With the ’23 summer flounder season coming to a close on September 27, now’s the time to hit the reef sites!
In most of southern New Jersey, the mussel, clam, and coral beds have been destroyed by sand mining and dredging efforts. Because of this, our artificial reefs become paramount in importance in providing much needed habitat for feeding and protecting many fish species.
Largely under the direction of Bill Figley in 1985, 15 artificial reefs were created by the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife (NJDFW) and began to be populated with all types of reef building hard structures. Over time, reef material sinks into the oceanic benthic sand (subsidence), and is corroded away by the marine environment, and thus needs to be replaced on a continual basis.
The work continues today with vessels and other structures albeit at a slower pace than the initial deployments. The State of New Jersey provides no funds for securing or deploying any structure used on our reefs so personal and corporate donations provide the needed funding with charitable donations made through thesportfishingfund.org. The Facebook group, South Jersey Artificial Reef Association, which I created with my friends Anthony Palidora and Philip Welsh, started fundraising a little over a year ago and continues to this day.
Most recently the funds we raised contributed to the NJDFW’s sinking of the 125-foot scallop boat to be named the Harry Colson Memorial Reef in honor of the recently deceased former owner of Breezeelee marina in Cape May.
Many very large fluke have been and continue to be harvested from such structures on our artificial reefs. While much of the reef structures have been worked hard since the season opening, there remains some very large doormats to be harvested. It has been well-documented that sea bass and tog will often return to the same structure year after year after their seasonal migrations occur each year, and I suspect that some fluke exhibit the same behavior and have grown quite large by foraging in some very snaggy structure while evading fishermen for many seasons.
The key to late season flukasaurus hunting is to target those evasive areas. Deep pockets in concrete fields is one place to look; another place can be structure farther offshore where fewer folks venture to fish. A third, and the one I like to fish, is to jig within a few feet of the edges of older deployments. .This structure can be something as large as a 500-foot vessel or as small as a single subway car. Here you have to fish on a windless day, backtroll, or use your trolling motor to spend as much time at the edge of the vessel. The edge literally means the sandy bottom within inches or a few feet of the structure. You can accomplish this by drifting on one side or the other of that piece. You can also drift up to the structure, lift up high enough to avoid snagging on the wreck, then drop right off the edge as the slow drift proceeds.
The key to this technical type of fishing is to learn your electronics well so you can understand what it is you are seeing and how close to the piece you are. Often when alongside a wreck the wreck itself will appear to be lifted off the bottom on many machines. When I do a drift properly, the anglers on side of the boat may be seen bouncing their jigs to avoid the snags and the other side will be hooking up with fish. You don’t want to drift right over the wreck as your crew will lose their rigs and no one will be fishing!
You will find that the fish will lay in pockets on certain portions of the pieces and repeated parallel drifts will be needed to find that sweet spot. Once found, hammer that area hard to win a tournament or just have an outstanding day.
The author runs Vetcraft Sportfishing out of Cape May and says folks interested in fundraising ideas for reef deployments can contact him by visiting his website at vetcraftsportfishing.com or through the Facebook group page called South Jersey Artificial Reef Association.