Axel Carlson Reef - The Fisherman

Axel Carlson Reef

2018 5 Axel Carlsonn Reef
Main image courtesy of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife; chart image showing “general” location of the Shady Reef from Navionics.

Tied with Atlantic City Reef for size at 4 square miles, and one of the two oldest of the artificial bottom layouts, Axel Carlson Reef is second only to the Cape May Reef (4.5 square miles) for size. It is rife with structure, the majority of which is rock, and is a magnet for sea bass, fluke and blackfish.

It’s the sea bass in particular that find the Axel Carlson hospitable, with the resulting box-filling angling opportunities drawing an armada when the seasonal segments are open and the limit is reasonable.

How good is the fishing? “I fish for sea bass there,” emphasized Pete Clark, the ever-busy artificial reef coordinator with the New Jersey Bureau of Marine Fisheries, whose drop ‘n drift time is at an extreme premium. “The size of the Axel Carlson and the amount and composition of the structure make it a prime location for not only sea bass, but tog and big fluke, too,” Clark said, adding “I don’t get to go fishing that often, but when I do and sea bass are the target, the Axel is my first choice.”

A testimonial does not get any better than that!

Located south of the Sandy Hook and Sea Girt reefs and situated 2.1 nautical miles from land, the Axel Carlson Reef sits 4.4 nautical miles from Manasquan Inlet and 6.5 nautical miles from Shark River Inlet, making it an easy run from either vector. Deployments have included tanks, commercial fishing vessels, reef balls, tug boats, tanker barges, concrete rubble, draggers, concrete culvert fixtures, and deck barges. There is even a huge horseshoe crab monument sitting and attracting forage and the following predators. However, it’s the huge drops of concrete that create “rock mountains” and fields of slab structures. It’s suited to both anchoring (The double tactic is preferred when it comes to putting knuckleheads in the box.) and drifting. The depth range is 66 to 80 feet, with a minimal clearance of 40 feet.

The axiom “Clam is the jam,” holds true on Axel Carlson, with fresh the preferred and salted a decent back up. Also putting humpies in the box are squid strips and green crabs. The Fish Bites Clam Chunks, the 3-inch Gulp! single and double tail Swimming Mullet, Ghost and Mantis Shrimp are proven long tail takers. Color? Has never appeared to matter, but bet on the glow, chartreuse and hot pink patterns to garner the most inhalations. New to the gunwale and rail scenes but proven over two years of testing is the Bona Fide Baits Clam Bites and Mussel Bites introduced in March by the Fortescue Bait Company; worth a shot when sea bass officially opens this spring.

Of course, jigging sea bass is a passion for those who eschew bait, natural or otherwise, and Axel Carlson is tailor made for the up-and-down with a naked smooth or hammered AVA 17 or 27. However, the new “slow pitch” tactic that actually swims the jig away from the rod (flashback: Alex Langer’s brief game changing Flying Lure) is sure to wreak havoc on Carlson’s knucklehead population.

”The slow pitch technique, with the lightweight parabolic action of the rods specified to the technique, has the jig going out horizontally as opposed to the standard up-and-down jigging action,” advised Eric “Big Bass” Buntz from the Reel Seat in Brielle, adding “The sea bass can’t stand it, and it (slow pitching) is going to be game changer jigging-wise for sea bass this year.”

Top Axel Carlson Reef sea bass slow pitch producers will be the 60- to 120-gram Savage Gear and Sea Falcon jigs in glow, pink and sand eel.

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