Catching Fluke in New Jersey

Catching Fluke in New Jersey is not as easy as it use to be. Just ask any old salty dog and they will tell you about how much better fishing was in their day. Well… Without a time machine we’re stuck fishing now!

Here’s my keys to Catching Fluke In New Jersey!

Swagmattic (Matt Sorrentino) - First Place Sweep 2019 Bass River Classic
Swagmattic (Matt Sorrentino) – First Place Sweep 2019 Bass River Classic

My key is understanding how they feed and where they hide. Fluke are aggressive ambush predators. They like areas where current moves and flows to bring meals to them. They lay and wait for their opportunity to prey instead of actively hunting like many other species.

Fluke migrate east to west through the year. While there is not one large biomass, there’s a common theme. Spring and early summer large fluke are found in the bays. Late Summer and Fall large fluke are in the ocean on the wrecks, reefs and open bottom. For a large portion of the season quality fluke can be targeted at all of the major inlets or areas in close proximity. These access points to and from the back water are always important choke points in the summer flounders migration.

“Finding and staying with a body of fluke is difficult. You don’t mark schools of them on the sounder and you definitely don’t see bird diving alerting to an active school. Since they are on the bottom it’s even difficult to keep track and log water temperatures. Your water temp gauge is reading the surface which is drastically different from the bottom temperature where fluke live.” – Fish Head Greg

Fluke Fishing the Bay

Every spring and summer there are tons of fluke in Barnegat Bay. We also have an advantage locally as our bay will hold fish throughout the summer season. As the water warms they simply move from the shallows and shoals to the deeper areas with cooler water. Since there’s not a ton of structure in our bay this often means the fish are located on drop offs, ledges and edges.

This crew swept the 6th Annual Fluke-A-Mania Tournament hosted by the Beach Haven Marlin and Tuna Club
This crew swept the 2021 6th Annual Fluke-A-Mania Tournament hosted by the Beach Haven Marlin and Tuna Club… First Place Mens, First Place Womens, Overall Largest! All fish were caught in the bay. Left to right, Captain Greg Cudnik, Sloane Endick, Max Bambara, Matt Sorrentino.

The edge of a channel or sod bank can provide an excellent habitat for many marine species that fluke will feed on.  The fluke will lay head into the current and pick off just about anything that swims or drifts by that they can fit in their mouth.  The key to increasing your catch in the bay is to make sure your baits are presented to the fluke in the direction they’re looking and feeding. Drifting and dreaming aimlessly across the bay will lead to nothing more than a relaxing day in the sun.  That’s not all that bad, but if you want to go catching, you need to focus on those drifts and dial in on your target areas.

Stay on the motor and power drift along those channel edges.  Bumping in and out of reverse while maintaining direction. Do not focus on a drift speed, but focus on your fishing lines and make sure your presentation is vertical. Your ideal drift speed will change with the tide. Some guys use their engine while others opt for a tiller motor or trolling motor. In recent years trolling motors have exploded on the saltwater scene. These saltwater units from Rhodan are a total game changer!

How To Rig Up To Catch Fluke In The Bay

My rig of choice for shallow water drifting is typically just a single jig.  I like to go with a 1/4 – 1/2oz Magictail Round Head Big Eye Jig paired with a 4” Gulp Swimming Mullet or 4” Gulp Grub. Typically, I do not fish a teaser because it requires a larger jig (due to added drag in the water) to hold bottom. I pretty much stick with just a few key gulp colors and ride it out for better or worse. It all works. Catching fluke in dirty water tends to be easier with chartreuse and orange (Salmon).

When it comes to gulp, make sure your inventory is stocked up early in the season. As the fluke season runs on you’ll find the your favorite colors are often not in stock; or are in limited quantity. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to buy more of your favorites to find out everywhere is sold out.

Catching Fluke at Night

Catching Fluke at night isn’t out of the picture either.  Take to some well lit areas like docks and piers, especially those with underwater lights.  The lights bring in the bait and give the fluke enough site to become aggressive in the dark.  A small (1/2-3/4 oz) glow Magictail Hoochie with a 4” Gulp Glow Swimming Mullet is the ticket.  Chartreuse and Pink swimming mullet will also produce in these conditions. Work the jig slowly near the bottom and cast around to cover the entire area. 

Ocean Fluking in NJ

Catching fluke out in the ocean is the are of focus in the second half of the season. You will find higher numbers of larger fish more frequently than in the bay; however, be prepared to lose some equipment.  The big doormat of your dreams is more than likely tucked up close alongside or even inside of some gnarly bottom on one of our local wrecks. If you haven’t figured it out by now you should be working on your reading comprehension skills a bit.  You’ll find the fluke alongside the structure!  

Matt Sorrentino, 1st Place Barnegat Bay Region, 2019 JCAA Fluke Tournament
Matt Sorrentino, 1st Place Barnegat Bay Region, 2019 JCAA Fluke Tournament

Our local wrecks are home to loads of fish and crustaceans. Being ambush predators, fluke are not cruising around the ocean searching for a meal.  They’re going to find an area that has a high likelihood of something swimming by they can snack on.  Summer flounder will stack up in these areas.  So it’s very important that when you catch a good fish you mark that area in your GPS and run that same drift again and again.  Oftentimes you’ll find that where there is one good fish there are many good fish. Taking smaller more direct drifts on this structure will lead to more limits of fluke and a better shot at the doormat you’re looking for. 

How To Rig Up To Catch Fluke In The Ocean

Again the Magictail Round Head Big Eye Jig is my jig of choice here.  I find myself using anywhere from 1-4 ounces depending on the depth and conditions (wind, waves, current).  I always opt for the biggest gulp possible and I am excited to really put the new 8″ gulp grubs to the test this year.

Typically in the ocean I am fishing a single jig looking for larger doormats however with this years adjusted regulations adding a teaser might become an option. Using a teaser hook with a 5″ gulp grub will allow you to focus on some of those slot fish. The “Teaser Hook” is added using a dropper loop with a specialty Gulp Hook made for us by Mustad (Model 3400BN in size 7/0) Before these hooks came out I used the classic Mustad Baitholder Hook or the Gamakatsu Baitholder Hook. Both of which are great hooks but the Mustad 3400BN is the perfect hook because it is not offset. This will prevent the bait from spinning and give it a more natural presentation.

