October 04, 2010
From south to north all along New Jersey's coast, here's where you're likely to intercept hard-pulling bluefish this season. (June 2007)
Photo by Tom Migdalski.
If I had to pick one species of fish that consistently produces nonstop angling year after year along the Jersey coast, it would have to be bluefish. Call them slammers, choppers, gators, or any of a dozen other monikers, they all mean the same thing: a set of fins with razor-sharp teeth that never stop eating. Oh, and they don't know when to quit fighting once they are hooked. You can catch them in the bays, tidal rivers, along the inshore waters and off the beaches, from party boats, charter boats, private boats and off piers.
The first bluefish start moving into Jersey coastal waters during April. By the middle of May, they'll have worked their way into bays and tidal rivers in good numbers. Thanks to some mild autumns in recent years, they have been caught in Jersey waters as late as late December.
The 2006 season was no exception, with some real jumbo blues caught the week before Christmas.
Another nice thing about bluefish is that when it comes to size, you have your choice, so to speak. Do you have some youngsters you'd like to acquaint to fishing? Then load up the ultralight tackle to catch snappers.
Do you prefer some fast fun with average-sized blues and light tackle? There are plenty of 2- to 5-pound bluefish around for the taking, especially under any flock of working birds. And if you want to play muscleman with some slammers, a trip on a party or charter boat will test your skills and strength.
One of the likely reasons why there have been so many bluefish in Jersey waters is the amount of baitfish, especially menhaden (bunker), which provide important forage for all types of game fish. Ever since New State enacted a law to protect bunker from the big commercial netters, the bunker population has increased dramatically.
Much of the action for medium and large bluefish is around these schools of bunker, especially in the central and northern portion of the state. It's a simple case of fishing around the birds working the bunker, and you'll most likely be into slammer blues.
Just as you have a variety of sizes of bluefish to fish for, so you have plenty of options when it comes to the tackle you choose. Both spinning and conventional tackle are suitable for the slammers. However, a simple rule to follow is to use spinning tackle for the smaller blues and conventional tackle for the bigger fish, especially if you are fishing on a party or charter boat. Of course, most anglers fishing from the surf or shoreline prefer spinning tackle.
Now, let's take a look at the better places to find these powerful game fish.
CAPE MAY RIPS
One of the first places the big slammers take up residence is in the rips off Cape May. By the time the end of May rolls around, the blues will be feeding in high gear -- so watch out!
Anglers fishing cut baits and trolling spoons and shad rigs will usually enjoy a steady pick of blues. The rips off Cape May are notorious for holding decent numbers of mixed-size blues throughout the year. But by the middle of May, some of the better fishing takes place in the bay, especially for blues in the 3- to 8-pound range.
While there are plenty of bluefish to go around throughout Delaware Bay, a couple of spots hold bluefish throughout the summer. One such spot is Brandywine Light. The ship channel passing through the bay and eventually into the Delaware River varies in depth between 35 and 50 feet. Brandywine Shoal rises up to 4 feet, jutting out into the channel and creating a sizeable amount of turbulent water.
This area holds large amounts of forage fish, which attract all types of predators, such as stripers, weakfish and drum, in addition to a mixed bag of blues, ranging from 1- to 2-pound choppers to 10- to 15-pound slammers. Most fishermen will use cut baits for the blues when they are not feeding on the surface. But it's not uncommon to see blues surface-feeding early and late in the day.
FIVE FATHOM BANK
For our second pick, let's travel several miles out of Cape May Inlet to the Five Fathom Bank, which lies in the middle of several bluefish hotspots, including the South Shoal and Codfish Lump, both of which have similar characteristics.
Around these two areas, some sections of the bottom are shallower than the surrounding waters. This makes them ideal holding spots for forage fish and thus, excellent feeding grounds for gluttonous bluefish.
The Five Fathom Bank is right on the edge of deep water. During any given year, it's not uncommon to see blue water moving along the bank's outer edge. When that blue water arrives, it brings bluefin tuna, dolphin and albacore, often boated by bluefish anglers as an added bonus.
Boats sailing from Cape May, Delaware Bay ports and lower state ports such as Ocean City, all fish this area. Like some of the other places we're highlighting here, the Five Fathom Bank is both a daytime and evening hotspot. Being located in the more southerly portion of the state, it receives the first schools of blues in spring, most of which swim through the area on their way to northern hotspots.
Once the first schools of blues move on and the waters warm up, other bluefish will move into the area for good and stay right through the summer. Most of these fish found at the Bank will range in size from 5 pounds to 15 pounds and up.
MANASQUAN INLET AREA
Turning to central state picks, anglers chasing bluefish have several choices. But one place that stands out is the Manasquan Inlet.
If you enjoy light-tackle fishing, or want to get some youngsters hooked on fishing, the Manasquan Inlet is a top bet.
Blues start moving into the inlet and river in the spring. The Manasquan River/Inlet is unique in that it is flows past the north end of the Point Pleasant Canal, which runs from the Manasquan River into the top of Barnegat Bay, north of the Metedeconk River. Blues that swim into the Manasquan River move into not only the river, but also the canal, upper Barnegat Bay and the Metedeconk River.
