The early spring can offer some of the year’s best fishing. With regards to our local area, south central NJ coast, Barnegat Bay, Manahawkin Bay and the areas in close proximity to the north and south anglers have great fishing opportunities. It’s usually special because compared to the fall there is a lot less anglers fishing. But don’t expect great fishing off the LBI surf or at the inlets. In the early spring look around back!
What to catch in the early spring
Striped Bass, Winter Flounder, White Perch
Baits: Baits like live bloods are always best and effective on all three species. No fish can turn down an east to digest worm in the early spring! If the price of live bloods or the necessary care that comes along with live baits is a hassle for you, check out DynaBait’s Freeze Dried Bloodworms. Other natural soft baits like squid and clam are options. Grass shrimp is a prime bait for perch. Also striped bass love them. Last September I was grass shrimping for weakfish and caught a winter flounder so I know they eat shrimp too. For worming bass early season these TNT rigs are perfect. Here’s the classic winter flounder rig options from Tide Rite.
Lures: Soft plastics are great in the spring when fishing shallow water with a slow approach. The Kettle Creeks and Tsunami Swim Shads have worked very well for me over the years. More recently I have fallen in love with the No Live Bait Needed. Skinny minnow pattern plugs are good too as they match the jumbo spearing that are commonly around in the early spring. I like the Yo-zuri Fingerling , Yo-zuri Mag Minnow or Daiwa DSPM13 SP Minnow. Anglers can never go wrong with a small jig like a bucktail or a lead head rigged with a plastic. Also popper draw attention to trigger strikes and are easy to fish in shallow areas. My best catching back bay popper is the Stillwater Smack-It Jr and the Storm Chug Bug.
When to fish the early spring
Fish the warmest water you can find, which is commonly mid to later in the day, shallow areas on the outgoing time.
Where to fish the early spring
Sorry I can’t publish exact spots but stop in and patronize the shop, get to know the team and we’ll help point you in the right direction. It’s best to start out searching for public access on Google Maps or Google Earth. Lots of valuable information can be gathered scouting satellite images as well as the old school method of nautical charts (we have them in the shop) or the new school method of Navionics. Some local fish producing general areas over the years… the Mullica River and the river mouth, Great Bay area, Toms River and the many west side of the bay creeks. All are fishy area to scout. The early spring is all about fishing the rivers, creeks, sod banks and bay!
How to fish the early spring
Generally speaking in the early spring, approach with a slower retrieve, smaller lure profiles. As the spring progresses larger profiles will prevail. On the bait side of the game, nothing beat live blood worm for striped bass and winter flounder. Other details were previously provided in the sections above under baits and lures.
Another Major Considerations…
Current Water Temperatures
The water temperature is one of the most important factors to consider in the spring. Much more so now than in the fall. Why? Because the waters are cold and the fish are on the lethargic side. As the days get longer (March 17th will be the first time we have 12 hours of sunlight 7:06am – 7:06PM) the sun warms the rivers and shallow areas of the bay first, especially darker mud bottoms. As we get into spring the average daily temperatures help turn up the dial too. As these shallow waters warm the bottom water temperatures especially in deeper areas stay cold. This stratified water column can make or break an outing. Tide plays a huge role is spring time fishing success too. It’s even more important when fishing closer to the ocean or ares that have ocean water tidal flow/influence.
Here’s current water temperature data for the Barnegat Bay from USGS. The top chart details the west side of the bay near Waretown. The bottom chart details the east side of the bay, near the inlet in Barnegat Light. The Barnegat Light location gets both bay (outgoing) and ocean (incoming) waters temperature readings depending on the tide. The Waretown location gets much less influence of ocean water.
Looking at the past 30 day chart… The Barnegat Bay water temperature at Waretown is currently (3/1/23 2:30PM) at 45º. It had a low of 30º on Feb 4th at 2:49am and a high of 48º on Feb 17th at 3:45pm and then again on Feb 21st at 3:54pm. Barnegat Light is currently at 42º (3/1/23 2:30PM). It had a low of 32º on Feb 5th at 3:30am and a high of 45º on Feb 17th at 2:49pm and then again on Feb 24th at 5:30pm.
The ocean temperature yesterday record by IBSP Park ranger 44º.