Tag Archives: Surf Fishing New Jersey

So proud to have another piece appear in the July 2019 New Jersey issue of On The Water magazine.

The fish gods must've picked up a copy because kingfish have shown in good numbers for surf anglers this summer.

I hope my story put readers in "grin and nod mode" and helped them connect to a few more fish.

Date: 7/2/19  

Time: 4:45 - 8:45 am

Location: New Jersey Beachfront

Tide and Weather: Dead High 7:34 am, Sunny Skies, Air Temperature 70-75, Water Temperature 72, Water Very Clear, Light WSW Wind and Flat Surf, New Moon 1%, Pressure 29.88 and Falling

Catch: This was a really fun morning. The beach was full of life. Schools of rainfish were in the water and both calico and mole crab molts littered the wrack line. July 2nd marked a New Moon.

Calico Crab Molt

It felt like gamefish were on the prowl. And fish hunting crabs along the beach lip were willing to take a popper.

I love trout fishing in running water. I've read that trout holding in shallow water are more likely to rise to a dry fly than fish holding in deep water. Here's why. In shallow water, all a fish has to do is tip its fins slightly to rise to the surface and eat. But any fish in a deep pool may have to move 4 or 5 feet to reach the surface. That's a bigger ask.

I think you can apply the same logic to striped bass in the surf. Any bass feeding along the beach lip or in the nearshore trough is still in relatively shallow water. Even if that fish is looking for crabs in the sand, it doesn't take much to dart up and eat a surface plug.

During this session, I caught a striped bass and a bluefish on a popper. I also had a ton of other swipes that got my heart going.

First Fish Of The Morning
This Fish Hit The Plug Less Than 3 Feet From The Dry Sand
Little Blue

Then I switched over to a slim metal and hooked a fluke. This pushed me to fish a fluke rig with Gulp! and I caught several more.

Finally, while fluking, a kingfish grabbed my jig. I switched up again and attached a kingfish rig to the end of my line. I threaded small pieces of Gulp! Sandworm on each hook. Using this rig I wrapped up the morning with three or four kingfish.

Fly-fishing isn't as hard as some make it out to be, but it does demand your full attention, so if you're worried that your investments are going south or that your wife is cheating on you, chances are you won't fish well. It sounds like heresy, but there really are days when you should have stayed home to take care of business instead of going fishing.

-John Gierach, A Fly Rod of Your Own

I'm considering framing this quotation and putting it up in my office.

Spring is tough. 2019 was no different. As a teacher, by April I'm running on a quarter tank and my students are itching to run out the door. It's not an ideal combo. I have to work extra hard to remain patient, plan good lessons, and have productive days. This makes fishing sessions, especially during the week, tough. Like Gierach said, some days it's best to stay home and take care of business.

My dad put it to us another way: First things first.

Anyway, I still managed to complete a few springtime rituals.

I caught my first striped bass of 2019 on April 7. I was next to my brother on the sod banks of Raritan Bay. Catching that first fish by fishing bait on the bay's mudflats is a ritual I've grown to love. It marks the start of a new season. On April 22, I coaxed a few beachfront stripers to eat a new lure. And on May 16, I traveled back up to the bayshore hunting for bluefish. I scored. That didn't happen for me last year.

April 7 Screenshot

In my area, the first striped bass each season are caught in Raritan Bay. The drill is to wait for the bay to reach 45 degrees and then fish bait on the mudflats. Above is a screenshot from the night my brother and I fished, April 7. I threw sandworms using a rig I learned about at Surf Day a few years back. Here's a simple sketch of the rig from my notebook.

Raritan Bay Bait Rig: I learned about this rig by attending a seminar at Surf Day that focused on fishing Raritan Bay. The presenters were a father and son team of Raritan Bay locals.

There are a few benefits to this rig. First, the weight is on the bottom, so it casts well. Also, once the sinker settles and you get tight, you're in direct contact with the baits. Meaning, there's no weight between you and the baits. This makes feeling subtle hits, which are common in the spring, much easier. But the best thing, and this was explained to us at Surf Day, is that both baits are held off the bottom a bit. This keeps the baits from getting buried in the mud bottom. Instead, each bait is held up and in the face of cruising fish. It worked.

My First Striped Bass of 2019

Then on April 22, Earth Day, I caught a few small striped bass in my local surf. I hooked these fish using a new lure that I'm really excited about, the 360GT Searchbait. It comes in a wide variety of sizes and colors.

