You know how real life tends to get in the way of fishing sometimes? It was like that for me for most of this year. I had been trying to find a date to fish with Captain Fran Verdi aboard “The Drop Off” for most of this year. Capt. Fran had graciously donated a couple of open boat trips to give away at the 4th Annual NJ Saltwater Fisherman banquet back in April. Capt. Joe of the Irish Ayes had won one of those trips and kindly gave it me. Now, on this chilly, damp morning the day had finally arrived. Accompanying us was my good friend Jerry Talerico from Brigantine, NJ and Troy from Allentown, Pennsylvania.
A blanket of thick fog enveloped the bay as Capt. Fran piloted his 25’ Hydra Sport center console towards Little Egg Inlet. It was a slow ride as he made his way through the channel, carefully scanning his surroundings while keeping one eye on the radar. The cold, wet air made me glad I showed up dressed for the occasion.
Our plans, as the captain told us, were to get outside and see if we could troll us some striped bass which had shown up in decent numbers over the past few days. We also had a cooler full of fresh clams aboard that could be put into action if they didn't respond to the troll. My tackle bag, as usual, was packed full of metal jigs, plastics and plugs which I hoped to have a chance to use if the opportunity presented itself.
The fog had all but burned off by the time we reached the inlet, and the captain opened the throttle to give the big Yamaha engine more fuel as we headed north along the coast.
Arriving at our first destination, Capt. Fran deployed the trolling gear. With a Mann's Stretch 25 on both rods, it wasn't long before we had our first bite. I quickly grabbed the rod and reeled in our first fish of the day. It was a fat striper that was just shy of 28 inches. Not quite a keeper. Back in she went and so did the Stretches. We only trolled a few more minutes before the captain said, “Let’s bring them in. We're moving.” As he reeled in the plug to make the move another striper hit it and we had our second fish in the boat; another short.
The old adage goes, “You never leave fish to find fish.” But Capt. Fran wasn't afraid to go against the grain, and we motored further north until we arrived at our second destination. It turned out to be the right decision, as we wouldn't move more than a half mile from that spot for the rest of the day.
Mayhem and the Mother Lode
I stood on the deck and waited anxiously for the boat to slow enough for me to make my first cast into the chaos that lay before us. Stripers were rolling, swirling and jumping clear out of the water as far as the eye could see! As Capt. Fran throttled down I sent my small Krocodile spoon flying through the air. When it hit the water, I made three turns of the handle and it was “Fish on!” The fish made a few spirited runs before she was eased into the net and we had our first keeper of the day - a healthy, 36 inch fish.
It was merely moments until both Jerry and Troy were hooked up as well. Jerry was tight on a green tailed Ava jig and Troy on a Storm shad. It was absolute mayhem! Capt. Fran had put us on the mother lode of stripers! “I have never seen anything like this!” he exclaimed more than once.
The Kitchen Sink
We had our four man limit in the box by 9:30 am. After that we played catch and release for the rest of the trip. They were all fat, healthy fish, and they were gorging themselves on sand eels. The bulk of the fish weighed in the high teens to 20 plus pounds. Troy went up to the bow and continued to catch fish on the Storm shad, while Jerry and I had other ideas.
Everyone that has ever wet a line can relate to those tough fishing days when we wind up throwing everything we have in our tackle boxes trying to get just one bite. These are the “kitchen sink” days, when nothing seems to work. Today was the exact opposite. We changed baits with regularity, catching fish on everything. Some baits worked better than others, but all worked to some degree.
Big, wooden Mike's plugs, poppers, Ava jigs, bucktails, Krocodiles, Sluggos, Yo Zuri Crystal Minnows, Rapala Sub Walks, Storm shads, and RonZ baits as well as others all caught fish. For me, the 8” RonZ seemed to be the most effective, as it matched the sand eels perfectly. Jerry continued to swap out lures after every couple of fish. Capt. Fran had a sore arm, but eventually even he couldn't resist getting in on the action and catching a couple.
In between casts we watched in awe as these stripers did their thing chasing sand eels to the surface and devouring them. The final tally on the day was eight fish kept (for our four man limit) with countless more released to fight another day. We estimated it was maybe sixty or more, but truth be told, the action was so intense nobody ever really bothered to keep count.
A First Class Operation
As with all good things, this amazing trip had to finally come to an end. After arriving back at the dock, Capt. Fran expertly filleted our catch and divvied it up amongst us. Capt. Fran runs a first class operation and is willing to do anything necessary to put his clients on the fish. If you are ever looking to do a private charter or an open boat trip in the area of Long Beach Island, I highly recommend you give a call to Capt. Fran Verdi and "Fish the Drop Off".
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