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March 2, 2004

Opening-day shutout Fishermen come up empty as striped-bass season begins

TUCKERTON - Monday offered some of the most temperate weather conditions of any recent striped-bass season-opening day, and several local anglers lined the banks of Graveling Point near the mouth of the Mullica River hoping to land that first linesider.

Southampton Township resident Donald Southard, 47, did not need to catch a striper to enjoy the day but would have taken one as a bonus.

"This is what I've been waiting for all winter, and here it is," Southard said. "It's so calm, so nice, I've been watching all the sparkles on the water. To have such a nice day the first day of striper season, I can't believe it."

Like Southard, Gloucester City resident Willard Hatcher has been fishing the banks of Graveling Point since the 1960s.

"Graveling Point has sort of become a traditional spot for people to try for their first striper of the spring on the Mullica River," said Hatcher, 58.

"Two years ago I got the first bass of the year here on March 1 (winning a $100 prize offered annually by Scott's Bait and Tackle in Mystic Island). Right now the water is still a little too cold.

"Later in the day, when you get that warmer water coming in (to Great Bay) from the river on the outgoing tide, a lot of these guys are hoping to make it happen."

Last spring Hatcher donated one of the stripers he caught off Graveling Point to the nearby Rutgers University Marine Field Station for an acoustic tagging program designed to help increase the species' survival rate.

"We watched him go up to Barnegat (through Internet tracking), then somebody ate him," Hatcher said.

Juliustown resident Doug Johnson, 66, a recently retired employee of the Burlington County Regional School District, was fishing Graveling Point on opening day for the third straight year.

"We're all going for that first fish because it kind of gives you bragging rights to the area for the rest of the season," Johnson said. "I've still never caught one on the first day of the season, which goes back a long time before I started fishing here on opening day.

"Last year it was about March 22nd, and I had fished two or three days a week since opening day and still had nothing," Johnson said. "Then a guy sets up right near me and catches one in about 10 minutes. He wasn't even one of the regulars, either. In fact I never saw him again."

Striped bass daily size and bag limits in New Jersey are one fish per person between 24-28 inches, and one of 28 inches or greater.

"I'll usually keep my first fish as long as it's legal, then as action heats up during the year I make my size limit 30 inches," Johnson said.

Most of the Graveling Point anglers were using bloodworms for bait.

Southard had one rod baited with bloodworms and one with fresh-shucked clams.

"(Bloodworms) are just something stripers seem to like best early in the season," Southard said. "As the season picks up, they seem to prefer, clams, cut mackerel and cut bunker."

Richard Stockton College student Mike Buffi, 21,was the rookie of the bunch, fishing Graveling Point for the first year.

"I'm usually a boat fisherman, but it was a nice day, it was the first day of the season, and I thought I'd give it a try," Buffi said. "It's just nice to be outdoors."

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Sounds like another week or so of this weather then the bass will show... I was at bauers pond yesterday and even that water was cold ....I just hope this is a start of an early spring.... Next year I'm taking my .357 up to have a chat with that Ground hog.... Make sure he never sees his shadow.... ;)
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