Sea bass season ends in a few days and tautog limits will drop from six to four fish daily. Both of these popular fish are plentiful right now off South Jersey and attracting a lot of anglers from all over the state and East Coast.
So if you want to get a piece of this excellent action, now is prime time. A number of the area's fleet of party boats and charter boats target them, and they get decent numbers of anglers who are not deterred by the sometimes chilly weather.
Mike O'Neill, captain of the Stray Cat charter/open boat, was out Friday on a great early winter day. He had plenty of action with blackfish -- aka tog --on wrecks in the 8-mile range of Great Egg Inlet. They were mostly throw-backs but with a couple of decent keepers in the 5- to 6-pound class.
O'Neill said from the boat Friday that he had 45-46 degree water, a little warmer than he expected. The veteran captain says the bigger tog usually show up late December, and he thinks they will move in when the water temps drop a degree or two, so he expects good fishing to continue for awhile.
The Stray Cat is berthed at Seaview Harbor Marina in Great Egg Inlet.
Paul Thompson, captain of the Cape May-based partyboat Porgy IV, is also focused on tog. He also reported from his boat while out in the ocean Friday afternoon returning from his eight-hour trip. He had one angler who was hauling a 13-pound pool-winner back. That was among four that angler caught. Thompson said other patrons on board had limits and others had what he described as a "pick" of fish.
He registered the water temp at 42.8 degrees.
Thompson said today's weather is expected to be excellent, maybe even in the 50s, and the dedicated winter anglers are eager to get out on the ocean. Thompson said the phone was "ringing off the hook" Friday, so he was expecting a nice crowd to show up today at South Jersey Marina in Cape May for his 8 a.m. departure.
Adam Nowalsky operates his charter/open boat Karen Ann II from Kammerman's Marina in Atlantic City. He reported an excellent catch Thursday with a crew that had the same kind of action with tog. Several on board had their eight-fish limit and some did not.
All of these captains will be running daily operations at least through the end of the month and into the new year.
The Starfish out of Sea Isle City and North Star in Ocean City also are running regular schedules. Starfish reported limits of tog. North Star has excellent sea bass treks offshore, scheduled for Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays and inshore for tog the rest of the week.
The offshore sea bass catches had Capt. Jim Cicchitti on the Atlantic Star out of Wildwod Crest "real happy", according to wife Tracie. The Atlantic Star was offshore on a 16-hour journey Thursday, and Tracie said everyone on board limited out on sea bass. some more than 6 pounds. They have been picking up some bluefish, too.
Cicchitti returned to the dock, got some sleep and headed right back out on another 16-hour marathon. Those trips leave at night.
Doris Mae IV, which sails from Barnegat Inlet, has had the same kind of super success. The party boat patrons are getting limits of sea bass, many in the 2- to 6-pound range, plus some porgy and ling.
The sea bass season is open through Dec. 31.
While this great winter fishing is going strong here with anglers undeterred by cold and even snow, some local anglers start thinking about planning a trip south for a stretch of time.
Ryan White is respected as a long-casting champ and owns Hatteras Jack, a well-known outfitter at Rodanthe on North Carolina's Outer Banks. He reported Friday that red drumfish rule the surf there from Rodanthe to the Buxton point and Hatteras Inlet. White is on the team of Century Fishing Rods and one of the best-known and active surfcasters on the East Coast.
He said the redfish migration along the beaches there is the best he has seen in 38 years. He said fresh bait and lures such as Gulp swimming mullet and Mirro Lures are takng redfish. He said to fish the north side of the popular fishing piers because as the redfish move south down he beach, They tend to stack up before going around the piers.
He said Friday that speckled (spotted) sea trout are in the mix there, too.
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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: