Types of Fish Caught in Ocean City, NJ, and How to Cook Them

Types of Fish Caught in Ocean City, NJ, and How to Cook Them

Out of all the fun family activities in Ocean City, NJ, one thing that tops a lot of people’s lists is spending the day relaxing and fishing from a pier, boat or beach. Atlantic coastal waters are full of different fish, no matter the season. Fishing together is a great bonding experience, and you can use it as an opportunity to teach your children more about the world around them. The best part? At the end of the day, you can cook your catch for an easy, satisfying dinner. Read on to learn more about what types of fish you can catch in Ocean City, NJ, and how to cook them.

Types of Fish You Can Catch

Whether you are fishing for the experience or to put dinner on your table, there are challenging and unique fish to catch in Jersey all year long. As you fish, please keep in mind that some fish — including sturgeon — are endangered and illegal to catch and keep. When in doubt, research local laws or consult a wildlife ranger with any questions.

Spring

Spring

Ocean City in the spring is an ideal time to fish because temperatures are cool and comfortable, and many top tourist attractions are gearing back up for the coming summer season. Plus, some anglers believe just before and just after a spring rainstorm create some of the best fishing conditions. Here are some popular spring catches you might find in Ocean City.

  • Bluefish: Bluefish are blue and green with silver sides and stomachs. They grow quickly and measure between 31 and 39 inches long. They are most notable for their sharp, compressed teeth, which allow them to eat rapidly and ferociously. Baitfish are ideal for catching bluefish, especially squid or eel. You can also try whole minnows. When fishing for bluefish, the secret to success is to make the bait look natural on the hook. Bluefish travel in schools, so come prepared with enough baitfish to feed the frenzy. Although a school of hungry fish might sound exciting, please note that New Jersey has a three-fish limit imposed on bluefish.
  • Striper: Striper is another name for the Atlantic striped bass, a long-lived fish that can grow up to five feet long, weigh up to 77 pounds and can live as long as 30 years. Stripers can be one of several colors, including light green, dark green, blue, brown or black. Their bellies are iridescent or silver. You’ll find stripers lingering around any structure, such as piers or rock formations. Adult stripers eat baitfish, including squid and crabs. New Jersey does regulate striped bass — one fish between 28 and 43 inches, and one 43 inches or larger — and participates in a striped bass bonus program.
  • Weakfish: Weakfish, also known as sea trout, earned their nickname due to the thin skin around their mouth, which a fishhook can easily damage. In New Jersey, weakfish grow to be between 12 and 18 inches long and usually weigh around 15 pounds or less. They feed on schools of baitfish, such as anchovies, as well as shrimp, mollusks and crab. Because these fish scare easily, many anglers fish at night or in the early dawn when boat traffic is minimal. The law permits you to catch and keep one 13-inch weakfish.
  • Mackerel: Mackerel are steel-colored fish that can grow several feet long, depending on the type. The Jersey coast houses several types of mackerel, including Atlantic and king. Atlantic mackerels are the smallest type of mackerel, averaging about one foot in length. King mackerels get much larger. Mackerel is a bottom-feeding fish, so you will need a sturdy — yet flexible — rod and reel, depth sinkers and access to a deep-sea fishing vessel. Sand eel and squid are ideal for mackerel fishing. If you’re fishing for king mackerel, please note that NOAA’s standard is three per person.

Summer

Summer

Summer has no shortage of fun-filled opportunities for the Jersey coast. Several types of fish thrive in the warm Atlantic waters this time of year, but some of the most popular are as follows.

  • Marlin: At a whopping 150 pounds at the time of maturity, white marlin are a fisherman’s delight. You won’t catch marlin fish off a pier — these fish spend their time about 1,000 fathoms deep in the sea during late spring and early summer. Due to the depth you will be fishing in, a boat equipped with sonar is a must. Marlin are natural baitfish predators, but you might also have luck with some artificial lures, like outriggers and dredges.
  • Tuna: One tuna species you might catch of the New Jersey coast is the yellowfin tuna. Yellowfin tuna can reach seven feet long and weigh up to 400 pounds, though larger fish are not uncommon. They got their name for their distinctive coloration: a blue back, a silver belly and a yellow stripe down the middle of the body. They are fast and powerful swimmers, making them a fun challenge for experienced anglers. Because they move quickly and adapt easily, you can find them in various water temperatures and depths. Although tuna will eat almost anything, live bait like menhaden, hardtails and mullet are ideal. For the best results, match your live bait to whatever the tuna will be most likely to come across in that specific region during the summer.
  • Wahoo: Wahoo are a type of mackerel, beloved by anglers for their delicious flavor. They swim extraordinarily fast — an average of 60 miles per hour. They are structure-loving fish and tend to congregate around wreckage, debris, tall weeds and ledges. Sometimes, you’ll find wahoo as far down as 1,000 feet below. That said, you can troll for wahoo about 15 feet below the surface. Flutter jigs are good for sinking beneath structural wreckage and attracting these fast swimmers, as well as live bonito and herring.
  • Mahi-mahi: Mahi-mahi, also known as dolphinfish, are another popular culinary fish. It gets its “dolphinfish” name from its rounded, bulbous forehead, which resembles a dolphin’s. Although mahi-mahi look gray once you catch them, they are a stunning, bright shade of green, yellow or blue while underwater. They can get as long as three feet, and weigh up to 20 pounds. They swim close to schools of baitfish and feed on other fish, such as mackerel and sardines.

