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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

6/17/2104 ... Lots to take in, especially sharks .

Shark days are here again. A slew of gray-suited species are moving into our rapidly warming waters, led by the perennial brown/sandbar and dusky sharks.

Not far out, high-jumpin’ threshers are already taking trolled offerings. It'll be a while before we know if these highly targetable, long-tailed sharks are as numerous as they were a few years back, when you could easily find them daily. 

Threshers are often in close enough that SUP and kayak anglers can take them on —and get spooled. It was June 27, 2009, that a 683-pound, 10-foot, six-inch thresher was taken off Jersey. It had a tail/caudal fin of nearly seven feet in length.

By the by, I can’t count the number of kept sharks that anglers mistakenly thought were threshers, based on longish tails.  Thresher tails are damn rear as long as the shark’s entire body. Brown/sandbar sharks have very long tails – and are most commonly mistaken as threshers. That can be a costly mistake if the mis-ID’ed – and state-protected – species makes it back to port. 

As for surfside sharks, I can just about guarantee they’ll be showing quite well this summer. I base that on a showy bunker presence, stingray presence, fluke presence and even skate presence.  I always refer to stingrays as pizzas with wings in the eyes of most sharks.

While some sharks are amazingly trollable and chunkable from boats during high sun, they most often turn on after dark, especially for surfcasters and aficionados of bayside and inlet fishing – which sometimes finds the sharks.

Check with local tackle shops to gear up for night sharking.

By the by, there is some iffiness over whether or not sharks can be targeted by anglers.  

By my reckoning, they can’t NOT be targeted. They’re gonna bite as if that little sign on your line “No Sharks Please” didn’t even exist. Just realize if you happen to come across sharks that you MUST, by law, have a full command of what few sharks can be kept and eaten. In general terms, the great majority of shark species must be quickly released, if accidently caught. Overall, keeping a shark is not worth the risk. Enjoy the fight, get the amazing photos (and the sharks’ glowing eyes) and get it back in the water.

There’s now a whole new protective view of sharks. While I believe it’s right and fun to reel them in, I don’t like when folks leave even lowly dogfish out to die and rot. Conserve and preserve.

Captain’s Quarters had an oddish report of a couple big weakfish going for GULP, served on a Spro and thrown onto a low-tide sandbar. That’s weird only in as much as larger spawning sparklers are usually done their partying by now. These sound like newer arrivals. Back in the day, larger spawners came in waves, well into summer. Maybe things are looking better on the weakfish biomass side, though these might have also been departing post-spawn fish -- though they most often move quickly out to sea. 

Fishermen’s HDQ is talkin’ sharks, taken late-day and after dark. For the shop, the sand tigers are showing over the more common browns. Sand tigers are a harmless hoot. You can look at them and admire a set of teeth that is something out of Star Wars. They always smile for photos. Just carefully let them loose and they’ll swim off no worse for wear. Get your hands near the mouth and you’ll be a lot worse for wear.

Bill’s Bait and Tackle in Harvey Cedars had a forlorn surfcaster come in to buy a new set-up after his rod and reel were sharked off into the deep. Oh, it was shark theft to be sure. Nearby surfers saw the whole larceny unfurl –as the fish, rod and reel sped by them. In-water word had the culprit being a mako. I might be inclined to guess thresher or sand tiger. It’s academic -- and offers a word of warning to make sure spiked reels are set at a light drag, even when using circle hooks.

There’s a mis-notion that circle hooks need greater drag resistance when spiked. Not so. It’s actually the chewing action of the fish that drive home the point. Resistance is actually counterproductive. A dragged off rod and reel is whatever comes after counterproductive.

Fluking is patterning. That means the hooking is localized, based on tides and bait presence. Inlets are a starting point, as are near-inlet creeks and channels. The big pattern to follow, once established, is in the ocean -- though nothing over dramatic is currently showing, except very close to the shoreline.

Some of the best flatttie reports are coming from some surfcasters throwing baited or GULP’ed jigs just beyond low-tide sandbars. “It was so clear, I could see fluke following in my jig,” said one BB caster, who caught a total of 12 flatties, keeping five. Give it a try, using GULP but adding natural scent and taste via squid strips.

Bassing is taking a little hiatus. When waters are too clear, only night and very early a.m. are holding fish. There should be another push of smaller bass starting soon. These are the fish that become over-summerers. They love clams and bunker chunks. They’re only semi-sold on artificials.

Bluefishing is still hanging around. Some all-headers, over 30 inches, are making their presence known. Per usual, the blues come and go as they choose. Locating them can be done with buck-tailed plastics – before switching over to Avas and teasers when the toothy ones are found.  

