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Captain's Focus

Striped bass seemed to almost completely disappear after Monday's southerly storm, but there was at least a bit of good news from one Thanksgiving morning party boat trip.  Capt. Rob Semkewyc ran his Sea Hunter from Atlantic Highlands well to the east where there was bird action off the Marine Parkway Bridge, and school stripers hit jigs. There were no keepers caught during that shortened trip, but Semkewyc saw even more birds to the east, and has high hopes for upcoming trips with more time to explore. Bluefish had been abundant to the east a week ago, but they appear to have finally moved south. Semkewcyc said there was nothing doing along our northern Shore as party boats running down to Shrewsbury Rocks for blackfish didn't see any bird play in that direction. I had no reports from Shore-based boats as of the deadline for the column. Some anglers have been concerned that the migratory run is already over. Unlike the last two falls, there's been no concentration of big bass feeding on sand eels off Fire Island and Shinnecock, and New England anglers suffered through their worst striper fishing in years. Indeed, it was New England anglers who worked hardest to force the ASMFC into making the 25 percent harvest cut for next year. To top it off, the sand eels which provide our late season forage base haven't appeared in local waters. The only positive is that ocean water temperatures remain in the fifties -- which indicates that we should have at least some bass moving through well into December. There was also a glimmer of hope in the surf on Thanksgiving as Betty & Nick's Tackle in Seaside Park weighed a 10 1/2-pound striper caught in the surf on a Bomber by Doug Pombo Jr. John Bushell also posted at 11:52 a.m. that bass were being caught on bucktails and Avas right in the wash. Monday's storm seemed to completely kill surfcasting. I had found a bit of action Sunday evening at Mantoloking when a 25 1/2-inch bass hit my SP Minnow while three three smaller ones got off before dark. A couple of trips to the same spot after the storm were fruitless in a booming surf on the outer bar plus a strong current running to the north. Allen Riley and John Mazzeo from South Plainfield found the same poor conditions at Sea Bright after Monday's storm. Riley said that so far it's been the worst fall striper fishing he's experienced in many years  -- and a lot of other surf fishermen will probably agree with that assessment. Unless sand eels show up, it doesn't look good for December. Even party boats failed to find bird life after Monday's storm. Capt. Dave Riback, of the Queen Mary from Point Pleasant, described the fishing as "dismall". After the Golden Eagle from Belmar, which had reported "insane" jigging for blues and both legal and short stripers last weekend, said it was dead when they returned Tuesday. The Jamaica from Brielle has been enjoying fine action with jumbo sea bass on their far offshore wreck trips. In addition to limits of bass last Thursday, there were also lots of big porgies plus 12 cod and some pollock. George Laniotis of Lyndhurst boated a 30-pound cod and a few pollock. Thiago Nazols from Kearny had a 22-pound cod. Marek Paluch of Clifton won Sunday's pool with a 31-pound cod. Those trips are being run on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays by reservation. Call 732 528-5014. Bob Matthews, at Fisherman's Den in Belmar Marina, reports striper fishing was poor this week, but party boats did well with blackfish, The largest tog weighed was a 12-pounder by Steve Delaporteis.Winter flounder fishing from the bulkheads is best on sunny days. Remember that the limit is only two at a 12-inch minimum. I heard that some cheaters were nailed there by conservation officers watching them running flounder back to their cars. There's been no word of the large school tuna that have been spotted jumping in inshore waters at this time for many years. The run of large medium bluefins further offshore also seems to be delayed. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) met in Genoa, Italy and increased the quota of bluefins to be caught next year in U.S., Canadian, and Mexican waters by 14 percent up to 2,500 metric tons. The ICCAT Scientific Board said "Gradual and moderate" increases in the catch would not jeopardize the stock's health, but the Pew Charitable Trust insists the stock remains severely depleted 15 years into a 20-year rebound -- and that scientific assessments indicate the increased catches would reverse the recovery trend. Capt. Stan Zagleski, of the Elaine B. II at Highlands, had fair blackfishing last weekend. John Hempel of Paramus bagged a limit up to 6 pounds on Saturday. Blackfishing was decent on Wednesday despite wind and a big swell left over from Tuesday. N.J. anglers have a big tog to shoot for after a potential N.Y. record was set by Billy Taylor with a 22.53-pounder caught Nov. 14 in 65 feet off Jones Inlet on a green crab. Taylor also caught a 14.5-pounder that day. The Jamaica II from Brielle reported bottom fishing last weekend wasn't as good as the previous week. They had a pick of sea bass plus big porgies, a few cod and pollock , along with some ling. Frank Pogue boated a 19-pound cod, and Ray Bryant from South Orange had an 18-pounder. Lester Crane of Paterson bagged two pollock, 14 sea bass, and a 19-pound cod.

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