Whether you're fishing from the suds or from your boat, striper and bluefish are about to begin their fall run all along our coast. Don't miss it! (September 2008)
At this time of year, surf- and jetty fishing are at their peak. And the weather is usually beautiful too!
Photo by J.B. Kasper.
Let me tell you, fishing in the fall is nothing short of a full-blown addiction. I don't care what kind of self-control you profess to have! When the fall run rolls into town along the Jersey coast, there's flat out no way you can lead a normal life. If you're a fishing nut like me, the run dictates your daily operations.
You can't sleep. You play hooky from work. You forget to pick up the groceries, you even miss dinner dates -- and that's all according to my girlfriend. Come September, the only obligation you feel is to follow the whims of striped bass, bluefish and weakfish. Find 'em, fool 'em and catch 'em. Period!
It's no secret that September lights the fuse for the fall run's powder keg of activity, when massive schools of striped bass, weakfish and bluefish begin their migration south along the Eastern Seaboard, following warmer waters in the mid-60-degree range to feed heavily.
Without a doubt, it's the most exciting time of the year for saltwater hounds. Thoughts of busted plugs, vicious blitzes and visions of flopping fish keep anglers awake at night -- if they aren't already on the beach.
The ignition of the fall run is influenced largely by the omnipresence of baitfish species that spill out of the back bays and choke the surf line.
During the first month of Indian summer, droves of baitfish will exit the backwaters and stage off the Jersey coast. This smorgasbord of tasty treats is easy pickings for the waiting game fish.
For the most part, what sparks the whole production is the mullet run.
Usually by the first or second week in September, chunky finger mullet are exiting the back bays in mass hysteria, swimming for their lives and schooling up along the surf on the entire stretch of coast. Following suit are packs of peanut bunker, rainfish, bay anchovies, round herring and even some subtropical treats such as small pompano and jacks.
These schools of fishes create huge dark bait balls that sit off the beaches like cows in the slaughter line, nervously anticipating an attack at any given moment from below, above, or from the beach. Fall is not a happy time to be low on the food chain, and the life of the baitfish is riddled with anxiety and paranoia, as countless numbers of hungry, unsympathetic game fish blanket the same areas.
The feeding frenzy that ensues is the perfect setup for the surfcaster.
As my personal favorite way to fish the fall run, surfcasting takes the cake. For the most part, surfcasters do have some of the best shots at blues and stripers, since the schools of baitfish tend to stick close to the coast.
Zillions of them get trapped in the cuts, jetties, sloughs and sandbars. And this is where their pummeling from game-fish species begins.
On the dry sand, the beach buggy brigade usually has the upper hand: They can run-and-gun with diabolical effectiveness to chase down blitzing schools. All these fishermen have to do is hop in their vehicle and simply head on down the beach.
Beach access for buggies is excellent along the coast, with most beaches opening up after Labor Day.
For the skinny on permits, requirements and access points, check out the New Jersey beach Buggy Web site at www.njbba.org.
Even if you don't have a vehicle, it's only a matter of time before some finny blitz leaves one area and settles in another. So even surfcasters with their feet firmly planted only need to wait for the next school of bass, blues or weakies to pass on by.
For surfcasting the fall run, techniques generally revolve around tossing out plugs, poppers and plastics to draw explosive strikes from stripers and bluefish. Plugs will be either 4-inch Bombers, 6-inch A-Salt Bombers or 4-inch Stillwater Beachrunners.
Excellent poppers include Stillwater Smack-Its, Creek Chub Knuckleheads, and Atom Poppers. Plastics span the gamut, but proven offerings are 4- to 7-inch Fin-S Fish on 1/2- to 1-ounce leadheads, Tsunami Shads, 3- to 5-inch Storm Shads.
Specifically for blues, you can also chuck out metals such as Crippled Herring 1-ounce and Ava 00- to 17- size jigs with green tails. If big blues are around, a steel leader is a must to save your lures from being bitten off -- and they will get bitten off!
Though most of the action will be on an active approach with using artificials, bait-fishermen will also be able to score just by putting in a day on the beach. Try tossing out fresh bunker chunks or fresh clams.
