Nestled at the southern end of Ocean City, Corson’s Inlet is definitely not the Garden State’s most impressive breachway. The inlet itself is narrow and has such rapidly shifting sandbars that at times it is it unnavigable. There isn’t enough water moving to create the impressive rips found at Great Egg Inlet to the north and Townsends Inlet to the south. These facts don’t seem to deter the fish, however, and Corson’s Inlet, regardless of how it looks “on paper,” offers outstanding odds at hooking into a Jersey Slam.
The notion of fishing “grand slams” was most likely the brainchild of a business-minded guide or charter captain who saw the potential financial gain in giving a title to the landing of multiple desirable species in a single outing. Florida – my best guess as to the where grand slams were born – seems to have numerous different versions of a slam. There’s the flats slam, the backwater slam, the inshore slam, the offshore slam, and I’m pretty sure I’ve even heard talk of a garbage slam. In any event, the popularity of the notion spread up the coast, reaching as far as Martha’s Vineyard, where a grand slam consisting of a false albacore, Atlantic bonito, striped bass and bluefish is a coveted achievement during the famous Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. New Jersey was not spared from the spread of the slam, and now claims its own grand slam, named in honor of the state. The Jersey Slam consists of a legal specimen from each of the following four species – striped bass, bluefish, weakfish and summer flounder. Although successfully fooling all of these fish won’t win you any pins or prizes, trying to catch a Jersey slam is a fun and fulfilling way to challenge yourself on the water.
Most of my Jersey Slams have come from Corson’s Inlet. What the geography of Corson’s Inlet lacks in size and water movement, it makes up for in diversity, which is a key ingredient when seeking multiple species. At the mouth, the inlet has sandy beaches that the currents have carved into prime soft structure. No more than a half-mile from the mouth, anglers can find mud bottoms, sandy flats, shell beds, and two bridges that attract swarms of baitfish after dark with their lights.
Corson’s Inlet has good fishing from March through December, but May will offer your best shot at a slam. In May, bluefish and weakfish have arrived on the scene, giving the bass, which have been feeding in Jersey’s backwaters for over a month by now, enough competition for food that the stripers start to push out of the bays to feed in the surf. Fluke also move into inlets and back bays in May to take advantage of the warmer water and abundant baitfish.
Knowing all the species are in place, you now you need a game plan for how to catch each one. Time and tide will be the two crucial factors in achieving the slam. Although each species can be found in Corson’s Inlet at any time during this month, your odds of success increase after the sun goes down. Regardless of where I’ve fished in the Garden State, I’ve found that all of these species increase their activity after nightfall. The next consideration is tide. Fishing Corson’s Inlet can be productive on both the incoming and outgoing tides, depending on where you’re wetting a line. In general, bass and bluefish seem to feed more heavily on the incoming tide at here while weakfish and flounder locations produce better on the drop. Therefore you’ll want to fish a couple hours on either side of the tide change, and because Corson’s is a relatively shallow inlet, fishing around high tide will allow more fish to venture into productive locations.
After studying the tide chart and deciding when to fish, the next step is prioritizing your target species. Some fishermen prefer to target the more difficult-to-catch species first, which is this case would be the weakfish and flounder. I, however, find the opposite approach to be more effective. I’ve had too many nights where after landing a bass, weakfish and fluke, I was left unable to find the bluefish that I chose to save for last because they were “easy.” Most of the time, catching bluefish in Corson’s Inlet is like shooting fish in a barrel, but I like to cross them off the list first.
Bluefish can pop up just about anywhere inside Corson’s Inlet. I’ve found them pounding spearing at the mouth of the inlet, pinning mullet to sodbanks along the causeway, and I’ve even seen them sipping grass shrimp under the Rush Chatin Bridge. At night, the most reliable way to find the blues is to check the lights of either bridge connecting the islands. Most nights, as long as the tide is moving, you can watch bluefish and hickory shad attacking small baitfish in the lights. Shore-bound anglers have two options when bluefish are actively feeding under the bridges. The first is to stand on the shore on the upcurrent side of the bridge, and cast the lure to the far shadow line, working it until the current has swept it under the bridge. The other option is to fish from the bridge itself. While fishing on the toll bridge is prohibited, fishermen are encouraged to try their luck from the Rush Chatin Bridge. It features a protected walkway for fishermen and several outcroppings to give bridge anglers a better vantage point. The challenge of fishing from atop the bridge is pulling a thrashing fish 40 feet from the water’s surface to the walkway, but because the bluefish feeding in Corson’s Inlet are generally between 1-5 pounds, bringing them up is simply a matter of tightening the drag and reeling.
