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Beach or Bait?
A Perspective on Surf Fishing and Beach Replenishment
by Capt. Jim Freda

Shore Catch Guide Service

n the past year and half the beaches along the Jersey Shore have seen dynamic changes in their profile. Mother Nature has wreaked her wrath on them delivering nineteen Nor'easter last spring and sparing us so far this past fall and early winter with only some relatively minor havoc. In response to her fury the Army Corp of Engineers undertook a massive replenishment project to protect and preserve our coastline from Mother Nature’s onslaught.

The beaches from Manasquan to Belmar, New Jersey are well known for their jetty construction. With a groin in place about every two hundred yards of her five mile stretch this area has provided surf fishermen with some excellent structure which attracts stripers, blues, and weakfish of truly trophy proportions. But since the replenishment project has been completed fishermen continually ask what affect it has had on the surf fishing. Beach or bait? That is the question. Has the present beach contour become the nemesis or is it the absence of bait along the beach which has affected the fishing in this area? Or are they both related?

Striper fishing in the surf had been virtually none existent in this area in the months of November and December. With the exception of school bass the big cows opted to stay off the beach once again. Even fish in the ten to fifteen pound class, which would be a thirty to thirty four inch fish, were scarce. Many anglers scratched their heads wondering why. Many anglers continued to fish the beach day after day in hopes that this was going to be the day. The day that a trophy bass was going to be landed in the surf. To put things in perspective let’s look back to a year and a half ago when the replenishment project was completed.

The first Fall season following the completion of the project the coast was immediately battered with one Nor'easter after another. By the end of last winter we had totaled nineteen storms in all of varying severity. As a result the beach contour from Belmar to Manasquan, New Jersey, had changed drastically. A giant sandbar was in place just off the beach to the outside of our jetties. This created a good spring fishery with bass having both jetties and sandbars to attract and hold fish and bait. Extensive cuts in these bars provided avenues for both to migrate in and out.

Since that time relatively calm weather and no major Nor'easters at all have changed the beach once again. The bar with its deeper water in front, and rips and cuts, are gone. The predominate wave type which we have seen since the spring has been spilling breakers, those with wave heights of one to three feet, which gently crest and break. This wave type has leveled the bar out and is pushing this sand back towards the beach. This is a very naturally process and we can watch our beaches grow in width over time.

Our deep drop-offs as you enter the water are also gone. In essence our water is very shallow and at a spring low tide which occurs during the new and full moons you can easily walk around the jetty tips in waist deep water. Many anglers believe this shallowness is responsible for the poor fishing that we have seen. I would agree that while it isn’t the most conducive profile to attract fish and bait it isn’t the total answer. If we look to our north or to our south in New Jersey where no replenishment projects were undertaken the fishery wasn’t any better there either. You could not go south towards Island Beach State Park and hook into big stripers along the beach whenever you wanted or for that matter go up towards Sandy Hook and do the same. In fact the Hook was a virtual graveyard for fish for several weeks after Thanksgiving this season.

During the months of October and early November a completely different scenario was set up. The peanut bunker were so thick along the beach you could walk on them. Blues and bass were plentiful with some really large blues up to eighteen pounds and lots of good size bass. The bigger bass in the twenty to thirty pound range weren’t on these fish at that time but I believe this was due to the fact that the main concentration of these fish were well to our north still in our New England waters. This can be attributed to the Fall’s warmer than normal surf temperature which ultimately dictates when the migration exodus will begin.

The big bass finally did arrive in our area approximately two weeks before Christmas. But they remained on the outside off the beach. Large concentrations of bait, sandeels and herring, were present along with them. As a result the bass were content to stay right where they were. They really had no reason to come inside. If we had a good Nor'easter during those several weeks that wind could have pushed everything right to our feet, but that didn’t happen either. The large stripers and enormous schools of sandeels and herring migrated right on by in twenty five to seventy five feet of water. Needless to say, the boat fishing this season was absolutely phenomenal.

So what’s the answer. Beach or bait? Has the beach replenishment project along New Jersey beaches been detrimental to the surf fishery? In this writers mind it’s seems that the answer is no. If the bait is present the fish will be to. But that isn’t any new astounding revelation or insight. Fishermen have known this since fishing began. Now all we need to do is to get a way for the bait to read this article and help us out.  End

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Jim Freda, All Rights Reserved

Articles by Captain Jim Freda

Capt. Jim FREDAEmail Captain Jim Freda

Jim Freda is a highly respected charter captain, author, outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and photographer. His first book Fishing the New Jersey Coast, has been a best seller and received the “New Jersey Center for the Book Award” as one of the most notable NJ books. He co-authored a second book Saltwater Fishing a Tactical Approach, A Guide for Northeast Beach and Boat Fishermen, with his Shore Catch associates Capt Gene Quigley and Shell E. Caris.

Jim has weekly fishing columns that appear in the Bergen Record, NJ's second largest newspaper and the Coast Star and Ocean Star newspapers of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Nationally, Jim is a contributing editor for Fly Fishing in Saltwaters magazine and also writes for Fly Fisherman magazine, Saltwater Sportsman, Eastern Fly Fishing, Big Game Journal, and Regionally he writes for On the Water magazine where he has is own monthly column, The Fisherman magazine and the NJ Federation of Sportsman Clubs newspaper.

As a seminar speaker Jim is featured as one of the celebrities on the Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series, as one of the “Stars of the Show” at the Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, NJ, the Northeast’s largest fly fishing show and is on the National Pro Seminar slate at the Toyota Saltwater Expo also in Somerset. He is also regularly featured each year at many of the local fishing clubs in the surrounding area including the State’s two largest clubs the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association and the Saltwater Anglers of Bergen County. Capt Jim has also been a guest speaker at all the Trout Unlimited Clubs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jim has also been a special guest speaker at the Bloomberg Network in New York City.

He is a member of the National Factory Pro Team for St. Croix Rods and pro staff for Fins Fishing Line, AVET Reels, Spro, Gamakatsu, Hogy, Korkers, Costa Del Mar, Columbia Sportswear and Aquaskinz.

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Books by Jim Freda
Saltwater Fishing A Tactical Approach Fishing the NJ Coast