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Fishing Friday: A Shorter Fluke Season Ahead; Good Signs for Sea Bass Fishing



An angler shows off his fluke caught in Barnegat Bay. (Photo: Jersey Shore Fishing Magazine)

An angler shows off his fluke caught in Barnegat Bay. (Photo: Jersey Shore Fishing Magazine)

Welcome to the return of Fishing Friday, a weekly Shorebeat column that (usually) will go over what’s happening in the world of fishing and boating, feature some reports and photos, and news from around the scene.

Before starting Shorebeat (and also prior to working for Patch, as many readers may recall) I was the editor of Jersey Shore Fishing Magazine, a print publication that covered fishing and boating from Monmouth to Cape May counties. This column will hone in on our local coverage area, hopefully to give you an edge when you head out to wet a line over the weekend ahead. This season, we are proud to partner with Humminbird, a popular boat electronics manufacturer, where we’ll learn, together, a bit more about the using technology to lead us to the catch of the day.

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But for now, all eyes are on the start of fluke season. In six days, May 25 will come around, and will give Shore locals a quick shot to beat the summer crowds to their favorite honey holes in search of a keeper.

The state Marine Fisheries Commission voted this week in favor of an 18-inch minimum size, with an open season to run May 25 through Sept. 4 – barely a “Memorial Day to Labor Day” season – during which anglers may keep three fish each.

It has been a rough seven years for anglers, since draconian sea bass regulations were placed on that fishery even as stocks have doubled. This year, summer flounder was the target. New Jersey, in deciding its season, will likely find itself on the outs with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a federal board which sets quotas that states, in turn, must administer and enforce. The reduction in season and bag limit was a sacrifice made for keeping the size limit at 18-inches. It’s effectively a settlement – a piece of flesh to prevent the Department of Commerce from fully shutting down fluke fishing in New Jersey once the state is found out of compliance.

Jim Hutchinson, Jr. wrote about the topic in-depth in The Fisherman Magazine this week. It’s an excellent read, and gets the heart of the issues we’re facing as anglers.

So what shall we expect next Thursday in our best attempts to make lemonade out of the lemon-y regulations we’ve been served?

As usual, stick the inshore and back bay waters to find the biggest fish. The warm temperatures this week rose bay water temperatures enormously. They were in the 50s to begin the week and topped out at 72 degrees (according to my boat’s chartplotter/fishfinder) at sunset Thursday. The warming trend will end this weekend, and the bay will cool yet again, but my gut tells me that the fishery will begin more like a midsummer scenario than the typical chilly spring scenario.

It’s just a hunch, but I’d skip the western reaches of the Manasquan River and head right to the Route 35 bridge, and the small channels that surround it, on opening day. I’d throw some Gulp minnows out, usually something I reserve for later in the season, and see what happens. For those who want to stick to the bay, the BI and BB buoys mark the spot, as usual, but I wouldn’t be afraid to tread a bit farther into the Oyster Creek channel, fishing (carefully) around the edges to target the biggest fish.

Indeed, there could be a retreat if the water cools down farther, but with our recent wacky weather, my season will be starting with an out-of-the-box approach when it comes to fishing the back bays.

I’ve also been hearing rumbles this week that the fair weather lit up the sea bass fishery, which reopens May 26. You’ll be allowed 10 fish at 12.5 inches until June 18, when the bag limit drops to just two fish before the season closes Aug. 31. Sea bassing this time of year is an awesome way to mix-and-match along with fluke. Hit the reefs for the best shot. Personally, I like to target sites with reef balls (concrete castings) when doing a mixed trip. If sea bass is the only target, structure such as a sunken ship would be the place to be. It should be noted that blackfish (tautog) season is closed until July 17, so a fluke-sea bass combo will give you the best chance to come home with something for dinner.

Blues, for the most part, are all over the place. The folks at The Dock Outfitters in Seaside Heights are nabbing them behind the shop, around the Route 37 bridge and in the mouth of the Toms River. In Brick, there are plenty around Mantoloking. Whether they’ll remain into next week will likely have to do with the weather, and how it affects (or doesn’t affect) the temperature of the bay. If the bay remains warm, bluefishing will move closer to the ocean, with the mouth of the Point Pleasant Canal and the inlets providing most of the action outside of the suds. If the water cools down again, we’ll see them remain by the bridges and in the rivers.

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