Surf Casting: Jetty Fishing
In my more than twenty years of fishing the New Jersey shore, I've spent more than seventy percent of that time fishing off of jetties.
So what is a jetty? In New Jersey, jetties are manmade structures used to manage beach erosion, serve as breakwaters, and provide stability for inlets. More than anything, for the surf caster, they provide an ideal fishing spot. Jetties can be fished many ways, sometimes you don't even have to be standing on them for your fishing day to be productive.
All kinds of fish hang around jetties. Why? It's a structural ecosystem. The jetty rocks provide structure for smaller baitfish like spearing, baby blackfish, bergalls, porgies, and bunker to escape from predators like fluke, bluefish, weakfish, and striped bass. Structure will always hold fish. They may not always bite, but they are there.
On a side note, while fishing a warm early July day last year, the water near a particular New Jersey jetty was gin clear. I could see straight to the bottom. I watched fluke attack small bait and bluefish cruise around not more than ten feet off the jetty sides. But, what really caught my eye was an enormous striped bass, probably in the forty pound range, slowly, methodically, cruising underneath the jetty rocks at my feet. This fish was enormous as it weaved slowly in and out of the rocks. It was the size of a good size dog. It never ventured more than three feet away from the rocks at any point and cruised all the way to the beach then came back around to the front. You don't need to cast to Portugal to get into big fish, they will be right at your feet when you fish structures like jetties.
Safety is first, second, and third. I cannot emphasize that more. Safety is first! Jetties, especially the ones not often used by fisherman or visitors are slippery, actually they are as slippery, if not more so, than black ice in the winter. Don't be fooled that you're walking on rocks. Once the algae and seaweed on those rocks gets wet, a thin coating of slime, nearly invisible, coats the surface of the rocks. Too often, I've seen new fisherman fall as they rush to the tip of the jetty to cast out into the ocean.
Here are some tips to remember when fishing New Jersey's surf jetties.
- Wear spiked shoes. Korkers makes the most famous brand of spiked shoe attachments for walking on jetties. These will help you navigate and grip onto the slippery rocks. But, be warned. If the jetty rock is extremely worn down and smooth, even these korkers will slip and you have a chance to fall and crack your head open. Take it slow. Don't worry about the blitz of thirty pound bass breaking on the tip of the jetty. Make sure you get there safely. The fish will always come back.
- Night fishing. If you've never fished a jetty, do not decide to fish it at night. Just like any other fishing spot, you have to learn all the elements of a jetty to make it productive. Moving around in a pitch black night, with waves crashing, on a jetty your don't know, is a recipe for disaster. Learn your jetty during the day and especially at low tide when you can see all of the submerged rocks and holes. That kind of research is invaluable and will help you locate fish in the darkest of nights.
- Fish the whole jetty. New surf casters make a habit of often rushing to the front of a jetty to cast their lines. While the top is productive, so is the back where the jetty meets the sand. There is a misconception that deep water equals big fish. While this may be true most of the time, that doesn't mean that deep water is only at the front of the jetty. There are plenty of holes and troughs on the sides and back as well. Again, do your research at low tide and you'll know where the fish will be holding at high tide.
- Fish with a partner. Jetty fishing is dangerous, especially for beginners. As a kid, my dad slipped off a jetty rock and nearly fell into the ocean. It's a good idea, no matter how safe a jetty looks, to fish with someone so that you can look out for each other.
- Don't mug. A mugging in jetty fishing is when a new fisherman comes up from behind another fisherman, already fishing on a jetty, and casts over or too close to his line. Jetties have limited space. As a rule, if someone is fishing a spot I want to fish. I respect them by giving them room to cast and fish. It's only right as they were there fish. Nothing will anger a veteran jetty fisherman more than getting mugged, or crowded on a spot. Always show respect. Many of those veterans will share valuable information if you wait your turn.
Jetty fishing in New Jersey can be extremely fun, yet dangerous. Take caution and be prepared. It's surf fishing after all, and supposed to be fun.
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