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Captain's Focus

When Hank Fisler of Little Silver passed away at 89 on Feb. 2 in Boynton Beach, Florida, New Jersey lost a truly unique fisherman who moved from a career as a commercial fisherman to become an enthusiastic and very successful angler aboard his beautiful 26-foot Rampage, Hank-El. Dave Lilly of Hazlet said the Fisler taught him everything he knows about trolling bunker spoons -- and Lilly is among the best at catching stripers with that technique. Fisler's greatest accomplishment was trolling a doubleheader of 50-and-52-pound stripers with only a youngster aboard to help boat the two trophy fish. That was a "try to beat that" moment even for a man who Lilly said could catch any other species in our waters just as well. Unfortunately, decades of commercial fishing took their toll on Fisler's body. He could hardly get around the last few years, but Lilly carried him aboard his boat and set Fisler behind the wheel to troll the Raritan Bay spots he knew so well. Lilly later took the wheel himself and put his mentor in a chair from which Hank was able to reel in what would be his last striper. Joe Greco retired from his home in Edison 26 years ago to live in Ft. Myers, Florida, and has been satisfied with leaving the stripers and fluke behind for the much greater diversity of fishing in tropical waters. You never know what may bite next in that area, as was illustrated last Thursday when I joined Greco on his 21-foot flat-bottomed fiberglass boat that can skim over the inshore shallows. We were fishing for sheepshead without much success when Greco decided to take a last shot on some rubble bottom in 12 feet not far from shore on the Gulf of Mexico. Our live shrimp baits cast on a sinker rig with a tiny hook were greeted by three short gag and black groupers before I hooked into something much bigger on Greco's light spinning rod with 14-pound mono. That rod was bent in half as I ran around the boat with what I suspected was a shark. Yet, Greco thought it might be a cobia when it came up and half-cleared the water. After over 20 minutes, that turned out to be the case. There was no gaff aboard, but Greco managed to fit the head of the exhausted 3 1/2-foot cobia into his sheepshead net so we could grab the hoop and wrestle aboard that highly-rated sport and food fish. Big cobia normally make a mess in a boat with their thrashing when they hit the deck, but this one was so exhausted that it didn't move a muscle while the tiny remora it was carrying dropped off and was released. Greco was a small boat hero back at Gulf Star Marina in Ft. Myers Beach with that cobia. How long does it take for a fish to hit again after being released or breaking off? Many years ago I used to go sharking by myself on a Mako 22 in Butterfish Hole, which was only about 12 miles offshore of Montauk. One day I tagged a blue shark that I ended up releasing twice more on the same drift -- and each time it fought harder. A few weeks ago my connection from braid to mono failed due to frayed braid as I hooked a bass in a Ft. Myers pond. I fish there with a Lunker City 4-inch Monkey Grub that has a long tail which largemouth black bass can't seem to resist as it's reeled along the surface for explosive top water strikes. Just five days later I hooked a 13-inch bass with that lure and mono leader in the same place in the same pond on exactly the same Monkey Grub in motor oil color. That worked out well for the bass because it had the broken-off soft plastic lure stuck in its throat and couldn't have swallowed anything if I hadn't removed it. There's been no movement on the fluke season situation as DEP Commissioner Bob  Martin has been standing firm on status quo for NJ even as the ASMFC adopted Option 5 that would increase the fluke minimum to 19 inches with just three fish for the NJ/NY/CT region while retaining the 128-day season that we had last year. Martin may be counting on President Trump's nominee for Secretary of Commerce. Wilbur Ross hasn't been approved as yet, but he was raised in Weehawken -- and may be inclined to agree with the importance of saving small business operations and the jobs associated with them. Even if we are voted out of compliance by the ASMFC, that may not make any difference if the Secretary of Commerce doesn't enforce it. The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council will be discussing this situation at their Feb. 14-16 meeting in Hilton Garden Inn, Kitty Hawk, N.C. Though weather has been restricting fishing, blackfish continue to hit on offshore bottoms when conditions are decent for the Ocean Explorer and Big Mohawk from Belmar. At Brielle, the Jamaica is sailing every Saturday at 2 a.m. for jumbo porgies on far offshore wrecks -- and Jamaica II is sailing from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays for school cod and blackfish. The Hi-Mar Striper Club Flea Market & Seminars is set for 8 a.m. Saturday at the Port Monmouth VFW on Rt. 36. The N.J. Boat Sale & Expo runs from Feb. 16-19 at the NJ Convention & Expo Center in Edison. The Miami International Boat Show includes lots of fishing tackle, and draws many from N.J. during its run from Feb. 16 to 19 at the Miami Marine Stadium, Park & Basin.  The Jersey Shore Surfcasters Surf Day runs on Feb. 18 at Brookdale Community College. The Canyon Runner N.Y. Seminar will be run on Feb. 25 at the Huntington Hilton. The cost is just $99. Call Adam La Rosa at 732 842-6825. La Rosa reports the Canyon Runner 48 got into bluefin tuna up to 94 inches this week out of Oregon Inlet. N.C. He invites members of the armed services to join them at no charge on those N.C. trips.  The New Jersey Outdoor Alliance holds their Wild Game Dinner on Feb. 19 at Black Forest Inn in Stanhope with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno as guest of honor. Call 201 304-4691 for tickets.  George Poveromo brings the Salt Water Sportsman Seminar Series to Linwood Country Club at 9 a.m. on Feb. 25. Nick Honachefsky will serve as co-host. Call 80 448-7360 for the $55 tickets.

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