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NJ Fishing Report

Without a doubt, October kicks off the official start of the fall run in Jersey. Cool nights have dropped water temps to spark a mass exodus of bait pods to leave the backwaters and stage in the near shore waters. Striped bass will be number one on the fall run hit list, as will false albacore, bonito, bluefish, tuna, blackfish and sea bass. Regulations to be aware of are black sea bass season which reopens from October 1 to October 31 with a 10 fish limit at a 12.5-inch minimum length, then reopens again from November 1 to December 31 with the same size limit but the bag limit jumps to 15 fish per angler. Let’s get started.

The first stop stripers make in NJ waters on their migration southward usually starts with Raritan Bay. Big bass as well as bluefish invade the bay waters to gobble up bunker schools near the delta mouth of the bay. Usually, most of the activity is on the outer edges of the bay and not so much inside so focus your efforts there in spots like Romer Shoal, Swash Channel and the Sticks. Big poppers and slashbaits will work well to trick up bass and blues. A solid spot always seems to be right at the Rip of Sandy Hook where bait schools get swashed around and disoriented. That spot is also the top-notch area to target little tunny as they burst through the rippy waters to chase rainbaits. Don’t overlook the opportunity to possibly even find some weakfish in historical haunts like Flynn’s Knoll as many weakfish were reported throughout the summertime, possibly predicting an actual run of the spiketooths. Use sandworms dropped on float rigs near the bottom.

Sandy Hook is usually explosive fishing for bass on top waters midway through October. The fish seem to school up from the Hook down through Long Branch and Spring Lake. By far the most exciting way to catch them is on topwater big chugging poppers, but slidebaits, paddletail shads and even Ava jigs will trick them up. Trollers can decide to pull shad bar rigs and bunker spoons that mimic the bunker baits in the area. Speedsters should be all over the place as tunny and bonito schools blast spearing and bay anchovies out of the water. Slim metals like RonZ-poxy jigs, Deadly Dicks and Island X Hellbender lures cast out and ripped back as fast as you can reel will get hit hard. Down deep, even though you can only keep one blackfish, they will be stacked on wrecks and rock rubble piles at 17 Fathoms, the Sandy Hook Reef, and the Sea Girt Reef sites. Tog jigs tipped with half a green or whitelegger crab will get to your limit quickly, and then you can switch over to some torrid sea bass fishing. The knuckleheaded sea biscuits will eagerly hit fresh clam baits and Gulp grubs but to target larger model 2-to-3-pound fish, go with hammered diamond jigs and bounce them off the bottom. Generally, the 65-to-85-foot depths hold both species at this time of year. The wild card will be weakfish. In recent years, smallish type weakfish have been inundating the waters off of Deal and Long Branch and as you mark them on the fishfinder, drop small metal jigs down to pull a ton of them up, even though you are only allowed one fish at 13 inches.

Start your days searching right outside the Manasquan Inlet for roving packs of little tunny and bonito. The swirling outgoing tide currents trap bait schools as they pour outside the inlet where the speed demons relentlessly pound them. The bite is fast and furious, but it’s a quick window to target them from false dawn until about 8 AM, then they usually disappear until the afternoon. Last year on October 8th and 9th, we saw an incredible happening as the first wave of monster stripers moved through from Bay Head through Island Beach State Park as hundreds of 35-to-50-pound fish were caught and released daily between both the boat fleet and the surfcasters. Toss bunker chunks on circle hooks or bomber plugs if fishing the surf, or work topwater poppers and paddletail shads from the deck of the boat. This is also a prime time to break out the fly rod for bass. Will the bluefish show up? They should as October is usually the best month for blues, but we can only hope they appear. Ava jigs and hard baits fixed only with single hooks and not treble hooks are the best options to toss out for the choppers. Prime time togging will be taking place at the Axel Carlson Reef and the Barnegat Light Reef. Again, tog jigs fixed with half crabs will do the deed. Sea bass anglers should also be able to fill the box at the reef sites as well as the 3-to-8-mile wrecks like the Mohawk and Tolten wreck.

Tuna fishing has been interesting this year. A massive squid population was stuck inside the 5-mile limit at the Seaside Lump where anglers were finding bluefin tuna basically each day to bring home and that chew may stay through October so you don’t have to run far to find BFT. If you don’t find them inshore, the next area to check would be the Mud Hole areas at the Lillian, Oil Wreck and the Slough around 10 to 15 miles off. From there, it’s a crapshoot to find them in perennial hot spots like the Glory Hole, Chicken Canyon then all the way to the Texas Tower and Hudson Canyon. Trolling with Chatter Lures sidetracker squid usually get whacked, but if you can find the feeding whales and porpoises, try tossing poppers and dropping large 100g to 200g butterflies or Stingo jigs down to trick them up. Yellowfin tuna usually stick around the canyon edges but can move in closer to the Chicken Canyon. Night chunking trips last year at this time produced limits of 40-to-80-pound YFT in quick fashion. Butterfish or sardine baits were top offerings to get the yellowfin chewing. Bigeye tuna appeared in great numbers in September and they could still be hanging around this month. Fish were between 150 and 250 pounds and hit squid spreader bars trolled at nighttime. October is also the month where big broadbills tend to be caught on night chunk trips but if you are targeting swordfish specifically, drop a live squid bait down rigged with a glow stick 3 feet above the bait and work the 200-to-300-foot depths as the gladiators patrol the deep waters. If you hook into a sword, be prepared for a knockdown drag-out fight!
We’re set up to have a phenomenal October on all fronts. Be on the lookout for an early run of stripers as happened last year. Tuna should bite well through the end of the month and bottom angling for sea bass and blackfish should pack a power punch to load the cooler with some tasty fillets. Can you feel it? The fall run is upon us! Get out and enjoy the cool weather and hot fishing!