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Captain's Focus

Though the number of boats fishing for striped bass has decreased, water temperatures remain in the desired range for that species and there are vast schools to the east which should be coming through N.J. waters on their way south. Fred Golofaro, editor of the Fisherman's, Long Island edition told me Thursday that Captree party boats continue to work on those schools just east of Fire Island Inlet -- and the bass have been joined by some cod. He noted there's no one type of forage holding them there, but rather a mixture even including butterfish and young-of-the-year weakfish. We may have been on the leading edge Monday when Nellie Greer of Bethlehem, Pa. and I made the final trip of the year with Chuck Many of Annandale on his 52nd birthday before his Ty Man had to be pulled out at Gateway Marina in Highlands. Since we had done well with bigger bass the week before on live bunkers, we spent a lot of time filling up the live well with those baits only to find they didn't work this week. While waiting for the right tide in the Hudson River, we fished under picking birds off the Rockaways, and had steady action on 5-inch Tsunami Shads. Though reports from the weekend indicated there were almost all shorts, Many's first bass was a 28 1/2-incher. I hooked up with what seemed to be a much bigger fish stripping line from my light surfcasting rig, but ended up with a 31-incher on the Castaways Super Teaser and no shad on the other leader. When doubleheaders of large fish are hooked, the bigger fish normally breaks off as they tug against each other. It looked as if there would be no problem releasing 52 bass to match Many's birthday, but we left steady jigging and casting to try the Hudson River for bigger bass with the live bunkers only to found no life there despite 54-degree temperatures just as in the ocean. That shouldn't have been a problem except that there was no bite off the Rockaways or anywhere else in the afternoon as the striper release count was stuck at just 47 until we remembered that Greer had jigged four spiny dogfish and also snagged a herring with his Crippled Herring -- at least putting us at 52 fish for the day. Spiny dogfish don't normally hit lures, but Greer established himself as the undisputed dogfish pro on that trip. Capt. Rob Semkewyc had a good bite that included keeper stripers that morning on his Sea Hunter from Atlantic Highlands. He got out again on Thursday and was surprised to find nothing but bait where he had been -- but continued running for some time before spotting birds in the distance that he hoped wasn't a mirage. Fortunately, it turned out to be mixed size stripers that made for a successful trip. He anticipates at least getting the weekend out of this fishery. The Fishermen has concluded its season.  The ocean striper fishing hasn't been as good for party boats, and both the Golden Eagle and Miss Belmar Princess have stopped striper trips while waiting for mackerel to show up later in the month. The Queen Mary from Point Pleasant made its last trip on Monday Trollers have had a more consistent bite in the ocean, and Capt. Dave De Gennaro has been happy with his results on Hi Flier from Barnegat by trolling white Mo-Jos and Tony Maja bunker spoons. The Jamaica from Brielle has a limited trip to Block Island or jumbo sea bass on Sunday at 8 p.m., and a last canyon tuna trip on Dec. 13 at 9 a.m. For details and reservations call 732 528-5014. Fall surfcasting has been the poorest since I started throwing metal shortly after moving to the Shore. There have been hardly any shots of big bass in the surf, and those we're catching are very small schoolies. Golofaro said it's the same thing on eastern Long Island with a lack of big bass in the surf -- though they're catching large numbers of the small bass which isn't the case here. The south wind put a crimp in surfcasting, but the switch to northwest reduced the big swell somewhat and cleared the waters. I fished locally this morning and picked four small bass on the Tsunami Sand Eel, and got my first surf doubleheader during a brief afternoon attempt, while Vinny D'Anton of Wall got into them on a Mirr-O-Lure. Jerry Lasko of Point Pleasant was catching small bass in Seaside this morning when he was surprised by an 18-inch fluke. Blackfishing has been hurt by the big swell which is now dropping off with the west winds and should improve. There are still blackfish in Point Pleasant Canal, where I released tog of 15 and 15 1/2 inches with light spinning tackle on successive days this week. CAA Action Alert from Paul Haertel        The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and the Mid-Atlantic   Fishery   Management Council (MAFMC) will have a joint meeting in Annapolis, Maryland from December 11 th to December 14  th to discuss a number of fisheries issues, especially fluke on December 12th and sea bass on December 13.        Though JCAA initially considered chartering buses for anglers to attend these meetings, we have now decided not to do so. We had anticipated that the fluke and sea bass meetings would be on the same day but have now learned that there is quite a detailed agenda for these species over a two day period. We do not believe there are enough people willing or able to go to Annapolis for two days to warrant the hiring of a bus. However, JCAA will have representatives there and we are willing to assist in carpooling others who would like to attend.         Regarding fluke we know that the coastwide recreational quota will increase from 3.77 million pounds in 2017 to 4.4 million pounds in 2018. That coupled with the fact that New Jersey as well as the entire coast collectively will have underfished their quota for this year is good news. However, the Council and Commission most likely will act conservatively due to the unreliability of the MRIP numbers. Still, this should result in some liberalization of our regulations for 2018. Modifications to the fluke addendum will be discussed at the joint meeting. The JCAA supports having an option that would allow New Jersey to remain in its own region rather than being forced back into the region with Connecticut and New York. We also support conservation equivalency that would allow the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council (NJMFC) to set regulations independently that would not be tied to what other regions are doing.        The situation pertaining to sea bass is a little more complex. Sea bass will be discussed at length at the joint meeting on 12/13 from 9:00AM until 4:30 PM. Despite the fact that the spawning stock biomass is at 230% of the target, the recreational quota is currently set to be reduced from 4.29 million pounds in 2017 to 3.66 pounds in 2018. The JCAA intends to request a higher quota. Currently, MRIP numbers for this year are projected to be only slightly over the 2018 quota so that could result in status quo regulations for 2018. However, MRIP data for waves 5 and 6 are not yet available so things might have to be revised.        Additionally, the new addendum that is being developed and discussed at this meeting will include options that would change the alignment of the regions. JCAA supports options that would allow New Jersey to become its own region or to be placed in the southern region as opposed to remaining in the region with states to our north. If we are allowed to do so, this could indeed allow us to liberalize our regulations. If in fact the regions are realigned in this fashion, the JCAA supports the quotas being established based on the last ten years or more of the harvest rather than just the past five years. This is due to the fact that in recent years New Jersey's share of the overall harvest has been reduced significantly due to harsh regulations.       Written comments concerning fluke and sea bass may be submitted by going to the ASMFC/MAFMC on line at www.mafmc.org/public-comment . In addition to having a presence at the meeting the JCAA will send detailed comments on fluke and sea bass to the above web link. Briefly, the JCAA recommends the following: 1.    The option to have New Jersey be in its own region for fluke. 2.    The option to have New Jersey be in its own region or in the southern region for sea bass. 3.    The option to have quotas for sea bass based on the last ten years or more of harvest.        Following the December meeting, the draft addendum for sea bass is expected to be released for public comment. Revisions to the fluke addendum may follow sometime thereafter.  Additional meetings of the ASMFC, MAFMC and NJMFC will then be scheduled at which time the public will have an opportunity to comment further.  The JCAA will send out Action Alerts when the dates and times of these meetings are known.        For those planning on attending the December joint meeting of the ASMFC and the MAFMC, it will be held at the Westin Annapolis, 100 Westgate Circle, Annapolis, Maryland. Paul Haertel

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