Autumn

Autumn

If you’re planning a trip to Ocean City to see some fall foliage, you might want to set aside a few days for a fishing trip. As water temperatures cool once more, you’ll find fish like the following.

  • Kingfish: Northern kingfish prefer shallow coastal waters with solid or sandy beds underneath, making them the perfect fish for surf or beach fishing. They prefer warm water, at least 68 degrees. At maturity, these fish are typically one foot in length and weigh less than two pounds — though larger fish are not uncommon. Kingfish feed on crustaceans, shrimp and small, living baitfish including mullet and herring. 
  • Bonito: You might have heard bonito fish referred to as “little tunny” — that’s because they are a member of the tuna and mackerel family, and look like a smaller version of a tuna fish. While they can grow to be 30 inches long and 12 pounds, the average little tunny is only two to five pounds. Don’t let their size fool you, however — these are fast fish. They move quickly and sporadically, which makes them a challenging catch. Some anglers chase bonito for their table, and others for baitfish. The ideal way to lure a bonito in is with sand eels and squid. You may even hook more than one bonito at a time.
  • Tautog: Tautog are a popular autumnal fish that spend their days hiding in natural and artificial reefs off the New Jersey Coast. You might have heard tautog called “tog” and “blackfish.” Regardless of the name, these fish are a challenging catch, but worth it. Use green crab or another type of crustacean to lure the fish to your hook. When hooking a tog, patience is critical. Be ready to wait for as long as it takes before the tautog will pull on the hook. Do not reel in when you feel light taps, or you will not catch the tog. In New Jersey, the law only permits you to catch and keep one 15-inch tautog fish from Aug. 1 through Nov. 15, and five from Nov. 16 through the end of the year. 

Winter

Winter

Just because the weather is cold doesn’t mean you can’t have a fun, worthwhile fishing trip. New Jersey waters are home to some popular, easy-to-catch fish that thrive in frigid temperatures.

  • Pollock:Pollock are silver and green, with a white belly and forked tail. They are a favorite catch for Ocean City tourists because of their size — pollock can grow to three and a half feet long, and weigh up to 46 pounds. You’ll have the most luck catching these fish in cold water, several dozen miles off the coast, preferably above wreckage sites or large clusters of debris. During the winter and spring, you’ll find them about 125 to 150 feet deep. During the summer and autumn, they descend deeper. Jigging is ideal for pollock, using fresh clams, mackerel or herring as bait.
  • Black sea bass: Black sea bass spawn off the coast of New Jersey from July through October, which makes winter the best time to fish for large, mature sea bass. These fish can reach up to 20 pounds. Sea bass are bottom feeders, so the best place to fish for them is above a flat, solid bottom 20 to 40 feet deep. Live bait, like squid, clam, mussels and crabs, are ideal. New Jersey has regulations in place for fishing sea bass. During the winter, the law limits individual anglers to 15 fish, and they must throw back any catch less than 13 inches long.
  • Winter flounder:Winter flounder vary in color, but their eyes — which are on the right side of their thick bodies — are their most distinctive feature. They spawn during the winter, and when mature, can grow up to two feet long. It is best to fish for winter flounder from a dock or pier in muddy, grassy areas. Use larvae, bloodworms, shrimp, clams, mussels or chum as bait. It’s essential to note that winter flounder have small mouths, so bait should never be too big for them to consume.
  • Cod:Atlantic cod are either brown, green or gray, with a silver stomach and distinct fins. They are two to four feet long and can weigh up to 90 pounds. Cod begin spawning in the winter and do so through spring. Once they are born, cod live and travel in large schools. You’ll most likely find Atlantic cod in cold water, probably near the bottom of the water. However, many cod venture toward the surface or stay less than 500 feet deep. In addition to jigs and sinkers, you need moderately sized living bait, like smaller fish, lobsters or shrimp. Please note, there is a 10-fish limit on cod in New Jersey, as well as size requirements.

Types of Fishing You Can Do in Ocean City, NJ

Types of Fishing You Can Do in Ocean City, NJ

Before you head out for your day on the water, be sure to check the Ocean City, NJ, fishing report. A fishing report will give you live updates of current water conditions, which fish are biting and if there are any hotspots nearby. There are many different ways to fish in Jersey, including the following.

