For anglers that find the long, Jersey winter dragging along, the Toms River offers the first glimmer of hope to the fishing season to come.
Usually in March, when striped bass season reopens in the backwaters March 1, the river is the first bet to hold resident fish. Water is usually in the low 40’s at this time, but slow dragged paddletails and swimming plugs will get whacked by shorty bass with a few even keeper class fish. The area near the mouth of the river that enters into Barnegat Bay is a good bet to fish then.
Anglers will also rig up with hi-lo pill float rigs and bait up with bloodworms or sandworms to cast them out from the riverbanks to score with schoolie stripers. Usually outgoing waters are better during March and April as the waters are allowed to warm up in the back estuary shallows as they spill out. Believe it or not, night time bassing can really be red hot at this time.
Mixed in with bass in April through June there’s always the chance big ol’ bluefish will move into the river system, it just depends year to year if they show up. A few years back, monster gator blues up to 18 pounds ransacked the river and absolutely destroyed plugs, poppers and metals. You can cast from Huddy Park or the Gazebo in Island Heights. If you have access via boat, you can follow the blues as they bounce in and out with the tidal shifts, many times staging at the mouth and running back and forth between the Route 37 Bridge and back.
During the relative “heat” of the day in March, April and May, winter flounder can be on a torrid bite, especially off the docks at the public pier at the Gazebo in Island Heights. Cast out with a two-hook flounder rig, tipped with yellow grubtails and bits of bloodworm, sandworm or clam and drag the rig back slowly to you to try and find where flounder are staging. Or, simply leave the rig out there awaiting a strike. If you have access to a boat during the early season, set up with a legitimate clam slick along the edges inside the river to chum up flounder to a bite. You can fish all the way back to Huddy Park and off Water street to find flatties, though by May they are hanging out more toward the mouth of the river as they filter into Barnegat Bay.
Come summertime, anglers can fish the dark hours for stripers using small paddletails and swimming plugs around the dock lights as well as popping out to the Toms River Route 37 Bridge. Fluke move into the area in June, July and August, though the summer flatfish tend to hang by the mouth more than inside the river itself. Boats can drift out with the tide and once again want to set a lot of drifts by the mouth entrance into Barnegat Bay. The area is also ripe to load up a box of blowfish during warm summer days and its lights out for crabbing along the eastern portions of the river.
The Toms River really warms up during the cold months, allowing anglers with a case of cabin fever to get back in action on white perch in January and February. But soon enough, March madness with striped bass will be underway!