It looks as though the striped bass and bluefish fall migration into South Jersey may have spread south of Barnegat Inlet, finally.
There are reports of good catches in the surf and inshore waters on Long Beach Island down to Wreck Inlet, and inshore trolling off Sea Isle City and Townsends Inlet has spiked way high.
Mike Cunningham said Friday afternoon from Sea Isle City Bait that he has never seen more 40-inch bass being caught by trolling. He said he had one boat crew reported catching their limit of keepers, and all were more than 40 inches in length. Cunningham said the captains are fishing Sea Isle Lump and Peacock Shoal. He also reported that jigging the bottom isn't working because the dogfish are thick.
Margaret O'Brien at Jingle's Bait and Tackle in North Beach Haven said there are more fish on the beach over the past couple of days. In fact, the number of striped bass entered into the Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic almost doubled recently. The grid listing the entries on the classic website is starting to expand and look a little more like the usual log.
Two 30-pound bass led that category. Brian Schmidt, of Manahawkin, topped the list at 31.13 pounds, and Rob Vallone, of Little Egg Harbor Township, was second at 30.06. Surfcasters have until Dec. 1 and the end of the 59th annual Classic to knock them off.
The Classic got its first bluefish entry when Bill Montrey, of Manahawkin, caught one that weighed 12 pounds Tuesday in Harvey Cedars. The heaviest bass and bluefish earn the $1,000 grand prize.
Josh Falcone reported from Viking Outfitters in Barnegat Light that bass started showing on the beach on the north end.
O'Brien and Falcone both made sure to point out that the best action in the surf is not morning or evening but more in the daytime and outgoing tide. O'Brien said 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Falcone indicated 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Surfcasters are casting and retrieving Ava jigs, Deadly Dicks and Daiwa SP Minnow, and using bait such as fresh and salted clam plus the always effective fresh bunker for striper in the surf.
Prior to this recent movement of bass south to Long Beach Island, the hot stretch of water was along Island Beach State Park. Betty and Nick's Bait and Tackle in Seaside Park has been constantly weighing bass, some topping 20 pounds, caught by surfcasters. They described striper in the surf there as "epic" and "legendary."
O'Brien said she had reports of surfcasters almost shoulder to shoulder on the beach there.
The inshore boat action is remarkable in 50-55 feet of water off Long Beach Island and has been strong for weeks. O'Brien said captains report limiting out by 8 a.m.
Capt. Fran Verdi on Francesca Marie, one of the fleet of the Beach Haven Charter Fishing Association, had several trips with limits and lots of fish that were returned to the water.
Captains from other areas are making the trip north. Joel Mick has been taking Evelyn Ann charters from Atlantic City on a 20-mile ride to off Long Beach Island. And that's been paying off much the same way.
O'Brien also reported that more bluefish are in the mix inshore.
She said captains are trolling with 9ers, Stretch and Umbrella Rigs. O'Brien said a lot of the bass being trolled are right near the surface, so enterprising captains are taking weights off the trolling rigs - even the Umbrellas. Jig with Ava and other slim metal lures with rubber tubes.
Bass are reported scattered all along South Jersey but just not in the concentrations that have been more toward the north.
Tautog are next in the category of solid catches reported. They collect around rocks, piers and bridges along the beaches and some of the reefs and wrecks of inshore waters.
Falcone said the Barnegat Inlet south jetty has "tons." Noel Feliciano reported from One-Stop Bait and Tackle in Atlantic City that the T-Jetty and other rockpiles in Absecon Inlet have "nice-size" tog. It's much the same at the 8th Street Jetty in Avalon and the rocks at Wildwood and Cape May. As usual, green crab is the best bait.
The Brigantine Elks held its sixth striper tournament last weekend. Joe Pasquerella and his crew on JCP had the biggest bass at 31 pounds and 40 inches and the top two heaviest combined weight at 56.8 pounds to take the top prizes. Rick Mitchell was second heaviest two at 47.7 and Tom Lehman third at 31.1. They had 25 boats and 26 surfcasters enter, and they combined to raise $2,300 for the Elks veterans committee, which donates to the Fisher House Foundation for wounded military personnel and families and plays host to veterans activities.
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Mike Shepherd is the retired sports editor of The Press. His column appears Saturdays in the sports section.
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