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Captain's Focus

Readers of last Thursday's blog may wonder how it's possible to catch and release an estimated 80-pound tarpon by casting from the side of a bridge as I did during a recent trip to the Florida Keys. Actually, that same technique works as well for stripers at many bridges where fishing isn't permitted from the bridge itself. Both stripers and tarpon line up at night in front of pilings to grab forage being drawn to them. I prefer outgoing tides, and it's necessary to fish on the uptide side. That means you'll have to stop a large fish from simply swimming with the strong current right through the bridge and cutting you off – or getting lucky as I did that night when the silver king ran and jumped into the roaring current toward the bay. The Tsunami 8 1/2-foot, three-piece pack rod which I was able to carry aboard my United flight to Miami was quite adequate for big tarpon, and the drag I could use on the Canyon Salt 5000 spinning reel filled with 30-pound braid and a 30-pound mono header that I use while surfcasting locally was sufficient for the 20-to-40-pound tarpon usually encountered close to the sides of Keys bridges. Yet, much bigger tarpon can't be turned on that tackle. I normally use 50-pound or more with a practically screwed-down drag for that purpose—and that's also the way to go if you're looking for big bass at bridges. If you can walk over the bridge, you may be able to see what you're casting to. That's especially the case if there's a light on the bridge, or if there's a shadow line created by the moon. The predators will be finning on the dark side of that shadow, waiting for a shrimp or small fish to be carried into their feeding zone by the current. You also may see, or hear, plops as fish feed under or near the bridge. Before setting up to cast from the sides of bridges, figure out where you can land or release a big fish if you're lucky enough to get that far. Give yourself an angle to cast from, rather than standing next to the bridge. Cast straight across toward the other side so the current will carry the lure toward the pilings as you retrieve at a steady pace that will prevent it from being swept into the pilings and getting snagged. Strike on anything you feel, and immediately apply maximum pressure. I only use single-hooked lures for this fishing due to the danger of working at the edge of a powerful current while trying to unhook a big fish with no help in the dark. A mono leader of at least 50-pound test is a must for tarpon with their raspy teeth that will wear through during a lengthy battle -- and for handling in the landing process. Small lures seem to work best as that's what the game fish are normally feeding on. The D.O.A. Bait Buster is my favorite lure for tarpon, but Tsunami shads and light bucktail jigs with strong hooks are other good choices. Don't get overconfident after first stopping a heavy fish. Big fish may run the wrong way and seemingly be under control, but their last instinct is to go with the current when they're tired – and that's under the bridge. Do everything possible to stop that last run, even though you may straighten the hook in the process. It's hard to beat the thrill and satisfaction of catching a very big fish from shore on your own. Your chances of catching one are best at the Keys bridges, where tarpon are common and I rarely run into another angler fishing for them, but the striper of your dreams could also be swimming under a local bridge. Bluefishing has been his week's feature, with Barnegat Bay being full of them. There's been a big build-up in the Raritan Bay area and Manasquan Inlet has had some blitzes. Ocean striper fishing still hasn't developed, but some 6-to-12-pound bluefish were finally located in the ocean on Wednesday by the Golden Eagle out of Belmar. It was only a pick Thursday with Run-Off Crocs working better than hammered jigs. Miss Belmar Princess had some limits of those choppers on Wednesday. Surf catches being reported by Grumpy's Tackle in Seaside Park had been almost all on bunker chunks, but lures started to produce Thursday There have been hot periods of bluefish action in Manasquan Inlet since Sunday, but Capt. Jim Freda warns that the blitz fishing there usually only lasts about five days. It was red hot Wednesday morning on poppers and swimmers. The choppers ran from about 6 pounds into the mid-teens, and lots of lures were gobbled up. There were also too many injuries, including one angler removed by ambulance after getting hooked on a lure along with a big blue whose head had to be removed before the trip to the hospital after Nick Honachefsky was able to find dikes with which to cut the heavy hook after pushing it through the angler's hand. Use single hook lures, or remove the belly treble from plugs – preferably replacing a rear treble with a single hook. Crushing the barbs of hooks is also advisable. The fishing was so wild Wednesday morning that I was hooking several blues each cast with a popper as every time one threw it there was another on it as soon as it hit the water. Jerry Lasko of Point Pleasant was casting an SP Minnow into the inlet with the same success. When I gave his baitcasting rig a try I couldn't take more than one crank after it hit the water before hooking up. That fishing was picky Wednesday evening, though Jim Freda's Manasquan High School Fishing Club kids did better by casting off the north jetty rocks. Thursday morning was very slow there. Striper fishing has been spotty in Raritan Bay, but bluefish weren't an interference when I fished Sunday with Chuck Many of Annandale on his Ty Man from Gateway Marina in Highlands along with Nellie Greer of Bethlehem, Pa. as we released nine stripers in the bay and Hudson River. Though obviously ready to spawn, the bass weren't as absolutely round as those they had released the previous week. Remember that any striper over 20 pounds is almost surely a female, and will be spawning next month – if not even sooner with the slightly warmer water temperatures this spring. Capt. Vinnie Vetere, of Katfish Charters in Great Kills, reports the blues invaded Wednesday. They were solid by Thursday, but he ended up with a limit plus endless 12-pound blues that tore up his Mo-Jos while trolling. Capt. Hans Kaspersetz trolled both stripers and blues in the back of the bay Wednesday afternoon on bunker spoons from Sheri Berri out of Baker's Marina on the Bay in Highlands. Tank Matraxia and his crew from Lyndhurst fished the bay Wednesday aboard Carnivore from Sewaren to boat three bass in the teens and three blues. The blackfish season comes to an end after Saturday, but Capt. Stan Zagleski is making the most of it until then with his Elaine B II from Bahrs in Highlands. The Gambler from Point Pleasant headed a bit offshore last Friday after not finding any stripers, and ended up with a surprising catch of mackerel. Sunday's tilefish trip was poor due to a strong current that required very heavy weights to get down. Mackerel were located again Monday, and a big blue was jigged on the way back. The Cock Robin from that port found a similar lack of stripers Saturday, but managed to bloody the decks a bit with those mackerel. Allen Riley of South Plainfield tried surfcasting at Sea Bright on Thursday morning, and had lots of action with very small stripers on sandworms. He started off into a rough surf with a doubleheader, and released close to a dozen up to a 20-incher, but did nothing on bunker. Riley was going to try the river side for blues, but found that the access which was available last year is now closed off. The Aberdeen Family Fishing Contest will be run on Saturday April 30 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Cliffwood Beach by the Aberdeen Township Environmental Board. Tom Paglioroli of Ocean City reports black drum fishing is breaking open in Delaware Bay, while big stripers are only being caught far back in the bay. Visit my blog at nj.com/shore/blogs/fishing for daily fishing updates.

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