Fishing during the pandemic


The Empire State’s marine striped bass season runs from April 15 to Dec. 15 with one bass of 28-35 inches.

The wind is shifting to northwest, with a forecast of 15-20 knots plus gusts to 30 in the morning — and 4-6-foot seas.

 


 

 

N.J. trout season to open on time

The pandemic has affected everything else, but the N.J. trout season will open as scheduled tomorrow. Catherine McCabe, the D.E.P. Commissioner, confirmed that during Gov. Phil Murphy’s press conference today.

She noted that state parks and Wildlife Management Areas remain open and without charges, though offices and rest rooms are closed. Despite the general order to stay at home, recreation while observing social distancing is encouraged. Indeed, McCabe touted the benefits of fishing, and Murphy said a 6-foot rod is good for measuring the distancing requirement. He also noted that this was good news for all but the trout!

There are small craft warnings up to tomorrow afternoon as the northeast wind continues at 15-20 knots before dropping to 10-15 in the afternoon.

Dense fog advisory for the morning

Though the wind forecast for the morning is better, along with fairly mild temperatures, the marine forecast includes a dense fog advisory up to 6 a.m.

Surprisingly, the forecast doesn’t mention that as the morning continues with southwest winds at 5-10 knots. More wind is predicted after midnight tomorrow with northeast gusts to 20 knots.

Phil Fischler worked the Navesink River with his boat from Highlands yesterday morning and came up with just one 16-inch flounder before switching to stripers. A few were caught, including one keeper, before the cold rain drove him home.

Blogger Dan tried fishing from shore in Shrewsbury River and Sandy Hook Bay this morning, but had no luck with stripers which he speculated must be further back in Raritan Bay.

Indeed, that’s where Joe Massa found large bass from his My Three Sons out of Morgan Marina on Friday as he had his best release fishing in years as stripers hit both large plastic shads — and glomped live bunkers without hesitation.

striper on bunker

Stripers best bet for weekend

Striped bass in Raritan Bay are the best bet at present, if you can find a way to get at them. Relatively few anglers have boats in the water so far, and getting launched may be a problem as marinas aren’t considered to be an essential business. To top it off, there are no party boats sailing in the bay, and some charter skippers aren’t sailing until the legality of doing so is settled.

Joe Massa went out himself with his My Three Sons from Morgan Marina today and had steady action casting a large shad. He then netted some bunkers and found that the bass responded to them as well. The stripers were mostly 15-20-pounders, but he also released a 40-incher.

Fisherman’s Den in Belmar Marina can supply bait, and reported a pick of flounder from the docks.  One angler told them that he had done well with stripers at Union Beach. A few small stripers have been taken on lures in the local surf.

At Seaside Park, Betty & Nick’s  is open for food take-outs, and the rest of the store is accessible for bait and tackle purchases. John Bushell continues to report a strong smell of bluefish blowing in from the surf, though it’s very early for blues.

Grumpy’s Tackle is closed, but the mail order business continues for those using Pay Pal.

Bill Hoblitzell has been raking worms and fishing for flounder, but only catching shorts lately. Yet, he did get a surprise in Point Pleasant Canal when a very early 18-inch blackfish put up a spirited battle on light tackle before the release.

Lots of N.J. anglers are still in Florida. Ric Gross of Point Pleasant said he had a fine offshore trip Wednesday with a boat  out of Hillsboro Inlet which trolled lots of blackfin tuna plus little tunny.

Tommy Cox bought a kayak, and has been doing very well in Lemon Bay on the west coast with seatrout, redfish and snook –including a 30-incher yesterday.

Vinny D’Anton is still wading in the Sarasota area, and finding good action as the waters have warmed to 80 degrees. Snook have been hitting the Zara Spook, though it’s been hard to get hooks in them. Seatrout and ladyfish have also been abundant.

Bob Corell of Bay Head and his wife Mary Agnes hosted his brother Todd and wife Karen on his Sea Vee out of Marathon yesterday as they finally got a calm day which produced a good catch of dolphin and blackfin tuna trolling out at the Hump.

Capt. Sal Cursi, who ran the Cathy Sea from Seawaren for many years,  took advantage of the good weather a couple of days ago to get out in his small boat at Palm Bay for a limit of mangrove snappers while releasing a few puppy black drum.

 

Stripers hot in Raritan Bay

Dave Lilly reported striper fishing as hot as it was last week in Raritan Bay, but with bigger fish. The bass were in shallow waters at the back of the bay when he came out of Keyport, and it was the Tony Maja 5-ounce mo-jos that did the job trolling. His friends kept a couple and released others steadily before returning early in the morning.  They only came across one short, and released bass up to about the 38 inches that is supposed to go into effect as the maximum on April 1 if the governor signs that provision. Right now we’re still fishing on the old regulations.