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Check out this John M sharkey catch and release: 

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=777063702327656&comment_id...

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I'm talkin about sharkin for a livin!

I'm talkin about sharkin for a livin!

took another run at the fluke today. wind against tide till 9a.m. the wind changed and the drift ran north. picked up 3 keepers and released two. kept one at 5.5 lbs
sun came out and so did the fish. best fishing in a long time.

took another run at the fluke today. wind against tide till 9a.m. the wind changed and the drift ran north. picked up 3 keepers and released two. kept one at 5.5 lbs sun came out and so did the fish. best fishing in a long time.
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Early signs point to a strong, disruptive El Niño

Whales and fish are showing up in odd places, nesting pelicans are in dire straits, and experts are increasingly convinced that this will be a significant event



El Niño

Yellowfin tuna are being caught far north of their typical range this season. Photo by Mark Rayor

A developing El Niño in the equatorial Pacific has generated the usual predictions of drastic weather changes—some devastating, some beneficial—throughout the world.

There’s a 90 percent probability that an El Niño will form, according to some experts. That’s up considerably from previous predictions, but the main question at this point is whether this will be moderate El Niño or, more likely, a powerful warm-water event such as those in the early 1980s and late ’90s.

(El Niño is characterized by unusually warm sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, whereas a La Niña is characterized by unusually cold temperatures. Strong El Niños typically alter weather patterns and can cause severe flooding in some areas, and droughts in others.)

The extent of El Niño’s strength won’t be known until late summer or fall. But based on several interesting signals, in the form of mammals, birds, and fish showing up where they don’t typically belong, it’s looking as though this El Niño is going to be a very powerful event.

El Niño

Bryde’s whale mom and calf swim off Huntington Beach, California, in an extremely rare sighting; photo by ©Alisa Schulman-Janiger

Earlier this week two Bryde’s whales, a mother and calf, were photographed during two voyages on the same day off Huntington Beach, California, by researcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger.

Bryde’s whales, which measure to about 45 feet, are fairly common in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. Sightings off California, however, are extremely rare.

Schulman-Janiger said that during NOAA surveys off California between 1991 and 2005, there was only one confirmed sighting of Bryde’s whales, which are also referred to as “tropical whales” because they prefer a warm environment.

El Niño

Mahi-mahi, such as this one, are already being encountered just south of the U.S.-Mexico border. Photo by ©Pete Thomas

Less than a week earlier, a large pod of pilot whales showed off Dana Point on the Orange County coast. Pilot whales are found around the world, including off Mexico, but it had been nearly 20 years since they were last spotted off Southern California.

In late March, false killer whales, another ultra-rare visitor from warmer waters, thrilled whale watchers off Orange County.

Marine creatures showing in odd places often portends strange happenings in their environment.

El Niño

Pilot whales, which had not been seen off California in almost 20 years, were spotted off Dana Point on June 7. Photo by ©Frank Brennan/Dana Wharf Whale Watching

Fishermen are seeing signs, also. Anglers out of San Diego, on short excursions into Mexican waters, began catching yellowfin tuna in May. That’s unprecedented, according to some, as this sub-tropical species typically doesn’t show that far north until late summer, if at all.

During the El Niño in 1983 to 1984 and 1997 to 1998, however, yellowfin tuna migrated north early and, during the summer, were caught well into U.S. waters. (The 1997-98 El Niño generated heavy rainfall throughout California during the winter, and prolonged periods of rough seas exacted a heavy toll on sea lions and other mammals. Sub-tropical fish species were biting as far north as Oregon.)

“We’ve already started to see very unusual fish catches here,” Tim Barnett, marine research emeritus with the San Diego-based Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told KPBS. “The first yellowfin tuna was caught in May—that has never happened before to anybody’s recollection.

“And the other thing too is the first dorado (mahi-mahi)—first of June. That has never happened before. They really like the warm water and you normally don’t see them here until September.”

El Niño

California brown pelicans, such as these two off Cabo San Lucas, are having a tough time in the Sea of Cortez, perhaps because of unseasonably warm water and a diminished bait fish supply. Photo by ©Pete Thomas

Barnett said the 1997 to 1998 El Niño, the biggest in a century, caused a northward shift of the entire fishery population, and he predicts a similar event is developing.

Water temperatures are unseasonably warm in some areas off Southern California, but only by a couple of degrees. Temperatures are significantly warmer than usual, however, off parts of western Mexico, including the Sea of Cortez.