High-low types of rigs with size 4/0 baitholder hooks for clams and size 7/0 to 9/0 Octopus hooks for using bunker chunks and bunker heads on a fish-finder slide-type rig is the way to get in on the action.
During the final four months of the year, Island Beach State Park is the place to be -- not only for boaters, but even more so for surfcasters and the beach buggy battalion.
ISLAND BEACH STATE PARK
During the final four months of the year, Island Beach State Park is the place to be -- not only for boaters, but even more so for surfcasters and the beach buggy battalion. The waters off Island Beach State Park are unusual and like no other along the Jersey Coast. The 10-mile stretch of sandy beach has offshore sandbars that trap deep holes inside that can reach down to over 20 feet, within casting distance from the beach.
For the beach buggies and surf-slingers, some of the continually hottest spots include the North Jetty, A7, A9, A19, A21, Pavilion, Gilliken's and the backside sedge banks that buffet Barnegat Bay. In particular, the North Jetty of Barnegat Inlet is the centerpiece of the park, especially on a north or northeast wind that pins all kinds of bait along the 1/4-mile-long jetty, trapping them where bass and blues hammer them throughout the day and nighttime hours.
Jetty jocks will strap on their creepers for the slippery rocks of the jetty, while the beach buggy battalion will wade chest-deep into the surf.
Drifting, casting and jigging, near-shore boaters will dot the waters. The whole production comes together like a three-ring circus of bent rods, hooting and hollering.
Beach buggy passes run $175 at Island Beach State Park. For more information, check out the New Jersey Beach Buggy Web site at www.njbba.org.
SANDY HOOK RIP
Up in North Jersey, there's a swashbuckling area off Sandy Hook where striped bass and bluefish will congregate around the tide changes.
Aptly named the Rip, it's where the ebb and flow of the tides come together, usually creating an arena where baitfish become disoriented and confused.
Interestingly, the Rip is attainable to surfcasters: A long throw can land you in 30-foot depths right off the beach. Many surf rats have caught monster stripers from the sands here as they volley with the boats for watery real estate.
The Rip is caused when shallower waters of the False Hook, in the 7- to 11-foot range, collide with the 50- to 68-foot depths of the Sandy Hook Channel. This drastic change in water depth, combined with an incoming or outgoing tide, produces the namesake rip and churning white water.
Surf-fishermen can cast into the outskirts of the Rip at certain times, allowing them to reap the rewards of the churning waters. Heavy poppers to 3 ounces and larger swimming plugs can put a few bass and bluefish on the sand. And as long as they have healthy casting arms, surf rats can bring out the heavy guns and attack the Rip. This particular spot also hosts some of the finest fishing for false albacore along the coast, in that the albacore will congregate just off the Hook, and you can easily cast to them with small metals.
In the autumn months, South Jersey surfcasters will stick to the beaches of Brigantine, which are flanked by Wreck Inlet on the north end and Absecon Inlet on the south end.
The hottest spot on the island is undoubtedly the north end, where Wreck Inlet creates rip tides that corral baits for feeding schools of blues and bass.
Notable fishable areas lie north of 14th Street to 49th Street, as well as the South Jetty at the Absecon Inlet and in front of the hotel area.
The beaches off this stretch are shallow and gradual. Normally, that wouldn't be conducive to good fishing. But plenty of kingfish and baitfish congregate inside the breakers, which bring bass, blues and weakies in to feed.
This spot is a solid spot for casting out high-low rigs tipped with sandworms or bloodworms for up to 5-pound-class weakfish during the fall evening hours. Clamming takes the cake here, and large gobs of clams chucked out on a fish-finder slide rig will get you into some large stripers of 30 pounds and up. Eel fishermen will find even larger bass at the Absecon Inlet during the nighttime.
INSHORE CAST & BLAST
When it comes to the run, inshore boat-fishing techniques are vast and varied. Many different approaches can be utilized, from trolling, jigging, chunking to live-lining.
When you're trying to find fish, trolling covers the most water. To find stripers, a lot of trolling anglers will drag Mann's Stretch 25 and Stretch 30 plugs.
