Milt Roscoe Mid Atlantic Game & Fish
During the fall is the exodus of forage species from coastal bays and rivers. Forage such as menhaden, herring, mullet, bay anchovies, hickory shad and spearing that were hatched early in summer in the protected estuaries now reach the ocean. There are literally millions of 3- to 8-inch-long fry swimming nervously in tightly packed schools.
Raritan Bay is a broad expanse of water, an ideal nursery ground fed by the fresh water of the Raritan River. It is a nursery ground beyond comprehension, with miles of extremely shallow flats, and a major shipping channel crisscrossing the waterway. Follow the birds working on blues and bass blasting the peanut bunker. When not on the surface Work the edges of Raritan Bay West or East Reach, Chapel Hill, Sandy Hook or Swash channels.
Spots like Flynns Knoll and Romer Shoal are good places . You can anchor, but you may also experience good results while drifting and chumming with ground bunker, and baiting with a chunk of butterfish.
Extending outward from shore, the Rocks range from 18 to 24 feet for the most part, surrounded by water that is 35 to 50 feet deep. The seaward end of the rock formation has a black "1SR" marker. As the name implies, the Rocks are a mass of jumbled rocks, jutting up from the bottom where they regularly create havoc for anglers, especially those who fish too long a line or who aren't paying attention to what their line is doing.
The rocks attract a huge quantity of forage, which seek sanctuary among the many crevices created by these rocks. There's a huge population of bergalls, properly called cunner, that inhabit the rocky crevices, along with blackfish, porgies and black seabass
The Sandy Hook peninsula extends northward toward lower New York Harbor and is a buffer separating Raritan and Sandy Hook bays from the ocean. This long spit of land is witness to a fall migration of stripers, blues and forage beyond comprehension. It's accessible to the public as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Almost the entire beach has access for fishermen.
MANASQUAN TO BARNEGAT INLETS
Immediately south of Manasquan Inlet and extending through Bay Head, the beaches have a deep dropoff, where seas build and tumble directly onto the sand. As a result, all baitfish exiting the inlet and heading south usually hug the beach very tightly, as there are no sandbars to act as a buffer.
As you enter Mantoloking and continue south to Barnegat Inlet, there are sandbars paralleling the coastline. Often the baitfish will travel just offshore of the bar formations, moving between the cuts or deep holes and bars to access the troughs inside the bars.
Quite often at low tide it's possible to wade out onto the bar formations and cast to breaking fish. But caution should prevail, as heavy surf can literally lift you off your feet and tumble you over. The ideal situation is fishing a flooding tide, with the baitfish moving into the troughs and the stripers and blues right behind. Often fish are breaking within a couple of rod lengths of where you're standing. Toward this end, when the fish move into the troughs, stay out of the water and up on the sand. All too often anglers make the mistake of wading into the water, which is where the fish are feeding in the 2- to 4-foot depths.
LONG BEACH ISLAND
From Barnegat to Beach Haven Inlet, there are miles of New Jersey's most beautiful beaches on a sliver of land called Long Beach Island. Many of the beaches are traversable by four-wheel-drive vehicles, and it's not uncommon to see convoys of SUVs riding the beach, stopping at a vantage and using binoculars to look for the signs of gulls working or the dark coloration that discloses a tightly packed school of forage.
Many Long Beach islanders like to use a mullet on a float rig, or chunks of bunker or herring, suspended off the bottom with a float, and just patiently wait for a big striper to happen by. Each fall sees many big bass and blues landed on bait, including surf clams that are especially effective with rough surf conditions, particularly after a fall northeaster.
While to the north of Raritan Bay many stripers will head into the Hudson River to spend the winter, down on the broad expanse of Delaware Bay striped bass are congregating and feeding heavily prior to moving up into the Delaware River for the winter. Delaware Bay experiences the last major surge of boat action for Garden State anglers, with the best of the fishing often being from November through December.
Among the most popular techniques is fishing the rips with live eels. On an ebbing tide, forage from the river is carried into the bays, and then runs the gamut from the typical forage species, including menhaden, mullet, herring and spearing, along with blue crabs and grass shrimp. Unlike Raritan Bay, where there are extensive shallows, in lower Delaware Bay, the water's deeper, and with the varying bottom configurations, there are rips galore where stripers and blues take up station to feed on the forage carried to them by the current.
My favorite rig for this fishing is little more than a three-way swivel, with a 36-inch-long piece of 30-pound-test fluorocarbon leader material snelled to a 7/0 claw- or beak-style hook or a 9/0 or 10/0 circle hook. To the remaining eye of the swivel, tie in a 12-inch-long piece of 20-pound-test monofilament, and then tie a surgeon's loop onto which you slip a bank-style sinker. Depending on the flow of the current, you'll usually get by with 1 to 3 ounces of sinker weight, although when the current's ripping, you may have to double that weight.
With live eels it's simply a matter of placing the hook through the eel's eye sockets or lips, and lowering it to the bottom, and drifting through the rips. If there's a hungry linesider waiting for dinner, it'll inhale the eel in an instant.
Ranging from Fortescue down through the Bay Shore Channel and then out into the open ocean, you'll find stripers on North, Middle and Round shoals, especially during the late fall migration. Here, too, as schools of forage migrate, you'll often be rewarded with exciting surface action. Keep an alert eye for working gulls and terns, and in late fall you'll often witness the exciting dive-bombing antics of gannets feeding, a sure sign that stripers and blues are below. Then it's time to break out the casting tackle, using poppers and swimming plugs if the fish are breaking on bait, or probe the depths with a leadhead jig and pork rind combo.
Trolling is an option, too, with many fine big bass landed on swimming plugs and bunker spoons sent into the depths with wire line.
There can, however, be dismal days or nights in the midst of the fall migrations of stripers and blues. Given the choice, I'll take the hour before first light until sunup as unquestionably the best time to catch fish. Most often you're the first on the scene, whether from shore or boat, and this in itself boosts your chances of catching fish, especially when coupled with the propensity of both species to feed heavily at this time.