My first saltwater fish was a blowfish caught from a rowboat at Freeport, Long Island, and i caught many more growing up on the south shore as the northern puffer cycle was at a peak during the 1950s. At that time, I also read about N.J. bay fishermen being surprised by a much larger puffer that they called rabbitfish. It was decades later before I ever caught that puffer which is properly called smooth puffer – and that was a small one from a wreck off Key West. Last Friday I caught a bigger one while fishing with Bob Correll on his Sea Vee 32 out of Hutchinson Island, Florida in the mouth of St. Lucie Inlet. (see photo at end of page0

That 19 1/2-incher wasn’t as big a surprise as it might have been because Bruce Hrobak at Billy Bones Tackle in Stuart had told me that one was caught on his boat the week before. We were chumming with glass minnows from Billy Bones for Spanish mackerel when I dropped a jig and shrimp to bottom and hooked what I hoped was a legal snapper before seeing the puffer with a solid body and smooth skin. It didn’t blow up at all. Al McClane, in McClane’s Guide to Saltwater Fishes of North America noted that ” The smooth puffer is not able to expand its body as greatly as the northern or southern puffers, possibly because of its larger size. “

The range of this fish is impressive, as McClane said it is distributed on both sides of the Atlantic — and in the western Atlantic from Massachusetts to Argentina plus the Gulf of Mexico. Yet, it doesn’t appear to be schooling fish. A few summers ago, there were quite a few caught off the northern N.J. Shore. However, I haven’t heard of any since then. Ironically, the IGFA world record of 11 pounds, seven ounces was caught in N.J. at Cape May Inlet in 2001. .

Vinny D’Anton has been picking at keeper-size stripers in the Monmouth County surf, but it’s all been blind casting. Sand eels are in the surf, but there haven’t been any swirls or rolls from the large bass to indicate their presence.

A small craft advisory goes up at 7 p.m. and is in effect through Friday afternoon. Thursday’s wind will be southwest at 15-20 knots with gusts to 25.

The Jamaica from Brielle has openings on 10 p.m. trips to offshore wrecks on Dec. 19, 21, and 22. Call 732 528-5014for reservations.

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