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Winds increasing

Small craft warnings go up at 6 p.m., before a switch to northwest winds gusting to 35 knots tomorrow — and a gale watch. That cold wind will result in freeze warnings in far northern areas, but surfcasters should be in good shape with winds from that direction.

Capt. Chris Di Stefano got a report from a friend about stripers in the 40-pound class being hooked in Raritan Reach. A boater out of Shark River Yacht Club  found lots of fluke waiting for the season to open in Shark River. Chris also heard about a bluefin tuna in the giant class being released short of the canyons recently. Scallop boats have been spotting bluefins following their nets.

Phil Fischer ran out to the rough bottom at Scotland this week from Highlands for a good catch of ling plus a small cod, and even an early sea bass that was released.

At Seaside Park, Grumpy’s Tackle noted that town’s beaches are open for anglers. IBSP is also open, and lots f small stripers are being caught on shucked clams which are also attracting the first blowfish.

John Bushell Jr. had sad news at Betty & Nick’s as his uncle George has passed away. He was the brother of the original Betty.

Lilly calls Raritan Bay a sure thing if you move around

Dave Lilly says he hasn’t had a bad day out of Keyport with stripers in Raritan Bay since the big fish arrived early on March 10.

The only problem is that the bass move around the bay. His advice is not to get locked into where you caught them the last trip.  He’s caught them everywhere except in the channels — and on both sides while trolling both Tony Maja mo-jos and bunker spoons.  Most of the bass he’s been releasing are in the 15-18-pound class.

Phil Fischer took advantage of Monday’s nice weather to find lots of action with 15 stripers in Shrewsbury River from his boat out of Highlands. There were more shorts than keepers, and they only kept one. Bunkers were plentiful, but there was no mention of blues which are usually plentiful there in May.

Betty & Nick’s Tackle in Seaside Park reports the local beach was opened today, and Lavallette was already open along with IBSP from dawn to dusk. Island Heights docks and bulkheads are open, and small stripers are plentiful in the bay — though there hasn’t been much word of blues.

News12 TV reported the opening of Belmar beaches coming up on Friday.

Thursday looks good with northwest winds at 10-15 knots that shift to southwest in the afternoon.

Blues in Barnegat Inlet

It’s that time of year when bluefish normally flood into rivers and bays along the New Jersey coast and Long Island’s south shore, but there are lots of questions this spring after bluefish stocks have been declining for a few years.

Some years those blues are small, but in other springs the first showings provide some of the largest blues of the year. That was the case last May, after the previous year was a bust with just scattered small blues and very few jumbos.

John Bushell reported getting word at Betty & Nick’s Tackle in Seaside Park on Saturday morning that blues were hitting bucktails in the inlet — though there was no mention of size. He also noted this morning that some juvenile stripers were hitting clams in Island Beach State Park.

The park reopened at daylight Saturday, but I heard of problems with cars getting stuck as some without permits were  trying to run the beach without lowering their tires enough.

Phil Fischer fished shallow spots in Raritan Bay just before the blackfish season ended Friday, and had great action with tog up to 8 pounds before running out of bait.

Vinny D’Anton is still fishing in Florida where there have been few restrictions on wading in the Sarasota area. He’s been plugging some spotted seatrout and snook — and also hooked his first bluefish there last week.

Pete Connell extended his stay in Florida, which provided him with lots of action with small snook in the back country at Islamorada plus a big day catching large tarpon..

The marine forecast looks good, with northwest winds at 10-15 knots before increasing to 15-20 with gusts to 25 in the afternoon.

 

Better weather for weekend

As this is being written, its pouring outside my window as the cold, windy spring continues, but at least that’s better than the hail we had earlier today in Wall. Fortunately, it looks a lot better for the weekend.

Actually, this morning turned out to be perfect for trolling in Raritan Bay. Dave Lilly said he got out with friends after the early rain at Keyport, and returned before the afternoon rain. It was flat calm all morning, but they didn’t see 10 boats all day. Yet, it was necessary to run all over the bay to find stripers as the concentration in the shallow waters at the back was gone — along with the bunkers.

