Thursday, November 1, 2012

New Jersey Party Boat: The Sea Horse

New Jersey Saltwater Fishing Report 10/26/2012: Hello Folks, as you can imagine hurricane Sandy has put a damper on all of our plans. My heart goes out to all who are affected by this nightmare especially my friends and family in South Jersey. Our prayers are with you all!

Last Friday with Sandy looming large on the horizon, I figured I would get one last fishing trip in before all hell broke loose and so I did. In fact I was absolutely obsessed that day... I mean what would drive a man out of his nice warm bed at 4am after only a couple hours of sleep? For me it was the prospect of big fish and a lust for adventure on the high seas! With last minute planning I managed to scrounge up enough cash to pay the fare on a good ole party boat named the Sea Horse out of Atlantic Highlands, NJ.

I have a long history of fishing on the sea horse!  It was somewhere about age 5 that my dad took me on my first party boat trip abord the Sea Horse.  I remember it vividly because sometime after we rounded Sandy Hook and got on the ocean, I promptly got seasick! I was miserable beyond belief, and I threw up in the cabin to which my father had to reluctantly clean up the mess. So not only was I seasick, but it was a cold wintery day and my little hands were frozen! Somehow throughout all my discomfort I managed to get out, climb on a bucket and hold a rod. We were fishing for whiting & ling hoping also to land a codfish. After about 15 minutes or so and a whole lot of cranking I managed to catch my first fish on the ocean, a 15 inch whiting. That silly little fish changed my whole day and probably my whole life.

Since then, I have made hundreds trips on the Sea Horse peaking from 1990  to 1998 when I was a regular customer every Wednesday (and some Saturdays). I would fish spring to winter every chance I got. Those days were special as the fishing was good, the regulations not so harsh and I made a whole lot of friends at sea. I still remember the old timers like Jules Navarro, Chester (AKA "Crunch") Louie and a guy I simply know as "Fix-it". Jules was a good friend and I miss him dearly. I still have the fishing gear he left me when he passed away.

The one thing I always appreciated aboard the Sea Horse was how good the captain and crew were. Captain Ed Bunting Jr. always went the distance to put us on fish. If the bite came late he'd stay out a little extra to allow us to get fish in the box. His son Eddie III. was a top notch mate back then always helping folks trying to fill their fish boxes. Eddie III  has since taken over as Sea Horse captain and I am certain he gets the job done just as well.

So history aside, on Friday I got my ass up and headed down to the dock. It has been perhaps 14 years since my last trip aboard the Sea Horse. I was surprised that Captain Ed and son still remembered me at the dock. Today however neither of the Buntings would be on board. Captain Ed Jr doesn't run the boat anymore and Captain Ed III was still recovering from surgery. So today we had Captain Howard and out to sea we went!

Targeting striped bass, we steamed south somewhere to about Sea Brite or Monmouth Beach. Sea conditions were comfortable with about a two to three foot swell and a light breeze. We found a few birds working and started a drift. We managed a few big bluefish on those first drifts and one or two stripers. It was a pick all day with a few fish here and there mostly bluefish. On one drift the guys on either side of me both got a striper. For me however that same drift landed me about a ten pound bluefish. That would be all I had to show for the day.

Overall all, there were maybe 3 keeper stripers on board and several bluefish. I was one of the lucky ones to at least go home with a fish. Seemed like the fish knew that hurricane was coming and headed out for their lives!

Although not the best day of fishing, the memories of all my adventures aboard the Sea Horse came flooding back. I have caught hundreds of fluke, blackfish, sea bass,  and many other fish aboard the old girl. The stories shared with the old timers are priceless and the memories are lifelong.

The Sea Horse is showing her age a bit, her engines are a little tired and she needs a few dabs of paint here and there. That aside, her Captain and crew make it still one of the best party boats New Jersey has to offer. Scuttlebutt had it that Captain Ed was trying to sell the old girl and who can blame him? Recreational marine fishing regulations and the high cost of fuel have made this once flourishing business into a tough sell for fisherman.

At any rate, I will always cherish the memories of fishing aboard the Sea Horse and I will be sure to keep fishing on her until the title changes hands. Then it will be the end of an era.