LBI Classic Wrap-up

By Jim Hutchinson Sr.

The 69th annual Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic is now history. The event can be considered a success with fish catches showing an uptick over the 2022 results despite a drop in anglers from last year.

But don’t put your gear away just yet. In normal years, the striped bass action falls off in December. Not so this year. In fact, the action on the LBI beaches may be peaking right now.

A variety of offerings are catching fish right now such as soft plastics when bunker are around and metals with a teaser when sand eels are present. Anglers should be aware there is no closed season for striped bass from the beach or in ocean waters. It is only in the back bays and inlets that state rules prohibit bass fishing in the months of January and February.

The recently completed edition of the LBI Classic had 429 anglers participating compared to 477 in 2022. This decline might be attributed to the emergency striped bass restrictions which lowered the legal striped bass size to 28-31 inches.

Despite the sharp rules reduction for keeper striped bass, there were still sixty-five bass weighed in this year. In years gone by, the striped bass action seemed to wane dramatically when the tournament reached its final weeks. This was not true this year.

As matter of fact, there were eighteen striped bass hitting the scales the final three days this year with eight of these on Sunday, the final day. The current action in the Long Beach Island surf is now mostly smaller bass, with keepers mixed in.

Asked to assess the recently concluded contest, Classic Chairperson Jim Hutchinson Jr acknowledged the new striped bass restrictions “…were a challenge. What we did see were enough fishermen out fishing despite the new rules to make it exciting. We had to retool things to keep the interest up. The tautog fishing in Barnegat Light was outstanding this year. The Surf Master Prize was a success, and we want to build on this.”

“Next year is our 70th anniversary, and we have already started looking at next year to make it bigger and even more exciting for people fishing. I recommend anglers register early to get their free hat and fish right to the end of the tournament. We expect good fishing for all nine weeks.”

Gordon Kirk took honors this year in the striped bass division with his fish that hit the scales at 12.14-pounds. Jay Shayne finished with the second-place honors and Chris Masino took third.

Jeffrey Crabtree won the bluefish award with a 6.38-pound fish followed by Benjamin Blair Jr. And Partick Gallen. There were nine bluefish entered this year compared with one last year.

The tautog category was a hotbed with seventy checked in this year compared to 47 in 2022. All were caught in Barnegat Light. Randall Krieg had the largest entry with his 5.10-pound fish followed by Matthew Merlin and Quentin Rutan.

In 2022 only one kingfish made it to the scales while 2023 saw twenty-nine weighed in. William Roth’s 1.23-pound fish won while Dave Minnich took second and John Sullivan Jr. third.

No redfish were entered this year.

In the ladies’ competition, Andie Knuerzer took honors for striped bass while Linda Donnelly was second. Crystal Muckelston reeled in the largest bluefish while Susan Drummond took honors for kingfish and Allison Ryan second.

In the youth division, Patrick Shapiro took honors in both the bass and kingfish categories. Charlotte Shapiro took second place and Lachlan Pirrello third for their kingfish.

The seniors’ honors also went to Kirk, Crabtree, and Roth.

A new category in 2023 was the LBI Surf Master Competition where top honors go to the largest fish caught and released safely. Judging is done by means of a photograph showing the fish next to a tape measure. John Ipri won this with a 48-inch fish followed by Gary Grippadi’s 47.5-bass and Ethan Kazmierski’s 47-incher.

A total of sixteen teams entered this year with Team Top Notch taking team honors followed by American Anglers.

The next striped bass competition on Long Beach Island will be the 21st annual LBI Spring Derby which runs April through June. Information and registration will be available at Jingles Bait and Tackle in Beach Haven, Surf City Bait and Tackle, and Fisherman’s Headquarters in Ship Bottom as spring nears.

Complete information on the recently completed Classic can be found at