Shore fishermen are about to enjoy what will probably be the most exciting casting of the year during the next few weeks as big bluefish take over in rivers, inlets and bays.
Most anglers would rather cast poppers to big stripers, but that only happens on rare occasions. Once the ravenous blues arrive, the action is often predictable and intense. It's always thrilling to watch a hefty blue clear the water to hit a popper, and to be able to enjoy that sport on your own and at no cost is a rare opportunity.
Blues started moving inshore last week, but blitz fishing hadn't started as of Thursday. Bunker chunks have been producing some in Barnegat Bay and Toms River -- and the Tackle Box in Hazlet reported they were hitting all day Thursday in Raritan Bay. Joe Melillo reported from Castaways Tackle in Point Pleasant that some have come through Manasquan Inlet, and at any moment there should be such quantities there that the ground on both sides of the inlet will turn red from bluefish blood as anglers cast poppers, swimmers, metals and jigs to 10-to-15-pound choppers which generally don't show themselves until they hit. Within days they'll then be all over Manasquan and Shark rivers plus Barnegat Bay. The same thing occurs in Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers and along the Bayshore.
Fortunately, the great majority of those blues have been released during the last few years. Use heavy leaders and a long-handled net to handle blues from the inlet walls and in Point Pleasant Canal. It's a good idea to remove belly hooks from plugs and use only a large single hook at the rear. You'll miss few bites that way, and blues can be unhooked safely. Emergency rooms don't need any extra business during the bluefish Bonanza!
There may be a few tickets left for the IGFA Banquet & Fishing Tackle Auction which begins at 7 p.m. Friday in Doolan's Shore Club on Rt. 71 in Spring Lake. Call IGFA N.J. representative Jeff Merrill at 908 451-1110 to determine if there's $75 ticket that can be held for you at the door. A limited edition tuna print by Don Ray is provided to each attendee.
Striped bass have been well established in Raritan Bay, but continue to be quite fussy. They appear to be focused on herring, and trollers have generally been doing best with stretch plugs. Capt. Lou Grazioso of Wall says the hot model has been the Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow deep diver. He made a Thursday afternoon trip, and was excited to report that a new body of larger bass seemed to have moved in as he was suddenly hooking 40-inchers on the Crystal Minnows.
At times the bass turn on for casters using lures such as the Tsunami 5-inch Shad in pearl white. Bait fishing has been very spotty so far, which has been tough on the party boat fleet. The best action has been at night, but even then Tank Matraxia of Lyndhurst said the bass were just sucking the guts out of bunker chunks. Except for a 25-pounder hooked hooked Monday night by Emil Pavalac, Matraxia said the four other bass caught by Johnny Bucktails' crew were all hooked by that young pro.
The ocean striper fishery is well overdue. There have been a few shots so far, but consistent action should start ant day now for the Golden Eagle, Miss Belmar Princess and Big Jamaica.
Blackfishing has been set back by big swells, but the Big Mohawk from Belmar reported decent fishing on Thursday. Capt. Stan Zagleski will begin his daily hunt for tautog with Elaine B II from Bahrs in Highlands on Saturday at 7 a.m. That will continue until the season closes at the end of the month.
Castaway's Tackle reports winter flounder are being caught in Manasquan River and at the south end of Point Pleasant Canal. Blackfish have started hitting clams in the canal. School stripers have been hitting small lures in the surf, especially at Island Beach State Park.
At Seaside Park, Grumpy's Tackle reports bluefish are building up in Barnegat Bay. They weighed a 36-inch, 14.4-pounder for Kevin Malone on Wednesday after he caught it on a shad lure. Paul Haertel weighed a 14.4-pound blackfish there on Monday after catching it from his boat out of Toms River while working some wrecks. Other tog were caught, but there were no ling or sea bass on the wrecks.
School stripers are hitting clam and bunker chunks in the surf.