Don Vasquez had a memorable start to his striped bass season in several ways.
He had the first keeper bass in the door to take Captain Howard’s Bait and Tackle in Egg Harbor City opening-day contest Wednesday. He then drove it to Absecon, where he added to his collection with the Absecon Bay Sportsman Center prize for the first bass.
He earned a rod and reel from Howard Sefton for the first stop.
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Then, in a cool move, he gave the combo to pal Carlos Rivera as a gift for his 21st birthday. When Vasquez went to Absecon Bay S.C., Dave Showell had a $300 gift certificate waiting.
And Vasquez used that to buy the reel “I always wanted.”
Vasquez said a crazy thing then happened. Rivera caught his first striped bass ever on his new rod and reel on his birthday Thursday night.
Cool memory for both young fishers!
Vasquez is a 21 year-old Egg Harbor City resident who fishes around Atlantic City and on the jetties a lot, sometimes four or five days a week. And he prefers night fishing.
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Vasquez said he has been fishing since he was a youth, and he said he was shaped by well-known fisher Boli Mam, who frequently drives to South Jersey from Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and takes a lot of fish home with him.
Rivera lives in Mullica Township and is relatively new to fishing. His birthday bass measured 34 inches.
Vasquez won the prizes and earned first-fish bragging rights with a 9.4-pound, 28 1/2-inch striper caught with bloodworm at the end of Hay Road on the Mullica River. That is one of the most popular and productive river banks that regularly produce striped bass and quality white perch.
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Vasquez said he has been catching more bass than perch.
Showell has expressed surprise at how active bass were in the preseason before Wednesday’s opening-day ceremonies.
The season that opened Wednesday is for rivers, streams, inlets and bays.
The weather with the afternoon rainstorm Wednesday and steady high winds Thursday look to have slowed things a little, but other reports have indicated lots of schoolie bass and white perch are biting in the Mullica and Great Egg Harbor rivers and their feeder streams and elsewhere, including Delaware Bay.
The striper regs are one fish 28 inches to under 43 inches and one fish 43 inches or greater.
And in another sign of the developing season: Noel Feliciano said One-Stop Bait and Tackle in Atlantic City is fully baited, and he is finishing the winter cleanup. He said Friday in his first report of the season his regulars were out on the T-jetty, and they said they already had picked off a few ling.
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Boats, gear and a cleanup
We still have Saturday and Sunday to visit the Atlantic City Boat Show in Atlantic City Convention Center. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and admission is $16 for adults and free for ages 15 and under with a paying adult.
Local captains with seminars Saturday are Harvey Yenkinson of Vetcraft out of Cape May at 1 p.m. on Cape May doormat flounder and Steve Bent of Free Spirit out of Margate at 2 p.m. on boomers on the bay (black drumfish).
Sunday will feature Adam Nowalsky of Karen Ann II out of Atlantic City at 11 a.m. on wreck fishing and Scott Newhall of Time Out Charters out of Absecon at 1 p.m. on summer flounder.
You also can still make the Ocean City Intermediate School Fishing Club fund-raising flea market and sale. It goes from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the school gym at 1801 Bay Ave.
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Admission is $4 for adults and $1 for ages 6-13 and free for children under age 6 with a paying adult. The gym will be packed with new, used and collectible equipment for sale.
The flea market funds club activities.
Also, the New Jersey Beach Buggy Association will hold its annual beach cleanup at the Holgate Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge next Saturday, March 11. The association is one of the most active outdoor organizations in the state, with a lot of community and club events on its schedule every year. Club members and volunteers will meet 8 a.m. at the refuge’s buggy entrance parking lot. Bring gloves.
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Mike Shepherd is the retired sports editor of The Press. His column appears Saturdays.