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THE TENNIS COURTS AT SHARK RIVER-BELMAR, NJ

March is a lean month in the salty brine, except for the fat black-backed winter flounder foraging the mud flats.
By Chris Lido
THE TENNIS COURTS AT SHARK RIVER-BELMAR, NJ

Well here we are in March and if you can get past the mud on the tires, rain overhead and chilly temperatures there are some winter flounder to chase. The limit in Jersey is still just two, but that should hopefully change. We are catching more winter flounder now than I can remember - getting them inshore, offshore and all points in between. Regulations have allowed us to keep two fish all season and that is a departure for the seasonal closures we have had in the past. As a result more anglers got to taste just how fine winter flounder tastes basted under the broiler or coated in some meal.

The Tennis Courts in Shark River, MacLearie Park for shore-bound anglers, has long been a perennial hot spot for big black back winter flounder, as has a stop to see Bob at Fisherman’s Den right in the marina there in Belmar. He is one stop shopping for flounder fun. He has baits, rents boats and it is a short paddle- yes, it’s not far to the tennis courts where some light chumming with chum logs, rice and corn brings the flundies onto your rigs.

Just before the boat basin where all the party and charter boats tie up there is a hole where an old channel runs along the shoreline. Two- and 3-foot depths drop into 6, maybe even 8 feet of water at high tide. This is where you want your chum to flow to. Anchor on the upslope and on the flat, which will warm faster as the dinner bell rings down in the depths. Most make the mistake of getting right on top of the hole.

Be sure to grab a few chum logs and double, not single anchor. It’s simple fishing and my father loved to do this. Small sinkers, just enough to hold bottom are rigged on two hook rigs, similar to a snafu for tog and the small long shank Chestertown hooks are baited with blood or sand worms, mussels or clams in small segments.

Any lighter spinning or conventional rod will do, and I remember my father having old stubby boat rods that were no more than winches. If given light enough tackle winter flounder here will give a spirited accounting on 8- to 10-pound test. Other considerations are warm clothes, wind/rainproof outerwear and some hot coffee, chocolate or soup. You won’t have to go far to warm up and stretch the legs either.

Do not go if there has been heavy rain/snow fall within the prior three/four days. Slack water produces best--so try and get a slack tide around midday so the sun has warmed the water a bit. Outgoing is usually better than incoming (because the outgoing is warmer inshore water). Fishing on the heels of a recent warm spell gets the fish out of the mud and they chew hard. Sunny days are best for the same reason.

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