If I am hunting specifically for doormats in the late season, there are times I chose to fish very big baits. These fish don’t always inhale these large baits and might short strike and hold the bait first. If you set the hook too early the short strikes can be very frustrating. For this reason I use a sliding snell rig when fishing whole squid, live snapper blues and extra long meat strip baits. Here’s a quick how to tie it…

Final Thoughts

Where ever you are fishing for fluke the best advice I can offer is to hone in and focus on small areas with the best structure. Always fish with lots of movement on the jig or bucktail. It will trigger a strike!  When you feel a bite, take a swing! When the fish hit you must be sure to set the hook. If you miss just drop it back down and keep it moving. 99% of the time the fish will come right back. Once you’ve hooked the fish, slow down!  Apply steady pressure with a nice slow steady retrieve. This will ensure the fluke’s viscous head shakes will not toss the hook. Dropping the tip when cranking will lead to a heartbreaker.

Catching limits of keeper sized fluke proves more difficult for anglers every year, but now after reading this, I’m confident you’ll improve your catches! Get out there and enjoy you time fluke fishing on the water!

Matt Sorrentino, SJSWA June 2019 Fluke Tournament, 1st Place Sweep
Matt Sorrentino, SJSWA June 2019 Fluke Tournament, 1st Place Sweep

Catching Doormat Fluke

Check out this video on our YouTube page of Matt’s 2022 Seminar at the Atlantic City Boat show.

Centaur Jig-N-Pop Tuna Rods

Jigging and popping (casting) tuna is the most exciting way to experience New Jersey’s inshore & mid-shore pelagic fisheries. Our tuna fishing has been absolutely phenomenal the last few seasons and there’s no reason to expect otherwise heading into the 2022 season! Prepare now and be ready for the action.

Max from Fisherman's Headquarters fishes the Centaur Combat Arm jigging rod with the Shimano Twin Power 8000.
Max from Fisherman’s Headquarters fishes the Centaur Combat Arm jigging rod with the Shimano Twin Power 8000. He loves this set up for summertime jigging bluefin and yellowfin tuna on the mid-shore grounds. The outfit offers plenty of line capacity, powerful drag and gear and it’s light enough to fish all day.

Now I am by no means an expert on Tuna. On the contrary; with just about a dozen or so offshore trips under my belt. I’d very much consider myself a beginner in this realm. As someone who lacks experience, I have plenty of questions for the guys in the know. The most important of which is what equipment should I be using? I’d also like to help others in my position who need help getting into this awesome summer time fun fishery here in NJ. Below I will share some of the expert advice I’ve received from some of the fishiest folks I know.

@swagmattic – Matt Sorrentino, Author of Jigging & Popping Tuna 101

Centaur Angler’s Choice Rods

Jigging and Popping Tuna Rods are available from a number of different manufacturers. When looking for the right product, I’m choosing a company that puts serious thought and effort into construction, performance, quality control and most importantly, stands behind their products. Centaur Angler’s Choice is just that. They are not just a brand, but the manufacturer. They design, build and test their products locally for our fishery, in our fishery. All Centaur rods are made using high quality materials; most of which are sourced from Japan.

Jigging & Popping Tuna Rods from Centaur come in 3 levels and are designed to match New Jersey’s inshore and mid-shore pelagic fishery.

Best Entry Level Tuna Rod For Jig & Pop

Centaur Constellation Series Rods

The entry level Centaur Constellation is the best choice for beginners who just want to get their feet wet. At $189, this budget friendly rod will catch a lot of fish and definitely not break the bank. Constructed from high quality components these rods are built right and are super tough. They include FUJI Alconite guides, aluminum gimbles and custom reel seats, all features found on rods two and three times their price from other manufactures.

Ryan Duffy loves to fish the Centaur Constellation Jigging Rods which he has matches up with a Shimano Saragosa SW6000. This is an outfit Fishermans Headquarters put together for him to enjoy jigging tuna fish.
Ryan Duffy loves to fish the Centaur Constellation Jigging Rods which he has matches up with a Shimano Saragosa SW6000. This is an outfit Fishermans Headquarters put together for him to enjoy jigging tuna fish.

Best Mid Range Tuna Rod For Jig & Pop

Centaur Combat Arm Series Rods

The Centaur Combat Arm series lands middle of the road and features an upgraded double layer cross section Toray (more on this brand below) carbon blank. This technology offers increased power and increased deadlift capabilities which allow for heavier drag. The guides also have under wrappings to add extra strength and protection on those pressure points. All of this means the angler gets the added edge to fish harder. In addition all the Centaur fishing rods feature a beautiful hand painted epoxy clear coat finish. Which will protect the thread wrappings for long term durability.

The Centaur Combat Arm series of rods matches up well with a variety of reels from Penn, Shimano and Daiwa. In this photo angler Tyler Leary is stretched out tight on a nice size yellowfin tuna on a Penn Slammer reel.
The Centaur Combat Arm series of rods matches up well with a variety of reels from Penn, Shimano and Daiwa. In this photo angler Tyler Leary is stretched out tight on a nice size yellowfin tuna on a Penn Slammer reel.

Best Quality Tuna Rod For Jig & Pop

Centaur Chiron Series Rods

The Centaur Chiron is the top dog in this fight. It’s the most expensive for a reason. The Chiron Series offers anglers the best fishing rod from Centaur.

Fishing rods all start with the blank composition; graphite/carbon materials and the process in which it’s made.

The Chiron features Toray carbon fibers. Toray is the world’s largest and best supplier in advanced composite materials offering the highest performance carbon fibers for fishing rods. No compromise… the Chiron gets the best!

Here's the Centaur Chiron down and tight on a fish with angler Dan D.
Here’s the Centaur Chiron down and tight on a fish with angler Dan D.

The Chiron’s also have an added process which greatly improves the blank’s capabilities and reinforces its durability. Using a carbon ribbon outer wrapping, wrapped in X spiral pattern, an incredibly strong construction is created. This offers the ultimate in strength to weight ratio and most of all increased hoop strength, maximizing the deadlift capabilities and reducing torsional load.

The butt section is also strengthened to allow the angler to put even more pressure throughout the entire rod. This eliminates energy loss when lifting heavy loads helping you the angler better fight the fish especially in the end game!

