They journey offshore to the deep blue waters, they pull up to wrecks and reefs inshore, they drift along the beachfront and in the inlets and they fit into the shallow “skinny” waters of the back bays.
South Jersey enjoys a wide variety of fishing, and the area’s party boats and open boats have it covered.
Experienced or beginners, families or individuals, anyone can jump on board a boat for a half day or a full day of fishing. We have the benefit here in South Jersey of having veteran captains and crews up and down the coast from Delaware Bay to Barnegat Bay.
Summer flounder is surely one of the most popular species for visitors and locals, and there are a number of back-bay specialists that target them. Some are pontoon party boats built strictly for inside inlets, channels and bays. Most of them have a similar game plan. They sail twice daily, 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and never leave the “inside” waters. These are ideal for kids and old-timers who may not have the sea legs they once did. And you don’t need much experience, or any experience really. There are others that act more like charter boats and have a flexible sailing schedule.
The captains and mates pretty much take care of everything, such as rods and reels, providing bait, offering suggestions and advice, netting fish, and cleaning fish at the end of the trip. All you have to do is show up at the dock — about a half hour ahead of departure time to get a spot — pay the fare, which are reasonable, and rent a rod if you need one. (Some boats offer them for free) And you can get in the heaviest-fish pool and maybe walk away with more jingle than you came with.
You have to do one thing yourself: You have to catch a fish all on your own. And speak up with the call “fish-on” for the mates to hurry with the net when you hook up. It won’t hurt to leave them a tip at the end of the outing.
Most of the boats have snacks, water and sodas for a small fee, and a head (small bathroom). Beer generally is limited and hard liquor is banned. You can always bring your own food and drinks and a cooler. Bug spray and sunscreen are often provided.
The back-bay craft drift the inside channels and drops-offs and along sod banks. They have minnows and cut bait such as mackerel for top and bottom rigs. The many regulars prefer their own bait and tackle, such as bucktails or small shad darts, often tipped with artificial bait such as Gulp.
The excellent Father's Day weekend weather drifted into Monday for one of the best stretches…
One of the main attractions for these boats, and the many rental boats that stay in the quieter waters, is that there is no worry about getting seasick.
And they are not limited to flounder. Bluefish, weakfish, striped bass, kingfish and sea bass inhabit the back bays at various times, along with sometimes plentiful skates, rays and sharks.
The bigger boats that work the ocean often pull up to an inshore wreck or reef and anchor up so the patrons on board can fish close to the structure. At various times and seasons, sea bass, tautog (aka blackfish), ling, mackerel, bluefish, flounder, sharks gather around the wrecks and reefs.
Inshore can mean within easy range and in sight of land, 3-8 miles out or over the horizon. Some of the boat captains stay with that half-day four-hour trip schedule, but others change it up to six- or eight-hour outings.
The inshore trips are not much different than the back bay in that captains and crews set patrons up with appropriate equipment, bait and advice. Fishing close to a structure in deeper water requires a different technique than drifting the back bays. It can be a matter of trial and error. But it takes the same kind of concentration for a successful result.
Offshore fishing can start inshore and then head out to the deeper water. Some of these boats are rigged with kitchens and sleeping accommodations, and they often attract a few more hard-fishing die-hards. Night trips are often on the schedule. Tuna, mahi, codfish, tilefish, sharks and even billfish are among the deep water fish that can make for an exciting experience.
There is another popular way to enjoy back-bay fishing: Rental boats come in all sizes and shapes from 16-foot skiffs to center consoles and even 20-foot plus pontoon boats, and they come with a wide range of rental prices. A lot of experienced fishers are frequent regulars. You don’t need any experience, however. The crews at the base marinas and tackle shops can provide just about everything you need, including lessons on boat-handling and fishing advice, plus equipment and directions on where to fish. You must be 18 and older and have a valid driver’s license to rent a boat. Calling ahead is recommended.
And don’t forget crabbing.