‘Round In Circles!

Striped Bass Circle Hook Regulation & Implementation

I held off posting my circle hook blog in hopes Wednesday’s (Feb 3rd) Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board (SBB) Meeting would have clarified major concerns raised by recreational anglers in regards to the new circle hook mandates.

This striped bass was caught aboard Fish Head Charters on a live bunker fished on a circle hook. Circle hooks drastically reduce the rate of deep/gut hooks when striped bass fishing with natural baits.

After listening to the entire 5 hours and 15 minutes meeting, I’m disappointed to share that there was no outcome. Literally what started and could have ended in short fashion went ‘Round In Circles! Yes I get it, parliamentary procedure via Robert’s Rules Of Order must be followed. But there had to be a better way. All 280 in attendance (for the most part) went unheard and unanswered. Why? Because public comment was cut out due to time constraints.

What was done? They created a new ad hoc committee (created for a particular purpose) established to develop a definition of “BAIT” that would require the use of circle hooks and method of fishing that would require the use of circle hooks and how to handle incidental catch. The committee will report back to the SBB at a special meeting in early March, hopefully sooner in. This group will clarify for the States the intent of the circle hook provision. Maybe this is and will be the better way? I sure hope so.

So we wait until then for clarification.

Updated Block of Info (March 16, 2021) The ASMFC approved guidance for state implementation of circle hook measures for the recreational fishery, “Circle hooks are required when fishing for striped bass with bait, which is defined as any marine or aquatic organism live or dead, whole or parts thereof. This shall not apply to any artificial lure with bait attached.” Here’s more information on the meeting.

If you didn’t know… yes the rules are set!

2021 Circle Hook Regulations For Striped Bass Fishing With Bait In NJ

Are You Fishing For Striped Bass With Baits? If so you must fish an in-line circle hook. J-hooks are prohibited when bait fishing for striped bass. Snag and drop fishing with weighed treble hooks is history!

For New Jersey Anglers – Circle Hook Regulation As Per NJDEP
In-line (non-offset) circle hooks must be used when fishing for striped bass with natural bait in all state waters.

Effective January 1, 2021

This new regulation is Part Two of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) management plan which started in 2020 with cuts to the Striped Bass bag limit and minimum size. It’s purpose is to decrease release mortality.

So What Are The Major Concerns?

Long story short, recreation anglers do not want new regulations to destroy historically productive and sustainable fishing methods.

There’s a very specific style of fishing that this new circle hook mandate was intended to regulate… Stadic Fishing to prevent gut hooking events. Anecdotal evidence from many experienced anglers up and down the “Striper Coast” all agree, when natural baits (fresh or live) are dead sticked for striped bass with traditional J-hooks, deep hooking or gut hooking is highly likely. However, with inline circle hooks these risks are almost eliminated.

On the other hand with Active Fishing, when anglers engage in trolling or fishing with rod in hand (cast and retrieve), fishing a J-hooks is different and poses little risk to fish with regards to deep hook or gut hook situations. Anglers trolling tube and worm rigs, jigs tipped with a pork rind strip or a surfcaster swimming an eel skin lure rarely if ever gut hook striped bass. These new rules punish some classic and sustainable approaches to striped bass fishing.

This striped bass was caught aboard Fish Head Charters actively fishing a bucktail.

A LOT of time was spent presenting the tube and worm fishery’s case but little to no time was spent discussing the topic of incidental catch. I already know the situation here on the Jersey Shore with surfcasters fishing fresh mullet on mullet rigs come fall. While these rigs are made for bluefish and the angler intent is to target bluefish, striped bass and fluke are occasionally caught. Do these striped bass have to be released? If not addressed this debate will rear its head time and time again. Another common incidental is spring clamming for black drum in the bay. For this reason I was very happy to see the last minute addition of incidentals to the motion for the new committee to address. 

Diving In Deeper

The clear oversight is obvious when looking back at the last ASMFC meeting (10/21/20) when the coast-wide circle hook mandate first released. One, a lack of comprehensive knowledge of the striped bass fisheries methods of fishing. Two, a poor definition of bait. Due to this each state moved forward with their interpretation which varied from state to state. Some states like Maine and Massachusetts asked for exemptions in order to save their classic and popular modes of fishing, tube and worm. 

What is the definition of “BAIT”?

Maryland has published, BAIT is “any item that emits an odor or scent such as worms, minnows, crayfish, insects, and food items. The addition of any scent to an artificial lure or fly to make it smell like bait, makes it bait.” That’s very broad reaching!

Here in New Jersey, the state spells out “natural baits” and separately released their interpretation… “Natural bait is anything whole, living or dead organisms (animal or plant) or parts thereof.” Thankfully artificials/synthetics like plastisol grubs/shads/eel (imitations), Gulp and Jig Strips among others are not considered natural bait.

This gets hairy!

Again no pun intended and very concerning. Natural hairs and hackles/feathers are a mainstay in the fishing tackle world, dating back to the 13 century!

Striped bass love to eat flies and it’s a blast catching ’em with this mode of fishing. Could lures like flies that feature natural hairs be in jeopardy?

In Conclusion

As one can see due to the ambiguous nature of the law there’s a lot that can be discussed, debated and extrapolated. The bottom line is, there must be clarification and it must be done soon. We all need to embrace the new laws and work together as a unified Striper Coast to  safeguard striped bass.


Author: FishHead.Greg

A Long Beach Island native with life long experience fishing and navigating the local waters, Greg is a distinguished Master Captain (the highest qualified operator license), holding a US Coast Guard Masters 50T Near Coastal License with Towing Endorsement. Raised in and now managing his family's bait and tackle business, Fishermans Headquarters (Since 1962, The Saltwater Fishing Bait & Tackle Experts) Greg is daily immersed in fishing. He is the Chief Contributor of FishingLBI.com (Long Beach Island's best fishing report blog) as well as the Admin for the shop's social media pages (on Instagram and Facebook). Be sure to follow!

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