It’s been hard to tell if we are in Jersey or in some tropical Caribbean destination. A surprising, and very welcome, show of tropical visitors have been inundating the waters since late June, including the likes of Spanish mackerel, bonito, mahi, king mackerel, cobia and more. August could bring in some truly historical fishing! Meantime, some law changes include blackfish season reopening from August 1 to November 15 with a one fish limit at 15-inch minimum size. Remember, black sea bass season is still open through August 31st with 2 fish at 12.5 inches.
Raritan Bay had kind of a strange June as striper fishing tapered off but schools still hung around spots like West Bank, Romer Shoal and between the 9 and 10 cans for dedicated anglers willing to look for bunker schools to cast net and then liveline back. Some odd bedfellows were caught in the bay while fluking, including a few cobia and banded rudderfish plus a bar jack or two which I had heard of. Fluke fishing will take top billing in the R-Bay as anglers will be targeting areas off the Ammo Pier, Coast guard Row, Swash and Chapel Hill Channel and as the month wears on, into Ambrose Channel. Drag long strip baits to target the largest of fluke in the area. The Bayshore piers at Belford, Port Monmouth and Keansburg continually gave up action, mainly with small 2 to 4 pound bluefish, some short fluke and porgies.
Wreck fishing from 5 to 15 miles off was lights out at spots like the Shark River Reef, Rattlesnake, Long Branch Rocks, 17 Fathoms and the Farms. A wide cavalcade of species were in the mix highlighted by massive amounts of red hake, black sea bass and surprisingly a solid amount of fat winter flounder that pushed up into the 5-pound bracket. Clam bits took most of the fish, but anglers smart enough to scale down their hooks to a 1/0 size and use small bits of clam ribbon were quick to hook into the small mouths of winter flounder. Fluke fishing was spotty during early July, as the throwback to keeper ratio was about 20 to 1, but 3 to 6-pound fish could be found hanging on the barges and low-lying wrecks of the Sea Girt Reef, Elberon Rocks and Klondike areas. To help get more strikes from finicky fluke, dip all your squid, spearing and sand eel baits in FinEssence shrimp or bunker oil before you lance them on the hook. Anglers fluking on party boats were also treated with the appearance of bullet and chub mackerel that were eager to hit small metals tossed around the boat. Those fish can be smoked but can also be stripped up for primo fluke baits. The Rip and North Beach at Sandy Hook got a real eye-opening visit from Atlantic bonito in late June as scores of bones stormed the surf where surfcasters launching Hogy Epoxy jigs and Deadly Dick metals were tied fast to bones in the 3 to 6 pound class. Word had it that some Spanish mackerel also made an appearance off the Hook.
After last year’s showing, number one on my hit list for this area would be to set out to target southern speedsters including Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, mahimahi and bonito. A fantastic fishery hit outside the Manasquan Inlet, Axel Carlson Reef, Manasquan Ridge and the lobster pots as all the aforementioned species could be caught on #4 Deadly Dicks, Hogy Epoxy jigs, Williamson Gomoku jigs, as well as being targeted on the fly rod with Pop Fleyes, Clouser Minnows and Surf Candies. If you’re lucky enough to creep up on a hi-flier and see schools of mahi, pitch the fly or a bucktail tipped with a Zoom or Fin-S soft bait and twitch it back to the boat, pulling the mahi off the line. Most fish have been from peanut size to about 6 pounds, but last year some whoppers up to 20 pounds could be found hanging around the structures. Also, keep a keen eye out for floating balloons, weed lines and garbage as dolphin will stick around the flotsam and jetsam. Barnegat Bay’s fluke bite should still be going strong, especially in the deeper areas of the ICW and Oyster Creek Channel. Look to hit depths of 12 to 20 feet and don’t be afraid to work ½-ounce bucktails tipped with Gulp and a teaser, or if you have strip baits, drift them on a slide rig and taper the cuts to be 5 inches long to target the larger bay fish. Barnegat will also be a fun spot to target bay beasties like kingfish, blowfish, sand sharks, spike weakies, and possibly even some tropical visitors like juvenile cobia, remoras and jacks. Simply drape a few chum pots filled with clam over the side and bait up with size 1/0 baitholder hooks using tiny clam bits or worms and hold on tight. If you want to have a shot at some near shore bluefin, head to the Barnegat Ridge North and South and set up a slick dishing out fresh spearing behind the boat. Once you get a bite going you’ll bring in a bunch of bonito, false albacore and maybe even a football bluefin or two.
Holy Bluefin Tuna! What a phenomenal year so far on the BFT as they began to bite in early May and haven’t stopped yet. The first round of fish that came in were huge up to 450 pounds, but we’ve settled into the summertime pattern of 25 to 150 pound fish now in the area. Schools have been moving fast and are in a different area every day. Hot spots of late have been the Atlantic Princess, Triple Wrecks, Texas Tower, Bacardi, Haskell and even in as close as the Resor Wreck. Trolling has been a surefire way to score with a few. Drag black/purple or rainbow squid sidetracker spreader bars and put a few hoo out the back with some blue/white or pink/white Joe Shute skirts. Troll between 5 to 7 knots, and find the right speed that makes the lures work effectively. Keep your eyes peeled for signs of life including humpback and finback whales, porpoises, chickbirds and storm petrels as while you see them breaching, drag your baits through the area for a nearly guaranteed whackdown. If you’re lucky enough to see the tuna on the surface, which usually happens late in the morning and into the afternoon, toss out Madd Mantis poppers or Williamson Surface Pro stickbaits to get a strike. The Canyons should be firing on all cylinders for yellowfin tuna, white and blue marlin and swordfish. Overnighters out to the Hudson, Toms and LIndenkohl had already seen yellowfin in the 30 to 50-pound range and scores of white marlin. Bring plenty of sardines and butterfish for chunk baits.
What an incredibly productive summer we’ve had so far! Add to the magic by hitting the saltwater and put some fillets on the grill!