Known officially as the North Shrewsbury River and, upstream of Red Bank, the Swimming River, the Navesink River runs approximately 8 miles through Monmouth County, New Jersey. It is surrounded by the towns of Middletown, Red Bank, Rumson and Fair Haven, and connects to the Shrewsbury River one mile south of the Highlands Bridge.
This area was originally populated by the Navesink Indians of the Lenni Lenape Tribe. John Hance negotiated the purchase of the area in 1665 in what is known as the Monmouth Patent. After Red Bank was founded in 1736, the river became important for transportation. Side-wheeler steamboats ran from the towns along the river to New York City until the 1930s.
Today, the Navesink River offers just about everything an angler can ask for. Striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, summer flounder and crabs galore inhabit these waters. Fishing the river is different than ocean or bay fishing. Tackle should definitely be lighter in these protected waters, with 12-pound-test or lighter being the norm. Either spinning or baitcasting will work.
The three main forage fish in the Navesink are Atlantic menhaden (bunker), hickory shad and herring. In the spring, the bunker move north into the bays and rivers in mixed-sized schools. The juveniles spend the summer in the Navesink which acts as a nursery. Hickory shad reach adulthood at about two years old and 12 inches long. They spend most of their lives in the ocean. When mature, they return to the coastal rivers in the spring to spawn.
In fall or early winter, the shad return to the ocean. Herring, blueback and alewife, spawn in the coastal rivers in spring.
Big plugs are not needed for fishing in the Navesink River. Smaller minnow-style plugs, such as the Guides Secret Old School Swimmer or Skinny Minny are the key. Smaller soft baits, such as Storm Wildeye or Tsunami Swim Shad will also produce. Most of the stripers you’ll catch in the river are schoolies, but you will tangle with fish into the 20-pound range on occasion, along with the occasional keeper weakfish. Have an assortment of swimmers and poppers on hand and you’ll be in business. Decent-sized bluefish will feed in the river as well.
Bass fishing in the Navesink is a shallow-water pursuit. Mean low water is 2 feet in certain areas of the river. Even at high tide, it’s on the shallow side, so you need approach your fishing locations quietly. Start at the Oceanic Bridge and cast between the stanchions. Work your way back toward Red Bank. Fish the docks, pilings, holes and channel edges, as well as areas where creeks run into the river. McClees Creek is an excellent spot as is the area where the Swimming River joins the Navesink. Find a spot you want to fish. Shut off your engines as you approach, and glide in. Best time to fish are first light and dusk. Time that with the last hour of a tide, the slack and the first hour of the next tide and you couldn’t ask for a better time to fish.
Fluke are also available in the Navesink River. Fluke are predators, and ambush hunters, lying on the bottom until something catches their eye. Baitfish hang around structure, which provides them with food and safety. You need to fish structure for fluke because that’s where their food is.
The same baits that you use for fluke in the bay or ocean will work in the Navesink River as well. If you want a lot of action and fun, try jigs. You don’t need heavy jigs, start out with a ¼-ounce and increase the size if the current or conditions dictate. Bucktails, such as Spros or Jimmy’s Jigs, with a grub or other type of dressing, such as strip of bluefish or bunker, will do the trick. Soft baits suck as Berkley Gulp or Fin-S Fish come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Work the channel edges starting where the Navesink joins the Shrewsbury River at Sea Bright. Also, fish along the stanchions and channel edges near the Oceanic Bridge. Weakies and bluefish will also take those jigs.
Blue crabs are so plentiful in the Navesink River that anglers complain that they can’t catch fluke with bait because the crabs get to it before the fish can. One of the popular spots for crabbing in the river is off of Locust Point, which is on the east side of the Oceanic Bridge. Just about anywhere from the west side of the bridge, all the way back to Red Bank will produce a good catch of crabs. A hand line with a sinker and half of a bunker or a fish head is all you need. Again, be aware of the water depth.
If you don’t have your own boat, rental boats are available on the Navesink River. Oceanic Marina in Rumson, rents rowboats as does Schupps in Highlands. Both can provide bait and information.
The river does get busy on the weekend, so try and get to where you want to fish early. The Navesink offers a relaxing day on the water with some excellent variety from stripers and blues to weakies and fluke and crabs. Bring your light tackle and some handlines, and enjoy a fun summer day on the Navesink River.