By Captain Dave DeGennaro, Hi Flier Sportfishing
Fishing the Barnegat Ridge, the inshore offshore spot… For those who want to jump out from the inshore fishery, this is a primer to help introduce offshore fishing for pelagic species such as bonito, albacore, mahi, king mackerel and BLUEFIN TUNA! If you want to branch out from summer time fluke and sea bass near shore, this is the next step.
July through September brings some hot fishing to Barnegat Ridge and the surrounding waters. Bluewaters with structure, bait and pelagic predators make for fun fishing not too far from port. This year (2020) the mid-shore game (10-60 mile range) has been very good. Get out there and have some fun!
First question, of course, is your boat capable?
Barnegat Ridge is about 15 miles from Barnegat Inlet. A boat of at least 20 feet should be adequate on a nice calm summer day. Personally, I only like to run offshore when the conditions are flat calm. This way, if the weather services blow the forecast, you have time to run in before the seas build to an uncomfortable ride. Make sure your VHF radio is in good working order because you will be out of cell range. An EPIRB and a life raft are two things to give you more peace of mind. Having a buddy boat is an extra step in safety and can also be very helpful finding fish.
Next up… Rods & Reels
The good news is that you probably have an arsenal that will work. You need at least four outfits to get started but five is common. More than likly if you troll mojos for striped bass inshore these same outfits will do the job. Any of your inshore outfits that have at least 20-30 pound monofilament line (50-80# braid) on them will work here. I would suggest spooling up with fresh line and putting on maximum capacity. Conventional reels are preferred but spinning can work. It’s not that critical. As long as the line is fresh and the drags are smooth, you are good to go.
Tie on a 75-100# ball bearing snap swivel to each rod. This snap swivel is used to attach any of your rigged lures. The only time you don’t use it is when you are using a feather. In this case, you pass your running line from the reel through the feather and tie on the feather hook, a Mustad 34007 stainless steel 4/0 hook.
You do not need outriggers but if you have a pair of outrodders, commonly used for trolling bunker spoons, they will improve your presentation. Here are three good options… Classic Outrodders by ACF, E-Z Outrodder (Hinging), Reel Innovation Ratcheting Outrodders (Ratcheting).
The key trolling lures you will need to buy are…
You will need to get some 5 inch cedar plugs in natural, red/white or hot pink. You will be trolling two at a time of any lure, so buy at least three or four so you have backup. There are some toothy critters that inhabit Barnegat Ridge so be prepared for an occasional bite off.
Cedar plugs trolling lures are one of the best fish catching lures and they are one of the most affordable ones too!
Planer & Spoon
One of the most universal trolling rigs is a planner with a spoon. Both Clarkspoon and Huntington Drone Spoon are great in the 3-5″ size. These spoons are unweighed and should be trolled behind a lead trolling weight “drail” or better yet a diving planer. The #2 or #3 planers are best for this type of fishing. Be sure to use two arm lengths ~10′ of 40-60# leader from the planer to the spoon.
A planer is more effective at getting down deeper and faster than a drail so the line isn’t stretched out into the spread. This allows for other rods to be fished in those positions. Planers and spoons fished deep are well know for getting the attention of game fish and raising them into a spread. Once a fish bites the planer trips and it’s much nicer fighting it than with a heavy drail.
Is you want to make your spread come alive and standout from the pack spreaderbars will help you BIG TIME! Designed to be trolled and look like a school of bait fish, spreader bars raise fish. They come in all sorts of sizes, colors and styles. The most popular are the Chatter Splash Bars and Chatter Side Trackers. The Splash Bars have birds that chatter and splash to cause a commotion which attract game fish. Side Tracker Bars have a rudder which makes the spreader bar track off and away from the boat. For this reason Chatter Side Trader Bars are a huge advantage to small boats who don’t have outriggers. They helps widen a spread and also allows for more rods to be fished.
My other “go to” lure has to be built because I don’t know where you could buy one.
- Start with 4-5″ squid skirts. The same ones used to dress up fluke rigs. They usually come in a five pack. Snip off just the tip of each squid to allow line to pass through. Each one will get a ¼ ounce egg sinker inside the head.
- Now get a 10′ piece of 80# monofilament line, crimps to match (Jinkai Size J for most 80# lines) and a crimping tool.
- First crimp on a good hook that matches up to the squids being used; 4/0-5/0 Mustad 34007 Stainless Steel O’Shaughnessy Hook or Mustad 3407SSD 2X Strong. Then slide down an egg weighed squid skirt. Note it might require a bead or two for spacing. You want the bend of the hook at or about the end of the squid skirt.
