If you’re planning a fishing adventure this summer and you want it to include good cruising destinations too, head for the state that lies at the crossroads of the migratory paths of some of the world’s most sought-after gamefish: New Jersey. In addition to world-class offshore action, it’s home to a number of popular ports that cater to transient boaters and their families. Following are a few top species to target and ports to visit.
WHAT TO CATCH
The waters off New Jersey’s coast have a broad Continental Shelf that terminates in a jagged line of submarine canyons. These features are the scoured-out remnants of ancient rivers that ran across the shelf during the last ice age when ocean levels were 400 feet lower than today. The Hudson River created one of the largest canyons on Earth, larger than the Grand Canyon, but you can only see it on a depthfinder today. The Hudson, Toms, Lindenkohl, Spencer, Wilmington, Baltimore and Washington canyons, in addition to smaller structures, play a major role in the migratory travels of pelagic gamefish.
What are the conditions that produce some of the finest offshore fishing found anywhere on the planet? For starters, the west side of the Gulf Stream, which pumps warm water north from the equator, is located east of the canyons, and it spins off warm core eddies—massive bowl-shaped bodies of deep-blue water that rotate in a clockwise direction. The eddies move into the canyons as they bounce down the edge of the shelf in a southwesterly direction. These ocean features create upwellings of nutrient-rich water that generate plankton blooms. The blooms, in turn, feed baitfish and squid, which then feed a host of marine predators.
The canyons off the New Jersey coast come alive in late spring as gamefish move into the area, where they stay through the fall. Two of the top species targeted by anglers are tuna and white marlin, which is the light-tackle favorite. There is also a surprisingly robust showing of blue marlin off the coast, including some really big fish. Last year, during the MidAtlantic Billfish Tournament out of Cape May, New Jersey, Capt. Jon Duffie boated an 1,135-pound brute aboard his boat Billfisher, taking home a cool $1,204,449 in prize money. A few years earlier, during the same tournament, Duffie and crew caught and released 57 white marlin in a single day in the Wilmington Canyon. That’s why tournament teams come from far and wide to fish these waters during the summer months. And the reliability of the fishery is underscored by the longevity of competitive events. The MidAtlantic Billfish tournament has been held for nearly 50 years, and it continues to be one of the highest-stakes marlin tournaments in the world. Last year’s total payout was just shy of $6 million.
New Jersey’s offshore waters are among the few places where an angler can catch the big four species of tuna: yellowfin, bigeye, longfin and bluefin. In addition, there are mahi mahi and the occasional wahoo. The region is also frequented by thousands of pilot whales, and the shelf has hosted the second-largest animal on the planet—the mighty finback whale. Inshore anglers frequently see humpback whales feeding, breeching and putting on a show, often within sight of the beach.
Trophy-Sized Striped Bass
On the inshore grounds, migratory patterns also play a significant role in New Jersey’s fabulous fishing. A variety of gamefish migrate into and out of the waters, but none are more popular or abundant than the Atlantic striped bass. The northern area of the state is home to the second-largest spawning population of this beautiful silver gamefish. In addition, the North Jersey coast is in the middle of the migratory path of striped bass coming from the country’s largest spawning area—the Chesapeake Bay complex.
Striper fishing starts early in the season, with places like Sandy Hook and Raritan Bay hosting millions of stripers.Some live there; others migrate from the open ocean and travel through these waters before going up into the Hudson River, where they spawn in late May and early June. As those bass leave the river to return to the ocean, they pass by New Jersey again and run headlong into stripers from the Chesapeake that are on their way north to their summer hunting grounds off New England. Thus, the striper fishing in northern Jersey in May and June is explosive. The action can be nonstop, with lots of 30- to 50-pound bass on the line. The frenzy happens again in the fall as bass pour back into the area on their southward migration.
If striped bass alone don’t get your attention, there are also large bluefin tuna. The northern coastal area near the terminus of the shipping channels for New York Harbor hosts incredible fishing for this species. For the past two summers the tuna action was hot well into the fall as bluefins feeding on the seemingly endless schools of baitfish were accessible to anglers in boats of all sizes. Many of them were considerably longer than the maximum allowable retention size of 73 inches.