Dave said that 30 to 40 boats were taking advantage of the perfect weather and what Tony Arcabscio used to call “stupid fishing” when he was chunking out of Great Kills over a decade ago and fishing was so easy that even beginners could drop an anchor anywhere and chunk tripers.  Kayackers were doing as well as power boaters in the exceptionally clear waters, though Dave saw no signs of fish. There wasn’t much to mark in shallow waters, and he never saw a bunker or a bird dive.

The N.J. D.E.P. issued a press release today encouraging outdoor activities except in groups. Commissioner Catherine McCabe emphasized that the state parks and Wildlife Management Areas are open and not charging fees. The rest rooms are closed, as are the offices. Anyone needing any sort of license must go online.  Social distancing is required. Be sure to stay at least six feet away from anyone else.

West winds of 10-15 knots are forecast for tonight with gusts to 20 and rain after midnight. Friday starts with west winds of 5-10 knots and rain before switching to north in the afternoon.

Time to discuss easing fluke rules

Though fishing is legal in N.J. and N.Y. at this point, it’s likely that regulations relating to the pandemic will greatly impact the sport this year. That being the case, even the small fluke quota assigned to the public will probably not be filled. It would be appropriate now for the ASMFC and MAFMC to consider loosening fluke regulations in order that those taking advantage of restricted fishing opportunities will have a reasonable chance of bringing home a meal.

Reduced fishing pressure comes at the right time for the striped bass population which needs rebuilding, but fluke are in such good shape that the agencies even added to the commercial quota last year. Then there’s the possibility that if recreational fishermen aren’t filling their quota that the agencies will transfer the unused portion to the commercial side — just as they did with bluefish despite any provision in the management plan to do so.  To top it off, the greatly reduced recreational catch may be used next year as an excuse to further lower the public quota.

Lowering the minimum size would be the best way as a 16 or 17 inch fluke is a reasonable eating size that’s been readily available inshore and in the surf. It wouldn’t be necessary to go all the way down to the 14-inch fluke provided to commercial fishermen even though they have a huge advantage by dragging nets over miles of bottom.

Due to the social distancing provisions of the governor’s order, it doesn’t look good for party and charter boats at this point. It’s hard to find any written guidance with state offices closed, but a woman in the N.J. Division of Fish and Wildlife thought there was no problem with fishing with a friend as long as the group restrictions are followed. Shore fishing should be fine as fishing distancing for casting is greater than social distancing.

Keep in mind the fact that we’re still fishing under last year’s regulations. The new striper regs are supposed to go into effect on April 1, but the governor still hasn’t signed that authorization.

Phil Sciortino said the phone (732 264-7711) was ringing steadily at The Tackle Box in Hazlet today. Though the shop is closed, he will take credit card orders over the phone for worms and tackle which he’ll drop off at homes or marinas, or leave in front of the store,

The Golden Eagle from Belmar is supposed to start fishing on  April 4, but they don’t know at this time if that will be possible.

The small craft warning is coming down at 6 p.m., but Wednesday starts with east winds at 15-20 knots which increase to 20-25 in the afternoon with rain and 4-to-7-foot seas.

 

Uncertainty about fishing

The striped bass fishery is underway, but there’s a lot of uncertainty about whether we’ll be able to fish.

I read Gov. Murphy’s N.J. shutdown order, but it didn’t refer specifically to fishing or boating at all.  Yet, the state parks and Wildlife Management Areas are open for public use — though with offices and rest rooms closed. I’ll try to get more detailed info tomorrow.

Grumpy’s Tackle in Seaside Park closed today until further notice. Apparently bait and tackle shops are considered nonessential, but the governor is allowing liquor stores to operate. Isn’t an obsession with healthy fishing better than one with booze?

You won’t be missing much tomorrow weather-wise. There are small craft warnings up into the afternoon. East winds at 20-25 knots with gusts to 30 plus rain and 4-6-foot seas are predicted.

Be ready to figure out the weight of your trophy striper

As of April 1, N.J. anglers will no longer be able to keep their striper of a lifetime, but they can still determine a commonly-accepted estimate of their trophy’s weight with nothing more than a retractable tape in their pocket.

The new N.J. striper regulation will allow just one bass from 28 to 38 inches, which means that the really big bass must be released. That’s not really a problem for those still waiting for that “one for the wall” as taxidermists have molds for all large sizes. Just take the length and girth before you release that trophy spawner and you’ll get back the same fish you’d receive as if you’d shipped the fish.