Storm 360GT Searchbait

The 4.5" size is my favorite. The 4.5" paddle tail body fits both the 1/4 and 3/8 oz. Storm 360GT jigheads.

What's important is that these jig weights are just the jighead alone. When you thread the body on the jig, the overall weight jumps up considerably. The 1/4 oz. jig with the 4.5" body weighs over 1/2 oz. and the 3/8 oz. jig with the 4.5" body weighs over 3/4 oz. I can easily throw both of these lures with my summer surf rod that is rated 1/2 oz. - 2 oz. These are great little lures and some fish fully inhaled them.

Small Striped Bass That Inhaled The Storm 360GT Searchbait
(I was able to pop it free with pliers.)

Finally, on May 16, I got my bluefish fix.

When Raritan Bay's water temperature reaches 55 degrees and stays there, there's a good chance the blues will arrive in force. What's interesting is that mid-May seems to be the time everything comes together. Looking back, I've experienced really memorable Raritan Bay bluefish bites on 5/15/14, 5/16/15, and now 5/16/19.

High Tide Raritan Bay Bluefish
High Tide Raritan Bay Bluefish

What made the 5/16/19 trip unique is that I was wetsuiting. It was dead high tide and my suit allowed me to frog kick across a creek mouth and fully separate myself from the crowd. Above are some of the fish I managed to catch and the photos below show what I saw to the right and left of me.

Looking To My Right
Looking To My Left

Date: 12/1/18

Time: 1:00 - 4:00 pm

Location: New Jersey Beachfront

Tide and Weather: Dead High 2:05 pm, Partly Cloudy Skies, Air Temperature 44, Water Temperature 48, Light NNE Wind and Small Surf, Moon: 41 %, Pressure 30.15 and Stable 

Catch: Sometimes you get what you ask for. I started this trip mumbling to myself, "All I want is one fish." That's what I got. A small, healthy striped bass that shot off when I put him back. The body shape of a striper is beautiful. This fish was handsome and full.

I started south of the stretch I usually fish. For three hours I fished and walked, and fished and walked, and fished and walked, north. I worked through one shore town and into the next.

Then I noticed three surfcasters a few beaches north. They were on top of each other and focussed. This meant fish. When I reached them, they welcomed me to get in on the action. I gave them a wide berth and started casting. I eventually had a solid grab and landed one. After fishing a bit more, I looked up and noticed they left. The bite had clearly slowed. I caught the tail end of it, but I'm so glad I did.           

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My last four trips have been skunks. I fished my local beach and rocks on 10/15, 10/21, 11/8, and 11/21. This time of year I plug for striped bass. I'd be happy to hook anything that'll eat.

On Monday, 10/15, I scouted during the late afternoon. Then I came back and fished at night. Nothing. One highlight is below. During the afternoon scout, I saw this small blitz. Birds were so packed and distant they looked like bugs. Unfortunately, they never moved to the beach and broke up in minutes.

10/21, 11/8, and 11/21 were all morning trips. I fished in the dark into first light. On 10/21, I did find a dead bunker on the beach. While surfing this fall, I've shared the lineup with single, belly up bunker more than once. This fall, a friend has caught huge fish snagging and dropping bunker from boats, so it all lines up.

Like a lot of surfcasters, I fish teaser rigs in the fall. It hasn't happened recently, but I've caught plenty of fish on them.

I've been tying for years. And after tying trout flies down to size 22, tying bucktail teasers on 1/0 and 2/0 hooks feels like a vacation.

In this post, I wanted to share my philosophy when tying teasers and also highlight a material that's vital, but often taken for granted.

In his striped bass fly fishing book, Stripers and Streamers, Ray Bondorew points out that many baitfish are translucent. Because of this fact, he warns to not overdress the fly. Meaning, go light on the bucktail. I've taken that to heart. He also notes that most fish, whether bait or gamefish, have a dark back and a light belly.Those two points guide my teaser tying. The only thing I'll add is this: I tie them short to imitate small bait like rainfish, and long to imitate larger, slimmer baits like sand eels. All I'm going for is a general match. I think that's enough.

The smaller teasers.

The materials, going from the top/back of the fly to the bottom/belly: 3-4 peacock herls, olive bucktail, a few strands of crystal flash and finally, white bucktail. After whip finishing the head, I stick on eyes and coat the head in UV resin and cure it. If I can, I also put them out in the sun for a bit.

