The “Derby” kicks off again for nine weeks of LBI surf action on October 8.
The Long Beach Island Surf Classic will begin its 68th year of competition on October 8, and surf gurus from all over the east will come down, get a room, stay with family or just plain drive out to be a part of one of the oldest and largest surf tournaments on the coast.
The classic will register some 600 of more participants, some old and some young, but all looking to claim their share of thousands of dollars awarded for surf-caught stripers, bluefish, and kingfish, with bonus cash prizes awarded for red drum and tautog.
But that isn’t all; the “derby” as it was affectionately called for many years – still is by the older fisher-folks – will boast daily, weekly and segment prizes. Local businesses on the island will also offer many different prizes from their shops, and the bait and tackle shops will scramble for nine weeks to keep bunker and clams fresh and available for those running the beaches in search of that money fish.
With so many options, it’s anyone’s game.
Rules They Are A Changin’
In years past it was common for sharp anglers up on the sands to slap a 40-pound plus fish on the scales and go home that evening with the lead, knowing that they’d be the one to beat. But, as laws change, so do the rules of any tournament. Now surfcasters will run the beaches from Barnegat Light to Holgate looking for that one bass from 28 to 37.99 inches that’s healthy enough to hold a lead.
The past few seasons, this bass that has claimed the ultimate prize is roughly 18 pounds or just a tad bit over. A 20-pound fish will likely put some cash to the pocket of some lucky angler. What this means is that the competition is not just for those who put in hours logging good holes on the beach, or for those wet suit-donning swimmers who in past years have had the edge. It’s truly anyone’s game nowadays, and this makes for some solid competition. After the “slot fish” rule was put into effect on striped bass coastwide, the LBI Surf Fishing Classic adapted to meet the challenge; once again in 2022, there will be three $1,000 cash awards for top slot striper, one for each three-week segment of the tournament.
Anglers young and old will all have a shot at getting that lucky bass that will fall within the slot, and if the bluefish show on the sands, it will get even better. The absence of bluefish in the surf over the last few fall seasons has had anglers switching up, and the new minimum size for a bluefish entry in this year’s LBI Surf Fishing Classic has been reduced to 16 inches; and additionally, a redfish, blackfish or kingfish can also win you a small grip of that cash, and anglers will be on their best game.
Blasts From The Past
In past years there have been many local talents to brave the beaches of LBI and many would run those beaches in September, pad and pencils in hand, marking good holes and looking for the upper hand. These guys and gals were seasoned surfsters, and they knew their craft. Families like the Donnelly’s, with son’s Paul and John, and their dad, infamous 90-something year-old “Tobacco Jack” who recently passed, they all came out every year to fish the Derby. The Donnelly boys and Paul’s wife Linda still come out every year, and Paul won some money last season as he and the family always seem to do.
In the days of old, it was notable local bassers like the Eggie brothers, Jimmy Haines, Ted Kamish and Alan Young who were seemingly always there in the limelight grabbing bass cash, or bluefish if need be. Then later on, it was folks like Rob Vallone, the Braack brothers, Dante Soriente or even me who took to the sands to vie for those cash prizes. It was fierce but mostly friendly competition, with everyone keeping one eye out for everyone else. Now there are some newer notables like Courtland Foos, “Bayside Dave” or Frankie Lenetti who really do their homework and put in a lot of time to get that slot bass that puts them in the money.
Fishing the LBI surf tourney was not without those who knew the deal; only the freshest of fresh bunker were, in a lot of anglers’ opinions, the only way to get a good fish to respond; I can’t tell you the countless hours I stood waiting for “Bunker George” Michalowski to show up at the shops with those totes of bunker. We would all sit and wait, chewing on our fingernails because we had a tide to catch; the minute they got there, we were out of there like gangbusters, especially in the hard northeast blows, knowing that it would be our best shot at that cow.
But the bait; it had to be fresh and pristine. Some of the shops of old, like Bruce and Pat’s and Barnegat Light Bait and Tackle, are all but gone. Surf City Bait and Tackle now operates where Bruce and Pats once were, and Susan Castrati are now on the forefront providing fresh bait for participants. Jingles is under new ownership as well, and they have done an excellent job in recent years keeping folks in the fresh bait. Greg Cudnik over at Fisherman’s Headquarters also has all the gear and tackle needed for any tournament, including bait coolers right in front of the counter for easy in, easy out shopping, and might even put you on some fish as well.
So long as the weather’s good to go for bunker George.
Friendly Competition At Its Best
I remember as a younger man getting ready for the derby; it was a really cool thing to get to your favorite shop and your friends being there, some with their own chairs inside. We’d talk up a bunch of garbage to each other and when a big fish came in, there were lots of congratulations; we truly loved it when there was a big fish to beat, and guys and gals picked it up and, in many years, they went out whacked a bigger fish.
When the storms came in, everybody who was anybody suited up and braved those winds and cold to get out there for a big bass. When it was done, we all headed back to the warmth of the shops, where I recall Basil and Nick from Barnegat Light Bait and Tackle had a washer and dryer which they would let us use it to dry up, get a warm meal and head right back out. I remember the lighting of the shops during the night, and it was a comfort to see those lights as you came off the beach. During the month of November when LBI seems as if it’s practically shut down for the season, those lighted shops offer a nostalgic comfort from the past.
And speaking of competition, let us not forget Ric O’Brien, whose mom Margaret owned and operated Jingles Bait and Tackle for so many years; Ric respectively won the 25th and 50th derbies, passing away shortly after, a “class act” in the Classic. Today, Steve and Carole Ann Palmer carry on the Jingles torch, in an expanded shop in Beach Haven at the south end of LBI.
The LBI Surf Fishing Classic will run from October 8 to December 11 this year; the registration fee is a mere $30, just $15 for kids under 17. There is also a women’s and senior division that will offer separate prizes. There will daily prizes for bass and blues and also weekly and segment prizes. You can hit up one of the shops on the island, Fisherman’s Headquarters in Ship Bottom, Jingles in Beach Haven or Surf City Bait and Tackle to register. Those shops will also have their own shop tourneys which will run concurrently with the Classic for an extra couple of bucks.
You can also head over to one of the municipalities that offer beach buggy access for those who wish to drive the beaches. Being that I work on LBI daily, I already have one eye on the beaches and the other on some of that cash.
Good luck to all and I’ll see you on the sands! It’s time to hit it!
For more information go to LBISFC.com or follow along at facebook.com/LBISurfFishingClassic.