Summer flounder season begins Saturday, and with the first minimum size limit below 18 inches in several years, anglers are gearing up for a lengthy season of fun fishing from Sandy Hook to Cape May.
Fluke season needs no introduction. It's prime-time. It's a relatively easy fishery in which to participate - both bay and ocean anglers have wide access - and there are as many fun ways to catch these tasty flat fish as there are recipes to cook them for dinner.
We'll begin with a rundown of the best spots (north to south) for early-season fluke, and end with a few quick reports:
Manasquan River: There's no secret on this one. The Manasquan is arguably the best early season location statewide to catch keeper fluke on day one. The river provides a perfect mix of tidal action, warm internal water and flushing ocean water to hold ample numbers of keepers and tons of short action all day long. Traditionally, the early season action begins near "Clark's channel," the dug-out channel leading to Clark's Landing Marina in Point Boro. But realistically, the channels beside the Route 35 bridge and even some of the channels in and around the canal entrance are just as productive.
Northern Bay: The area around the Mantoloking Bridge up to the Point Pleasant Canal entrance holds plenty of fluke, though you're likely to catch a few bluefish in the process this time of year. Anecdotal evidence suggests Berkeley Gulp! baits are your best bets.
BI/BB Buoys: The BI and BB buoys which mark the channel to Barnegat Inlet in the central bay are well-known early season fluke haunts. These channels carry fish to the ocean, but are warm enough to keep the keepers biting while the ocean water are too chilly. If the fish aren't biting at the buoys, drop back to Oyster Creek where there is some guaranteed action, albeit within a sea of boats.
Double Creek Channel: I'm not usually a fan of fishing the edges of the Double Creek Channel on a weekend, but since fluke season is starting so early this year, the bay might not be rocking and rolling enough to bother you. Don't drop as far back as the '42' marker, but try the edges of the channel halfway in between the 42 and the "convergence zone" off High Bar Harbor. The warm channel waters usually hold keepers this time of year.
Middle Grounds: Those in the southern bay should try their hand at the so-called "middle grounds" between Beach Haven and the mainland. This area is often productive, and it's worth a try early on. Little Egg Inlet is also a productive fluke hangout, but chilly ocean water might curtail the bite just a bit since it's still early May. If you're in the area of LEI, try the 139 marker, as that's where most fluke anglers hang out this time of year.
I did not go into any ocean spots since most anglers this early in the season will clearly be focused on the bay. But if you'd like to mix up some ocean fishing with a few drifts for fluke, stick to inshore reefs like the Axel Carlson and Barnegat Light reefs. The Barnegat Light reef is especially good, as it's primarily designed for drift fishing.
The Fluke Rundown:
Season: May 5- Sept. 28
Size: 17.5 inches
Bag Limit: 5 fish per angler, per day
As for other species, blues are chomping in the northern bay near the Mantoloking Bridge, and stripers are being caught all over the place in the back, including the Route 37 bridge and in Oyster Creek.
In the southern bay off Beach Haven, there have been ample reports of stripers as well as drum.
Tight lines, and I expect to have an update following opening day once some reports come in, so check back here at Patch and it should be posted sometime Sunday. Good luck!