Silicon Carbide (SIC) guides are the gold standard of guide ring material and have been for over 20 years. They are best suited for fast pulling species, heavy drag situations and big fish demands like painfully long battles. SIC is Fuji’s premier material handling high heat situations and offering unequalled hardness and polish. Its ability to prevent line abrasion is bar none.

When targeting tuna, do not under estimate the importance of top quality guides! If you can afford it always go with the rod that has the best guides. They greatly increase the longevity of your braided main line.

Centaur Angler’s Choice Jigging and Popping Tuna Rod Options

This spreadsheet outlines the rods from Centaur Angler’s Choice that we stock in the shop for Jigging and Popping Tuna.

The chart above lists the options for the Centaur Jigging and Popping Tuna Fishing Rods we stock at Fisherman’s Headquarters. The models are broken down simply. The number is the length. S for spinning and B for baitcasting/conventional. M for Medium, L for Light and UL for Ultralight. Don’t let those ratings fool you however, these are some seriously powerful rods.

Centaur Popping Rods

Who doesn’t want to see a tuna air out on a top water plug?!?! Nothing beats the exhilarating style of casting to tuna! Choosing the right rod for the size class and time of the year can make your experiences in this game way better!

Early season (May/June) we tend to see a good size class of bluefin and at this point in the season they are typically eating larger forage. It could be adult menhaden/bunker, mackerel, herring and/or hake. The Centaur 81 is the right call to fish larger lures to match the hatch.

As summer rolls in we start to see yellowfins in the mix with school bluefin feeding on the inshore lumps. It’s common for baits to begin to congregate there. The Centaur 79 is perfect for these roles casting smaller to medium size lures; poppers, stickbaits and/or plastics. This past season (summer ’21) the 81 came in handy as we had beautiful run of round yellowfin, commonly in the 50-70# class with the occasional much larger fish.

Casting lures to tuna is a ton of fun. Nothing beats watching a surface feed!

Late season (November/December) is cold and the weather gets gnarly but it can offer some of the year’s best fishing! The winter bite is known for having bluefin in the 40-65” class feeding heavily on baby hake, sandeel, sardines and butterfish! This time of year the fish can be skittish and commonly fast moving and and down. A stealthy approach with long casts is essential! Call on the Centaur 81 for this game, casting larger lures and it has the backbone needed to land these brutes.

Choosing the Right Reel For The Job

Pairing your rod with the right reel is huge. And I’ve talked to Fish Head’s shop tuna guru and Blue Runner Sportfishing mate Willie Davis (@epic_willi3) to get the low down on making the perfect combo.

Epic Willie recommends Shimano, “Fish the best quality that you can afford. There’s no better investment than the Shimano Stella and Shimano Twin Power for top of the line quality and performance. I depend on these reels and they always hold up.” Both Penn (Penn Slammer) and Daiwa (Daiwa BG MQ & Saltist MQ) also have options that produce results.

When choosing a reel two things you should consider is gearing and line capacity. Yes drag is important but now-a-days just about every reel has adequate drag.

Gearing: When jigging you want standard gearing or a reel with power gearing. When casting/popping a reel with high speed gearing is preferred.

Line Capacity: Depending on the target class fish you’ll want no less than 250yds of line, preferably 300-400yds.

Willie shares, “As far as reels for casting to tuna, the best options are the Shimano 14k and 18k reels because these have a higher gear ratio which offers a great quick line retrieval rate.” This allows the angler to pick line up much quicker to maintain contact with the lure. Remember you can’t hook a fish with slack line!

Also, the Centaur 77 and 79 matched up with a 10k reel is a great outfit for our local fishery’s demands.

Jigging Rods

These rods and this style does not call for a 14k or 18k size reel! Why? The retrieval speed is way too quick to properly work a jig! For a 53 or 52; 6k, 8k, 10k is the perfect size for the jigs and class of fish we see locally the majority of the time! For 51; a 20k is perfect for this big fish rod as it has a 220-400g jig rating.

The ideal conventional (baitcast model “B”) options are listed below.

51BM; Talica 16, Speed Master 16, Ocea Jigger 4000 – This is a BIG FISH rod and should be used when hunting 65″ and larger fish.

52BL; Avel MXL, Talica 12, Fathom 30/25ld, Speedmaster 12. In short this is a great all around rod for both Bluefin and Yellowfin Tuna.

53BUL; Avet MXL/MXJ, Talica 12/10, Fathom 15ld, Speedmaster 12. This is the ideal choice for fishing the inshore to midshore grounds; ridges, lumps and wrecks.

Jigging Tuna Advice

Choosing a tuna jigging outfit is one thing. Knowing what to do with it is a whole ‘nother ball game. I reached out to Capt Justin Swanson of Just N’ Tyme Sportfishing for a few quick tips for Newbie Tuna Jigger Advice. Captain Justin is a mid-shore tuna specialist in central jersey. The majority of his trips feature new tuna anglers jigging and popping tuna for their very first time. He’s a captain who excels at teaching anglers how to catch fish properly.

Capt Justin Swanson; Just N Tyme Sportfishing

Here’s what he had to say:

  1. Once you drop the jig to the bottom it is time to find your jigging rhythm. Quickly lifting the rod tip about 12” and reel with a down stroke and as you return the rod lower, reel with an up stroke to always keep contact with the jig.
  2. Know where the fish are recording on the sonar and focus on that area of the water column or below.
  3. Mix up your speed.  Some days they want it very quick and other days they seem to prefer a slower lazy pace.  Sometimes they want the classic yo-yo style or a couple bounces on bottom. In other words change things up until you find what they want. 
  4. Set the hook with at least 2-3 forceful hook sets; these fish have hard jaws and it takes some extra effort to sink that hook in. 
  5. HOLD ON and keep steady pressure.  When the fish stops taking drag its your time to shine. Getting into a rhythm again here helps too to keep the fish coming up rather than the opposite. Focus on utilizing the power stroke of the rod and always cranking down to keep the line tight.
  6. Do not ever drop the tip! Do not high stick! Be cognizant especially when fatigue sets in!

