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When John Christian shattered the New Jersey state freshwater striped bass record in 2002 with a behemoth 51-pound cow, the venue it was dragged from didn’t really take anyone by surprise - at least those familiar with the Great Egg Harbor River in Atlantic County.
By Tom Pagliaroli

For years it was expected that a huge linesider would be extracted from the alewife-rich flow during the mid-March-through-April run. After all, bass to 30 pounds had been recorded, with both word and anecdotal evidence suggesting that much bigger bass followed the herring clear up to the dam at Lake Lenape in Mays Landing. Still, the size of Christian’s prize did raise a few eyebrows, and the following years found the river and its springtime migrants under more intense angling pressure.

The Great Egg Harbor River’s genesis is at the bottom of Great Egg Harbor Bay, where its Tuckahoe and Middle River siblings are also born. Running approximately 11 river miles to the wide open “basin” at Gaskill Park in Mays Landing (with another half-mile to the dam/fish ladder at Lake Lenape), it has a mean depth of 5 feet with holes up to 50 feet deep. Flats abound the entire length, and venturing boaters are advised to pay strict attention to the channel makers. Subsurface snags abound, with the substratum comprised primarily of mud and sand. The pH is slightly acidic at 6.1. It’s at the Gravelly Run section where a freshwater license is required, and it’s also at this locus where bigger, gravid females stage to let the freshwater harden their spawn sacs.

There are three ramps that service the river well; there is a free ramp wedged between Waterfront Marine and the Baja Restaurant just off Bay Avenue in Somers Point. Another in Somers Point is located in Kennedy Park; however, there is a season fee predicated on the size of the craft. Information is available by calling 609-927-4048. Another excellent pay ramp is located 8.8 miles farther up the flow at Shady River Marina (609-625-9428) at 1041 Mays Landing-Somers Point Road (County Route 559).

Casters can soak baits from the 500-plus yard bulkhead at Gaskill Park, the top of which has a parking area to accommodate 20 or so vehicles. This top area is sometimes crowded as it forms a “choke point” in the river where stripers must funnel to continue farther up the river to the dam. Another location to cast is the overpass right on Main Street in Mays Landing. Facing northward, you will be facing the dam. Drop in a kayak, and you can get up close and friendly, but you must stay at least 100 feet from the dam/fish ladder.

Stripers from a foot or two in length residents to some migrating procreators in double digit weights can be found upriver in the spring, although commercial ravaging of the river herring populace has resulted in a severe paucity of this primetime, run-triggering forage. Word from the New Jersey Bureau of Marine Fisheries is that there has been a slight increase in the ascending alewife population, but still a stratosphere away from the fat days and the even fatter linesiders. Nonetheless, stripers in the teens into the low 20-pound range can be expected, and in early stages of the new season these are most certainly welcome.

With the scarcity of herring, anglers have had to devise new ways to trip the trigger of the love first-eat second visitors as well as those of the resident fish. Capt. Dave Showell from Absecon Bay Sportsman Center says that many of his Egg Harbor River customers catch bass on single hook rigs baited with a fresh bunker chunk, while others elicit smashes, thrashes and hits with live eels and also live white perch (Yes, perch are legal to use as bait.). Big golden shiners are also effective offerings.

Plastics mimicking the profile of an alewife such as the 5-inch PowerBait Ripple Shad will be inhaled, as will Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow and Daiwa SP Minnow plugs, especially if given a spritz of Gulp! Herring scent or a swipe of BioEdge Herring wand. Hey, any perceived advantage accepted!.

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