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NJ Fishing Report

October’s cool nights and sunny days mean all that’s good is coming to the Jersey Shore. Without a doubt, October is one of if not the best months to wet a line along the Garden State. So much is happening that the Fall Run officially kicks off in earnest. Bait schools such as peanut bunker, mullet, rainfish, spearing and sand eels inundate the waters, providing a smorgasbord for feeding gamefish of all shapes and sizes. Stripers and bluefish dominate the nearshore catches, speedsters like bonito and false albacore race along the shoreline, bottom brawling is at its finest with sea bass, porgies and blackfish on tap and then offshore tuna goes bananas! Some changing regulations include black sea bass season which reopens from October 7 to October 27 runs with a 10 fish limit at a 13-inch minimum length, then reopens again from November 1st to December 31st.

R-Bay should be ripe with bass and bluefish activity as bunker schools get hounded by aggressive feeding fish. Topwater action is in its prime here and provides for some rip-roaring fun. Big poppers like Savage Gear pencil poppers, Madd Mantis chuggers and the like will get whacked with reckless abandon as they are dragged across the surface. When you see fish feeding, bust a popper on the outskirts of the schools to elicit a bone-jarring strike. Romer Shoal, the Rip and even back inside the bay off Chapel Hill Channel are hot spots. If you mark fish down deeper, drop-down RonZ rubber baits to trick them up with slow swooping pulls.

Any given morning at sunrise, a wild array of Nat Geo-type fishing can occur as gamefish blast bait schools alongshore from Sandy Hook down through Manasquan Inlet. Bass and blues will be all over the place feeding up until about 11 am, but always be on the lookout for the spearing and rainfish schools to scatter as that’s a telltale sign bonito and little tunny are on the pursuit. Bass and blues will hit swimming plugs, but the speed demons will chase after small thin metals like Williamson Gomoku Jigs, Hogy Epoxys and Ron-Z small rubber baits. Use a light 20-pound fluorocarbon leader for the speedsters and tie the lure directly to the line sans any terminal clips or tackle. Cast out and rip the lure back at breakneck speed to turn the heads of the albies and bones. Down below bottom fishing is hot and heavy at spots like the Farms, 17 Fathoms and Shark River Reef. Sea bass are suckers for simple clam or squid baits, porgies gobble up clam bits with reckless abandon and blackfish will be keying in on green crabs or white legger crabs on the bottom. General depths to fish will be 65 to 100 feet at those spots.

The same modus operandi will take place from points south of Manasquan Inlet into Barnegat Inlet area. Look for albies and bones off Bay Head, Lavallette and Island Beach State Park as the deeper waters close to shore seem to bring in the fish on higher tides. Fleeting schools will easily pop out to the Manasquan and Barnegat Ridges, as well as hang around spots like the Axel Carlson reef and Garden State North and South reef sites. If you don’t see schools on top, troll around with small 3-inch feathers at a 5 to 7-knot pace for a strike. Don’t be surprised if you find some football bluefin tuna to 40 pounds when trolling too! This is prime togging territory as well. The 75 to 100-foot depths at those reef sites should hold some quality tog of 4 to 8 pounds on almost every drop. Use your spot lock if you have a trolling motor to keep you right on top of a piece of structure and maneuver around on the wreck in different areas to find the fish biting. Many times, all it takes is a small shift of 20 to 30 yards to find the feeding fish. Surfcasters are in their glory at Island Beach State Park as stripers and blues will hug the undertow and pin bait schools up onto the beach. The surf bag should be full of poppers, plugs, metals and shads to toss and mimic the appropriate bait profile. Though they are out of season, you can also bounce small bucktails in the surf to play catch and release with a ton of fluke that hang in the suds this time of year. Be ready for anything along this stretch of coastline!

It’s been hit or miss each day on the tuna grounds so far this year as some days are lights out and the next day the bite is ghost. But the good news is that in early September, bluefin tuna poured into the inshore grounds 12 to 20 miles off at spots like Monster Ledge, Humpty Dumpty, Resor Wreck and the Slough. Jigs accounted for many of the fish as they are flipped and jerked up to the surface. Occasional shots at topwater popping action also can be at play here, just keep your eye out for gulls, terns and shearwaters as they follow the bait schools with tuna directly underneath them. If you’re looking for a slightly different type of fare, then hit the bottom. Cod, pollock, and giant sea bass make for an incredible cooler filling trip on the 50 to 80-mile wrecks. Drop down with hi-lo rigs baited with fresh gobs of clam, bergall strips, Berkley Gulp or squid and sand eel combos and work both high relief and low relief wrecks to find the species hanging in the structure. It’s usually drop and reel type of fishing with humpback sea bass with occasional cod, and pollock up to 35 pounds will be patrolling above the wreck about 20 to 60 feet above. Pollock tend to hit quickly retrieved metal jigs on the way up and provide bone-jarring strikes, so hold on tight!
All signs point to an incredible October as we’ve had a cooler than average year regarding water temperatures. That delayed or non-existent warm waters will most assuredly spark the Fall Run to start like the old days were in October. Get ready, we could have phenomenal fall fishing on the slate!