Unlocking the Sedge Islands, well just a little bit... E-mail
Wednesday, 07 October 2009 17:54

One day I was internet fishing and I came across a little gem. There were whispered hints about the back of Island Beach State Park . As a boy my family would eschew the crowed beaches and hit the beach and the quiet areas of Island Beach State Park . Never, though, did we turn right and look at the bay. Now my attention started to slowly turn west.

I purchased a kayak off E-bay a few weeks earlier and with great sites like KayakFishingStuff.com and StriperSurf.com to guide me, I started to think about this little known area. This area is called the Sedge Islands Marine Conservation Zone and it is a truly a hallowed and pristine place. Both qualities one has to work hard for in New Jersey . It remains so today. Although the pressure from the technology age has made an impact, The Sedge Island's very nature keeps posers out.

Dear Reader, if you think the following article will hand over the keys to the kingdom of the Sedges.stop reading now. Neither is this a treatise on Striper Fishing Techniques. I have too much respect for the area, the anglers who fish it, and the nature that needs it desperately. What you will find in its stead are the necessary tools to unlock its secrets and make it as special to you as it is to me. My father always said that you appreciate things you earn, more than things given to you. So your price of admission to this special area is doing your homework and using your tools.

The Area

The area is reached by two methods. Some folks can wade to certain areas from the front-side of IBSP. But the walk is long and you have to time the tides right or you are stuck for a half of a day. The other way is by Kayak. Stink boats are not allowed back there, unless by permit. Most cannot get in anyway. Perfect situation, no walkers, no boaters! Just us mice.

You can launch and park at IBSP Area 21. You do not need a buggy pass, but do need a NJ State Park Pass or pay the day rate. The gates are open 24 hours a day. Some folks launch from LBI and paddle across the inlet. Most do not go to that extent You cannot park in the launch area. Most folks drop off the yak and rig it and then go park. This area is small and so be courteous to other users. There are many bird watchers, recreational paddlers and scientists using the area. There is also a million dollar bathroom there. Stop in and see what a million buys you in NJ.

As you can see from the map, the area is bordered on the North by a large very shallow harbor, I call it the Little Bay. The zone is positioned just west the Barnegat Inlet. The Oyster Creek Channel borders it on the South Western edge. On the western edge is the Mud Channel. It has several dwellings. One of the notable houses is the Sedge House that hosts overnight camping and scientific trips. There are residents back there who keep a sharp lookout so always be respectful especially around these dwellings. I took the time to say hello and get to know them, but would still never land unless trying to get away from lightning.

Here is a link to a full map.

The sedges are cut through with channels. Some are no wider than 10 feet, some are 100 yards across. They can go from 5 inches deep to 15 feet in a footstep. The Oyster Creek which borders the area is a formidable channel with TONS of boat traffic during the day. This channel RIPS, it cuts along the southern banks of the sedges with powerful force and it is deep. The sedge's cut-through channels empty from the little bay into the OC channel on an outgoing tide. The water cooks along these inside cut-through channel banks. One is put in the mindset of a raging trout stream. The outgoing empties into the OC Channel where fish just wait with open mouths for dinner.

As the tide switches, the water turns around and rushes in through the channel flooding the little bay. This is when the big girls come out of the deep channel and into the cut through channels. They will follow the bait right into the bay. Many times at night I have spooked sharks and big bass in 2 feet of dead water, although I don't know who was more spooked, them or me.

The beauty of this set-up is that tide stage should not make a difference in your trip planning if you use your toolbox. You just reposition yourself to take advantage of whichever direction the water is running. There are 2 main channels that lead straight from the bay to the OC channel. Yet there are offshoots and dead ends in all directions. You would be amazed at where these go and what size fish are happy getting back into these little gems. The one at the 'top' of the sedges is where you will see the two dwellings. You should start your education, however, in the Horseshoe Slough which is the 'main thorofare.' Curiosity will take you to other channels soon enough. The good news is there is a years worth of learning right in that main channel. If you think you got it knocked after a few pass throughs, I'll tell you what my prom date told me, slow down, do it again.

One of the most effective ways to fish this area is to beach the kayak and stalk on foot. These fish are very wary due to the 20+ nesting Osprey pairs back there (more about them and their impact later). The sods convey sound and vibration, so walk very soft and easy. Stealth is important. Since the water is running so hard staying put while in the boat on the perfect rip can be difficult if not impossible. So I use the yak to get somewhere and then stalk. Many sharpies will drift with the current and cast to the banks, but you better love paddling up tide if you plan to get back and repeat.

