1000's of NJ Saltwater Fishing Reports, Dozens of Sources, Maps, Wrecks, Historical Search

Captain's Focus

Mother Nature has to be on top of President Obama's flat-earther list as her sea creatures have failed to cooperate with NOAA's climate change prediction that anglers will have to learn new techniques for more southerly species such as red drum taking over in warming waters. While there's actually been little change in that direction, the most startling change since I started writing this column has been the return of cod to the Shore – and now even in the summer. As my readers are probably aware of from previous columns, red drum were not always a rare catch here. Indeed, a hundred years ago they were the primary inshore game fish of the central Shore. Barnegat Inlet was the focal point of that fishery which attracted anglers from all over the country. A world record was set there on July 17, 1910 when Joseph Cawthorn weighed a 63.25-pounder – before Charles H. Smith bumped the record up to 65 pounds on Sept. 24,1919 at New Inlet. Van Campen Heilner's Salt Water Fishing was my Bible as a youngster, and I marveled at his descriptions of a N.J. fishery where "The average channel bass will run on one side or the other of 30 pounds". Heilner also quoted the famed angler Phillip Mayer as saying surfcasters fishing for weakfish and kingfish at such spots as Corson's and Barnegat inlets regarded them as "pests" that ran off with their rigs since almost all were over 25 pounds from 1893 to 1902 when striped bass were also plentiful. I've never heard any Climate Change scientist acknowledge that the species mix predicted for the future was actually the norm over 100 years ago, perhaps because red drum were called channel bass in those days. Not even a single red drum over 20 pounds in N,J, has been reported since I started to write this column, which is rather unusual since we often see stray southern visitors such as cobia most summers. We finally got closer last year when a surfcaster fishing for fluke at Bay Head caught one of about 15 pounds. It wasn't long ago that catches of small red drum, nicknamed puppy drum, seemed to be building up for surfcasters, but I didn't get any such reports from north of Cape May the last two years. There was even a drop-off in a Mid-Atlantic warm water species that had seemed to be building up. I released a 36-pound cownose ray that hit a sandworm I was fishing for stripers with Chuck Many on his Ty Man from Highlands near Ambrose Channel on Aug. 19, but that was it for a species that's often been hard to avoid. For the first time in many years, I never even saw a cownose in the surf. The mix of species a hundred years ago, which also included sheepshead and croakers, was what I expected to see with Climate Change, but Mother Nature pulled a fast one on us. Cold water species such as cod, spiny dogfish, seals and whales have increased, and some have adapted to even 70-degree summer waters. Gene Graman of Middletown is a striper specialist, but he enjoyed some good action with school cod on 17 Fathoms last summer. I joined him aboard That's It II from Highlands on Aug. 24 when we had no drift, but we still caught a couple of keeper cod plus a few shorts well within sight of shore. A few charter skippers actually had successful trips targeting those cod. The Prowler V from Atlantic Highland also did well with cod on inshore wrecks during late summer afternoon trips. There was better codfishing and bigger fish on offshore wrecks, as had been the case in the past, but it was the near-shore summer codfishing that I've found no precedent for. Last year was recorded as the warmest ever, though it hardly felt like that after a brutally cold and snowy winter, followed by a pleasant summer without much hot, humid weather at the Shore. Maybe that's what we need for inshore codfishing, but I'd prefer some shots at those 30-pound "pest channel bass" that used to be here when the waters were, presumably, warmer a hundred years ago. The Canyon Runner Seminar in Atlantic City on Saturday is sold out. The Atlantic City Boat Show rolls into the Convention Center from Feb. 3 to 7. The National Marine Manufacturers Association anticipates a better year after Gov. Christie signed the bill providing a 50 percent cut in sales tax for large boats in order to remain competitive with other states. The Fly Fishing Show is open from Friday to Sunday at the Garden State Exhibition Center in Somerset. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meets next week at The Westin Alexandria in Alexandria, Virginia. The Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Management Board will be in session from 2:45 to 4:15 Tuesday to set the scup recreational specifications and update the sea bass and fluke amendment process. Check my blog at nj.com/shore/blogs/fishing for results. With mild and fishable weather coming up, and the ocean settling, there could be some opportunities this weekend. The Golden Eagle will seek mackerel from Belmar at 7 a.m. Saturday. The Ocean Explorer from Belmar got out Wednesday, but found tough fishing on still disturbed bottoms in 45-degrre waters. There were the expected congers (silver eels) plus a few cod and ling, and some bergalls and short blackfish. Bob Matthews reports from Fisherman's Den in Belmar Marina that the surf has been dead since the storm, and Joe Melillo had the same report from Castaways Tackle in Point Pleasant.

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