- Next thread onto the leader a crimp and squeeze (swage) on to the line about 20″ above the first squid. This acts as a stopper that will hold the squid in position. Add a bead and then an egg weighed squid skirt. Repeat working up the leader until there are five squids in a chain, all of them about 15″ apart. Note: The one with the hook is slightly further apart at 20″.
- To finish off, thread on a crimp and then do a loose double over hand knot. Pull down (but not tight) to form an “offshore loop”. Then put the tag end into the crimp and swage to complete the rig. This loop is where you’ll attach a snap swivel from one of your rods when it’s time to fish. Note: There will be extra leader line in front of the leading squid in the chain.
I know the Hoochie Chain is complicated and we would all prefer to buy off the rack BUT! The success I have had with it is unbelievable. In fact, I would tell you that in all of the Ridge fishing I do… I almost always have just four lines in the water, two small cedar plugs and two of those squid chains. If you don’t want to go through the hassle or are intimidated at the idea of rigging, pick out some small 4 to 5 inch little jet lures or feathers. Black/white or red/white are ideal feather colors. Blue/white or green/yellow are good jet lure colors.
If you don’t have the time to make your own Hoochie Chain… here is a great alternative… The Feather Chain. Feather Chains will catch anything from mahi, albies and bonita to bluefin tuna.
Time To Hit The Ridge!
There are actually two Barnegat Ridges, North and South. They both hold fish and are about 3.5 miles apart. The water in between them is productive, as well. On your ride out you will notice the depth dropping from 40, 50, 70, 80, sometimes flirting with 100 feet and then, as you arrive, it comes all the way up to 55 to 60 feet of water. I like to stop a mile and a half shy to allow time to get all the rods set and to fish that transition from deep to shallow.
Setting The Spread
Get the boat up to 6-7 knots and set up a simple spread. Start letting out the first cedar plug. Drop it way back, maybe 150 feet and put it in the forward starboard outrodder. On the port side, do the same thing with one of the squid chains or a jet lure. In your starboard stern most rodholder put out a squid chain or feather and keep it about 25 or 30 feet behind the boat right in the prop wash. If you have a release clip or a clothespin, tie it to the stern cleat and put the line in that. This will change it to a very low trajectory and improve the presentation. This is called a flatline. Repeat this with a cedar plug in the port stern most rod holder and… You are fishing!
On The Hunt
Offshore trolling is very much a visual game. You want to constantly be scanning for anything to steer towards, like a piece of wood or debris that might have mahi mahi on it. What you are always looking for are chick birds. Technically they are Storm Petrels, but we call them chicks, chick birds, tuna chicks. They are a great indicator of where the gamefish are feeding. You’re not looking for a big flock like we encounter inshore. Just one or a few is all you need. These birds are too small to feed on the same baitfish the predators are feeding on. They are diving at the surface picking up tiny particles from the maceration that is going on below the surface of the water. The best scenario is when you find these birds diving at a slick piece of water, it has a sheen like an oil slick. This is known as “chicks and slicks” and in the world of offshore trolling, it doesn’t get any better than that. That means you stumbled on a feed that is going on right now and your rods should be singing any minute.
You won’t always find this condition, but keep your eyes open for even a single or just a few of these birds. So many times we hook up just from turning the boat towards a single chick bird. Shearwaters, gulls and other birds might present too but none are as relevant as tuna chicks.
You are most likely to encounter bonita, false albacore, spanish mackerel, king mackerel, and occasionally mahi and school size bluefin tuna. The bonita are always our target and are delicious. They average two to four pounds but last year we had them up to six pounds. The false albacore are inedible, they average 5 to 10 pounds and will smoke the reel on their initial first run. Both the spanish and king mackerel have populated this area for 10 years or so but the last few years are the greatest numbers I have ever seen.
As always care for your catch properly! Once caught, bleed ’em out (cut the throat, poke/slice the main artery and slice/cut the tail artery) and ice ’em up. Puttiung fish in a saltwater ice slurry is
The spanish are delicious and I get mixed reviews on the kings. They are both toothy and the kings especially will bite you off even on the 80 pound leader. Mahi and bluefin are always a pleasant surprise and can take up residence there any time there is baitfish and blue water to hold them. Sandeels, small mackerel, and flying fish are some of the bait found here.
That should get you started. Call me if you have any questions or need some guidance. See you out there!