Longtime fishing columnist Mike Shepherd tells you what's biting, where to find them and how to catch them. His column appears Saturdays in The Press.

A thunderstorm in December? It does not seem quite right.

This fall fishing season has had some odd happenings recently. The main thing for surfcasters from Long Beach Island to Cape May is the not-so-hot striped bass fishing. Bass have been much more active for captains and crews in the inshore waters.

And does anyone remember bluefish?

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It has to be reported: The 59th Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic did not have a great year, much like the Atlantic County/Atlantic City Surf Fishing Derby.

The Classic had a great signup with 715 anglers, so this community-wide event, which ended a two-month run Dec. 1, remains highly popular. They caught 42 qualifier striper and, hard-to-believe, just one lonely stray bluefish.

Margaret O'Brien at Jingle's Bait and Tackle dubbed this the "year of survival." The Classic was better this year than it was last when Sandy cut it short with a total of 18 bass and three blues, according to Jingle's website.

For the record, Brian Schmidt of Manahawkin hooked the grand-prize-winning striper with a 31.13 light-heavyweight way back on Oct. 29. The second-heaviest went to Robert Vallone of Little Egg Harbor Township. He had the lead in the Classic for one day with a 30.06-pounder caught Oct. 28.

They were the only 30-pound-plus bass.

Bill Montrey of Beach Haven won the overall and senior bluefish titles with a 12-pound entry on Nov. 19.

The grand prizes are worth $1,000 each.

Joseph Guarini of Beach Haven was the senior striper champ with the third-heaviest of the contest. It weighed 27 pounds and was caught on Nov. 5.

Only three bass were caught in the final week of the Classic, and they weighed 15 to 18 pounds. That size bass is very typical of what is being caught all up and down the South Jersey coastline.

Mostly they are biting on the inshore lumps. Don't forget, striper are legal only in state waters inside three miles. It also is mainly a (slow) trolling action with Umbrella rigs, lures such as Stretch and 9ers and bunker spoons.

The weather played a role this week, including the sound of thunder with periods of rain Friday morning and afternoon in Atlantic County.

As of last Sunday, there were decent fleets of boats working the inshore lumps between Atlantic City and Cape May.

Bill Lacovara of Ventnor had a crew along on a spectacular late-fall day and mainly trolled the Lac Attack off Corson Inlet, Sea Isle City, Avalon and Wildwood. He wound up with one 36-inch keeper caught by Linda Davoli of Brigantine and three shorts.

Plus, in another oddity, they trolled up a summer flounder and what looked to be a sand dab (or dial or windowpane) flounder.

Incidentally, it was the final voyage of the Lac Attack. Bill has it up for sale at South Jersey Yacht Sales at South Jersey Marina in Cape May.

Fred Klug at Utsch's Marina in Cape May had reports from later in the week. Down Deep with Capt. Bob Meimbresse had eight bass with one keeper at The Rips off Cape May. Bob Cope took the Full Ahead offshore for sea bass and caught some keeper. Klug also reported that one of the private boat captains had a limit of keeper tautog up to over 5 pounds at Cape May Reef.

Dave Showell said he has bait and will "hang in there" at Absecon Bay Sportsman Center until Christmas. He already is thinking about going for white perch in the rivers and streams.

Adam Nowalsky, captain of the charterboat Karen Ann based at Kammerman's Marina in Atlantic City, said Friday the water was too warm and then quickly went to too cold, but tautog have gotten acclimated and have started biting again. He will be running through January.

Mike O'Neill on the Stray Cat out of Seaview Harbor Marina in Great Egg Inlet, said he will also run charters and open boats during the winter. He has been targeting striped bass and tog. He said tog are smallish now, but they put on considerable weight late December.

Barnegat flea market

The Barnegat High School fishing club has its annual fisherman's flea market set for next Saturday.

It goes from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the school located 180 Bengal Boulevard. Admission is $4, youth 12 and under free. New, used, antique and collectible rods and reels and other gear will be for sale. All proceeds go to the fishing club for $500 scholarships for graduating seniors.


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