Jersey Saltwater Fishing: Sub-Zero Heroes

There’s a time during mid-February when a large chunk of saltwater anglers around New Jersey have just about had enough. The mercury dips below freezing almost every day, visions of striped bass and bluefish are long gone, and the rods and reels start finding their way to the corners of the basement.

The lights turn out, the door closes, and everyone’s got springtime on their mind. Then, out of nowhere, at some house somewhere in suburban Jersey, a light turns on at 4 a.m. There’s rustling, hustling, and bustling. A fisherman fumbles around the fishing tackle locker, the piping hot coffee is drank quickly, and the car engine heats up. The temp outside reads 18 degrees. The car shuts off, he arrives at the dock — rods, reels, and coolers all over the place — jumps on his local party boat, and is off into the briny with a heated passion to pull in some fish. There is no weather too cold for him. He is the Sub-Zero Hero. But just what’s in store for die-hard, wreck-pounding aficionados?

Probably the most targeted denizen of the wrecking crew is the ling or red hake. Ling, as well as their cousin, the purple hake, drive the wintertime fishery, as usual catches can be anywhere between a half dozen to over 60 fish per angler. Generally, they range from 1-pound to 4 pounds, and action is consistent. Ling command a serious draw for the sub-zeroes, and it gets deeper than you think. I have even stumbled upon a faction that calls themselves “The Straight Six” that organizes a “King of Ling” tournament from January through March, all in hopes to land the largest ling of the winter. The real goal? The pursuit of the highly coveted Bronze Ling Beltbuckle that sports the outlined silhouette of a phantom ling. It is considered an esteemed, fabled trophy to be worn and displayed during the spring, summer and fall months in arrogance of one’s wintertime ling-angling prowess. They say insanity is a fine line, and these guys have crossed it!

In the last three years, Jersey winter wreck-pounders have been delighted with the increasing presence of cod on their wintertime excursions. The occurrence of cod has taken effect to such a degree that party boats are now offering specific cod trips to the Mudhole wrecks. In November and December, some seriously impressive cod trips materialize, with sometimes over 100 cod brought on board ranging up to 50 pounds. In fact, there was one trip this winter where over 20 cod were caught between 30 pounds and 50 pounds! But that is not the norm, generally you will catch one or two barely legal cod on a regular ling trip, but the targeted offshore trips will put you into about a half dozen to a dozen keeper codfish to 30 pounds.

Pollock And Haddock
Though too sparse to specifically target, pollock and haddock do come up on lines baited for ling and cod. Your best bet is when the party boat anchors over a wreck. Ask the captain if he sees anything hanging above the wreck, the marks usually represent pollock or haddock, and even cod. Be prepared to drop a heavy 4-ounce to 8-ounce Viking Jig down with a 4/0 teaser tied about 3 feet up to jig above the wreck, or drop down some strip baits from bergalls or herring. If a pollock or haddock is there, they’ll be on it. And if you do happen into one, pollock that have been taken usually average in the 15-pound to 25-pound class.

The cold months of wintertime and early spring can’t stop cabin-fevered anglers from catching cod, ling, conger eels, and ocean pout off of Jersey’s coast.

Conger Eel And Ocean Pout
Man, these guys are U-G-L-Y! But what an experience catching them! Conger eels are like radioactive freshwater eels that have grown to enormous proportions. They hang inside the holes of wrecks and rubble piles, and hands down are one tough beast to wrestle with. A hooked conger eel first feels like you’re snagged on the wreck, but if you keep a steady, uplifting pressure, in about 30 seconds, you’ll actually feel when you break the eel’s tail grip on the wreck, and pull him straight out of his hole. The fight is insane and will last 15 minutes to 20 minutes on a large eel weighing 15 pounds to 30 pounds. They are wiry, and full of energy, just keep your fingers away from their vise-grip maw! Ocean Pout hang in the same type of structure and fashion, and have virtually the same brand of temperament in their fight.

But get a close look at the mouth of one of these guys, the mouth and lips are seriously the whole size of its head! The point is, not only will you get a phenomenal fight with both the conger and the ocean pout, but believe it or not, both are excellent eating with a thick, meaty fillet, that sucks in all the juices upon preparation. Mmmm-Good!

Hey, step up, earn your stripes, and become a member of the legendary legion of the Sub-Zero Heroes! You can book a party boat trip by calling Captain Willie Egerter of the Dauntless at 732-892-7283.

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