From now through December, one of the predominant baits along the Jersey Coast will be the diminutive sand eel.
I've got continuous visions of striped bass gorging themselves upon the pods so greedily that they puke them up on deck. As with any baitfish, you're going to want to "match the hatch" with lure presentations and for sure there is no shortage of offerings to utilize. Let's start with trolling for stripers.
Probably the most widely used gadget for mimicking sand eels is the tried and true umbrella tube rig, equipped with black, green or red rubber tubes that emulate a sand eel school moving through the water. 9Ers lures make excellent umbrella rigs. Drag the rigs at 2.5 to 3 knots about 5 to 10 feet off the sea floor for the best results. If you're marking plenty of eels on the fishfinder screen or get visuals of big black bait clouds on the ocean's surface, then go to the jig.
Jigging from the boat, a wide array of metal lures are available. Drop down or cast out #4 Deadly Dicks, Williamson Gomoku jigs, Stingo jigs and Shimano Butterfly jigs and either reel them up at a moderate pace or rip them through the water near the surface.
In the surf, the old go-to lure is the Ava jig ranging in sizes 007, A17 and A27, and you can choose an assortment of tube tails in green, black, orange or yellow. Cast the ava jig out and drag it across the sandy sea floor in the surf, especially during dawn hours when sand eels dislodge themselves out of the sand and exit to feed. During the day and evening hours, a Tsunami rubber sand eel hands down accounted for the bulk of my December surf stripers last year. Cast that out with a small 3-inch Felmlee eel teaser tied 16 inches in front of the Tsunami. Come evening and into the night time, you can't beat an old Boone Needlefish reeled in slowly on the surf's surface.
Sand eels are already here in full force as the false albacore schools, bass and tuna have been inhaling them with reckless abandon. Use the right imitations and you'll be duly rewarded.