Yes, it is winter, and according to some recent reports, it is a most wonderful time of the year for fishing.

Mike O'Neill had sea duck hunts, striped bass trolls and tautog bottom fishing action.

"What a week," O'Neill said Friday. He was blown out Friday and today, however.

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He had a crew on the Stray Cat charter/open boat out Wednesday and they shot some long-tails and scooters, and they caught two 34-inch keeper bass at the Sea Isle Lump and the blackfish (tog) fishing is "ridiculous," O'Neill said. He said big tog are starting to show on the inshore wrecks and reefs.

O'Neill said green crab are scarce but tog are biting on any kind of crab. He catches spider crab under his boat at Seaview Harbor Marina in Great Egg Inlet, and the tog are biting on them.

O'Neill has open-boat trips planned for Dec. 26 and 29 and will organize others if he gets enough interest. Call 609-391-9630.

Paul Thompson said all he's doing is tog fishing and his customers have caught tog every trip on the Porgy IV partyboat. He said he recorded several limits with a 9-pounder topping the day's catch on a recent trip, and one husband-wife team racked up 11 keeper tog between them.

Thompson said he will be sailing every day between the holidays from South Jersey Marina in Cape May.

Both captains agreed that New Year's week is good for business and, usually, good for fishing. A lot of people stretch time from Christmas and New Year's, and some might try to squeeze in a day or two of winter fishing.

Thompson said he'll be sailing weekends for awhile. He fished every weekend in January and February of last year.

He recently recorded 47.5 degree-water temperatures. Captains say 44 to 45 degrees is the turning point for stripers.

Yes, there is a winter black sea bass season in the state and elsewhere along the East Coast.

Adam Nowalsky, captain of the Atlantic City-based charterboat Karen Ann II who also devotes time and energy as chairman of the New Jersey Chapter of the Recreational Fishing Alliance and as a state representative on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, said the commission recommended a sea bass season for Jan. 1 through Feb. 28 at meetings last week.

Bob Considine at the state press office confirmed that the state has signed on. The press release on the state website put the size minimum at 12 inches and the daily possession limit at 15.

Jim Cicchitti, who operates the Atlantic Star out of Wildwood Crest, said that it means a lot. He said it puts little pressure on sea bass because few boats are running in the winter.

"We're lucky to get out eight or 10 times in a month," he said Friday. "It will not affect the population of sea bass."

The weather and ocean conditions obviously play a role in the winter.

Cicchitti canceled out Saturday, too. He will be running next weekend for tile and sea bass, and plans offshore trips Saturdays, Sundays, Wednesdays and holidays in January and February. He will be fishing for tile, sea bass, cod and pollack at different times. Call 609-729-7776 or 609-709-3400.

Joe Bogan, captain of Jamaica II out of Brielle, wondered why in the winter and not in the summer or fall. He said this time of the year there is only a select group that will go offshore in the winter.

"To be honest, it makes no sense," Bogan said Friday.

Incidentally, Cicchitti posted on the website that they had a couple of great trips earlier in December. He reported that Dan Bluestein of Estell Manor topped the catches with a 30-pound golden tilefish on Dec. 15 and anglers each caught 12 to 20 tilefish to 20 pounds plus sea bass and plenty of big bluefish on Dec. 12.

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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:


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