5 Top Jersey Wreck Targets

The definitive list of species, tactics and techniques for getting in on Jersey’s wreck fishing action

September 5, 2012


Pollock hands down take the fight to the front line. These big boys of the wreck reign supreme; the broad-shouldered brutes monitor the outskirts of the structure and mainly stage 20 to 50 feet above a wreck. As you watch the fish finder, look for red upside-down Vs to appear above the wreck, as the fish congregate in packs of up to a dozen. Pollock hound baitfish schools and will aggressively pounce on any jig frantically brought up through the water co­lumn. Use a bottom-up approach with metal jigs. Drop down a jig to the desired depth first if you are marking the fish at a specific depth, or to feel them out, drop to the bottom, reel five cranks and erratically snap-jig; reel five more cranks and then snap-jig; and repeat the process up to the surface. Pollock are aggressive and bull­headed and strike with a linebacker’s mentality, punishing drags and snapping leaders. A fight with a 20- to 40-pound pollock is one you won’t soon forget. Nick Honachefsky


Cod stocks have been steadily increasing in New Jersey waters, and their rebounded presence in the last 10 years has single-handedly reignited a passion for wreck-fishing in the area. Catches of 10 to 30 cod per private boat are commonplace, while party boats are decking them by the hundreds, prompting captains to run specialized trips to wrecks in the 35- to 65-mile range to target fish in the 10- to 40-pound class. You can trick up cod on both rigs and jigs, as they hang both inside and around submerged structures. Wooden shipwrecks seem to attract the largest cod, but shipwrecks adorned with pilothouses and other vertical structures attract “steakers”of 30 to 50 pounds, which root down in the cover. A pound-the-ground strategy is used to target the species once the boat’s anchored up. First, drop down a bait rig and tempt them to bite fresh gobs of clam or thinly cut bergall strips, usually lanced on a high-low or three-hook rig with 6-inch red curly-tail grubs or rubber squids. Once you get the fish biting and excited, deploy metal jigs for some hook-and-haul action. Jigs bounced on the bottom or lifted two to three feet off and plunged back down elicit heart-stopping strikes. Nick Honachefsky


World-record blackfish inhabit midshore wrecks of 20 to 40 miles — the IGFA all-tackle record of 25 pounds was taken off a wreck roughly 25 miles off Ocean City, New Jersey. Many tautog in the 18- to 24-pound range are taken consistently in craggy and snaggy structures, though most range from 2 to 12 pounds. Dialing in a tog bite is a strict exercise in patience, and figuring out the “touch” to know when to set the hook is one of the hardest tasks in wreck-fishing. Blackfish’s modus operandi is to tap once to crack a crab, then tap again quickly a split second later to inhale the goods. You have to hit between the two hits. Hard-core toggers swear by whole white-legger or blue-claw crabs for targeting trophy tog, as the largest of blackfish tend to hang off the sides of barges or on a dropped level of a wreck, and sometimes inside a wreck. See if you can find a safe, relatively snag-free hole to drop into, but as a tog saying goes, “If you aren’t losing rigs, you’re not fishing in the right place.” A good game plan is to work the edges and then the inside of a wreck, though you will need to beef up your leader to 80-pound-test to pull them out, as they beat on novice anglers like a heavyweight fighter on a featherweight. Nick Honachefsky


Ling, or red hake, are the behind-the-scenes backbone of wreck-fishing. Homely and borderline comical in appearance, ling are viewed as the pariah of wreck-fishing, as they are ugly and slimy to the touch, but they taste fantastic and will keep you reeling with their sheer numbers. Catches of 30 to 60 1- to 6-pound ling per man are not uncommon for wreckers, with occasional baseball-bat-size ling upwards of 10 pounds hauled up. Not really battlers, ling will give you all they’ve got for the first 20 feet up but hang like dead weight once their air bladders pop out. Ling patrol the mud and sand bottom around structure, hanging inside and around derelict nets and low-lying pieces, like fallen smokestacks, prop keels and engine blocks. Baits should lie on the bottom or dangle just above. For a ling-slaying two-hook bottom rig, first snell a 2/0 octopus hook on 12-inch leader. Loop it on 4 inches above the sinker, then loop another snelled hook onto the first snelled hook. A simple tap technique of lifting the sinker and rig up and down and prospecting the immediate area will tell you if ling are there or not. Tease and tempt them with tiny wiggles of the line, and if you swing and miss, drop the rig right back for the
return strike.
Nick Honachefsky

Black Sea Bass

Affectionately known as knuckleheads, trophy black sea bass pushing the 8-pound mark flock to offshore wreck structures in the 50- to 80-mile range. Cherished for their pugnacious attitude and lip-smacking flavor, most sea bass fall in the 2- to 6-pound class, though larger models can be caught if you work through the smaller fish. The telltale rat-tat-tat of their incessant pecks on clam and squid baits are unmistakable. Hits are swift and fast, so hook-sets should be immediate when you’re getting blitzed, and hooks should be checked frequently, as sea bass are adept at plucking baits off hooks. Sea bass populate wrecks in massive numbers, and a school will appear on the fish-finder screen as a red cloud over and around the wreck. Section larger fish off the school by dropping bucktails fixed with a long strip bait, and tap-dance it along the bottom. For bait rigs, bring plenty of red or orange beads to thread on. The fish love the color. Nick Honachefsky

Anchoring and Strategy

Once a wreck is pinpointed, anchor uptide and let out rode until you are directly above the structure. If a piece has been worked over, you can let out more rode and drift back, or pull up line to another productive piece. Move around, as once an area gets worked, another spot 30 feet away will start the bite anew. Keep as vertical as possible when jigging or dead-baiting, and if the current is running too strong, cast uptide and let the rig or jig swing back down to you. Blackfish and cod tend to hang deep in the structure, ling and sea bass swim on and around it, and pollock patrol the area above a wreck. Drop fresh baits to get a bite going, then deploy metal jigs and bucktails to target larger models of each species. Joe Mahler /

Trip Planner

Rods: Lamiglas TFX 7040 CT, Fish Poison or equivalent 61/2- to 7-foot medium- to fast-action rod. Reels: Shimano Torium 20, Penn Torque TRQ100LD or equivalent 6.2:1 ratio high-speed reel. Lines: 65-pound-braid running line Albright-knotted to 15 feet of 40-pound Triple Fish leader. Tie a jig or rig to the end. Other: Plenty of 6- to 16-ounce bank sinkers, plus 40- to 60-pound fluorocarbon leader for the jig leader and as rig material. Who: Party boats run special 20- to 25-angler trips to the 40- to 80-mile wrecks, which ensures plenty of room on deck to fish effectively. Six-pack charter boats move quicker from wreck to wreck and can hit smaller pieces. Or you can simply hop on your boat, plug in some numbers and head out. Point Pleasant
732-295-7569 Barnegat Light
Mary M III
609-618-1962 Brielle
Big Kid

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