New Jersey is renowned for its abundant bunker, the annual migration of striped bass, and the thrill of catching massive cows from both the shoreline and boat. While I hold immense admiration for the men and women who brave the Jersey coast’s sandy shores, my own passion lies in navigating the late-fall temperatures and tempestuous Atlantic seas aboard my 23-foot center console in pursuit of Jersey stripers.
It was 5 a.m. on a late-November morning when my best friend and fishing companion, Sean, broke the Manasquan Inlet on an adventure we would soon remember as an extraordinary NJ striper fishing experience. Ignoring the challenging conditions of 3- to 5-foot seas, a 10- to 15-knot northeast wind, and sub-30-degree air temperatures, we eagerly joined the striper tournament sponsored by the esteemed Jersey Coast Shark Anglers (JCSA) fishing club.
Our morning began with a disappointing start, as we ventured north of Manasquan Inlet only to encounter a barren sea—no fish, no bait, but plenty of engaging conversation to pass the time. After wasting precious hours, we made a pivotal decision to head south towards the bountiful Island Beach State Park. Little did we know, this choice would lead us to an unforgettable turn of events.
En route to our new destination, we took the opportunity to drop some striper umbrella rigs and savor the ride. To our delight, within a mere 15 minutes, we felt the exhilarating tug on our lines—a testament to our perseverance. As we reeled in, a magnificent 32-inch striped bass weighing 16 pounds revealed itself, rewarding our determination.
Continuing our journey down the coast, we encountered a lull in activity, save for the excitement of sonar marks indicating promising signs. However, everything changed when we reached the southern beaches of Mantoloking and witnessed a scene straight out of a Hitchcock horror film—recreational and commercial fleets, accompanied by diving birds, frantically chasing bait. It was here that our day transformed into an epic striped bass fishing experience, a rarity few have the fortune to encounter.
Swiftly immersing ourselves in the action, we employed shallow plastics and poppers, which immediately enticed fish to our boat. However, the real frenzy ensued when we dropped the umbrella rigs once more and began circling the bait school at a brisk 2.5 knots. Within minutes, the struggle shifted from the numbness of our fingers and toes to the challenge of managing the rods bent in half, straining against the powerful bass.
As the day progressed, the fishing continued to electrify us. Even the unfortunate mishap of Sean impaling his finger with a stretch 50 treble hook couldn’t dampen our spirits. After landing an astounding 35 keeper-size striped bass and feeling the exhaustion in our arms from battling multiple 40 pounders, a pivotal moment occurred. My starboard pole bent at an angle that hinted at an enormous beast. After an arduous struggle, we realized it wasn’t a state record bass, but three keeper-size stripers that had simultaneously hit the umbrella rig.
At this juncture, with a bit of a journey north in less-than-ideal conditions, we faced the challenge of reaching Captain Bill’s Landing for the mandatory weigh-ins by 6pm. Undeterred, we pushed my faithful Tidewater to its limits and finally made our way back into Manasquan Inlet at 5:45, embracing the warmth of the thawing process.
Although we narrowly missed winning the tournament, the day left an indelible mark on us. The sheer quality and quantity of striped bass we caught were nothing short of spectacular. Moreover, the most significant reward of a day spent fishing lies in the cherished moments shared with respected and beloved individuals, pursuing our shared passion.
While it is true that New Jersey will never match the allure of Florida’s Keys, there are rare occasions when targeting species specific to the northern Atlantic region reveals something truly extraordinary. This was undeniably one of those remarkable days and one I will never forget!
Tim O’Sullivan is an active member of the Jersey Coast Shark Anglers in Brick, NJ.