cape may fishing

 

 

Saltwater Fly Fishing
in Cape May County

by Paul Kerlinger
Outdoors Editor

There aren’t many places you can catch four or even five species of fish on flies in a single day.

Southern New Jersey, particularly Cape May Wildwood and Stone Harbor, is, without a doubt, one of the best places in the country to saltwater fly fish.
Flyfishing at sunset on the Jersey shore
My best in a single day here includes striped bass, blue fish, weakfish, sea bass, and northern stargazer.

Why is the Cape May peninsula so great for fly fishing?

Does the term habitat mean anything?

Does the word access mean anything?

Cape May County has both. From the Egg Harbor River to Cape May Point the habitat includes surf, jetties, groins, inlets, back bays, sod banks, docks and bridges, the ocean, the Delaware Bay, tidal creeks, rivers, rips, sloughs, and other situations.

These habitats provide fly fishing opportunities under virtually all weather and tide conditions. It’s sometimes can be confusing to choose which type of habitat you wish to fish.

The species most targeted by fly fishers include striped bass, bluefish, and weakfish, at least from shore.

The incidental fish include flounder on a regular basis, herring, white perch, sea trout (specks), croakers, sea bass, and several other species that occasionally try to take a bite out of your fly. I even think that ling (spotted hake) can be taken on a fly at the right time.

The fly fishing season here in Cape May starts in about March, although there are bass, white perch, and herring available almost through the winter. They are just more difficult to catch.

White perch and small bass frequent the tidal creeks and rivers starting in March. By April the bass are more cooperative and in late April the bluefish and even some weakfish show up. In May the fishing really heats up as water temperatures rise into the range that makes fish hungry.

The back bays and jetties have weakfish, bass, and bluefish, and by mid-May the flounder start to provide alternative action if your fly reaches the bottom.

June is hot for weakfish and flounder, with the bass becoming more nocturnal. July and August are slower, unless you become nocturnal and seek out the weakies and bass at night. Poppers at dawn and dusk during these months can provide some decent action on small bluefish and deep dredging will produce weakfish and flounder.

As water temperatures start to drop in September, the autumn fishing begins in earnest. Watch for mullet and other baitfish because that’s where the game fish will be. This continues into October.

November marks the best time for bass and blues from shore and by December shore based fishing starts to slow down. Boaters continue to catch blues and bass on flies right through mid-December, but by the end of the month things get tougher for fly fishers.

Excellent fishing opportunities can be had from shore in Cape May, but if you have a boat you can expand your horizons.

For example, the ocean has barely been tapped. From the near shore waters out to the lumps and even Baltimore Canyon there are opportunities that are seldom tapped by fly fishers.

Species from bluefish to Spanish mackerel, to dolphin, to tuna, marlin, jacks, and more, can provide a variety of action for 6 to 14 weight rods. This is not like the new frontier, because the traditional charter boats can regularly catch these fish. However, they have rarely explored this opportunity with a fly rod.

If you wish to explore saltwater fly fishing in the Cape May area, there are several ways to get started.

The first is to explore. Look at a map, find the habitat type you wish to fish, and go there. There is plenty of parking (usually), the access points are easy to find, and there are unlikely to be crowds except at midday in summer and during the autumn blitzes. Keep a journal so that you know what works and doesn’t work.

Perhaps the best way, if you don’t have much time, is to use a guide. Alternatively, you may wish to charter a boat.

The guides and captains may not be fly fishers, but they can put you on fish. It’s then your job to choose and present the fly properly, and finally, to catch the fish.


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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