  • Off the pier: Piers are a popular fishing destination because they offer easy and safe access to the ocean without having to secure a boat. Additionally, many types of fish enjoy structures and tend to gather around piers for shelter or safety. Ocean City, NJ, has several fishing piers for you to choose from. Many piers have specific rules and guidelines you must follow regarding your gear, so always check for those ahead of time.
  • Open boat: Open boating is one form of offshore fishing in Ocean City. Open-boat fishing is when you reserve a fishing spot on a large vessel with other anglers. Most open boats provide bait and ice as part of the reservation fee. You can enjoy an open boat with friends and family, or meet new friends with similar interests. 
  • Charter: Ocean City, NJ, fishing charters are popular with tourists and locals alike. When you charter a fishing boat, you reserve a vessel for a half-day or full-day excursion. The boat’s owners are experienced anglers and accompany you, either to offer guidance or to man the vessel while you fish. Because they know the waters, their experience is a priceless resource for avid anglers. 
  • From the shore: If you prefer to stay on land, you can fish in the surf comfortably from the shore of your favorite Ocean City beach. Just be sure wherever you set up is public fishing land, and that you are careful around beachgoers. If you’re not certain where the best shoreline is, keep an eye out for the locals — they usually know the hotspots.

How to Cook Fish After You Catch Them

How to Cook Fish After You Catch Them

Is there anything more satisfying than eating your catch of the day? It’s convenient, affordable and gives you a sense of pride. Plus, eating fish has numerous health benefits, including the ability to help lower the risk of heart disease. There are endless possibilities when it comes to cooking fish, so it comes down to what you prefer and what type of dish you are hoping to create. Some of our favorite fish cooking methods are the grill, oven, stovetop or deep fryer. 

As you cook your seafood, you will have to make a few decisions, such as whether or not you want to keep the skin on. Skinless fish are less prone to sticking on grates and pans, but many seafood enthusiasts love the taste and texture of crisped fish skin on the plate. As you choose a cooking method, you should also research the best technique for your specific type of fish. For example, it’s better to grill thicker cuts of fish, while thinner types are ideal for baking or quick frying on the stovetop.

Grill

Grill

You can grill fish on your favorite charcoal or gas grill, directly on a grill grate or wrap them in a foil packet and roast them over a campfire. No matter which grilling approach you choose, preheating your grill grate on high heat is an essential first step. Fish can dry out quickly, so the hotter the grate is when you begin cooking, the less time the fish will have to be on the heat. Before placing the fish on the grill, be sure to cover it in an adequate amount of oil to prevent sticking. You’ll also want to season both sides of the fish before cooking. If you are cooking with skin, always grill skin-side down. Avoid flipping the fish too much while it is cooking.

As a general rule, you should grill a fish for eight to 10 minutes per inch of thickness. However, always consult your recipe for final guidance. When you remove the fish from the grate, carefully do so with a fish spatula. Allow it to rest on a plate for several minutes before serving.

Oven

Baking fish is a perfect way to ensure a moist, flavorful final product. Follow these steps for perfectly baked fish:

  1. To bake your fish, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. While the oven is preheating, coat a baking dish with your favorite cooking oil.
  3. Season your fish fillets with salt, pepper, herbs and your other favorite flavorings.
  4. Create a mixture of butter and lemon juice to brush onto the fish before placing it in the oiled dish. For an extra delicious fish, continue basting throughout the cooking process.
  5. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 25 to 45 minutes, depending on quantity and thickness.
  6. At the end of cooking time, test that it has cooked through by inserting a fork and twisting the meat of the fish. If it flakes, the fish is ready to eat.

Stovetop

The stovetop presents numerous possibilities for cooking your catch. For example, you can:

  • Fry or sauté your fish skin-side down in butter or oil and thoroughly season with herbs, salt, pepper and lemon juice. This recipe will create a crispy, flavorful fish that pairs well with any side dish.
  • Poach your fish on the stovetop with white wine, vegetable broth, butter, oil or coconut milk for a tender, succulent dish.
  • Throw together a stovetop seafood chowder. While clams are the traditional main ingredient in chowder, feel free to get creative and incorporate all your seafood catches of the day. 

Deep-Frying

Deep-Frying

Deep-fried fish is a staple menu item at any seafood restaurant, but you can make it from the comfort of your kitchen. The key to deep-frying fish is to choose a fish that can stand up to the heat and submersion, like cod. Before you drop your fish into the oil, be sure to coat it for that restaurant-quality crunch. Some of our favorite batters and coatings are:

  • Cornflakes
  • Panko flakes
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Cornmeal
  • Beer batter

When you serve your deep-fried fish, don’t forget the malt vinegar, tartar sauce and lemon wedges on the side!

Plan Your Ocean City Fishing Adventure Today

Plan Your Ocean City Fishing Adventure Today

If your mouth is watering for authentic, New Jersey seafood, there is no better time to start planning your Ocean City getaway. Ocean City, NJ, offers something for everyone, including avid anglers, solo travelers, large families, foodies and thrill-seekers. Enjoy top-quality restaurants, breathtaking views and plenty of nonstop fun on the water. Learn more about why Ocean City, NJ, is the perfect destination and start planning the ultimate coastal fishing adventure today.

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