There's no doubt I'm a bit late to the party this year.
History holds that my boat is often one of the first in the marina and, almost always, the last boat to be hauled out. Jingle Bell Rock has played from the speakers mounted in my center console.
But this year, my fishing season has yet to begin. I have a tentative appointment with my boat hauler in Barnegat to drop her in the water Monday, but that's after a spring where some busy work weeks here at Patch and marathon rounds of graduate school studying have pushed fishing to the back burner.
Luckily, with formal graduation ceremonies at Monmouth University now complete, I'll continue a much more elusive educational endeavour: finding every last honey hole in Barnegat Bay! With the help of my dad, I'm ready to start my season with a new propeller, battery and a few extra accessories.
Some folks, of course, have already caught a few limits. Over the past week, Barnegat Inlet has been the spot, with anglers putting together respectable catches in the all of the channels leading to the inlet, such as the Double Creek and Oyster Creek channels, as well as the usual hot spots near High Bar Harbor's eastern edges.
Farther north, the Manasquan River was yielding a nice catch, as overall cloudy water after recent rains was flushed out quickly. As there is a bit of mud left over from recent storms, my advice on the Manasquan would be to head to the sub-channels near the Route 35 bridge and set your drift from there. Clark's will always be the busiest, but these smaller channels were always my favorite when my boat was docked nearby. I promise: they won't let you down.
For both the Manasquan and the Barnegat Inlet channels, chartreuse-colored Berkeley Gulp! baits are you friend!
The bay is also giving up plenty of bluefish, especially near the Mantoloking Bridge, a normal hot spot.
At Murphy's Hook House in Toms River, Dennis from the shop reported catching three blues and losing about six while on the troll near the Route 37 bridge. He also hit the mouth of the Toms where blues were chasing bunker. A 9-pounder was reeled in from the river on Wednesday.
The striped bass bite in the suds has been largely hit or miss all over the place. There's an occasional blitz, but the vast majority of the action is still out of reach, a mile or two off the beach.
At The Dock Outfitters in Seaside Heights, reports indicated no hot spots, though sporadic action.