Island Beach State Park
New Jersey anglers don’t argue about whether Island Beach State Park has the finest beach fishing in the state. They argue about whether it has the finest on the Atlantic. “I think it’s the best on the entire East Coast,” says John Bushell Jr. Granted, Bushell is a tad biased: He runs Betty and Nick’s, the Seaside Park tackle shop, IBSP’s unofficial gateway for anglers. Plenty of monster trophies have visited his shop post-mortem, like the 55-pound striped bass hauled off the park shore in June 2009.
What makes IBSP so special for the fishing inclined? Simple: Roughly 10 miles of pristine, undeveloped barrier island, loaded with fish-friendly sandbars, sloughs and tidal marshes. The vast majority of the park is open to the public, which is why anglers love it almost as much as the striped bass, bluefish and fluke that pass through its waters with the regularity of tides. You can try your luck at some of the beachside fishing holes so hallowed they’ve got their own names (the Bulkhead, the Pocket), or, since clams are usually the bait du jour here, you can try following the clamshells to your own promising spot. Did we mention that, for a fee, you can drive on the beach here in pursuit of your quarry, assuming your vehicle is equipped with four-wheel drive? That would explain all those knowledgeable local anglers chatting on walkie-talkies inside their SUVs—they’re trying to figure out where the next state-record fish is headed. Come to think of it, it’s not a bad idea to follow those guys, too.
Bait and tackle: Betty and Nick’s, 807 Southwest Central Avenue, Seaside Park; 732-793-2708
Guide: Shore Catch Guide Service; 732-528-1861
Food and drink: Berkeley Fish Market, 24 Central Avenue, Seaside Park; 732-793-0400
This Monmouth County nightlife hub may not have the undisturbed ecosystem of Island Beach, but it’s got a couple of things going for it that you won’t find in the state park—namely, a proliferation of walkable jetties, many of them friendly to the shore-bound angler, and a formidable fleet of party boats, any one of which is happy to bring you and your family out on the water for about $50 a head, rod and tackle included. If you’re more the landlubber, take your bait bucket to the Shark River Inlet, the heart of Belmar’s fishery on the borough’s north end. Anglers tend to outnumber seagulls on the inlet’s high rock walls, and for good reason: It’s one of the most reliable sport-fishing grounds on the Jersey Shore. And even if you strike out in the surf, don’t take it too hard. You’re in Belmar. A slice of pizza and an after-fishing cocktail are never far from the water.
Bait and tackle: Fisherman’s Den, 900 Marina Avenue; 732-681-5005
Guide: On a Mission Fishing; 484-678-9083
Food and drink: Boathouse Bar & Grill, 1309 Main Street; 732-681-5221
There’s a bar in Brigantine called the Rod and Reel Tavern, and inside hangs a replica of New Jerseyan Al McReynolds’s 78-pound world-record striped bass from 1982. McReynolds actually landed the beast just down the road in Atlantic City, but it’s fitting that its likeness hangs here. Brigantine has arguably the best saltwater fishing in the southern half of the state. This island city boasts a long, partly fishable jetty on the south end at Absecon Inlet, some four-wheel-drive beach access on its north end near Brigantine Inlet and a whole lot of fishy-looking water in-between. The stripers tend to hang around here well into June, but come July it’s fluke, kingfish and the odd bluefish that you’re looking for. You can’t go too far wrong by posting up on the beach near 14th Street—locals call this spot simply “the hotel” because of the historic resort there. Try fishing the deep slough that runs down shore for several blocks. If there’s another 70-plus pounder lurking in the area, there’s a decent chance it will be found there.
Bait and tackle: Riptide, 1201 West Brigantine Avenue; 609-264-0440
Guide: Fish Finder, 3645 Atlantic Brigantine Boulevard; 609-264-0918
Food and drink: The Rod & Reel, 101 13th Street North; 609-266-0343