You can troll stretch plugs with braided line, but wire-line setups are needed to pull big bunker spoons and shad bar rigs, both of which will tend to score larger linesiders. The key to hooking up on the troll is to chart some areas where there's some low-lying structure such as submerged rockpiles or shipwrecks. Stripers will hunker down in and around structure to pounce on baitfish schools.
Obvious signs of a feeding frenzy usually include birds diving, or fish actually breaking the surface and crashing or swirling on bait.
Then jigging takes over as your key method. Shut down the engines 50 yards from a working school of fish and drift over them with 3- to 5-ounce silver Kroc-O-Dile spoons.
Drop 'em down to the bottom, then jig them up through the water column to find where the bass and blues are hanging.
Delaware Bay is an annual autumn hotspot, in that the bay waters hold some of the largest stripers in the area. One particular hotspot is the 60-foot Slough, roughly 20 minutes outside of the Cape May Canal.
This deep cut reaches anywhere from 14 feet deep along its edges to 60 feet in its center. In the fall, the Slough is a factory for large striped bass. The most common method for taking large stripers is anchoring, starting a bunker chunk slick and fishing fresh chunks of bunker on fish-finder rigs.
Once the slick is started, the chunks and bunker heads will inevitably get the bass to move up and into the Slough to feed. Almost every year, striped bass in the 50-pound class are taken from this slough.
One particular hotspot is the 60-foot Slough, roughly 20 minutes outside of the Cape May Canal. This deep cut reaches anywhere from 14 feet along its edges to 60 feet in its center.
"The Rocks," as they are affectionately known, comprise a rocky reef spanning an east-to-northeast extension that effectively anchors bass to the area. During the striped bass's fall migration, this stony underwater structure draws them like a magnet, and they set up shop to feed.
These prominently defined subterranean mountains sit e in depths ranging from 20 to 30 feet deep. But on the north side lies a rock hill that rises abruptly from 42 to 15 feet. This spot -- a wall of solid rock -- is termed "The Elbow" and is notorious as a bass hangout.
On the western side of The Rocks lies an area called "The Ribbons," which rise up to 14 feet and undulate on the fish finder's screen.
Running only a few hundred yards to the west from The Ribbons, you will launch off the ledge and immediately drop to 28 feet. The far eastern outer edge of the parameter of The Rocks is marked by the green bell buoy, and the depth there hits 43 feet.
An inside green can marks the 26-foot depth on the eastern edge of the main portion of The Rocks.
OYSTER CREEK CHANNEL
The Oyster Creek Channel that connects the Barnegat Inlet to the Barnegat back bay is a prominent superhighway for foraging species.
The channel meanders from the BI Buoy in Waretown out to the Barnegat Inlet. Running an average of 10 to 14 feet deep, the channel contains various ledges and edges to work.
Along the channel, noted hotspots are beside the BI Buoy, the 33 "Rolling Rock" can, and inside the mouth of the inlet where Oyster Creek and Double Creek channels meet.
The beauty of this spot is that on any given day, you've got the best shot of producing an inshore slam of bass, blues and weakfish.
Striper fishermen will utilize a clam-chum slick technique to coax the bass to boatside.
On the beginning of the outgoing tides, drift fresh clams behind the anchored boat for waiting bass. Look around for the 10-to 12-foot depths, and keep an eye out for disturbances in the water such as rip lines and small rips on the change of the tides.
On incoming tides, the water is particularly clear: Green ocean water filters in, and it's usually at its clearest at the high tide. That's when you want to be sending down clam baits. Bluefish will be rumbling through at any given time of day, so prepare to have a few rods set up with topwater poppers to run and gun for the blues.
Bluefish will be viciously aggressive and will readily go after anything you can throw at them, from metals to poppers to plugs to shoelaces on hooks!
The weakfish angling in Oyster Creek is reserved for the early risers. Pre-dawn anglers will cast 4-inch Bubble Gum Fin-S fish on 1/2-ounce white bucktails or leadheads while drifting the channel ledges.
During this time, tiderunners to 10 pounds are not uncommon. But you're more likely to be into 3- to 8-pound quality weakies.
It's "go" time in New Jersey. The formidable fall run has hit our shores, and it's time to cash in. Have a blast and get out there as often as you can.
After all, fishing doesn't get any better than the fall run!