It’s July and it’s time to let the fishing fireworks fly! With some sense of normalcy coming back to the fishing industry and life in general, summertime sessions should now be in full swing. Some points to note are that the black sea bass season reopens on July 1st to August 31st with a two fish limit at a 12-1/2-inch minimum size restriction. As well, always check with the NOAA website on the latest updated tuna regulations as they can change at a moment’s notice from one day to the next. So long as nothing too crazy happens after this goes to print, we should be enjoying the summer on the salt. Remember, be safe and stay vigilant!
Striper fishing continued on strong through the end of May and into June as the post-spawn bass hit a variety of offerings such as Mojos, Maja bunker spoons and shad bar rigs. Most of the fish were out toward the mouth by Romer Shoal, the Sticks and around the Rip area. Moving into July, number one on the R-Bay hit list will be fluke. It’s anyone’s guess as to where they will be but solid early season spots include off the Ammo Pier, in the TC Channel, Chapel Hill Channel, off the Coast Guard Station and on the backside of Plum Island. They should also be hugging the shorelines at Keansburg and Belford Piers and simple three way swivel rigs baited with squid and spearing can land you a few keepers for the grill.
Sea bass fishing was lights out in June as flat out limits of biscuits were caught every single outing. It was certainly a surprise to see the amount of sea bass on the inshore reefs like Sandy Hook Reef, Sea Girt Reef and Klondike and Rattlesnake rockpiles. However, the limit drops down from 15 fish to 2 fish for July, but the bite should still be firing and you will catch many sea bass as bycatch when fishing for fluke. Speaking of fluke, now’s the prime time to score with flatties in the relatively shallow waters of 35 to 60 feet as fluke are moving to the ridges and humps off of Long Branch, the Red Church, Highlands and Asbury Park. I’ve always been partial to explore first with 2 ounce Spro bucktails tipped with fluke belly or squid strips, bouncing around to get a bite if the current isn’t too swift, then if the tide starts ripping, switch up to a fishfinder slide rig with a 30-inch section of 30-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader to a snelled 3/0 Octopus hook baited again with a strip bait. Getting up from the bottom bouncing, keep a keen eye out for speedy pelagics like bonito and Spanish mackerel as they have infiltrated the area in recent years. Try trolling Ava jigs, Clark spoons and small feathers at a 5 to 7 knot pace to whack at some of the tiny speed demons. Right outside Manasquan Inlet has always been a hot spot, as has up by the Highlands and off of Spring Lake.
I’d bet a ton of activity, whether bottom fishing or trolling, will center around the Axel Carlson Reef this month. The low lying structure fields of rock rubble piles and tire units should have fluke laying in wait as they stage in between snags to ambush baitfish as it funnels through with the current. Not only will fluke b on the reef, but black sea bass and triggerfish should also be present, nipping away at clam bits on hi-lo rigs. Fluke will also be hunkering down along the ledges in 50 to 80 feet of water off of Lavallette and Seaside Heights, especially off the Seaside Pipe, in the area of the Mohawk Wreck and the Seaside Lump. The inshore troll can be red hot this time of year as well with Spanish macks, bonito and albies running through the waters anywhere from right off the beaches out to 5 miles. Sea bass pot and lobster pot hi-fliers are always good spots to troll around as the buoys gather marine growth that in turn attracts baitfish and thus pelagic predators. Troll by the pots with Clark spoons, small feathers and even metal lures weaving in and out with each pass. Chances are you are going to pull off some chicken mahi off the pots as well. If you do find some mahi jumping on the trolled lines, take the engines out of gear and drift by that pot, throwing handfuls of live killies or peanut bunker over the side to incite a feeding frenzy. Then liveline a killie or bunker back to the waiting mahi. You can even trick them up with bucktails tipped with pink Fin-S fish or other rubber paddletail baits. Also, be on the lookout for any cobia that may be hanging around the pots and other floating debris. Cobia will eagerly whack at a live eel or bucktail tipped with rubber bait.
It looks like another banner year for bluefin is upon us, and this time the stakes are even higher as bluefin are averaging in the 60-inch plus sizes now. It’s possible all those 40 to 50-inch bluefin of last year are back and have grown to the new 60-inch plus sizes, but whatever it is, larger model BFT are around, some of which hit the 600 to 800-pound mark last month. The usual trolled offerings work in the pre-dawn hours such as Chatter Lures Sidetracker spreaders in black/purple, rainbow and zucchini colorings. Be sure to send back some ballyhoo on Joe Shute or Islander heads as well. Once the sun comes up, look for BFT to be busting on the surface where you can then unfurl heavy duty topwaters such as the new Shimano Orca FB stickbaits, Madd Mantis Poppers and the like. If the tuna are reading down deeper and refuse to come up, drop down Shimano Butterfly jigs or Stingo jigs to get a strike. Usual haunts include the Chicken Canyon, Resor Wreck, Texas Tower, Atlantic Princess but the tunas have even come in as close as the Shark River Reef, Slough and the Lillian so far this year. Out in the canyons, the yellowfin tuna and bigeye tuna bite have gotten off to a superb start as day troll trips have been whacking away at plenty of both species. That could mean that July and August could see an early overnight chunk season start in spots like the Hudson, Toms, and Poormans Canyons. For those looking for something extra, don’t be afraid to drop down inside the canyon flats for golden tilefish as big boys to 40 pounds can be hauled up in the 400 to 600 foot depths.
Enjoy the summer, head out and wet a line in the salt!