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NJ Fishing Report

As I write this column on the last day of February, we’ve had the warmest winter in recent history. That can translate to spectacular fishing in April on all fronts as we are well ahead of normal migratory patterns. Striped bass should be packed and stacked in the big bays and backwaters, moving up along the coastline to spawn out. If we’re lucky, bluefish may make a showing, as they have been relatively ghost the past 5 years. Winter flounder season may actually be productive with warm waters around. Blackfish season is reopened for the month from April 1 to April 30 with a four fish limit and 15-inch minimum size. Last year, there were already bluefin tuna being caught in April, will we see that repeat again? Let’s get started!

For the past three years the Raritan Bay spring run has been lights out fishing. Fish are pushed up inside the Raritan and Hudson River systems to spawn out and are actively on the feed throughout the bay, but congregated more around the river outflows. Spots along the Bayshore of Cliffwood, Morgan Creek, Keyport and Totentville along Staten Island are usually where the fleet goes to first to trick up bass. Other early season spots are around the Verrazano Bridge, Liberty islands and West Bank light around Coney Island as schools of bass chase bunker schools pinning them into the shallower waters to feed on. Live bunker are the best baits to get your first hookup, either by cast netting or snagging them on a weighted treble, then transferring them over to a rod rigged with an inline 10/0 Circle hook. By the end of the month, you’ll be able to target linesiders on swimming plugs, shads and possibly even topwater poppers as they become more aggressive as the waters warm. By then, they will also have moved to the areas off the Ammo Pier, Ambrose Channel and even out toward the mouth of the bay at Romer Shoal, Swash Channel and outside at the Sticks. It’s barely even worth mentioning, but if you want to try for winter flounder, April always had fish hanging around the Keyport Flats as clam chum and bits of bloodworms would put flatties in the cooler back in the day. Who knows, they may still be hanging around.

I talked to guys in late February that said stripers were way up inside the Swimming river which feeds into the Navesink River system and that can only mean that April will be absolutely firing for bass in the Navesink and Shrewsbury River systems. White mag darters or Mambo Minnows will get you connected to a bass in the shallower 5 to 10 foot waters, though white shads can work better in deeper channels off Bon Jovis house to the Oceanic Bridge and out by where the two rivers meet up by the Highlands Bridge. Back bay rivers will also be red hot for basically the only consistent winter flounder action along the coast, namely around the Shark River Inlet and back bay to Shark River Hills. The gas dock, tennis courts and Concrete Pier in Belmar is always the epicenter for flounder pounding as Fisherman’s Den rents 14 foot skiffs to bring out some clam chum and spark the flounder to bite on bloodworms bits along the ICW channel. Blackfish will also have moved into the Shark River inlet off the north and south jetty rocks as green crabs on tog jigs can get bit on slack tides with fish pushing upward of 4 pounds on some days. As tog are on the move inshore for their spawn, they will also be sticking to the inshore wrecks and reef structures in 30 to 50 feet of water at spots like the Sandy Hook Reef, Elberon Rocks and Sea Girt Reef site. Remember to release as many female tog as you can as they are spawning out.

Starting off with blackfish, the rubber lipped bottom feeders should be stacking up inside the Point Canal at this point as they move inshore to spawn out. Half green crabs on Belmar rigs work best off the canal walls and at the Manasquan Inlet rocks and jacks. Fish will also be staging at the shallower spots in 55 to 65 feet at the Axel Carlson Reef and Barnegat Light Reef. Stripers are of course the main attraction and the river systems are still the best options to target fish in the 26 to 34 inch range. The Manasquan River, Toms River and Oyster Creek put up solid numbers of bass that are apt to hit white paddletail shads and SP Minnow type plugs. Historically, bluefish would invade the Barnegat Bay system during mid-April providing plenty of opportunity for slam-bang poppin action. Its possible they will show up again, look toward the Barnegat and Manasquan Inlets on incoming tides which they ride into the bay waters and usually stay for a few weeks gobbling up bunker, spearing and bay anchovy schools. Winter flounder can also be caught along this stretch. Hot spots generally start at the Manasquan River by the Route 70 Bridge and outside the mouth of the canal on the north side, the south side mouth of the canal into Silver Bay and the Metedeconk River, down to Mantoloking Bridge south side, and eventually into Barnegat Bay between the 40 Marker, BB and BI Buoys. Plenty of clam or mussel chum will get them snapping with bloodworm bits and yellow beaded hooks attracting them to bite.

Last year, bluefin tuna were hooked quite early in April and May, which foretold a possible epic summer run, but it didn’t materialize in full force. Once again, a warm winter should have the BFT chewing early in April, fairly close to shore. The Seaside Lump only 5 miles off held bluefin there through November as schools of squid stuck around for them to feed on. If that pattern happens again, the run could be quick to get at the bluefin. More realistically, the schools will be further offshore in the 15 to 40 mile range at the Slough, Atlantic Princess, Resor wreck and other tuna haunts. This time of year you can troll ballyhoo on Ilanders way, way back in the spread, though if you do mark them, the first jigged fish of the year generally hit. Trollers will also be dragging squid spreader bars, side-trackers, cedar plugs and daisy chains to see if they can convince BFT to hit. Stay on top of the Intel and the chatter to plan your windows precisely for a BFT run. Other than bluefin, cod and pollock fishing on the 20 to 50 mile wrecks is usually pretty darn good for Jersey if you want to drop hammered diamond jigs or even fresh clam baits to see who’s home.
April is truly the month where things switch over to consistent fishing on all fronts. Get out and enjoy the spring run!