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Feb. 12, 08 -- Sing a song of ticks; Jumbo stripers to the south

Sing a song of ticks; Jumbo stripers to the south



Well, this week I’m going big on bass, as you’ll see below.
I should first note that I’m a tad down this issue. I was sure I’d see a Grammy go to Brad Paisley’s song “I’d like to check you for ticks,” also called “Ticks.”
I’m sure there are a few of you less-than-country folks who think this is just me pulling your gold Italian chains. Nope. There was absolutely a Grammy-nominated song called “Ticks” with the lines, “I’d like to walk you through a field of wildflowers and I’d like to check you for ticks.”
The first time I heard this song, instead of picking up on its sexy subtlety, I’m instantly fretting over why in the hell they would go out in that-there field without a big-ass load of DEET-based repellent. And although I’m far from an expert on such things, I think the surge of that sexy in-field moment would be lost by, like, the second tick you find on the gal’s back. Hell, not only would she be screaming and running back to the truck but someone like me would be mowing her over trying to get back there first.
Listening to that “Ticks” song, I just know its words came from some country music writer, Jello-brained on Bubba’s Beer, trying to win a challenge centered on who could write a song about the most bizarre topic of all time. Being able to even incorporate ticks into a song should be worthy of a Grammy. “The winner of this year’s Grammy’s for the best use of a blood-sucking insect and/or spider in a love song goes to …”
What gets me is this song has just made its writer a fortune.
And, just like that, I’m working on a little ditty I’m callin’ “You don’t find no pearls in a piss clam, darlin’. ”
Early on, I only a have a distant sense of what that even means but I’m sure you can immediately feel the combination of irony, sincerity and, uh, total stupidity needed to go to the top of the Country and Western charts.
“The winner of this year’s Grammy for the best use of piss-clams in a love song goes to …”
I’d like to thank …






JUST AN ODD OCEAN TALE: One’s country gold is another’s invasive species, or so it would seem.

The Barents Sea, located north of Norway and Russia, is apparently becoming a tourist resort for snow crabs – tons and tons and tons of them.

Upwards of 10 to 12 million of these taste-tempting crabs are now rivering toward that coldwater sea. But instead of standing anxiously waiting with open wallets and melted butter in hand, the crab fishermen in that area are fidgeting in apprehension.

Seems the Barents Sea crabbers only have eyes for king crabs, which are worth many times more than snow crabs. What’s more, the snow crabs, also known as opilio, are highly invasive, haling from half way around the world. The invading opilio, likely arriving in the sea as larva carried within the ballast of international ships, will immediately equal the number of king crabs in the sea.

If you’re one of the legions of fans who annually follow the high adventures of the crab fishermen of Alaska, featured on the Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch,” you have to be fully baffled over why Euro-fishermen would look on the opilio as a pressing problem while those in the Bering Sea risk their lives to harvest them.

The best answer may be fear of the eco-unknown.

The king crab harvest is the bread-and-butter fishery associated with the Barents Sea.
The problem is, there is nothing to indicate the opilio won’t just keep on coming, overpopulating the environment, while attacking (and possible fatally unbalancing,) the entire ecosystem.
But there’s an odd what-man-hath-wrought twist to this tale.
Turns out the coveted Barents Sea king crabs are also fully non-indigenous. They were introduced into that sea by the Russians in 1966. The transplant worked and the king crab fishery became astoundingly lucrative.
Now, it comes down to an uninvited non-indigenous species versus an invited non-indigenous species.
My guess is the crabbers in that area, including economically challenged Russian fishermen, will surely develop a taste for sweet snow crabs. To speed up the process, I sent the DVD of the past seasons of “Deadliest Catch.” I underlined the parts when each crewmember got paid for his share of the haul.

