There have been plenty of small striped bass moving around the rivers and bays here in South Jersey.

And there have been a few keepers around, too. One of the best and most popular stretches of water so far has been the Mullica River.

On Friday morning, that area produced the first reported 20-weight, and it has a neat story to go with it.

The bass weighed 25 pounds, 1 ounce at Captain Howard's Bait and Tackle in Egg Harbor City, where a few of these early-season keepers were measured.

Donald Bondiskey from Captain Howard's called Friday morning from the sod bank at Hay Road. He witnessed and excitedly described this scene.

Brayant Tigrado of Galloway Township was fishing there with daughters, 10-year-old Charisse and 5-year-old Bryana, and father-in-law Clemente Guzman, according to Bondiskey. Tigrado had two lines in the water. His attention was diverted for a minute, and that's when one of the rods was bent and "went flying" out of a sand spike and into the river.

Tigrado grabbed his other rod and fished out the rod with the bass on it. Tigrado said later Friday that he reeled the bass in with the almost-gone rod and got a sense of how big the fish was. It was the biggest bass he ever caught, and he started fishing when he was 10.

Bondiskey and Howard Sefton just happened to have a scale with them. They hung it from a tree limb and weighed it on the spot. Later, the entire family group went back to the shop and officially certified the bass for Captain Howard’s striper contest.

And Tigrado’s lucky day continued when he picked up a gift certificate offered by Captain Howard’s for the first 20-plus bass.

Keeper catches

That was not the only keeper striped bass caught there Friday. Boli Mam comes down from Willow Grove, Pa., and spends a lot of time fishing here in South Jersey.

He caught his second keeper in the Mullica River, and it was almost the same weight as the first one he got — 8 pounds, 5 ounces.

Other keepers were reported recently throughout the area, so it looks like the cold spell this week after a spring-like weekend did not seem to confuse the fish very much.

Brennan Marine in Somers Point registered an 18-pound, 37-inch bass for Ed Czyewski, of Somers Point, caught on salted clam off Beesleys Point.

Captain Howard's also presented a gift certificate to John Hagaman of Mullica Township for the heaviest of the first three keepers weighed there. It went 14-7.

Ed Moore caught an 8-pounder in a boat last Saturday in Great Bay. That was weighed by Scott’s Bait and Tackle in Mystic Island.

Keepers were reported caught from the beach at Fortescue by Higbee’s Marina.

And while the prize for the first keeper to be caught at Graveling Point or Pebble Beach and weighed at Scott’s B&T has not yet been claimed, the shop had its first black drumfish weighed Friday. It went 19-11 and was 31 inches in length, and it was caught by Yong Xu.

Contest changes

The Press Fishing Contest has undergone some changes through the years. The oldest record listed in the contest goes back to 1953 — an 18-pound, 12-ounce summer flounder by Walter Lubin of Philadelphia.

This year’s contest is being presented by Tackle Direct, and the emphasis will be more toward youth and the future with two Youth Saltwater and two Youth Freshwater prizes.

Other categories include: Women, Senior (65 and older), Other Than Boat (surf, pier, jetty, bulkhead, sod banks), Inshore Boat (inside three miles), Offshore (outside three miles), Freshwater, Most Unusual, Summer Flounder, Striped Bass, Kingfish, Bluefish, Weakfish, Tautog, Sea Bass.

Winners in those divisions will get $50 certificates for Tackle Direct.

Plus, an overall Best Catch prize will be $100 at Tackle Direct, which is on Tilton Road in Egg Harbor Township.

The contest begins May 3 and runs through Oct. 31.

Starting May 3, the contest can be entered online at PressContest.com, with photos and description, if available, or by mail. Contest entries must be verified at participating bait and tackle shops or marinas located throughout South Jersey.

In addition, weekly best catch winners will earn certificates and appear in the sports section every other week.

Plus, we’ll run a Leaderboard in the alternating weeks.

Direct questions or suggestions to contest coordinator Mike Shepherd at 609-350-0388 or sheponfishing@yahoo.com

Other events

Another important event is coming up Wednesday, when the New Jersey chapter of the Recreational Fishing Alliance will host a striped bass forum from 7-8 p.m. at the Holiday Inn of Manahawkin.

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection biologist Russ Allen will have a presentation. One of the main topics will be the latest Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission striped bass assessment, plus other topics such as New Jersey assessment results and potential ASMFC management actions.

Contact Jim Hutchinson at 888-564-6732 or jhutchinson@joinrfa.org

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Mike Shepherd is the retired sports editor of The Press. His column appears Saturdays in the Sports section. Call 609-350-0388 or email: sheponfishing@yahoo.com