By Paul Bechtel
Fisheries Wildlife Worker
Bureau of Marine Fisheries
October 22, 2020
There are few things that are better in life than the feeling of reeling in what could be a trophy fish. As many saltwater anglers know all too well, there is more to fishing than just simply throwing out a line with a prayer. Whether you are a saltwater angling pro or simply a beginner, everyone can benefit from a few insider tips.
First, let's start with the basics. There are two different kinds of saltwater fishing: fishing from a boat or on the shoreline. The location of your fishing outing not only changes your method of catch, but the variety of species you'll be reeling in as well. The beauty of angling is if you have the water, you'll have fish. While there are many types of fish in the sea, in this article we will be focusing on the best practices for catching the popular target species of red drum (redfish), bluefish, and flounder from the shoreline as well as tautog, black sea bass, and striped bass by boat.
Where to fish
If you are planning on fishing from the shoreline, or surf fishing, here are a few locations where you should start:
- Along long stretches of beach areas
- Walk along the shoreline to find a safe area to cast out without swimmers nearby.
- Off a jetty or pier
- Check your area for local piers that allow fishing or carefully venture out onto a jetty to cast your line.
- Limited areas where the angler can walk
- Most surf fishermen wear waders or wet suits to venture in the water. Getting directly into the water while fishing will provide the angler the most coverage of the fishing area.
If you are heading offshore to try your hand at fishing on a boat, try:
- Taking your boat anywhere where there is enough water to safety operate the boat
- Boaters can use fish finders and structural bottom sonar to provide a more precise idea of what is around.
- Fishing from kayaks where bigger boats can't go
- This provides the opportunity to target more species due to the ability to cast a line farther than a surf fisher can cast.
Best fishing practices
Whether it comes to surf fishing or fishing by boat, it is important to "follow the bait". Larger fish like stripers follow Atlantic menhaden (bunker) and other bait fish up the coast. Bluefish tend to school together creating a "blitz" where there are tons of fish in one area all feeding on one source. If you "follow the bait", or smaller fish, you are sure to find the bigger fish that feed on them.
When it comes time to begin fishing, there are numerous different types of techniques anglers use to optimize the number of fish they catch.
Fishing techniques from the shoreline:
- Use plugs, spoons and other top water lures
- This is one of the most effective ways to catch fish. By using plastic or wooden lures that look like native baitfish, you should use different techniques of casting and retrieving the lure, to appeal to local fish.
Top (yellow): topwater swimmer. Bottom (silver): spoon. Bottom (blue): top water popper.
Click to enlarge
- Fish with divers
- Like plugs, divers get cast and retrieved quite frequently. The difference between this type of fishing is that these lures swim or "dive" deeper in the water column. Different lures will offer fishing at different depths depending on how fast you retrieve your lure.
- Try different bucktails and jigs
- Bucktails and jigs accompanied by a rubber bait like gulp are a very effective way to target bottom fish like summer flounder (fluke).
- Attract fish to the area with live bait, a fish finder, and high-low rigs.
- When fishing with live or frozen bait, the bait itself does most of the work. Using live fish on a hook will cause the bait to flail and become erratic and stressed. Predatory fish will react to this instinctively.
- Fish finders and high-low rigs are both terms of how your line is equipped with various components.
- A fish finder is a slide swivel with a weight attached, sliding on the line before the line meets the leader via a swivel. At the end is your attached bait.
- A high-low rig consists of two fixed points where bait can be attached to a hook, with the lower point weighing more than the top. These rigs can be setup differently with the bait you plan to use. A bucktail fixed with a rubber lure on the bottom combined with bait like a clam or live minnow on the top is a good way to use both artificial and live bait.
This is a fish finder; attached is a lead weight on a sliding swivel with a hook at the end for your desired live bait.
Click to enlarge
This is a high-low rig with a jig attached to the bottom and another hook tied some length above it, allowing for two hooks on one line.
Click to enlarge
Fishing techniques by boat:
- Trolling is a relatively easy concept with the proper equipment. In short, running the boat steady while the lures troll behind the boat to mimic fish swimming in schools.
- Lure casting
- This is just like lure fishing from shore; cast, retrieve, and wait for a hit. You don't have the same amount of room on a boat as on shore so be careful of what's behind and around you when casting.
- Snag and drop
- This is a form of bait fishing with use of live bait. First, you will need to locate schooling fish like Bunker. Cast an empty snag hook and foul hook the bait fish. Place the fish in a live well until you have an enough. Hook the bait fish through the back to keep them alive and return them to the water. They will swim but will appear injured because of the hook. This will attract predatory fish looking for a stray fish out of their school = easy pickings.
Snag schooling bait fish with the treble hook then attach it to a hook through the live baitfish and send it back into the school.
Click to enlarge
- Drifting jigs
- While in a drift (when the boat is under no power), simply dropping jigs to the bottom and bouncing them every few seconds will allow for more coverage. Again, this is used mostly for bottom fishing for species such as summer and winter flounder.
Target species and types of fishing
When fishing, the variety of fish you catch will range based on where you are fishing from. You will find a wider variety of species when fishing by boat, but that does not necessarily make one superior to another. Wherever you are fishing, here are some of the best practices, target species, and techniques to maximize your experience.
Target species from the shoreline and best way to catch them:
- Any fishing practice will do! Bluefish are fierce and will attack anything: live bait, rubbers, lures, or jigs.
- Live bait on fish finders and high-lows
- Throwing lures like spoons
- Winter and summer flounder
- Jigging rubber or live bait
- Using bait runners with a fish finder rig
Target species by boat and the best way to catch them:
- Jigging bucktails with rubber bait
- Bottom fishing with live bait like crabs
- Black sea bass
- Fresh bait like squid and clams from local bait shops
- Jigging bucktails
- Striped bass
- Live bait like bunker or fresh clams
- Throwing plugs and spoons
- Snag and drop bunker
Safe fish handling
As always, it is important to practice safe fish handling techniques while enjoying your day of fishing. A few things to keep in mind:
- Don't keep fish out of water longer than necessary
- When measuring, wet the tape or board to provide a slick surface
- Try using barbless hooks to prevent unnecessary injury to the fish
- The slime on fish is very beneficial because it reduces drag while swimming, protects against fungus and bacteria on the skin, and aids with maintaining respiratory gasses; please don't wipe it away!
- Make sure the fish can swim on its own without aid before release
- Understand that when retrieving a fish from depth, a rapid change in pressure in the water column can cause barotrauma; this is when gasses expand quicker than tissues can diffuse them. Some signs of barotrauma are popped eyes, enlarged air bladder and a protruding stomach. Allow for proper decompression by venting: using a needle to puncture the body cavity to release gasses. A safer way is using a descending device. This could be a weighted hook used to sink the fish to a desired depth or a container that carries the fish back down.
For more information about this topic see this article about barotrauma:
Down We Go - Effective Deep Water Catch and Release (pdf, 435kb)
With that, you should be well on your way to becoming an expert angler. While this article recommended only a few of the vast varieties of fish that New Jersey has to offer, you can apply and adapt what you've learned to have yourself a great day of fishing.
Saltwater Recreational Registry
Marine Fishing E-mail List
Summer Flounder (Fluke) Information
Striped Bass Bonus Program
Artificial Reef Program
Bureau of Marine Fisheries