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Captain's Focus

The spectacular run of fluke in Raritan Reach that produced many limit catches on party boats plus some doormats during the last few weeks came to a sudden halt on Monday -- but has since resumed. Capt. Scotty Hilliard called Thursday morning to note that the outgoing tide drift was perfect, and anglers on his Prowler V from Atlantic Highlands were already working toward limits. After a couple of very slow days at the beginning of the week, the Reach fishery seems to be back in shape when drifting conditions are right and deep draft ships aren't coming through. The fluke catches of the week were made aboard Elaine B. II from Bahrs in Highlands when Danielle O'Brien of South Bound Brook boated a 13-pound, 1-ounce doormat --- before her father Dennis added a 10 5/16-pounder.  Dedicated fluke fishermen often fish a lifetime in search of a doormat -- a designation only properly applied to fluke of at least 10 pounds. Relatively few are caught each year, and to have two by a father-daughter combination in one day may well be unique in the history of the sport. Capt. Stan Zagleski said Danielle's doormat was the boat's third largest ever (just one ounce behind her father's second place from 2014) and the first by a female angler. Steve Pirigyi of Jackson boated a 10 3/16-pounder Saturday. The Elaine B. II is sailing at 6 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday of the holiday weekend so anglers can get an early start on the traffic going home. Tank Matraxia of Lyndhurst found pretty good fluking from a friend's trailered boat in Shrewsbury Rver on Wednesday as three anglers boated 10 keepers from 19 to 23 inches and just a few shorts while casting small jigs tipped with Gulp or a killie. The Jersey Coast Shark Anglers Mako Fever Tournament had been cancelled the previous weekend, when Mako Mania took a chance and enjoyed fine sharking conditions, but they got a break with a similarly good sharking weekend from Friday to Sunday. The BNR Fishing Team took the contest with a 266-pound mako that edged out Blue Goose at 250 pounds. Mark IV was third at 188 pounds, and Knot Know It took fourth with a 176-pounder A thresher shark prize went to Miss Tess with a 152-pounder. Ocean fluking has improved. Capt. Ryan Bogan reported the weekend produced the best fluking of the season as average fluke were in the 3-to-5-pound class on the Jamaica II from Brielle. Jiggers did best, and one caught 11 of legal size up to 5 pounds while filling his limit. A 5 13/16-pound fluke took the lead in the monthly pool that not only pays off in cash, but earns the winner a year of free fishing on Jamaica II. A 7 1/16-pounder wasn't in that pool. The Gambler from Point Pleasant has also seen an improvement in fluke action with fish up to 6.5 pounds.  That was especially the case Wednesday afternoon as a few limits were bagged in perfect drifting conditions. Capt. Bobby Bogan is also running 7:30 p.m. to12:30 a.m. bottom fishing trips on Thursday, and for blues on Saturday nights. Capt. Chris Di Stefano of Wall joined Frank Criscola's group on Crisdel from Brielle Yacht Club as Capt. George Steller, Jr. trolled off Monmouth Beach for a good pick of stripers Wednesday up to a 33-pounder reeled in by Criscola's grandson Steven (11)  -- who also fought a doubleheader of bluefish just under 22 and 19 pounds that they thought was a huge bass. Very few bunkers were spotted, and the bass had small sea bass and porgies in their stomachs. Di Stefano watched fluke party boats throwing back big sea bass, but anglers will be allowed two sea bass at 12 1/2 inches per day starting Friday. The fluke tournament season opens on July 16 and 17 with the Sandy Hook Bay Anglers 35th annual Two-Day Fluke Tournament. The $80 entry fee per boat applies if postmarked by July 1. For information visit www.SANDYHOOKBAYANGLERS.com -- or call Brian Dunn at 732 787-4008. The 22nd annual Jersey Coast Fluke Tournament, run by the JCAA, is set for Aug. 6, and this year includes a shot at $50,000 for a doormat exceeding 12 pounds.  Visit jcaa.org, or call 732 506-6975 for information. The Middletown Community Fire Co. also has their fluke tournament on Aug. 6. The entry fee is $75, and it runs out of Leonardo State Marina. For information call Jeff Petach at 732 291-0073, or visit cfcstation4.org. The Canyon Runner fleet reported a great yellowfin tuna overnighter from Friday to Saturday as the Harry Smith party trolled 65 yellowfin tuna and one bigeye out of South Jersey Marina in Cape May. Many were in the 30-to-50-pound class, and they only kept 17 yellowfins. Capt. Phil Dulanie  took Dr. John Bednar's party out of Manasquan Inlet on Wednesday for 2-to-5-p.m. trolling bite that put six yellowfins in the boat before 12 more were released -- and then they added a 140-pound bigeye. The Canyon Runner fleet welcomed back Capt. Mike Zajac , who had worked for them for 13 years before switching to a private boat the last three years. An open seat on the Saturday overnighter may be available at $899. Call Adam La Rosa at 732 842-6825. Party boat bluefishing was poor on Wednesday, but the Jamaica from Brielle jigged 3-to-5-pounders late in the day Thursday though a 12-pounder took the pool. The surf is showing some signs of life. I caught a 25-inch striper Sunday morning at Avon on a Tactical Anglers Bomb Jr. popper, and a 24-incher Tuesday morning on the same lure at Spring Lake, before hooking two small bass there Thursday morning despite a continuing big swell hitting the bars at low tide. Nick Sardone, who'd never caught a surf bass over 8 pounds,  plugged a 41-inch striper in the Bay Head surf on Thursday morning, but Joe Melillo at Castaway's Tackle in Point Pleasant said it was very skinny and weighed only 21 pounds. Melillo noted that quite a few 3-to-4-pound fluke are being drifted in Manasquan River on natural baits. Crabbing has been excellent. Nick Honachefsky of Normandy Beach has been catching fluke in his local surf by bucktailing. He also notes that there are lots of sun dials. I can testify to that because I released one at Spring Lake that had beached itself. Vinnie D'Anton of Shark River Hills has found Shark River plugging to be slow so far, but has caught one keeper bass on a Chug Bug, and also released a 27-incher. He caught a 20-inch bass Thursday morning on that lure at Spring Lake. Dan Wong of Edison won the pool Thursday morning on Sea Tiger II from Atlantic Highlands with a 7-pound fluke. Allen Riley of South Plainfield had been finding some small blues in the Monmouth Beach surf, but only had one hit on his 1 7/8-ounce Tsunami Talkin Popper during a Thursday morning trip.

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