Half-Time Report: Logging An Epic Spring Chunk - The Fisherman

Half-Time Report: Logging An Epic Spring Chunk

coban
The smile on Coban Crawford’s face tells the story about the spring run in 2024 long the Central Jersey coast with stripers, blues and a surprise number of black drum.

Central Jersey beaches saw a trifecta of fish this spring that brought many back in time.

While oiling up my rods and changing line from last year’s fall run, I really had no idea how the spring bite was going to be.  As the month of April approached, I was getting a little excited as to what was going to transpire on the sands.

I’ve been a surfcaster since I was in my early teens, and closing in on my 63rd birthday I’d seen the rise and fall in the numbers of fish that show up each season. Once the weather and surf temps began to warm, I first tried to dial in on good fresh baits, which is of utmost importance to most beach bums for optimum success.  So I began to make calls about fresh surf clams, always the first on my list as the striper bite begins along the front beaches.

The problem of course is that during the past several years fresh surf clams in the shell were hit or miss.  In fact, for a year or two were almost non-existent. However, this year was very much different, and just about every shop up and down the coast were in full supply of fresh clams in the shell.

I had heard of a few bass being caught in the back bays, but this is routine for the start of the bite. As April progressed, a few really nice bass were reported, and of course pictures were all we got to see because laws dictate that we have to release the big girls again this season. I had no problem with it as I’m accustomed to letting the bigger ones go. But as we got into the month, more bass were being beached and I started to realize that it could very well be a decent year, I just had no idea what was about to transpire.

AUTHOR-STRIPER
The author with a good striper from the beaches of LBI earlier this season. While bass weren’t so think in recently “traditional” hotspots in New Jersey, the sandy beaches seemed to be the place to be once again.

Beginning Of The Bust

As the month of April went on, more than a few bass were beginning to be reported from Long Beach Island up to Island Beach State Park; and as bunker were not available in huge numbers this spring, just about everyone were “throwing snot” (a term used by those who don’t really care to clam fish I guess). Then reports started coming in about these big black drum that were coming out of Barnegat Bay. I for one have never seen large numbers of big drum in the bay, and Delaware Bay was always the mecca of big drum fishing. This season they just sort of shifted north a bit, with folks scoring drum in the 50- to 60-pound range, 90% of which were coming from the bayside banks of the Seaside area.

Soon after that initial flurry, a surge of black drum began joining the bass bite up on the beaches. It was mayhem as May approached, and I thought, “this is just a thing, and will end soon.”  I had no idea how May was going to end up, but I was about to find out in a big way.

More and more big linesiders were being reported as bunker started to float into the shops finally. I was always a bunker chunker, but guys were still using clams because they were having tremendous success with them, and still readily available in most tackle shops. About a week into May, guys were on the beaches and big drum were just about everywhere in Ocean County. They were in the bay and on the beaches, and anyone who were still fishing clams were catching drum. The bite was nothing short of epic, and I started to realize that this was going to be a real solid year.

And so, I began to toss bunker as I wasn’t really into throwing clams all that much, and never really targeted drum per say. But the beach brigade was doing well on big bass, and a lot of guys just stayed with clam baits as that was where the success was on both big bass and drums. As a few guys transitioned to bunker, a few reports of some solid sized bluefish started coming in.   We haven’t really seen a solid bluefish bite in a number of years, and I was all about it. I caught a few nice bass up in Barnegat Light, and I started to move around a bit, seeing if I could find some nice gators to wrangle myself. What was about to come was one for the books.

And May-Hem Begins

SUMMER TIP
While jumbo stripers and behemoth black drum may have mostly passed for the summer months, surfcasters can load up on tasty panfish like northern kingfish and the occasional pompano during the dog days of summer at the shore.  Try a simple hi-lo rig with small pill floats and size #6 to #8 baitholder hooks baited with bloodworm, quarter-inch Fishbites strips or small bits of clam.  A 2- to 3-ounch bank sinker is all you need to deadstick on a sunny summer day at the Jersey Shore.  Kingfish in particular make great tablefare, and while there’s no size or bag limit in New Jersey the best eating fish (and easiest to clean) are those 8 inches or better.  Terrific at a fish fry!

kingfish

Around the middle of May, anybody who was a dedicated surfster was up on the beaches from Atlantic City up to Island Beach and the bite was fast and furious. I was now finding some really nice blues, and when they came up the beach, it was no rest. The only thing that didn’t see action on the beach was my chair. The bite was incredible, and blues from 9 to 12 pounds were whacking bunker on the regular. There were super nice bass being caught and released, in addition to a few folks here and there finding a 28- to 30-incher for dinner, but most bass were overs. It was complete insanity, and social media was completely flooded with pictures of guys and gals with boomer drum, big bass and large and in-charge bluefish. As an aging surfcaster, I couldn’t believe it. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that kind of fishing would ever happen again.

Considering that the past few years were hit or miss for all of us. I used every little bit of extra time I had to get up there and whack some blues and bass. Folks were still clam fishing towards the end of May, as those drums just kept coming and coming. Reports of drums all the up to Point Pleasant were rolling in, and The Fisherman Field editor and my good friend Nick Honachefsky had an incredible 10-drum day! It was just awesome, and I was still chunking into June, as my biggest bass were always caught in the first week.

Also, it was really cool to see guys releasing most of these fish, the bass, the blues and the drums. It was a spring like I hadn’t ever seen, and the drum bite was not only surprising to most, but completely epic.

The first week of June was nothing short of historic; guys were on the bass, and I found a near 40-pound fish myself as the action never slowed. Every time my wife and I went up, there were bluefish after bluefish, and on some days, we were just fighting blues in the 10-pound range for hours, never catching time for a rest. We even cut back on the rods, sometimes just fishing one rod so I could actually get a sip off my coffee.  Pic after pic of big fish flooded the internet, and then some smaller blues began to show, in addition to a few smaller bass, but the drum bite was still there.

Fluke season was in full swing at this point, and a few guys abandoned the epic bite to try and put a flatty or two on the table. I started to see some decent fluke come in, and I went and caught a few myself to fry up. I began to see things slow just a bit, but there were still plenty of good fish being caught. As June progressed, more and more guys started to get boats in and look for fluke. This probably explained the slowing of the beach bite, and I imagine some of those guys were completely satisfied with the spring bite they had encountered.

sue
The author’s wife Sue Misak with a late spring bluefish. Even as the calendar turns to July, optimism at the Jersey Shore is running high that the choppers will stick around.

Thanks For The Memories

One for the books?  Yes, perhaps it was.  Seeing all those youngsters on social media with their big fish warmed my heart; it was actually a year when catching big fish came easy, and I’m positive that a lot of young kids found their addiction on the sands.

I can only hope that this is a great sign for the future of fishery. Seeing folks release all those fish and not minding doing so, was completely satisfying to me as a lifetime surfster.

I can tell you this; there will be many a fisherman and woman up there on the beaches come April 2025, hoping that this epic bite repeats itself once again. Many, many thanks to all the bait shops – Murphy’s Hook House, Betty and Nick’s, Grumpys, Surf City B&T, Jingles, Fisherman’s Headquarters, to name just a few – for keeping us in good, fresh bait so we could all enjoy this completely epic year on the sands.

While some anglers in other areas of the Garden State might not have seen the same epic conditions, I’m sure we’re all going to talk about the spring of 2024 out front in Central and South Jersey for a long, long time.  At least, perhaps, until those jumbo stripers return again in October, and we start the madness all over again.

Good luck and great fishing!

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