Fishing Barnegat Bay’s West Side Highway

Barnegat Bay, spanning 64 square miles, is a relatively shallow body of water which runs from Bay Head, behind Island Beach State Park and Long Beach Island to Little Egg Harbor. Teeming with diverse aquatic life, the bay offers anglers an array of fishing opportunities throughout the spring, summer, and fall seasons.

On the West Side of the bay anglers encounter a muddy bottom with areas of grass beds, lower salinity, low visibility and much less tide movement as opposed to areas closer to the inlet. This estuary provides a much different opportunity to fish. The West Side waters warms up quicker in the spring and they have a population of small forage. The forage attracts gamefish and the stained waters give anglers an advantage by reducing fish wariness.

Nestled within the heart of Barnegat Bay lies three daymarks delineating safe water along the Intracoastal Waterway, a vital component of the broader maritime landscape. These navigational aids serve as waypoints for mariners, guiding them through the bay’s waters.

These three wooden towers from south to north reside behind…

  • 42 – Off of Barnegat, marks the west side start of Double Creek Creek Channel
  • BI – Off of Waretown, marks the west side start of Oyster Creek Channel which is the largest and deepest channel that leads to Barnegat Inlet.
  • BB – Off of Forked River, marks the open Barnegat Bay as well as the entrance to the Forked River.

There are approximately 2 miles between each. The average depth in this 6 mile stretch is 7 to 8 feet, with deeper water at and around the BB 8-10 and a little deeper in some spots.

I rarely stray south of the 42 or north of the BB, as this is my home base. But there’s opportunities to the north and the south of here utilizing the same techniques I’m about to dive into. Depending on the time of year, I am pursuing stripers, blues, fluke, weakfish, kingfish, or blowfish somewhere in this stretch.

This is how we fish the Barnegat Bay’s “West Side Highway” aboard Hi Flier Fishing Charters.

A tactic we use for early season stripers and May/June blues is to troll 5 to 6 inch, floating, Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnows or Daiwa SP Minnows in subdued natural patterns, dark backs and white bellies. Using a pair of 10 to 12 lb spinning gear, drop them way back and put them in a set of outrodders to keep the tips low and the plugs in the water. Be sure to use a snap to connect the plug, do not tie direct or use a snap swivel, as either of these will kill the action. If your gear is light enough either of these lures will give the rod tip a slight pulse. The hardest part of trolling Barnegat Bay at any time of year, is keeping the lures clean, especially with this very long drop back. If the plug picks up the smallest piece of weed or debris, that pulse will stop and you need to crank it in, clean it up, and re-launch it. This can be exhausting at times but if there’s anything on the lure than you’re not even fishing. 3 to 3.5 knots for bass and 4 to 4.5 knots for the blues.

Somewhere around the third week in April, I start the season on the striper hunt in these backwaters. I start about a half mile south of the BB and troll right to it. If there’s no life worth doubling back on, set a course for Tices Shoal and look for birds or swirling fish. Have some spinning rods armed with soft plastics in case you get a shot at casting fish. These stripers are typically anywhere from 20 to 30 inch fish.

All of May and June you can usually troll 1 to 4 lb bluefish on this West Side Highway. If you want to have even more fun with these fish, go east of this line and the water will shallow up. Once you are in 3 to 4 feet of water, blind cast poppers or any surface lure. Crank it fast and splashy. If you get one chasing, don’t slow it down, you’re only shot is to keep it coming. If you don’t get any reactions after 5 minutes, make a move and keep hunting. More often than not, I get on these fish with no visual life, just keep hunting until you get one chasing. FYI: These might be the world’s best bluefish to eat as they are small enough where they do not have that strong bloodline throughout, the meat is very light when you fillet them. Also, they feed almost exclusively on sand shrimp at this time of year. Anything that feeds exclusively on shrimp takes on some of that sweetness. I’m not saying they are as good as fluke or weakfish, just that as far as bluefish goes, as table fare, these are the best. 

From July 1 to Sept 30, I like to anchor up with live shedder crab in hopes of weakfish and kingfish. Cut up some crab and tip an 1/8 or 1/16 oz jig. Flip it out as far as you can behind the boat and work it back with what I call a “lollygag” retrieve. After the cast, let it hit bottom, then lift the rod painfully slow. Lower the rod and only capture the slack you created from the lift. Do this all the way back to the boat. When you feel a tick or a thump, cross his eyes! I usually use the 6 lb spinning rods for this. I am partial to anchoring a little southeast of the 42 or in the deepest water halfway between the BI and BB, which you will find as 11 or 12 feet.

July, August, and September also brings peak blowfishing to this stretch. Anchor up in 6 to 8 foot of water, which will be a little east of this highway. Put a chum pot down with a frozen clam chum log. Tie on some store bought blowfish or winter flounder rigs. Cut up some squid and clams into small strips and you are good to go. Bring a lot of chum because if you don’t get any in the first 15 minutes, it’s time to move. These are a lot of fun to catch and in the end you have a Ziploc of delicious fish. I use a chunking knife to cut right behind the head, go through the meat but not through the bottom layer of skin. Peel back a little of the skin right at the cut on the top to expose some of the flesh. Jab a fork that you stole from the silverware drawer into this flesh and pull back on the semi severed head slow and steady until it peels away all the skin, and you are left with a nice chunk of white meat. Use some shears to cut away any fins. Peel away any schmutz or lining and it is ready for the fryer.

See you out there!

Captain Dave DeGennaro, Hi Flier Sportfishing – Call/Text: 732.330.5674

More About Captain Dave

After decades of targeting saltwater gamefish inshore from fluke, weakfish and striped bass to big game offshore fishing for giant tuna and sharks, Captain Dave DeGennaro is a well versed captain who does it all.

Captain Dave has a knack for finding fish season in and season out. After 40+ years on the local waters, he knows them like the back of his hand. Also his knowledge and ability to deploy both modern as well as classic even old school methods set him apart from the fleet and keep the lines tight.

He works hard to ensure his clients are safe and happy while enjoying their time on the water aboard his 25′ World Cat catamaran. It’s a wide, very stable and soft riding boat that is super sea worthy. It performs great in the ocean as well as the shallow bay. Hi Flier Sportfishing can accommodate parties up to 6 on bay trips and 4 for ocean trips.

Contact Captain Dave DeGennaro today for your next fishing charter adventure... – Call/Text: 732.330.5674

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