Enjoy the final days of summer at the beach with this surfcasters guide to September surf action.
Post Labor Day beaches are devoid of the multicolored umbrellas and picnic baskets of the summer months as the mass exodus of sunworshippers are now replaced by beach buggies and fishing rods lining the surf.
September ushers in an interesting transition point for surf anglers. Historically, the month used to mean the start of the fall run of stripers and blues as the mullet began to spill out of the backwaters, but in recent history, warming water temps seem to spark oddities in fishing opportunity throughout the month in addition to the usual suspects.
So what’s on tap?
Though recent Septembers haven’t been like the days of old with thousands of stripers in the suds, the mullet run definitely attracts resident stripers and any possible migrating stripers to feed. If bass are present, they will eagerly hit topwater poppers or Bomber type plugs around the mullet schools. There’s always some pretty rough easterly heavy seas sometime during the month, even a hurricane swell or two which can roil the surfwaters allowing deadstickers to fish with fresh clams to tangle with some pretty quality bass of 10 to 30 pounds. Sandy Hook through Brigantine are the best bets for bass.
Growing up in the 80s September always meant it was time to hit Island Beach for the blues and for the most part that still rings true today. Generally, the summer cocktails of 2 to 3 pounds are outmuscled by larger choppers and gators that can range from 5 to 15 pounds. Blues will also be hound dogging mullet schools as well as peanut bunker as they spill out of the backwaters and into the suds. Fresh mullet sent out on the Styrofoam float mullet rigs actually work very well to hook the choppers, but you can also opt to toss metals such as Ava jigs or Crippled Herrings to hook into some action. Sandy Hook to Cape May, you’ll find the blues.
As of late August, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many croakers around in the surf. Generally known as a southern species and mainly found below Brigantine, the hardheads will trickle up even to Shark River or Sandy Hook on some years and are fun targets in the surf. Rig up with a hi-lo rig and smaller #4 type hooks baited with sand fleas, Fishbites, bits of squid or clam. I find they bite best around full and new moon tides. Beaches from LBI and Brigantine south are hot, but don’t be afraid to check the shore northward of Manasquan Inlet and into Sandy Hook.
All the local pompano I have ever caught have always been in September. While southern shores like Sea Isle City are known for holding pompano, the silver platters also will move up into Island Beach State Park and northern shores during the month. Sand fleas are the prime baits to toss out on a hi-lo Pompano rig equipped with some beads and floats and usually pompano Kahle type hooks. I find the pomps will feed around low tide hours and on the incoming water inside the outer bars as they suck down the sand fleas that get washed over and into the sloughs on the incoming tides. Best bet of course remains South Jersey beaches down into Delaware near Indian River.
Anglers chunking fresh bunker for blues always seem to tangle with a few red drum along the coastline this month. Roving redfish that pushed into the area from the south are attracted to the mullet run just like the rest of the bass and blues are, and thus fresh mullet on mullet rigs are always a good bet. Bunker chunks sent out on fishfinder slide rigs with size 10/0 circle hooks will find purchase into the mouth of the reds. Cape May and Wildwood always seem to hold a few fish as does Island Beach State Park. Last year a few reds were caught in the Normandy Beach area as well.
The blazing speedsters are a real highlight of the month as tunny provide drag-zipping light tackle fun from the sands. Schools will move at a fast clip and you can try to chase them but it’s a better bet to predict their movement and direction then get a couple blocks ahead to intercept them as they pass on by. Terns and laughing gulls will betray their presence as they dip down and pick off the rainbait getting chased up to the surface by the albies. Cast thin profile metals like Deadly Dicks, Williamson Gomoku jigs and Savage Gear glass minnows reeling them back at a torrid pace. Sandy Hook down through Seaside Park and Island Beach State Park is the main stretch of albie highway.
Many areas along the coastline offer up rocky structures which blackfish colonize thick during early fall. Inlet areas are a fine place to start with Shark River, Manasquan, Barnegat and Cape May inlets getting the top honors. Other structures and bulkhead areas are also primo such as the 8th street jetty in Avalon, Longport Pier and the “Jetty Country” rockpiles of Asbury Park, Deal and Elberon. Tog will eagerly pounce upon fiddler crabs, green crabs and Asian crabs lanced on a simple one hook dropper rig with a size #5 Virginia style hook. Fish around the slack tides when blackfish feed with aggression as they can maneuver around and pick off barnacles and crabs without fighting a current.
Another fun September scrapper is the northern kingfish, which can be found with more regularity than the croaker or pompano. Fish the same way for the kings as you would croaker and pompano using Fishbites, bloodworms, bits of squid or clam and sand fleas. Switch up the hi-lo rig a tiny bit with smaller #8 hooks and use the rigs that have tiny pill floats above the hook to attract kings to the offering. Fish the lower tides for kingfish. Super hot spots are usually below Barnegat Inlet along the LBI shores, Brigantine Beach, Ocean City and Sea Isle City beaches. Every now and then a smattering of kings will trickle up north of Barnegat Inlet, but catching them is more sparse than in the south.
Without a doubt, one of the most sought after September surf prizes is the summer flounder. The flatfish are mostly trickled out of the backwaters now and are staging in the deep cuts and sloughs of the surfline. A small half-ounce white bucktail and 3/0 teaser hook above it both tipped with Berkley Gulp! Swimmin Minnows will get almost any fluke in the surf to bite. Some large model fish up to 7 pounds will be hanging in the pockets at this time of year. Walk the beach and make casts until you hook up, then stay there and keep casting as fluke tend to hang in packs.
September’s sweetness is comprised of perfectly matched sunny yet cool and comfortable weather with bluebird skies and an electricity of the fall run in the air. The transition month into genuinely colder weather means both tropical and migratory species will hole up in the Jersey surf. Enjoy the surf fishing opportunity and don’t be afraid to target the more unusual characters taking up residence in the September surf.