May 24, 2024

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Barnegat Bay: The Complete Guide

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Spanning a third of New Jersey’s Atlantic coast, Barnegat Bay is an angler’s paradise. This 42-mile stretch, with its tidal flats, deep channels, river mouths, and inlets, promises diverse fishing opportunities unmatched on the East Coast. Fishing in Barnegat Bay means understanding a rich ecosystem that evolves with every tide.

Close to Barnegat Inlet, the bay ensures a steady flow of bait and predators. It’s here where salt marshes give way to open water. Blue Crabs scuttle, Striped Bass dive deep, and Flounder camouflage in sandy beds.

In this guide, we’ll navigate the bay’s angling scene – the where, when, and how of fishing its depths. We’ll delve into tried-and-true techniques, uncover the best spots, and arm you with the knowledge needed to make your fishing trips memorable. Let’s dive in!

Top Barnegat Bay Fish Species

In the 1970s, Barnegat Bay faced environmental challenges with various companies harming its ecosystem. A collective push against pollution ignited the bay’s revival. This rejuvenation was further propelled by the 2018 closure of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station. Its shutdown ended the unnatural congregation of fish due to warm water discharges, allowing bait fish and, in turn, Striped Bass, Bluefish, and Weakfish to flourish.

Today, the bay offers anglers the chance for a “Grand Slam” – landing Weakfish, Stripers, Fluke, and Bluefish all in one day. If that’s not enough, the waters near Barnegat Inlet teem with Bluefin Tuna, some weighing between 75 to over 200 pounds. Let’s talk about the local favorites:

Striped Bass

A family of six standing on a fishing charter in Barnegat Bay in winter, holding a large Striped Bass on a clear day
Photo courtesy of Sligo Sportfishing – Sligo II

Striped Bass – or “Rockfish,” as they’re locally known – hold an iconic status here. Their striking appearance, combined with the thrilling fight they put up, makes them one of the top catches in Barnegat Bay.

Your best chance to meet this legend is during false-dawn hours. The inside sod banks off the Dike and Oyster Creek Channel are their favorite haunts. If you’re looking to go sight casting, the pilings off Route 37 Bridge won’t disappoint.

There’s an art to baiting Stripers. Live-lining spot or bunkers stands out as a champion technique among local anglers. For those keen on artificial lures, carrying along poppers and soft plastics is a must.


A younf boy in a white t-shirt and baseball cap holds his fishing rod in one hand and his line in the other as he looks at a Flounder on the end of the line in amazement on a sunny day
Photo courtesy of Let It Fly LLC

Fluke is essentially Summer Flounder, and its name often generates chuckles among novices. But ask any seasoned angler, and they’ll confirm that there’s nothing accidental about catching this fish. The Fluke reminds every angler that while luck plays a part, it’s knowledge and technique that truly turn the tide – pun intended!

These flat beauties have their favorite spots in Barnegat Bay. The morning sees them in the 4– 7′ flats outside the ICW. During the afternoon hours, Fluke make a tactical retreat as they dive deeper into the channel, playing hard to get.

Diversity is the key when it comes to picking the right lures and bait. While bucktail jigs combined with a Berkley Gulp! Swimming Mullet grub are effective for those early morning catches, locals switch to vertical jigging by lunchtime.


A man in a blue baseball cap and another man with a cigar in his mouth hold a Bluefish aboard a fishing charter in Barnegat Bay on a cloudy day
Photo courtesy of Fin Chaser Sportfishing – Point Pleasant

Feisty Bluefish, known for their unpredictable behavior, add an element of surprise to every fishing trip. Their sharp teeth and aggressive feeding habits make it a challenge, but that’s precisely what draws anglers to Blues.

Their activity spikes during ebbing tides, offering a prime window for anglers. Head to the cuts and shifting sandbars inside the north side of Oyster Creek Channel. Locals often pack a selection of surface plugs, given the variety of sizes available.

