Story by Tom Pagliaroli

In a last minute, literally, sign off of the sea bass season, the New Jersey DEP boss Catherine McCabe approved the dates and bag limits late Monday night, and the first segment of the four-part installment kicked off yesterday. Through June 22, it will be a 10 fish limit at a 12-1/2-inch minimum length.

The second period runs July 1-August 31 with a pair at the 12-1/2-inch minimum.

“Extreme” does not describe the eagerness and anticipation for the opener to be sure, this species is regarded as one of, if not the best eating inshore species, rivaled only by the fluke summer flounder and blackfish tog. (From this corner, the gray triggerfish, a visitor to the jetties, wrecks and structures from July into October, edges the sea bass when it comes to culinary delight, but that’s another story.) Unfortunately, winter will not release its grip on bottom water temperatures, and during the opener, readings in the prime 60 to 100-foot depths proved an appetite suppressing 45-48 degrees, resulting in nips and pinches to the fresh and salted clam baits as opposed to the sea bass standard inhalation.

The east winds during the next three to four days should nudge water temperatures the 53 to 55-degree “feed bags on” range, and from there, it will be drop ‘n reel fishing clear through the June closing date.

For now, it’s a pick and probe, the corollary being that a good percentage are hefty, well beyond the minimum. As the waters warm, smaller sea bass will swarm over the wrecks, and while there will be multitudes of legal and a bit longer fish, it’s the bigger knuckleheads that are being caught while there is still the chill.

No boat? No worries, as there are several excellent charter and party boats in The Hawk listening area that are keying on sea bass. Party boats include the Carolyn Ann III (Barnegat Light; 609-693-4281), Dauntless (Point Pleasant; 908-433-3629), Jamaica II (Brielle; 732-458-3188) and Capt. Cal II (732-267-9244). Charter boats are Robin Ann (Barnegat Light; 609-879-5269), Miss Liane (Forked River; 908-319-6751) and Barb Gail IV (Brielle; 732-281-4439).

Tick Alert: This is shaping to be a monster year for ticks and the subsequent tick-borne diseases if care is not taken to avoid these bloodsuckers (it only takes one) from attaching and discharging bacterial infection via saliva into your bloodstream. Lymes, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesiosis, Erlichiosis, Anaplasmosis and a new nasty, Powassan, can be debilitating and put you in an ugly world of hurt if untreated.

Camping, hiking, fishing ponds, lakes and streams, bike riding…if there is an occasion to encounter medium-to-high grasses and brush, and even overhanging leaf-laden branches, odds are you will be encountering ticks.

The “Ounce of prevention” cliché is never truer that dealing with this insidious arachnid. Spraying clothing thoroughly with a repellent containing Permethrin will afford protection for up to two weeks or two launderings. Apply outdoors and let dry on the clothing…including footwear and caps. Do not apply to skin. Brands such as Sawyer and Repel are excellent, as they kill ticks (and chiggers) which get on you. For bare areas, utilize a DEET-based pump spray such as Repel 1 will, like the aforementioned, croak the bloodsuckers. There are all-natural alternatives to the DEET killers. They work on the same principle: shutting off the bug’s breathing apparatus so it dies. For au natural opt for Buzz Away Extreme(also great on greenheads) and a newcomer to the tick-killing game, Bug Chit, which is based and made in southern Ocean County…prime tick territory, for sure.