By Michael Sol Warren | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com | Posted March 22, 2019 at 09:05 AM
From bays and inlets to the vast Atlantic Ocean, New Jersey has plenty of saltwater — and saltwater fish. It’s an angler’s paradise, with open seasons for saltwater fishing year-round for dozens of kinds of fish.
Here’s a guide to all of the kinds of ocean creatures you can fish for in New Jersey, and when to do it. For more a more detailed description of the regulations, check out the state’s saltwater fishing digest. This guide is based on the 2018 state regulations; the 2019 digest and the new regulations should be published in May, but no major changes are expected according to New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hajna.
And remember, any waters farther than three miles from shore are federal waters and may be subject to different regulations. You can check on those here.
Photo courtesy of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
American eel: Year-round open season.
Black drum: Year-round open season. According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, you’ll have the best luck with black drums in Delaware Bay. May and June are the best months for these fish.
Black sea bass: There are four distinct open seasons for sea bass and each has a different set of regulations. The fish are usually in New Jersey found between May and November.
- First open season is from May 15 to June 22
- Second open season is from July 1 to August 31
- Third open season is from October 8 to October 31
- Fourth open season is from November 1 to December 31
The fish is a staple of Garden State party boats. Sea bass are most often found near shipwrecks and reefs, according to the NJDEP. Steve Singler, from Philadelphia, was fishing off Jeff Gutman’s boat, Voyager, on December 12, 2015, when he landed a New Jersey state-record, 9-pound black sea bass. The catch is pictured above.
Photo courtesy of the Kastorsky family
Blue crab: Year-round open season, except for Delaware Bay where there are some closed periods during the year. Blue crabs come in three forms, and you need to be able to tell them apart because there are slightly different rules for each one.
- Hardshell crabs are blue crabs that, well, still have their hard shells.
- Peeler crabs are blue crabs that have started to molt and replace their shell.
- Softshell crabs are blue crabs that have totally shed their old shell and are growing a new one.
Female blue crabs that have an egg mass when caught must be released. Blue crabs are most abundant between May and November, according to the NJDEP.
Bluefish: Year-round open season. According to the NJDEP, bluefish are most abundant May through December. Pictured above is Roger Kastorsky with his state-record bluefish. Kastorsky reeled-in the 27-pound, one-ounce creature in 1997 off of Five Fathom Bank.
Bonito: Year-round open season. According to the NJDEP, Bonito are most abundant between July and September.
Photo courtesy of the International Game Fishing Association
Cobia: Open season from June 1 to September 30.
Cod: Year-round open season. Pictured above is Joseph Chesla after he caught an 81-pound cod off of Brielle on March 15, 1967. That’s not just a state record; the catch still stands as a world record for Atlantic cod on 15-kilogram tackle.
According to the NJDEP, cod are most abundant during the colder seasons in deep water, near reefs and shipwrecks.
Croaker: Year-round open season. Croakers are abundant in Delaware Bay and nearshore ocean waters between July and October, according to the NJDEP.
Dolphin (Mahi Mahi): Year-round open season. You’ll need to be far offshore to hook a mahi mahi as it migrates to and from more southern waters, according to the NJDEP. These fish are found in New Jersey from July through October.
Haddock: Year-round open season.
Hard clam: Year-round open season. Be sure to avoid clamming in waters condemned by the state because of pollution; clams are nature’s water filters so they are more affected by water pollution than other species.