First Step: Check the Regulations
Just because fishing season in New Jersey is year-round doesn’t mean that the same fishing opportunities are always available. In other words, if you’re looking for the official New Jersey fishing season, there’s no one simple answer.
As an angler in the Garden State, it’s critical to follow NJ fishing regulations from the Division of Fish & Wildlife that govern minimum size requirements, possession limits, and species’ seasons. Please be aware that there are regulations that govern freshwater fishing and a separate set of guidelines for marine fishing depending on where you’re planning to go.
So while you can fish for species like northern pike and tiger musky all year long, the regulations outline specific freshwater fish seasons for species of fish such as largemouth and smallmouth bass. You’ll want to pay specific attention to any timeframes for catch and release only in certain waters, such as the two-month-long statewide catch and release policy for walleye each spring.
In addition to general guidance on fishing seasons for freshwater fishing, the Division also publishes information about the seasons for different species in select areas, specifically the Delaware River which borders both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and Greenwood Lake, which straddles both New Jersey and New York.
When it comes to New Jersey saltwater fishing, the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council approves regulations each spring that can include the fishing season in NJ. In addition, many of the species are regulated on a coast-wide basis with seasons set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Most of the saltwater (marine) angler regulations, however, are found in the publicly-accessible New Jersey Administrative Code specifically, Title 7 (Environmental Protection), Chapter 25 (Division of Fish & Wildlife Rules), Subchapters 14 (Crab and Lobster Management), 18 (Marine Fisheries) and 22 (Fishery Management in New Jersey).
To make the issue even a bit more complex, certain species in New Jersey have set catch limits for different periods of time throughout the year. For example, per current regulations, you may catch 15 black sea bass between November 1 and December 31, but as few as two in July and August.
The Best Seasons for Fishing
Once you determine what, where and when you can fish in New Jersey by law, you’ll want to take into consideration other factors that can impact the best time of year to fish. If you’re not limited by NJ fishing regulations, meaning, the season for your target species is open year-round, then you’ll want to take into account migration patterns, eating behavior, weather, and other things that can affect when to schedule an outing.
For instance, for some anglers, the ideal New Jersey fishing season isn’t summer. Instead, it’s late fall when species like blue fish tend to be larger. That’s the time of year when the fish get hungrier also and, as a result, they tend to be more active. Others like to head out in winter when freshwater species tend to be found in groups. If you opt to fish when the temperatures drop, just be sure to be prepared with the right gear. That doesn’t mean just maintaining your reels and line for the weather but preventing frostbite by wearing insulated, waterproof boots and gloves and lots of layers as temperatures below freezing are common during the winter.
Best Times to Fish
No matter what you settle on as the best New Jersey fishing season, a great way to optimize your chance of success on the water is to schedule the time of day you head out. Generally speaking, early morning and late evening are the best times, especially during the warmer months when the fish want to avoid the heat and bright light. In the spring and fall, dusk is the preferred time since after the sun sets, the action will slow dramatically and your chances of hooking a fish will be slim.