Will March allow us more freedom from Covid? Tough to say as of February, but we can wish that it will get better month by month as we move into springtime. March is a month of excitement, mainly because it’s truly the first days of the year where back bay fishing, surf fishing and ocean fishing all start to wake up from the wintertime slumber. Striped bass season reopens in the backwaters on March 1st, with a one fish limit between 28 and 38 inches, and winter flounder season also becomes legal again on March 1st with 12-inch minimum size and two fish bag limit. All anglers must be in possession of their NJ saltwater angler registry card too, which can easily be re-upped at https://www.nj.gov/dep/saltwaterregistry/ it literally takes less than a minute and is required to saltwater fish in the state. Do not forget that anyone now bait fishing for stripers, whether it be from the surf or the boat, are legally required to use non-offset circle hooks. That goes for bunker, clams, worms, and live eels – any type of bait. There may be a little learning curve to get used to the hookset, but anglers should be able to get the hang of it pretty quickly.
Cross your fingers and hope the bass move in early like they did last March, as the third and fourth week of the month brought in big ol linesiders of 20 to 30 pounds, which was unusually early due to the relatively warm winter. Big fish were whacking away at large white topwater poppers as well as hitting trolled Mojo ball rigs and rubber eel Hogy jigs. Hot spots were deep back in the bay, more towards Perth Amboy and Morgan Creek and off of Staten Island in waters that spanned 12 to 25 feet. Bankcasters were hitting stripers heavy off the shores at Perth Amboy, South Amboy, Cliffwood and Union Beaches as hi-lo rigs baited with sandworms and bloodworms hooked fish all throughout the daytime, but better on the incoming tides. Remember, with circle hooks, let the bass eat the bait whole, then just reel down at a moderate pace and lightly pull the rod to the side to effectively plant the barb of the circle hook into the jawbone of the bass. Winter flounder may or may not show up, but a good bet is to try casting worms on bottom rigs off of Union Beach or Morgan Creek spillout. There was some action on flatties off Cliffwood as well last year. If you have access to a boat and the ability to set up a solid ground chum slick, then you incrementally up your chances of finding and hooking fish.
Strangely enough, through January and February, it was a virtual ghost town along the northern stretch of coast. About the only thing happening was a mild blackfish chew along areas of the Axel Carlson Reef and Sea Girt Reef and there were no reports of ling, cod or pollock, or it was meager at best. Most wrecks were brimming with conger eels and ocean pout, more “undesirable” species. Come March, however, we can hope that red hake, aka ling, move into the area as they did late last winter. There’s always an option to head out to the mid-range structures like the Shark River Reef and out to 20 miles to try finding some cod or pollock using fresh clam baits on hi-lo rigs. There’s always a chance at stumbling into the first save of migratory stripers along the section of coastline as they move into the Hudson River to spawn out. Usually, his time of year if the bunker are around, people will try to liveline them, or set up on a chunk slick to send down baits to see if they can intercept any feeding fish. Backwater wise, stripers should be milling around as they warm up in the Navesink and Shrewsbury River systems. Last March, white Mag Darters accounted for quite a few bass off the Navesink riverbanks, especially during the outgoing tides when waters were warmer. Get ready for the reopening of the blackfish season next month, but for now, we’ve got what we’ve got.
A double-barreled blast in the form of bass and flounder will be the focus along the central coast. In recent years, the river systems feeding into Barnegat Bay like the Toms River, Cedar Creek and Oyster Creek have produced fun action with schoolie and shorty bass up to 28 inches. Mainly, the fish had keyed in on white shads or small Yo-Zuri Mag Darters or Crystal Minnows retrieved at a super slow pace. You can also opt to toss out sandworm and bloodworm baits fixed to hi-lo pill float rigs with size 1/o Octopus circle hooks along the river banks of Island Heights or off Huddy Park. Also in those Barnegat River systems is a plethora of fat and tasty white perch. Whiteys like to feed at sundown and will chew into the night until about 9 PM. The bite can be hot and heavy with double digit catches of half pound to 1-pound plus fish being hooked on a daily basis. Winter flounder were kind of absent from last spring, that could be due to the lack of reports from fishermen as it was the first real month of the tortuous Covid shutdown, but it may be productive this year. Hot spots where flounder can be plucked are in usual spots like upper Barnegat Bay on the south side of the canal, the south side of the Mantoloking Bridge and inside Barnegat Bay between the BB and BI Buoys outside of Oyster Creek. Chum heavy and chum hard.
It’s going to be a scratch this month, but hardcores can try for some bottom beasts offshore. Cod and pollock will be scattered about on the 40 to 80-mile wrecks offshore. It can really be a blast if you anchor up on a shipwreck that has a lot of life, drumming up excitement as cod and pollock begin to feed and hit clams baits as well as jigs. My bet would be to plug in numbers of less pressured wrecks like the Cow Wreck, the Texel, the Jane and others as they collect an ecosystem around them that attract cod and pollock to stick to. Get ready to keep your eyes open for the first bluefin tuna of the year to come rumbling through as they showed up very early last year. Generally, the waters are a bit warmer offshore, so there is a chance BFT could begin to run.
This will be the second March under the Covid shutdown, but I think it’s a little more relaxed than last year where marinas, tackle shops and charter boats were all shut down and off limits. Hopefully, we won’t see a resurgence of the virus again, and that we can get back to some normalcy, both in life and on the fishing front. Good luck, stay healthy and let’s get to the springtime soon!