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Captain's Focus

A recent survey by Stripers Forever, a no-fee internet organization devoted to making the striped bass a gamefish all along the Atlantic coast, confirmed the decline of the coastal striper population that migrates from the major spawning grounds in Chesapeake Bay up to New England. Though there were brief shots of bigger bass in quantity off Montauk and Block Island last summer, fishing for linesiders was very poor in New England. Even the great 2011 Chesapeake year class failed to produce the volume of small bass expected, and the lack of stripers to the east was reflected in the poor boat fishing we experienced in the fall -- while the surf fishing at that time would be better described as terrible. The survey elicited 830 responses, with most coming from New Jersey and Massachusetts. Some 84 percent of those responding had over 10 years of striper fishing experience, and 88 percent said they caught fewer bass last year as compared to just 2 percent who caught more. Furthermore, 71 percent said their bass were smaller as compared to 15 percent who found larger stripers than usual. Raritan Bay fishermen were the exception to that rule. Though there weren't many schoolies for clammers, the spring bunker fishery in the bay was decent. The big surprise was a summer run in the bay such as we'd never seen before. Those were undoubtedly Hudson River bass, and we may have to give thanks to G.E. for that volume of bass while the coast was hurting. The PCBs released many years ago from G.E. manufacturing on the Hudson ended up with the New York Health Commissioner closing down the commercial fishery. With nets out of the water, stripers have prospered and there have been some very good year classes that support local fisheries both in the bay and ocean. The bay fishing was so good last summer that on July 16, Chuck Many of Annandale released 48 bass from his Ty Man out of Highlands while hosting Nellie Greer of Bethlehem, Pa., Matt Calabria from Hazlet and me. A dozen of them were schoolies we caught on worms before leaving, but the rest ranged from 15 to 33 pounds -- except for a 48-pound personal record by Greer.That biggest fish went belly-up in the current after release, so Many pulled the anchor to retrieve it. Calabria then worked with her until she could move off on her own. Sadly, not all boaters were as respectful of the bass during that Bonanza which lasted for weeks. Virtually all of the fish were females which could maintain our local fishery, but there were too many photos on the internet of boxes overflowing with those spawners. We won't know for a few months what effect that will have on this year's bay fishery. The poor migratory striper fishing resulted in the new restrictions imposed by the ASMFC. New Jersey has opted to set regulations with the 25 percent cut based on conservation equivelancy. I'm attending a N.J. Outdoor Alliance meeting for an update from state biologists, and will have that information on my blog Friday evening at nj.com/shore/blogs/fishing. With the decrease in fishing activity, the blog will be available weekly during mid-winter except for breaking news. We dodged a bullet this week when the blizzard changed track and blasted New England instead. Nick Kolodiy of Brick checked his local beaches and found little damage except for some missing sand. Surprisingly, the National Weather Service apologized for the forecast that created expensive shutdowns in the Metropolitan area. They can certainly be excused for not being able to be completely accurate in tracking a powerful storm, but charter and party boat skippers would like to see more accuracy during normal conditions in season when a gloom and doom forecast that's inaccurate results in financial losses as well as lost recreation. The Raritan Bay Anglers will hold its 10th annualBoating and Fishing Flea Market on Saturday atSt Demetious Activity Center, Sadowski Parkway and Wisteria Placeon the waterfront in Perth Amboy. There will be new, used and old fishing and boating items along with door prizes. Call 732-381-5336 for Info. The Atlantic City Boat Show is on from Feb. 4-8 at the Convention Center. Though I've had no local fishing reports, there was some promising news before the storm as the Capt. Al from Point Lookout, N.Y. was catching lots of small cod plus some keepers up to 10 pounds. A 1005-pound bluefin tuna was boated on Jan. 13, 3.5 miles southeast of Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina. It was taken by commercial fishermen on Fish Bucket, and hit a Joe Shute with balao in just 35 feet among "tons" of menhaden. Those wishing to get out of this weather might want to consider a trip to Panama, where every day is sunny and warm during the dry season. Pesca Panama has had a few openings come up in the next few weeks. Call Teri at 800 946-3474 for information.

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