And now for a big tool; you must learn to understand the little bay. Or at least why it is so important. It is very shallow and many folks have to walk through it towing the kayak to get to the sods. That's fine. Don't sweat it, it does not drop off until you get to the tiny islet at the mouth of the 'main thorofare'. This area is the key to the whole she-bang. It is a giant nursery to bait fish, crustaceans, eels and fowl. Billions of baitfish are conceived and grow up here before heading out to sea. Many stay right there. Don't waste your time fishing in the middle of it, unless it is night, but I won't say the surrounding sod banks bordering the little bay are worthless. (Wink, oops a secret slipped). What you need to do is figure out where the bait is, what the bait is and your pattern for the day will unfold for you.

It basically is a snug protected little nursery ¼ mile from one of the North East's biggest killing field of Apex predators. This shallow nursery is what sets the Sedge Islands apart from other sod banks. This, dear reader, is very good for us.

THE FISHERY

The State of NJ is a rest stop on the migrating fish highway. Stripers from down south visit the bay early in the run. It is nothing for them to run the mighty Barnegat Inlet and get into our laps. There are also weakfish and blues. Of course tons of other fish are out there too. During season the Fluke fishing is lights out, but don't tell Michael J. Sifisto that; we need to keep him up North. What is special is the size of the resident striper. They have such good forage and access to deep water that they get big back there. I have caught over 35 inch resident bass back there.

As the season wears on, the migrating stripers come in big time. The OC channel is full of $100,000 boats clamming. They do well, but they have to be anchored. We can move around. There are two modes to fishing back there. They can best be summed up as Night and Day.

The fish will not come shallow during the day. It just won't happen. These fish are spooky and the clear, shallow water offers them no protection. The Ospreys while amazing anglers and the inspiration and talisman for my guide service; keep the fish away. There are over 20 nesting pairs of birds back there. It is a conservation success story of the highest order. Do not go near the nests especially when the young hatch. This is very important. The resident people back there will report you instantly if you go near the nests. So will I.

Our favorite fishies are raised to be very afraid of Angling Raptors like Ospreys. So they simply stay out of the shallows in the day. Even the cows. Same with weakies, they are very spooky and as soon as the first stink-boats start running the channel in the morning they are gone. The only 2 ways to fish in the day back there is to get out into the channel and troll with a tube and worm or a big swimmer, clam from the banks or anchored up yak in the rips. Both techniques will garner large fish. Many guys will bring sand spikes and buckets of bunker or clams and fish these deep rips of OC. Many large bass get nailed this way. When fishing bait, take into consideration which way the tide is running. Think of the tide emptying bait into a big basin. Since you can move around you can fish the rips from either side of the cut-through channels depending on tide. This is the predominant way to fish for Stripers in the spring back there. Trolling is good too, but watch for the boats, they roar through there in typical NJ fashion.

As we move into late April and May the only time to fish is Night time. There are no navigational or stink-boat hazards going across the little bay. After you have scouted the area a few times during the spring, you will be ready for the nights. As soon as the sun goes down the fish start to move into the channels and stay there following the tide all night. This is when you stalk bass and weakies. Whether you are right on the edge of the sods casting big wood into the dark Oyster Creek or you are fly fishing with tiny deceivers in the cuts; you will hook up. If not keep moving, the fishies always are. You must use your ears; it is deathly quiet and spooky back there at night, not for the faint of heart. But the slurps and splashed that echo across the silent silky black rips haunt my dreams. These fish will be at your feet, up along and under the banks. When I get to a good spot, I often crawl and make my first casts 20 feet back from the bank (there-- that is another secret).

Then in June the bugs come out in force. I cover from head to toe, I use latex gloves and deet. They will literally eat you alive. When it gets really buggy, that usually is the end of the bigger visitors. July 4 th is fun to watch the fireworks but after that I head elsewhere. The residents will always be ready and willing all summer, but as always, I try never to abuse a resident population (anywhere), nothing good comes from beating up on 26 inch fish over and over.

