Jersey Blues

Last Friday I met up with Brent Flack-Davison for a drink after work in lower Manhattan. I’m in the Big Apple for work and I’m dying to scratch my striped bass itch. Brent, a born and bred Capetonian has been living in NYC for a number of years and has his finger on the local saltwater dial.

We are having a cold one at a downtown bar and I’m interrogating Brent about the possibilities for diy stripers, since I’m skint and cannot afford $800 for a guide. “It’s a bit early for the stripers, but why don’t we go for blues instead?” Brent suggests that we hit the New Jersey shore, since he’s been getting good reports of early season blues. I’m a bit skeptical; the elf/bluefish fishing that I am familiar with is seriously junior league, but I’d rather catch a small fish than miss the opportunity to fishing new water.

On Sunday morning Brent picks me up and in no time we’ve exited the Holland tunnel and making our way through Jersey. Obviously the conversation is dominated by East Coast fishing and Brent shares stories of false albacore off the bricks and sight fishing for stripers on the flats. It really sounds amazing and I keep thinking that these guys have got it good compared to the saltwater scene in Cape Town.

After an hours drive we hit some Jersey parking lot. While Brent is getting the kayak ready, I immediately run to the dunes to have a look at the water. There are a few conventional guys on the beach, soaking baits in completely flat and glassed-off conditions. I spot two spin fishermen in kayaks further out. Kids are running around on the beach, people are walking their dogs, enjoying the first sunny days of the spring season. As we gear up, one of the kayak spin fishermen comes walking up the beach, having finished his session. Brent asks him about the fishing. “Plenty of fish around, they’re all laid up on the surface” comes the reply. Brent is grinning and I’m getting excited. I might even end up catching something after all.

As we gear up Brent asks if I want to borrow his 9wt. No thanks, I just bought a brand new Scott Tidal 7wt, and since we are fishing for bluefish I think I’ll go light. We hit the water, I’m up front and Brent is sitting at the back with light spinning gear. We paddle out a few hundred yards ….

Finning on the surface
Finning on the surface

What we saw next was almost too unreal to comprehend. The fish were big and laid up. Everywhere. Groups of bluefish daisy chaining. Single fish finning on the surface. Pods of fish cruising around. Bait getting smashed here and there. I strip some line off, make a cast and go tight on my first cast! What ensued was three hours of bluefish mayhem, the likes of which I have never experienced. After the first hour I have stopped counting and Brent and I have grown tired of giving high fives. Brent suggests a popper and we switch to some frenzied surface action. Apart from a fish that grabbed the fly dangling under the rod tip while spotting finning fish, and a handful of blind casts, every single fish was sight cast to. We’d see a fish cruising or fins stationary as the fish just bask on the surface, stick a fly a meter or so in front of it and watch it smash the fly.

glassed off conditions
glassed off conditions made spotting laid up fish esier
Feisty fish on Brent's popper
Feisty fish on Brent’s popper

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One of countless double ups
One of countless double ups

For the first time I experienced triple-ups. Both of us would go tight, but by the time I have my fish boatside, Brent has already caught a second fish. I realized that choosing the new Scott was like bringing a knife to a gunfight. It was great fun fighting them on the seven, but the blues were handing me my balls on a plate. Eventually my fears were realized when the rod broke at the first guide as a particularly feisty specimen made a sharp run at close quarters.

Dark grey over yellow Clousers worked well in the slightly murky water
Dark grey over yellow Clousers worked well in the slightly murky water
Can't go wrong with stock standard white Clousers
Can’t go wrong with stock standard white Clousers
Popper down the gullet. Watching blues chase down and hammer a popper was epic fun
Popper down the gullet. Watching blues chase down and hammer a popper was epic fun

We were running out of time and there was no time to go in and rig up the nine weight, so I decided to finish off the session with the broken fly rod. This was where the fun really started! No drag and but section to rely on, and managing line was hilarious as the big fish made long runs and gill rattling jumps. Nasty! “This is where the boys are separated from the men”, Brent remarked, so I handed him the short stick for shits and giggles. After he managed a good bluefish on the broken rod we decided to call it a day and head home for a cold one.

The joys of fighting a big fish without a reel
The joys of fighting a big fish without a reel
Nuclear spaghetti!
Nuclear spaghetti!

Walking the streets of New York the next day, I couldn’t stop thinking about those blues on the surface and they will probably haunt me for years to come. Thanks Brent for what was probably the fastest paced fishing I’ve ever experienced!

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7 thoughts on “Jersey Blues”

  1. Herman Botes says:

    WHOOOOO Epic , Epic Epic brother! A purple patch – its been a long time comming.

  2. Brent FD says:

    Flipping awesome Conrad. Great to finally meet you and fish together! You’d give Lefty a run for his money with half a fly rod!

  3. Leonard Flemming says:

    Haha Conrad, what a fun story to read – dude, even though Andre and I went fishing this morn, you got us seriously jealous with this story! Well done, elf are not so bad to catch on fly after all:)

  4. Michael Gradidge says:

    Great Story and great fishing Conrad! In spite of my epic trip to Weipa, I am still envious!

  5. Chris Bladen says:

    You are legend Conrad! Awesome pics and story- I could literally feel my pulse rate going up reading your article. Well done mate!

  6. Niel Malan says:

    Conrad,
    Great report, great fish – just sorry I was not there!
    Regards
    Niel

  7. Arno van der Nest says:

    Lekker Blues Conrad! Those guys are really spoilt with their fishery over there. Makes you think what things could be like if our resources gets managed properly.
    A couple of years ago I fished the Sandy Hook beach and managed a some striper, bluefish and a single Albie from the beach. Awesome experience…

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