A successful trip “down the shore” starts with a game plan.
I have spent the past 15 years making day trips to the coastal waters of central and southern New Jersey in search of any species that will bite. As your typical working class day-tripper, I am unable to afford a large boat, but I do have a kayak, fishing poles, and a little bit of knowledge that I put to good use to make sure that I get the most out of my days off on the water.
When I make my day trips, the most important planning consideration is what type of fish I plan to target and how. The biggest mistake I see other day-trippers make is to come down without a plan. Relying solely on “secret spots” from the tackle shop while picking up a pint of minnows at 6:15 a.m. on a Saturday morning can sometimes be a shot in the dark; do your research before, even if it’s a new area. If you’re going to ask for help from fellow fisherman, make sure that research (or as much as time permits) is done prior to arriving at your destination.
For ease of understanding, I have broken down my fishing days into three types of trips; fishing from shore, fishing on a party/head boat, and kayak fishing. I often will mix up these days as well, bringing a kayak but beginning my trip by walking some sod banks, or heading out on a morning head boat trip but having my kayak along so I can spend the remaining hours of the day targeting a different location or even a different species all together.
No matter what your plan is, the best way to begin a successful day trip is to make sure that every item you might need is packed, and that a note is left to not forget the food and beverages that are in the refrigerator…saves you the rushed $30 stop at Wawa on your way down to the shore, trust me.
I consider myself a frugal fisherman (check out TheFrugalFisherman.com); the less money I spend on a day trip to go fishing, the more trips I can afford to make throughout the year, assuming I have the time off. Gas will always be expensive, but if the jump from $3 a gallon to $5 a gallon makes your trip not possible, then see if you can cut the cost of the trip somewhere else; the best place to start is by packing your own food. Now, I love nothing more than opening the perfect Italian sandwich at 10 a.m. on a party boat, but if I grab subs for a friend and myself, that’s easily $20 plus chips and whatever else I decide to buy, which usually leaves me with a food bill of around $30-40. That’s too much to spend on food for one day.
If you think your buddies will make fun of you for bringing your own food, think again. On the first outing of the year, I put this theory to the test and instead of buying sandwiches the night before, I spent the week refining the perfect western omelet style wrap and brought two of those for each of us along with the always needed variety pack of Lance Crackers—a party boat staple. If we all agree bananas are bad luck on boats, can we also agree that the right pack of Lance Crackers opened at the right time will almost certainly guarantee you that next 13-1/4-inch sea bass on your next drop? For us on that trip neither the sandwiches nor the crackers helped the tog bite, but we enjoyed a hearty breakfast and delicious lunch for less than $10 total.
Although your food is important, it’s not as important as making sure your gear is ready and packed the night before. I have tried to get up an hour earlier to pack my car, but at 3 a.m. all I want to do is sleep for another hour before I have to leave to make the head boat on time. Packing the night before and packing correctly will make sure that although you have a long drive first thing in the morning, you’ll be ready to fish when you arrive.
I truly love fishing from my kayak, and I always enjoy the friends I meet and the camaraderie I experience on a party boat, but some of my most productive days of fishing have come on days where I was fishing from shore all day long. My advice to any new day tripping angler is to pick any inlet in New Jersey (or any state for that matter) and learn it. Learn what fish are there at what time of the year and where they are located. An aerial view can better assist in determining potential fishing locations prior to you even making the drive down. Using both Google maps and the free Navionics maps, a shore fisherman can locate channels, rocks, jetties, bridges, and other structure that might hold the fish that you are targeting. The benefit of being based out of your car for the day is that you are free to try multiple spots within the area you chose to target.
Keep It Simple
Having a backpack, or an easily carried set-up is crucial when fishing from the shore either in the surf or on a jetty. Once I leave the car, I am prepared to spend hours at a spot if the fishing is productive, but I’m also ready and willing to up and move my set up if nothing is producing bites. Another important piece of gear to have when being based out of your car for the day is a “good” cooler. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and spend $200 on a Yeti just to bring home your two slot fluke; but the importance of having a cooler is to keep the fish fresh that you caught before you have a chance to fillet them.
When you catch a keeper fish either from a jetty or from the surf, I think it’s best to bleed out the fish if possible. For this reason, I suggest bringing a 5-gallon bucket with a long rope attached to it with you when you leave your car. When you finally catch that first fish you want to keep, fill the bucket with water, cut the gills on the fish (having an ikejime kit is best), and allow the fish to bleed out in the bucket of water. This offers a humane death for the fish and allows for the preservation of the meat until it can be cooled and placed in long term storage.
Once you’re ready to go back to the car, you will need a cold place to keep that fish until you can fillet it. If you can purchase a cheap, larger cooler, you can place a block of ice in there that will last all day and then some. It will make it much harder to fill the cooler with drinks, but the goal at this point in the day is to keep your catch fresh until it can be filleted either at a local dock or at home, either way a block of ice will ensure that your catch makes it all the way back home while remaining as fresh as the minute you caught it.
Join The Party People
Honestly, my favorite way to target the species that inhabit the coastal waters of central and southern New Jersey is from the rail on a party boat. Like many other anglers, I grew up taking a couple trips a year on various party boats with my father and grandfather. As I write this I am looking at a photo that hangs on my wall of the last party boat trip that I went on with my grandfather, a founding member of the Lake Ridge Fishing Club, on July 26, 2017. My grandfather passed away last summer, and my relationship with fishing has only gotten stronger since his passing. I feel his presence on every trip I take. I swear when 9 a.m. hits I can hear his Yuengling can crack open, but when I turn to look, I realize that was just his memory making that crisp opening sound in my mind.
Partly allow time for families and friends to connect while actually catching some fish (usually). While there is a cost involved in spending half of the day not having to worry about anything but dropping the right bait, the cost is well worth it for the memories that you make, either by yourself or with those you love.
Preparing for a party boat trip isn’t much different than preparing for a day of shore fishing, but there are a few nuances that can make your trip less stressful and more productive. The first is to never bring more than two rods per person, simply because there isn’t always room to safely store the rod and reel you aren’t using, and space at the rail can be limited when the boat is full. I also recommend bringing a smaller cooler than you might bring when fishing from shore. This is because you will leave the boat with fillets instead of a whole fish, so you don’t need a cooler that can hold a whole fluke or large striper, you only need the room to hold your fillets for the rest of the day.
Consider bringing the least amount of bags/coolers/buckets as possible whether it’s just you or a whole group of friends. When it comes to what to bring on a party boat, less is more, spend time focusing on the fishing.
Bottom line, figure out your budget for taking a day off and taking a friend fishing, and then try to save that amount for a trip every single month; it will change the way you live your life knowing you always have a trip planned only a few weeks away. Older fishermen know this is the key to enjoying fishing, but some of the younger fisherman still operate as if the goal is to catch fish…the goal isn’t to catch fish, the goal is to enjoy the experience, and if you can begin your trip with that simple fact in mind, it will make any day trip that you take much more enjoyable and memorable.
Oh, and don’t forget to tip your mates!