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NJ Fishing Report

Once again, similar to 2022, 2023 was one heck of a romp on the fishing scene. Both the spring run and fall run of striped bass were of legendary status, as scores of linesiders innumerable to count were inundating the Garden State waters. No doubt, NJ is the new “Mecca” of striper fishing, world-class stuff! As this is being written, bass may well stick around through January in the oceanside of things, so you can legally target them there, though the backwaters and bays and inlets are closed until the reopening on March 1st. Blackfish season is still open from Jan.1 to February 28 with a 15-inch minimum size and 4 fish bag limit. Black sea bass season is now closed. Remember, any saltwater angler in New Jersey has to register for the free and mandatory Saltwater Registry program at to be a legal saltwater angler in 2024. And to keep you warm through the bitter months, boat show season has kicked off big time to load up on all your fishing tackle needs!

Though Raritan Bay itself is off limits to striper fishing, the mouth of the bay on the oceanside is still fair game, and that’s good news as bass should still be around as water temps were only 55 degrees in early December. Spots like the Sticks and outside around Ambrose Channel could be holding fish. Try and jig white paddletails or even troll around with Mojos and shad bar rigs to find any bass hanging around. Other than that, you’re gonna have to wait until March 1st to target bass inside the R-Bay waters.

In early December, there were daily blitzes of bass till erupting along this stretch, mainly in Monmouth Beach, Sandy Hook, Long Branch and Manasquan. It’s quite crazy that we could very well be into a year-round ocean fishery for bass now, and not just a unicorn fish, but double-digit catches through January and February. The same conditions as last year are sitting on us with warm water temps and bait around so expect at least some fish to be hanging around the first few weeks of the new year. Lucky anglers will be able to find the schools and pop them up but dialed-in anglers will liveline eels off of Shrewsbury Rocks and the Long Branch Lumps to find resident fish. Bottom fishing shines now up here, as blackfish will be firing on all cylinders. Depths from 75 to 100 feet should be the target on spots like the Farms, 17 Fathoms and the Shark River Reef. Big tog are the game target during this month as usually the largest breaking the 10-pound mark and even up to and past 15 pounds are a daily occurrence. White legger crabs are always the best bet for the trophy tog, sent down on a snafu rig, while tog jigs will weed out the smaller 3 to 8-pound fish, tipped with a quarter whitelegger or green crab bait. There’s a good chance ling, porgies and possibly a whiting or two are hanging around the rocky structures as well, so don’t be surprised when you reel in some oddities while tog fishing.

December left the bass biting ferociously all along this section of the coast. The lack of private boats in the water meant a lack of pressure on the fish and that surfcasters had their full day’s pull of bass every single day. Every morning bass were hitting plugs, shads, and metals the whole stretch from Point Pleasant through Island Beach as sand eels became the predominant bait for fish to key in on, though herring and mackerel were also around some days when swimming plugs got the attention of larger fish around in the 10 to 25-pound bracket. Bundle up with warm gloves and cast in the early morning hours for your best shot, but fish will feed throughout the day if you have the stamina to cast continually. Anyone who still has a boat in the water can easily mark the schools and jig them up with Ava 47 to 67-size jigs. Some party boats may actually still be targeting the fish if they are thick enough to warrant the ride. Again though, tautog are the top targets this month. Start at the nearshore reefs like the Sea Girt and Axel Carlson and work the outer edges in the 80 to 100-foot depths to find any feeding tog, if not, then progressively work outward to the 5 to 15-mile range wrecks like the Mohawk or Tolten to find the blackfish. Tog tend to move further offshore the colder the waters get, so you could very well be in 120 to 180 feet if temps are below the 50-degree mark as the bottom water is actually warmer than the surface.

Technically, we think “offshore” when we talk tuna, but by no means was that the case in December as schools of small to giant-class bluefin of 50 to 500 pounds were blowing up reels only 2 to 8 miles off the beaches! The Seaside Lump, Axel Carlson Reef, Manasquan Ridge and Barnegat Ridges all had glory shots of BFT hitting Hogy, RonZ and NLBN soft baits trolled WWWB in the spread. Last year, a solid bite materialized off of the south shore of Long Island as 1 to 3 miles off BFT were dumping spools. Rules and regs change literally by the day for BFT so be up to snuff on the laws when you head out to target tuna. If you’re lucky, you’ll find BFT crashing on sand eel, herring or mackerel schools on the surface, and that’s when you want to toss out large YoZuri Mag Poppers, Savage Gear Mack Sticks and the like to mimic large bait profiles, but always have slender metals in the mix to whip up fish that are feeding on sand eels. Often overlooked, bottom fishing is red hot anywhere on the 20 to 60-mile wrecks as cod, pollock and ling are hovering around the profile of the wrecks. Cod and ling tend to stick near the bottom whereas pollock will survey above the wreck from 30 to 60 feet up in the water column. Hammered diamond jigs and tube rigs will get both species big time. Drop down and reel as fast as you can to the surface to get a pollock to beeline and hit the fluttering metal as it comes up the water column but don’t have your drags set too tight as a 20 to 30-pound class pollock will snap the line from the power of the hit.
Without a doubt, 2023 was yet another season for the books! Let’s hope 2024 starts with the same fire! Enjoy the boat show and outdoor show season, but don’t forget, just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean the fish are taking a nap by the fireplace!