The Jersey Shore rocks during the summer season, but beyond the fist-pumping beat of the boardwalk, the rickety roller coasters and the special blends of boardwalk ice cream lies the kind of rock that is home to New Jersey's premier game fish.Welcome to Jetty Country.
From Sandy Hook to Cape May, rock structures along the shoreline, referred to as groins or jetties, jut into the ocean. In some areas the jetties are staggered every quarter-mile, and in other places they are more widely spaced. If you can find the right section, you'll find striper heaven.
These jetties were originally placed by the Army Corps of Engineers as shore-protection structures. Aligned perpendicular to the shoreline, they were designed to reduce the transport of sand along coastlines. The same current that carries sand along the coast combines with the underwater structures to create holding and feeding areas for bass from spring through summer and fall, when thousands of stripers migrate up the coast and take up residence on these jetties. At any given time, there can be anywhere from five to 25 bass residing on every jetty tip, making the jetties consistent spots to catch stripers along the Jersey Shore.
Recent studies have indicated that increasing the jetties' per-meability with breaks or breaches provides better shoreline stabilization. These notches deny shorebound anglers access to the sweet spots, the jetty tips. For boat anglers, however, jetty tips are rich fishing grounds.
As with any saltwater fishing, timing determines the best action. Tides, sunlight, wind direction and water temperature all play important roles in when to fish these rock piles. Also, be attentive to wind, current and surf conditions. The wrong combination can put you on the rocks in short order, so plan your approach and drift to avoid dangerous conditions. Jetty rocks are unforgiving. Pay close attention to stay safe.
Though stripers will feed during any time of the day, I have found the best times for the most consistent action to be dawn and dusk. I have caught many fish in high sunlight, but anglers will usually get more follows than takes during the middle hours of the day. The exception to this rule is obviously cloudy or overcast days. As the sun drops, the bite will usually pick up again, with the hours just before dark usually producing good results. For expert anglers who know the jetties inside and out, nighttime can also be very productive, especially when fishing eels for larger fish.
Getting to a rock pile first can prove very effective. Because each jetty holds only a handful of fish, pulling up on a jetty tip right after another boat has fished it is usually a waste of time. Spend an hour or two finding other tips that have not been fished recently, then come back later, after the jetty has had a chance to rest. Knowing when to move to another tip is also important. Don't take too much time on one jetty tip, as your best bites will usually come right away. As a general rule, I will put about five to 10 casts on each jetty, and if I do not score, I move on. If the action is good, I usually stay until the fish stop hitting and start following the lures or baits. Sometimes changing to a new bait or lure or putting on a different color can evoke a strike after the bite has gone quiet.
When a fish hits, do your best to try to pull it away from the rocks quickly. Allow the fish to have too much play or drag, and it will bury itself on the other side of a big rock and break you off. I keep my drags tight and try to get the fish at least 10 to 15 yards away from the rocks, into deeper water, as soon as I can. As the fish approaches the boat, look for others following it. This is when a second angler can throw another bait or lure and get hooked up.
Next time you're at the Jersey Shore, forgo the walk down the crowded boardwalk one day and hit the rocks for some fist-pumping striper action. You won't be disappointed.