Situated in the dead of winter, February usually is the month we look to pass through quickly, but there are more than a few reasons to look hopeful at the next 28 days. First off, fishing-wise, blackfishing has remained red hot through January and could very well be all the rage throughout the month. If there was any time to pick up all your new gear for the year or to learn about tactics and techniques, now’s the time as many outdoor and boat shows come through the NJ/NY area, most notably the Atlantic City Boat Show, the World Outdoor Expo at Suffern, and George’s Poveromo’s Saltwater Sportsman Seminar Series, the latter of which I will be co-hosting with Poveromo, so stop on by! Check out www.nationalseminarseries.com. To start your year on the saltwater, don’t forget Jersey anglers are required to sign up for the Saltwater Angler Registry card. Click on https://www.nj.gov/dep/saltwaterregistry/index.html
Amazingly, water temperatures benefitted from the mild winter so far as of early January they are still hovering around 46 degrees and that relatively warm temperature has kept the surf striper bite going on. Granted, it’s not like you’re going to be hanging any lunkers, but February may just cough up the opportunity to score with 16 to 25-inch range bass in the suds anywhere from Manasquan to Spring Lake and Sandy Hook. Try tossing small paddle tail shads or 4-inch Mag Darters to pick up any bass hanging around. Blackfishing was hot and heavy at the Elberon Rocks and Sea Girt Reef in anywhere from 52 to 75 feet of water in early January, but tautog action will be gravitating out a bit further to the 85 to 120-foot depths. The Mud Hole area usually hosts plenty of wreck and rock structures to ply for tog including areas like the Shark River Reef, Lillian, Arundo, Oil Wreck 17 Fathoms and the Farms. Party boats out of Point Pleasant and Brielle such as the Dauntless and the Paramount will be heading out to the tog grounds on a daily basis if you need a ride. Bring plenty of green crabs and white legger crabs to tempt up a blackfish. Strangely enough, those wrecks will also be holding a few fat blackback winter flounder in the 3 to 5 pound class, as well as a smattering of cod, ling and pollock. Bring size 2/0 to 6/0 Baitholder and Octopus hooks to ensure you are covered for all the species that maybe present. As well, have a half bushel of fresh clams on hand or squid strips to drop down for any cod, ling or pollock.
The Axel Carlson Reef coughed up some solid limits of barrel-chested blackfish during January and the outer eastern edges of the reef may still be holding fish out in the 75 to 90 foot depths. Some serious bruiser blackfish were hanging out on the Garden State North and South Reefs out of Barnegat Inlet, and though it’s highly doubtful they will still be there this month, it’s worth it to keep a check on reports to see if they are around before you set out to move offshore. Striped bass anglers looking to target the bays and inlets will have to wait until March 1 to fish the backwaters legally, but oceanside striper hounds may just be able to find a few more bass willing to strike at lures such as Tsunami Sand Eels, Storm Shads and Fin-S fish. Island Beach State Park and South Seaside Park were both thick with surf stripers into January and the deep water pockets and sloughs may just hold them there into this month. This time of year, Atlantic herring will move into the Manasquan Inlet and they can be hooked on small sabiki rigs jigged in the water column. Mackerel fishing can be hit or miss offshore. In the old days, mackerel were a staple of the winter fishery along the NJ coast, where “Christmas Tree” rigs would hook up to 4 macks at a time on a drop down. It’s possible we may see them return this winter as they had shown up in late December of last year. Mixed in with any macks are usually the herring schools too. Though the multicolored tube rigs will hang macks, try a rig or two equipped with Mylar flash feathers to attract herring as well. Generally, mack schools can be found anywhere from 3 to 15 miles off the coast, namely at spots like the Klondike, Shark River Reef and Mohawk, but the best way to find them is to monitor the fish finder screen where they will appear as one big red blob.
OTHER THINGS TO DO
February offers up plenty of downtime, and you can really maximize the opportunity while you wait for warmer weather. First off, get all your rods and reels cleaned and repaired so they are primed and ready to go when the season really turns on. Oil, grease, lube and de-salt all the gear, including your pliers, lures, bags, etc. You don’t want to be behind when the first wave of stripers move through in March. As well, now’s the time to pull off the old line and respool the reels with new line to ensure you won’t be breaking off any fish due to weakened or frayed lines. Now it’s on to the boat and outdoor shows. Do your inventory and check off the new gear you need to replace. I find that I’m mostly buying up hooks of all sizes and shapes for various fishing, plenty of lead weights, leader material (both mono and fluorocarbon), barrel swivels and fish finder slides, metals jigs, poppers, plugs and assorted soft baits. I am always organizing my tackle center, compartmentalizing similar lures into respective Plano boxes, (which you can never have enough of). This way, I know where certain lures are at all times when I need to put together a stand alone “species” box when heading out for a day fishing. Stock up on your apparel, meaning anything from new Grundens slicks to deck boots and SPF long sleeves. Do an inventory of what protective apparel you need to fill in, or simply upgrade to. Winter time is all about preparation for the upcoming fishing seasons ahead. There are plenty of necessary chores to keep you busy and ready to rumble once the weather breaks and fishing turns red hot once again. See you at the shows!