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NJ Fishing Report

Saltwater wise, February is always the slowest month of the year, but when the calendar page turns to March, the spark starts the fire. February is not a total loss though as blackfish and white perch are still on a chew, and usually all the fun outdoor sporting shows exist throughout the month so you can buy up all the fishing tackle and gear you need for the year. Beginning March 1st, backwater striper season reopens again and all signs point to a solid start to the year with a mild winter sitting upon us so far. Winter flounder season also opens on March 1st with a two fish bag limit and 12-inch minimum size. Blackfish season lasts through February 28th but the season closes for the month of March. As well, don’t forget to register free for your Saltwater Angler registry card from the Division of Fish and Wildlife as its mandatory to be a legal saltwater angler in Jersey.

Expect Raritan Bay to be running along with striper activity as soon as March 1st comes around as last year opening day had bass to 34 inches already hitting sandworms and bloodworm baits inside the bay. Most fish at the early part of the month will be hanging closer to the river system inflow points such as at in the Raritan River, Morgan Creek and all along the shorelines from Perth Amboy down through Keyport beachfront. Last year, boat anglers who were in the water early lucked out big time as stripers were stacked up inside the Raritan River west of the Driscoll Bridge, then staggered outward to the Route 9 bridge and train bridges. Most anglers had luck dropping down paddletail shads in white and chartreuse or worked big wooden swimming plugs slowly on the surface to hook up. Beachcasters would launch out bait worm balls doused with FinEssence Oil off beaches at South Amboy, Cliffwood and Morgan Creek flats to connect with stripers. Fish when the sun is high in the sky as waters will warm up considerably by 5 degrees or more to get the bass snapping.

Again, March 1st should be lit with striper activity along the northern section river systems as bass have been wintering over in some numbers with warmer winters of late. The Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers last year gave up lights out fishing during March. White YoZuri mag darters and white Storm shads accounted for dozens of bass each hour for both boat and shorebound anglers. I haven’t seen the rivers so good so early ever and we can hope that bite happens again this year. If anyone has the gumption to try for winter flounder a good bet is to work the two rivers convergence to the north as historically that was s upper winter flounder spot. Otherwise, the Shark River system is the go-to place to be anywhere in Jersey to find flatfish early. Spots off the gas dock, L street Pier and the Tennis Courts are always the place to get the winter flounder party started as bits of clam, bloodworms or sandworms are key baits to trick up some fish. In February, blackfish will still be on the chew but probably a bit further offshore in the 12 to 15 mile range so the Shark River Reef is a good option to drop down green or white legger crabs to find some whitechinners. That reef site will also be holding a medley of bottomfish including cod, pollock, porgy, red hake, conger eel and ocean pout for anyone looking to bend a rod on the high seas this month. Simple clam or squid baits will get the chew going for all those species and party boats like the Dauntless out of Point Pleasant will be running daily to the reef site.

The central backwaters were a bass lovers playground last March as resident stripers wintered over big time in mass numbers. The Toms River was explosive as anglers casting white paddletail shads some days were into over 30 fish in the 24 to 32 inch range fishing a tide. Those fish held around Huddy Park, the Toms River bridge, Mantoloking Bridge and the Manasquan River Route 70 and Route 35 bridges. Inside the Toms River, white perch fish will be exemplary throughout both February and march as small hi-lo rigs with beads or pill floats tipped with bloodworm bits can attract plenty of whiteys to the hook. Some days you can catch over two dozen fish in an hour or two and hot spots are usually around the Island Heights area or Cedar Creek. Winter flounder pounding will be getting started though where the flatties will show up is anyone’s guess. To start, general areas of interest are in the Metedeconk river, between the BB and BU Buoys inside Barnegat Bay, Silver Bay, the Route 70 Bridge, the Manasquan River and the Mantoloking Bridge. Be sure to bring plenty of clam and mussel chum to get the flundies snappin and usually the top of the tide and beginning of the outgoing seem to produce best. Another trick to upping your catch rate is to fish during super sunny days when the waters warm up.

There’s a good chance bluefin tuna will be hanging in the area in March as they did show up early last year out at the Hudson Canyon though most boaters were out of the water and couldn’t capitalize on the presence. Anyone who does have their boat in right now can search around areas midshore in the Mud Hole at the Lillian, Slough, HA Buoy and off of Long Island. The key to early season hookups in cold water seem to be trolling Hogy or RonZ slender baits way, way back in the spread about 300 yards to find wandering tuna milling about. Bottomfishing opportunity is also a good bet as 30 to 60 mile wrecks will be holding cod, pollock, and ling with bent rods happening for those dropping down fresh clam and squid baits or possibly working hammered diamond jigs from 8 to 16 ounces.
Tis the season to get all your gear in prime working order. Bring your reels and rods to get them fixed up and smoothed out at your local tackle shop. Clean up and prepare all your lures switching out any rusty hooks, replacing split rings and so on so they are in perfect shape for the fishing season. The winter will go by quick, and before you know it spring will be upon us with fresh breezes and hungry fish prowling about. Enjoy the boat and outdoor shows and get ready for the start of the saltwater season!