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Exotic fish of The NY Bight & New Jersey
By J. R. Warnet

The summer months in the NY Bight and along the Jersey Coast brings with it an array of exotic species not normally seen in the coolers of local anglers. When water temps rise to that magical 75 to 77 degree mark, it brings vacationing fish to our area. You may have caught some of them before, but you may not have known a whole lot about them. In this article we�ll highlight a few of the more popular fish and give you a little background on what other fish you might catch on your next outing.

Atlantic Bonito (Sarda sarda): The Atlantic bonito is a shallow water fish often revered by light tackle enthusiasts. Many anglers make the mistake of calling them skipjack, but actually they are a different species all together. Bonito have thick, dark stripes extending backward behind their gill plates, a high dorsal fin compared to other fish in the same family and lack teeth on the top row of their mouth. The compressed body has a more hydrodynamic design and gives them more speed in the water. Bonito are a good fight and their flesh is not as dark as skipjack and if one enjoys �strong� flavored fish bonito are certainly decent table fare. Many anglers use them as strip bait for larger game fish. Trolling with �Jap� feathers is the best method, but light tackle fly or a popper with a fly tied to a mono leader behind the popper allows spinfishers to catch them too.

Cobia (Rachycentron Canadum): This late summer visitor makes big news each season on Long Island with some real brutes like the 44 pounder caught August 16, 2008 and each summer a few 30 pounders are caught while drifting for fluke or stripers. In NJ the green cobia can be found as soon as water temps hit the 77 degree mark give or take a few degrees. Cobia are a sleek, shark-like fish often traveling in schools close to shore and inshore waters or bays and around bridges. The green cobia is in a family of fish sharing similar characteristics with sharks. Cobia have different names, such as ling, lemonfish, crabeater and cabio; depending on what part of the world you�re fishing. Their overall appearance resembles something out of a hot rod shop; each portion of their body has a specific function enabling them to move very fast in the water. Cobia have a flattened head with a protruding lower jaw to maximize water resistance. They also have strong tail muscles and prominent top and bottom extended fins acting as rudders to keep the fish balanced while swimming. Extremely fast and traveling in schools, they prefer to hunt in open water and can spool a reel in no time at all. The average weight around here is 20 to 40 pounds since it is the adults that usually migrate to out area each summer. Cobia are very inquisitive and have a knack for hunting around anything floating in the water much like mahi do. Anglers in the Florida Keys often turn their boat off and on when they spot a school of cobias because they are drawn to distinct sounds in the water. They also spook very easily which makes them a hard fish to find & catch with most catches in our area accidental in nature by fluke or striper anglers.

False Albacore / Little Tunny (Euthynnus alletteratus): False Albacore or Little Tunny have made a name for themselves in the past few years as being a good replacement for the monster tuna out in the canyons. They fight just as hard (for their size) and are often targeted by inshore anglers when seeking out other inshore species. Albies have markings on their bodies that set them apart as soon as you spot them. The first distinct marking is the fingerprint swirl marks on the top half of the body, behind the head and right after the dorsal fin. They also have 3-4 dark spots on their sides, between their pelvis and pectoral fins. The tail is not as pitched as other tuna family members but they can swim just as fast. False albacore, bonito and skipjacks are often mistaken all the time for one another. To the untrained eye, they all look like the same. A good way to albies apart from the rest of the pack is to look at their overall size. They are short and stout, which gives them their nickname of footballs because of their stocky design. Little tunny are good table fare for the tuna family and are a good species to target when inshore light tackle fishing.

Grey Triggerfish (Balistes capriscus)

: The grey triggerfish swims with the Gulf Stream in search of temperate waters. The blunt body and dark gray color sets this fish apart from the local inhabitants and its small, stout body resembles a fluke that swims on its side more than a striper or a bluefish. Triggers have two sets of fins undulating instead of moving back and forth. Their mouths are lined with beaklike teeth they use to crush various bi-valves including barnacles along with shellfish like crabs and shrimp. Grey triggers are mainly dark silver to a dull gray with patches of black on their caudal fins. They derive their name from a spine they raise behind their head when provoked or threatened. Triggerfish make wrecks and reefs off the Atlantic their summer home but can be found in the bays and estuaries as well as anywhere there are rock piles or structure. Their aggressive behavior and high territorial instinct keeps this fish on the good catch list. New Jersey has a small population of triggerfish off the coast, but many triggers migrate north when summer starts. Triggers are very inquisitive and will attack most anything they consider food. Their mouth is very small so use a smaller hook and pack the bait or they will rob you every time. Basic porgy rigs will prove the best setup. The table fare triggerfish is delicious but the skin is very tough and hard to separate from the fillet.

