The new winter black sea bass season opened Tuesday, and according to early reports, it sounds as though the fishing just could not get any better.

Jim Cicchitti put his customers on a bunch of fish Wednesday and Thursday.

The experienced captain of the Atlantic Star that operates from Wildwood Crest sailed offshore both days on combination tilefish-giant sea bass trips. Everybody on board limited out on sea bass in a couple of hours.

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The daily possession limit is 15 fish with each at least 12 inches long.

"There was no problem getting limits," Cicchitti said Friday. And he said the sea bass weighed 3-6 pounds.

Cicchitti also set the Atlantic Star up for tilefish, and they caught a few ling. And they got into a school of bluefish weighing 3-6 pounds, which seems a little unusual for January.

The pool winner on one of the trips was a 25-pound tile, caught by Yves Boujolly of Brigantine. He also caught his limit of sea bass. Cherry Hill residents Andy Vasquez and Had Birchmier each had 10 tilefish and sea bass limits.

The crews of customers obviously were kept very busy.

Cicchitti said there were numerous doubleheader catches, including bluefish. Cicchitti said it was a little surprising they found the blues, but he has caught them in late December in the past.

He stopped in 200-300 feet of water for sea bass and went out to 400-600 feet for tile, or 50-80 miles off the beach. According to one report, the water temperature offshore was 54 degrees.

Cicchitti has regularly scheduled offshore trips Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. They are by reservation only. Call 609-729-7776 for more information. He schedules charterboat trips in addition.

Cicchitti said he is happy the sea bass season has been opened for the winter, but thought it was "ridiculous" to have it closed.

He said having the fishery open is good for the local Wildwoods economy in the winter with anglers regularly coming in from out of town, some staying overnight at a local motel or hotel, having meals, buying gear, etc.

Up the coast to Barnegat Inlet, the Doris Mae IV had similar success on its first 2013 trip.

Capt. Ron Eble said he saw "clouds" of sea bass on the wreck he fished Wednesday. And, just like on Atlantic Star, everyone on board limited out with sea bass in the same 2-6 pound class.

"I didn't see any small ones," Eble said Thursday. Eble said he stepped out of the wheelhouse and got in on the action himself.

Eble said he moved the Doris Mae IV twice to fish three sections of the wreck they were on so they could bag some porgy. They fish 50-75 miles off the coast.

Doris Mae IV is berthed at Viking Village in Barnegat Light. It has scheduled trips for Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It also is reservation only with check-in time at 10 p.m. the night before each trip. Call 609-494-7468.

And a little farther north, the Jamaica II out of Brielle had sea bass, a few big porgy and ling, plus bluefish on Wednesday. And it added an 8-pound lobster in the mix. Joseph Anelli of Manahawkin had a 6½-pound sea bass pool winner and Mike Vastola of Lavalette had a not-too-shabby second best at 5¾.

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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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