The longer version.

The longer version wet. Not a bad sand eel.

The vital but overlooked material I mentioned earlier is thread. You gotta admit, after a hook, it's the most important fly tying material. And when tying big flies, using thick thread is a game changer. 

When starting the fly, heavier thread helps you cover those big hook shanks quicker. And when tying, you can really crank down on materials with confidence. Heavy thread won't snap like the light stuff. It really helps.

On the flip side, it's also a good idea to go with a thinner thread when tying tiny flies, like midges for trout. The thin thread helps minimize thread bulk. Something that can become a problem when you're tying the really small stuff, like 20s and smaller.     

Anyway, most of my trout flies are tied with 70 denier thread. My streamers and saltwater teasers are tied with 140 denier thread. If I had heavier, I'd use it. But owning 140 denier thread in white, olive, and black covers most of my streamer and teaser bases.

As you can see, the higher the denier number, the heavier the thread. The ought sizes are a bit more confusing. 10/0 is lighter than 8/0 and so on. 8/0 is equivalent to 70 denier. I attached a video that explains it better than I ever could. As usual, New Jersey's own Tim Flagler and Tightlines nail it. To me, his videos are literally perfect.

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I've found a new tradition. An annual, 9th inning keeper hunt from the sand and rocks.

Hurricane Florence had come and gone. We had powerful surf and northeast wind for days, but thankfully, the Jersey Shore was largely spared.

The idea came to me while surfing.

I found myself in the lineup checking my watch. I had to get home. Waiting for one last ride wasn't happening. I ended up bodyboarding in and got off on the sandbar. The water on the bar was waist deep. With my hand on my board floating next to me, I waded towards the sand. Eventually, I stepped off the sandbar and into the nearshore trough. That step put me in almost neck-deep water. Keeping my chin up, I slogged west and finally stepped up the soft beach lip and onto the sand.

My fish brain activated. It was clear that a lot of sand had been moved by the recent swell. The ocean had carved out new, deep holes and drops. Holes that would hold fluke.

I knew the upcoming week was the last week of fluke season. I also knew that dead high tide fell in the afternoon or evening all week long.

Think of it, I was looking at a week filled with warm air and water, a deep trough running right next to the beach, and afternoon flood tides. This would be prime time to stick a late-season keeper fluke from the beach. And all I'd have to wear on my bottom half were boardies.

I ended up fishing three different days. On average, each trip was 90 minutes or less. There was swell running every trip which made for a lot of current and whitewater to fish.

On the first day, a small bass ate my Tinman Wobble Jig and Gulp! Mullet in an out-suck. I also caught a few short fluke and they coughed up the summer menu.

The menu consisted of calico and mole crabs. The mole crab pictured had spent some time in a fluke belly.

I did stick that keeper fluke. It came on the second trip. This fish ate the jig and the teaser. This was a first for me. When I landed the fish, I unhooked the teaser and looked for my jig. Then I realized the jig was down his throat. Luckily, he was 18.5 inches long. At the end of my third trip, I found myself at a local inlet. The wind was honking out of the south. I watched as a fisherman, standing on the south jetty, fought and landed a false albacore. They were popping up here and there and a handful of guys were on them.

As I walked back to my car, it was the perfect ending to the summer. It was a clear signal. The fall is here.

Date: 8/14/18

Time: 5:45 - 8 am

Location: New Jersey Beachfront

Tide and Weather: Dead Low 4:08 am, Partly Cloudy, Air Temperature 69, Water Temperature 75, Light SW Wind, Clear Water, Clean Knee to Waist High Surf, Moon 8% Visible

Catch: I was up and out before 5. My plan was to surf. After pulling up to the beach, I jumped out of the car and went down to the water's edge. In the false dawn light, the surf looked less than knee high. I debated what to do. Restless, I decided to scrap my original plan and fish. I texted my surfing buddy, shot home, and switched up my gear.

