cape may fishing



May Fishing

by Paul Kerlinger
Outdoors Editor

With the water temperatures warming quickly, prospects for catching fish also heat up. It seems that every year about a week or two after the mackerel head north, all hell breaks loose in the nearshore waters of Cape May, Wildwood, Stone Harbor, and Avalon.  Fishing in May is a smorgasbord of activity from tautog and seabass on the party boats to bluefish and flounder in the back bays, and weakfish and striped bass practically anywhere. 

            Party boat action really gets underway in May with boats out of Cape May, Wildwood, and elsewhere gearing up for flounder, weakfish, blues, tautog, and seabass.  The cool waters of May are very productive on the wrecks, with tautog, seabass, and ling providing a steady pick.  Tautog are also suckers for crabs at many of the jetties and bridges during the month.  Green crabs can be found at most of the good bait stores in the area and will outfish almost any other type of bait for tautog.  If you can take off on a weekday, you will find plenty of space on the party boats.

By the first week of May, the rumors of bluefish invading the back bays are in the papers.  These aren't just rumors because the blues pop up here and there on an almost daily basis.  They are not always predictable, so you may have to look around for them or ask in one of the bait and tackle stores.  These small fish are usually in the 1-3 pound category, although larger fish are around.  In some years bigger bluefish appear in May.  These are in the 3+ pound range with an occasional jumbo mixed in.  By months end, party boats will start taking them on a regular basis.

Weakfish start in earnest by mid-month with action along the beaches, channels, and back bays getting better as the month proceeds.  As with most fish, it all depends on water temperature.  Cool water doesn't help to heat up the bite.  Bait (blood worms) often works better early on, but by mid or late month, a well fished lure can be just as effective.  Jetty anglers often clean up and a steady catch is usually reported in the second one-half of MayFrom now until autumn, weakfish will be around to provide regular fishing fun.

For boats, see:

Cape May Fishing Boats
Wildwood / Avalon Fishing Boats

[ If you go on a jetty make sure you watch the tide and wear nonslip footwear.  Steel creepers, golf shoes, or corkers are necessary on almost all rockpiles in South Jersey.  If you don't wear them, a fall can result in serious injury. ]

Striped bass will be present throughout the month with some party and charter boats continuing to chase them in the rips and elsewhere.  Eels, clams, and bloodworms all work, although it is more challenging to use lures or flies.  There will also be plenty of these fish in the back bays and inlets, but finding them isn't always easy.  It is a cat-and-mouse game that is continually changing.  There are some consistent spots, but these fish move around and require time and patience to catch.  Some of the more patient anglers use clams or chunks of mackeral or herring fished just beyond or in the surf.  This can pay off, but be careful not to let fish swallow the bait or they may die when released.

The season for summer flounder gets underway in earnest in May with fishing getting better by mid-month.  Although plenty of fish are likely to be caught before May 12, keeping flounder isn't legal until that date.  Flounder will respond to the usual minnows and squid bounced along or just off the bottom in back bay channels and sounds.  For some real fun, try fishing bucktails (baited with squid or strips of mackerel) slowly along the bottom or even flies fished in a similar manner (without bait).  These fish are sit-and-wait predators in daylight, so covering ground is essential.  At dawn and dusk, as well as in the dead of night, these fish become more active as predators and even chase bait into the shallows and creeks.  At these times, they can be caught on light tackle and flies.

            I consider May a transition month.  Prior to May the action is more limited and sporadic, as well as less predictable.  By mid-May, more species and larger numbers of fish are around.  Furthermore, they are more active and likely to take artificial lures.  May offers great fishing with fewer anglers than in the coming months, so don't miss your chance to score on some fine fishing action.

Two suggestions for increasing your fishing fun and improving all of our fishing opportunities:

1. Release fish quickly and treat them as you would your own pets.  The longer a fish is out of water, the more likely it is to be weakened and eventually die.  Don't squeeze them and don't throw them back into the water.  Drop them gently or even place them in the water and wait for them to swim away.

2.  Bend down the barb on your hook if there are lots of fish around and you don't plan to keep any.  By having a barbless hook, the fish come off quickly, without damaging them.  Again, this will reduce mortality and make for better fishing next year and the years therafter.

Paul Kerlinger has been fishing since he was 8 years old.

He's a dedicated salt water fly fisherman who enjoys nothing more than working a Cape May area sod bank or jetty.

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