Summer. Its not a mirage, its really here. Fresh hot cups of coffee are sipp
ed while steaming out on the water, rods rigged and ready, heading out to greet the warm sunrise breaking over the Atlantic Horizon. Ah, this is the time of year we have been waiting for! To get you up to speed, fluke season has reopened and the final regs follow - May 24 to September 21 with a three fish limit at 18-inch minimum size. Black sea bass season is still open until June 22nd with a 10 fish limit at 12.5-inch minimum length. As well, don’t forget to sign up for the mandatory and FREE NJ Saltwater Registry at https://www.nj.gov/dep/saltwaterregistry.
May striper fishing was completely gangbusters with a phenomenal bite throughout the baywaters. Schools of 10 to 30-pound bass were average and could be found in different spots day by day. Hot areas included Swash Channel, Chapel Hill Channel, Romer Shoal, the Ammo Pier and South Beach, as bass moved around continuously. There should still be residual bass hanging around at least during the early part of June and the usual offerings can incite a strike. Try trolling Mojo rigs from 8 to 20 ounces in Chartreuse or white, livelining bunker, jigging Storm and Tsunami shads or casting Ocean Borne Flying Poppers if the fish are aggressively feeding on the surface. Bluefishing was banging as well during May. Choppers were also ripping apart Mojo rigs, but you can better target the brutes by setting up on a bunker chunk slick, or simply by visually scanning the waters to spy thrashing schools blowing up baitfish on the surface. Break out single hook topwater poppers or Ava 17 Metal jigs to rip through the schools for a bone jarring strike. Fluke anglers will be in their glory at the start of the season, bouncing squid, spearing and sand eels baits around more shallow water areas of the bay such as off the Ammo Pier, the Coast Guard shacks, outside the Highlands Bridge and between the 9 and 10 cans.
Might as well start off with the most family friendly fish in the sea – fluke. The initial wave of fishermen will be hitting nearshore humps and lumps in the 25 to 45 foot range off the coast anywhere from Manasquan up to the Highlands. There are plenty of fluke-friendly spots along the way, most notably the Elberon Rocks, Long Branch Lumps, Klondike, Shrewsbury Rocks, and the Spring Lake Hotel. The key to hooking up in the early season is to utilize fresh smelly baits such as squid, spearing, sand eels and Berkeley Gulp! As fluke are more on a scent based striking mode rather than aggression based. When you find one fish biting, there will be more in the pack, so MOB the spot you get any hits and make continual short drifts over that area to clean up on the pack. Stripers can very well still be hanging off the coast, especially during the early part of June, as the remnant schools will be sticking tight to any bunker pods fining around. Generally, the bunker like to congregate off of Asbury Park, Deal and Long Branch at this time of year, so be prepared with bunker snags and 10/0 circle hooks to liveline back the fresh bunker to waiting bass. Black sea bass fishing should be prime on the nearshore rock rubble piles at areas like the Sandy Hook Reef, 17 Fathoms, and the Farms. Drop down fresh clam baits on hi-lo rigs equipped with size 2/0 Baitholder hooks and green or pink beads. Bluefish schools can be running literally anywhere at any time and don’t overlook the fact that you can both jig and chunk the gators through the night shift hours, which can make for a fun twilight/night trip when you would otherwise be sitting on the couch watching bad TV.
Fluke were already destroying bucktails for anglers pre-fishing in early May and that can only mean that June will be bananas for fluke in the Manasquan River. Early season fluke hounds will drift through the ICW anywhere from Treasure Island to the Route 35 Drawbridge, tapping away at the bottom with light ½-once bucktails and teasers fixed with Berkeley Gulp! Swimmin Minnows or strip baits like bluefish or mackerel. Barnegat Bay will be the numero uno fluke haunt in the central coast as plenty of real estate exists to find the packs, including areas like Oyster Creek Channel, the backside of the Dike, Double Creek Channel and the flats between the BB and BI Buoys. Remnants of winter flounder can still be found at the mouth of the Squan Inlet, right off of Dog Beach and Gull Island. The usual clam chum and sandworm or bloodworm baits should hang you your two fish limit in no time, but also look for those flounder to start colonizing the deeper waters of the Mud Hole as blackbacks to 5 pounds can be hooked through the summer. Blue dogs of 3 to 15 pounds can be hooked anywhere in the Barnegat Bay and Squan River systems. Explore the waters with topwater poppers during anytime of day where blues will pop up and down to harass bait schools. Interestingly, blowfish had pushed into the bay systems in late April and by June, the Barnegat Bay and Silver Bay waters should be teeming with blowtoads. The puffer fish are excellent table fare and are pretty easy to catch. Start with a couple of clam chum logs, anchor up along a ledge in the bay, and drop down small size #8 baitholder hooks tipped with clam bits. Blowfishing can be fast and furious, but be quick on the hookset as the beaked beasts are quick to snatch a bait.
Shark fishing should be in its prime this month, but there are new regulations that must be adhered to when it comes to Makos. First off, non offset, non stainless steel circle hooks are of mandatory usage. Next, the minimum size to retain any female mako shark is 83-inches, and any male mako is 71 inches. How any anglers is going to effectively measure and identify a thrashing, jumping and toothy mako in that great detail at boatside is beyond me, but a good start is to stick some pieces of duct tape on the gunnel measured off at the proper intervals for a quick eye down if you can get the mako to cooperate at boatside. However, bluefin tuna will undoubtedly take center stage. Wild tuna fishing has occurred the past few summers, with hot areas running anywhere along the 20 to 30 fathom lines and deeper as tuna push through areas like the Chicken Canyon, Monster Ledge, Glory Hole, Texas Tower, Resor Wreck and basically anywhere you can find the mixing of baitfish, warm water currents and nutrient rich waters. Troll with sidetracker Chatter Lure spreader bars in black/purple, cucumber or rainbow color patterns as well as deploying the tried and true cedar plugs on the flat lines and blue/white Joe Shute or Ilanders rigged with ballyhoo. Tuna fishing hopefully will be hot and heavy as it has been. One BFT 27 to 73 inches in length, while if you do happen into any yellowfin on the midshore grounds, you may retain 3 YFT at a minimum length of 27 inches.
I don’t know about you, but I am amped for June fishing. The kickoff to summer fishing fun is in full swing, get out and get on the fish!