April always brings a breath of fresh air and with it rides a promise of a true fishing season to get started in earnest. Starting off, stripers should really begin to put on the feedbags, while winter flounder are warming up on the bay flats primed to feed. Blackfish season is reopened for the month from April 1 to April 30 with a four fish limit and 15-inch minimum size. One point to reiterate is that when bait fishing for striped bass, it is mandatory to use inline circle hooks, and that goes for any bait including but not limited to clams, worms, and bunker. As the days warm up, fishing really begins to take off. Look for the usual Nor’easters to come rumbling through the third to fourth week of the month to mix things up and possibly even usher in the first wave of bluefish.
We were graced with stripers in Raritan Bay last March and with 43-degree temperatures, in late February as this is being written, we may have a booming bass fishery already on fire by the time April swings into town. Many bass will be locked in the back, way back by the Raritan River outflow off of the Amboys and Tottenville. Waters off Morgan Creek should be holding schools thick where you can either jig Savage Gear sand eels or Storm Shads or even work swimming plugs like SP Minnows, Flash Flutter Spoons and wooden swimmers on top. Shore bound anglers can be fast into the same activity around beaches off Cliffwood, South Amboy, Union Beach and surrounding shores. Bloodworms balled up on a size 5/0 circle hook and doused with FinEssence oil will definitely get inhaled by roving stripers on the sodbank flats. It’s better to fish the high tides as the area is shallow and bass follow the tides in to feed on worms and mussels. There’s also a slight chance the R-Bay could see the first bluefish pushing way back into the bay as bunker schools were already inside the Raritan as of the first week of March. Winter flounder is always worth a try off of Keyport and Morgan Creek, though it’s rarely been done in decades for anglers to set out and target the flatfish.
I would start with blackfish on this section of the coastline. Not only will boaters be into fish, but rockhoppers at the Shark River Inlet area could also find some tog on the chew. Offshore, the Sandy Hook Reef, Farms, and 17 Fathoms are solid spots to drop green crabs or clam baits, mainly in the shallower depths of 40 to 65 feet of water as tog migrate back inshore. The inlet bridge pilings and dock pilings should have tog nipping away at barnacles, crabs and clams where a 1-ounce tog jig tipped with half crab should get you into fish. Winter flounder will also be magnetized to the backwaters in Shark River namely off the Concrete Pier at L-street, tennis courts and gas dock. You can cast worm baits off the shore there or rent a small boat from Fisherman’s Den in Belmar to better chum and work the area for flounder. Historically, the Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers both held winter flounder and there’s no reason they wouldn’t be chewing if you gave it a shot there. Striped bass could very well be found in both those river systems as well. If you are targeting bass with plugs, go with the color white as that shade always seems to get noticed when the waters are cold and a little murky from all the springtime runoff. The first wave of stripers migrating will be found off Jetty Country area in Long Branch, Asbury Park and Deal as they push and corral bunker schools into the jetties. Topwater poppers can pull fish off the schools, but more productive ways to fish are with live bunker on circle hooks or by trolling shad bars and bunker spoons.
Backwater bass are going to be lit up this month. Barnegat Bay and its feeder creeks are generally stacked with schoolie and shorty caliber stripers throughout the month. Whether they are keyed in on bait or artificials depends on the water temps. If waters are still generally colder in the low to mid 40’s then baits such as bloodworms and fresh clams will work better for a strike. Warmer than that, plugs like SP Minnows, Storm Shads and Kettle Creek paddletails are hot stuff. Usual haunts include the Manasquan River, Toms River, Oyster Creek and Cedar Creek areas. This stretch of coast is usually the most productive for winter flounder fishing, especially between the BB and BI Buoys in Barnegat, the Mantoloking Bridge, Metedeconk River and the Manasquan River. Chum heavy and chum often as flundies need a little bit of encouragement to really get on a feed. Bloodworm bits doused in FinEssence oil will bring the flatfish to the hook. For a quick secret hack, bring a plunger or repeatedly start the engines to kick up the bottom and create a natural chum slick. Could we see the big blues rumbling through? If we do, it’s usually on the heels of a Nor’east blow sometime near the end of the month. Rampaging blues are sometimes sluggish to start and will only hit slow-drawn plugs or poppers, strangely enough, missing the hit many times. Once blues warm up enough to enter their normal angry stage, they will aggressively attack plugs, poppers and metals with reckless abandon and line-snapping runs. Blues can be anywhere from 3 pounds to 20 pounds, so who knows what class size fish will push in this April.
Last year, bluefin tuna were hooked and decked in the last week of April. It was hush-hush but word got out and that means it could happen again this year. The fish were staged well inshore at the Slough, Humpty Dumpty and the Lillian area, roughly 10 to 12 miles off the coast. Incredibly, they were caught on jigs meaning they started out feeding aggressively and didn’t require the trolling gear to trick them up to the surface. Pack up with Shimano Benthos jigs 110 to 150 g, Stingo jigs, Savage Gear metals, and the like to drop down and rip back to the surface. While we wait for the tuna bite to really materialize, wreck pounders will be finding a good pick of cod, pollock, and ling along the mid-shore to offshore wrecks 20 to 50 miles off. Fresh clams, Fisherman’s Choice squid strips and Berkley Gulp 6-inch grub baits will all get whacked by all three species. Work the 150-to-230-foot depth wrecks to find wreckfish on the prowl.
April couldn’t come soon enough and now we can officially kick into another gear as warmer weather sparks the bite on all fronts. Enjoy the first sunshine of spring by wetting a line!