Story by Tom Pagliaroli

Paint the Easter Bunny black. As in blackfish!

The April 1 re-opening of the tog season falls on Easter Sunday, and for heathen anglers among us, such as yours truly, the Holy Day can translate to Hammer Day as the big blackfish thump in the boxes and coolers or splash indignantly in the live wells.

Sacrilege? Yes! Worth the rod ‘n reel damnation? Oh yes…but ya gotta go deep…as in the Hades of wrecks.

To be sure, the Fool’s Day through April 30 “season” is brief, and unlike the mid-November-through-New Year’s Eve stretch when the crab-crunchers are in the shallower reaches, the tog will still be frequenting depths ranging anywhere from 100 to, you’re reading this correctly, 180-plus feet.

“It’s the cold water that keeps them that deep, and this spring the water is frigid,” emphasizes Capt. Willie Egerter III on the party boat Dauntless out of Point Pleasant.

Gina Lawrenson from the Barnegat Light-based tog terminator the Carolyn Ann III, concurs. Says the deck commander, “We’ll be hitting the deeper locations where the tog will still be hanging out during April. Not the easiest fishing because of the depths and currents, but that’s the game during April…and some big tog can be caught now.”

Myriad charter boats will be racing the party platforms to the double-digit fathom structures, and despite the free-for-all atmosphere, the fishing can be a challenge, as the capricious quarry prefers one bait over another and then foe unexplained reasons to even the most exacting of marine science, develop lockjaw.

While green crab, Asian crab and white legger crabs are the most productive offerings of choice during the autumnal blackfish blast, it’s the softer baits that now cajole a tog into take, as subtle as it may be.

Theories abound regarding the gentle lip locks, the most common and believed is that the tog’s stab ‘n nab dentition is especially sensitive with the advent of seasonal and subsequent environmental change. As such, they’ll key to a gentler victim, such as a wad of clam or conch, or a chunk of fresh shrimp. For the latter, put the hook through the shell so you’ll at least get a couple of bites from the bait.

If you have access to a private boat that’s hard-core bottoms-up and willing to make the 20-30-plus mile run for a 4-fish limit, good for you! Figure a few ling, cod and even a pollock or two to add to the larder. Ditto charter boat wreck-to-wreck safaris.

A few of the party boats in The Hawk listening area sailing for April blackfish, in addition to the Dauntless (daily) and Carolyn Ann III (weekends through April starting April 7th) there is the daily Capt. Cal II (Belmar) and the every-day Norma K III (Pt. Pleasant).

A word about the “morals” of keeping a double-digit weight springtime tog. From this corner, go ahead and fillet that fat lady, spilling spawn and all! Here’s why: albeit a slow growing species, blackfish, particularly a female. will have mated numerous, and more, times by the time they reach the 10-lb.-plus status. And that’s an old gal. Sure, a lot of eggs, but how many are viable (read: can be fertilized by the smaller, always horny males)? If it feels good to release a big mama, go for it, but you’re not really doing much, if anything, to enhance the fecundity of the species as you would by letting go the 12-20-inch females. Fewer eggs, sure, but a superior fertilization rate, in my opinion. Think a 65-year old Granma vs. a busting out and reproductively-ripe 18-23-year old young woman.

You get the idea.

The daily limit is four with a minimum 15-inch limit.

Meeting time: Thursday, April 5 at 4:30 p.m. until whenever at the Stafford Municipal Building, 260 East Bay Avenue in Manahawkin, is the site of the public meeting of the NJ Marine Fisheries Council that will determine this year’s fluke and sea bass seasons. Get there at least by 5 p.m. to grab a chair because it will no doubt be a standing room-only situation. The options will be presented, and the attendees (after signing in for the comment period) will be given several minutes as to the which-and-why one option will work better than the other. This is the opportunity for your voice to be heard, as the council members absorb like marine sponges the comments, gripes and recommendations, all of which, along with the available date/bag limit parameters they have been given by NMFS, they will consider before voting.

So be there or beware!