New Jersey’s back bay striped bass fishery reopens this month. As I understand it, the original reason for the January/February closure is to provide protection for larger stripers that winter over in water bodies like the Great Egg, Mullica and Raritan where fish may be highly susceptible to harvest before the spring spawn.
Ordinarily I’d ask the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and its parental advisors at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for background history, but the current administration isn’t keen on sharing information (see News Briefs for more). In fact some outdoor media folks now refer to the DEP Press Office as the Pull Office since getting fisheries information out of the Murphy administration is like pulling teeth. To those who’ve emailed questions regarding the new circle hook regulations, I apologize; I wasn’t ignoring you, it’s simply that the DEP/DFW is in over their collective heads.
Effective January 1, anglers are required to use non-offset (inline) circle hooks in all waters when fishing for striped bass with natural bait. Nineteen days after the new rule went into effect the DFW website was finally updated with answers to a few questions posed by the striper community. For folks looking to rig up bloodworms along the sedges and river banks starting March 1, you may find this information useful.
First of all, the new circle hook requirement only applies to anglers specifically fishing for striped bass with natural baits. “Natural bait” by the DEP/DFW definition includes “any living or dead organism (including land-based animals) or parts thereof, attached to a hook to be used as bait,” which applies to pork rinds but not to plastics or Gulp! Thus, if you’re attaching any natural bait to the hook of a lure then a non-offset circle hook is required.
Deer hair on a bucktail? According to DEP/DFW, a bucktail with real deer hair is a jig so a circle hook is not required since you are not attaching the deer hair to the hook “as bait.” Of course, if you’re attaching a natural bait to the hook of that bucktail, then you’ll have use a circle hook bucktail jig (believe it or not, they exist!)
Can you still snag bunker for bait? “Yes, you can use another hook type (e.g. treble hook) to snag menhaden,” is the word from DEP/DFW. However, once you’ve snagged a bait, you have to transfer it to a circle hook to target stripers. Since you can only fish live menhaden or chunked bait on a circle hook, “Snag and Drop” fishing for striped bass is now prohibited.
Those old baitholder style j hooks you’ve used for years when fishing bloodworms and clams from shore for spring stripers need to put away. While writing this in early February, I’m still awaiting word from the major hook manufacturers as to the availability of baitholder style circle hooks specifically for rigging soft baits.
For more rigging information, check out my article in the glossy section called Of Circles & Stripers: Tips & Tactics For Hooking Up. You’ll also find more information in News Briefs starting on the next page that focuses on gear and tactics, as well as some follow-up information from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
But for now, I’ll leave with three things to remember when hitting the sedges this month for stripers. One, keep the hook gap (area between hook point and shaft) and the throat (area from gap to hook bend) clear of bait to allow the circle hook to do its thing. Two, don’t set the hook; by design a circle hook should do its thing on its own when a striper makes a run with the bait. And three, don’t bother asking the DEP Pull Office for advice, unless you enjoy getting jerked around in circles.