into the warming spring season. Saltwater fishing enters a new realm as water temperatures are on the rise. Migratory stripers are storming from the south heading northward into our waters. Bluefish schools will be rumbling in through the inlets to terrorize the back bays usually during the third to fourth week of the month. Winter flounder fishing will start to hit its prime in the bays and estuaries. And the good news is that blackfish season once again reopens on April 1st to April 30th with a four fish limit at a 15-inch minimum size.
Migratory stripers are entering the R-Bay as we speak, rushing up the Hudson River to get their spawn on. There’s a good chance you can intercept them near the middle of the month inside the bay near the 9 and 10 buoys and other backwater haunts while they move up the river. Smaller, but keeper quality bass will also be hanging at the creek outflows at Keyport and Morgan Creek where you can set up on a clam slick tossing out fresh clam baits on fishfinder slide type rigs fixed with 4/0 Baitholder hooks to score with fish roughly from 23 to 30 inches. Early season stripers can also be hanging around the Highlands Bridge where night time sorties casting Kettle Creek paddletails and other small rubber lures around the shadow lines during the evening into night hours. Chances are we will have a run of bluefish infiltrating the bay, and they could be the usual racers - long skinny fish up to 10 pounds, or they could be the big bad fat daddies that came through in recent 5 years that weigh 12 to 23 pounds. Even in April, they will hit aggressively on topwater poppers but you can set up a bunker chunk slick to really get a bite going, though you better scale up to 50 to 60-pound leader on your rigs. I know I say it every year, but there’s a good chance that winter flounder can still show up inside the bay. Target the creek outflows way in the back of the bay in the shallower black mudflat areas where the waters warm up quicker. Hang two chumpots off the bow of the boat to attract flounder to come in and feed. High outgoing tides offer your best shot at success.
Let’s talk flounder. The fall fishery in the Shark River area finished up pretty strong, and the mild winter we had makes me believe that flounder could be stacked in the river system. The only way to find out is to either cast off the L-Street pier where you can reach the mussel beds or by renting a boat right there at Fishermen’s Den at the Belmar Marine Basin and plying the waters. Flounder could be anywhere from way back in by the Shark River condos, out to Shark River Hills and out off the Tennis Courts. It all depends where the packs of flatfish are hanging and you need to do some reconnaissance to find them. It’s been years since I’ve heard reports of anyone even attempting to fish the Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers for flounder, but those locales were always steady producers in the days of old. It’s a good bet to try and see if any are there. With blackfish season reopened, tog will be moving back into more shallow depths now, most likely in waters that run from 35 to 60 feet. The Sandy Hook Reef, Elberon Rocks, Rattlesnake and Long Branch rocks are all common blackfish haunts during the springtime. Fresh clams usually work better in the early part of the year as the theory goes that blackfish mouths are tender from the winter and are more apt to bite on a soft bait rather than a hard, crunchy crab, but to cover your bases bring both baits. Striped bass can be caught by surfcasters launching clams off of Belmar, Monmouth and Sandy Hook Beaches while boating anglers can drop shad bars and stretch plugs to see if any bass are coming up the coast. Generally, troll in 35 to 55 feet of water as bass tend to hug the shoreline this time of year to soak up the warm sun rays of the shallows.
Plenty of schoolie stripers were inundating the backwaters in the central part of the state as estuaries and rivers were loaded with early season bass. Spots like the Toms River, Mantoloking Bridge, and Manasquan River were giving up schoolies since March 1st, as pill float rigs tipped with bloodworms or sandworms got the job done. Some nights bank anglers could catch up to 20 plus fish, and the bonus was some thick white perch up to 2 pounds that could go in the bucket. Look for that fishery to really blow open this month but also keep a keen eye out for the first waves of bluefish to come through. Big blues of 6 to 12 pounds can be found entering the Manasquan River and last year guys lined up along the shores of the river were casting poppers and metals to tangle with some bruiser blue dogs. Boat anglers could find the schools in the river by casting topwater poppers around Treasure Island, and then quickly switch to a fly rod with a steel leader and popper to trick them up on the longrod. Look for blues to hit hard during morning hours. Winter flounder fishing promises to produce on both sides of the Point Canal, though where the fish are depends on the water temperature. Most likely they will stack on the south side during the early part of the month with low 50 degree temps, then move through to the north side into the Squan River by the end of April and into May when waters hit 55 and above. Silver Bay and the Mantoloking Bridge, as well as Gunner’s Ditch, will all be prime spots to start a clam slick and drop worm baits to find the blackbacks. Surf fishing for stripers is usually pretty darn good anywhere from Bay Head to Island Beach State Park as hi-lo rigs with 4/0 Baitholder hooks and baited with fresh clams are the best setup to find the first keeper. Focus around casting during the end of the outgoing when the water is at its warmest as the skinny shallows absorb the sun and stripers attract to the more comfortable temps.
Porgy fishing was hot and heavy through March as offshore wrecks in the 40 to 60 mile range held plenty of dinner plate sized pork chops up to 3 pounds. A real trip is to head to the 30 to 50 mile wrecks in 160 to 220 feet of water to target codfish. It could be hit or miss, but the mild winter may have had the codfish colonizing the offshore wrecks. Shipwrecks like the Resor Wreck, Winnecone, Tolten, and the Cow Wreck can hold cod from 10 to 40 pounds, but it's hard to say if they will be there or not, it’s a tossup you just have to take a couple of chances on. You can even find cod hanging in closer 15 miles off at the Shark River Reef. Pollock are usually mixed in with cod, though they are usually caught around 20 to 60 feet above a wreck when reeling baits in or dropping them down as pollock will make a beeline to hit anything that they perceive as a moving baitfish. Bring some thin profile jigs like Vike jigs or Hammered Diamond jigs to yo-yo jig over the wreck.
April is no doubt the first month we can expect fruitful results when heading out. Prepare your game plan for springtime success!