The sea bass season certainly ended strong for the Cape Queen charterboat out of Cape May.
The likely state record 8.28-pound sea bass was caught on the next-to-last day and then the next day racked up a limit of 25 for all seven anglers on board.
Andy Merendino, 77, of Cape May was at the helm of the Cape Queen with owner and co-captain Mike Brocco on board Dec. 30.
Andy Merendino Jr., 47, of Carneys Point had not been fishing for a while and did not have a fishing rod, so he borrowed his dad's.
"My pop has been trying to get me out there for a few winters, and I finally went," Andy Jr. said via email.
At one point, Andy Sr. looked over and saw his son cranking "like crazy." The first thing they saw that came up was a dog shark, and then Andy Jr. yelled, "I've got a big bass underneath."
They weighed it on the boat and realized they had a potential state record. They called Jim Wallace and, in a commendable example of extra effort, he came in and opened his Jim's Bait and Tackle in Cape May at 7 p.m. to certify the weight and other measurements for the state-record application.
The state record listed by New Jersey Fish and Wildlife is a pair that weighed 8 pounds, 2 ounces (8.125 pounds), one caught in 1992 and the other in 1994.
They were fishing approximately 50 miles off shore in 225 feet of water, according to Andy Jr. They had yellow-dyed squid for bait on lines with three hooks.
The day did not start off well. They got to South Jersey Marina at 2 a.m. Andy Jr. reported that long-time buddy Al Cafolla, also of Carneys Point, was walking down to the boat and stepped right off the dock into freezing water that was over his head.
Merendino said there was hysteria for a couple minutes as four people pulled Cafolla out of the water. Cafolla dried off and the others shared some clothes and "re-rigged him," and off they went at 2:30 a.m.
Andy Jr. said they are laughing about it now, but at the time he thought the day was over before it began.
The following day, Merendino Sr. and Cape Queen had another excellent catch when everyone limited out. Merendino said 90 percent of the keepers weighed between 3 and 5 pounds, and they had lots of small fish, too. The captain said the bigger sea bass are just moving in.
Merendino has been fishing out of South Jersey Marina, where the Cape Queen docks, for 30 years.
He said sea bass fishing was great this year, and the wrecks were loaded. He said it was tough in the spring only because of the dog fish nuisance.
Cape Queen will be running some deep-sea tilefish trips over the winter. Capt. Merendino said they get a list of those interested - they need seven to go - and call them when the weather looks favorable. Merendino said he only goes when the wind is forecast light and variable. Call 609-675-5415 or 609-884-1975.
Carolyn Ann III partyboat based at Barnegat Light did not get out this past weekend, but ended the old year and started the new year with decent pool-winners. Dave Agar of Beach Haven had a 6.3-pound tautog Dec. 31, Dan Boden of Chatsworth picked a 4.3-pound tog on New Year's Day and Ray Given of Waretown had a 3.4-pound tog among his limit of four Jan. 2.
A report from Carolyn Ann III said the bottom water temperature in 83 feet of water was 40 degrees.
The Riptide Bait and Tackle Striper Derby, which ran Sept. 20 to Dec. 26 in Brigantine, raised $6,000 for local charities. Andy Grossman reported from Riptide that the local Hooked on Fishing outing and Brigantine True Spirit Coalition were the beneficiaries.
Steve DiGiacomo of Brigantine was the winner of $750 with a 46-pound, 8-ounce bass he caught Oct. 25. Bob Ferri of Brigantine was second with a 34-11 bass and Jeff Smith of Swedesboro was third with a 34-7 bass.
The big mid-winter highlight is the Atlantic City Boat Show from Feb. 2-6 at the Atlantic City Convention Center. The Greater Atlantic Bluefish Tournament, the Ladies Invitational Bluefish Tournament and the South Jersey Tournaments have booths.
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Mike Shepherd is the retired sports editor of The Press. His Shep on Fishing column appears Saturdays in the sports section. Call 609-350-0388 or e-mail: email@example.com.