Pro Tip: Angler mistakes happen with sloppy technique and when fatigue sets in. Take a look at the photo below of FishHead Greg (Capt. Greg Cudnik) to point out some key highlights as he fights the end game (close to the boat). First, take note of his stable wide stance with thighs agains the gunnels. Also his shoulders are over his hips. An angler should never get over the top, extended forward, stressing the lower back. Even though it’s late in the fight and his muscles are burning, leaning back in a hero stance is not the right thing to do at this point in the fight. The fish is doing its death circles and getting very close to gaffing. Greg has the rod under arm which offers two advantages. One, it utilizes the power stroke of the rod and also prevents a high stick event. Small lifts of the rod with quarter or half turns of the handle is all that’s needed to keep the line moving in his favor. When the rod is in a deep bend like this the blank’s strongest and most powerful section (the rear – butt) is engaged and utilized. Lifting high would incorrectly use the middle and upper portion which had mush less power. Two, this technique utilizes different muscles than the classic butt on thigh/gut stance, some of which are still fresh even late in the fight. Use these fundamental ideas to better battle our next tuna on light tackle!

Fish Head Greg is tight on the jig! Using the small yet powerful spinning reel like the one here, the Shimano Saragosa SW 8000, light tackle jigging is a super fun and effective way to target mid-shore tuna in the summer months off New Jersey.
Fish Head Greg is tight on the jig! Using the small yet powerful spinning reel like the one here, the Shimano Saragosa SW 8000, light tackle jigging is a super fun and effective way to target mid-shore tuna in the summer months off New Jersey.

The Largest Fluke Tournament anywhere in 2021 is happening in New Jersey! Here’s everything you need to know!

Saturday July 10th at 5am from Cape May to Keyport, New Jersey boaters will be on the prowl for the biggest summer flounder in our local waters. “The right fish could net the captain and crew north of $50,000”, says club president and founder Matt Sorrentino! The NJ Fishing Club’s inaugural Beat the Fleet Fluke Tournament is kicking off this year and the club is holding nothing back! With the cancelation of the Rhode Island and Delaware tournaments this will effectively be the largest Summer Flounder Tournament ANYWHERE!

Fluke Tournaments along the Jersey Shore are not uncommon. In fact most weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day anglers have a multitude to choose from. There are a few things however, that make the NJ Fishing Club tournament stand out. For starters, the prize pool is guaranteed! Oftentimes you’ll see an advertised prize for first, second and third but when it comes time to collect, those numbers magically shrink. That’s because most tournaments advertise their prize structure based on the number of boats they think will enter… more often than not these numbers are simply a fabrication fo the tournament committee.

As advertised!

This time, the prizes will be paid out as advertised. $16,000 total across three regions to the anglers with the largest Fluke in each North, Central and South Jersey. With the largest fish in the state taking home the lions share of $4,500. There are prizes from 1-4th in each region and 1-3rd overall for the largest summer flounder. With a $1,000 bonus to the boat with the biggest fish who registers prior to June 28th!

Thats without even getting into the Calcutta’s (where the real money is made in any fishing tournament). These winner take all categories bring in big bucks and stiff completion. They also offer a multitude of ways to win. For this tournament, we’re looking at single fish, 3-fish bag, and a bycatch category. Entry into each Calcutta puts you in for the chance to win both regionally and overall. We mentioned earlier about a $50,000 fish. Let us explain how we came to that number, assuredly it’s not a fabrication like previously discussed.

Since this is the first year the tournament is running we can’t go off of last years statistics. However, we can look at other tournaments to gain some perspective. In the last 5 years similar state run tournaments have seen participation in around the 200 boat range, for a much smaller pay day. We also looked at regional tournaments like the Duke of Fluke, Flukeamania and the Bass River Classic which all see paticpation from 40-80 boats.

Based on this information, we’re shooting for what we believe to be a conservative goal of 180 boats. If we break these entries down based on the data we have available into our Calcutta options (40% going all in, 30% selecting option 2, 10% selection option 1 and 20% fishing no Calcutta’s and just attempting to win the advertised prizes and youth prizes) we arrive with a Calcutta prize pool of around $90,000. If a team is able to sweep both the single largest and 3 fish Calcutta categories, they’re payout could potentially be anywhere from $30-50,000 depending on the breakdown of signups. This thing could break down countless ways. Actually this thing could breakdown with potentially 36 different teams cashing in.

In addition to our prizes… each weigh station is offering a $100 gift card to the largest fish weighed at their location!!!

Let’s get into some questions we’ve had so far.

Is there a youth division?

There is not a separate entry for youth participants. Thanks to our sponsor Tsunami, there is a youth prize package in each region. This is awarded to the angler 16 and under in each region who catches the largest summer flounder. You will certify this on your weigh slips and include the anglers name and age. If weighing in for a youth, they must be present at the weigh in.

Is there a women’s division?

No! Women can do anything men can do. Stop asking this question.

How do the Calcutta’s work?

For those of you who don’t know, the Calcutta is basically a winner take all tournament within a tournament. Only those who signup for this optional class are eligible to win. In our tournament there are several, but we have them broken down into options.

Option 1 includes a $50 buy-in for both a 1 fish and 3 fish Calcutta. This is the cheapest Calcutta option*

Option 2 includes the $50 and also $100 Calcutta’s in each 1 and 3 fish.

Option 3 includes the aforementioned choices as well as a $250 entry into the 1 and 3 fish categories.

All options include a bycatch category we’ll discuss later.

Let’s say you enter Option 1 and you catch the largest single fish in the tournament, and in this example you also have the heaviest 3 fish bag. You will win the money from everyone who entered the $50 Calcutta, however, you will not be eligible for the $100 or $250 entry money. On the other hand, if you enter Option 3 and have the same results, you will effectively win all 6 Calcutta options and take all the winnings.

Not all the money however. Your entry money into the Calcutta’s covers you in both regional and overall contests. 65 cents for every Calcutta dollar entered will be paid out regionally. While 25 cents will go to the overall winner. The other 10 cents goes to the Fishing Club (We’re not doing this for free, sorry if that’s surprising news but hey it’s a lot of work!)

It is possible for there to be 22 different Calcutta winners!

Again, looking to level the playing field and increase your chances to win. Here’s something unique we are trying in this tournament:

Bycatch Bag Calcutta!