Mahi-Mahi (Coryphaena hippurus): These fish are one of the most intriguing fish visiting our coastline. Mahi-mahi are very strong swimmers and have the fight every angler looks for in their quarry with hard diving bulldog attributes and spectacular leaps and aerial flights! Their name is Hawaiian for strong-strong but there are over 80 different names for this fish in various parts of the world. Called Dorado, dolphinfish, common dolphinfish and mahi-mahi in the United States and maverikos and lampuka in the Mediterranean, this surface dwelling fish matures at a pace that is unbelievable going from egg to 15 pounds in a little over a year. Living naturally to about 5 years of age they reach well over 50 pounds so the growth rate is about the fastest Nature sees. Mahi change color in the water depending on their mood and really �light up� when chasing prey or when caught on hook and line, turning a slate dull grey within 10 minutes of being put in the cooler. Mahi are known to be exceptional table fare in many cultures, but they are a special delicacy in Hawaii. Mahi can travel to 50 knots in the open ocean, which is why many anglers love to catch and fight a mahi. The fillet is very sweet and tender. A beautiful fish combined with a top speed and fighting ability makes this fish the �Corvette of the ocean.�

Northern Kingfish (Menticirrhus saxatillis)WebShot2.jpg (10249 bytes): This is the more popular species visiting the Jersey Shore during summer and most recognized most by surf anglers once we hit the middle of July. They can be caught in the back bays, but they seem most at home in the surf zone. Kingfish will give a good account of themselves providing the tackle is light enough to suit this 1 to 2 pound fish. Kingfish are the �panfish� of the surf with great numbers and an easy to catch moniker. Average size is about a foot to 14 inches and are known for their tasty fillets. Kingfish are in the same family as weakfish, spot and Atlantic croaker, although they can�t make the �drum� noise many anglers hear when they catch croakers and black drum. They are one of the most recognizable fish to identify due to their vivid colors, chin barbells and long featherlike fin connecting to the dorsal fin. Kingfish can reach sizes of 3 pounds and can reach a maximum size of 18 inches at maturity. Kingfish prefer a sandy, shell-laced bottom to forage for food like snails, crabs, sand fleas (mole crabs), shrimp and other crustaceans. They use their barbells to find prey, even at night. Many surf anglers catch kingfish all summer long when the water is clear and free of algae and floating debris. Light spinning tackle is preferred with clams strips and bloodworms being the best choice. Their table fare is considered very nice and can be baked or grilled.

Northern Sennet (Sphyraena borealis):  Not many anglers have seen a Northern Sennet up close, but they are a common visitor to the Jersey Coast. If you�ve ever seen a barracuda, you might recognize its smaller, less aggressive cousin. It looks much like a barracuda, but in a smaller more compact version. This fish can weigh as much as 2 pounds, but average is less than a pound. Sennets are light silver to grey when young and tend to take on a darker grey when mature in their second year. Light spinning tackle and live bait works best and they tend to hide out in bays to avoid large predators. Artificial tackle for snappers such as jigs, spoons and small tins are best to catch these fish. Its fearsome teeth and big eyes often scare anglers when trying to remove the hook but remove the hook much like a snapper. They are often found near weakfish and bluefish schools during the morning bite.

Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus): The red drum is often referred to as the striped bass of the south because it�s a fish local populations strive to catch. Stripers and red drum have a few things in common, but a major factor sets them apart in the long run. Stripers prefer colder water while red drum like warm, tropical temps. Reds are often targeted for their meat and fighting ability while always proving to be a nice catch no matter how big they are. In the drum family, which gives them the honor of being loud once caught, redfish have the ability to make a drumming sound with the swim bladder in their system. They also have several different names and they vary depending on the region. Red drums have been called channel bass, redfish, puppy drum, drum and spottail. Redfish have a distinct black spot near the base of their tail and colors range from a copper-reddish hue on the top of their bodies to a silvery tinge at the bottom. The black spot on the tail is a true indication you are hooking into a red. Reds can live to 35 years and have been caught to 98 pounds. Females are larger than males and can produce 2 million eggs in a single season. Over fished in the late 80�s and into then 90�s, reds have become the poster child for what good management can mean to a species as they have rebounded tremendously in the south. Reds prefer hard-shelled foods like crabs and shrimp but won�t pass up the chance to take a small to medium sized baitfish.

Skipjack Tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis): Schools of skipjack tuna frequent our area starting in very late July or certainly by August when offshore waters turn from dirty blue to a clearer blue. They look and act similar to false albacore and bonito, but their markings set them apart. When looking at a skipjack the top half lacks the distinct line markings bonito possess. If you�re not sure what type of tuna you caught just look at the lower half. If it has four to six dark strips on the belly, it�s a skippy and the lines are straighter than an albacore too. Small schools of these tiny tuna make their way from the Gulf Stream to the inshore areas in search of baitfish and squid. Many anglers enjoy catching them on light tackle and anglers using lures for bluefishing will enjoy the decent fight a skipjack can produce. They can spool a reel quicker than most fish so be careful when spooling line onto you light tackle reel.

Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus maculates): New Jersey anglers have always had better success with Spanish mackerel than the folks on Long Island. This olive speckled fish follows the Gulf Stream and around the last week of July seems to pop up out of nowhere and sticks around until the end of the September. They have a green back, bright silver sides and rows of orange and yellow spots. The first dorsal fin on their back is black and their tail has a deep pitch fork look to it. Spanish mackerel have one row of sharp, flat-sided teeth that can slice through light line just like a bluefish. They have been caught as far north as Rhode Island and are most often caught on the troll by those trolling light mono tackle and small spoons. There has been a resurgence the last 5 years, but only when ocean waters are warmer than usual, thus their predictability each summer is a crap shoot. With good flavor and hard fighting habits, Spanish macks are a real treat when you find them. These fish are often caught while targeting other species like blues and bonito, but can also be caught near jetties and shallow Back Bay waters and even from the surf on tins. Baits such as shrimp, squid, or arftificials such as tins and small drone spoons work best on light tackle and light lines. Spanish mackerel are fast swimmers, great table fare and have made an appearance in many local sushi houses across the region. Its mild, white meat is best served with a piece of ginger and garlic and dipped in soy sauce.

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