If spring fishing is any indication of what’s in store for summer, we’re all in for a real treat. Just an incredible run of striped bass, matched with wild sea bassing, quality fluke fishing, sporadic bluefish, a showing of weakfish and early season tuna had things hopping in May and June. Searing summer heat should have the bay fishing bouncing with fluke, weaks and blues while offshore tuna fishing should be getting into its prime. Always check the NOAA website for the latest updated tuna regulations as they can change at a moment’s notice from one day to the next. Black sea bass season reopens from July 1 to August 31 with a two-fish bag limit and 13-inch minimum size. Without a doubt, July is set up to be a solid month of fishing. Here’s what’s on tap.
It was hard to find “slot” sized bass from 28 to 38 inches in Raritan Bay as most bass were all over the 38-inch mark and averaged from 40 to 45 inches long. Trollers did well with the usual Tony Maja spoons and Mojo ball rigs, but jigs such as the big metal spoons and Savage Sand eels also put fish on deck. There should be a few stragglers inside the big bay, but in general, the bass bite will filter out to the 10 to 20-pound fish hitting during the night hours at Flynn’s Knoll and around the Ammo Pier. Fluke fishing will be entering its prime time inside the bay this month. Look to drift the channel edges and even down into the middle of the channels if the water temps get above 75 degrees. Hot spots are generally Chapel Hill Channel, Ambrose Channel, the Ammo Pier, Swash Channel and anywhere in the ICW. Bucktails are a great go-to lure tipped with a fluke belly strip, Gulp! Grubs or even squid strips. As weakfish made an appearance in the bay last month, might as well try for them. Drift sandworms off of Flynn’s Knoll during dark hours to see if any spiketooths are hanging around. That used to be a reliable fishery in the 1990’s and early 2000’s and it may bounce back this year.
If you didn’t limit out on sea bass when the season was open in June, you just weren’t fishing. Sea biscuits were aplenty in spots such as the Shark River Reef, and even more inshore at 17 Fathoms, the Farms and Sea Girt Reef. The season reopens this month only with a two-fish bag limit, which is OK I suppose as those fish will be moving inshore onto the fluke grounds, so when fluking, if you hook into some sea bass you can keep two of them for the cooler. Both fluke and sea bass will be hanging at the Elberon Rocks, Shrewsbury Rocks, Long Branch lumps and surrounding mussel beds in 45 to 65 feet of water. The Navesink River was lights out in June and those flatties could still very well be paved on the river bottom there, so it’s always worth a look to bounce for flatfish both in the Navesink and the Shrewsbury rivers. In the past few years, ling have made a push into nearshore waters during the summertime. Wrecks and rockpiles from 2 to 5 miles off have been holding baseball bat caliber ling up to 5 pounds that are all eager to hit Berkley Gulp! Baits on 2/0 octopus hooks. You can also use strips of bergall or bits of clam to claim a bunch of the aesthetically challenged bottom brawlers.
Plenty of bottom fishing action will be laying along the rock-strewn location called the Axel Carlson Reef. First target species will be the mainstay fluke. Flatties will stack in between the low-lying structures such as army tanks, tire units and reef balls. Set your drifts to pass over the fields of rubble piles to pick away at the fluke. You’ll also no doubt be hooking up with some 2 to 3-pound sea bass on your drifts. Later in the month, if the warm green water pushes in from offshore, check the hi-flier flags marking the sea bass pots as those flags are structures in themselves and will magnetize any small mahi-mahi in the area to them. Cast small ½-ounce bucktails tipped with Berkley Gulp! Swimmin Mullet grubtails to pull 1 to 4-pound dolphin off those flags. We may see the first showing of Spanish mackerel and bonito in the area. You’ll be able to find fish by watching the terns dip down and chase the spearing and rainfish schools that are being pushed up from the speedsters from below. Cast small metals like Hogy Epoxy jigs, Williamson Gomoku jigs or Deadly Dicks and rip them back to you at a super quick pace to trick a speedster into a strike. The back bay system in both Barnegat Bay and the Manasquan River will be holding plenty of fluke, but don’t overlook the opportunity to cast the night hours with soft baits for bass and weakfish. Fin-S Fish, Zooms, and Bass Assassins on ½-ounce leadheads will get struck around bridge pilings and lighted dock areas, especially around new and full moon high tides. For some added fun in the bays, anchor up and send out a clam chum slick to tangle with small species like kingfish, croakers, weakfish and blowfish. The area between the BB and BI buoys in Barnegat Bay is always a hot spot for that type of fun fishing.
Water temps stayed pretty cold throughout May, but by the end of the month, temps shifted and tuna moved in with the warming water. The Hudson Canyon saw the first good shot of both bluefin tuna and yellowfin tuna as Chatter Lure spreader bars and blue/white Ilanders with ballyhoo accounted for loads of tuna in the 50 to 100-pound class. While canyon fishing is the usual arena to find tuna, some medium to even large class fish up to 100 inches were found way inshore at the Mud Hole area only 12 miles outside of Manasquan Inlet. They were a tough pick, but persistent and patient anglers were able to hook into quite a few. By July, the tuna chew should be popping all over from 20 to 80 miles out and the BFT could be anywhere in between. Annual hot spots last year were the Slough, Humpty Dumpty, Chicken Canyon, Texas Tower, Barnegat Ridge, Resor Wreck and the Mud Hole wrecks. While trolling is usually productive to find the fish, once you do, try and cast out large poppers and glidebaits like Madd Mantis, Williamson Popper Pro, Savage Gear Mack Sticks and Yo-Zuri Hydro poppers to the feeding schools. There is absolutely nothing like a 100-pound tuna crashing on a topwater popper or glidebait!
With gas prices at an all-time high, be sure you do your research before heading out to fish to maximize your catch rate and minimize burning fuel. Enjoy the 4th of July holiday and let the fireworks fly all month long on the fishing grounds!