We’re often greeted with bycatch when looking for summer flounder. These fish are often met with disgruntled anglers then discarded. Well this is your chance to cash in on that “trash”. Our bycatch bag Calcutta is the combined weight of 1 Sea Robin and 1 Sea Bass OR the total weight of 1 Skate. The payout split is identical. You do not need to catch all 3 species, you can weigh in 1 sea robin, 1 sea bass or 1 skate and still be eligible for prize money. Entrants can also weigh in 1 sea bass and 1 sea robin together to increase your odds.

*If you choose to weigh in the skate, you may not weigh in the other species.

Why do a 1 fish contest instead of a bag limit?

We chose a 1-fish tournament as opposed to a 3-fish bag limit to level the playing the field. The thing is, the anglers with more experience and more time on the water are definitely more likely to come through with overall better quality than your weekend warriors or family fishing teams. Nonetheless, there is always some aspect of luck when it comes to fishing and it’s a lot easier to get lucky once then it is 3 times. Some words of wisdom… “Anything can happen at any time.” Position yourself with the right bait in the right spot and with a little luck the right fish is in your box and you’ll be on your way to cash a pretty hefty paycheck for your efforts. There is still a 3 fish Calcutta option which will more than likely carry a much higher payout than the tournament itself.

Where do you think the biggest fish will be caught?

If you haven’t caught on by now, we’re all about an even playing field. That’s why we chose an early season date for this tournament. The big fish can literally come from anywhere. The bay, the ocean, north or south. If we we’re gamblers (and we totally are) we would guess in an inlet, in about 20-30’ of water drifting live bait near structure, but only time will tell.

Here are some hot spots we give the nod; Raritan Bay, Navesink, Shrewsbury, Manasquan Rivers, Sandy Hook Reef, Shrewsbury Rocks, Sea Girt Reef, BB and BI buoys Barnegat Bay, Barnegat Inlet, Axle Carlson Reef, Barnegat Light Reef, Garden State North and South Reefs, Main Marsh Thoroughfare, Broad Creek at Intracoastal, Brigantine Bridge,, Absecon Inlet, Rainbow Channel, Corson’s Inlet, Townsends Inlet, Atlantic City Reef, Ocean Drive Bridge, Old Grounds, Reef Site 11

Any advice?

1. Fish as long as you are physically able to. Spend the entire day on the water if your body and time allows it. Anything can happen at any time. (Where have I heard that before?)

2. Talk to your local tackle shop. Stop into our weigh stations BEFORE the tournament! Tell them you’re fishing the tournament and ask for their advice. They’re business thrives on repeat customers. It is not beneficial to them if you go out and don’t catch fish. They’ll point you in the right direction and make sure you’ve got the proper gear!

3. Don’t forget about the calcutta’s. You have to be in it to win it.

The JCAA tournament lesson. The long running JCAA tournament offers a $50,000 prize if someone is able to catch a fish over 12 pounds. It’s unlikely but again… anything can happen at anytime. In order to win the prize, you need to put in something like $25 to cover the entry. It won’t take too much digging to look around and find the story of the guy who caught it and didn’t enter, and let $50,000 slip away.

4. Register now! Get your money in before June 28th and you’re eligible to win an extra $1,000. You know you’re fishing. There is no reason to wait!

Register now by heading to

No Clam Needed… Sea Bass Report

Three weeks ago I started catching keeper size sea bass on the inshore wrecks on crab baits. It was the end of blackfish season and I knew they’d be primed and ready for the NJ Sea Bass Opener on May 15th.

Black Sea Bass are arguably one of the most beautiful fish in the sea!
Black Sea Bass are arguably one of the most beautiful fish in the sea!

My cousins just purchased a brand new 28′ Cobia. He outfitted the boat at Fisherman’s Headquarters and I asked me to break it in with them this weekend. We took the maiden voyage on Sunday out of Barnegat Light looking for sea bass.  With the season just opening I knew it was going to be good so we left the classic essentials at home. We didn’t carry a single clam, mackerel, sinker or rig on board.

Why is that you might ask? Well, I’m a jig fisherman through and through. Whether it’s fluke, tog, striped bass, cod, tuna or sea bass… There’s nothing better than catching fish jigging!

AVA Diamond Jigs are great for sea bass, striped bass, bluefish and so many other species.
AVA Diamond Jigs are great for sea bass, striped bass, bluefish and so many other species.

We set out with AVA 17’s and 27’s Diamond Jigs, Magictail Round Ball Jigs and some 4-5″ Gulp baits. We hit a piece if structure in 70′ of water. The sea bass were there and picking at them was easy. We found a lump of fish that came off the bottom about 15′. We got our drift figured out and positioned the boat to make short drifts over that patch of fish. We had a 4 man boat limit by 9:30 am.

We didn’t find any jumbos inshore as the fish we kept were all between 13-16″. There were plenty of fish to be had and a nice quick easy trip (and easy cleanup with out the clams). Cooler was full and the cousins were happy with a successful first trip.

I had some friends head out a bit deeper with clam baits in tow and had a mixed bag with a limit of bigger fish and ling and cod as well.

If we can get another weather window I will probably head out again before I start beating up the back bays in search of flatfish. Fluke season opens this Friday May 22nd.

Start Catching Blackfish on Jigs With These Helpful Tips

Start Catching Blackfish On Jigs! Here are some tips on how to make the transition super successful.

Catching blackfish on jigs is an absolute game changer when fishing for tautog. The lighter tackle used for this type of fishing drastically contrasts more standard methods of catching these fish. Experienced anglers who attempt catching blackfish on jigs will find there is quite the learning curve. Often, I see guys who’ve been catching blackfish for years, but on heavier equipment, finding a great deal of trouble trying to make the switch. So this often leads to folks quitting before they can master the new technique. Start catching blackfish on jigs with these helpful tips!

Here’s a few tips I’ve gathered over the years. I’m sharing because I’d like to help you catch blackfish on jigs. However first read my comprehensive fishing article, Catching Black Fish With Jigs.

Catching Blackfish on Jigs
Author Matt Sorrentino with a nice early fall blackfish. Matt caught this white chin on a 1.5 oz Magictail Game Changer Tog Jig.

Start with a heavier jig and work down from there.

If you’ve been blackfishing for a while, you’re most likely using at least an 8 ounce weight regularly. It’s very easy to feel the bottom because these heavier weights add more tension to your line. It is easier to decipher what type of structure you’re on because of this and easier to find the holes you want to be fishing. When you attempt to throw a 1-2 oz jig down for the first time, everything is going to feel extremely off because of the weight difference. Start with a heavier weighted jig, get used to the feel and work your way down. The ideal weight is the lightest possible which will still get down and hold bottom.

