Longtime fishing columnist Mike Shepherd tells you what's biting, where to find them and how to catch them. His column and Hot Spot appear Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Edward Lea

Three of the area's back-bay pontoon partyboats were one behind the other and about a half-hour apart on Great Egg Harbor River on Monday as they headed back from Thompson's Boat Yard up near Mays Landing, where they had pulled their boats out of harm's way in advance of Hurricane Irene.

John Heron on The Keeper was first of the fleet in line and was just pulling up to Blue Water Marina on Amherst Avenue in Margate, while Brook Koeneke on the Duke of Fluke was just about to pass by the B.L. England power plant in the Beesleys Point section of Upper Township on the way to his berth at Higbee Avenue in Somers Point when they were contacted by a curious columnist.

Mike Tabasso on High Roller was trailing and had the farthest to go to get to the dock at Gardner's Basin in Atlantic City.

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All three expected to resume their regular schedule of back-bay fishing mainly for flounder today. They sail twice daily at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Heron and Koeneke pretty much summed it up for all three when they said in nearly identical words: "If people show, I go."

Koeneke said the hurricane seemed to be no worse than a typical northeaster blow in January.

"I'm not complaining!"

Koeneke and wife Candy evacuated to York, Pa. He said he got yelled at when he got home in North Wildwood because he left a bathroom window open after he took a shower before leaving. But he said the house survived just fine.

Koeneke said the stay at Holiday Inn was a good occasion for him and his wife to enjoy a rare summer visit with daughter Kristi Ruggeri, her husband, Rob, and the Koeneke's granchildren Zachery and Nicholas, who live up there.

They took with them their three-month-old golden retriever, Belle, who quickly became a favorite.

Koeneke said they once lived in that area for 15 years, and he caught up with a couple of his old buddies at a favorite pub. He said he bumped into people from Del Haven, Cape May, North Cape May and Atlantic City who also had retreated from Irene to that Holiday Inn.

Heron expected fishing to be good when the water cleaned up. It usually takes a couple of tides, he said, and they already had one by Monday morning.

He was sitting there later at the dock watching small bluefish chasing silversides, so the storm did not affect them.

"It's a wow,"he said.

Heron also enjoyed the rare summertime break. He went to Bucks County, Pa., near where brother Bill lives. Heron went by himself but had a good time and relaxed with a nice steak.

He said he wasn't going to sit in the dark in Margate if the power went out. "That's no fun."

Tabasso had just passed Revel and was turning T-Jetty in Atlantic City when he called around 11:30 a.m. Monday. He had decided to go out Great Egg Inlet into the ocean and cruise off Absecon Island back to Gardner's Basin.

He was rocking and rolling all by himself as he went out the inlet on a pontoon boat designed for calm back-bay waters.

"With these boats, it really should be flat," he said.

By the time he got off Margate, conditions settled down to tolerable 2- to 3-foot waves and a little swell.

Tabasso stayed home in Absecon during the storm. He said it was his first time off from fishing daily since he started back in June. He has not missed a trip, he said.

He said he just took it easy and got caught up with important things such as getting a haircut and going to the bank.

All three captains pulled their boats Thursday morning to beat the last-minute rush, and they left Thompson's on Monday morning. Tabasso said all three boats were designed and manufactured in Willow Street, Pa., at Susquehanna Boat Works, which is now out of business.

Don Brown was back from northeast Philadelphia, where he weathered the storm. He said some people came in to Captain Andy's Marina in Margate on Monday to buy bait, so maybe somebody went fishing a day after the storm passed.

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Mike Shepherd is the retired sports editor of The Press. His Shep on Fishing column and Shep's Hot Spot appear Tuesdays and Saturdays in the sports section and Thursdays in At The Shore. Call 609-350-0388 or email:

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