A word about safety. As stated above the rips can be challenging, at night they are downright terrifying in a yak. If it is a new moon be extra careful in the stronger current and do not to step too close to the bank. If it is dark it is hard to tell where flooded grass stops and 25 feet deep starts. I never take off my PFD. Even after fishing for hours in one spot. If you get caught in a rip with wind and tide against you; you are in big trouble. Also wind is an issue. There is no protection from it as the area is basically flat. This is when you get out and stalk. Always be aware of approaching lightning. You are the tallest thing out there and when it gets electric you better beat feet or get under one of the houses if you can. Don't dawdle it comes on fast.

The Kayak, Gear, and Tackle

A Hobie was made for fishing the cut-through rips as you can hold your position. But the sudden shallows create a challenge for the Mirage Drive . As a result any boat will do. One of the sharpest sedge anglers I know uses a tiny sit in and is fine. He won't go into OC, but still catches more than I. You do need to be in waders and probably a dry top. The sods flood and there is almost nothing that does not get submerged. There are all kinds of slimy and pointy things all over and tough waders are the only way to go. You can anchor up, but the ripping water scares me too much, plus I can get my bait anywhere you can while anchored so I don't see the point. Remember these rips are vicious. Make sure at night if you are in OC Channel you have a light on and are keeping safety #1.

In addition fog has a tendency to pop up fast due to the shallow water warming quickly and cooling the air. My advice is to make getting the GPS launch coordinates, entrance to the main thorofare, and exit into OC channel job 1. In the fog, there is no sound of surf to guide you and you get turned around but quick. I rescued 2 people from getting swept out in the main channel over the years. You will need a headlamp at night, but turning it on is twice as bad as from the surf as there is so little out there that a single light can and does shut off a bite instantly. Walk quietly far back from the edge to turn it on. I always have the VHF and keep the weather channel on if it is questionable.

Any regular Striper offering will work in the main Oyster Creek Channel. Tube and Worm, big swimmers or your favorite lure for trolling. Big clam rigs, needing big weight as that currents really pulls. 5oz will bounce merrily along the bottom. Also the big channel has muscle beds (there that is another secret) that will snag anything.

For inside the word is downsize and simple. A white ¾ oz bucktail tipped with a small white grub will do well bouncing on the bottom. Small Bombers and Mag Darters will work at night. But nothing will touch a simple ¼ jig with a pink sluggo in the small 5" size. This will put more stripers and weakies between your legs than anything other than a fly. Before I mention flies, a quick word on presentation. The swing is king (oops ANOTHER secret). Don't just tear a lure across the rip or you are done for that section after 1 cast. They will smell you out like an indiscretion in an elevator. Toss out your lure and gently let it drift downstream, as it pulls tight and starts to swing..well I'll leave that to the imagination. If you are going slow, you are going too fast.

Of course if you are a fly guy, run don't walk to the sedges, fly fishing is made for the area.  A fly/sedge guru by the name of Hank (Fishtank) Hewitt III who is personally responsible for my first Sedge Fly Rod hookup has done some remarkable modifications of standard flies that are responsible for more of my sedge fish than this article has words Dear Reader.  Hank is the brain-trust behind Tanks Teaser's we so love to fish in the surf.  He has modified a Wooly Bugger that is like no other and it is deadly.  His teaching's have shown many how a striped bass feeds and takes like a trout (and that is my last secret).  If you can fly fish for trout, you are 75% of the way there. When a bass takes a run on a 8wt in 3 feet of water, it is breathtaking.  We are trying our level best to get him to bring these to market.  Time will tell.

I stated in the beginning of this missive that I am concerned about not ruining the area for the characters who hang in the sods.  I would be remiss if I did not take a second to thank them.  Footsteps fill in fast in the Sedges, but the wisest thing I have done is to put my boots behind theirs.  Lou Illuzzi (Yakster) and Andy (LBI Fisher) who took me back there for the first time.  FishTank Hank for the countless pointers, schemes and long cold nights.  Ben Kilmer (BennyRaw) without whom, I would still be casting without discipline.  And lastly, Bob D'Amico publisher of StriperSurf.com who puts us all one enter button away from each other.

So, there is a roadmap and toolbox to start your love affair. The beautiful sunsets, the awesome dawning of a day as a fishery explodes, the quiet ebb and flow that sustain this most wonderful of nurseries are awaiting the angler that wants to unlock the mystery. But remember to tread lightly, make your secrets and keep them yours. This is no run of the mill stretch of water, please treat it that way. Stay safe, and stalk quietly! Tight lines.

Shipwreck

 

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