The important thing is to always have that retractable tape or a cloth one with you as it’s the girth that really determines a striper’s weight. A flat measuring stick is useless for girth which is measured at the fattest portion of the body just behind the head.

The standard formula of length to the fork of the tail times girth squared divided by 800 works well for the striper’s body shape. Remember that it’s the fork length measurement which is used in the formula rather than the tail length. It only takes seconds to make those measurements before releasing the fish, but you’ll have a meaningful estimated weight rather than a wild guess that no one believes.

That cubera snapper which the Pesca Panama mate and I are holding at the top of the blog was released seconds after I took those measurements which allowed me to later calculate the weight at 73.58375 pounds — just a few pounds short of the world record. Of course, the formula isn’t accepted by the IGFA for record purposes — but it’s fine for me to know now big my cubera of a lifetime was!

Should you forget the tape, you can get an accurate girth by pulling some line off a spool and clipping it off to be measured later.

There are hand scales which can be used for very large fish, Chuck Many uses a 60-pound Boga-Grip which he sent to the IGFA for certification. It can be used to weigh fish for record submissions — but only on land. I have an old 80-pound Chatillon which I carried on exploratory trips around the world in the old days. However, it’s very heavy, and not too practical to carry in airplanes now that bags are weighed.

Small craft warnings are up tonight. Friday starts with south winds at 15-20 knots before switching to southwest in the afternoon with possible rain and fog.plus 4-7-foot seas.

 

 

 

 

 

Large stripers turn on in Raritan Bay

It isn’t even April yet, but large stripers haveJoe Massa first bass turned on to lures in Raritan Bay.

Joe Massa made a short trip yesterday afternoon with his My Three Sons from Morgan Marina. After only catching small bass on worms, he decided to troll a Rapala X-15 diving plug and soon hooked into a 31-inch bass.

That fishing exploded today. The Tackle Box in Hazlet reported that Andrew and Kenny Dubman had lots of bass up to a 30-pounder while casting shads, and Capt. Johnny Bucktails had a similar report from Just Sayin’ out of Keyport.  E. Brem from Oceanport reported doubleheaders trolling mo-jos. Matt Calabria continues to catch stripers up to a 30-incher from shore using his wormballs.

Wormball bass

Jerry Lasko fished the bay side at Bay Head yesterday evening as Maren Toleno broke the ice for the spring with a 14-inch striper.

I was holding off writing up the annual IGFA Fund-raising Banquet in Spring Lake Heights next month while expecting to get a cancellation notice due to the pandemic — which did come from Jeff Merrill today.

The annual Spring Lake Trout Contest for kids also had to be cancelled.

The weather is turning on us with southeast gusts to  20 knots tonight plus rain. Thursday starts with east winds at 10-15 knots plus gusts to 20 before dropping to northeast at 5-10 along with rain in the afternoon.

Correction to bluefish comments address

The e-mail address in yesterday’s blog for comments on bluefish not submitted at last month’s bluefish scoping hearings was incorrect. It should be mseeley@mafmc.org. Your bluefish comments can be submitted prior to midnight.

I emphasized the fact that the Mid-Atlantic Council and ASMFC have to take part of the responsibility for he bluefish decline by allowing unused recreational quota to be transferred to commercial fisheries even as the shortage was developing. There was no provision in the management plan for such transfers, and it’s vital that such actions must be specifically prohibited by amendment to the plan.

Comments on fluke will also be accepted before midnight by e-mail to jbeaty@asmfc.org. My response emphasized the fact that NOAA Fisheries estimated the recreational summer flounder catch in 1970 (before management started) was 39 million pounds — nearly seven times the commercial landings. Yet, the management plan provided 60% of the quota to commercial interests in one of the worst abuses of the public trust since fisheries management started. The result has been ever-larger minimum sizes, short seasons and small bag limits for the public while dozens of party and charter boats have gone out of business.

The ASMFC has cancelled its spring meeting from May 4-7 in Arlington, Va. due to the pandemic. One day may be added to the summer meeting in August, and issues demanding quick action can be handled through webinars or by conference calls.

One more day of fishable weather is coming up as the forecast for Wednesday is for north winds at 5-10 knots before going to southeast in the afternoon — and blowing up to 15-20 after midnight along with rain.

The Ocean Explorer is planning to sail from Belmar for cod on Wednesday at 7:30 a.m.

Betty & Nicks Tackle in Seaside Park notes that the restaurant remains open though no one will be seated or waitress service provided. Orders will be delivered to your car.