It was the deeper waters on the New York side which eventually produced as Lilly marked bunkers on the bottom in 28 feet and switched from the light Tony Maja mo-jos he had been using in shallow waters to large Maja green spoons. They only released eight or nine stripers, but all were large bass up to about 40 inches.  The water temperature on the incoming tide was steady at 51 degrees.

The marine forecast is for northwest winds at 10 to 15 knots in the morning, with seas down to 4 to 6 feet. Sunday is even better with southwest winds about 10 knots and 2-4-foot seas.

Pictured below is a big bass caught on Capt. Jim Freda’s Shore Catch in the bay this week.

Striper - Freda

 

 

For-hire boats remain on hold

Though there have been discussions about opening up the economy as the pandemic curve flattens, the owners of party and charter boats in N. Y. and N. J. remain confused about when or if they will be allowed to take customers this year.

The bills keep coming for dockage, but income remains at zero. It isn’t like that everywhere. Charter boats have been operating in Florida, and Capt. Monty Hawkins is planning to start running limited trips in May with his Morning Star from Ocean City, Maryland. Hawkins will carry only nine customers, which is just 22,5% of his capacity in order to ensure the proper distancing. The cost for those sea bass trips will be $155  on Saturdays and $135 from Sunday to Friday.  Reservations are required by calling 410 520-2076. The sea bass season there opens with a 12-inch minimum and 15 fish bag limit.

Charter boats are operating in R.I., but don’t rush up there. Mike Laptew, the famed underwater photographer, checked with the governor’s office and found that they may only carry R.I., customers.

Even non-residents who own boats in R.I. have to check with their marina and quarantine before working on their craft. The state’s waters are open, but out-of-state boaters can’t overnight at the marinas.

Jack Kauffman confirmed last night’s blog about Saturday’s crowd of boats in Raritan Bay turning off the bite. He noted that there were no markers in the bay, and though he marked lots of fish for three hours they all had lockjaw.

Mark Roy got out into the bay today with his Release Me from Raritan Marina in Hazlet. His crew trolled stripers of 28 1/2 and 35 inches on mo-jos and released two smaller ones. They couldn’t find any bunkers for bait in Great Kills Harbor  before going to the back of the bay where there were bunkers flipping but no hits up to the time this blog was written.

The weather is turning on us again. The wind turns southeast in the morning at 10-15 knots plus gusts to 20 before increasing to 20-25 knots in the afternoon with gusts to 30 knots.

Boat traffic slowed Raritan Bay striper bite

Capt. Vinny Vetere reports from Staten Island that Saturday’s striper trolling in Raritan Bay wasn’t as good as expected due to the huge fleet that gathered there in nice weather.

The skipper of Katfish from Great Kills still has his charter boat out of the water due to New York’s ban on charter fishing, but had his two mates out on a smaller boat, and they trolled up some stripers later in the day on Vetere’s pink and white Hojos. Included was the release of a fat female loaded with roe which taped out at 49.5 inches with a 34-inch girth.

Vinny 49.5 inch bass

After a mild winter, we’ve had an historically cool spring. That should change later in the week, but at least the wind shifts to the northwest at just 10-15 knots plus gusts to 20 in the morning. The calming northwest direction will bring seas down to 3 to 5 feet, and diminish further in the afternoon.

Small craft warnings up through Monday afternoon

The cold, raw spring continues as small craft warnings are posted through tomorrow afternoon.

Northeast winds of 15-20 knots tonight drop a bit to north at 10-15 plus gusts to 20 in the morning along with likely showers.

Scott Leadbeater of Haddon Heights got his Aquasport center console into the water yesterday morning for its 24th year at Atlantic Highlands , and took advantage of the calm morning to fish for stripers among about 100 boats in Raritan Bay from Romer Shoal to Union Beach. Only one short was caught among lots of marks tight to the bottom before he moved to Chapel Hill where the marks were higher. Three stripers from 15 to 18 pounds were then caught in 30 minutes.

Tommy Cox has been enjoying kayak fishing in Lemon Bay on Florida’s lower west coast before heading back to New Jersey. Casting to the mangroves has produced a variety of species up to large redfish and snook.