As anyone who has fished for bluefish knows, when they’re feeding there is very little that they won’t attack. Having that said, I think a soft-plastic bait on a jighead is the best way to target these fish. Unfortunately, the toothy blue devils have quite a knack for slicing a Fin-S Fish just behind the hook, and they may chew through a good number soft plastics before you can cross them off your Jersey Slam to-catch list. Small Spro bucktails work almost as well as the plastics, and will last longer in a bluefish feeding frenzy and increase your hook-up odds. If you’re casting from the shoreline beside, small-bodied swimming plugs that give off a lot of flash, like the Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow, can be a very effective option. Metal lures, such as Hopkins Shortys and Deadly Dicks, work fine during the day, but after dark, their productivity seems to plummet.
Hopefully, it won’t take you too long to pull a thrashing bluefish from the inlet, and you’ll be able to turn your attention to the second easiest fish of the slam while the incoming tide is still running strong.
Corson’s Inlet is a haven for stripers year-round. The abundant baitfish and variety of structure draws large numbers of stripers into this south Jersey Breachway on a regular basis. I’ve spent February nights catching herring with a Sabiki rig from the Rush Chatin, only to have 30- to 40-inch bass attempt to pluck struggling herring from my line. Stripers remain in the inlet throughout the hot summer as well, although it becomes less likely to encounter a big fish as the water temperature rises.
Bass found in Corson’s usually range from schoolies to fish in the 20-pound range, but the majority will be between 24 and 30 inches. Corson’s is not a spot where you’re likely to catch a trophy, but for consistent linesiders action, it’s tough to find a more productive Jersey location. On the dropping tide, the sandbars at the mouth of the inlet offer your best shot of hooking a bass larger than 30 inches. Chunked bunker and fresh surf clams will be your best option for taking a larger fish at the inlet.
When trying to check a striper off your slam list, you shouldn’t have to stray far from where you bagged your bluefish. Bridges are loaded with bass this time of year. After sunset, you can often find them sitting just inside the shadow line, waiting to pick off unsuspecting baitfish. On calm nights, you can even watch the black forms of striped bass slide effortlessly through the current. When you spot stripers on top, drifting a 5-inch Fin-S Fish or Bass Assassin on a ¼- to ½-ounce jighead is a surefire way to hook up. I find that a dead drift (imparting no additional action to the lure) draws the most strikes from these surface-cruising stripers.
If you don’t see any stripers around the bridges, try working a lure lower in the water column. Soft-plastic baits are still your best shot for stripers around Corson’s Inlet Bridge. On most nights, a ½-ounce jighead gives you more than enough weight to reach the bottom whether fishing from the Rush Chatin Bridge or alongside the toll bridge to Strathmere.
Stripers will also spread out in the area between the bridges in May. By walking along the sodbanks, anglers can find success with small plugs. Small Bombers, the MirrOLure 52M, Re Fins and the small Danny-style plugs available from Gibbs or Tattoo all catch bass in these areas. MirrOLures are especially popular in Corson’s Inlet, and anglers fish them in a variety of ways. My fishing buddy Steve Parasmo likes to fish MirrOLures on almost a dead drift, reeling only fast enough to keep the line tight. Some anglers like to twitch the baits on the retrieve, and others prefer to reel them in straight. Each retrieval method can be equally effective, so if one’s not working for you, change it up until you start hitting fish.
Once you get your bass on the incoming tide, you’ll have a chance to catch your breath until the water gets moving again. You’re halfway through the slam it’s time to look for the most popular fish in Corson’s Inlet.
It’s not uncommon to see anglers standing shoulder to shoulder in Corson’s Inlet on an outgoing tide at dusk during the spring. The crowd often includes fly-casters, bait-dunkers, pluggers and jiggers. It’s not the bluefish, or even the stripers, that draw these fishermen here. For years, Corson’s Inlet was one of the most reliable locations to dupe big spring tiderunners, and even though weakfish numbers seem to have dwindled in recent years, this South Jersey inlet still gives up a few 10- to 15-pounders each year.
On your Jersey Slam quest, you’ll want an outgoing tide in the darkness for your best shot at a weakfish. For one, the crowds will thin out with the falling darkness but, more importantly, weakfish are far more aggressive at night. Although I’ve caught weakfish around both of the Corson’s bridges, the sandy stretch on the way to the point and sodbanks lining the bay side of the inlet are much more reliable. While floating bloodworms is a definite way to score big weakfish in these locations, large numbers of small stripers and bluefish are likely to exhaust your bait supply before you ever get a bloodworm in front of a weakfish. Keeping this in mind, I usually target weakfish with plugs and jigs.