In the bay, you can catch anything from “Cocktails” to larger “Racer” or “Gator” Bluefish. These can range from 5 to 15 pounds, with some even pushing the 20-pound mark. No matter the size, the reward – whether it’s the fight or the fresh Bluefish filet – is worth every effort.


A man in a blue shirt and wearing a sport vizer holding a small Weakfish aboard a fishing boat in Barnegat Bay
Photo courtesy of Barnegat Bay Adventures

Weakfish in Barnegat Bay, with their shimmering colors, offer both beauty and a challenge. The thrill of catching this species comes from its elusive nature, making those early morning trips all the more rewarding.

Those pre-dawn hours, especially the last hour of darkness before sunrise, are golden. With the water temperature hovering between 62 and 70 degrees, the Oyster Creek’s outflow flats become a Weakfish haven. As the season progresses, they migrate towards the deep cut off the Sedge Islands.

When it’s still dark, your best bet lies in artificial lures. A drift over flats with slow, gentle rod movements can entice these wary fish, mimicking the movement of prey. As dawn breaks, smaller Weakfish become the focus.

Black Seabass

A closeup shot of a young boy holding up a Black Seabass to the camera aboard a fishing boat on a sunny day in winter, with a man standing behind him looking over the side of the boat
Photo courtesy of Sea Owl

Often called the gems of the deep, Black Seabass are known for their unique profile with iridescent blue-black scales. What makes this species a favorite among anglers isn’t just its beauty, though, but the game and delicious culinary experience it promises.

Barnegat Bay provides an ideal environment for Black Seabass. The exact hotspots vary with seasonal migrations but they typically hang around structured bottoms. Look for rocky outcroppings or submerged shipwrecks and use a combination of natural and artificial bait. Note that Black Seabass are known for their fight, testing both gear and angler with their swift runs and sudden dives.

How to Go Fishing in Barnegat Bay

Now that you know what to catch, it’s time to get a bit more technical. To truly harness the potential of the bay, you need the right tools. The typical back-bay setup includes a 7–8′ rod, coupled with 3000 to 5000 lightweight spinning reels.

In terms of bait, soft-plastic swimbaits, particularly the Hogy Pro Tail Paddle Softbait and the Storm 360 GT Largo shad, stand out for their lifelike profiles.

Fly fishing in Barnegat Bay is also pretty popular, especially if you’re equipped with a 9′, 10 wt rod and a good selection of flies. But gear aside, let’s take a closer look at the most popular types of fishing in Barnegat Bay:

Barnegat Bay Inshore Fishing

Inshore fishing in Barnegat Bay is a perfect blend of tranquility and fun. The bay is hemmed in by the protective barrier of a jetty from the roaring Atlantic Ocean. You can launch from Point Pleasant to hunt for Fluke and Weakfish that flit from the canals to the bay.

Other inshore anglers head out of Lacey or Ocean Townships for the coveted Barnegat “Grand Slam.” It’s a day-long affair beginning with Weakfish at dawn, switching to Bluefish around Sedge Island, taking in the afternoon sun with Fluke, and finally chasing Stripers around the Barnegat Inlet later in the evening.

Barnegat Bay Offshore Fishing

A view from behind of a man fishing out of the back of an offshore sportfishing boat in New Jersey, with the boat's wake visible behind him in the deep offshore waters
Photo courtesy of Jerzey Buoyz Sport Fishing

There’s a certain allure to offshore fishing – the unknown, the ocean’s vastness, along with giants lurking in the deep. Barnegat Bay serves as the perfect gateway to the bluewater, where the thrills of the Atlantic await.

You’ll find fertile fishing grounds about 30 miles from shore. The warmer months might surprise you with Yellowfin Tuna or Mahi Mahi. But for those with an insatiable thirst for adventure, the distant canyons, about 70 miles out, and the continental shelf at 110 miles, are the go-to places. Note that these waters can be treacherous, and the trips lengthy.

