A sense of normalcy has settled upon our lives, as Covid for now seems to be in the rear view mirror, God help us, it stays that way. May’s fishing is primed for success. As of late March, the striper run in Raritan Bay is hoppin’. Fluke season reopens in Jersey waters on May 22nd with a 3 fish bag and 18-inch minimum size as it stands right now. Black sea bass season is also slated to open May25th to June 22nd with a 10 fish bag and 1.5-inch minimum size, but expect that change even possibly by the time you read this. We’re at the official kickoff for summer! What more could you ask for?
You can troll with Maja Mojo balls and shad bar rigs to find fish, then set up on the jig. Don’t overlook throwing topwater poppers at the fish to get a surface feed going on. Plenty of times the fish will hang around West Bank for surface activity. Fluke season could start out well in spots like the Coast Guard Row houses and even back by the Highlands Bridge. Try the shallower spots in 10 to 15 feet of water where fluke will be warming up in high 50-degree waters. Bluefish should also be moving in on cue to terrorize your rubber baits. They could be anywhere from 4 to 6 pounder or the gators of 12 to 20 pounds, we just have to wait and see what classes move in. Use hardy metal jigs and plugs to target blues.
Let’s start of fluking here. The river systems inside Shrewsbury and Navesink are good spots to start your drifts with bucktails and plenty of fresh stinky strip baits or Berkeley Gulp! Swimming minnows on the hooks. Last April I witnessed some kids actually pulling fluke and releasing them on bucktail and Berkley Gulp! Bait combos way back off the route 35 bridge. They are feeding much on scent right now, as they are still a bit sluggish, so the more scent the better. Even douse your baits with FinEssence Shedder Crab oil to spark a bite. Other spots may be out front in the shallows of 25 to 45 feet off of Shark River Inlet and northward of Asbury Park, deal and Long Branch. Stripers will be a main attraction here as well, except that is dictated by the presence of bunker schools. If they are plentiful, so will be the migratory bass. This is a prime time of year to focus on raising fish up with topwater poppers like the Savage Gear Panic Popper or you can drop large rubber baits like the Savage gear 6-inch sand eel or Storm and Tsunami 8-inch paddletail shads. If bai is your choice, snag or cast net live bunker and put them in the livewell to immediately transfer over to 10/0 Gamakatsu circle hooks as circle hooks are mandatory to use when bait fishing stripers now.
The Manasquan River is always the place to start your fluke adventures, but you want to go way back in the river by Clark’s Landing gas docks and even by the Route 70 bridge to find the first flatties as they are back there sunning on the warming mudflat shallows. If no bites are there, try working out further into the ICW outside of the canal then on the west side of the Route 35 drawbridge. Where they are hanging all depends on the water temps. If it is in the high 50s and lower 60s they will be closer to the inlets with outgoing tides bringing warmer baywater out. Speaking of flatfish, winter flounder pounders know that upper Barnegat Bay by the Mantoloking Bridge and off Bay Head usually has packs of blackbacks biting on bloodworm baits. You can also find the flounder down inside Barnegat Bay BB and BI Buoy areas, but that bite has somewhat slowed in recent years. Stripers will no doubt be around to have light tackle un inside the Manasquan River and inside behind Barnegat Light. A 7-foot rod and 5000 Class Shimano Stradic reel spooled with 30-pound power pro and small rubber baits like Kettle Creek or Tsunami paddletails will fit the bill. Off the coast, look for the roving packs of bass hound dogging bunker schools and fish the schools with poppers and jigs. Bluefish can be hit or miss any year, but if we do see an invasion of the yellow-eyed demons, they will enter the Barnegat and Manasquan Inlets to wreak havoc on plugs, poppers and metals, just be sure to switch out treble hooks for single hooks to prevent any deep hooksets into your flesh by a flopping gator.
No doubt, the focus here will be on bluefin tuna, and you don’t have to be far offshore. Last year the bite materialized 8 to 15 miles out at the Slough, Humpty Dumpty and Mud Hole area. Jigging was the way to go on early BFT ranging from 30 to 70 pounds there. Drop Shimano Vortex jigs, RonZ rubbers or assorted 8g to 150g metal jigs down and pump jig them back up the water column. There’s also a chance the midshore and offshore areas 40 to 80 miles off could be holding them all dependent upon where the bait of sand eels, peanut bunker and herring are hanging out. Plan on heading inshore first to see what’s up then make the move out to the Chicken Canyon, Atlantic Princess and Texas Tower areas if nothing bites inshore. If the tuna bite is quiet, be sure to bring the deep drop rigs to work the 300 to 400 foot canyon flats for golden tilefish as that fishery has saved many an offshore trip for charters in recent years. Go heavy with stout rods and heavy-duty 30 class reels for your dropper rigs with 80-pound mono leader and use Berkley Gulp 6-inch grubs, whole squid and whole mackerel baits to pull the tiles out of their lairs.
Summer is here and it couldn’t be a day longer waiting on it! Let’s have some fun in the salt and fire up that grill!