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Captain's Focus

If fishing for marlin and bigeye tuna without making long boat rides to offshore depths sounds good to you, then the Azores has just what you want. From the modern Hotel Acores Atlantico in Ponto Delgada, it's just a few minutes walk to the marina  - after which the boats only have to run yards to exit the harbor before deploying spreads of large lures for "deep sea" game fish.   The Azores are volcanic islands on the other side of the Atlantic that literally jut out of great depths. The main island of Sao Miguel varies from city attractions to green hills, with lots of cows, descending to cliffs with spectacular views that reminded me of New Zealand and South Africa. The still steaming volcanos are a tourist attraction. Unusually windy conditions created rough seas when I fished the annual Big Game Fishing Tournament from Sept. 13-16, but it was still possible to troll from relatively small boats as we were only one to three miles offshore and didn't have to take a pounding running to the fishing areas. Considering what I've experienced in our canyons and in many other areas around the world, the seas weren't all that bad and quite fishable -- though the fishing was certainly not what the Azorians are used to. Oceanic fish are constantly on the move, no matter where you're fishing. There were no hits in three days of trolling from different boats for the press team I was on along with Martyn and Lucy Pratt of the Sea Angling News in Great Britain plus R.I. charter skipper Matt Barysham, who writes for the Big Game Journal.  They fished the tournament last year when 11 boats caught 28 bigeyes in the three days along with a wahoo, and an albacore -- while a blue marlin was also tagged.  It was a far cry from that this time before an impressive yellowfin tuna of 104 kilos (228.8  pounds) was boated. That was edged out on the last day by a local team on Gringos-- an inflatable boat powered by twin 140-hp Suzukis,with the only other tuna, a 107 kilo (235.4 pound) bigeye that was live-baited with a chub mackerel in just 40 fathoms (bigeyes are rare inside of the 100 fathom line in our canyons) which is almost onshore in the Azores.  That boat had lost a big tuna they thought was a bluefin while trolling just outside the harbor the day before. A two-degree drop in water temperature from the chilly winds pushed the billfish away, and the only one hooked was a white marlin lost at boatside by one of the Russian teams. I'll have more about the Azores in a future column. Wednesday's northeast storm  will shake up fishing just as the fluke season ends Saturday night. Impressive doormats caught just before that were  topped by a 14-pound, 15-pounce mega-mat from a most unusual location. Bob Matthews, at Fisherman's Den in Belmar Marina, reports Frank Kossell came up from Lewes, De. to catch his fluke of a lifetime on a live peanut bunker in Shark River.  The Tackle Box in Hazlet weighed a 13 3/4-pounder hooked on a Gulp Grub by Bill Karg of Milltown from the Angler out of Atlantic Highlands -- the same size as one caught the previous week by Michael Stratton of South Amboy in Ambrose Channel on a Spro jig tipped with a Gulp Grub.   Tuesday was the first day of fall, and an appropriate time for Chuck Many of Annandale to  kick off Raritan Bay autumn striped bass fishing with his Ty Man from Gateway Marina in Highlands. I joined him as we released 23 stripers up to a 41-incher on bunker chunks. There were only two shorts among them, and a couple of the other releases were at 37 inches. These were local fish just getting activated in the still 69-to-70 degree waters, but the storm could get the first of the migratory run from New England started.   The surf also started coming alive with mullet before the storm. I released a 27-inch striper  Monday morning on a Tactical Anglers Bomb Jr. popper at Sea Girt. Leif Pettersen flyrodded stripers of 25 and 27 inches on a white snake fly in the Deal surf on Tuesday morning when  Vinny D' Anton hooked a 29-inch bass on a Chug Bug popper in Ocean Grove. Joe Melillo, at Castaways Tackle in Point Pleasant, said there were several bass caught in the local surf, and the blackfish bite in Point Pleasant Canal was red hot.   The MAFMC and ASMFC public scoping hearings on summer flounder will be held this week at 6 p.m. Monday in Somers Point City Hall and Tuesday at Belmar Municipal Court House   Those who haven't attended a hearing on the Striped Bass Management Plan changes can still comment by e-mail through Sept. 30 to Mike Waine at the ASMFC. The address is mwaine@asmfc.org. Use subject line Draft Addendum IV. Dave Lilly of Hazlet won or placed in almost every fluke tournament this year, but he only caught a short while fishing in Ambrose Channel on Sunday with Walt Wojcik of Hazlet on his Nancy Lee from Lentze Marina before hooking the "big one" -- a large green turtle that fortunately shook off his rig. Drummer Tom Soyek and Wojcik combined to boat four fluke from 4 to 7 pounds, but there was hardly any other action -- especially for me. Michael and Michelle Hreowsik of Keyport fished the Raritan Bay Anglers fluke contest on Sunday with Al Hreowsik of Middletown on his Rosie Jay to  catch fluke of 5.55, 5.15,  and 4.35 pounds plus three more over 18 inches on Spro and Gulp off the tip of Sandy Hook. JCAA president Paul Haertel had 15 species last weekend during an offshore wreck trip with his boat. Cod, pollock, white hake, ling, winter flounder, blackfish and dolphin were kept, while sea bass, fluke, ocean pout, sea robins, sea raven, blue runners, skates and bergalls were returned.  Steve Meikama boated a 16.7-pound cod and a 9.9-pound dolphin. Sean Smida had a 12-pound cod, and Bill Browne hooked a 13.85-pound dolphin.

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