New Jersey Redfish - The Fisherman

New Jersey Redfish

The redfish (aka red drum or channel bass) caught and released by Matthew Tomshaw at the Jersey Shore featured on this week’s digital weekly edition may be rare, but some have been expecting these encounters to happen with more frequency due to warming waters.

“Just a few years ago, NOAA Fisheries sent out a press release urging recreational fishermen in the Mid-Atlantic to learn how to catch red drum as they’d be moving north as a result of climate change,” noted Capt. Al Ristori in an August, 2018 article in The Fisherman (Redfish: Are “Reds” in Our Future?).

“I remembered reading as a youngster about channel bass (as they were then known in the north) being caught in New Jersey, but after becoming saltwater editor of The Star-Ledger in Newark, there were hardly any reports of red drum except for a regular late summer appearance of a few at the southern end of the state,” Ristori noted in his article, while referencing further research around the time of the 100th anniversary of the Ocean City Fishing Club, which dug up records of the club’s old big fish contests boasting of channel bass entries.

“That was further confirmation of what I had read in Campen Heilner’s Salt Water Fishing of surf fishing along the Central Jersey Shore over a century ago when anglers from around the country flocked to the Barnegat area in order to catch trophy channel bass from late summer into the fall,” Ristori added, noting how the very first two world records for the species came from Barnegat Inlet and “New” Inlet.

According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) the historic distribution of red drum on the Atlantic coast is from Massachusetts through Florida. Juveniles are most abundant in estuarine waters and inlets, while fish older than age four inhabit deeper waters. The adult fish migrate seasonally, moving offshore or south in the winter and inshore or north in the spring. Spawning occurs at night in the nearshore waters during the summer and fall. Prolific spawners, large females may produce up to two million eggs in a season.

ASMFC describes red drum as “one of the most recreationally sought-after fish throughout the South Atlantic, with the majority of Southern states reserving red drum harvest strictly for recreational anglers.”  The fishery is divided into two management areas or stocks along the Atlantic coast, a northern stock (from New Jersey to North Carolina) and a southern stock (from South Carolina to Florida). “The stock units are based on differences in life history traits between the two stocks (such as growth rates and maximum observed ages) and information from genetic and tagging studies indicating red drum rarely move between the two regions,” ASMFC noted.

Similar to striped bass, redfish are also managed recreationally along the coast via a slot regulation; anglers who catch a red drum at the Jersey Shore may keep one fish in the 18- to less than 27-inch slot range but all those reds under or over the size limit must be released.  That should make Dan Yaniro’s 1985 state record red drum of 55 pounds caught prior to the slot in Great Bay (see photo) stand up for quite a few years to come!