Beachcomber Fall Guide

Sea Shell Resort Readies for 22nd Annual Striped Bass Derby.

Owner Tom Hughes Has Reason to Believe the Bite Will Be Hot This Year.
Sep 21, 2018

The Sea Shell Resort and Beach Club is prepping for its 22nd annual Striped Bass Derby on Oct. 26-28. In 2016, the Derby weighed in a whopping 94 fish.

“By noon weigh-in, there was a line out the door of people waiting to weigh in fish that went all the way down the block of Centre Street,” recalled Tom Hughes, an owner of the Shell. “Usually by 12:05, I’m calculating the winner. I grabbed a busboy and went down the line giving everyone a business card so they could prove they were waiting because we had to cap it. It was almost 2 p.m. before we got every fish weighed.”

But in 2017, the ocean temps were still very warm in late October. The big bass weren’t around. Only 10 fish were weighed in. This was likely an outlier, and Hughes sees signs that it could be a much better November for fishing.

“Back in April I had a fish light installed off my dock, and I was seeing peanut bunker and very small stripers. Now every night there are peanut bunker about 4 to 5 inches, and there are 30 to 40 bigger stripers in my light. There are a lot of fish around,” he reported.

The derby began in 1997 and draws over 60 boats as a prime fall LBI tournament. It begins on Friday evening with a welcome party and captains meeting and runs through Sunday evening. Hughes hosts the event at the Shell with parties where the bass is served, a one-hour open bar to registered competitors and live music.

The prize purse boats some serious cash as well, with first place netting $2,500, second place taking $1,500, and $1,000 for third. Even 11th-to-15th place contestants make their entry money back. It brings locals, second homeowners and anglers from all over the tri-state area.

Each year the event is a fundraiser, and every year Hughes picks a beneficiary to donate to. Past nonprofits have included the St. Francis Food Bank, the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, the Beach Haven First Aid Squad and David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation. The donation has been up to $25,000. To date, the Shell has donated over $500,000, thanks to the derby.

“This year we are going with a new charitable direction. We’re donating the money to Coastal Volunteers in Medicine. They’re a group of volunteer doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners. They’re located out by Southern Ocean County Hospital (Southern Ocean Medical Center). Basically they’re taking a lot of the burden off the emergency room.”

Hughes got a brochure about the group back in the spring and vetted them. Their mission is to understand and serve the health and wellness needs of the medically underserved in our community.

“They have a new clinic donated by Meridian Health. Basically, people who don’t have insurance go to the ER whenever they get sick because they don’t get turned down for care. These doctors and nurses are putting community first by treating these people at the volunteer clinic and keeping the ER open for other folks with emergencies.”

CVIM cares for the uninsured, takes the stress off healthcare providers in an overburdened system, addresses healthcare needs outside the ER, and detects health issues before they become emergencies.

“I market to the business community for support. The derby is pretty self-sufficient. There’s really no overhead, so we’re able to donate every penny. Everybody leaves happy and everybody does well,” added Hughes.

The Sea Shell has traditionally worked with Shore Point Distribution and will continue to, but this year it has brought on Tito’s Vodka as an additional sponsor.

“We sell a boatload of that stuff. When we were down in Florida, the girl across the street from us told us that our neighbor is Tito. He’s this guy with an old truck and a dog, a very down to earth guy, so we wanted to work with them. They offered to donate $1 from each Tito’s drink we sold all summer to the derby fundraiser.”

Hughes calls it a weekend full of fun and fishing.

“You know, we all get busy with jobs and family. This is the chance to see people you just don’t see all the time as you get older, the people you used to hang out with every day.  It’s as much a social event as a fishing tournament for the people of Beach Haven and the fishing community.”

Playing the parties this year are Eric and the Shipwrecks and The Pickles. The Sunday afternoon finale party will have local fave Ted Hammock with The Pickles.

The derby package includes entry and all the parties, as well as a T-shirt for each angler. Registration is $150 per boat including two anglers and $50 for each additional fisherman.

— Jon Coen

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