The lack of pressure on Florida’s east coast has resulted in much better fishing. My nephew, Todd Correll got a report of one boat that caught 40 sailfish in a day off Key West, which is something I’ve never heard of there before.

Lilly trolls an “exotic” — a bluefish

Dave Lilly called this morning with news that he ad trolled an “exotic” — at least by last year’s standard in Raritan Bay — a bluefish.

Lilly went east from Keyport and saw nothing but a lot of boats on a calm morning.  Therefore, he went to the back of the bay where he’s been doing well by trolling 3-ounce Tony Maja mo-jos and caught the blue of about 8 pounds before starting a pick of bass in the 30-34-inch class that got better before he came in later in the morning. Dave said the radio was pretty quiet. He did see bunkers flipping in the back of the bay.

Capt. Chris Di Stefano said a friend trolled mo-jos in the bay to catch 30-inch  bass. He also had a report of cod at Sandy Hook Reef, including a 20-pounder. Another boater had lots of both short and keeper blackfish at Sea Girt Reef. In addition there were 18-22-inch winter flounder and the first showing of big sea bass that are out of season.

Unfortunately, those areas may not be fishable Sunday as small craft warnings are up. East winds of 20 to 25 knots are predicted along with gusts to 30, plus showers.

Striper bite continues in Raritan Bay

Dave Lilly of Hazlet trolled up stripers in Raritan Bay again today, though it wasn’t as easy as it had been.

Lilly decided to head east from Keyport and never had a hit all the way to Romer Shoal before running to the back of the bay where about a dozen bass in the 34-35-inch class were trolled in 16-foot depths on Tony Maja 3-ounce mo-jos.  He only saw one bass caught to the east among a good fleet taking advantage of a calm morning — though some snow flakes were falling in the cold air when he started out. However, he did hear a radio report of a 7-pound fluke being trolled.  The water temperature was up a couple of degrees to 48 in the back, though there were no surface signs of bunkers or birds in the bay.

As noted in yesterday’s blog, Capt. Stan Zagleski passed away from cancer at 76. His son Stan sent this shot of his father with one of his top big fluke customers, Ashley, on Elaine B. II from Bahrs in Highlands. Stan, Jr. will be running the boat as soon as party boat fishing is permitted.

 

Stan Zagleski

Capt. Art Hilliard was also lost to the for-hire fleet recently. He had run the large-group charter boat Eagle from Atlantic Highlands. R.I.P. Art.

Art Hilliard

Capt. Bob Garafano from Belmar also reported the recent loss of former party boat owner Marty Tave. Capt. Chris Di Stefano noted that he bought the Renegade from Tave and briefly ran it as a party boat.

Chis had some inshore cod news as a friend told him that 19 legal cod were boated at Sandy Hook Reef last weekend along with ling and blackfish. There was also a cod report from Sea Girt Reef.

Bob Correll of Bay Head has been hooking and jumping small tarpon from the back of a house he’s been living in at Islamorada in the Florida Keys, but finally got one that hung on for a photo a couple of nights ago.

Bob's tarpon

Rain is forecast after midnight, and the morning prediction is northeast winds at 15-20 knots with gusts to 25.

Gale warning into tonight

It’s been a windy cold spring, but there are better days coming. The northwest wind now blowing up to 35 knots should drop to 20-25 west by morning plus gusts to 30. At least that should settle the ocean.

The relatively few boaters fishing in  Raritan Bay continue to do very well with large stripers. One claimed on Facebook that he had a hard time finding one under 38 inches.

I was able to find an article by Dan Radel in the Asbury Park Press noting that Norma Keller, owner of the Norma K party boat fleet in Point Pleasant, died at 80 from complications of old age. Due to the present restrictions, a small private service was held. However, I haven’t been able to find out any more about Capt. Art Hilliard after reading on Faceboook that he had passed away. Anyone with information can contact me at cristori@aol.com.

Vinnie D’Anton continues to do well wading for spotted sea trout at Sarastota, Fl. — and even added a flounder yesterday on a Z Man jig.