Though local fishing is breaking open, it's also prime time in Florida for several inshore species – especially tarpon. Stripers are a challenge, but the chances of catching a really big one are so long that many striper pros spend a lifetime seeking a 50-pounder without catching one. Yet, tarpon twice that size can be caught on similar tackle with regularity – and they jump! I didn't head straight to tarpon fishing when I flew to Miami the Monday before last, as my nephew Todd Correll of Fort Lauderdale had invited me and my other nephew, Bob Correll of Bay Head, for a family fishing trip in Key West aboard Todd's Viking 62, Niza Niza. The weather was beautiful, and the highlight of our fishing was the two mornings we drifted alongside shrimp trawlers drifting or at anchor after a night of shrimping in the Gulf of Mexico. Trading a case of beer for a bag of shrimp boat trash (the by-catch of small fish and crabs) provided the chum that brought blackfin tuna rushing to the surface – if they can get through the hordes of little tunny. The latter are called bonita in the south, and I didn't see any under 10 pounds. Any bait and most lures dropped into that feeding frenzy were immediately inhaled. We managed seven blackfins between the two periods of morning fishing. The only one I measured was 33 inches to the fork of the tail – similar to a legal bluefin in size. Todd also made a run to the Dry Tortugas, here many of the prime fishing grounds have been turned into marine sanctuaries, and we overnighted off historic Fort Jefferson after jigging some red groupers and fighting two nurse sharks of about 200 pounds to release. The last evening, Bob and I tried Key West tarpon in an anchorage with ex-Jamaica Fleet mate Capt. Jamie Connell (Flying Fish Charters – 908 303-9873). I got the only shot when a "slob" of about 130 pounds took a small pinfish under a float. I fought that tarpon for 20 minutes on spinning tackle, as we got past every obstruction until it cut off the last sailboat before an open area. I made up for that the next night by driving up to Bud N' Mary's Marina in Islamorada. Long-time friend and retired marina owner Richard Stanczyk put me into two 120-pound silver king releases on live crabs before his girl friend, Joanne Aromandi, refused to give up on an even bigger one that took us under the bridge and out toward the ocean before I could grab the leader. I returned to Islamorada for my last shot on Monday night, only planning on casting from the sides of bridges for tarpon. Yet, Stanczyk wanted to try some evening bonefishing on a shallow sand flat within a quarter-mile of the marina. We had done that the previous week to release two very small bonefish plus variety such as bonnethead sharks, blowfish and a small ray by casting shrimp around the boat on light spinning rods. It took some time to get a hit, but it was screamer that we thought might be a permit as it made one long run after another. I held the rod high and it cleared various obstructions before we spotted a "monster" bonefish. With no net aboard, I led the still fighting bone to Stanczyk's hands – and he managed to lift it aboard. He took a few shots of me with what he estimated to be a near-record 15-pounder, but put the still-hooked bone back in the water to stay alive for the release while he set up his cell phone to get some photos with the biggest bonefish he'd ever seen. However, when he tried to lift it aboard by the line, the 20-pound leader snapped for a premature release of a bonefish of a lifetime before I could measure it. Stanczyk is the pioneer of daytime swordfishing, but has turned over the guiding and marina management to his son Nick -- who's a world class captain. Call the marina at 305 664-2461 for information. When the tide started running out later that night, I joined two of Stanczyk's friends, Len Shortz of Enfield, Ct. and Mike Crawford from Stowe, Oh. to fish crabs from the skiff. We released three tarpon over 100 pounds, pulled a hook near the boat, and missed a couple of hits before returning with enough tide left for me to take a shot at what I came down for at a nearby bridge. I only made three casts with a D.O.A. Bait Buster before hooking up with a tarpon that ran and jumped away from the bridge instead of following the roaring current through it. I was then able to fight it with an 8 ½-foot, three-piece Tsunami TSTSS863H pack spinning rod with a Canyon Salt5000 spinner filled with 30-pound braid. I almost burned my fingers trying to apply extra pressure on the streaking tarpon, but eventually turned the largest tarpon I've ever been able to catch from the sides of a bridge. I couldn't even lift the head to get the lure off the outside of the mouth of what had to be at least an 80-pounder – clipped off the 60-pound leader so she could swim away while carrying the small lure as an ornament. While the boat fishing requires a guide, casting from the sides of bridges costs only the gas you burn moving from one bridge to another – and where else can you catch such great game fish that size from shore and on your own? Striped bass fishing has been up-and-down both in Raritan Bay and the ocean. It was down Thursday in the back of the bay hen Jim Hutchinson and John De Bona of The Fisherman joined Johnny Bucktails on his Sea Hunter from Keyport along with Art Berkman of Pompton Plains, and I after the boat had done well with live bunkers the previous day. I hooked up quickly, but the circle hook pulled. During two attempts at chunking, Hutchinson and Berkman each caught a teen striper, and I hooked the only two bluefish. We were going to try live-baiting again, but came upon a small boat that lost power and towed it back to Keyport as the south wind started blowing. Johnny talked to many skippers who also caught little, if anything in the bay. Capt. Bud McArthur of Brick ran his Splinter up to the Spring Lake Hotel to troll bass of 36 and 39 inches on a bunker spoon and a stretch plug while marking lots of bunkers. The Golden Eagle from Belmar ran through 25 miles of bunkers all over the ocean on Thursday, but couldn't find a bass that would hit. The Elaine B. from Highlands will switch to blackfish at 7 a.m. Saturday, and finish out the season with them through April 30. The Cock Robin from Point Pleasant opens with striper fishing on Saturday. The Prowler 5 from Atlantic Highlands did well with stripers on jigs last weekend, and will add magic hours trips Saturday and Sunday. Capt. Dave De Gennaro gets started Friday afternoon with his Hi Flier from Barnegat by casting for the big bluefish that have invaded Barnegat Bay. Grumpy's Tackle and Betty & Nick's in Seaside Park are enthused about the bay bluefishing -- and also note that they're showing in the surf for anglers using bunker chunks. The Tackle Box reports big blues on chunks at Keansburg, and on poppers and metal at Leonardo.