Dave Lilly doesn’t have to start fishing to determine if the Raritan Bay striped bass run is underway. That striper pro just looks at his Hazlet, N.J. sidewalk to see if earthworms are there after a heavy rain. Sure enough, the first boat reports of some decent action with school stripers up to keeper size are just starting to come in. See the photo below of Capt. John Contello with his icebreaker striper of the season caught at night this week on his Just Sayin from Keyport.

The big spawning bass shouldn’t be far behind, as the bay is loaded with bunkers. If the weekend is fishable, I expect to hear of the first few bigger linesiders which may be trolled with stretch plugs. April is the “sure thing” month, but the first large bass were already hitting bunkers at this time last year after a mild winter. Check the HRFA website at hrfa.org for details on the upcoming Fred Rung Striped Bass Memorial Tournament on the Hudson River and its tributaries.

There were no reports from this morning. and as I’m writing this afternoon the trees outside my office window bending over.

A small craft warning is up for southwest winds to 30 knots through late tonight, but it should drop to west at 10-15 knots with gusts to 20 by morning — before diminishing during the day to 5-10 knots as seas settle to 3-4 feet.

Sunday is predicted to start with southeast winds at 15-20 knots with showers and a shift to south at 20-25 knots plus gusts to 30 in the afternoon,

At Belmar. the Ocean Explorer will sail Saturday for cod and ling, while the Golden Eagle will start its season at 7:30 a.m. by targeting the same species The Big Mohawk will kick off their season on April 1 to fish for blackfish. Winter flounder fishing off the Belmar docks has been slow so far, but may be worth trying with the south winds and mild temperatures.

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