This not only drives fish populations and some mammals beyond their typical range, but it causes shifts in bait fish populations.

This appears to have seriously affected California brown pelicans, about 90 percent of which breed and rear young in the Sea of Cortez.

Researchers recently discovered that the 2014 breeding season was so poor that one scientist referred to it as “a bust.”

El Niño

False killer whales off Dana Point in late March, in a very rare sighting; photo by ©Pete Thomas

Sam Anderson, a UC Davis biologist and part of a survey team that visited traditional nesting sites, told ABC News that where they would typically encounter tens of thousands of breeding pairs of pelicans, there were only sparse numbers. Some nesting sites were alarmingly deserted.

“That’s what we call a failure, a bust. The bottom dropped out,” Anderson said.

Mark Rayor, who runs Jen-Wren Sportfishing in the Sea of Cortez, in Baja California’s East Cape region, said sardines and other types of bait fish are largely absent.

Seasurfacetemps.jpeg

Rayor has logged water temperatures as high as 86 degrees, which is more typical of late July or August. He said blue marlin and sailfish, which generally begin to arrive in early August, are already showing in the offshore blue water. (Above NOAA chart shows where sea-surface temperatures are abnormally warm in portions of the Pacific.)

Anderson, however, was reluctant to place all of the blame for the pelicans’ plight on the developing El Niño.

“During most El Niño events we’ve seen, numbers of nesting attempts drop by at least half to two-thirds, and production goes down, too. But it drops from thousands to hundreds, not 10 or less.”

Whether El Niño is to blame or not, however, a powerful El Nino appears imminent, and the marine environment, on this side of the equator anyway, is already somewhat off-kilter.

And these are just some of the early messengers of change; they probably won’t be the last.

–Find Pete Thomas on Facebook and Twitter

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Buxton's beautiful point of contention

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A National Park Service sign blocks access to an area behind the dune line at Cape Point, N.C., on Wednesday, March 14, 2012. The area is reserved for bird use only. The Park Service is trapping animals in the area to protect the birds. <span class='credit'>(Steve Earley | The Virginian-Pilot)</span>

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A National Park Service sign blocks access to an area behind the dune line at Cape Point, N.C., on Wednesday, March 14, 2012. The area is reserved for bird use only. The Park Service is trapping animals in the area to protect the birds. (Steve Earley | The Virginian-Pilot)

CONFLICTING INTERESTS

The spit of sand is called the best surf-fishing spot in America, but the National Park Service closes part of the area during shorebird nesting season. Threatened shorebirds such as piping plovers and oystercatchers love the site for egg laying. Red foxes, raccoons, sea gulls, opossums, feral cats and other predators look for meals, and 250 animals were trapped last year.

By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© June 15, 2014

BUXTON, N.C.

Miltos Stephanitsis munched a vegetable wrap while keeping watch on three fishing rods standing upright in the sand, lines stretching into the surf.

He was catching sea mullet using sand fleas gathered from the ocean for bait. His red Jeep Wrangler parked near the high-tide line carried a cooler, buckets, food and about anything else he needed for the day.

"This keeps me from drinking in bars and gambling in casinos," Stephanitsis said. "It's a lot of fun."

Stephanitsis moved to Buxton years ago for the world-class angling, especially at Cape Point. The approximately 100-acre spit of ever-changing sand sticking out into the Atlantic Ocean is called the best surf-fishing spot in America.

He pointed a tanned arm south toward the point, cordoned off with signs and rope.

"That place used to be crowded this time of year with fishermen next to the water," he lamented.

The National Park Service closes the area during shorebird nesting season.

Cape Point attracts conflicting interests. Fishermen and off-road fans love it. Shorebirds and sea turtles return to it. Egg-eating predators seek out the delicacies available on it.

Of the 60-some miles managed by park staff, Cape Point is at the crux of lawsuits and legislative efforts on behalf of both beach-driving enthusiasts and wildlife advocates.

Hurricanes love to strike the point, too. Opposing winds and waves formed it and still push it around. Marine and bird life from the north and south converge there at the outskirts of their range. The Labrador Current and Gulf Stream collide offshore from the point.

Threatened shorebirds like piping plovers and oystercatchers love the wide-open, flat surface and coarse sand for egg laying, said Randy Swilling, natural resources program manager for the Park Service.

"The same pairs come back to the same location every single year," he said.

Birds defend nests, dive-bomb intruders and search for food, squawking up an avian orchestra over the rhythm of breaking surf.

