Local fishermen call the Barnegat Light reef “The Tires.” That’s because bound, and ballasted car and truck tires were first used to create the fish haven in roughly 50 feet of water about 3 miles due east of the landmark lighthouse at Barnegat Light.
The tire units went overboard way back in 1993. Since then, over 155 deployments later, those tires received additional company in the form of concrete reef balls, decommissioned tanks, barges, fishing vessels, and various other fish-holding structures. But everybody still calls this productive artificial reef The Tires.
The latest deployments happened back in May 2021, when donations of granite monuments from two South Jersey private companies added a 5- to 6-foot profile to the Barnegat Light reef, according to Peter Clarke, New Jersey’s Artificial Reef Program Coordinator. Coordinates for those deployments are 39° 45.32 N / 74° 01.60 W.
“That’s almost dead center,” said Clarke, referencing the Tires’ widespread layout. Indeed, the Barnegat Light reef is best known for drift-bottom fishing rather than anchoring upon specific structures. With almost 2 miles of good north-to-south drifting country, and at nearly a mile wide, it’s no wonder the bottom fishing fleet out of Barnegat Light keys in on the Tires.
The Tires are a go-to hotspot when the fluke start their offshore migration in late summer, but keeper sea bass are a worthy and welcome by-catch, with only two allowed in the summer months. October’s more plentiful bag limit of 10 sea bass will have me targeting them at the Tires, with blackfish being the welcome by-catch this time, with a one-per-person bag limit.
Here’s my itinerary: after breaking out of Barnegat Inlet, troll a pair of Clark spoons 3 miles due east to the Tires, watching for any bird activity, with a couple of shotgun spinning outfits at the ready. In the fall, I’ll be trying to intercept Spanish mackerel, bonito, false albies, or other migrating pelagics. Drift the bottom of the Tires for sea bass and the occasional blackfish, then repeat the troll back to Old Barney. Maybe I’ll linger around the inlet to see if any of those pelagics or stripers are also staying around there.
A pair of baitcast/conventional reels rigged with 20-pound test mono or braid and matching 6-1/2- to 7-foot rods will do double duty as lightweight trolling and bottom fishing outfits. When I arrive at the Tires, I switch out my trolling spoons and leader to sea bass rigs. A selection of 2- to 6-ounce bank sinkers are usually enough to keep my baits drifting nicely along the bottom.
New Jersey’s marine biologists got it right when they selected the location for the Barnegat Light reef. At 45 to 60 feet deep, the reef’s bottom is stable enough to keep all of the rubble intact, and periodic deployments keep the reef refreshed with new structure and shelter for fish and other marine life. Yet it’s relatively close to Barnegat Inlet, with all of its tidal and current influences.
Some naysayer fishermen will bellyache that the Tires are overfished due to its close proximity to Barnegat Light and the vast amount of boats drifting it. But it’s a big ocean out there, and with the open bottom layout of the reef, there’s plenty of room for both fish and fishermen. Party and charter boats regularly work the Tires. If it didn’t pay off for them, they wouldn’t be there.
Sometimes the fall season calls for a “mixed bag” kind of trip: a little trolling, a little drifting, and bottom fishing. The all-season Tires make an excellent destination for a fall fishing adventure.