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The Del-Jerseyland Reef Site lies 26 miles from Indian River Inlet, 30 miles from Cape May and the same distance from Ocean City, Maryland
By Eric Burnley

Its most famous inhabitant is the USS Radford, but the site also contains the Gregory Poole, a menhaden/minesweeper and the Atlantic Mist, a menhaden boat. In addition there are 288 New York subway cars scattered within the reef site.

All of this fish-attracting structure covers one square nautical mile in depths from 121 to 131 feet. The structure holds an invertebrate colony of northern coral, whip coral and an anemone community. These creatures attract the base of the food chain that leads to healthy populations of black sea bass, red hake, tog, cod and bluefish that we all enjoy catching.

I was fortunate to be aboard the Cape May-Lewes Ferry chartered by the states so that public officials and the media could observe the sinking of the Radford. It did take a while for the boat to start going down, but once it began the ship disappeared in a few minutes. As fate would have it, a hurricane a few months after the sinking broke the Radford apart and scattered the three sections across the bottom.

Some of this structure has been down there since 2009 so the bottom contour may not be as high in one place as in another. This does not seem to bother the fish as they will feed over all types of bottom.

Black sea bass are the primary draw for anglers fishing the Del-Jerseyland Reef. This spring it was the epicenter of this fishery with not only sea bass, but decent numbers of ling and cod. As all sea bass anglers know, the biggest fish are the first to bite so it doesn’t take too many trips to cull out the keepers leaving only those fish measuring below the 12-1/2-inch minimum size. Fortunately, sea bass grow pretty fast and the small males have the ability to change to larger females (sort of like an Olympic decathlete) so within a few weeks a scattering of keepers will be available. The ling will also be around, and while cod are a bit new to the area, perhaps they too will remain available.

As with any deep-water reef it takes at least 6 and as much as 8 ounces to keep the bait in the strike zone. Try to time your trip when the moon is in the neap cycle and the current flow is light, making it easier to hold bottom with a reasonable amount of weight.

Fresh clams or squid make the best baits here unless tog are the target then crab baits come into play. I have found adding a Gulp! clam or crab to the hook draws more hits over a longer period because the fish has more trouble tearing this bait from the hook. The 3- or 4-inch Gulp! swimming mullet is another good addition.

Since the probability of losing a rig in the tangled structure is pretty good I keep mine as simple as possible. Using 50-pound mono line I tie a two-hook bottom rig then add circle hooks to improve my hook up ratio. At the first sign of a bite I let the rod tip drop, wait a few seconds then come tight on my line. In almost every instance I will be fast into at least one and often two fish. The use of braided line with a 50-pound mono shock leader makes deep water fishing more productive.

Monies for deploying the USS Radford came from a variety of sources, including $200,000 from the Navy and a $200,000 donation by the Ann E. Clark Foundation, in addition to funds from the New Jersey Sport Fish Fund and federal Wallop-Breaux Sport Fish Restoration Act (deployed at N38 30.910 / W074 30.597.)

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