A friend and I spent a long weekend at Island Beach State Park, NJ to fish in the surf. We have made a trip like this for the last two years. We have gone to Sandy Hook, NJ, Martha’s Vineyard, and now IBSP. Each trip has been a great experience. Much of the time it feels like grueling punishment, but with every wet, cold, fishless hour the anticipation for catching the next fish grows. It is all a matter of being at the right place at the right time and having the wherewithall to not mess it up when the moment comes.
I headed towards NJ after work, and I met J at the Belvedere Motel at around 9:00PM. We grabbed dinner at Hemingway’s. I had a decent burger. We went to the Motel and took a 2-hour nap before starting to fish. We parked at the first parking lot in IBSP and fished for a while, but didn’t catch anything.
We took a short nap before sunrise and went to the far end of IBSP. At sunrise, J caught a nice weakfish. We didn’t know the regulation size, and J tossed it back into the sea, but it turned out that with a 13″ minimum length, it was a keeper.
We went to Betty and Nick’s Bait and Tackle. J got a quick repair done on his reel so that the bail would flip properly. We had a pretty good breakfast at the bait shop. I had the pumpkin pancakes. I bought some weights, black teasers, bunker, and clams as well as a black eel lure. We picked up a regulations guide and some tide charts. We headed out to the beach, and were unpacking equipment from the car when tragedy struck, 6 inches busted off of a rod tip. We took it to Grumpy’s who said that they could either put a new tip on it for 5 bucks or put it in the dumpster. There would be no repairing the all-important tip. We headed to Betty and Nick’s Bait and Tackle for a second opinion, and they told us the exact same thing. J picked out a new rod and we headed out to fish some more.
We fished the rest of the day through sunset. We headed south from the far parking lot at IBSP. I tossed bunker chunks and clams in the water. 8 oz weights almost held firm to the bottom (close enough anyway), and 6 oz. weights were a little bit on the light side, although I was struggling to cast the 8 oz. weights. I rigged weight->snap swivel->hook on dropper loop->barrel swivel. This setup worked very well. In the evening I put away the bait and we fished hard, but came out empty-handed. We didn’t see any bait in the water or fish jumping. We were pondering the fact that with no structure or visible life in the water, fishing the surf is like casting out in the desert. We carry an informational package we call the “portfolio” for these trips including vital weather, tide, sun/moon rise/set times, maps, and a pile of informational tidbits from the internet about the area. Everything we need to know is probably in the portfolio, it is just a matter of filtering it down to something that can help us make the decisions on where, when, and how to fish. J noted that the portfolio mentioned looking for markers left behind by previous fishermen that would indicate some kind of structure in the water that might only be visible at certain times. For example, you might see a deep hole at low tide where fish might like to hang out during high tide when the hole is no longer visible from shore. We happened to notice a plastic bag firmly attached to a fencepost, which seemed like a clear sign of something.
We walked south past the marked fencepost along a sandbar during a low tide. J happened to notice that there was a small dip in the sandbar in a direct line with the marking, suggesting that this could be a great little spot for bass to hunt. The portfolio proved true. Look for the markings. It was a small version of a “cut” described at the following link:
We fished the sunset, but didn’t see any action. We ate dinner at — ——. It was not good. Sitting next to me at the bar was a guy who seemed to have serious mental problems cleverly disguised by his extreme drunkenness. He was making strange clucking noises, groaning, drooling, and mingling with the large wooden beam 6 inches in front of his face while his tour guide was trying to make him drink more. I ordered the “softy”, a soft-shelled crab sandwich. I asked if these were in season, and if they had been frozen or not. He said that they were never frozen, but we were at the tail end of the season so the crabs are on their way out. I ordered one, but I should have taken the hint. It was cooked extra crispy (probably a good thing), and after I finished most of it, I decided I had enough. We scurried out of there happily unstabbed and unpoisoned. We hung out for a bit before taking a short sleep (or long nap depending on how you look at it).
We got up early to start fishing the pre-dawn. The beautiful sunrise refused to share its fish with us.
