The Fishing Line: Let’sTalk Fish
By Carolyn Miller

Bucktail Willie shows off a 37-inch bass.

If you are a New Jersey fisher or even remotely interested in saltwater fishing in this state, there are plenty of topics to keep your interest.

Tag and release fishing continues to be in the news as the American Littoral Society prepares to tally 2009 statistics.
When local fisherman, Bill (bucktail willie) Shillingford, saw a magazine article on the American Littoral Society and its fish tagging program, he decided to get involved. His first tagging was in 1989 with 35 fish tagged and every year after that he increased that number, primarily on summer flounder and striped bass and a few weakfish.

Willie spent childhood summers in Whale Beach and caught his first striped bass as a 10-year-old behind Corson’s Inlet. Even after the storm of ’62 destroyed his house and a 1975 transfer sent him to Indiana, Willie continued to return and fish in the Strathmere area.

When Willie retired in 2001 and returned to Cape May County, he got serious about tagging fish. He also got involved with the ongoing fight over regulations and was appointed a NJ rep on the Summer Flounder advisory committee for ASMFC in 2006.
Willie liked the efforts of ALS in saving the wetlands.

“The wetlands behind the barrier islands are the nursery for all the fish we catch year in and year out. I decided that given most of my fishing was catch and release (anyway), I was going to get more involved in tagging for science.
“I past 17350 tagged fish this fall and now currently have 1161 returns or 6.6 percent which is higher than average. Ninety-seven percent of my tagged fish come out of Cape May County waters with three percent coming from SW Florida waters and I have expanded my tagging to include any fish regulated by ASMFC.’

All the tagging data gets submitted by ALS to the Woods Hole Scientific labs in Woods Hole, Mass., once per year in April. This information is then used to support fishery management.

Willie’s statistics yield some great stories. Fluke #699, tagged July 27, 2006 at the ICW, Ocean City measured 13-inches. Two years later, June 6, 2008, the fish was re-caught in Stone Harbor and measured 18-inches.

Another flounder, #748, 15-inches, was tagged May 6, 2004 in the Corson’s Inlet area and was caught in Brigantine on July 30, 2008 measuring 22-inches. That fish had been out four years.

A striped bass tagged in Corson’s Inlet in June, 2006, measured 18-inches. It was recovered in Kennebec, Maine in August, 2008 where it measured 23-inches.

There is no doubt that catching, tagging, and releasing fish is a valuable adventure. The fish’s recapture provides invaluable information unavailable by any other means. Visit the American Littoral Society’s Web site at for more information.