Light Braided Line Is A Must

You’re fishing a light jig and anything that helps the jig get to the bottom faster and stay there is going to maximize your opportunities. Do you know the difference in abrasion resistance between 50# braid and 40# braid? How about 30-20 or 15-10#? Me neither! But I can promise you it’s insignificant. What is significant is the ability of the thinner lines to through providing the least water resistance. I use 15# Cortland Master Braid on my tog jigging fishing reels. The line is super strong and allows me to fish a locked up drag which is needed to hoist out and up double digit blackfish.

Please understand, my abrasion concern is countered by fishing extra long fluorocarbon leaders (commonly 5-8′ of 30/40/50# either Seaguar Blue Label Fluoro or Diamond Fluoro). Using an FG Knot the line to line connection is super strong and the knot has a very thing profile. This system is proven and I highly suggest you rig up this way too.

Don’t Swing!

Here’s where it’s going to get tough for seasoned vets. You’ve been dialed in for years. You know what the right bite feels like and you know when to swing. Well, now that you have a jig on, you’re wrong. Fishing tog jigs is a different game than rigs. You’ll need to re-learn the feel, the best advice I can give you is to let your first few baits get completely stolen. Let them eat it, just try to dial in the feel for the different type of bites. Everything is more sensitive now. This is the reason catching blackfish on jigs is so effective!

In the end, rely on what you know.

It’s still important when catching blackfish on jigs to fish in a similar fashion. You want the bait on the bottom. Don’t jig it! Ideally you’ll find piece of hard structure, ledges, caves, rock/concrete piles, wooden debris and obviously shipwrecks. Keep the bait still. When you get the right bite, or when your line goes slack (sometimes the fish will just pick up your jig and swim away) swing for the fences! Cross his eyes, reel quickly and get that fish up and away from that structure. It is crucial you react quickly here. If you fail to move the fish quickly I can assure you a broken heart and a few minutes in the penalty box retying.

A spring limit of nice Blackfish caught on Magictail Tog Jigs

The equipment I use for catching blackfish on jigs.

Rod – Daiwa Proteus

Reel – Daiwa Low Profile Baitcaster

Line – Cortland Master Braid

Leader – Diamond Pink Fluorocarbon

Jigs – Magictail Gamechanger Tog Jig

If you’d like to learn more and Start Catching Blackfish on Jigs…

I invite you to join me on a fishing trip. I frequently set up charters on New Jersey’s top boats at the season’s best dates. On the trips you will learn from myself and other experts in the field, the different tactics employed to catch blackfish on jigs. The all inclusive trip includes your fare and gratuity and some even have a rod and reel demos as well as free gifts and giveaways. For more info stay tuned to my Instagram Page better yet give me a follow and send a direct message introducing yourself.

LBI Fishing Report Sunday August 4th, 2019

Fish Head Greg is out of town but the fish are definitely not. Fishing on all fronts is pretty hot right now.

I’ve been hitting the fluke pretty hard and I’ve been able to find a limit every time. This week I fished down south and caught a limit to 20″ in Little Egg Inlet. Out front with some friends yesterday we boated a limit+ (ORL) to 5 pounds. Gulp and bucktails are the ticket for me, however the boat that won the tournament was dragging bait and had some bigger fish up to 7 pounds. Fluke are being caught daily from the jetty and beaches as well.

Customers have been dropping in and reporting king mackeral up to 30″ north and south of the inlet 15-20 miles. There are Mahi in the area as well.

Store Staffer Michael Frezza went offshore with Captain Dan Rossetto this week on the Sushi Grade. They had both an over and an under bluefin. Both fish were caught on a Moonriser 150.

There have been reports of both keeper and short blackfish at the jetty, with the occasional trigger fish mixed in. The shop will have green crabs in stock tomorrow.

Best Inshore Saltwater Fishing Reel At The $100 Range?… The Daiwa BG!

By @swagmattic (Matt Sorrentino)

The Daiwa BG is the one piece of equipment I’m confident recommending to all inshore saltwater anglers. It’s built tough and there’s a size to handle just about any species you want to catch. Best of all the series is priced right starting at $99.99.

The Daiwa BG Reel Does It All

If you’re like me, you want to fish for everything NJ has to offer; striped bass, blackfish, bluefish, fluke and sea bass. All of these game fish fall victim to my Daiwa BG Fishing Reels.

Here’s Swagmattic with an early season striped bass he caught on March 30, 2019 fishing the late night tide on the Island’s bayside with his Daiwa BG spinning reel.

I own a couple BG Reels. Each size for different purposes. If you’re on a budget and can only pick one reel, my recommendation is to go with the 3500 size. It can handle it all. It’s small enough to match up on a 7′ M-MH rod finessing small stripers and banging fluke on bucktails. On a 7′-7’6″ H-XH it’s powerful enough to play with a larger class striper and gator bluefish. Mated with a Hanta or Tsunami Slow Pitch Jigging stick it has enough drag to winch that lunker away from it’s sticky home jigging blackfish. (more on rods below) It can even handle the fast powerful runs of red fish, snook, mahi mahi and false albacore.

This quality striped bass was caught on a Daiwa BG3500. Jigging a large rubber swim shad Matt caught this fish on his go to reel a Daiwa BG3500.

Because of its versatility, the Daiwa BG is an essential tool in my arsenal. It should be in yours too.

Want to learn more about the specific internals that make up the Daiwa BG Fishing Reels? Read on below.

The Perfect Match – Rod & Reel

Your outfit isn’t complete with out finishing off with a beautiful rod to match. An epic combo is the BG3500 on a $59.99 Tsunami 7′ Classic Series Spinning Rod. You will not find another better performing quality inshore fishing outfit than this. At $179.98 (Reel: $119.99, Rod: $59.99) it offers the ultimate value too. Once the rod is set only spool up with the best, Cortland Master Braid Spectra Fishing Line. I prefer 20#. Now you are ready for battle.

If looking for the best in blank performance and components upgrade to he Tsunami Carbon Shield Rods, $109.99 are very nice as well as the G.Loomis E6X Inshore Rods $189-219.99.

