New Jersey – Getting Bent in the Garden State

New Jersey was the 47th state where I’ve wet a line and thanks to the captain, caught fish.  My goals for this trip were to catch fish (ideally a new species), take a short break from my home water, get a small dose of a new region and culture, and chill with my bro Brian.  Mission accomplished!  Like some of the short bangers I’ve executed to “random places,” I did very little research and ended up being pleasantly surprised.

Planning the New Jersey Mission

I’ve gotta admit, I wasn’t exactly “pumped up” when I started researching my New Jersey angling options.  The lack of enthusiasm came from the fact that NJ doesn’t offer many opportunities that are distinguishable from all the other places I’ve been.  I knew this prior to doing research because I’ve fished every state that borders New Jersey.  Also, I have more than a handful of clients from the Garden State.

Don’t get me wrong, New Jersey is a huge state with a lot to do.  The state has cold water freestone creeks that hold trout and lakes that hold bass, pickerel and landlocked stripers.  NJ also has a renowned coastal and offshore scene.  However, I’ve done all of that – up and down the east coast, inland to the Appalachian Mountains, and many areas in between.  When I go somewhere new, I always look for angling opportunities that are also new.  I wasn’t too optimistic I’d find this in New Jersey.

Still, a New Jersey mission had to happen in order to accomplish my goal of fishing all 50 states before turning 50.  Because, on the surface, New Jersey lacked any “novel” fishing opportunities, I decided that it would be a quick chalking mission.  But when to go?

My Annual Travel Planning Routine

Before getting into why Brian and I did this trip when we did, I need to provide a brief description of my annual pattern of life.  I think it’s important for me to provide this because I’m sensitive to giving short shrift to the appeal of a fishery after only having fished there for a couple of days.  Sometimes, I’m constrained to short chalking missions.  Other times, I have plenty of days available to feel connected to the place I’m visiting.  Here it goes:


I fish local waters only when conditions are close to perfect.  I also make it a point to travel somewhere exotic (Guyana for example) for a couple weeks.


I fish local water near daily.  Honestly, I have no desire to travel during this period.  I’ve travelled all over this country and I’ll put spring in the Buffalo Niagara Region against anywhere I’ve been.  It’s incredible and I want to experience every moment of it, so I don’t leave WNY in the spring.


After fishing local water for over 2 months straight, it’s time for a break.  Plus, early June can be tough around the Buffalo Niagara Region. Don’t get me wrong, banner sessions occur, but on average it’s a grind compared to the preceding months and the months that follow.

For one, Erie and Ontario are warming up quickly during this period which causes the bait and predators to spread out.  Secondly, the river is filled with algae, making it near impossible to fish effectively.  Bottom line, it’s a perfect time to go on a short vacation – so that’s what I do.

The rest of the summer in the Buffalo Niagara region is excellent – lots of action and a filled calendar.  Throughout the summer, I take a small break around the 4th of July, a big break at the beginning of August, and if business over the summer went well, I’ll do a short banger, usually last minute, in mid-September.


Similar to spring, I have no desire to leave the Buffalo Niagara region.  Action is incredible across our fishery, and I want to experience every moment of it.  Plus, the wondrous backdrop of fall foliage keeps me captivated all day long.

With my travel periods in mind, at the beginning of the year, I determine the exact dates of when all of the vacation windows I listed above will occur.  Then, I start picking the locations.  New states get priority allocation.


So, back to the timing of the NJ mission.  Because my going in position was that New Jersey didn’t offer any novel angling opportunities, I decided it was going to be a short chalking mission.  That June travel window I mentioned above looked optimal for such a banger.  Those are big limitations though  – especially when targeting salt water creatures because most of the “desired” species are migratory.

Still, a New Jersey chalking mission had to occur.  So, I kept digging and eventually found a scene around Atlantic City that sparked my interest – light tackle fishing for flounder.  For one, I had never caught a flounder and from what I read, fishing for them is really good in June.  Secondly, the area is ridiculously easy to get to from Buffalo, NY.   But the biggest perk about the location is that Brian grew up about an hour away, his parents still live there, and it’s an easy drive from where he lives in VA.

Guide Choice

With the dates and location in mind, I began searching for guides.  There weren’t many to choose from.  Sure, there were more than a handful of captains that focused on coastal and offshore fishing, but only a few had fluke fishing in the back bays as part of their portfolio of options.

Captain Scott Newhall ended up being my choice of guide.  From looking at his website, fluke fishing is a huge part of his program.  It also looked like he had a great boat, many excellent reviews, and he appeared to be about my age.  Being from the same generation is a bonus – there’s plenty to relate to when it comes to conversations on the water.


What follows is a play-by-play for the 4 days I spent in New Jersey.  For short “bangers”/chalking missions like these, simplicity is key.

Day 1 – Travel

I flew from BUF to ACY.  We departed at 6:15AM and Brian picked me up from the Atlantic City airport at around 10:00AM.  Oh yeah, there’s a small detail I should mention here.  After firming up the location with Brian a few months prior, he and his bride-to-be decided to take a week off of work and go to NJ to visit his family.  He had already been in the area for a couple days prior to my arrival.

After picking me up, we visited his parents and his daughter.  Then, we went to Manasquan where his fiancé and her kids were staying.  At this point, we were ravenous, so we went to lunch and took in the scene.  Acquiring a few libations followed lunch.  Then, a drive through Atlantic City and over to our hotel in Absecon, NJ where we would spend the next 3 nights. 

