Fishing Tips

Fishin’ with Finelli

Posted 7/18/2016

Savvy and always fun to fish with, Capt. Mark Finelli knows his home waters and enjoys sharing them with his clients and friends

Long Beach Island, as the name might suggest, is the longest of the barrier islands along the New Jersey coast. At the northernmost tip of the island is the historic hamlet of Barnegat Light, a commercial and recreational fishing haven for over 150 years, and it remains so today. It was there at the High Bar Yacht Club that the Yamaha team met light tackle fishing guide Mark Finelli, Jr. and hopped aboard his Yamaha-powered 23-foot Parker® center console. The plan was to spend the morning plugging the jetty rocks at Barnegat Inlet where he finds striped bass and bluefish throughout the fishing season. 

“The jetties always hold stripers,” he said. “Regardless of whether my charter for the day wants to go wreck fishing for blackfish and sea bass, drift fishing for fluke, or trolling for bass or bonito in the ocean, I almost always start or end each fishing day making a few casts with plugs or live bait along the rocks. They are too consistent to overlook.” 

Finelli cruised past the commercial docks and the Coast Guard Station before turning east into the back of the inlet under the watchful gaze of one of the oldest lighthouses along the Eastern Seaboard. Affectionately called “Old Barney,” it was designed by Lieutenant George G. Meade in 1855 and commissioned on January 1, 1859. A West Point graduate, Meade went on to become a general in the Union Army during the Civil War and defeated General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg. 

A beautiful view of Old Barney, the historic Barnegat Inlet lighthouse as seen from the ocean looking in at Island Beach State Park, an 11-mile stretch of wild barrier island that is a haven for surf fishermen.

From the foot of Old Barney, which sits on the south side of the inlet, it’s a bit over a half mile before boaters can exit the inlet into the open Atlantic. There is a long rock jetty running the length of the south side and a second prominent jetty on the north, but only half its length is above water. From the midpoint out to the navigational marker at the inlet mouth, the jetty is composed of jagged, low-lying rocks that, depending on the tide stage, can break the surface with a rather menacing appearance or be completely submerged with water boiling over top. Both jetties can hold striped bass and bluefish, usually very tight to the rocks, which makes the passage for hapless baitfish into and out of Barnegat Bay akin to running a gauntlet of hungry predators. At varying times of the year, victims can include herring, menhaden, bay anchovies and silversides. The whole scenario makes for some pretty good fishing for light tackle anglers. 

The boat arrived as the sun was pushing over the horizon in time for the last half of the outgoing tide, and Capt. Finelli made a beeline to the sunken section of the north jetty. Sometimes the fishing there is better in the dark or after sunrise, but a good deal of the time it just doesn’t matter. The tackle of the morning consisted of seven-foot medium action spinning rods with matching reels filled with braided line and tipped with stout fluorocarbon leaders. We tied on a couple of his favorite plugs – Bomber A-Salt shallow running swimmers with a black back and dark purple sides and belly. The dark color is easy for fish to see silhouetted against the sky. He carefully nosed the bow close enough to the rocks to make for a short cast, and held the boat at that distance as the tide pushed the Parker® down the length of the jetty toward the mouth, while the F200 Yamaha idled imperceptibly, but ready at a moment’s notice to back away if we hooked a fish. It didn’t take long. 

Captain Mark Finelli with a sunrise striped bass caught casting to the submerged rocks of the north jetty of Barnegat Inlet (seen in the background).

Just a few casts into the first drift, one of the plugs got smashed, and the rod doubled over and the fight began. The fish dug deep in a strong run out from the rocks aided by the heavy tidal current, taking drag and generating big smiles. After a few minutes, Capt. Finelli slipped the net under a fat 28-inch striped bass that he promptly unhooked, held up for a few pictures and then released. By the time we released the fish, the boat had drifted out of the mouth of the inlet, so Capt. Finelli turned the boat and ran us back to catch the second drift, which started along the high part of the jetty. As we were swept along, he dropped a cast into a pocket where the high rocks dropped off into the submerged portion, cranked the reel handle a couple times and his plug was inhaled. This fish turned and ran away from us over the top of the submerged rocks, making the fight all the more challenging. Capt. Finelli handled the fish like a seasoned pro, maneuvering it through a cut in the rocks and finishing the battle back in the inlet. This one was a ten-pound bluefish, and a handful on the tackle we were using. Once again the fish was unhooked and released.

“Bluefish, bass, it doesn’t matter. I’ve learned to respect these fish over the years,” Finelli said. “We adhere to the size, season and bag limits, but often go further. I have a lot of clients who might only want a fish or two for the table, some take none, so we handle them carefully and get them back in the water, releasing them in good shape.” 

Over the next couple of hours we caught and released several more bass, mostly 20-to-30 inches in length, and several bigger bluefish with Capt. Finelli expertly handling the boat around the jetties. In addition to plugs, he also fishes live spot or bunker in the same areas. 

Bluefish are tough customers on light tackle. This one grabbed a plug cast to the inlet rocks.

“Live bait is particularly effective along the south jetty and out near the mouth where at times the bass can be significantly larger,” said Finelli. 

Finelli is not a one-trick-pony, so he can put together a trip for pretty much any kind of fishing his clients would like to try. 

“There are a lot of shipwrecks within a short run from the inlet, some surprisingly close to shore,” he said. “They hold great fishing for black sea bass, blackfish, triggerfish, porgies and fluke. Personally, I think blackfish are the most challenging wreck species and the one I like to fish for the most. I have a lot of regulars who agree.” 

During the spring and fall, large striped bass migrate through the area and Capt. Finelli takes clients live-lining for them. A lot of big bass and bluefish migrate into Barnegat Bay and can be caught using a variety of methods. There are also some big weakfish that also roam inside early in the spring. On nice summer and early fall days, he can run a bit offshore to troll light tackle for Atlantic bonito and false albacore, both tuna-like species that are fast, hard fighters and great sport. The bonito are also good eating. 

Capt. Finelli grew up fishing around Long Beach Island and Island Beach State Park, which is an 11-mile-long undeveloped, uninhabited strip of beautiful protected beaches, dunes and scrub pine located on the north side of the inlet. The park allows surf fishing along its length and swimming in designated areas. At age 37, he lets his clients experience how fishing was when he was growing up–the kind of fishing he still enjoys today. 

Mark enjoys taking clients fishing, especially when they bring their kids, and works hard to make sure everyone has a good time.

“My father always had time to take me fishing when I was young, and he still does to this day,” he said. “I follow in his footsteps with my ten-year old daughter and her two younger brothers. They all love to get on the boat and fish with me, so when a charter client brings a son or daughter along, I work hard to make it a special day on the water for them.” 

If you’re planning to visit the central Jersey shore area and want to enjoy a few fun hours on the water in a beautiful and historic area, check out Capt. Mark Finelli’s Laura Sportfishing  (, and give him a call at 856-341-6562