Performance Upgrade – Daiwa Saltist Reel

The Daiwa BG is a great value, but if it is in the budget the Daiwa Saltist offers a performance tuned saltwater fishing reel. This series from Daiwa also has a specialty Daiwa Saltist Back Bay too.

Daiwa BG VS Daiwa Saltist

Let’s dive in and quick and dirty run down of their similarities and differences the the Daiwa BG and Saltist reels.

First and foremost, both reels are great for saltwater anglers in the mid level price range. The BG Series starts out at $99.99 with ten sizes (Models:1500, 2000, 2500, 3000, 3500, 4000, 4500, 5000, 6500, 8000) The Saltist is a jump up starting at $199.99 with seven sizes (Models: 2500, 3000, 4000, 4500, 5000, 6500, 8000).

The Saltist & BG Are Similar In The Way They Both Have…

  • Machined aluminum body and side cover with a solid screw in machined handle. Once installed tight it surely gives angler confidence and control with zero play.
  • Digigear – Oversized gearing offers increased power and durability by using larger size gears that have greater gear tooth contact surface area. More torque and cranking power!
  • Air Rotor – Daiwa’s design weighs almost 15% less that ordinary rotors. It’s unique shape reduces unnecessary weight while providing maximum strength.
  • Extra Big Fish Insurance – The 4500 sizes and larger (both BG & Saltist) have dual anti reverse systems and also manual bail.

Unique Features Belonging Only To The Daiwa Saltist Series…

  • Magseal – Daiwa’s proprietary “new age” nano fluid magnetic oil technology which allows for a sealed bearing with nearly zero added friction for smooth performance. The Daiwa Saltist Series has Magsealed Bearings in the line roller and mainshaft, two of the most problem some areas of all spinning reels in the saltwater market. Magsealed bearings block out water and the elements expending the durability and longevity of the reel.
  • Corrosion resistant bearings last 10+ times longer than standard stainless ball bearings
  • Upgraded bail and line roller bearing (Magsealed)
  • Waterproof Drag

The Daiwa Saltist Back Bay LT…

The Daiwa Back Bay is a specialty series which is parts of the Saltist family, known as the Saltist Bay Bay. Available in two sizes the 3000 (9.9oz) & 4000 (10.6oz) the Daiwa Saltist Back Bay is in the LT Series, Light Tough. For inshore light tackle angles looking for maximum strength yet in a light weight package, these are some of the lightest and strongest spinning reels on the saltwater market. They feature the LT’s light and rigid aluminum construction as well as Daiwa’s Magseal technology for high performance.

Recap & Closing

The Daiwa BG is a great choice for entry level anglers looking for a quality reel. A huge step above entry level reels, the BG is also a great choice for anglers who do not get out on the water that much. These no need to invest an arm and a leg for a good saltwater fishing reel.

For anglers that want to upgrade, fish hard and demand the most rugged reel to withstand the elements, the Daiwa Saltist Series is for you. Plain and simple, the Saltist Series is a performance tuned BG offering the best corrosion resistance for the best durability.

If lightweight and compact size best fits your light tackle approach go for the Daiwa Saltsit Back Bay. It’s the perfect spinning reel for a light tackle approach to the bay and backwaters!

Keep Warm When Winter Fishing NJ

Keep Warm When Winter Fishing NJ

by Matt Sorrentino, (@swagmattic)

There’s no doubt, it takes a special breed to be eager for fishing in the cold. However, for those that are dedicated to fishing the rewards are often bountiful. Striped bass, Blackfish, Jumbo Sea Bass, Cod and plenty of other species are waiting for courageous anglers in the winter. 

Keeping warm is easy…  Layer up folks! 

Your parents were right! Although your dad still looks goofy in those old white long johns, the old adage remains true… Layer Up! Be sure to lean heavily on that wisdom in the colder months.

Start with a moisture wicking base layers. Ditch the old cotton waffle thermals for performance fabric underwear like the Grundies Long Sleeve Shirt and Grundies Pants. These are a best seller go to choice! Another great option is Guy Cotten’s Denali Pant and Denali Crew Shirt.

Then a mid layer is key to warmth via insulation. The Guy Cotten Polar Pants and the Arctic Hoodie are impossible to beat!

These two layers are worthless without an outer shell that is waterproof and windproof because staying dry is the real challenge. Frigid winds and sea spray can easily turn an epic day of fishing into a horrid nightmare.  Your shell is something that you do not want to cheap out on.  

More than once, I found myself fishing in wind, rain and snow! It was cold, but because I prepared and dressed appropriately I was warm enough to stay at the rail and keep on fishing.

Here’s what I use to keep dry and warm winter fishing in New Jersey.

We’ll start from the feet and work our way up. 

My feet are warm and dry thanks to my Xtratuf Tall Insulated Boots.  Designed for commercial fishing in Alaska, they’re flexible, warm and comfortable for an all day, everyday wear. 

Grundens… Seriously… You do not own a pair of Grundens Bibs?  Eat fish, Wear Grundens.  It’s an actual rule.  There are plenty of bibs options and anyone will make your day much better.  Bib pants (sometimes called waterproof overalls or  slicker plants) block the wind, they are waterproof so stay dry. When you take them off at the end of the day, you are clean and don’t smell. The Grundens Hercules Bib Pants are a  classic choice but I wear the Grundens Neptune Bib Pant. They are durable, lightweight, have a little bit of stretch for comfort and they are only $69.99. The cargo pocket and interior chest pocket are also very helpful. 

I finish my top layer with a Stormr Strykr Series Jacket.  They are heavy but nothing offers the warmth of a Stormr neoprene jacket. It’s a fantastic choice that you’ll appreciate in the early spring and late fall/winter. The company might not be the best at spelling, but they’re experts in keeping you warm and dry! Knowing some are allergic to neoprene another great choice is the Grundens Balder Jacket or the fleece lined Grundens Neptune Thermo Pullover.

When it comes to gloves, it’s more of a different strokes for different folks kind of thing.  There are plenty of gloves that will keep you warm. Some like ultimate warmth and the easy on and easy off of waterproof Atlas Freezer Gloves. These are great when you need to keep your hands dry but they are difficult to fish with. When fishing, I can’t lose “touch” with the line. Maintaining that “feel” is key for me.  So I go with a flip-mitt glove like the Glacier Glove Cold River Flip Mitts. I also like the Glacier Stripper/Fighting Glove fingerless glove but a whole you’ll need a lot of hand warmers in your pockets.