Red foxes, raccoons, sea gulls, opossums, feral cats and other predators come to where the action is, looking for a meal. Park Service staff members trapped 250 animals last year in hopes of saving eggs and chicks, Swilling said.

It is unknown how much the efforts to hold off people and predators in the summer have helped with nesting success, according to a Park Service report. More young birds lived to leave the nest in 2009 than in 2013.

Jesse McNinch, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oceanographer, devoted his doctoral thesis in the 1990s to discovering what made and maintains Cape Point. It isn't the two offshore currents, as is commonly believed. Dominant winds and waves from the northeast and from the southwest shaped the point and create the shoals stretching for miles offshore, said McNinch, who works at the Field Research Facility in Duck.

"The point is just the tip of the iceberg," he said.

Waves and wind there affect geology along much of North Carolina's coast, he said.

Longtime surf fisherman and Buxton resident Warren Wetmore says this convergence of currents, winds and waves stirs up the water at his favorite angling spot. It's what brings everything together in one place.

Wetmore's long white hair and beard fluttered in the ocean breeze as he fished near the surf. His Dodge Ram pickup with wide tires deflated to 20 pounds rested easily atop the deep sand. A large American flag flapped on a pole attached to the truck bed. He was set up with about 20 others - including Stephanitsis - within a 300-yard space, blocked from Cape Point, the place of his favorite fishing memory.

"Those of us who could cast where they wanted could get what they wanted," he said. "If you cast to the right, you caught blues. If you cast to the left, you caught Spanish mackerel. It was one of the best shows I've ever seen."

Jeff Hampton, 252-338-0159, jeff.hampton@pilotonline.com

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And GoPro makes three... 

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Eat Bluefish!

Keeper stripers showed in good numbers this week, so why the F are we killing them all!

Photo by Capt. John McMurray

Photo by Capt. John McMurray

Yes, we finally had some good striper fishing this week, which is a darn good thing, as at least for a few days I don’t feel like strangling everyone.

What’s left of the last strong year class we had, the 2003s, seems to have finally stumbled across all those immense schools of bunker that have been loitering along the south shore of western Long Island. (The 2011s were strong also, but they have yet to recruit). It was actually pretty epic at times, with adult menhaden spraying out of the water as 25- to 35-pound bass boiled underneath them. They were taking surface plugs, even flies if you fished them right. Most people of course were live lining. … Pretty mucheveryone was killing fish. I mean a lot of them. Unfortunate that this exploded on Sunday, so there were a lot of boats out and a lot of guys on the beach. All of them killing fish.

I get it, man. Bass haven’t really been around in good numbers in the last few years, so when they did show, everyone felt they had the right. And I suppose they did. Still, it doesn’t make it right.

But before getting to that, lemme just talk about the lack of fish. Some of the unenlightened still blame it on the weather, confirming their armchair theories with the sudden onslaught of 2003s in June. But that ain’t it. There are simply less stripers around. We all see it on the water, and it’s been pretty well documented by the pointy-head science guys, also. But these infrequent slugs of fish moving though, while awesome even as they become more short-lived and infrequent, probably aren’t helping convince managers that there’s a real problem.

It’s not unusual for fish to be locally abundant, even when a stock is depleted overall, and such pockets of good fish stand out even more when they appear in an otherwise empty sea. They have become the new norm in the striped bass fishery, and it’s kinda a bummer. I pretty much built my business around the schoolie fishery. I really hate to be one of those old guys waxing about “how it used to be,” but we used to consistently catch a dozen, maybe two dozen fish in the 18- to 24-inch range, with the occasional good fish (in the 30- to 40-inch range) mixed in. Even if we didn’t catch a good fish, there was always the expectation that we could, and that always brought people back.

Now what we have are scenarios like the one I described above, where we have brief but extraordinary showings of fish, all of which are generally large. A couple of years ago, right around July 4th , we actually stuck more 40 and 50s in the space of a just few days than I had ever seen in my life. On the third day, I ran out of Breezy Point after telling my clients how awesome it had been the prior two days to find the same sort of bait concentrations, identical conditions, but zero fish. The small but concentrated body of fish had simply moved on. There wasn’t much before them, and nothing came in their wake.

I’m all for extraordinary fishing, but it’s tough to handle the huge highs and then the low lows. I imagine it’s like coming down from a good crack buzz or something. Leaves you empty and just wanting more. For sure I’d rather just have the sort of consistency we used to have, which comes with a healthy fishery and a good distribution of age classes, so I don’t feel like I want to punch everyone during three-quarters of the fishing season.

