The Navesink River

A mixed bag of species and a relaxing setting make this river the perfect summer destination.

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.

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

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.

Pack an assortment of light jigs, they will fool both bass and fluke in the river.
Pack an assortment of light jigs, they will fool both bass and fluke in the river.

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.

The river is loaded with delicious blue crabs. Several local marinas offer small boat rentals which are suitable for fishing and crabbing.
The river is loaded with delicious blue crabs. Several local marinas offer small boat rentals which are suitable for fishing and crabbing.

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.

12 on “The Navesink River

  1. Marlene Horner

    Is swimming available at this location and is it free? How far is it from the Red Bank, train station. Is it walking distance. What is the address of this swim area in Red Bank?

    1. María Guerrero

      Can we do barbecue in the grill or bring my own grill.

  2. Adolfo Guantanamo

    Blues run with the tide the closer you are to the hook. They can be in all parts of the river late in the season.

    Weakfish are a great treat in. August.

    As far as I know Red Bank has no swimming area. If you have boat, one can swim off the water ski platform w a life jacket.

    Dont forget they rent little wooden rowboats for crabbing and fishing. Under the railroad bridge in Red Bank.

    Dont worry about contamination…… The river people in NJ dine on free crab year after year with little to no side effects. The worst thing I have seen is a little extra hair on ones chest. Not the end of the world.



  3. Capt. Paul Eidman

    As a local guide on the Navesink since the mid 90’s I can attest to the quality of the light tackle fishing and all the river has to offer. Starting in early April, we being targeting bass, blues and weakfish. Third week in May brings the opening of summer flounder season (fluke) and we shift to split trips with bass n blues early then fluke . Reach out to paulyfish at reel therapy fly & light tackle charters

    1. Joanne Scally

      I want to get my grandson a fishing box subscription. What do you recommend for the Navesink River fishing. He is 12. The boxes are for crappie panfish or bass or multi species. Which one is the best for the navesink? Didn’t know you needed different stuff for different fish. Thank you

  4. Scott Rosenblum

    What size and weight for the soft baits would you recommend in the Navesink?

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