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NJ Fishing Report

January through March is known as “show season” with dozens of outdoor and boating trade shows to fill the time between fishing seasons. It’s a good thing they were around to keep anglers busy as January wreck fishing was pretty darn slow for blackfish and the backwaters have been closed to striped bass fishing since the start of the year. The good news is that as of March 1st, the backwaters will reopen once again to striper fishing and all indications are that there are plenty of stripers that have wintered over in the backwaters. Winter flounder season also opens on March 1st with a two-fish bag limit and 12-inch minimum size. You can fish for blackfish all the way through to February 28th but the season closes for March. Don’t forget to register free for your Saltwater Angler registry card from the Division of Fish and Wildlife as it’s mandatory to be a legal saltwater angler in Jersey. Anyway, let’s get to the reports.

Raritan Bay starts to come alive in March as migratory stripers begin to filter in and head up into the Hudson River to spawn out. However, there is always a contingency of resident stripers that winter over way up in the Raritan River that awaken once the water temps get above 50 degrees, providing lights-out fishing from the Driscoll Parkway Bridge out to the South Amboy beaches. Paddletail lures like RonZ and Savage Gear sand eels knock the snot out of linesiders as you can drift and cast in the 10-to-19-foot depths. All along the sod banks of South Amboy, Cliffwood Beach and Union Beach, surfslingers will launch bloodworms on the incoming tides when the waters warm up to hook into slot fish. As March moves into the latter weeks, look for bass to really infiltrate and set up all inside the back areas of the bay off of Staten Island, Tottenville, Great Kills Harbor, Keyport and Morgan Creek. They will get active enough to hit slow-rolled wooden swimmers and topwater poppers on the surface usually around the fourth week of the month.

The double-barreled load of the Shrewsbury and Navesink river systems unloaded for stripers throughout March last year as scores of stripers were alive and kicking once the season opened. Incoming tides had bass striking topwater poppers and shads while night hours bass pounced upon Yo-Zuri Mag darters in white as well as Black Bomber plugs. The Shark River Inlet area was a shining spot last year with a variety of early-season action. Back by the gas dock and concrete pier, winter flounder were plucked out of the muddy mussel beds with some consistency. The inlet itself held stripers and at the turn of April, many blackfish were ready to chew by the train bridge and 35 bridge. Along the coastline, stripers will most likely start to be found off Asbury Park, Spring Lake and the Highlands as they move up the coast. Bottom fishermen may be searching for porgies, cod, pollock and ling at spots like 17 Fathoms, the Farms, Klondike and Shark River Reef.

As the backwater closed on December 31st, the Toms River was lined shoulder to shoulder with anglers catching bass from 28 to 38 inches on nearly every cast. Those fish could very well still be hanging inside the river on March 1st as it’s been quite a mild winter so far. White shads, small Yo-Zuri minnows and Mag Darters and light white bucktails were all hanging fish during the morning and evening hours. If baiting up is your motive, then launch out some bloodworm bits on hi-lo pill float rigs to attract bass in the Toms River as well as the surrounding Cedar Creek area waters. Winter flounder generally can be found in upper Silver Bay, the mouth of Metedeconk, the Mantoloking Bridge area and outside of Oyster Creek during the start of the season in March. Bring a mess of clam and mussel logs to use for chum and work the tides hard to get the winter flundies snappin’. The first migratory bass should be making their way along the coastline too with much of the activity localizing around the Barnegat Inlet and Island Beach State Park. Try dropping down a live spot or jigging shads for the early-season stripers. As March wears on, there may be a chance of bluefish popping in during the end of the month if the waters continue on their warming path this winter.

It seems bluefin tuna are showing up earlier every year now as winters have been relatively warm. BFT were actually still hanging around as of late January and they may even be in the area in February and March at inshore spots like the Lillian, Oil Wreck, Slough, Resor Wreck and such. Usually, it’s a reaction strike that gets them to hit so a wildly flailing popper on the surface can get them interested. Other tactics include trolling RonZ slender rubber baits way, way back in the spread about 300 yards. Other fares to target offshore include bottom fish such as cod and ling off the 20-to-50-mile wrecks, where you can also happen into some roving schools of pollock that make for a great meal.
February and March are usually saved for outdoor expos and boat shows, however, there are options to get out and hit the salt with success. Now’s the time to prepare for the upcoming season by fixing all those broken rods, greasing and maintaining the reels, changing hooks on lures and heading to your favorite tackle shop to load up on all the new fishing gear you need to keep you going strong for the fishing year. Spring is right around the corner! Stay motivated!