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Captain's Focus

Remember when November was the prime time to catch a big striper? Anglers couldn't wait until the migration to the south from New England arrived off the Shore, but that migration has been steadily declining as fishermen to the east reported the worst summer and fall since the striped bass comeback decades ago. There didn't appear to be many bass left to migrate through our waters, and that has seemed to be the case so far. That lack of fish was a factor in in the recent action by the ASMFC to impose a 25 percent reduction in striper mortality next year. Capt. Rob Semkewyc reported good news about striper jigging yesterday as he got into lots of life with his Sea Hunter from Atlantic Highlands, and many bass were jigged before everything went dead about 11:30. However, as with other recent trips, there were no keepers. Semkewyc said there have been some 27-to-27.5-inch bass, but the 28-inch legal limit has been out-of-reach lately. Individual releases have been up to 36 on Sunday, as plain Ava 17 and 27 diamond jigs have been more effective than those with tails on the smaller bass. Due to the falloff in patronage because of the lack of keepers, it's advisable to call skippers the night before going in order to determine if they're expecting enough fares to sail. Capt. Dave Riback reported Jim Stieves jigged a 30-inch striper on Monday aboard the Queen Mary from Point Pleasant while also releasing 10 shorts. Another keeper of 31 inches was boated along with many shorts during Wednesday's Customer's Appreciation trip that concluded with a dinner party at Farrel's Restaurant. At least it's encouraging to see there are still smaller stripers in the picture. Private boats are also getting into them. Mark Roy trolled umbrella rigs on Saturday from his Release Me out of Raritan Marina as Roger Stryker of Larsson and Fred Ciafrone from Bogota helped release 58 bass off Sandy Hook without a keeper in the lot. Surfcasters have generally suffered through a tough fall, with the only generally hot action occurring during the beginning of a northeaster on Oct. 31, while the fortunate few were on the beach when bass drove bunkers inshore -- and the only somewhat consistent bite was on bucktails at the tip of Sandy Hook for those able to make the long hike out there. Allen Riley of South Plainfield is typical of surfcasters who put in a lot of time in hope of being "at the right place at the right time". He made a final try at Sea Bright this week, and did get a hit as he plugged before dawn. However no fish were caught on the beach, and Riley said this has been "The most disappointing season to work the sand in recent memory: 10 years at least". There are many surfcasters who would agree with that assessment, but there was a hopeful report from Betty & Nick's in Seaside Park yesterday about a catch of 54 shorts Tuesday by an angler casting a 1-ounce bucktail tipped with pork rind. Yet, when I called Vinnie D'Anton of Shark River Hills for a report and mentioned that, D'Anton said he talked to a friend of the angler and was told that was a misprint. He actually caught five shorts when they were right in the wash during this week's northeaster. D'Anton tried several areas yesterday to catch a 16-inch bass on Tsunami Haolgraphic Eel -- and knew of two other small stripers being caught. Bob Caracozzo reported the annual Gobler surf casting tournament among the Shore surf clubs from last Thursday to noon Sunday failed to produce a single weigh-in at their 30-inch minimum-- the second straight fall contest with that result. About 450 anglers were eligible to fish in that contest. The Jamaica from Brielle continues to catch limits of jumbo sea bass plus big porgies, and some cod and pollock on far offshore wrecks. Capt. Howard Bogan said the current was very strong Sunday, and small bluefish were a problem at first -- but fishing was still very good. Mike Vastoly of Lavallette had a 23-pound cod, and Gelu Pislaru from Hopatcong boated a 16-pound pollock. Those trips are run on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays by reservation. Call 732 528-5014. The Jamaica II reported a sluggish trip last Friday with only ling on deep wrecks, but Saturday's 24-hour trip was excellent with big sea bass and porgies plus a few cod and pollock. Trang Jin of Fort Lee boated the largest cod reported in some time -- 38 1/2 pounds. Sigmund Molis of Hamilton had a 32-pound pollock. Frank and George Elsishans from Trenton combined for 30 sea bass to 6 pounds, 41 porgies, and a 28-pound cod. The Tackle Box in Hazlet weighed a trophy 17 1/2-pound blackfish caught by Bob Fesco of Freehold on a whitelegger crab at Sandy Hook Reef while fishing with Ryan Matthews on Freehold on his Thelma Sea II. Bob Matthews, at Fisherman's Den in Belmar Marina, said a blackfish trip on Parker Pete's for shop regulars this week was successful as Marty Westerfield boated a 12-pounder. Tom Diggs, John Ozbock and Charlie Dana limited -- and most tog were over 5 pounds. Matthews also saw another blackfish limit from over 6 pounds up to 9 3/4 pounds. Jim Rice of Wall weighed an 11 3/4-pounder. Winter flounder fishing remains good from the bulkheads. Mark Roy reports Chris Mahon of Mountainside boated an 11.5-pound tautog while fishing with Len Fantasia on his Wave Dancer from Atlantic Highlands. While spending Thanksgiving with the family in Fort Myers, Fl, I had the opportunity to do a shore fishing Marathon Saturday night with famed angler Crazy Alberto Knie of Estero, Florida. Luis Gonzalez of Homestead, Fl. and I put in the time, but there was a lack of bait to attract fish. Casting with Knie's 4-pound braid spinning tackle from a sand beach, I managed a spotted sea trout and a ladyfish casting blind before he spotted a fish waking as we walked off and I put the jig to a 23 1/2-inch short snook. A move to the side of a bridge then produced a 28 3/4-inch snook on a Tsunami Shad. I released that snook though it was a keeper -- fitting into the narrow slot of a 28-to-33-inch keeper size on the Gulf side of Florida. And striper fishermen think they have it tough!

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