For Shore year-rounders, the next several weeks are what we like to call "local summer."
The weather will remain warm, the ocean water will hover at a perfect swimming temperature and the fish will still be biting – but the crowds will have left for not-so-greener pastures inland.
The "local summer" concept isn't your average slam on the "bennies" or "shoebies." It's a (short) breath of fresh, warm air just for locals, who can enjoy their hometowns unscathed for a little while before the cool breezes and gray skies of fall and winter arrive.
This week, my father and I got a rare taste of local summer before Labor Day.
On Wednesday, we fished Barnegat Inlet and the channel nearest the Coast Guard station with a hint of fall in the air and little to no boat traffic to speak of. Even a couple weeks ago, fishing in that channel would have been next-to-impossible, with large boats bearing down on the throttle and throwing wakes at our 19-footer that would have had us dropping our rods, reels and Wawa sandwiches and taking cover.
It was a great preview of what's to come, and an affirmation that collectively, we made it through another summer with plenty of gas left in the tank for more great days on the water.
As for fishing (this is a fishing column, after all), the inlet gave up an interesting variety of species. It's not the usual "grand slam" anglers talk about, but perhaps a back bay grand slam nonetheless. For a few hours' effort, we reeled in: weakfish, blowfish, sea bass and fluke.
The weakie was probably about legal size, but we threw him back anyway. Across the bay estuary, it's been clear that weakfish have made a stunning comeback this year after being largely absent for several seasons. But given, at least what I see, as the unstable nature of the fishery, I personally prefer to keep things on the side of conservation for a little while until we figure these creatures out a little more thoroughly.
Across the region, captains have been almost uniformly reporting good fluking in the ocean. In the back bays and rivers, small fluke are still being hooked, but it'll take a while to find a keeper.
A slew of great catches were nabbed on the Jamaica II party boat out of Brielle this week.
"After a couple of sluggish days of fishing due to the residue of the weekend easterly winds fishing bounced back yesterday and was very good today," Capt. Joe Bogan wrote Thursday on the boat's website.
Flounder up to 7-pounds came over the rail while fishing inshore.
Most flounder pounders on the Manasquan River reported a keeper-to-throwback ratio better than on Barnegat Bay, but it was still a slow pick. The folks at Murphy's Hook House in Toms River reported small fluke, along with a plethora of other fish species being hooked at the BI and BB buoys in the bay.
Anglers have found everything from blowfish and weakies to drum and spots out there.
Weakfish continue to be hooked near the Route 37 bridge, "sources" have told me. The key is using street lights and sight lines to your advantage at night, and casting dark-colored soft plastic lures into the lit areas. Alternatively, pink Fin-S fish at sunset have been working as well. I have not tried the same method at the Route 72 bridge in LBI or the Mantoloking Bridge in Brick, but I'm hoping to try both this week and report back.
The folks at Surf City Bait and Tackle had the good word on southern Ocean County hot spots this week.
According to a report on the shop's website, blowfish were being hooked at the Route 72 bridge, a few keeper fluke were being found in the suds in Surf City and the Middle Grounds in Little Egg Harbor Bay were also productive in the fluke department. "Random bluefish schools" patrolled Double Creek Channel this week, as well.
The only slow fishery: crabbing.
"While crabbing may not be hot, many families are coming home with a nice appitizer to eat before they cook up all the snappers they are catching," the report said, indicating the catching may be slow, but it's not dead by a long shot.
On that note, hope everyone has a wonderful Labor Day weekend, and I'll see you again when "local summer" begins for real.