September officially marks the end of tourist summer, and while we are thankful for the visitors business, we now enter local’s summer where fishermen gain our beaches back from the multicolored umbrellas, closed off areas and restricted beach buggy access. Summer water temps sure took their time settling in to where they should have been over a month ago but as of early August, the heatwave certainly came roaring in. That said, September may see higher than average water temps keeping tuna, mahi, fluke, Spanish macks and other such visitors around well through the month. This is truly the transitional month where both warmwater and coolwater species will be on the prowl for anglers to target.
Fluke fishing has been pretty darn solid over the past month and September shines as prime time to intercept fluke as they hunker down in the depths of Ambrose Channel to cool off and move out offshore on their fall migration. The Channel is roughly 55 to 80 feet deep and doormat caliber fluke stick around to feed on snapper blues, fluke bellies and all large type baits as they fatten up for the fall. Drop down a fishfinder slide rig with a dual tandem hook slide rig baited with a long and lean 12-inch fluke belly or whole Peruvian spearing, or even a snapper bluefish to tempt the big uns to hit. The sandy Hook Rip at the tip of Sandy Hook has been dishing up great fluke fishing all summer long and should continue into September as anglers are floating live killies out from the sands using slip floats to score fish from 3 to 6 pounds.
You can bet fluke will be hanging off the structure piles off Elberon, the Long Branch rocks and even out to the Shark River Reef all month long. Bounce around with 2-ounce bucktails tipped with Gulp! 6-inch grubs to trick up some fish for the fishbox. There were a mess of blacktip , spinner and brown sharks hanging outside of Shark River inlet throughout August and if you want to have some rod breaking fun, send out a live bunker and hold on tight! Summertime speedsters such as Spanish mackerel, bonito and false albacore should be entering their prime season now. Drop back small 3-inch blue/white or pink/black feathers and troll around the northern coast to hook into some real drag screaming battles. For bottomfishing, triggerfish, blackfish and sea bass will be colonizing all the rockpiles from 1 to 5 miles offshore. Droop down with squid strips, bits of clam and even sand fleas to pull on a variety of species that are sure to taste great on the grill. Hit the Klondike, Shark River Inlet, Sandy Hook Reef and 17 fathoms for all the species.
A nice surprise awaiting anglers along the central stretch will be in the form of cobia as some real whoppers up to 45 pounds were caught in August in nearshore spots like the Barnegat Light buoy, Barnegat Light Reef and under bunker schools. A bucktail tipped with a long RonZ rubber slender bait will get the cobia to strike hard. Also, look for schools of cow nosed rays and cast on the edges of the schools to find cobia trailing them. Other exotics will be sheepshead hanging on the rocks at both the Manasquan Inlet and Barnegat Inlet. Fiddler crabs and sand fleas are the best baits to lance on a hook to drop down between the rocks and pull up sheepshead that average 4 to 12 pounds. There should also still be plenty of chicken class 2 to 4 pound mahi hanging around the hi-flier pot buoys at thZxel Carlson reef and Barnegat Light reef where small 1-ounce bucktails tipped with Gulp can hook dozens of the tasty treats. Those reef sites will also be the hot spot to claim doormat caliber fluke up to 10 pounds, especially on the outer edges of the reefs in 75 to 95 foot of water. Surf fishing for stripers and big bluefish should happen with any passing storm or hurricane front moving through. Prepare to toss out bunker chunks, mullet and even plugs and poppers anywhere from Bay Head through Island Beach state park to land the first real surf wave of the fall. The beaches from Manasquan Inlet through IBSP will now be open usually around September 15th open to beach buggy access so you can cast and blast and chase the bass, blues and albies as they hound dog the bait schools from sunrise to sunset.
It took a while to get going but as of early August the tuna bite began to shine. The offshore grounds from 40 to 80 miles held schools of 50 to 100-pound bluefin and yellowfin tuna. This year the hot spots seem to be anywhere at any given day at spots like the Atlantic Princess, Texas Tower, and the triple Wrecks, but the fish also moved inshore periodically at the 15 to 25 mile range at the Barnegat Ridge, Humpty Dumpty, Slough and Mud Hole area. You just have to be willing and able to motor around to find where tuna schools are roving around to day to day. Troll with zucchini Chatter lures sidetracker spreaders bars, cedar plugs, blue/white Ilanders rigged with Ballyhoo to locate and find the fish. Once you have fish hitting, you can drift around and mark the tuna schools underneath to jig with butterfly jigs or RonZ rubber baits in the water column. During mid-day, the tuna generally will come up and push bait to the surface where you can have high-octane hooksets on topwater poppers and slidebaits like the Madd mantis poppers or Savage Gear Mack Sticks. Always keep your eyes open for humpback and finback whales breaching and feeding on bait schools as undoubtedly tuna will be following them to gobble up their fish kills. Also look for birdplays from terns and frigate birds hovering above bait schools as tuna chase them feverishly from below. It’s a run and gun type of affair and you have to constantly be moving to keep up or run into the tuna schools. Overnighters can set up with a butterfish or sardine slick with baits out to land the tuna as well as the chance of scoring a big broadbill swordfish.
September is truly the month of change. Air temps cool down and spark the fish feeding mentality in all species inshore to offshore. Don’t miss out this month as its usually the hottest month fishing wise for both pelagic and nearshore species!