WHERE TO GO
Most people don’t realize just how good the fishing can be out of Cape May. Professional captains agree, including Ryan Higgins, who has run tournament boats for Viking Yachts of New Gretna, New Jersey, for over 20 years. “I’ve run boats in Venezuela, which supposedly has the best white marlin fishery in the world. On my best day there, we released 22 white marlin, but I’ve beaten those numbers on numerous occasions fishing out of Cape May, sometimes by a significant margin.” On his best trip, an overnighter, the crew released 53 whites—30 the first day and 23 the next morning. “Marlin fishing just doesn’t get any better than it does in Cape May,” says Higgins.
You can’t ask for a more fishing-friendly place, thanks to facilities like The Canyon Club Resort Marina and South Jersey Marina. The two locations have a total of 325 slips and can handle boats up to 140 feet. Transient slips are available but booking in advance is recommended, especially around tournaments.
Cape May’s location at the southern tip of the state makes for shorter runs to the canyons—some just a day trip there and back. And when the crew isn’t fishing, Historic Cape May has much to offer visitors, including beautiful beaches, historic bed and breakfasts and five-star restaurants. The Canyon Club provides free shuttle service from the marina to downtown. Bait and fishing tackle shops are situated close by for the crew’s convenience.
If you like fishing destinations that couple offshore action with exciting nightlife then tie up at the East Coast’s oldest resort town, Atlantic City. It offers an easy run to all the major canyons and the phenomenal bluewater fishing they provide. The fishing is so good that the Jimmy Johnson Quest for the Ring tournament series from Florida held a major offshore event there last year. It was a huge success.
Tournament Director Bric Peoples says there were a few reasons why the group chose Atlantic City for its first tournament outside Florida. “To put on a Quest event, we need access to awesome fishing and a host destination with great facilities and nightlife. Atlantic City fit the bill in every way,” says Peoples. “The marlin and tuna fishing is spectacular. The Hard Rock Resort, which sponsors our Florida events, encouraged us to bring a major tournament here and jumped onboard as our presenting sponsor. And the marina facilities at the Golden Nugget are world class.”
What makes Atlantic City a great event host also makes it a great destination for traveling fishermen and their families, whether they participate in tournaments or not.
The Frank S. Farley State Marina at the Golden Nugget has 640 slips on floating docks with up to 240 transient slips available for boats up to 200 feet. It has 24-hour fuel access and every service imaginable, including a restaurant with outside dining and the Golden Nugget Casino and Hotel right across the street. There are more great restaurants in Atlantic City than you can imagine and three additional casino properties within walking distance of the marina that offer a variety of entertainment.
Tucked behind the famous battlements of Sandy Hook’s Gateway National Recreational Area is a jewel of a marina in the sleepy town of Atlantic Highlands. You might not realize it, but the hills rising above the town are the highest point overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern seaboard south of Maine, with the Mount Mitchell Scenic Overlook providing incredible vistas of the Sandy Hook/Raritan Bay complex, the entrance to New York Harbor under the Verrazano Bridge and New York City.
Striped bass pro angler Chuck “Tyman” Many, who has probably caught and released more bass over 50 pounds than anyone alive, keeps his boat in Sandy Hook Bay most of the year. “While I still take my boat south for big stripers in the winter,” says Many, “I spend the rest of the year fishing from a slip in this area of New Jersey because there’s just no reason to go anywhere else. The striper fishing is just that good in the spring, summer and fall.”
I keep my boat on the same dock as Many’s. I’ve been fishing for stripers for 40 years, and it just doesn’t get any better than the bay and nearby ocean waters. But the topping on the cake for anglers who come here during the second half of the summer and into the early fall is the arrival of hordes of very large bluefin tuna that can be taken on a variety of tackle, lures and baits.
Atlantic Highlands Municipal Marina covers 7.2 acres of calm water that’s protected by a massive rock breakwater. It has 425 slips, 171 moorings and a launch ramp that can accommodate four boats at once. Transient slips are available for boats up to 120 feet, and reservations well in advance are recommended.
Just across from the marina is Sandy Hook with beautiful beaches plus military historical sites to explore. They include cannon test areas that predate 1900, and the remnants of one of the most active Nike missile bases. The famous Twin Lights lighthouse offers a look back at the country’s earliest navigational history. Plus, excellent restaurants can be found within walking distance of the marina. There’s also high-speed ferry service from the marina to downtown Manhattan if you’re in the mood to leave the boat and dock for a few hours to experience a night in the big city.
These are just a few of the finest fishing destinations in New Jersey. Over time, they’ve proven that the Garden State has a lot to offer avid anglers and their families who travel by boat.
This article was originally published in the June 2022 issue.