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Captain's Focus

The weekend weather looks good, and anglers should be rewarded with lots of opportunities to catch stripers of all sizes in the Raritan Bay area while many more should be on the way from the east. Blackfishing has been up-and-down, offshore jumbo sea bass are building up -- and the Jamaica from Brielle is even making another tuna trip on Sunday. There certainly wasn't any lack of stripers Tuesday when I joined Chuck Many of Annandale on his Ty Man from Gateway Marina in Highlands along with Nellie Greer of Bethlehem, Pa.  The water in Shrewsbury River was only 44 degrees, but Many read schools of bunker on bottom, and Greer put two dozen in the live well with a throw of the castnet. With a northeast wind blowing and rough conditions in the bay, Many made a run over to the N.Y. side for both a lee and a shot at bigger stripers. Though small bass dominated throughout the day, we found about a dozen keepers up to almost 20 pounds among a final three-man release count of 129 bass. Without the live bunkers we wouldn't have known there were bigger bass around as only small bass hit Tsunami Shads in the morning while all the linesiders from 30 inches up were caught on bunker during the same drift until we ran out of those live baits. Surprisingly, a live eel was ignored. We did pick up two keepers to 31 inches on shads in the afternoon among a large spread of picking birds. As the drift got faster, Greer did even better jigging a Cripped Herring that got down faster. The water temperature there was 54 degrees, suggesting that we should have plenty of striper fishing ahead of us. What was missing were all the larger schoolies, as Many caught the only "bonus bass" of 24 1/2 inches.  Of course, there is no such thing as a bonus bass in N.Y. waters, where the N.J. program isn't recognized and anything under 28 inches is a short. Our release count would have been even higher as we left them biting with the sun still up since Many thought we'd be stopping on birds all the way home -- but didn't see any in N.J. Tank Matraxia of Lyndhurst had a good Wednesday charter with Capt. Fletcher Chayes on Two Rivers Charters from Highlands.  The highlight came toward the end when they were catching bass near the tip of Sandy Hook where a whale was putting on a show feeding on bunkers. Emil Pavilac of Rutherford got snagged on it during a cast, but the crew wouldn't let him continue his battle with the potential "catch of the day" and cut the line. Two keepers were caught during the trip, topped by Matraxia's 34-incher on a snag-and-drop bunker which became one of Matraxia's 18 stripers and one bluefish receiving ALS tags. That brought him to over 3500 tags applied with 400 returns. Jeff Demint, who runs the tagging program for the American Littoral Society at Sandy Hook, was also aboard. Information can be obtained from him by calling 732 291-0055. The Sea Hunter from Atlantic Highlands reported many areas of striper activity on Thursday with lots of shorts, some big blues, and an occasional bonus or keeper bass. The ocean fishing has been generally tough for party boats as stripers there have been reluctant to hit jigs even when they are splashing on the surface and marking heavily. The Golden Eagle from Belmar reported the bite was very early on Thursday, and was over by the time they got there -- though a couple were boated. Big blues bail the boats out some days, and the Queen Mary from Point Pleasant reported a good catch of them up to 13 pounds on Wednesday.  Trollers have been doing well with larger bass on both Mo-Jos and bunker spoons. Bob Matthews of Fisherman's Den in Belmar Marina hot word from charter boats Thursday morning that stripers had turned on to shad umbrella rigs. He was surprised by a trolling report from Wednesday of a very big fluke being hooked on a trolled Mo-Jo. Most of the trolling bite has been in 60-foot depths close to the three-mile line, beyond which it's illegal to retain striped bass. I understand that the Coast Guard is enforcing that law, and big fines are being assessed. As good as the local boat fishing has been, there should be much better coming from the east. There was such a massive body of stripers in the Fire island area last weekend that one party boat jigged a thousand. The Captree Pride reported a continuation of that fishing with diamond jigs this week as Wednesday morning's trip had a high hook with 60 stripers, of which eight were over 28 inches. Everyone is limiting with 15-to-20-pounders. Those massive schools aren't very far to the east, and could be moving within range in days. Surfcasters could certainly use some of those bass to the east. It seems that all we have locally are small bass , and there's not many of them. Allen Riley of South Plainfield fished Sandy Hook Wednesday morning and was happy to catch three "micro bass" on three different lures -- a Rapala Max Rap 17, a 6-inch Tsunami Sand Eel, and a Tsunami Slim Wave metal with a bucktlail treble. Grumpy's Tackle in Seaside Park has been trying, ever since Thanksgiving,  to give away a Tsunami gift package to a kid 16 or under weighing in a striper or blue caught unassisted from the surf -- but none have been successful so far. No adult has had a weigh-in there either this week. Jerry Lasko of Point Pleasant and Maren Toleno from Mantoloking have been into small stripers off-and-on during the week in the Brick area, and she also  hooked three very large herring that should be an attraction for the missing large stripers. The Jamaica from Brielle has added a last tuna trip Sunday at 6 p.m., and a limited cod and sea bass run to Block Island on Sunday, Dec. 10 at 8 p.m. Call 732 528-5014 for information and reservations. For daily fishing reports visit my blog at nj.com/shore/blogs/fishing. 

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