Barnegat Bay is one of New Jersey’s most prolific bay systems. Stretching from its northern most boundary at the mouth of the Point Pleasant Canal south to the waters of Manahawkin Bay, this thirty-five mile stretch encompasses a seventy-five square mile expanse of a lagoon type estuarine system.
Barnegat Bay is rich in maritime history dating as far back as 1609 when Henry Hudson first described it a “great lake of water”. During the revolutionary War early settlers would use the extensive array of shoals, creeks, and channels to effectively out maneuver the British soldiers as they pirated and attacked their ships as they sailed along the coast.
The most topographically diverse part of Barnegat Bay is found in its lower section located around the inland waters that lie behind the Barnegat Inlet and “Old Barney”, the Barnegat Lighthouse. Here you will find an extensive array of deep channels, sedge banks, marshes, river and creek mouths, and flats.
The close proximity of this entire area to the tidal influences of Barnegat Inlet provides a steady influx of bait and predators throughout the season. This provides the fly fisher with opportunities to target stripers, bluefish, weakfish, and fluke. On occasion false albacore can also be had as they enter the most easterly part of the Bay around the waters of the Inlet.
The best way to fish the lower bay is by a small boat as access on foot is limited.
There is good wading access however located behind Island Beach State Park at Areas 7, 15, and 21. Here you can park in designated areas and walk along several well-marked paths to the Bay. Wading into the Bay and fishing along the drop-offs at the edges of the flats will be your best and most productive locations to target. Being equipped with a good pair of polarized sunglasses will be a definite aid in identifying these fish holding structures.
At the eastern end of the lower Barnegat Bay you will find Barnegat Inlet. This Inlet provides the boat fly fisher with a prime opportunity to fish “world class trophy waters”. Known as one of the most productive locations throughout our state one can hook into stripers in the twenty to thirty pound range, bluefish in the eight to fifteen pound range, and tide running weakfish in the six to eleven pound range throughout the course of the season. False albacore will also enter the picture from September through October that are in the six to twelve-pound range.
In the Inlet the most productive location to fish is on its north side along the area known as the Sunken Rocks. This is the submerged portion of the North Jetty that extends from its walk-able tip out to what the locals call the Monument. As waves are pushed over these rocks from the ocean into the Inlet a lot of whitewater is created that disorients the bait that are moving through this area. In between high and low tide usually produces the best whitewater conditions to fish this area.
Casting a large deceiver, siliclone, or popper into this area and working the edges of this whitewater is an extremely effective technique. Drifting along the side of the Sunken Jetty however will require excellent boating skills as the strong currents can quickly suck you in and put you in a rather precarious situation.
The fall is the most productive time along these rocks as hordes of mullet and peanut bunker are pinned along their edges by trophy fish. At this time of year this is eleven-weight territory if you want to land the majority of the brutes that you will hook.
As you move to the back of the Inlet there are two locations that are noted hotspots that will produce fish. The first area is the channel located directly behind “Old Barney”. This channel has an average depth of twenty feet and will normally require the use of quick sinking lines to get your flies down to the fish.
As the channel doglegs to the right behind the Light you will come to Meyers Hole. This second location is probably the best-known location in lower Barnegat Bay. It is very productive because of its close proximity to the flushing action of the Inlet that causes baits to continually flow through this area.
Meyers Hole will run parallel to Long Beach Island and is it confined by a series of bars and shoals and by a spit of land known as the Dyke. It is an excellent place to seek shelter when the wind is up.
Meyers Hole is best known as a weakfish hot spot in the spring. Here you will find large tide running weakfish taking up residence for a short time before they continue their journey into the Bay to spawn. At this time a favorite method for the fly fisher is to anchor up and to create a chum slick with sand and grass shrimp. Once the weakfish zone in on the slick drifting a Popovics ultra shrimp back through it is often deadly. You can also use small clousers in rust or orange over white.
All of the sod banks that are located behind the Dyke are also prime spots to check when in the Meyers Hole vicinity. A sixteen-foot channel runs all along the edge of these sod banks that will hold fish. The Honey Hole as the locals know it is the most productive spot along this channel.
Located across from the Dyke on the northeast side of the lower Bay is a very productive area known as the sedges. Here you will find a deep channel that drops off from the sedge banks to 18-20 feet. Good tidal flows are present in this area during the changing tides and large stripers and weakfish can be found along the bottom and along the drop-offs in this area.
One of the most productive holes along the sedges is directly across form the 40 Buoy and is known as Horsefoot. This hole and any of the other holes that are located along the numerous creek mouths that empty into this area are the places to concentrate your efforts.
When fly fishing these areas you will need to use 450-650 grain sinking lines to get your flies down into the strike zone. There are many different flies that will work but you can always count on Bob Popovics jiggy fleyes to put you into fish. The slender profile of this fly nicely emulates the six-inch spearing that are abundant throughout this area. A yellow and white jiggy fleye or olive and white ultra hair jiggy fleye are two of the top producers.
Weakfish are notorious for striking out at these flies when they are retrieved up and along the edges of the channel or the drop-offs. They use the sloping topography to their advantage as they ambush and pin baits along its sides.
Other areas in the lower Bay that are consistent producers throughout the season are the chain of buoys that mark the IntraCoastal Waterway. These would be the BB, BI, and 42 Buoys. The BB Buoy marks the entrance to the Forked River, the BI Buoy marks the entrance to Oyster Creek Channel, and the 42 Buoy marks the Double Creek Channel. All three Buoys are located in water that averages eight to ten feet in depth.
As you move around in the lower Bay is it very important to stay within the marked channels or you can quickly end up running aground on one of the surrounding flats. The channel will weave its way out to the inlet and several dogleg turns are necessary to successfully navigate through the area. Trying to run a straight course across the Bay to the Inlet through the few cuts that do exist is not recommended and is better left to the locals. As low tide approaches the channel is easily identifiable by the darker colored water that lies between lighter shaded water on either side.
These flats however should not be completely overlooked. The extensive array of flats can be very productive particularly in the early part of the spring as they warm quickly from the sun’s rays. Here you will find some of the first stripers and weakfish of a new season. As May rolls around a good population of bluefish will invade their warmer waters that will aggressively strike out at any top water popper, banger, or slider that you shoot at them.
To access the Lower Bay you can enter from any of the western creeks or rivers such as the Forked River, Oyster Creek, Double Creek, Cedar Creek, or Silver Bay. The other option is to enter from the oceanside through Barnegat Inlet.
You can also take exit 63 on the Garden State Parkway and head east on route 72 over the Causeway into Ship Bottom. From here make a left onto Long Beach Boulevard and follow this road north to the end of the Island into the town of Barnegat Light. There you will find a public boat launch at the north end of town on 10 Street. This will put you directly in the Bay near Meyers Hole. In this area you will also find Barnegat Lighthouse State Park if you would like to take a tour of “Old Barney”.