September’s cool nights and bluebird sunny skies push the impetus for baitfish schools to start getting busy on their migratory pattern, and with them, so come the sportfish. In my opinion, this is one of the top months simply to be outside on the saltwater to enjoy the cooling weather with fantastic fishing opportunities. For regulation changes this month, summer flounder season closes in NJ on September 19th and black sea bass season is now closed until it reopens again on October 8th. Now onto the reports.
Water temps in the big bay got downright volcanic last month as they broke the 81 degree mark and higher on some days and that kind of heat really quelled a lot of the bay fishing. Now that September is here, there should be a cool down of sorts and that should put any blues or bass in the area on the feed again. Night time trips out drifting eels at Flynn’s Knoll or Swash Channel could find linesiders hanging around. Most importantly, Raritan Bay shines now as a top doormat fluke spot as the flatfish hunker down in the deeper channels as they stage to make their migratory move out toward the Continental shelf. Work over the areas at Ambrose Channel Chapel Hill Channel and out at the Sticks where water depths can reach 75 to 80 feet. I would drift with fishfinder slide rigs, heavier weights like 6 to 10 ounces and long strip baits of salmon, albacore or fluke belly. An odd fishery you can try for in the bay is blackfishing, especially around the rocks at Romer Shoal light and West Bank lighthouse. Tog have pushed back into the bay waters and can be caught on green crabs or white legger crabs in the rocky structures. It’s something different, so why not give it a try!
Let’s start off down deep. Ling fishing was lights out through the summer months as baseball bat caliber barbell chinned beasties were inhaling Gulp! baits and small bits of clam at spots along the edge of the Mud Hole as well as inshore more at the Sandy Hook Reef, Klondike and scattered wrecks in the 65 to 90 foot depths. That fishery should continue on through September, plus you should start seeing poke chop porgies colonizing the structure piles at 17 Fathoms, The Farms and other local rockpiles in that same water depth. Fluke fishing was pretty hot if you could find the packs as they clustered up. On any given day, spots switched hot or cold at the Sea Girt Reef, Elberon Rocks, Shrewsbury Rocks, Long Branch lumps and the like. It was all a matter of picking the right day at the right time. Fluking should gravitate out to the 55 to 85 foot depths this month, so try out further firs, then work your way in to find the bunches. Speedsters in the form of bonito and false albacore should really be making a run through the area, sometimes within surfcasting distance, but mainly from right outside the Manasquan Inlet and Shark Inlet out to about 5 miles. You can troll Clark spoons and small feathers to get covered up by the schools or watch for bird play to cast and blast them with poppers, flies and metals. Schools will be zooming anywhere from Shrewsbury and the Highlands down through Spring Lake and Manasquan.
For this stretch I would opt for chasing down the exotics while they are still hanging around. All sorts of species showed up in August including mahi, bonito, bullet mackerel, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, chub macks, houndsfish and cobia. Many of those species could be caught from right outside the surf out to about 5 to 10 miles. Trollers dragging feathers and spoons could get into the bones, Spanish and king macks, while cast bucktails tipped with a curly grub or Gulp landed mahi and cobia at spots like the Axel Carlson Reef and Garden State Reefs. The final days of fluke fishing should be spent working over the deeper waters of the Sea Girt Reef, Manasquan Ridge and Barnegat Ridge areas, and that may mean running 14 miles or so to get to that 100 foot water. Large strip baits or big bucktails tipped with ZMan DoormatadorZ 6-inch grubs will also attract 8-pound plus fluke to strike. Reef sites will also be top spots to find any remaining black sea bass, porgies and ling in the area. One wild point to note is that in August, bluefin tuna up to 50 pounds were caught at the Barnegat Ridge which is only 14 miles off the coast. Sidetracker spreaders and cedar plugs tricked up those inshore tuna and who knows, maybe they will move in even closer to shore this month. The back bays in Barnegat should have a run of weakfish for bay boaters. Start with a grass shrimp slick in spots like Myer’s Hole and Oyster Creek Channel to see if any spiketooths are home. A bunch of bay beasties like blowfish, kingfish, blues and bass should also be hanging round to gobble up the shrimp.
What can I say but the bluefin bite rages on! A different schooling class of BFT moved into the Texas Tower, Triple Wrecks, Bacardi area where 20 to 50-pound tunas were the normal catch on any day out with a possible over 100 pounder coming up. The same old situation with the sidetracker spreader bars in black/purple or zucchini and rainbow doing the most damage to draw up fish. Cedars plugs fished on flatlines in the first wake also accounted for a lot of BFT landings. A welcomed show of yellowfin tuna moved into the same areas from 55 to 80 miles out. Slab jigs and butterfly jigs hit home for the yellowbirds as marked schools could be worked over aggressively by quick flipping jigs back up the water column. There were actually quite a few bigeye tuna also hanging around, though it was a lucky strike if you hooked into one. Blue marlin up to 600 pounds were released in the southerly canyons at the Baltimore and Wilmington and there were plenty of white marlin available for dedicated billfishers looking to pitch baits back on light tackle. September is historically the time of year when the old school night chunking canyon trips really shined and it’s tough to say if we will see that this year as it’s been relatively unremarkable in recent years. Every year is different though so it’s always worth a shot to head out and spend the night out there with a well stocked boat of butterfish, sardines and jigging up live squid to send down as fresh baits for both tuna and swordfish. Keep a keen eye out for some bull dolphin when out in the canyons as some reported already in early August are pushing the 30-pound mark and greater.
The first post-summer cool down is hitting the Jersey Shore now, sparking all sorts of species to get busy and on the feed. Don’t miss out!