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At the risk of being labeled a “spot burner,” I thought it best to cover an entire 18-mile stretch as opposed to any favorite bar, point or jetty. Of course, with the eight-week LBI Surf Fishing Classic slated to kick off in early October, you can expect a bit of interloping to occur regardless of what you may see in print!

By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.

As with any other locale, LBI essentially turns on after Labor Day once the summer crowds have gone; while the blast of good striped bass and bluefish catches typically won’t occur until later in September and into October when finger mullet and peanut bunker are stacked and on the move, you can expect to find action slowly getting underway, especially at the South Jetty at Barnegat Light.

“It’s definitely better in September if you’re looking for a grand slam,” said Greg Cudnik from Fisherman’s Headquarters in Ship Bottom (609-494-5739) of the action around Barnegat Light State Park. “That’s where the bait is, that’s where you have the structure, and the ocean and bay coming together, it’s your best opportunity,” he said of your chance to hit a striper, bluefish, fluke and weakfish in the same shift. It’s also a good month for throwing metals around this area for a shot at false albacore or wayward Spanish mackerel.

Fishing the rocks from the base of the lighthouse out to the end of the handrail and slightly beyond is a fairly civilized affair; however, those opting to toss bucktails, swim shads or live eels from the tip are advised not to do so without cleated footwear and a friendly disposition. The parking lot is locked at night, so park along the street to avoid getting shut in. There is no buggy access in Barnegat Light either, which is appreciated by those who prefer humping it up across the expansive dunes or the long walk to the rocks.

By end of September when the traffic lights are turned off along Long Beach Boulevard, it’s a good time to become reacquainted with local structure. At the north end at Harvey Cedars, beaches are significantly narrower and some of the sloughs much deeper. Replenishment post Sandy has altered the structure along most of LBI’s beaches, and continues to do so in Cedars; some local recon will reveal the ever-changing dynamics. “The street hot spots change often as the holes and sandbars change,” advised John Castrati from Surf City Bait and Tackle (609-494-2333), who explains how new points, pockets and troughs emerge that are well worth a few practice tides.

There’s actually been less replenishment in the middle island region around Ship Bottom where you’ll typically find more gradual shoaling; from Brant Beach south to Beach Haven Park and the Queen City it’s well worth some advance scouting as some of the biggest stripers beached every season are by regulars who find a beach to their liking somewhere along this 18-mile open stretch and work it consistently. Dan Yaniro at Captains Quarters Bait and Tackle (609-494-5140) advised southward scouting every 10 blocks or so starting at 75th Street behind the Post Office.

Each municipality requires a permit for operating a 4-wheel drive vehicle; permits can be purchased at the police station in the specific towns with your driver's license, registration and insurance card. From north to south, you can drive the beaches of Harvey Cedars (609-494-3036) with access at Middlesex, Bergen, and Essex Avenues; Surf City (609-494-1400) with access at North 5th and 18th Streets; Ship Bottom (609-494-1518) with access at 5th, 17th, and 31st Streets; and Beach Haven (609-492-0505) where you can drive on and off at Taylor, Holyoke, and Nelson Avenues and Centre Street.

If you get a pass from Long Beach Township (609-361-1000 ext 203), you’ll be allowed access at Loveladies (just south of Barnegat Light at Coast Avenue), North Beach (between Harvey Cedars and Surf City), the entire length of LBI south of Ship Bottom to Beach Haven, and then again from the southern Beach Haven border through Holgate to the point. The Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge at Holgate is open from mid-September through mid-April at the discretion of the National Wildlife Service and offers front-side beach opportunity all the way to the southernmost tip of LBI, a prime location for hitting stripers as they ambush bait flowing out of Great Bay and Little Egg Harbor.

"The point at Holgate used to be great as there was bait moving in and out,” noted Margaret O'Brien at Jingle's Bait and Tackle (609-492-2795) who said it was slower there in 2015. She advises even longtime Holgate users to remember the basics; “read the beach and watch what is going on such as bait jumping and birds working and you will catch fish.”

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