By @Nightstrikes_Surfcasting_Guide (Steve George)
April is a fun month with great expectations for the upcoming season. It’s what we dream about all winter long. As the days get longer and warmer the local fishing around the back bays and surf comes to life like clockwork. Each year young Striped Bass and then the early arrival of Big Bluefish start a feeding frenzy on baitfish before their seasonal migrations and spawning occurs. Being there, in the right place, at the right time and with the right tackle makes all the difference for your success. Here’s some tips to help you make the most of Fishing The Spring Transition on the Central Jersey Coast.
Resident Spring Time Striped Bass Fishing
Over the years I timed my first fishing trips of the season around the moon periods of the month. Either the full or new moon, it doesn’t really seem to matter, because both of these have the strongest tidal currents. As a result the flow delivers plenty of baitfish to ready and waiting striped bass. Local bridges, bulkheads, piers and docks have fish hanging around them. Game fish like these spots as great ambush points and provide protection for them. Day or night they will be there but much more active after dark!
Light Action Tackle For Early Spring Stripers
For this early season fishing I am mostly targeting young striped bass that on average run between 20” to 28” in length. So to use the term “match-the-hatch” I go with light action fishing rods capable of throwing from 3/8oz to 1oz presentations in the 6’ to 8’ in length. I match these rods with a reel in the 3000-4000 size class spooled up with light (20#) braid and 20# leaders.
Having a versatile outfit makes all the difference for success. As I make my way to the water’s edge on the right tides I never really know what to expect how the fish will be feeding. One night they can be found busting on the surface and hitting surface poppers. The next night they still might be popping but not as aggressively and will only hit subsurface lures like stick shads and swimmers. On most occasions a rubber swim shad lure will also draw a lot of attention during these conditions.
And one thing to note if you show up and for some reason the fish are not showing themselves don’t assume they are not there. This is the time to fish your presentations lower in the water column as they could be looking to feed on something bouncing along the bottom. In most of these occasions it’s weather related and/or tide related with colder water temperatures. This is the time to break out a little heavier jig/lead head or bucktail.
Spring Time Slammer Bluefish
At some point in the spring and it’s usually the end of April or early May we start to see the first signs of big lean and mean Bluefish. Traveling in small tight packs these “racers” cruising in from the deep to investigate our local inlets, beaches and bays in search of feed. These blues wreak havoc on any baitfish and get the small stripers moving. The bass begin to venture out of the back bays and things start to get really interesting.
This is the time to transition and beef up the tackle and equipment to prepare for battle with these fish.
My Spring Time Bluefish Bag
It never changes and it’s always ready to go on the spur of the moment. It consists of mainly big and strong lures that can take a beating but can also be replaced if need be. Because when targeting early spring run bluefish, you will lose some tackle at times. It’s not a matter of when. It’s a matter of what. For that reason you do not want to fish those hard to find lures. If you do you’ll regret it!
The number one thing I do is to make sure to fish single hook lures. Bucktails and jig/lead heads with trailers are ideal. Very early on when the big blues first arrive for the most part they do not show themselves like you think they would. Early on they are not active on the surface. They are cruising slowly under the surface and you need to put your presentation on their nose for them to hit it.
Bomber and Daiwa Minnow lures are great to use for this situation. I would suggest removing the stock treble hooks and replace them with In-Line Single Hooks for easy releases. They are also much safer for anglers. Eliminate the trip to the local ER if at all possible. If a treble hooks get imbedded in your hand it’s game over. I also do the same hook swap with my poppers and larger swimming lures.
Break Out The Big Guns
Earlier in the spring I go light but this stage is a different story. Bluefish test your tackle and if you are not prepared from the get go your fishing trip will come to a fast end. I’ve seen many fishing rods snapped in half during this time of the year. And it’s not always during the fighting of the fish but the actual landing.
Many surfcasters try to lift a fish up on to a jetty or bulkhead. It can be done successfully however you’ll want to follow these guideline to prevent a catastrophe…
- If you are going to lift a fish you need to have a strong enough fishing rod.
- Do Not High Stick! Keep the tip down and use the butt and midsection of the rod to lift and swing. Do not use the tip with a high angle vertical swing.
- A leader man or a friend with a net or gaff can be very helpful. Some gator blues can be three feet or longer and can weigh fifteen or more pounds. It’s best to get some help landing these monsters.
When choosing a big fish rod and reel you’ll want to look for quality rod and reel that is capable of handling the lures, fish and drag you plan to fish. Most importantly the two tools must match properly and perform together, casting the lures you need to the fish as well as handle and turn big fish in current. Without that ability you’ll never have a chance at landing them.
Good Rod Choices
For rods, I choose a surf rod in the 9-10’ length, med-heavy action, rated in the 2-6oz range. Here is a list of some options in a few different price points. Each level of pricing offers different manufacturing origin, quality and materials (blank and components).
- Tica UEHA TC2 Rods At $99.99 – UE-HA527402S 9′ 2-6oz 2pc
- Tsunami AirWave Elite Rods At 169.99 – TSAWESS932XH 9’3″ 3-5oz 2pc
- Lamiglas GSB Rods At $439.99 – GSB10MS 10′ 2-5oz 2pc (also available in one piece) Made In USA
Good Reel Choices
For reels, I choose a spinning reel which has an all metal body, quality gearing, powerful cranking and smooth drag. Also, a reel must hold enough line. The following are some options in a range of price points. All of these will get the job done. It’s up to you how much you will use it and how much you want to invest. Note: Each reel brand has its own unique sizing nomenclature.
- Daiwa Black & Gold BG4500 At $129.99
- Penn Spinfisher VI 6500 At $199.95 (Also available in a bailless version, SSVI6500BLS & has the available option to upgrade the gear set to CNC Machines Gears for $63.75. Can also take a look at the Penn Slammer III 6500 At $289.95
- Shimano Saragosa Shimano 6000/8000 At $269-289.99
- Van Staal VR 175/200 At $559-589
- Van Staal X Series 200/250 At $779-809
When thinking of line don’t skim out! Beef up your braided fishing line to a minimum of 30lb, better yet 40-50# and use a strong leader. 60-80lb class leader line might sound like overkill but toothy bluefish fish demand it.
Get out and start Fishing The Spring Transition! It’s a great time of the year to be fishing. Good Luck & Have Fun!
NightStrikes Surfcasting Guide Service LLC
Steve George – Call: 609-276-6983
Any anglers looking to advance their fishing and learn from an experienced and accomplished saltwater guide is encouraged to contact Steve at Night Strikes Surfcasting Guide Service to set up a guided fishing trip.