Story by Tom Pagliaroli

Several weeks ago, decent numbers of striped bass of varying sizes, from 18-inch shorts to Johnny Matts’ massive 48 lb. cow, were being caught along central and south Jersey beaches, from Long Branch to Beach Haven. The action augured well for the surf fishing fraternity, and expectations were high that a gangbuster run was about to begin. Pluggers were salivating at the prospect as were bait busters waiting with weighted treble hooks to do the snag ‘n drop with bunker from the massive schools moving down the coast.

To say that this action fizzled would be an understatement although it can change at any moment…such is the nature of migrating stripers.

However, those aboard the party boats and charter boats have been doing better, “better” meaning going from a pick to gangbusters to a pick again.

“We’re reading a lot of fish on the sonar so we know they’re there,” exposits Capt. Lenny from the 90-foot party boat Miss Barnegat Light (609-494-2094), adding “But getting them to hit consistently is another thing entirely.”

While the snag ‘n drop and live lining bunker are the mainstays of the Miss Barnegat Light, rail rangers have pulled all stops and work metals and cast plugs and poppers…and all are catching bass at one time or another, and sometimes it’s a wild mix of tactics.

Capt. Cool Ray Lopez aboard the 28 foot Carolina Classic charter vessel Miss Liane Sportfishing (908-319-6751) concurs with Capt. Lenny regarding the readings of copious amounts of stripers. Capt. Ray’s bass game is trolling bunker spoons and umbrella rigs, but even he’s had to mix it up to put keeper bass in the box.

Why the boats and not so much the beach? The general opinion is that the bunker schools have moved off, travelling southward anywhere from half-mile or more from the sands. It appears as if straggler pods of menhaden meat are just off the breakers, making for the here-and-there catches of stripers. Sand soldiers should keep their rods crossed that significant schools of bait tuck in to the breakers so as to provide some sort of salvage to an otherwise meager surf fishing season.

Tog Bite Still Right

And you don’t have to go far to get them!

Water temperatures are still in the prime blackfish bite range, and the tog are certainly being cooperative evidenced by fair counts still being caught along inlet jetties and on wrecks and structures in 40 to 65 feet.

To be sure, the feedbags are on, with green crabs and/or white leggers putting limit catches (6 at a 15-inch minimum) in the buckets and coolers, with the more esoteric toggers opting for specialized jigs baited with a chunk of the aforementioned crustaceans (or cooked shrimp). The advantage of the utilizing a jig is that the chances of snagging, a sure thing if dropping in the right habitat, is reduced by at least 50% if not more. This means more time fishing and less time re-tying the standard one or two hook rig.

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