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August 29, 2011

Fishing the Jersey Shelf

More than just the canyons await New Jersey's offshore anglers.

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At first light we were back on the troll, and heading inshore toward the edges of the eddies again. We’d hardly set the lines out in the pre-dawn light when the first fish of the day, a wahoo, peeled line off the rod on the short rigger. Wahoo can be dicey customers in a tuna spread, but part of the Over Under approach is to prepare rigs for just such a welcome accident. Ballyhoo leaders are rigged with a short piece of wire that follows the leader loop, with each end tucked securely into the crimped sleeve used to form the loop.

Just such a rig prevented this wahoo from cutting himself free once hooked on the mono-rigged ballyhoo.

When wahoo are targeted, says Rhyne, they are typically found inshore around 30 fathoms, where they provide a short but dependable bite in September. Faster trolling speeds and purple-and-black, chrome-headed lures over ballyhoo target them successfully.

“When there are wahoo around, we’ll put a couple of chrome-headed rigs out with the tuna lures, and usually the wahoo hit the ones we set out for them,” says Rhyne. “Another thing we do is put out a Yo-Zuri deep diving plug or a Billy Bait, one of the C&H chrome-headed lures, and fish them on wire leaders.”

Shortly after the wahoo came aboard we had a close look from another white marlin, but no cigar this time either. In the remaining time we spent trolling, however, we managed to boost the species count when a longfin tuna, or true albacore, piled on a skirted ballyhoo before we wound up the lines for the run back home.

So while the white marlin were a miss, it’s hard to dismiss the fishing with the variety and abundance of action we found on the shelf. It was a satisfied crew that headed west toward the dock at midmorning with the multiple representatives of five species in the fish box.

Jersey Offshore

Conventional trolling outfits in the 30-pound class spooled with 50-pound mono easily handle the yellowfins, yet are light enough to fish comfortably without a chair. If the fish are running larger, 50-pound-class tackle spooled with 80-pound mono may be substituted for the lighter outfits. Typical tuna baits are medium ballyhoo rigged on 8/0 or 9/0 Mustad 7691 DT hooks on 25 feet of 100- to 130-pound fluorocarbon leaders.

When targeting white marlin, Rhyne says tackle is downsized across the board. Lighter 30-pound outfits and even 20-pound spinning gear are better sized to white marlin. Smaller, naked ballyhoo are rigged to ride behind circle hooks on a wire loop. Leaders are scaled back to a lighter 60- or 80-pound-test and trolling speeds are pulled back to 5 knots from the usual 612-knot tuna trolling speed. The trolling spread is shortened and tightened up, so the ballyhoo run closer to the boat and the fish are easier to see when they come into the baits.

Rods: Conventional trolling rods, 30- and 50-pound class for tuna, 20-pound for white marlin.

Reels: Penn GLD 20 for white marlin; standard outfit is a Penn 50 Gold International with 80-pound mono main line. Spool 30-pound-class reels with 50-pound line and 50-pound tackle with 80-pound mono. 8500 and 9500 series spinning reels spooled with 20-pound work well for white marlin.

Lines: 20-to 30-pound test for white marlin, 30-and 50-pound for tuna trolling. 60-and 80-pound leaders with 6/0 Gamakatsu 208416 Octopus circle hooks or equivalent for white marlin. 100- to 130-pound fluorocarbon leaders for tuna with 8/0 or 9/0 Mustad 7691 DT Southern/Tuna.

Lures: Medium ballyhoo skirted with Seawitches or Ilanders, in pink, blue-and-white or purple-and-black. Chrome-headed lures, Billy Baits for wahoo; naked ballyhoo rigged behind circle hooks for white marlin.

What: Pelagics — tuna, marlin, dolphin, wahoo

When: High summer

Where: Bait concentrations that occur along the edges of the Gulf Stream

Who: You, in your own boat, or any number of charter operations that run out of Jersey ports

Over Under Adventures