Time to throw on some shorts and a t-shirt to catch some winter flounder.
Anglers took to Barnegat Bay early Friday morning to kick off the annual, early-season hunt for the tasty cousin of the summer flounder.
Usually, opening day of winter flounder season is an exercise in endurance. It's a chance to shrug off winter-induced cabin fever and deal with chilly temperatures if it means getting on the water and bringing a fillet home for dinner.
It's different this year. With temperatures in the mid 70s, it feels more like the start of summer flounder season in May.
A few hours into the season opener, early reports indicate the flounder bite is as hot as the weather.
"Anglers had no problem whatsoever catching their two fish per-person limit," Tommy Kilgannon of Pell's Fish and Sport in Brick wrote in an e-mail to Patch.
Pell's, on Mantoloking Road, is the nearest tackle shop to what is arguably the state's best winter flounder grounds: the channels between the Mantoloking Bridge and the Point Pleasant Canal in Barnegat Bay.
"Many anglers were concerned that the warm air temperatures and warm water temperature forced the flounder to move out of the bay prematurely, but their concerns were quickly dispelled as soon as the first sandworm touched bottom this morning," Kilgannon said.
Local anglers Jason Szabo and Dave Dahncke limited out by 6:30 a.m. after finding non-stop action immediately in the bay.
Captain Chris and Captain Joe Meerman dropped anchor in the Mantoloking Bridge area and quickly limited out with "countless" other fish caught and released in good health, Kilgannon said.
Sand worms have been the bait of choice amongst Pell's customers, though blood worms have also been getting the job done.
As always, using plenty of chum is important when winter flounder fishing. Clam chum mixed with a few mussels is Kilgannon's favorite recipe.
With only a few anecdotal reports having come in on the Oyster Creek winter flounder fishery, it seems as if there is steady action there as well. Nothing is confirmed, but a spate of Facebook posts and photos indicate some good catches in the area.
According to a report from Murphy's Hook House in Toms River, winter flounder are plentiful in the Toms River off Island Heights as well. A boater there hooked 11 flatties in a pre-season recon trip earlier this week, and another customer of the shop caught five off his dock.
Winter flounder season will last through May 21. Anglers are allowed to keep two fish each, per day. The minimum size limit is 12 inches.