I ended up regretting that call. As the sun rose and the tide filled in, the surf looked better and better. Maybe it was the tide push or maybe my eyes were just off, but man, clean knee to waist high surf broke throughout my fishing session.Anyway, since I got a late start, I decided to fluke the beach and jetties. I ended up with 3 fluke. All shorts. The biggest measured 15.5 inches. I fished a simple teaser rig. The main lure is a favorite of mine for surf fluking - a TinMan 3/8 oz. Wobble Jig with a 4" white Gulp! mullet threaded on it. You can see it below the fish above. The fish pictured ate the teaser. The teaser is 15" above the jig and is just a baitholder hook with another Gulp! mullet threaded on it.

The third baitfish on the rock is an actual fish the fluke coughed up. It looks like a common killifish and shows this fluke may have recently spent time in a back bay or tidal creek before getting hooked in the surf. I don't believe fluke are that picky, but when looking at the picture you can't help but notice that 4" Gulp! mullets are a pretty good match.

Date: 8/11/18

Time: 5 - 8 am

This turned out to be a snapper blitz. The baby blues were annihilating bay anchovies.

Location: New Jersey Beachfront

Tide and Weather: Dead High 7:47 am, Cloudy, Rain Predicted, Air Temperature 75, Water Temperature Mid 70s, Very Light South Wind, Flat Surf, Moon 0% Visible, Pressure 29.89

Catch: I caught nothing, but it was a very interesting morning. I witnessed an incredible amount of bait in the surf. They were bay anchovies. Also known as rainfish.

A very distinct feature of the bay anchovy is their over-sized mouth. They're filter feeders and their mouths help them feed. If you zoom in on the picture you can make it out.

Bay Anchovy

While standing on the base of a jetty, I did see one striped bass swim right at me, hit the north jetty pocket at my feet, and make a lighting fast turn before bolting out along the rocks.

Anchovies, swimming for their lives.

But I believe the bait was mostly getting eaten by snapper bluefish. At points, the baby blues had the anchovies hopelessly pinned against the beach and jetty rocks. I squatted in knee deep water, dunked my waterproof camera, and took a few pictures. The bait was so thick that even the snappers were picky. Snapper zappers, a solid match for small rainfish, didn't get touched. Even my Gulp! baits were mostly left alone. That was a first.

Weather Rolling In

By the end of my trip the predicted weather showed up. A wind switch brought cool air and it was clear that mother nature was pushing me to pack it in. No argument here.

*On 8/15/18 I was surfing a few towns south. A similar scene played out both tight to the beach and well outside the jetty tips. I saw bigger splashes in the blitz that was offshore. Something bigger was throwing water.

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Date: 6/20/18

Time: 5:30 - 7:45 am

Location: New Jersey Beachfront

Tide and Weather: Dead Low 7:44 am, Sunrise 5:27 am, Air Temperature When Fishing 68 - 70, Water Temperature 65 - 69, Totally Comfortable Wet Wading, Clear Water, Light North Wind, Knee High Surf, Moon 43% First Quarter  

Catch: I ended up with one striped bass on a Stillwater Smack-It Popper and 2 fluke. The fluke were caught fishing the bottom with Gulp! baits. The bass hit and cartwheeled on the popper, hooking himself in the lip and back. It was ugly. I used my pliers and quickly popped the back treble free. Once those hooks were swinging, the front treble was easy.

The tide was falling during my whole session. On mornings like this, when the water is low and the surf small, I love to crawl out to rocks that are usually covered up. After getting my boots firmly stuck, I'll throw parallel to the beach, focusing on the ocean-side edge of the sandbar. There can be a pretty drastic depth change there, especially approaching dead low. This fish was in that zone.

Date: 6/10/18

Time: 5:45 - 7:45 pm

Location: New Jersey Beachfront

Tide and Weather: Dead High 5:13 pm 5.12 feet, Grey Sky and Drizzling, Onshore Wind, Air Temp 60, Water Temp 55+ and Slightly Dirty, Sunset 8:25 pm, Moon 20%

Catch: The conditions were super fishy. There wasn't much swell or current, so I started with a Gulp! sandworm on a Carolina rig. I've caught both striped bass and fluke on it in the past. On this trip, I watched a fluke hang onto it, but he missed the hook.

I ended up fishing mole crabs on that same rig and had a lot of action. I landed a 20" fluke and 3 striped bass. The biggest bass was 26" and pulled hard. I hooked another striper, but lost it.

All the fish were in the small, shoreline out-sucks. These small rips flowed down the beach lip and into the trough that runs parallel to the beach between the dry sand and the first sandbar. At points I was underhand flipping my bait 10 - 15 feet out and focusing on that zone.