Barnegat Bay Striper Clamming

A group of male anglers standing back on the dock after a successful fishing trip in Barnegat Bay, with each holding a Striped Bass
Photo courtesy of Jordi Sport Fishing & Charters – 32′

Barnegat Bay is the spot for those aiming to catch Striped Bass using surf clams. This method, favored for its effectiveness, simplicity, and economical appeal, has been a timeless favorite. A surf clam’s scent is irresistible to Stripers, and the ease of anchoring and casting out a chunk makes it a popular choice.

Fresh surf clams reign supreme in effectiveness, although their frozen counterparts can serve as backups. The secret lies in impaling the clam multiple times, securing its position, and casting it into the undulating currents.

Timing is crucial in Striper clamming. As Barnegat Bay’s waters warm up to the 50-degree mark, usually by late April, the Bass activity starts to heat up, lasting until late June. Come October and November, the cooling waters herald another peak clamming season. The strategy shifts from finding stationary Bass to anticipating their transit routes and anchoring accordingly.

Barnegat Bay Crabbing

While Barnegat Bay’s waters bustle with fish, there’s another treasure lurking beneath the surface – Blue Crab. Crabbing in the bay is a cherished tradition, and its waters are practically made for it. The shallow, brackish areas are a haven for Blue Crab. Locations near seagrass beds or muddy bottoms often promise the best results.

Getting started with Crabbing is surprisingly straightforward. You can try the traditional hand-line method, which involves baiting the Crabs with fish heads or chicken necks and slowly pulling them to the surface. Alternatively, you can deploy Crab pots or traps baited with similar delicacies and enjoy the fruit of your labor after a few hours.

Barnegat Bay Charter Fishing

A view across the calm waters of Barnegat Bay towards a center console fishing charter full o anglers on a clear day
Photo courtesy of Linda Lee Sportfishing

For those who want a curated experience, booking a Barnegat Bay charter is the answer. These expeditions, led by seasoned professionals, offer not just a fishing trip, but a real marine adventure. Expert guides, well-acquainted with the bay’s nooks and crannies, can steer you toward the best fishing spots.

Fishing aside, these charters often become educational trips, unraveling the mysteries of the bay, its ecology, and its rich marine life. It’s a hands-on experience – learning about different fish species, understanding the tidal patterns, and mastering various fishing techniques.

The added advantage of charter fishing lies in its flexibility. Depending on what you’re after, you can book a half-day, full-day, or even night fishing adventure. And finally, with top-notch gear and the expertise of the crew to the mix, and you’re all set!

Where to Go Fishing in Barnegat Bay

Now that you know what to fish and how, it’s time to talk about the most productive spots in the bay. Here’s a quick list of some of the best locations for you to explore:

An aerial view of Point Pleasant Beach, NJ, with the Atlantic Ocean on the left of the image, separated from the town by a long beach stretching into the horizon
  • Point Pleasant. Nestled on the northern end of Barnegat Bay, Point Pleasant and its Beach offers a mix of surf and inshore fishing. Anglers can benefit from the diverse fish species around the nearby jetties and piers and the scenic boardwalk adds a special charm to the experience.
  • Brick Township. Located slightly to the south, Brick Township is renowned for its lagoons and waterways. Its numerous docks make it a prime location for those targeting Fluke and Striped Bass.
  • Barnegat Light. Sitting at the northern tip of Long Beach Island, the light is famous for its iconic lighthouse and rich fishing grounds. Proximity to the ocean and the bay makes it a hotspot for both surf fishing and deep-sea angling. The nearby Barnegat Inlet is also a key location for those targeting bigger game species.
  • Lacey Township. Encompassing the southern sections of the bay, Lacey Township offers miles of shoreline fishing spots. Its untouched marshes and quiet bays are a haven for crabbing enthusiasts and inshore anglers alike.
  • Brielle. Situated on the Manasquan River, Brielle is the starting point for a Tuna or Marlin hunt. Additionally, the river offers fantastic spots for catching Fluke and Striped Bass.
  • Ocean Township. Not to be confused with other locations of the same name in New Jersey, Ocean Township in Barnegat Bay is characterized by its sprawling coastlines and estuaries. Anglers can discover a whole menu of inshore fish species here, particularly Summer Flounder and Bluefish.
  • Meyers Hole and The Dike. You can find these spots spot across the channel – west of the Barnegat Light, running parallel to a series of bard and shoals. Some anglers call them the most productive spots to target Weakfish.
  • BB, BI, and 42 Buoys. All three buoys are at least 8 feet in depth. The BB marks the entrance to the Forked River, while the BI is for Oyster Creek Channel, and 42 Buoy marks the Double Creek Channel.

