From The Surf: Jetty Fishing Tips
Jetties are striped bass magnets. Not only do they offer a haven for crabs, blackfish and other striper snacks, jetties make roadblocks for migrating baitfish and create current breaks and rip lines where stripers can stage and feed.
Technically, a jetty is rocky structure that extends from the shoreline adjacent to an inlet, river or harbor mouth to prevent the main channel from shifting too far. The rocky structures I’ll be discussing in this column, the ones that extend off of open beaches to stem erosion, are technically called “groins,” but for fishing purposes—and to avoid phrases like “plugging groins” and “groin safety”— we’ll call them jetties.
Beachfront jetties tend to be much shorter than inlet jetties. The current dynamics are also different. While inlet jetties have currents that run parallel to the jetty, beachfront jetties are subjected to currents that move perpendicular to the structure. Beachfront jetties are also subject to more waves and surf than jetties bordering inlets.
New Jersey surfcasters are no strangers to jetties. In Ocean City, where I got my surfcasting start, there is a jetty at the end of every block for the northernmost 2 miles of the island. Believe me when I tell you, I’ve fished them all. Most of the jetties held stripers occasionally, a few of the jetties almost always had a fish or two lurking there, and a couple jetties never gave up a fish.
I studied many of these jetties at low tide during the day, even snorkeling a few to try to determine what made some hotspots and some duds.
At first, I figured, the bigger the jetty, the more structure, the better the fishing. But this wasn’t always the case. One of my favorite jetties was called the “Lump Jetty” because it was little more than a lump of rocks, yet it always seemed to have a fish or two.
Depth seemed to have a definite influence on which jetties produced best. Some jetties had shallow sand flats surrounding them while others had deep, dugout holes right next to the rocks and deeper water all around it.
Most important, however, was current flow around the jetty. Jetties that had stronger currents had deeper water and more fish, while jetties with less current collected sand and had shallow, lifeless water.
Proximity to an inlet will affect the currents around the jetties, as will jetty spacing. Where the jetties were bunched closely together in Ocean City, the jetty on the down-current side often had the current blocked completely. Unsurprisingly, the single best jetty was the one closest to the inlet, which had the strongest current.
Fishing jetties requires slightly different surfcasting equipment than fishing off the beach. For one, you won’t need a 10- or 11-foot surf rod if you’re planning on throwing lures. In most cases the bass will be tight to the rocks or just off the tip, and a long cast won’t be necessary. Plus, when a hooked fish gets close and it’s time to maneuver it into the rocks to land, longer surf rods can be cumbersome. For my jetty fishing, I use 8- and 9-foot rods in various actions depending on what I’m throwing. There are exceptions of course. When trophy stripers are harassing big bunker off the tips of jetties in early summer, you’ll want all the distance you can get. You may also want to carry along a long-handled net or gaff to land fish on jetties with treacherous footing or that are high off the water. A short-handled lip gaff or lip-gripping tool can also be helpful in securing your catch and dragging it onto the rocks.
Most of my jetty outfits are rigged with 30-pound-test braided line. While the jetty itself poses a risk for fraying and cutting line, the waters surrounding jetties are generally obstruction-free. There was one time, however, when I hooked a big striper off the tip of one Ocean City jetty only to have it rip off enough line to cut me off on the rocks of the next jetty down!
I like a longer, 40- to 48-inch leader of 30- to 50-pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon on the jetties. The longer leader allows me to wrap the line around my hand and wrangle the fish to the rocks without having to get too close to the water or cut my hands with the braided line.
My all-time favorite jetty lures are poppers. When there is some surf, jetties are a pretty noisy place, with waves smacking rocks and whitewater and spray flying in every direction, so a cup-faced popper that makes a lot of commotion is sure to get a striper’s attention. Models like the Stillwater Smack-It, Yo-Zuri Mag Popper, Creek Chub Striper Strike and Atom Striper Swiper were my favorites for casting from jetties. Bucktails, swim shads, 5- to 7-inch soft-plastic stickbaits and 4- to 6-inch minnow-style swimming plugs and 1-ounce metal-lip swimmers are other effective daytime lures.
After dark, I’ll up-size my lures. My nighttime jetty lures consist of 7-inch Bombers and Red Fins, 1-ounce Yo-Zuri Mag Darters, 2-ounce metal-lip swimmers and 7- to 9-inch Slug-Gos and Hogys.
When I come up on a jetty I want to fish, I do my best to ignore the urge to go straight to the tip and begin casting. I make my first few casts from the sand at the base of the jetty, casting parallel to the rocks. I’ll fish both sides and make a couple lure changes, starting with a popper and switching to a soft plastic or swimming plug. Ten minutes is all you’ll need to determine whether or not a striper is present. When I fished the jetties with my former boss, Ed Bronstein of Fin-atic’s Marine Supply in Ocean City, we would alternate who got the first cast when we approached a jetty, since that first cast usually resulted in a fish or a hit.
From the base, I work my way out along the rocks, stopping every 10 feet to fan cast. When I make my way out to the tip, I spend a good amount of time there, switching lures and thoroughly working the rip, current breaks and eddies that form there.
Depending on the size and popularity of the jetty, if I see someone else fishing on it, I’ll move on to the next one – not without sneaking in a few casts parallel to the jetty from the sand, though. Most anglers walk right past this productive area to get to the end. On very large or heavily fished jetties, I have no problem joining an angler or group of anglers. If everyone is conscious of where and when the other fishermen are casting, there’s no reason they can’t fish together. Many times, on the walk back, that jetty will be vacant and I’ll be able to fish it then.
Waders are not a necessity when jetty fishing – some would even call them dangerous due to their ability to fill up with water should and angler slip and fall off the rocks. I wear waders when jetty fish- inin the spring and fall, but I’m always sure to have a surf belt tightly cinched around my waist, and often, some kind of rain jacket on. In the summer, a bathing suit is just fine. No matter what I’m wearing, I make sure to have some form of metal studs on my soles for traction. When wearing waders, Korkers boots with studded soles or jetty cleats that can be strapped onto other boots all work well. When fishing in the summer, I wear a hard-soled neoprene bootie with Korkers sandals strapped onto them.