Tony Monica didn’t get rich by catching a world-record fish. But he did get famous — at least in the fishing world.
And that was an important world to Monica, who lived in Hammonton and was 84 when he died last month. The man loved fishing, from the time he was a boy.
His world record was a tautog — also called tog or slippery bass — that he caught on Jan. 20, 1998. Monica, then 70, was on the North Star, a party boat fishing off Ocean City, when he hooked a 25-pound tautog.
That broke the old International Game Fish Association record by a full pound, and Monica’s record stands after more than 14 years. But for some perspective on how big his fish really was for its species, listen to one of Monica’s favorite captains, Sam Rescigno Jr., who runs the Mary M III, a Barnegat Light-based charter boat.
“A lot of guys, if they catch a tog that’s 10 pounds, that's the catch of a lifetime,” said Rescigno, who knew Monica for almost 35 years and respected him immensely as both a man and a fisherman.
Corky Campbell, of Campbell’s New Generation Marine in Somers Point, weighed that “magnificent” fish in 1998 — and still remembers that Monica caught it in a nasty snowstorm off the coast.
Joe Monica, 62, of Broomall, Pa., is Tony’s oldest son. Joe used to go fishing pretty regularly on Rescigno’s boat with a group of guys that included his dad, and Joe said his friends always knew Tony was the best fisherman in the bunch. But his status definitely shot up after he got his record — even if Tony wasn’t the type for big talk about his big fish.
“My father never said it. He would just smile,” Joe said. “I would do the bragging for him.”
Joe liked to fish, but he wanted nicer weather than his dad — who loved going out in the dead of winter and would drive anywhere from Cape May to Belmar for the chance to catch fish. But Tony also liked crabbing, and would do that with his younger son, Tim, who lives in Hammonton. Tim can’t go deep-sea fishing because he gets seasick.
Tony’s wife of 64 years, Josie, met him as a teenager. She knew she was marrying a fisherman when Tony got back safely from the Navy at the end of World War II.
She saw his life change after his record catch, with “people calling him from magazines, from newspapers.” Later, there were interviews with TV and radio shows on fishing.
“But there was no money,” she said, adding that the most he got was a new model of the reel he used — and his trophy fish.
“He never reaped any financial benefits,” Joe Monica said. “But everybody knew him. Any boat he’d ever go on, everybody knew who he was.”
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