Several areas of the Manasquan will provide great bluefish action. The first is at the mouth of the canal where there's an 18-foot hole. Boats launching in the upper bay or at the free launches on the canal and at the end of Bay Avenue can usually find cocktail blues (12 inches to 3 pounds) feeding at the mouth of the canal.
These blues will also be along the channel in the Manasquan River first thing in the morning or late in the day when the boat traffic is lightest. Cast small swimming plugs, spoons or popper, and you're in business.
If arm-bending slammers are more to your liking, the central portion of the state has some excellent places to test your skills. The top of them is a stretch of water called the Manasquan Ridge, about 13 to 15 miles out of Manasquan Inlet.
Like several of the other places mentioned here, the Manasquan Ridge is a shallow area that drops off into deeper water. It's not uncommon to see bluefish mix it up with bonito, false albacore and even bluefin tuna, especially toward the end of the summer and into the fall.
The Ridge is a magnet for boats sailing for blues out of Brielle, Point Pleasant and Barnegat Inlet ports, with chumming trips being the mainstay of the day and evening fishing. There are several boats such as the Jamaica, Cock Robin and Queen Mary running out of Manasquan River ports that fish full time for the slammers, but many other boats fish for other species during the day -- and fish for blues in the evenings or on weekends.
Capt. Willie Egerter of the Dauntless, a year-round bottom-fishing boat out of Point Pleasant, told me that he runs two trips a day: bottom-fishing during the day and for blues during the evenings and on weekends.
This is common for many boats running out of Jersey ports. Willie told me that bluefish have been a big boon to party-boat fishing, especially with all the regulations now being placed on bottom species.
When it comes to bluefish, the waters off the northern coast of New Jersey are some of the most fertile along the entire East Coast. Boats sailing out of the Atlantic Highlands and other Raritan Bay ports will target bluefish both day and evening. And in the last several years, there has been no problem finding them.
By late May, bluefish in big numbers have moved into Raritan Bay and even up into the Hudson River, as far upstream as Alpine and Newburg. Some of the best fishing found in the bay itself is around Romer Shoal along the north side of the bay. In the last several years, large schools of bunker have been spending the summer in this area of the bay -- and as already mentioned, bunker are the primary forage for big bluefish.
Capt. Art Hilliard, who skippers the charter boat Eagle out of the Atlantic Highlands Marina, told me that with all the regulations being placed on fluke, weakfish and stripers, many of his charters in the summer and fall are opting to fish for the slammers.
With no size limit, a 10-fish bag limit, no closed season and plenty of fish to catch, bluefish are ideal for many of the bigger corporate and club charters. Most of the trips targeting bluefish made by Capt. Hilliard and other charter and party boats are chumming trips. Once blues find the chum slick, the fishing is usually non-stop.
The one thing about bay hotspots like Romer Shoal is that you never know what size blues you're going to find on any given day. It's not uncommon see to cocktail blues blitzing the baitfish right on the surface one day and the next day, jumbo slammers 10 pounds and up feeding in the same spot.
Our second pick for good bluefish action in the northern part of the state is a different story altogether. This time, it's out of the bay and several miles off the beaches to the state's best known bluefish hotspots: The Mud Hole, Farms and 17 Fathoms are the big three of northern waters.
In summer, these areas are the holding grounds of one of the biggest bluefish populations to be found along the East Coast -- and for good reason. In these waters, bluefish numbers during the summer months have always been very good. Back in 2001, however, when fishermen finally succeeded in getting New Jersey to protect menhaden in state waters, they provided bluefish and other species of game fish with what they needed: plenty of forage!
The combination of an increasing forage base and more and bigger bluefish means plenty of action for fishermen. Boats targeting bluefish and sailing from New York, north Jersey and central Jersey ports fish these areas both day and evening. Most party boats will anchor up and chum, then fish cut baits and jig for the blues.
In these areas, the blues will usually pick up on a pattern and stay with it for several weeks or more, as long as a storm or a change in water temperatures doesn't come along and change things. More often than not, either the day fishing will dominate the action, or the evening action will be hotter. This makes it a must to keep an eye on the fishing reports so you can pick the better time to fish. Likewise, blues will also show a preference for bait over jigs, and vice versa from time to time.
One last thought on bluefish angling along the Jersey coast. We didn't highlight any spots in the surf along the coast, mainly because the slammer action in the suds is a crapshoot. Spring, summer and fall, the blues can come slamming into the beaches at any time and any place. Likewise, once the sun sets, blues will often frequent the undertow and are taken by bait-fishermen up and down the beaches.
There you have it -- a look at some of the best bluefish spots along New Jersey's lengthy coast. The Garden State is one of the top spots along the entire East Coast for bluefish of every size. And no matter what their size, they always give a good account of themselves. So if you're looking for some fishing fun this summer, jump onboard your favorite charter or party boat for exciting action with slammer blues. I hope to see you out there!