Ask any South Jersey weakfish fanatic his three favorite lure colors, and without a doubt, you’ll hear: pink, pink and pink. Although I do throw a variety of colors at weakfish, there’s no denying the charming effect of a pink lure on tiderunners. One of the most effective lures for big springtime weakfish is a bubblegum Zoom Super Fluke on a ¼-ounce jighead. Working the jig slowly near the bottom will usually get the most attention.
Occasionally in the spring, a slimy seaweed, locally referred to as “snot grass,” coats the bottom of South Jersey inlets making working jigs nearly impossible. On these nights, swimming plugs become the best option, and once again, MirrOLure 52M twitchbaits are a popular choice among inlet anglers.
The key to checking a weakfish off your list will be persistence. Keep casting, switching lures and experimenting with retrieves and eventually, you’ll get your lure in front of a hungry tiderunner. These fish aren’t nearly as plentiful as the stripers or blues, but on an outgoing tide on a May night, there will be weakfish in Corson’s Inlet – it’s just a matter of getting them to eat.
One trick I’ve found that works wonders on Corson’s Inlet weakfish is fishing a teaser, much like one would for bass. I came upon this technique one spring when I was walking back from working the point for stripers. I came across a school of fish sipping small bait from the surface. At first, I thought they were school-sized stripers, but when they refused every plug in my bag, I began to wonder why small bass would be so finicky. As I scrambled through my bag looking for a new lure to try, I found a small Lefty’s Deceiver fly I’d forgotten about from the previous fall. I quickly tied a dropper-rig, attached the fly ahead of the plug, and hooked up on my first cast. As I pulled the fish onto the sand, I was surprised to find it was weakfish, not the small striper I had expected. Over the next half-hour, I caught six more good-sized tiderunners until a bluefish bit off my only teaser, forcing me to watch the weakfish continue to feed until the tide slowed. Since then, I make it a habit to fish teasers when targeting weakfish, and on slow nights, it will be the teaser that catches my only weakfish.
When you get your weakfish, you’re ¾ of the way home but that last leg is the most difficult for the shore-bound angler.
Although it may seem contrary to everything you know about fluke fishing, some of my biggest late-spring flatfish have come at night with two feet planted on dry land. My buddy Steve Parasmo has caught two, 10-plus pound flounder while wading Corson’s Inlet long after the sun went down. The more recent of the two was an 11-pound doormat that hit a Purple Demon MirrOLure worked over a shell bed just inside the inlet mouth after midnight in May. Fluke are formidable predators, and like many other back-bay fish-eaters, they feed most aggressively in the dark.
For years, fluke were an incidental catch for me while targeting spring tiderunners with lures. One winter as I reviewed my log for the upcoming spring, I saw that the amount of fluke I caught at night in Corson’s Inlet “by accident” indicated that perhaps there was a viable fishery there. I started throwing a scaled-down version of what has recently become one of the most popular fluke-catchers in New Jersey: A Spro bucktail tipped with a Berkley Gulp soft-plastic bait. I used a ¼-ounce jig, and opted for the Gulp Swimming Mullet to give the presentation more action. On only the second night of the New Jersey Fluke season, I walked back to my truck with two keeper fluke on my stringer, and had released quite a few smaller fish.
Inside inlets, summer flounder seem to concentrate their nighttime feeding efforts over muddy bottoms or shell beds, both of which are in abundance in Corson’s. The fluke set up in these areas on the falling tide feeding on the baitfish flushed over them from the fertile backwaters. Therefore, you won’t have to move far from where you were weakfishing to be in flounder country.
Another one of my favorite spot for fluke in the inlet is beneath the lights of the bridges when bouncing the Gulp-tipped bucktail along the bottom. If snot grass makes jigging difficult then try slim, diving minnow-plugs, like the Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow or MirrOLure, both of which can fool big fluke.
Overall, fluke are likely to be the most challenging species in your slam but they can be caught. Just make sure the season is open before targeting these flatfish to complete your official “Jersey Slam.”
If the sun is coming up and fatigue is taking hold and you still haven’t completed your slam, don’t give up. Working the spit of sand between the boat ramp and the point with poppers and soft-plastics could have you crossing off that last fish. Stripers and bluefish are especially likely to be feeding voraciously at first light in Corson’s Inlet, before retreating to the deep for the rest of the daylight hours.
As soon as fluke season opens, and the weakfish arrive this May, you can bet I’ll be amongst the crowd of wader-clad fishermen hoping to get “slammed” at Corson’s. I hope to see you there.