What a completely wild summer we’ve had so far! Strange tropical critters were all over Jersey waters in late July and August, the likes of which included Spanish mackerel, cobia, barracuda and sit down for this one – tarpon! Some bizarre cyclical phase is upon us this year which makes for some interesting fishing in September. As Labor Day settles and we look to put the tourist season behind, the cooling waters will be brimming with Indian Summer and early fall activity of stripers, blues, fluke, albies, tuna and more. Fluke season ends on September 19th and black season closes for the month of September but reopens again on October 8th.
Now’s your chance to connect with some doormat fluke as they migrate into the deeper waters of the Raritan Bay including the areas at Chapel Hill Channel, Ambrose Channel and in the Swash Channel area outside the Rip of Sandy Hook. Fluke have been holding out at the Rip all summer long with 3 to 6-pound fish on average hitting live killies on floats from the beach, though now would be a good time to drift with long fluke belly strip baits on bucktails there. Bluefish should be pushing into the bay with the bunker schools and there have been steady 2 to 8-pounders all summer long marauding the bay area. The first rumblings of migratory stripers could also make their way into the bay this month, depending on how quickly the water temps cool.
Resident stripers had been biting all month of August as they inhaled sand fleas cast against the jetties in Spring Lake and Deal, while boaters could pick off some straggler stripers using poppers cast right off the jetty tips. Fluke fishing has been the main game anywhere from the Elberon Rocks, Shrewsbury Rocks, Long Branch Lumps, Rattlesnake and the Klondike areas and will continue to be so for the remaining days of the fluke season. I would work the deeper portions of the Sea Girt Reef in 80 to 95-feet of water to find fluke, or even make the run a bit further offshore to the edge of the Mud Hole to see if any fluke have begun to migrate outward offshore. All sorts of Spanish mackerel were streaking angler lines north of the Squan Inlet as small trolled Clark spoons or metals cast to the rainbow schools could get you into macks. Look for the first signs of bonito or even false albacore to show up around the Manasquan Inlet area and beaches north. Shark River Inlet has been a solid spot to pluck some tautog and triggerfish off the rocks.
Some big banger fluke were hanging on the 2 to 5-mile wreck areas in spots like the Mohawk, Tolten Wreck and the deeper eastern section of the Axel Carlson Reef. This month, even bump out further to the Manasquan Ridge or Barnegat Ridge to work the 85 to 120-foot depths to angle for doormat caliber fluke over 10 pounds. Fluke fishing was so hot in the surf from Lavallette to Island Beach that many days surfcasters scored their three fish limits before sunrise and easily out fished the boats! Speed demons were aplenty in this stretch of coast as Spanish mackerel and even king mackerel schools were hanging close to the shoreline and could be caught on quickly drawn metal lures like Deadly Dicks or Williamson Gomoku jigs. Some Spanish macks were huge around the 6-pound plus mark. We await the first showing of bonito and little tunny to this area which usually show up around the Bay Head area and Mantoloking to start. The craziest report from August was of a tarpon that was shot with a speargun off the Barnegat Inlet jetty. The spearo also reported seeing 12 more tarpon with that one. The Barney Inlet rocks are also prime grounds to hunt for sheepshead and blackfish as the fish stick tight to the rocks and feed on sand fleas, green crabs, and Asian banded crabs. Historically, September starts the Mullet Run and there should be mullet moving out of the back bays and into the surfline during the new moon and full moon tides later in the month. Bomber plugs and SP Minnows will mimic the mullet perfectly to fool striped bass into striking. Bluefish should also be on the prowl this month as they harass peanut bunker and mullet schools in the nearshore waters. Try tossing some topwater poppers for some bone-jarring strikes. When working the fluke grounds or reef sites, be on the lookout for the sea bass and lobster pots, marked by hi-flier flags. Those flags will be holding some mahi mahi close to the lines. Cast out a light 1-ounce bucktail tipped with a Gulp! Swimmin Minnow to trick up a cooler full of chicken mahi of 1 to 6 pounds.
The nearshore bluefin tuna bite did not disappoint in July and early August as hot spots continued to be Little Italy, Humpty Dumpty and the Slough, but as of early August, the bite seems to have shifted to the Resor Wreck, Atlantic Princess and the Barnegat Ridge areas. Bluefin are generally averaging smaller in the 25 to 60-pound bracket, but some brutes over 200 pounds are finding their way into the mix. Now, offshore it seems that yellowfin and bigger bluefin abound at spots like the Texas Tower, Bacardi, Triple Wrecks and into the 200-foot range areas. Its been a jig bite for the summer with butterfly jigs and slow pitch jigs taking the bulk of the BFT, though you could always put out the sidetracker spreader bars to elicit some bites if they were off the jig bite. Look this month for the tuna to get aggressive on the surface, chasing Mad Mantis Poppers and Savage Gear Mack sticks, and don’t forget the historically solid overnight chunk fishery in the canyons like the Hudson, Toms, Lindenkohl and Spencer. Chunk with sardines or butterfish and look to tangle with some yellowbirds in the 50 to 100-pound range. There’s always a good chance at a swordfish on those overnight chunk trips. Though tuna take top billing, do not forgo the fact that some big bull mahi mahi are hanging around in the bluewater, especially around any lobster pots or debris fields. They will jump on spreader bars as well as bucktails tipped with soft baits. Some of the mahi can reach upwards of 45 or 50-pounds offshore.
September is an electric month, filled with change and surprises. Don’t miss out on the world-class fishing in Jersey!