Spring has arrived. You may not know that from current air temperatures, but the calendar says it is so, as do some early catches of striped bass.
The early arrival of stripers in the back bays and tributaries bodes well for the upcoming start of the 2022 version of the annual LBI Spring Derby. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the popular kickoff to the Long Beach Island surf fishing scene.
This year’s contest opens on Saturday, April 2, and concludes on Sunday, June 26, at 6:00 PM. Entry into the event is $20 with a unique prize structure. There is a 100% pay out of money taken in. The winning striped bass receives half of the entry fees while the second largest bass is good for 25%. The third bass rakes in 10%.
In addition to the striped bass prizes, there is a 15% payout to the largest bluefish weighed in.
Anglers are advised to have cell phones or cameras on hand while fishing. Adding spice to the tournament are weekly prizes for photos taken while fishing the event as well as a grand prize-winning photo.
The spring fishing tournament was an outgrowth of the ever-popular Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic which has run in the fall months since 1955. Surf anglers have enjoyed that event so much, a parallel tournament in the spring was a natural. Thus, the spring contest sprung up.
So far this spring anglers have been reporting a high level of success in many of the customary early season “hot spots.” This includes sodbanks on the west side of the bay and various areas at the mouth and tributaries of waterways such as the Mullica River. While bloodworms traditionally produce the best results, some fish have been taken on plastic lures and even plugs.
Usually, the first catches in March of stripers are almost completely comprised of throwback fish too short to be legal. So far this year, there have been keeper sized fish reeled in practically every day. This early season success seems to suggest that more fish are spending their winters inshore than in past years.
It is difficult to say why this trend is so. One reason might be that there was an abundance of bait in the water back in the fall that kept the fish around. Also, water temperatures are already in the low 50’s, which has gotten the fish moving around much sooner than usual.
The LBI Spring Derby is the opening fishing tournament in the southern Ocean County area. It is set up for shore-based anglers only.
Last year’s winning fish was a 22.44-pound striper caught by Garry Grippaldi. Charles Avila reeled in the largest bluefish weighing 10.42-pounds.
With a limited number of prizes, the rules are designed to make the event a “low kill” event. Unless a fish will be on the leaderboard or taken home for the dinner table, safe releases are recommended.
Anglers are urged to do all they can to ensure fish are released safely. The regulation that only circle hooks be used while fishing with bait for striped bass is a large help.
All fish releases should be done as quickly as possible with a minimum of handling. Anglers are urged not to hold fish by the gills or allowing them to flop around on the ground. Release the fish gently back into the water avoiding waves that might wash it back to the beach.
The photo prizes give anglers the opportunity to share their catches and still release them safely.
Registration for the Derby can be accomplished at any of the three official weigh-in stations. These are Jingles Bait and Tackle in Beach Haven, Fisherman’s Headquarters in Ship Bottom, and Surf City Bait and Tackle in Surf City.
The official website for the event is www.lbisfc.com. Those of you on Facebook can check out the event on its Facebook site, LBI Surf Fishing Tournament.