All that driving around gave me an opportunity to appreciate the terrain as well and the “vibe” of the area.  My initial assessment?  The terrain a couple miles from the coast reminded me of piedmont region of Virginia or North Carolina.  Sandy soil, loblolly pines and oaks, and tannin-stained creeks flowed throughout the area.  I pride myself in being able to identify a location in the US based on a picture or short video.  While driving through the area, I wouldn’t have guessed we were in NJ.   

As we got closer to the coast, it reminded me of the coastal towns throughout New England.  Old and new money, lots of independent (non-chain) restaurants, and boutique hotels everywhere.  Atlantic City stood as an aberration on the coastline. 

Day 2 – Fished Absecon Bay out of Absecon, NJ

We linked up with our guide, Captain Scott Newhall, at 7:00AM.  It was high tide and the water was very cold due to all the south winds the region had been experiencing.  At first the action was slow.  However, as the tide began to head out, the action spiked and we caught fish consistently until we ended the day.  Not a lot of keepers, but tons of action, nonetheless.  There were A LOT of boats out – clearly this flounder fishing thing is a regional/cultural experience.  I’m happy to have been a part of it.

Bottom bouncing live minnows was the tactic of choice.  The presentation was exactly the same as what we do back home when fishing live bait.  The biggest difference is that we were fishing sand the entire time, so snags were minimal.  

We spent the back half of the day exploring the Pine Barrens – it was ridiculously hot.  It’s amazing how comfortable we felt fishing on that cold water in the bay.  Once we got a few miles away from the water, it was a completely different temperature. 

Extreme heat aside, that Pine Barrens area is awesome.  Sandy soil, pines and oaks everywhere, very little undergrowth, and thousands of miles of trails.  Although it’s completely different from what we have here in the Buffalo Niagara region, I didn’t notice any distinct wildlife (other than a black snake).  Deer, gray squirrels, chipmunks, ground squirrels, and numerous birds were all there – but nothing we don’t have in our neck of the woods.  Same creatures adapted to a different niche. 



Day 3 – Fished Absecon Bay out of Absecon, NJ

I always book at least 2 days with a captain/guide when I visit a new region.  For one, you never know if Mother Nature will give you an opportunity to put in work, so you need a backup.  Secondly, every day is different – so adding multiple days increases your odds for a high catch rate and/or something wild happening.         

After a successful first day, it was all gravy.  We spent the second day executing the same program as the day prior.  Catch rates were a little less, but rods stayed bent throughout our session. 

We spent the back half of the day on another recon mission through the Pine Barrens. 


Day 4 – Travelled Home

Easy flight – no delays.  

General Commentary

Although this mission was a success by every metric, I still feel like I’m giving summary treatment to New Jersey.  After all, there are so many angling opportunities throughout the state, and we only pursued one.  It wasn’t sexy, but what we ended up executing was prefect given the limitations of time, budget, and the desire to fish for something different.

I also feel like I’m kinda selling the place short in this report due to a lack of photos.  In my defense, capturing coastal areas through pictures taken from an iPhone is tough.  Everything is flat and this time of year, green.  Birds are everywhere, but rarely still and close enough to take a quality photo with a phone.  Ospreys, bald eagles, herring gulls, great black back gulls, laughing gulls, Foster’s terns, common terns, least terns, clapper rails, willets, and American oyster catchers (just to name a few) were everywhere.  Those that know me know that I can spend hours watching birds.  I was endlessly captivated all day on Absecon Bay.

The crazy heat wave was another factor that prevented us from doing much else when we got off the water.  Walking around in that heat and humidity was stifling.  Even the animals in the Pine Barrens seemed subdued.  We spent more time than we would’ve liked in the hotel room staying cool or at a “townie” bar getting refreshed.  By the way – going out to eat at “townie” establishments was a lot of fun.  The people around where we stayed were very nice and welcoming.

One last general observation – Atlantic City is a classic example of an area in decline.  I didn’t do any research on the city but I’m aware that at one point, it was a destination for many folks up and down the east coast.  Nowadays, after driving though there, I’m not sure why anyone would want to stay there.  It’s a third world country by every metric.  Degraded infrastructure, homelessness, open air drug use, abandoned buildings, etc. were apparent throughout.  All that was far off in the background when we were fishing so it didn’t hang heavily over our experience. I’m happy I decided to stay in Absecon, NJ – it’s quaint, trafficless, and there are many options for lodging and dining, so you have no need to head into Atlantic City (unless you’re in search of debauchery).


I only have 3 states left in my 50 before 50 mission – Delaware, Nebraska, and Hawaii – and I have 4 years to chalk them up.  Easy.  Delaware and/or Nebraska will be next year and I’m saving Hawaii for my 50th birthday.  I’ll get deep on this topic after chalking up Hawaii, but I’m looking forward to revisiting some of the places where I executed a banger (like this one) to really get deep into the culture and fishery. 

My timing was less than perfect on some of my past trips too – this one included.  For example, had I visited a month prior, we would’ve hammered giant striped bass.  Still, limitations are always going to be a factor, so making it a priority to get a dose of somewhere new, if only for a couple days, is worthwhile in my book.  At minimum, it will inform your view of the area.  Taken in total, it’ll inform your view of the country and help you better define where you want to go, the best time to go there, and how much time you should spend exploring.  For now, a small slice of ‘Jersey is with me.  We’ll see how small that slice remains in years to come.