Anyone who has attended a meeting of the state Marine Fisheries Council has probably heard one word utterred again and again, often with a sense of frustration and, occasionally, desperation.
That word is "anecdotal." And today, the final day of the 2012 fluke season, it means something.
To federal regulators, of course, "anecdotal" evidence means nothing. Even if you know you just had the best - or worst - fishing season in years, if some whacky phone survey said otherwise, all of your personal observations mean zilch.
Fortunately, we're not at a meeting of federal fishing regulators. And the anecdotal evidence clearly shows that we had a great, great, great fluke season here at the Jersey Shore. That's enough evidence for me!
But seriously, we started early, we're ending (comparative to some recent seasons) late, and fluke fishing remained generally steady all season long. You didn't catch a doormat every trip, but with some work, there was usually a decent chance of having a fish dinner after a day on the water.
The lesson here is that the lower size limit - 17.5 inches, down from 18 inches the past few seasons, worked.
In several editorials over the past few years, even before I came to work here at Patch, I've made no secret that I disagree with many of the die-hards out there. I've argued that anglers should not get caught in the trap of trading away "size for season" when that annual meeting setting the regulations comes along.
This season - yes, anecdotally - has proven my point.
In my early fluke expeditions this season, boat traffic was minimal. Few lines were in the water. The same could be said for my most recent trips post-Labor-Day. That's essentially two months of the season when few participated in the fishery. Simply stated, extending this lack of participation for another month, and paying for it by raising the size limit to compensate, would have cost anglers fish this summer - and those anglers may not have decided to cast a line next season as a result.
Each day during the busy summer season that I fished Barnegat Inlet, the fleet from boat rental joints like Van's and Bobbie's was out in force. Those bay anglers were catching fish and making memories that will last forever. I've never seen so many surf anglers trying to catch fluke as I have this season, and they all had to buy their Gulp and bait and hooks and bucktails somewhere.
The final day of fluke season looks pretty iffy, weather-wise. But this season has been valuable because it taught us an important lesson: if we want sustainable fisheries, a sustainable sport and a sustainable fishing economy, there's one thing we have to do - sustain the ability for the average fishermen to catch a fish for dinner.
On another note, hope everyone had as enjoyable a fluke season as I did. As I predicted in a column the week the season started, my dad and I took our usual trips to our usual spots and caught some nice fish while having some very enjoyable times on the water.
As striped bass season rolls along, I'm sure I'll be seeing a few of you on the beach or in the back bay hunting for a bite.
In between then, reports this week were slow, but there are still blowfish hanging out by the BI/BB buoys in Barnegat Bay, weakies were still being caught all over and blues were making appearances in the suds from Manasquan to LBI.
Sea bassing was looking good on the wrecks, according to the folks on the Jamaica II, and the occasional kingfish was being swatted on the beach of LBI and Island Beach State Park.