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Captain's Focus

Anglers don't have much more time left to fish for fluke as the season ends after Sept. 25, but that fishing has been so poor to the north that some boaters may be giving up before then. Capt. Ron Santee, of the Fishermen out of Atlantic Highlands, reports just a few keepers among some shorts and out-of-season sea bass. He noted that if there isn't any improvement by the end of the week he may switch to porgies. The Angler from that port had one piece of good news, as a 27 ½-inch, 8 1/16-pound fluke was caught Monday by Rabindra Karmaker of Monmouth Junction to take the lead in the big pool (that was worth $4,490 at that time) by a mere two ounces. Ironically, Mr. Kim boated an 8-pound fluke on Wednesday to miss the new leader by one ounce. Bob Matthews, at Fisherman's Den in Belmar Marina, said the last large fluke he weighed was a 9 3/16-pounder by Lori Tarosz. There are still plenty of short fluke in Shark River, but Matthews advises using live peanut bunkers or mullet to get through to keepers. There are spot and kingfish to be caught from the L Street pier, but the hordes of 6-to-8-inch sea bass must be released. A warden wrote up a fisherman with 17 of those tiny bass in a bucket. Ocean reports are somewhat better, as the Jamaica II from Brielle has been finding fluke in depths of 70 to 100 feet. At Belmar, the Big Mohawk reported some 4-and-5-pounders, and a few over 8 pounds on Wednesday -- and the Ocean Explorer reported steady action up to a 7-pounder.  On the other hand, Ken Werchal of Brick ran from Manasquan Inlet to fish hot spots all the way up to the Farms on Wednesday and only came up with one keeper fluke and very few shorts or anything else. There's been much better news on bluefishing, as the huge choppers we had at this time a couple of years ago seem to have returned. The Jamaica from Brielle got into them up to 18 pounds on last Friday night's trip. Then a day trip on that boat produced the biggest jumbo I've heard of so far when Sly Turner of Morristown weighed a 24-pounder at Brielle Tackle. To top it off, little tunny showed up at the same time. The Golden Eagle from Belmar went from jigging one-pound blues last week to 10-to-14-pounders plus little tunny. Miss Belmar Princess weighed a 20.7-pounder Monday, before a19.7-pound blue beat out a 19.2-pounder Tuesday. Yet, by Thursday, small blues had taken over on the hills north of Shark River Inlet. Big weakfish had been as scarce as jumbo blues, but Chuck Many of Annandale got a pleasant surprise Tuesday afternoon in a strong south wind on his Ty Man from Gateway Marina in Highlands when we had to fish in rough Hudson River waters because we were turned back by a N.Y. Police boat from the shelter of the East River due to a presidential visit. Fortunately, the Hudson River drift produced 16 weakfish releases on sandworms, though they wouldn't hit the live peanut bunkers which are usually a prime bait. We had caught a few large weakfish in the river around this time during the last couple of summers, but never so many or so mixed in sizes as a few were only 19 inches. Most were the usual 5 to 6 pounds, while Many had a 31-incher that weighed 8 pounds on his IGFA-certified Boga Grip. Capt. Dave De Gennaro is still catching weakfish in Barnegat Bay from his Hi Flier out of Barnegat. There was lots of light tackle action with shedder crabs on the east side as three weakfish to 3 pounds were caught along with big snapper blues, blowfish, silver perch, and small sea bass. Despite the northeast wind, the party was fishing in protected waters.  The hot canyon tuna bite in the canyons hasn't come back so far since the tropical storm. The Jamaica from Brielle got back out last Thursday night and worked two canyons to total 110 dolphin, but only two yellowfin tuna and two swordfish. A marlin was hooked and lost in the morning as they fished around whales and even saw a whale shark. They have 31-hour trips coming up on Tuesdays and Thursdays plus 22-hour sailings on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Call 732 528-5014 for reservations. Capt. Chris De Stefano of Wall fished aboard the Crisdel from Brielle Yacht Club on Wednesday as they ran to Wilmington Canyon for a hot white marlin bite. They raised 18 and released six, but the only tuna they saw were very small. De Stefano said that's the closest area with good water at present. Check my daily blog at nj.com/shore/blogs/fishing for updates on that rapidly changing fishery. The recognition of the horrors of 9/11 last Sunday also brought back memories of my final giant tuna trip with the late Capt. Bob Pisano. There had been a few giants hooked at the Lillian, and Pisano went out there that morning despite a gusting northwest wind. There were no hits before we started hearing disturbing news on the VHF about a plane crash at the Twin Towers. Even though we were only a few dozen miles on a straight line to the attack, we never saw the smoke that was blown down by the strong wind. Pisano decided to return early, and there hasn't been a local giant tuna run since. Without Pisano to stir up other giant tuna specialists, I wonder if there is anyone else willing to put in the time and expense required to find giant tuna. Surfcasters finally got some shots at little tunny this week. Allen Riley of South Plainfield was at Sea Bright around 8 a.m. Wednesday when the tunny chased bait into the surf. Riley's  lure was ignored, but John Mazzeo of South Plainfield caught his first in several years on a Gibbs Minnow, and Jose Cotelo from North Bergen landed two on a chromed Crippled Herring. Grumpy's Tackle in Seaside Park was delighted with the first striper report in some time as Doug Ralph weighed in a 29-inch bass that went 9.45 pounds after hitting a popper cast to mullet schools. Betty & Nick's Tackle reported a fluke angler erlier in the week saw little tunny erupt and quickly switched to a diamond jig to catch two. Vinny D'Anton of Shark River Hills beached a 29-inch striper Wednesday morning on a Chug Bug at Spring Lake. There was lots of bait off Bay Head on Tuesday morning, but not many signs of predators among them tough I did catch a 16 1/4-inch striper on a new Run-Off rainfish metal. Anglers who fished there late Wednesday afternoon caught some very small blues feeding on masses of rainfish in the wash. The 25 mph northeast wind on Thursday morning put a damper on surfcasting as well as keeping most boats in port. Joe Melillo, at Castaways Tackle in Point Pleasant, reports blackfishing in Point Pleasant Canal remains good, with green crabs being the best bait.

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