"Darn good fishing!"

That's the way Steve Bent described what's going on in Delaware Bay. Bent is the captain of the charterboat Free Spirit, which splits its season between Utsch's Marina in Cape May and Margate Fishing Center at Captain Andy's Marina in Margate.

He was headed home from Cape May on Thursday when the local scribe called. Bent said he escaped storm damage by moving his boat to what he said was a "well-protected" Utsch's in Cape May the Friday before Sandy. He said the Free Spirit was hauled out, put up on blocks and put back in the water ready for action.

He said he and his customers have caught striped bass every trip.

Bent said the striper don't seem to be concentrated in any one area of Delaware Bay. They are more scattered throughout, and when you stop and anchor up at most of the well-known spots out there, you can usually catch. He said The Rips off Cape May have been "off and on."

He said there is plenty of bait for bass to feed on, so it looks as though Sandy did not chase the bunker away. Chunks of bunker is the prime bait for them and bluefish.

Bent said he is really glad that all the fish are not big, and that it is very important to see some small fish. It means there will be more fish in the future.

Bent is booked for a while but has some open dates after Thanksgiving. Call 609-703-6639.

There are some big fish showing up in Delaware Bay.

Bob Duckenfield at Jim's Bait and Tackle in Cape May at first said fishing is pretty good, and then thought for a second and changed that to, "Fishing is great, actually!"

And he backed it up by reporting that Jim's weighed a 52-pound striper caught Thursday by North Cape May resident Kyle Stillwagon. It was 54 inches in length and had a girth of 28 inches. Stillwagon was fishing in Delaware Bay using bunker as bait.

Jim's also weighed a 38-pound bass caught from the beach but did not have the name of the surfcaster.

And one of the surprise fisheries of the season continues with reports of red drum still being caught in the surf around Cape May.

Another heavyweight bass was weighed at Off the Hook at Hinch Marina in Cape May. Rusty Ziegler reported that Pennsylvanian Ed Pickul caught an on-the-button 50-pound bass last Saturday. Ziegler said last Saturday was really good fishing on the top of the incoming at 60-Foot Slough and the other well-known striper stretches in lower Delaware Bay.

Ziegler said he has seen other striper in the high-30s come into Off the Hook. He said there is a lot of bunker around. He also said Sandy and the ensuing northeaster scattered but did not chase the bunker away.

The water in Delaware Bay is still dirty from silt and sediment, but Ziegler reported that there does not seem to be a lot of hazardous large or small debris floating around as there often is after big storms.

Fred Klug at Utsch's said The Rips off Cape May "lit up" Wednesday. He said he doesn't think Utsch's sustained more than $2,000 in damage, and that the fuel dock there is open. He said all six charterboats working out of Utsch's were fishing Friday.

Mike Hodges reported from Budd's Bait and Tackle in Villas that surf-fishing for striper is good from North Wildwood around to Lighthouse Park and Cape May Point, North Cape May and up to Pierce's Point. He said 60-Foot Slough, 20-Foot Slough and the other lumps and holes down to The Rips have bass.

Hodges did have one warning: The "eating" crabs - meaning blueclaws - are running low at Budd's, and there won't be any more coming for now. So anyone wanting some "eating" crabs needs to get in quick at Budd's before they are gone.

Two fall surf-fishing tournaments took a big hit from Sandy.

The Atlantic County/Atlantic City Surf Fishing Derby is over and the overall big winners were announced from contest headquarters at Captain Andy's. Don Brown of Margate was the striped bass champ with a 15-pound, 14-ounce catch worth $500. Linda Davoli of Brigantine was another big winner. She took the Mabel "Doc" Johnston Memorial for biggest fish caught by a female with a 13-1 striper, and she had the only bluefish entry at 3-2. Richard Coles of Pleasantville was the kingfish winner with a 1-10 catch and Joe "Jigs" McMenamin of Pleasantville was the tautog winner at 5-8.

Davoli received $300 each for her two titles and a $50 weekly award. Brown got $500 and a $50 weekly award. Coles and McMenamin each earned $300 and a $50 weekly awards. The eight-week contest raised approximately $6,000 that will be presented to the Police Benevolent Associations in Longport, Margate, Ventnor, Atlantic City and Brigantine; and to the Gold Foundation.

The Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic was cut short the day before Sandy hit, Oct. 28. The leaders in the two grand-prize categories are Joe Szarkowski of East Brunswick with a 48.63-pound striper caught Oct. 19 and Martin Supsie of Barnegat Light with a 16.81-pound bluefish caught Oct. 14. Final results will be released at a later date.

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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 Saturdays in the sports section. Call 609-350-0388 or email:

You also can hear Shep on 1400 AM from 7-8 a.m. Saturdays, plus reports Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 6:05 a.m., 9:45 a.m. and 7 p.m. on 1400 AM and on our website: