Sandy Hook, N.J. — We’ve waited all year for this, and now the time has come.
Days of dreaming about waters boiling with striper tails, bluefish blitzes and weakfish frenzies will see their reality come to fruition right now.
It’s the famed fall run and it’s happening along Jersey’s 127-mile-long stretch of coastline.
There’s no other more exciting time to be a saltwater angler in Jersey.
From late October through December, striped bass, bluefish and weakfish are all on the move down the Eastern Seaboard in migration, actively fattening themselves up on all varieties of baitfish for the long winter.
Hapless schools of peanut bunker, adult bunker, mullet, spearing and sandeels wind up on the losing end of the stick as game fish relentlessly hound them night and day.
What does this all translate into for you? A flat-out free for all!
There are four time-tested hot spots to focus on along the coast during this period.
Here’s where to go:
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The northern section of the state sees the first wave of fish moving down from the New England regions, and Raritan Bay is the place to set up.
Raritan Bay fishermen employ a variety of methods to tangle with the stripers and blues, but most notably are fond of trolling at this time. Shad bars, bunker spoons and Stretch 25 Minnows all end up on the trolling lines to attract big bass and blues in the reaches of the bay.
You’ll see plenty of boats milling around at 3 to 4 knots dragging wire-line set-ups with these offerings out the back.
Some excellent spots to drag within the bay include Romer Shoal, Flynn’s Knoll and the Raritan Reach, but year after year, scores of action comes from just south of Sandy Hook in the area of the Shrewsbury Rocks.
You may lose a few rigs here, but you will find bigger bass lurking in the rocky structure.
Read more about Raritan Bay.
Island Beach SP
The sandy, well-cut, slough-ridden beaches of Island Beach State Park attract not only tens of thousands of bass, but thousands of anglers as well who know all too well the productivity of casting a line in from the surf off the beach’s legendary sands.If you want to be in the middle of blitzes day in and day out, Island Beach is your best bet for making that a reality.
The 10-mile stretch of protected, untouched beach is beach buggy accessible, and it sometimes resembles an actual interstate on the weekends when the fish are on the bite.
But make no mistake, it’s never too crowded here; there’s more than enough room to find your spots and follow the fish.
Casting plugs, poppers and even deadsticking clam or bunker baits will tie you into fish here.
Two perennial access area hot spots are at A9 and A21.
This place is probably the heart and soul of surf fishermen in Jersey and a full day fishing here will soak you right into what it means to be a surf rat.
Literal blitzes will churn at your feet with bluefish, bass and weakfish actually chasing and pursuing bait between your legs. It’s insane!
Read more about Island Beach State Park
As you move down the coast, the backwaters of Barnegat Bay are the next on the hit list for followers of the fall run.
If you enter the Barnegat Inlet, there are myriad spots to set up and try for roving packs of bass and blues.
Oyster Creek Channel, Double Creek Channel and the 42 buoys are magnets for game fish waiting to ambush their prey.
The back sodbanks of Island Beach State Park can also be fished with spectacular results. Play the tides and drift along their edges.
Anglers utilize a variety of techniques in these backwaters.
On the drift, many will employ the use of a bucktail tipped with a bluefish or mackerel strip. Topwater poppers will elicit a strike from a waiting striper.
Some choose to set up on anchor right inside the inlet and start a clam slick, dropping fresh clams down to nab a bass or two. Others liveline spot on fishfinder rigs in the rips of the inlet.
Whatever your method, you are sure to be into some serious action, and by all means, if you see birdplay outside of the inlet, fire up the motor and make the short run outside to get in on it!
For sheer excitement, the southern part of the state provides a phenomenal spot.
The giant Delaware Bay separates Jersey from Delaware, but it shares the wealth of stripers and bluefish for all anglers involved.
The Big Bay houses incredible opportunity for saltwater junkies.
There are two schools of thought that are used here, depending on whether you’re fishing the upper bay or the lower bay.
The reaches of the upper bay is the playground for striped bass fishermen who choose to chunk bunker. Set up on a spot such as the Miah Maul, Horseshoe, Pin Top, 20 Foot Slough or 60 Foot Slough and start working your bunker chum slick. Once the slick is established, throw four or five lines in with nice, fresh bunker chunks while the rods are in free spool with the clicker on. When a bass grabs the chunk, you’ll know it, because that clicker will sing a song of desperation!
Cows to 50 pounds are a rarity, but are not uncommon at this time of year.
The other method of fishing D-Bay involves setting up on a drift where the bay spills out into the Atlantic Ocean. This area is called The Cape May Rips, and it is a bass and bluefish haven. The rips are a churning, swirling arena where baitfish become easily disoriented in the turbulent waters. Striped bass wait in ambush behind every underwater hump and bump to inhale bait that flows on by.
Tides and winds play a big part here in your safety and a small craft would be best advised to be cautious, especially during an outgoing tide with an easterly wind. Some standing breakers can swamp a small vessel. The underwater turf is volatile and can jump from 25 feet to 1 foot in an instant; most depths run around 3 to 15 feet.
The most common baits used here are eels and live spot on fishfinder types of presentations. Drift over the humps and always try to maintain contact with the bottom. If you don’t feel bottom, let out more line.
Most times, when your bait passes over a hump, a bass will be waiting on the downtide side ready to inhale it and give you a tussle.
There you go, four hot spots to hit up for Jersey’s fantastic fall run.