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Captain's Focus

Wet and windy weather put a damper on the opening day of the fluke season, but conditions should improve through the weekend with a switch to west winds as sea bass fishing opens Friday. The northeast wind was actually ideal for drifting off the Sandy Hook Bug Light, but the regulars didn't show up to open the season on Elaine B II from Bahrs in  Highlands. Capt. Stan Zagleski will be there Friday to Monday at his opening weekend sailing time of 6 a.m.  At Atlantic Highlands, the Angler cancelled Saturday's fluking, but will run a sea bass/ling combo trip at 6 a.m. Friday before starting fluking at 7 a.m. Saturday. The Fishermen switches to fluke at 7 a.m. Friday, while the Sea Hunter makes its last striper trip before moving to half-day fluke on Saturday. Bob Matthews, at Fisherman's Den in Belmar Marina, reports party boats there didn't get out Thursday, but should be back in action for Friday in much better weather. The Golden Eagle has added a 7:30 p.m. Saturday night bluefish trip. Fluking was good for boaters in Shark River, with some keepers among many shorts. As noted in Wednesday's daily blog (nj.com/shore/blogs/fishing), we are fishing for fluke at the compromise regulations of three at an 18-inch minimum with a season shortened to Sept. 5. Though that was worked out at the last ASMFC meeting, the Technical Committee didn't approve it -- so we will eventually be out of compliance. The 17-inch minimum in Delaware Bay, and the two fluke at 16 inches from shore in Island Beach State Park remain in effect. It took all DEP Commissioner Bob Martin could do to maintain the 18-inch minimum. It was hard enough last year to come up with keepers at that length as the keeper ratio was usually only about one in ten. I was thinking about that last month while fishing with Capt. T.J. and mate A.J. aboard the party boat Miss Islamorada out of Bud N'Mary's Marina in Islamorada. It was an unusual flat calm day when yellowtail snappers tend to be wary in clear waters. The minimum size for the Keys' favorite panfish is 12 inches -- which provides nice fillets. Despite the "too nice" conditions there was a decent pick of yellowtails that were mostly just an inch or two over the minimum. That's a minimum which works, as everyone caught a few meals -- and there were no shorts. All I could think of was the comparison to our fluking, where almost all the edible-size fluke go back to supply netters with their 14-inch minimum.  Add in the usual Florida variety, such as the 20 1/2-pound king mackerel that took me all around the boat on spinning tackle, and it was good enough action to leave the still-biting yellowtails for a 5-mile run to a wreck. That shot at a grouper didn't work out, but there was more variety caught, including my "whistle fish" -- a 19 1/2-inch, 4-pound jolthead porgy that managed to get hooked on the head end of a half-balao. Sea bass fishing opens Friday with a 12 1/2-inch minimum, and a limit of 10 up to June 18.Then it closes before opening to a by-catch of two a day from July 1 to August 31. The season is supposed to conclude from Oct. 22 to Dec. 31 with a 15-fish bag, but NMFS wants to reduce the end of the year to five sea bass. Striped bass fishing hasn't fully recovered from the northeaster, but a few big bass were trolled last week, including a 53-pounder that hit a number 4 green Tony Maja spoon off Island Beach State Park for Walt Dubley of Bayville. Island Beach hosted the 26th annual Governor's Surf Fishing Tournament last Sunday as over 600 anglers participated in sunny weather. DEP Commissioner Bob Martin presented the Governor's Cup for largest fish to 16-year-old Kyle Brendel of Nutley, who beached a 34-inch bluefish. The Lacy H.S. team won the first high school championship. Capt. Erwin Heinrich had a most unusual experience on his Scales N Tales from Twin Lights Marina in Highlands while he was fishing live bunkers for big stripers in 65 feet last week. A giant tuna was briefly hooked on a bunker, and another followed a bunker to the boat before coming out of the water. Heinrich said it was over 500 pounds. Though large bluefins often come inshore in the fall, that's the first time I've heard of them doing so in the spring. Capt. John Contello has been having a hard time getting through the bluefish in Raritan Bay with his Just Saying from Brown's Point Marina in Keyport.  I joined him at 9 a.m.Tuesday when he took Tank Matraxia of Lyndhurst and his group up to the Hudson River for chunking after mate Steve Tosti quickly castnetted a cooler full of bunker.There were a few blues at first, before a pick of stripers started. They were hard to hook, but eight keepers were caught along with five shorts. Marty Gras had a tough time on a baitcasting outfit in a strong current before boating a 39 1/2-inch striper. Matraxia placed seven ALS tags in released bass, including two in legal stripers.  Capt. John Kolias fished the bay that morning with his Reel Fun from Twin Lights Marina in Highlands, and found that even the blues weren't biting after a water temperature drop until they turned on later when the temperature got up to 61 degrees. Kolias passed along good news from his mate about schools of bunkers moving into the bay on Wednesday. The Canyon Runner from Pint Pleasant brought in the first mako shark of the season Tuesday after their initial canyon overnighter. Six blue sharks were released at night before the 82-inch  (about 175 to 200 pound) mako was boated after a 25-minute fight. Trolling for school bluefin tuna at dawn produced four hits, with a 33-incher boated. Allen Riley of South Plainfield had no hits on fresh bunker in the Sandy Hook surf on Tuesday morning, but managed a "pee-wee" striper on a Storm Shad. He reported that David Levitt of Aberdeen caught a 36-inch striper on bunker at Keyport Monday afternoon. Joe Melillo weighed several surf stripers at Castaways Tackle in Point Pleasant during the week, up to the 25-pounder on bait by Mike Comune of Brick. Castaways is now open seven days a week from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Jamaica from Brielle got back into big blues Wednesday, and has added Friday and Saturday night bluefish trips as well as a magic hours sailing. The Queen Mary from Point Pleasant got into a Wednesday afternoon bite of 8-to-14-pound blues on jigs. The Magic Hours striper trip was tough as bait was scarce and the wind came up to make the drift too fast. Yet, Ken D'Andrea caught two big bass. At Seaside Park, Grumpy's Tackle reported a comeback of bluefish on bait in the surf -- and also from docks in town. Betty & Nick's weighed a 14-ound blue that Greg Haines caught on bunker at Area 23 in IBSP. Mimi VI from Point Pleasant is running open for sea bass at 5 a.m. Friday. Call 732 370-8019 for details.

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