Here we are again, after a not so long, not so hard winter. Flowers are ahead of schedule in their bloom cycle, so don’t be surprised if you hear that some of your favorite haunts on the water are already being productive. If you haven’t already put your gear back into fighting condition, better get a move on. Water temperatures never really got that low and the warm up is well ahead of schedule. The crabs that did dig in the mud didn’t go too deep and have been out and about gorging themselves in anticipation of their first shed of the New Year. Bunker and the now protected river herring made an early appearance and striped bass, already stuffed from the early banquet they found, are heading out the inlets and onto the beaches. Blue fish, eager to lose their status as runners are starting to materialize in good numbers and with healthy attitudes. So make sure you have some wire in your tackle box or run the risk of losing some gear.
Living on Absecon Bay gives me the opportunity to watch the waters wake up from their winter hibernation in stages. This year has been quite different from those of the recent past. Rather than wake up in stage, it was more of an explosion. To some extent, it caught me off guard and when that happens, I turn to the real experts like Dave Showell, owner of Absecon Bay Sportsmen’s Center. Dave is a backwater savant in the Atlantic City area. Usually the one of the first to reopen because he is out hunting herring, this year he has been scouting the back bay like a marine on a manhunt. And his reports have been staggering. Stripers have been feeding up the Mullica for several weeks now according to Captain Dave. Water temps have been anywhere from the high sixties to the low forties and all the usual baits are working well. Without herring, most anglers are using clam, eel or bunker. Tautog reopened on Sunday and the bite has been red hot. Three boats came in on opening day with their limit with several 8+ pounders being taken by theBrigantineBridge. Green crabs and clam are the bait of choice. And Captain Dave also reminded me to make sure you all have your metal loaded in the tackle box as the blue runners are getting thicker on each tide. And don’t forget that winter flounder are active in the Great Bay. The limit is set at 2 but a finer eating fish you will be hard pressed to find.
I am starting to wonder if the bite ever shut off onLong BeachIsland. Last time I fished there in December, the gang at Fisherman’s headquarters’ was still weighing in nice striped bass on a regular basis. Here we are in early spring and they are still going strong. And lately, they have added some nice drum and blue fish to the menu. Will it ever cool off again? Before you know it, fluke season will be upon us. Surf temperatures out front have been hovering right around the 50 degree mark which is almost optimal for you surf jockeys out there. Best bait for linesider is the fresh bunker with clam running a close second. Fisherman’s HQ has an ample supply of both. And if you are looking for repairs, relining or new tackle, be sure to get in and stock up. Once the bite heats up, you don’t want to get caught with your pants down.
One would think that in a normal year, the fish would logically flow from the southern reaches of the state upwards along the coast, following the flight of the bait fish. Not the case this year. As with everything else since the fall run, the fish are all over the place. Pick a spot and chances are you will find your game. At least that’s the impression I got when I spoke with Jack Montiero, owner of Surf Side Bait and Tackle inLong Branch. Jack has been personally catching off the beach for a couple of weeks now in all but the slackest of tide. Just last night, Jack beached several keeper size stripers and watched a 5 year old take a 32 inch keeper on clam. He was somewhat surprised I had not heard about it as the kids smile lit up the beaches for miles down the coast. The back bays have been very productive for linesiders, especially aroundRaritanBay. Bait is king but the pluggers have been keeping pace throwing any kind of swimmer like a bomber or metal lipped diver. He also informed me that the tog have been real strong around any structure, especially the jetties on the beach. Jack attributed that (and the striper catch) to a real strong hatch of white leg crabs that are almost always present in the stomachs of the fish being cleaned. Both tog and striper get extremely active when there are white legs, and finding them in the close to shore is a rarity for sure. If you are looking for some scouting reports up north,, be sure to stop in Surf Side inLong Branchfor the latest. They are easy to find as they are situated next door to the “Bikini Barber” on Montgomery Ave. Everyone in town can give you directions.
In a normal year, the anglers down south in Delaware Bay are typically on the lookout for Black Drums heading in during the annual breeding migration. Stripers are usually hit or miss in the bay in the early spring but this year is already running well ahead of schedule. That’s the report I got from Chuck Hinchcliffe, owner of Off the Hook Marina in Cape May. When I spoke to Chuck, he told me that when the boats could get out (it has been ultra windy of late) the boaters have been doing real well on stripers in the D’ Bay. Clam has been the lure of choice and the best overall producer. Since slippery bass reopened on Sunday, the bite has been very good especially on the rocks around Herefords Inlet in Wildwood and Cold Spring Inlet. Off the Hook has green crabs in stock but you might want to call ahead to make sure as they are expecting the holiday weekend to be strong. It may be a little early for drum fish but there were reports that the area off ofPovertyBeachwas hot last week with most of the catch being limited to puppy drum. But I suspect the drum bite, like everything else this year, may be a little early. So for those of you who don’t have your boats in yet or are looking for a charter, give Chuck a holler at Off the Hook and he will point you in the right direction.
Early spring is typically a tough time to get fishing reports because many of the regular contributors are gearing up for the long season ahead and fishing is normally spotty at best. That is not the case this year. The fish have arrived and the news is filtering out to anglers. I didn’t mention offshore for cod and sea bass but that isn’t because they are running. They are out there for the taking, just hop on your favorite head boat and hook ‘em up! Water temperatures are at or near prime up and down the coast. As is always the case this time of year, conditions are subject to change real fast so you need to be on top of your game. Be careful out there, you have been on the bench for a while and you need to get back in the game slowly, you don’t want to get hurt. Make sure your equipment is tuned (and that includes your boat) and hit them straight up. And most of all, try thinking like a fish. What would you do if you were in their fins?