Last April we were in full lockdown with Covid and fishing opportunities were slim to say the least as marinas, public accesses and party boats were suspended. Those in the know were able to sneak around and find some accessible out of the way spots or fish back creeks, but overall, fishing was virtually and quite literally, shut down. Fishing should really be taking off in April. A few points to note: Blackfish season once again reopens on April 1st to April 30th with a four fish limit at a 15-inch minimum size. When bait fishing for striped bass it is mandatory to use inline circle hooks, and that goes for any bait including but not limited to clams, worms, bunker, mackerel, herring and squid.
Early season in April stripers last year were hanging out by Tottenville off Staten Island, in 15 to 25 feet of water. Private boaters able to get out from their own slips could find schools of 10 to 20 pounds on the Hogy jigs, Paddletail shads, and dragging Mojos as well as Rapala Magnum diving plugs. Those fish were stacked way far back as South Amboy and Perth Amboy through April. All signs point to that scenario happening again as water temps were sitting at a chilly 39 degrees back there in early March. Anglers casting form the sodbanks at South Amboy, Raritan Bayshore Park, Cliffwood Beach and Union Beach also had plenty of action on bass using bloodworms on fishfinder slide rigs with 4/0 Circle hooks. Flounder pounders can give it a shot at the Morgan Creek outflow and off of Keyport if they want to test the waters to see if anyone’s home. Look for Raritan to be the best way back where the Raritan River enters as bass will be hanging there at the start of April then gradually spread out into the bay through the month.
Winter flounder fishing was actually pretty darn good at the start of the season last year as sunny April days had flatties biting in the Shark River off the Tennis Courts, the L-Street Pier and the gas dock. So far, this March had been slow as the waters have been around 38 degrees due to all the snowmelt. The chew should pick up by April as waters warm up into the high 40’s and maybe even the low 50’s. Blackfishing was hot and heavy along the rocks of the Shark River Inlet as light 1-ounce jigs tipped with green crab could pull out quite a few fish on a slack tide, with some bulldogs pushing 5 pounds, but averaging shorts and tog to 3 pounds. Blackfishing should be pretty good as the tog begin to migrate back into the shallows. Target depths in the 50 to 80 foot range in April at spots like the Elberon Rocks and Sea Girt Reef and by the end of the month, the inlets and canal waters in the back should start seeing a population move in. Focus around slack tides for your best bet at getting a bite. Striped bass schools started migrating early last year and this April, be on the lookout for bass cruising along the coast from Asbury Park up to the Highlands and at the Sandy Hook Rip where bass could be jigged up on soft plastics as well as be trolled up on Mojos and Stretch 30 plugs. If you plan on using live bunker as bait, remember, you cannot legally snag and drop a bunker with a weighted treble anymore. You can use a bunker snag to get a bunker,but it must be immediately reeled in and switched over to a rod rigged with an inline circle hook to be used as bait.
Like clockwork, at midnight on March 1st, the Toms River was lit up with the first backwater stripers of the year caught. There were actually a few keepers in the mix as well, which is unusual to see 28-inch plus bass being taken so early in the season, but we’ll take it. Most fish were caught on bloodworms on circle hook rigs, though there were reports of some fish hitting white 3-inch paddletail shads retrieved at a super slow pace. Bass should continue their feed all through the month. Focus on backwater areas like the Route 37 bridge, Mantoloking Bridge, Manasquan River and inside Barnegat Inlet in Oyster Creek Channel. Winter flounder fishing should be ripe with action. To start, waters of upper Silver Bay on the south side of the Canal, as well as down on the south channel of the Mantoloking Bridge, Gunners Ditch and the Metedeconk River outflow should all be holding flundies. Plan your flounder outings on bright sunny days around the start of the outgoing tide. Dress up your rigs with yellow grubs and beads and douse your worm baits with plenty of FinEssence shedder crab or shrimp oil to get a good scent going on down below. If we’re lucky, we may just see the bluefish push in at the end of the month. Generally, blues have come inside the baywaters, stacking up in Barnegat Bay and through the Manasquan River system. They seem to move in with the incoming tides inundating the river and follow the tide back out on the outgoing. Toss topwater poppers and metals like Ava 007 jigs to them, but be sure you only have single hooks on any lure so as to prevent thrashing treble hooks sinking into your flesh when trying to unhook the spirited battlers. Blues are generally in the 5 to 10-pound class but some years, the gators over 15 pounds do move in.
Early pelagic activity with bluefin tuna could very well come to the midshore ground, but it all depends on water temps and how quickly they elevate. Hard chargers will inevitably want to head out to the bluewater to be the first to claim the horse mackerel and at this time of year, squid spreader bars are deployed but if bluefin are seen surface feeding, then poppers and metals will come out to try and trick them up. Start out by checking out the Chicken Canyon and Triple Wrecks areas, then head out to the Texas Tower and even the Hudson Canyon edge to scope around for BFT. Hardcore bottomfishermen know that April offers up a shot at some bruiser cod up to 30 pounds and more at wrecks that can range anywhere from 30 to 60 miles off in 150 to 250 feet of water. Fresh clam baits on 8/0 Baitholder hooks tipped with 5-inch red or pink grub tails will generally get bit. Those looking for different action will push onto the canyon flas in 400 to 600 feet of water to target golden tilefish with whole squid and mackerel baits dropped to the bottom. An electric reel is recommended here in order to avoid the pain of checking baits in 600 feet of water.
It appears we may have some normalcy this year when it comes to fish as Covid restrictions are more friendly for outdoor activities as compared to last April. Enjoy the first fresh spring breezes and get out on the saltwater!