You can leave all that comfy warm weather behind, because November and December bring some of the finest fishing in Jersey saltwater. Number one on the hit list is striped bass as the roving schools migrate southward and peak in Jersey waters throughout November then trickle down into December. Bottom fishing is flat out lights out. Blackfish season “reopens” with a 5 fish bag limit and 15-inch minimum size on November 16th through December 31st. Add to that the black sea bass season is open as of November 1st through December 31st with a 15 fish bag limit at 13-inch minimum size. With a year filled with Covid restrictions on commercial fishing regulations and such, fisheries seemed to have rebounded dramatically, setting up for a stellar Fall Run.
The river systems that flow into Raritan Bay are red hot spots to intercept striped bass. The confluence of the Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers is the prime spot to find bass, especially during the dark hours. The Highland Bridge and Oceanic bridges seem to magnetize bass to the area as the street lamps illuminate shadow lines which the bass stage upon to prey on baitfish getting swashed by. Rubber baits such as Zooms and Hogys will get attacked as anglers cast-twitch the baits up current and allow them to flow back into the shadow lines. Inside the bay, look to the mouth near the Rip to find bass hound dogging baitfish schools as they get caught up in the swirling currents, thereby disorienting them and making for an easy meal. Out there, metal jigs that hold true down deep are the best bets, drop Deadly Dicks, Kroc spoons and yet again Hogy Pro Tail rubber baits underneath the busting schools or under diving birds. Hits should come fast and furious. As well, now’s a good time to go up top with surface poppers as bass will push bigger baits to the surface and a well placed 2 to 3-ounce popper can get the adrenaline going with bone-jarring strikes. There’s a possibility that bluefish could still be in the area during the early part of November, adding to the excitement.
In late October, black fishing was off the charts especially in the areas off of Elberon Rocks, Deal Rocks, Sea Girt Reef and the Sandy Hook Reef. Depths from 30 to 40 feet were holding loads of tautog and I would think they will still be there waiting when November starts. Tog will stay shallower up until the third week of November or so when they begin to push out into the 60 to 90 foot depths, so plan accordingly and don’t overrun the close in spots thinking they are all out far. Green crabs will take the lion’s share of fish, but to target larger model bulldog tog, go with white legger crabs. Other rocky and rubble areas like the Farms and 17 Fathom Bank had quite a porgy feed happening and the poke chops should be harassing anglers’ baits throughout November. Depths from 80 to 110 feet were hot and remember that porgies don’t necessarily feed on the bottom, but up above a wreck or rockpile. Drop down with your rig, then reel it up 10 cranks and see if they are holding there, if not, then reel up another 5 cranks and repeat that method until you find the depth they are staging and feeding at. Close to shore, striped bass schools will be hugging the surfline and many times the bite is right outside the breakers. Though you can opt to troll for them, it’s ten times more fun to break out the poppers and jigs to get them with an aggressive approach. Start by looking for birdplays to betray the presence of bass, then look for bunker schools being blown up and lastly, check the fishfinder screen marking red blobs on the bottom to determine where they are. If there is commotion on the surface, break out the poppers, if there are marks on the screen, drop the jigs down. Anywhere from the Shrewsbury Rocks to Allenhurst to Manasquan Inlet can be where the bass show up, it’s all a day to day crapshoot, so you have to be willing to move around and find them.
The beaches have regained their old, structure laden look now 2 years after beach replenishment and that has created some nice cuts, sloughs and bowls in the surfline that have brought in bait schools and allows for gamefish like stripers and blues to trap them inside. Start by heading south out of Squan Inlet as the water right off of Jenkinsons and the Tiki Bar seem to hold the rainfish schools thick, thus bringing bass to the area. After a quick check make the run down the coast working areas off of Mantoloking, Brick Beach, Seaside Park and the Casino Pier, and if no life is showing, then keep running down off of Island Beach State Park where it’s a near guarantee to find bass. Early in November, jigs and rubber baits are prime lures, but as December rolls in, guys will latch on bunker spoons and Shad bar rigs to drag around and find larger model linesiders to 40 pounds hunkered down behind spots like the Seaside Pipe, Mantoloking Pipe and other assorted snags. Blackfish will be number one targets for bottom bouncers as the Axel Carlson Reef, Mohawk Wreck and wrecks outside of Barnegat Inlet will be the focus areas to drop down crabs on tog jigs to tempt a strike. The best set up includes a 1 to 2-ounce Bottom Sweeper or MagicTail tog jig tipped with half a green crab and settled on the bottom.
The incredible, unbelievable, historic and legendary tuna bite we’ve had all year may just continue on into November. As of mid-October the yellowfin bite out at the Triple Wrecks and Texas Tower had not let up one bit with dozens being caught per boat each and every day. Mainly, it’s been a jig bite with butterfly jigs and Stingo jigs, or even RonZ rubber baits dropped down and twitched back up through the water column. There has also been a fairly consistent topwater bite as Madd Mantis poppers and Savage Gear Mack Sticks were getting crushed by yellowfin in the 50 to 100-pound class. Historically November would mean that yellowfin move south and then it’s about bluefin and longfin tuna that move into the canyon areas, but the yellowfin may just stick around for the early part of the month. Longfin should be in the Hudson, Lindenkohl and Spencer Canyons on hammered diamond jigs. Bluefin tuna, however, can be found anywhere from 80 miles off and as close as a quarter mile off the beach. Some true giants were lurking about in October, only 3 to 15 miles off as some lucky anglers were live lining bluefish to get into em. As December moves in, usually the tuna are long gone except for a few “ghost” bluefin, and you can start to target the offshore wrecks for cod, pollock and ling.
November is a month to remember, and December should be chock full of action. Enjoy the last of 2020, it will be good to see it in the rearview mirror!