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Captain's Focus

Joe Greco developed plenty of fishing experience while living in Edison and running his boat for stripers and fluke in the Raritan Bay area, but he's been retired to Ft. Myers, Florida for 16 years and doing pretty well in a much different fishery with his 21-foot flat-bottomed skiff that can navigate the shallowest inshore waters.  Sheepshead had started their spawning run by this time last year, but those porgy-shaped food and game fish with black stripes have been late arriving inshore this year. Yesterday's mid-morning trip was no different, though a few large sheepshead were lost at some river mouth structure. Greco boated the only legal (12-inch minimum) one as we fished with light spinning tackle and live shrimp. A stop in a canal was unproductive, and Greco decided to make a last attempt not far from shore on rubble in the Gulf of Mexico.  Our shrimp were greeted by small gag and black groupers that provided some action but were well short of the 22-inch minimum size. Then I cast an almost eating-size shrimp toward the rubble and hooked up with something very different that had the one-handed spinning rod doubled over and 14-pound test mono pouring off the small reel. This was surely no bottom fish, and when it came to the surface Greco thought it was a cobia - though I suspected it was a shark. It was a long shot that the big fish could be caught on such "wimpy" tackle and with a tiny hook on a short 30-pound leader, but I wasn't about to break it off even if it was a shark. After over 20 minutes of running around the anchored boat to clear obstructions I was able to get the fish close enough to identify for sure. Greco was right about it being a cobia, but there was no gaff aboard, and the only net was a small one for use with 5-pound sheepshead. Yet, Greco managed to get the 3 1/2-foot cobia far enough into it for boating. That species is notorious for tearing boats apart when boated, but this one was so tired that it didn't move at all. The Jersey guy was a hero when he returned to Gulf Star Marina in Ft. Myers Beach with the big cobia in his small boat. Ric Gross of Point Pleasant was further north today while enjoying a fine charter trip on Two C's II out of Clearwater. They fished 16 miles out in the Gulf in 40-to-50-foot depths of 62-degree waters with a light southwest wind for hogfish up to 5 pounds, red snappers to 7 pounds and a mix of grunts and large porgies. With moderate west winds predicted over the weekend, both the Ocean Explorer and Big Mohawk from Belmar should be blackfishing in good conditions. Dave Lilly of Hazlet called this morning to pass on the sad news that Hank Fisler of Little Silver has passed away in Florida. I'll have more bout that legendary commercial fisherman and bunker spoon specialist during the week.

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