NJ Surf Fishing 2016

It's 3:30pm on Monday. I'm sitting on a foot-high piling along a jetty surrounded by total chaos: fishermen casting over each other, birds attacking the water, baitfish spraying out of the surface, with big striped bass and bluefish breaking the surface all within an arms reach. This is the moment we have been searching for all these years, yet I can't lift my arms, my back is a crumpled mass of pure ache, my brain is fried. I'm staring into my lure bag, head spinning, moving slowly, a puzzled look on my face. I never saw this coming - feeling too warn out and exhausted to care about catching yet another giant fish from the surf. How did it all come to this?

Earlier that morning

The previous 2 days had called for pleasant weather and mediocre fishing at sunrise, which led us to not bother setting an alarm for pre-dawn. We slept in and took the day as it came. However Monday was calling for a perfect fish-catching combination: Simultaneous outgoing tide, sunrise, moonset, and "gale force winds" blowing out to sea so we made sure to wake up early so as not to miss our best opportunity. The first two days of scouting had given us a good idea for where to plan our stakeout: the north end of the boardwalk, where a nice sandbar revealed itself as the tide went out. I hiked out to the bar and took a few casts, and quickly made my way to the edge of the bar where I could cast to my left into a deep pool of water. The flat mirror-like surface of the predawn water reflected the foggy mist above, whose calmness was suddenly shattered by the violent splash of a feeding striped bass. I could hear J's voice in my head. "These are pencil poppin' conditions". I pulled out my new lucky pencil popper which I had found washed up on shore the day before. This is a style of lure I have never caught anything with, but I know many of J's most epic fish stories involve this magic lure so I am dying to catch a fish on this lure and discover the faith for myself. It's one of the most labor-intensive lures to use. It's big, heavy, and as legend has it, "if you're not making love to the pencil popper it's not going to have the right action". A saying which never made any sense to me until today with the fish crashing on the surface. Are you getting spastic? Make love to it... It's a rhythm thing. Like Isaac Hayes, smooth buttered soul. Ohhh yeah, there it is. WHAM! A big striped bass rose out of the water and nailed the pencil popper in plain site.

After a bit of a fight, the fish and I made our way to dry land. He measured just over 28 inches. A keeper! Losing my mind with excitement, I wanted to get back out there and catch some more. I carried the fish back to the surf and let him go free. As soon has he swam off, "stupid! why did I do that?" I thought. I don't have too many opportunities to keep a fish like that and I may have just blown it for the trip. Lucky for me, a few casts later, I caught his brother which was also over 28 inches. After a total of 3 fish, soaking wet in my leaking waders and the strong, chill wind, I went and found J. We returned to our hotel, and cooked up an early breakfast of fish. Yum!

Monday Afternoon - Round 2!

Tired by noon, conditions and reports were still looking good so we headed straight back out again. And that's when things really got intense! We made our way up the beach stopping every half mile or so to look around with the binoculars. We find a promising spot, and gear up and start fishing. Before long, J battles a gargantuan bluefish to shore! Followed by another!

I tossed a few lures into the lucky water, but quickly grew impatient as I saw excitement brewing in the area of jetties to our left. I made my way to the second jetty, and found a nice relaxed spot to take a few casts. Looking to my left, I notice several fishermen running at me. That's odd. I look in front of me and see what they are running for. At my feet is a massacre of baitfish (bunker) and bass! The tide has receded just enough so that the sand bar forms an outer wall and the jetty's block the side exits. Meanwhile the bass and bluefish were ready and waiting on the deep end of the sand bar to force the baitfish into this beautiful deathtrap!

I cast out a weighted treble hook and quickly snag a bunker and liveline the little guy. Wham! Fish on! I frantically pull a nice bass to shore, remove the hook, and by the time I return him to sea I am surrounded by countless fishermen. I switch lures to my new bomber - a big plastic fish covered with giant hooks. I cast and quickly latch on to another fish! Now that there are fishermen all around me I tighten the drag and land the fish as quickly as I can. Catch and release. I cast again into the fray and catch another nice bass! I reel him in and discover that this bass was foul-hooked, which means the hook was not hooked in it's mouth. I guiltily remove the hook and release him back into the water. I spend a few minutes to remove some of the extra hooks from the lure. I take a few more casts, but it this big lure just doesn't feel right. That's when I sit down on the jetty and take stock of my situation. I am completely worn out. The situation is dangerous with hooks flying everywhere. Nothing in my lure bag seems appropriate for this chaos. So I just sort of sit and try to come up with a plan but end up feeling pretty satisfied to numbly gaze out and watch the frenzy as it unfolds and eventually wraps up. I pack up my things and wander down to find J, whose giant fish count for the day has reached 8! That's 15 fish in one day between the two of us!

Here's a quick look at the lures that were successful for me on this trip (SP Minnow in bunker color, a bomber, a snag hook, and the pencil popper):

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