When to Go Fishing in Barnegat Bay

Springtime fishing in Barnegat Bay is a treat for everyone. From mid-to-late March, a surge of Striped Bass and Bluefish makes the bay their home. The end of April and beginning of May usher in the arrival of “Racer” Bluefish.

A center console fishing boat, complete with outriggers, moored in shallow waters in Barnegat Bay on a clear day, with a US flag flying proudly from the boat and a number of anglers and ocean cruisers enjoying the surroundings
Photo courtesy of Jordi Sport Fishing & Charters – 28′

As summer rolls in, Barnegat Bay’s waters warm up and become more lively. Fluke become the stars of the bay, drawing anglers with their playful resistance and delicious taste. Summer also brings in other species such as Weakfish and Kingfish. For those who love crabbing, Blue Crabs are abundant and provide an alternative, relaxed fishing experience.

Come fall, the bay experiences a significant transformation. As the waters cool, species like Tautog and Seabass become more prevalent. This season is particularly thrilling for those targeting bigger Striped Bass, which begin their migratory patterns.

Winter might seem an unlikely time for fishing, but Barnegat Bay still has surprises up its sleeve. While many species move to warmer waters, Winter Flounder make their presence felt, complimented by the bay’s peaceful atmosphere.

Reading the Tides

Grasping the nuances of the tides is essential for successful fishing in Barnegat Bay. For example, moving water plays a pivotal role when targeting inshore species. Exceptional catches can often be found during the initial two hours of an outgoing tide in early spring, and similarly, the first two hours of an incoming tide as late spring approaches.

Barnegat Bay Fishing Regulations

An infographic featuring the flag of New Jersey along with text that says "Barnegat Bay Fishing Regulations What You Need to Know" against a dark blue background with a vector of a boat and the FishingBooker logo

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection‘s (NJDEP) Division of Fish and Wildlife enforces several rules to protect Barnegat Bay’s delicate environment and fish populations. While there are no general saltwater fishing licenses, you may need to get some special permits. There are also specific seasons, along with size and bag limits for different species in the bay.

If you’re keen on clamming, a separate recreational clamming license is required. However, certain areas might be contaminated or reserved for ecological reasons. The NJDEP has an interactive map on its website, detailing which zones are open and safe for harvesting clams.

Fishing in Barnegat Bay: A Journey Through the Seasons

A view across some choppy waters in Barnegat Bay at sunset, with a lighthouse and jetty visible in the distance

In essence, fishing in Barnegat Bay is a story of resilience and community. From its troubled past to its vibrant present, it stands as a testament to the spirit of nature and the communities that rally around it. Whether you’re casting a line or simply soaking in its beauty, Barnegat Bay invites all to be part of its unique journey. Head out and check it out yourself!

Have you ever been fishing in Barnegat Bay? Any fish stories you’d like to share with us? Let’s chat in the comments below!

The post Barnegat Bay Fishing: The Complete Guide appeared first on FishingBooker Blog.

By: Lisa
Title: Barnegat Bay Fishing: The Complete Guide
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Published Date: Wed, 11 Oct 2023 14:02:56 +0000

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