Fishing offshore in the wintertime is not for everyone.
It's more of an adventure, and rewarding in many ways for a dedicated group.
To go, and be comfy, you need some extra gear and specific deep-water equipment. A couple of the regulars on the Atlantic Star partyboat that sails in the cold weather - and all year long - from Wildwood Crest think it is a pursuit that is just great.
Had Birchmire of Cherry Hill - just across the street from where Garden State Park racetrack used to be - leaves his house at 9 p.m. the day before the scheduled date and arrives at the dock around 10:30 p.m. These offshore journeys are reservation-only, so Birchmire and others who are previously signed up check in, pay their fare, and get a bunk assignment.
Birchmire, 76, is a retired ship repair foreman for merchant ships out of the Philadelphia Navy Yard. He brings lots of things accumulated over the last 15 years he's been fishing offshore with Capt. Jim Cicchitti and his capable crew.
The stuff Birchmire hauls aboard is typical of what the others bring: sleeping bag, blanket and pillow, small and large coolers, one or two fishing rods with 4-1 ratio reels and heavy braided line, heavy weights up to 3 pounds. The layered look in the winter is in vogue with heavy coveralls, rubber outer jackets, wool hats, gloves, insulated or waterproof boots and lots of warm things underneath.
Not so oddly, one of the important items is a good pair of sunglasses because on sunny days the glare off the ocean adds greatly to the brightness, just like in the summer. Another extra is a camera for online bragging rights.
Brad Warren comes down from Malvern, Pa., regularly twice a week. He is 59 and owns a residential painting business that gives him the flexibility to break free on his terms to go fishing.
He said a hearty, healthy breakfast and lunch is important because deep-water at depths of 350 to 600 feet is what he called "extreme" fishing. He has yogurt and fruit as a breakfast staple. And he said to take plenty of fluids because the combination of wind and the reflected sunlight can dry you out.
Both Birchmire and Warren have their own personal tricks. Birchmire uses an electric reel to crank up fish from the depths and Warren ties his own rigs and brings plenty of them.
Birchmire said it can be gorgeous out on the ocean in winter. He said the weather has been great and you can see clear as a bell. They sometimes see whales and sharks and different kinds of birds.
They also sometimes see the full moon and then the sun coming up. "It's a different realm out there," Birchmire said Thursday.
Warren said a "wonderful part" of these excursions is the friendships that develop. "It's a wonderful heritage," he said.
And it is not as tough of a trial as it seems. The 100-foot boat has a heated cabin, and the fisherfolk sleep on the way out, wake up and have their breakfast when they get there, start fishing and catching, and then sleep on the trip back to the dock.
So guys, what's the real reason you take the 6- to 7-hour rides way offshore in the cold and sometimes rough weather? The secret: They say the fish they catch are bigger. Sea bass regularly top 6 pounds and the bottom-feeding tilefish are "delicious," according to Warren. Last year, Warren caught an 8-pound black sea bass that was just less than the state record. A recent pool-winner on Atlantic Star was a 25-pound golden tile
"I see more big fish when the water gets cooler," Cicchitti said Thursday.
Cicchitti said the offshore fishing gets "really good" in February and March, so this cold snap is actually a good thing. Cicchitti said they still had 57-degree water offshore and it seems surprising that bluefish in the 3- to 6-pound range were plentiful Wednesday. They have also caught porgy and ling on recent trips.
Cicchitti cancelled out this weekend but added a make-up trip Monday. Call 609-729-7776.
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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:
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