Don’t forget the sunscreen either folks.. that sun can still do some damage in December! I hope this helps you stay warm! Good luck fishing.

Catching Blackfish With Jigs

by Matt Sorrentino (@swagmattic)

Whether you’re new to the game or an old salty dog with decades of experience dropping rigs on wrecks, there’s a lot to learn if you want to catch blackfish with jigs.

Have you tried to catch blackfish with jigs? You should! Why? At times they out fish rigs and produce really big catches. I must ask… How did anglers target summer flounder 10, 15, 20+ years ago? The majority now target them with jigs because it’s more effective. The migration to the jig occurred in the fluke, sea bass and tuna game years ago. Guess what… The tog game too!

Tog Jigs Offer The Most Natural Presentation Of Bait

Light tackle jigging for tautog is still a relatively new technique. The concept is simple.  Lighter line, small reels and lighter rods all directly contrast conventional tog fishing wisdom. But! Lighter tackle allows small jigs to get to the bottom faster and entice more bites. Also the jig’s stealth approach gives the fish a sense of security so they take the bait. Unlike heavy blackfish rig fishing (typically use 6+ ounce sinkers) the tog can pick up the jigs and swim away without feeling the tug of the line and weight as they crunch and munch the bait. Light tackle jigging for tog allows anglers the most natural presentation of baits. This directly results in more bites and more opportunities to catch.

Catching a limit of Blackfish takes skill and the right fishing tackle.  Here, fisherman Matt caught Tautog using Magictail and Tog jigs with crab.
December 6th with a limit+ of blackfish/tautog using a 2oz MagicTail Tog Jig.

Tog Jig Options

The obvious first step to catching blackfish with jigs is to pick out the jig. There are a variety of tog jigs options on the market. With all of the brand names,  at some point you’ll ask, “What type of tog jig should I use?” Or “What is the best blackfish jig?  In my book, the answer is simple. It’s in the name of the jig…  The Magictail “Game Changer” Tog Jig is the best jig. Whether targeting blackfish from the boat on reefs and wrecks or land based fishing. Magictail Tog Jigs outproduce!

The 3 Classic Types of Jigs For Blackfishing

In order to make a lead head jig it all starts with a mold and a hook. The lead is the easy part. In the early days, there were really only a few styles of tog jigs due to the lack of molds. The three styles that made the most sense for making blackfish jigs were…

  • The Bean Jig – Resembles an oversized lima bean with flat sides. When sitting, it lies on its side with the hook facing sideways.
  • The Football Jig– Resembles a football shaped lead head that is perpendicular to the hook. When sitting, the hook points upright.
  • The Banana Jig – Features a snag resistant design; eye tie forward, slender width, curved like lead head belly (hence the name). Similar to the football jig, the hook points upright when sitting.

It has been said that some shapes fall faster than others. This can be the case when dropping a naked jig; however, tog jigs are always fished baited with crab. All three shapes listed above will get down and stay down about the same. There’s more important characteristics to focus on.

The Magictail Game Changer Tog Jig Series was developed after years of fishing experience catching black fish on jigs. Building on the features top tog anglers demand and evolving from its predecessors, Magictail made a custom mold to offer the most innovative tog jig to date!

Magictail Tautog Jig used to catch Tog.
This photo shows the unique design of the Magictail Tog Jig.

So what sets the MagicTail Game Changer Tog Jig apart from the Football and the Banana Jig? 

It’s all in the intricate design, the Magictail Game Changer Tog Jigs have a unique shape which offers benefits. Like the football and banana style tog jigs the hook point always faces up. The flat curved bottom (banana jig trait) ensures the jig is always on the bottom correctly. It lays flat and doesn’t roll. The jig is center weighted and its shape is very snag resistant.

The Magictail Tog Jig Secrets That Sets Them Apart From The Rest

The most important characteristic however, is how the lead belly sits with the hook standing tall. This keeps the bait slightly raised off the bottom with open space between the hook and the bottom structure. This allows the fish to swim in and take a clean swipe at the whole hook. It makes the elaborately timed hook set process a whole lot easier and increase your hookup percentage.

Choosing The Right Jig With The Right Hook

Just like selecting an all purpose hook, the same rules apply. Match the hook to the bait or the bait to the hook. The hook choice in a tog jig is important. It must be strong and sharp. Moreover, the shank length matters! Short shank vs long shark is personal preference and it changes depending on the size of bait. A tog jig with a long shank hook (such as the Magic Tail Game Changer Tog Jig) allows for hooking of bigger bait, a must when fishing large pieces of crab, half crabs and whole crabs. Tog jigs with short shank hooks (such as the Magictail Back Bay Tog Jig) are best when fishing smaller baits. These are best when using Asian Crabs and Fiddler Crabs. It’s also common for anglers to bury these short shank tog jigs inside of a medium crab section.

Does Color Matter?

In my experiences I have not found one color to outperform another in every circumstance. Everyday can be different so it’s best to have a spread of colors to cover your bases.

You can’t go wrong matching the jig color to the bait. For example when fishing green crabs, pair the bait with the green/orange “Green Crab” jig color. When fishing white crabs go for the white “White Crab” jig. Magictail does a really good job offering these natural color patterns.

I’ve also done good using the high visibility colors like the chart/orange and the metallic green coined “First Drop” as well as the glow on cloudy days and when the water is dirty. Just a heads up… glow always catches!

How do Blackfish feed?

Tautog pick at their food.  They’re typically chewing on mussels, barnacles and other crustaceans clinging to rocks and structure.  When feeding off the bottom they come at the bait from above and pluck at it.  That is why you get those small taps when you first feel the fish.  Setting the hook on a tog is a process that gets refined only with practice and experience. But as common sense would point out, if the fish’s point of attack is from above the jig, you would ideally want the hook pointing in that direction.  When you swing that hook is more likely to land and set in the fish mouth then with a side facing jig. 

Looking for more info on targeting tautog with jigs? Check out my other blog post, Start Catching Blackfish on Jigs With These Helpful Tips!

Tog Fishing Informative Videos 

Check out the video links below to learn more about catching blackfish with jigs more specifically the the Magictail Game Changer Tog Jig advantage!