We talked to some baitfishermen who had caught some small sharks and skates before the sunrise. Later we saw some reports of people catching fish at the same time. After sunrise, we headed to Seaside Heights for breakfast at the Next Door Cafe. It was an absolutely fantastic breakfast, best ever. I had a pork roll egg and cheese on a bun and it was delicious. I would have liked another one, but on Sunday all there was to eat was striped bass, quickly overtaking the sandwich as the best ever breakfast. We stopped at Betty and Nick’s to look at the fishing reels. The bail broke on my main reel, a Walmart special so I had been using my backup. My backup reel not as good as the Walmart special. On a good day, this reel wouldn’t successfully catch a fish bigger than 10 inches. When I experienced difficulties reeling in a 2-inch crab, I knew that if I was going to catch a 28+ inch striped bass (28 inches is the legal minimum size for keeping a striped bass), I needed something beefier. I finally bought a real nice real reel, thus preparing me to fish and succeed.
We napped and headed out and fished before and after the high tide. We walked down the beach towards Governor’s Mansion. Halfway down the beach, we started fishing areas that had a lot of clam shells in the wash, and more importantly some pieces of sand crabs and mole crabs. We met with a bit of excitement shortly after high peak. We watched somebody pull in a short bass down the shore. Before long, he walked by us and told us he was using a —— —- —. He said that he has had a lot of success with them over the last season or two. He also had a teaser tied on with a large dropper loop (with a notably smaller knot than when I make a dropper loop – thinner leader? braided line? fewer twists?), positioning the teaser 2.5 inches from the leader. It looked like a great way to tie on the teaser. I have been tying two leaders to a barrel swivel, but it gets a little bit tangled up sometimes. I put on a storm shad with a teaser, which has the similar tail to the —— —. J saw a fish jump, felt a few bites, and something bit the tail off my plastic lure. We fished until the sun went down, and decided to return to the spot on the next high tide.
We grabbed dinner on the boardwalk. The area was surprisingly alive compared to most of the area, mainly because of the bright lights, but there were some people there as well. A lot of video game arcades with some gambling machines were open for business. We ate at the Sawmill Cafe. We both had really delicious cheese-steaks, and there were some good beer choices. Not too bad for the off-season. We went back to the Motel and got in some good sleep.
We woke up and started fishing at 3am. We walked in the dark until we found a familiar log near our favorite spot from the night before. We fished an hour or so until high tide. J suggested that we keep walking to the Governor’s Mansion. We walked for a while and were lucky enough to spot the silhouette of a chimney behind the sand dunes, indicating something that perhaps a Governor could live in. We took a nice relaxing break before gearing up and hitting the surf. It was dark out, and clouds covered the moonsliver more often than not. I tied on a Deadly Dick with a dropper looped black teaser. After a half-dozen casts, I found myself physically connected to a swimming torpedo. The drag on my new reel zipped beautifully as a big fish unmistakably rocketed into the dark horizon. I set the hook and yelled “fish on” as loud as I could, but the crashing surf drowned my cries. The fish was calling the shots, he was running. When he finally took a short break, I started reeling him in slowly. We were back and forth for a while. I tightened my drag a little, and started bringing the fish towards me. I could feel the fish getting close, rising and falling with the incoming waves. He found his wind and took off one last time. After that I reeled him in and dragged him quickly to the safety of dry sand. At a glance, the fish made 28 inches look small, making this an obvious keeper. It measured 31.5 inches. We buried the fish to keep it cool. Twice actually because a dog came by and dug it up. We fished for another hour or so through sunrise and packed it in.
We weighed the fish in at Betty and Nick’s, then brought it to our temporary home. I asked the hotel manager if he happened to know where a good place to clean a fish would be. He offered us a table he was discarding, and said we could just put everything in the dumpster when we were done. We cleaned the fish, which had 10 crabs and 5 eels in its stomach. The fish yielded several pounds of meat. We cooked up a 2-inch thick breakfast filet along with 2 scrumptious bass cheeks on a cast iron skillet and a camp stove. My first taste of victory.
* Striper Surf NJ Forums – Great fishing reports here
* Fishing at IBSP, NJ – A great article
* Surf Reports at Betty and Nick’s
* Bite Club Episode 1 – Motivational video for surf fishing
* Rigging a Teaser