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NJ Fishing Report

Here we go, heading straight into the heart of the summertime! What a fantastic year its been on the saltwater grounds. Fluke will take top honors as the species of choice as the flatfishing has been solid to start off both in the back bays and nearshore waters. Sea bassing was absolutely lights out, and that season reopens again from July 1st to August 31st with a two fish bag limit and 13-inch minimum size. Tuna moved in during the last week of May and July should be the finest month to target bluefin on the midshore grounds while yellowfin will be amassing offshore in the canyons. Adding to the mix at any given time are bluefish, weakfish, blowfish, stripers, and other oddities such as Spanish mackerel, bonito and cobia that usually show up when the waters warm.

Striper fishing simply kept on cruising with monster cow bass of 35 to 60 pounds being taken within Raritan Bay and just outside of the mouth. There’s a good chance some of the larger fish may just stick around during the early part of the month so its always worth finding a bunker school to see if any bass are hanging below to liveline bunker on circle hooks or to drop jigs on. The main game in the bay will be fluke however. A mess of fish were stacked inside the bay river systems of the Navesink and Shrewsbury all throughout May and those flatties will be moving out and taking up residence inside Raritan’s waters during July. Look to hit the channel edges of Chapel Hill Channel and the Raritan Reach area as fish can be anywhere from 15 foot of water down to 40 feet in the deeper channels. It all depends on the water temps where the bulk of fish will be staging. The Coast Guard station flatwaters around 15 to 25 feet are usually a good place to start to see if they are hanging shallow, and if you don’t get action to start there, bump out into the deeper channels to find them. Bucktails tipped with Gulp grubs are always hot, but don’t be afraid to drop down some killies, squid strips or fluke belly baits on three way swivel or fishfinder slide rigs. Weakfish could very well be biting during the night hours as Flynn’s Knoll has always been a historical hot spot to target dark hour weakies while drifting sandworms on bottom float rigs. Give it a try this year as weakfish up to 12 pounds were hitting worms during the early part of June and they should still be sticking around.

Many captains said this was the best sea bassing they’ve experienced, possibly of all time. Sea biscuits were ripe and ready to hit during June and the action should boil right over into July. Quality fish were at hand too, with some pushing the legit 4-pound mark on the ishore rocks such as The Farms, Sandy Hook reef, 17 Fathoms and the like. It won’t be hard to score your two fish limit in July, so be sure to bring plenty of people on the boat to get a good pull of fillets! Fluke fishing should be firing on all cylinders now, especially in water depths of 35 to 55 feet as the fish start to pave the inshore humps, lumps and ridges. Try starting close to the beach off of Deal and Elberon, then bump out to the Long Branch humps to see how far the fish have moved and migrated. The Shark River Inlet area should also be holding fluke as the generally deeper inlet waters tend to keep fish in the area even throughout the heat of the summer. Anyone interested in big game fishing can set out a bunker chum slick to try and tangle with some sharks as legal species such as hammerheads, blacktips, threshers and spinner sharks move in during July and August, though remember you have to use circle hooks and are mandated to immediately release any protected sharks like the brown, dusky and whites. Try setting a slick at the Sea Girt Reef or Sandy Hook Reef. Bluefish could very well rebound enough again for party boats to head out and target them on chum slicks like they did in the old days. A simple wire hook rig with a 6/0 Baitholder hook and a chunk bait will dial you into some choppers that can range up to 15 pounds, both during daytime and night time.

With a relatively liberal size limit on fluke, you should have no issues scoring your limit of flatties for the dinner table at a 3 fish bag, with two fish between 17 and 18 inches and one fish over 18 inches. The Axel Carlson reef site is always a top spot to drop down and pull on a mess of flatties, but be sure to motor around and make drifts over and defined contours that drop even a few feet as fluke will hang on the backsides of the slopes to feed on baitfish as they move in and out with the current and tides. Sea bass will also be habituating the same grounds as fluke, so know you can put 2 fish legally in the cooler on your fluke trips. When the water temps really begin to rise later in the month, the 75 degree plus waters will usher in some exotics like mahimahi, Spanish macks, king macks and cobia to the area and they tend to stick around the hi-flier flags that mark the lobster and sea bass pots on the Axel Carlson reef site as well as the Garden State reefs. In the backwaters, the Barnegat Bay and Manasquan River systems will be ripe with activity as weakfish move in and gobble down shrimp baits and small leadheads tipped with soft baits. Cocktail blues up to 2 or 3 pounds will inundate the bays, rivers and surf for some real lightning strike light tackle action on small metals and poppers. Night time is still the right time to target resident stripers which hang around the bridges feeding in the shadowlines on the tide shifts. Small paddletails or fin-S fish type soft baits on ½-ounce leadheads always find their mark.

Tuna fishing took a little while to get going, but by early June, the first mass catches of yellowfin were inundating the Hudson Canyon. Trolled offerings like sidetracker spreader bars, ballyhoo baits in Islanders, and cedar plugs hooked fish in the 40 to 60-pound bracket though by July, the night chunk tactics will be working just fine as well. Look for offshore eddies spinning off and find the temperature breaks of 2 degrees or more to locate feeding schools. Bluefin had been somewhat absent in early June, but could push in big time by July. Bluefin are great for medium sized boats to reach as they will come in as close as 5 miles to feed, but generally will hang around areas from 12 miles and outward. Start at spots like the Slough and the Lillian Wreck, then bump out to the Atlantic Princess, Glory Hole, Chicken Canyon and work your way out to the offshore grounds at the Resor Wreck, Hudson and Triple Wrecks areas. If you find the whales and porpoises feeding, chances are tuna will be with them. Bring an assortment of butterfly jigs, topwater poppers and glidebaits to drop or cast to the feeding schools both on the surface as well as down deeper. Madd Mantis poppers, Island X spooks, RonZ soft baits, Chatter Lures sidetracker bars and Shimano butterfly jigs will all work to trick up tuna. If we get blessed, you may even find a swordfish or two when night chunking for tuna.
July 4th and the official start of summer is here! Fire up the grill, let the fireworks fly and bend some rods!