Fear not, fluke fans. "Reports this year are that fluke are back," Carlsen says. "Early in the season some of my taggers were telling me they had three throw-backs [fish under the legal size limits 14 inches in New York waters, 13 in New Jersey] for every keeper. That was a healthy sign because it meant there were a good number of young fish out there as well as larger fish. Fifteen years ago. a similar dropoff caused major concern, but this is apparently part of a natural fluctuation in fluke numbers."
One of the most active taggers is Tom Lake of Wappingers Falls, N.Y., who has tagged and released 4,400 fish in 10 states. So far, 158 of those fish have been recaptured. Lake might have had a higher rate of return had he been more of an elitist: he has tagged 91 different species of fish, but not many anglers are out after northern stargazers or Atlantic needlefish. A commercial shad fisherman on the Hudson River, Lake occasionally catches Atlantic sturgeon in his nets. The movements of Atlantic sturgeon are little known, but to help discover some clues, Lake has tagged and released 101 of them. So far, he has had five returns. Four of them came from the river, but one he tagged on Oct. 19. 1977, gave him and scientists a start. It was recaptured 400 miles away by a commercial fisherman in the York River, a Chesapeake Bay tributary, on March 2, 1978.
(Membership in the American Littoral Society is $20 a year, and the cost of tagging kits is tax deductible.)