James Hutchinson Sr.’s take on the Spring Derby and LBI Fishing Classic

In a bit of a surprise, the 2023 Long Beach Island fishing season is off to a stronger start than pretty much anyone could have predicted. This statement is borne out by both anecdotal accounts and statistics as shown by entries in the 21st annual LBI Surf Fishing Derby.

There are multiple theories as to why we are seeing so many striped bass in southern Ocean County waters, but our recent warmer than usual winter is a prime suspect. The temperate winter has bay water temperatures breaking 60-degrees, and ocean temperatures already in the mid-50s.

Warm water means more bait around, and more bait is an attraction for game fish. More fish than usual seem to have spent the winter in local waters and are currently cruising around. Since there is food for them, there is no reason for them to leave for other waters.

Another possible explanation for the number of fish to be found, especially the considerable number of smaller bass, is the effect of recent fishing regulations. In the past couple of years, daily bag reductions, the requirement that large breeding stripers 38-inches and over must be released, and the mandated use of circle hooks may have already had a positive influence on fish numbers.

While a positive impact of these newer laws may not be actually proven, anecdotal accounts seem to indicate there may be a connection. This can be borne out by improved spring fishing up and down the entire New Jersey coast.

While the current striped bass action has taken center stage, some other members of the supporting cast have made appearances. A surprising number of black drumfish have been biting on clam baits on the beaches of Long Beach Island. Although these have not been trophy drum, they are the perfect size to take home for the dinner table.

The tautog, or blackfish, bite has been strong thus far, with anglers finding good action both from boats and from shore, primarily at the north end of Long Beach Island. Unfortunately, that season ends on May 1 and does not re-open until August 1.

In addition, one or two weakfish have been caught along with a number of blowfish. One fish noticeable for its absence is bluefish. It is hoped that these fierce fighting fish make their appearance soon.

As mentioned above, the early results for the 21st annual Spring Derby indicate a positive upswing in fishing action. The contest began on April 1, and at this early point, there have been thirteen striped bass weighed in.

Patrick Shapiro currently heads up the leader board with his 20.44-pound striped bass caught on April 19 in Holgate. James Worobetz is in second place with a 19.14 pounder caught in Spray Beach, and Shawn Gallen sits in third place with his fish weighing 18.56-pounds landed in Holgate.

All three fish on the leaderboard were caught on clam baits. In fact, of the thirteen fish currently checked in, ten were caught on clams. Two fell for plugs and one fish on a bloodworm. The strong use of clam baits helps to account for the number of black drumfish caught.

Thus far, ten of the fish entered have been caught south of the Causeway. This is a departure from the norm in the fall Classic when it seems the stronger bite is on the north end of LBI.

It is not too late to get in on the action of the Derby as the contest runs until June 25. Registration is just $20 at the three official weigh-in stations of Surf City Bait and Tackle, Jingles Bait and Tackle in Beach Haven, and Fisherman’s Headquarters in Ship Bottom. All registration money goes to the cash prizes. Complete details can be found at https://www.lbisfc.com/lbi-spring-surf-fishing-tournament.