The blackfish season opens Saturday, and should energize the party boat fishery that's been struggling for years due to the lack of a spring mackerel run to attract crowds to Shore ports in April.
There were some hopeful signs of mackerel to the south a few weeks ago. Capt. Monty Hawkins ran his Morning Star from Ocean City, Md. offshore on an experimental trip that produced a few multiples of a species they hadn't seen for years. Unfortunately, there was no improvement of what used to be a massive run to the north that would last off the Shore until the first bluefish showed up and the mackerel blasted off to the east. Hawkins reports his last trip was no good, and a Delaware party boat found only a few last Saturday.
The National Marine Fisheries Service watched that fishery literally disappear while continuing to list it as restored and handing out big commercial quotas. When I called a few years ago to question that listing, they conceded that they were using an outdated assessment though the coastal run had disappeared and even the big commercial boats were hardly catching any mackerel far offshore.
Though Saturday's weather forecast isn't perfect, the Ocean Explorer and Big Mohawk will be ready to sail at Belmar -- and Sunday looks good. The Dauntless from Point Pleasant got out a couple of days this week despite bad weather, but fishing was slow with only a pick of cod, pollock and ling. They're looking forward to the tog opener. Capt. Kenny Namowitz is running open for tog from Point Pleasant daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., starting Saturday, with his Mimi VI.
At Seaside Park, Grumpy's Tackle got a report of the first keeper-size striper being released in the surf, while other anglers are getting lots of hits in the bay on X-Raps and small Yo-Zuri darters. Betty & Nick's reports a surf water temperature of 46 degrees. They expect to have fresh-schucked clams on the weekend.
Tank Matraxia of Lyndhurst flew down to Tampa to fish with Capt. Dave Beede on his 26-foot center console with a 14-foot tower. His daughter, Natalie, was aboard Monday as they had hits every cast with live pilchards to Spanish mackerel and ladyfish, but could only manage a couple of small redfish (red drum) from among lots of non-biters. I joined Matraxia for a Thursday afternoon trip with Beede when the Spanish mackerel bite wasn't as hot. Yet, every one of the 4-to-5-pounders blasted the baits with incredible force before zipping line off the light Cabo/St. Croix spinning combos. Moving over to the mangrove flats, we were thrilled to see blow-ups of mullet being chased by redfish that once again proved to be very fussy. Matraxia hooked up with a trophy snook, on a ladyfish chunk, that the skipper estimated at 42 inches before it broke the leader. He ended up catching three small snook and one of about 25 inches on live pilchards, while I released a large jack crevalle.
There wasn't all the variety that Breede usually gets into while working the 450 square miles of Tampa Bay, but we saw lots of fish life in a few hours not far from the Gandy Park boat ramp. He can be contacted at shallowpointcharters.com -- or by calling 813 758-3406.
Many anglers can talk about the "big one that got away", but Mark Roy of Warren may find little company in the annals of those who have lost two such fish in a day -- and without ever getting a glimpse of what they were. I joined him Monday for a trip out of Miami with Capt. Jon Cooper on his 35-foot Contender, Dive-Version.
We had no problem loading up with live herring by jigging Sabicki rigs, but had only missed one sailfish bite while fishing those baits along the edge of the Gulf Stream to the south when Roy saw a blast that he assumed was from a sail. Yet that fish ran off at great speed without jumping and had hundreds of yards of 20-pound mono out before Cooper started running after it. Just as it finally stopped, the line parted for no reason we could understand. Though sailfish often make long runs, the speed and power of the fish Roy had hooked was more likely a large tuna.
After releasing a double of large little tunny on the surface lines, there was a hit on alive herring being lowered to bottom in 200 feet for mutton snappers. That fish came back toward the surface, and I felt the typical tuna thumping that led me to to think it might be a very large little tunny. We were then happy when it turned out to be a yellowfin tuna of at least 25 pounds. Not large by northern standards, but an uncommon catch off Miami.
No sooner had that line been dropped to bottom again than the rod bent over and roy was into another mystery fish that he fought all around the boat for over 20 minutes without making too much progress before the 40-pound fluorocarbon leader broke. We were hoping to see a giant grouper, but it could have been a big shark hooked away from its teeth even though there was no wire leader. Roy also had a sailfish on that jumped off after three leaps, while I added a king mackerel of about 15 pounds on the bottom rod before we ran back to th ramp at 40 mph.
You never know what's going to hit live baits fished in those waters. Cooper, a former national spearfishing champion, can be contacted at 305 724-6870.