But I’ve talked about all this stuff before, and I’m getting off track. The point is that when these fish do show up, why do we all feel compelled to kill them? I mean, come on man. Don’t we realize that these are the last of a great year class and it would benefit us all to just let them go so that maybe we can catch them again next year? For Christ’s sake, the big ones don’t even taste good! If you’ve ever eaten a fish over 40 inches I’m guessing you know what I mean. They have those thin purple veins throughout the fillet. I imagine it’s very similar to eating a ribeye from an 80-year-old steer. Yuck!

While we’re on the subject, striped bass in general doesn’t really taste like anything. Sure it’s “white” and “flakey,” which for some reason is what the magazines say we should want from our fish, but seriously, it’s relatively tasteless. Sure, it’s good when you fry it, but anything is good fried. I suppose all the chefs like it because it’s, well, bland and serves as a good medium for various sauces they’ve concocted, and I get that also. But I dunno man. When I eat fish, I kinda want it to taste like fish.

So … brass tacks. I’m sure there are some who may disagree with me here, but as a food fish, striped bass generally sucks. And as we all pretty much know at this point, the stock is in trouble. If all of you guys really give a shit about the stock as much as you say you do, then stop killing them! I know, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the hunt. Hell, if you don’t get all fired up when it goes off, then you shouldn’t be fishing! But take a step back next time you get into them good. And think to yourself all the reasons you should just snap a quick photo and throw that big beautiful fish back in the water, so it can spawn again, so that another angler can encounter it one day, when it’s even bigger!

Photo by Capt. John McMurray

Photo by Capt. John McMurray

Listen, there are plenty of bluefish around right now. In fact, I’ve been having some epic fishing in just a couple feet of water, fishing poppers for some monster bluefish. If you are turning your nose up right now, you are gonna have a really tough seven or eight years before the striped bass resource gets back to where it should be. And that’s assuming Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission does the right thing, and we all know it may not.

The point is that if you want to bring something home for the table, kill a bluefish.

Don’t give me that bullshit about how you simply “don’t like” bluefish. And yeah, I’ve heard the one about placing a bluefish on plank. Placing the plank and the fish on a grill. Cooking for 30 minutes, then throwing away the fish and eating the plank.

The truth is the stigma comes from all those jackasses eating bluefish that are either too large (and have been eating bunker their whole lives) or aren’t fresh. Dollars to doughnuts, if you don’t like bluefish, that’s because you haven’t prepared them right. So I’m gonna do you a huge favor and give you my double-secret bluefish recipe, even though I’ve been hoarding it for myself and my family for the last 20 years.

Trust me. If you like fish at all, you will like this!

First, cut the throat of the fish when you catch it and let it bleed out on the ice. Then,

  • Take a “small” bluefish (5 pounds and under), fillet and skin.
  • Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees or as hot as that MF will go
  • Put a generous slab of butter on a 12 inch by 12 inch piece of aluminum foil
  • Put the fillet on top of it
  • Generously salt then cover it with lemon pepper (if you don’t have, then just use lemon juice and cracked pepper)
  • Put two more generous tabs of butter on top
  • Slice up some onions and place across the fillet
  • Wrap up the fillet
  • Place it on a cookie sheet
  • Note: if you do more than one fillet, wrap each fillet individually
  • Cook for 8 to 10 minutes
  • Put on plate, open the foil and eat right from the foil (note: there is no reason to remove it from the foil. If you do that you will totally F it up).
  • Note: Asparagus goes really good with this, and so does a baked potato … and, um, so does an ice cold Budweiser out of a can. You fancy beer snobs can drink whatever trendy IPA you might have in the fridge. And, um, the wife says pinot grigio goes well with it also.

Yes, bluefish is a “fishy” tasting fish, and yes, the big ones can be “oily.” But the ones under five pounds, if fresh, are really F’n good if you just give them a chance – especially when they are prepared in the way described above, where you are basically steaming the fillet in butter. I mean really, what could be better? There are a lot of other ways to prepare them. Capt. Paul Eidman makes ceviche, which I haven’t yet tried, but I’m told is awesome. (Hook us up with a recipe, Paul!)

The point of all this drivel about killing/cooking/eating bluefish is so you knuckleheads might think twice about killing bass in the increasingly rare instances they do show these days. Seriously, just because they haven’t been around, should we knock the shit out of them when they do show? Is that bland striped bass fillet with the gnarly veins running though it worth the spawning potential you just destroyed? The answer is no! All the talk means nothing if you choose not to walk the walk. Take home a couple of bluefish instead. Try that recipe, then thank me in the morning.

Peace…

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