Fishing for springtime striped bass in Raritan Bay will present several different options for the boater. One can traditionally anchor up in the bay and chunk with clams, troll with spoons, mojos, or deep diving plugs, live line bunker, or jig big bass on light tackle. Jigging has gained greatly in popularity the last several seasons because boaters can catch big bass without putting in a lot of effort. The two methods that work best are jigging Ben Parker Magnum Spoons and heavy weighted shads.
It seems that the big bass season in Raritan Bay has been starting up earlier and earlier each year. Maybe it’s due to the relatively mild winters of late with no ice on the bay but the last two weeks in March has now become prime time. At this time the bay is uncrowded as most boaters aren’t even in the water yet so one can fish virtually without any boat traffic. By mid-April however such will not be the case.
The areas that heat up first in the bay are in the back by the Triangle which is located between South Amboy and Staten Island next to the Great Beds lighthouse. From here the bass will move into the western end of the Reach Channel in Princess Bay, onto Round Shoal, then up to Old Orchard Shoal and over on to the Keyport Flats.
Jigging Ben Parker Magnum Spoons handcrafted by Nichols Lures has taken center attention in the last several seasons as these magnum spoons have been accounting for some really big bass. Using them was unheard of several years ago until introduced by Mike Gleason of TAK Waterman in Long Branch. Mike said “I came across the Ben Parker spoons because of largemouth bass fishing. I really liked the profile and thought it was a perfect match to an adult bunker.”
Gleason said he began fishing this bait in the fall of 2015 while fishing with Rob Radlof. “We were on a bite with suspended fish and we were having trouble getting them to eat a shad,” Mike said of his first time testing the lure. “The first fish I caught was 28 pounds and we were psyched. We proceeded to beat on them for the next week.” Gleason said he and Rob kept it quiet between friends for a couple years until opening TAK in Long Branch. “It has now become a go to lure because of how often and aggressively it gets bit,” he said.
The two sizes I like to use are the Saltwater Heavy Duty Magnum 8-inch weighing 3.5 ounces and the Super Magnum 9-inch weighing 4.5 ounces. The saltwater option upgrades the hook to a 5/0 VMC and the split rings to size 8 Owner Hyper Wires, and the swivel to a size 1 Owner. A few of my favorite colors to use are the silver chrome, Super Shad, and Blueback HD. Since these are flutter spoons their action will be imparted on the drop as the flutter down swaying side to side looking like an injured bunker or herring.
To work the spoon drop it to the bottom and then snap it up by lifting the rod and then lowering it following the line down until it comes tight and then repeat. Both long and short strokes, or tapping on the bottom will work. You can also vary the speed of the snap. Retrieve back to the boat by working the entire water column vertically in the same manner.
Heavy weighted Tsunami, Storm, or Berkley shads are also highly effective and even easier to use than the spoons; you may also want to try the new Tony Maja 3-ounce Casting Mojos as well. Simply cast these out, let them sink to the bottom and retrieve back in a steady or erratic motion. Be sure to retrieve back all the way to the boat as sometimes the bass will follow them up and hit near the surface.
When the wind is up these are my go-to lures as they can be dragged well behind the boat as it drifts away. Just twitch the shad while holding the rod. Since the bay is usually discolored due to spring runoff my go to colors are chartreuse, white, pearl, or bunker.
There are a number of locations to launch your boat along the Raritan, including the Leonardo State Marina (732-291-1333), Carteret Municipal Ramp (732-541-3820 Ext.3102), Wagner’s Marina in Keyport (732-583-6930), Keyport Marine Basin (732-264-9421), and Atlantic Highlands Municipal Marina (732-291-1670). Best to call in advance to inquire of launch fees and availability.