FILL ‘ER WITH SALT: This is yet another whacky water thing – one that might affect all of us in the not-distant future.
John Kanzius, a Pennsylvania medical researcher, was refining a radio-frequency generator for the treatment of cancer. For whatever reason (“Hey, back off, man, I’m a scientist”), John tried his electronic devise on saltwater to see if he could desalinate it. Hey, why not.
Damnedest thing happened. As long as the saltwater had the electronic current running through it, it would essentially burn.
As other scientists replicated the procedure, it was scientifically surmised that the electrical current was loosing the hydrogen bonds in the saltwater. Not only were hydrogen atoms being freed but also the energy from such a chemical reaction was being released. Technically, the saltwater was burning – and stayed ignited as long at a specific electrical current passed through newly introduced saltwater. According to published reports, that energy reached more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
That’s all kinda wild, though I think that 3,000-degree report might be a tad high – a big tad. What’s more, it begs the question how much ultra-costly electricity does it take to burn saltwater? If you’ve gotten your Atlantic Electric bill lately you know that current to ignite saltwater doesn’t come cheap.
Still, it’s mind-boggling to think that we might someday just pull up to the ocean’s edge to fill ‘er up. Hey, the fish could make a fortune if they play their cards right. I instantly get this strange vision of fish all swimming around dressed like sheiks.


THAT’S BIG OF YOU (REDNECK): This is a purely sour grapes wrapped in a zesty layer of jealousy and sprinkled with a healthy shake of resentment.
I’ve gotten word from a number of sources that the stripering in the MA/NC/VA zone has reached the mind-boggling level, particularly size-wise.
Down that way, 60-pound-plus stripers are so common they’re barely drawing a mention by the outdoor writing media, likely jaded by the recent media blitz over Fred Barne’s 73-pounder. Fifty-pounders don’t even get glory time at the tackle shop scales. Said one tackle shop owner, “It’s just another 50-pounder when it comes in.” I was told of a smaller boat that had five 50-pound-plus “rockfish” in one session.
By the by, that fab fishing is fully boat-based – and, no, not every boat out there goes big time. In fact, small fish sometimes dominate to the point of bitter frustration, I’m told. I just feel awful for those guys having to deal with so many fish. Yeah, right.
This weekend, I got an email from a fellow writer who is a bona fide expert on huge bass. Tony Checko, author of the recently published book, “The Striped Bass 60 + pound Club,” wrote me:
“I spoke to Lee Tolliver of the “Virginia Pilot” newspaper, Norfolk , VA., via phone concerning the 73-pound bass caught by Fred Barnes on Jan 29, 2007. He told me it has been the greatest of striped bass seasons in that area. Since late 2007 to now, 14 bass over 60 pounds have been caught, all by boat. Even Mass. can't top that…”
In another communiqué, Tony asked my read on that near glut of monster striper down there.
I simply referenced my recent column theorizing a hugely significant southward shift in the biomass of monster stripers. That is not necessarily an indication that the overall population distribution has shifted, though it does seem the total number of striped bass is also now far greater from the Delaware Bay southward to off North Carolina -- as it has long been, just not to the current extent.
But we’re talking size here. And the evidence is now through the tin roof that the biggest and baddest bass have southern drawls.
So why are they growing bigger down there? Well, it ain’t grits.
The most logical answer is forage and a longer eating season.
Despite much-publicized shortfalls of bunker in the Chesapeake Bay itself, that nutritional deficit does not exist in the ocean off the Chesapeake.
Despite heavy fishing pressure and even pollution problems related to runoff from the land, virtually all the waters along the entire Atlantic seaboard are very rich in marine life, with an enhanced natural diversity and plentitude from around the Delmarva southwards, due mainly to warmer waters and the effects of the Gulf Stream.
Truth be told, we are highly under-appreciative of how much sea life we have when compared to most countries of the world. Sure, when we target a species it gets battered to hell and back but for every species we slam to the edge of slaughter, I can show you a dozen non-targeted forms of marine life that are proliferating. I think the stripers are duly appreciative. Maybe even a tad overly appreciative, as they engorge upon even species that we’re trying to help recover.
The southerly shift in super stripers could imply a swing in migratory patterns.
It has long been known that our waters experience bass moving up from the south, the famed “Chesapeake stock.” There is likely an occasional drift downward of Hudson River stocks.
That migratory angle is intrinsic to our fishing action, since we have very little in the way of strictly local bass, short of a small biomass that may (or may not) be associated with the Mullica River.
Could there be some ecological or environmental changes taking place, possibly due to climatic changes, that is stymieing the annual northerly migratory drift of Chesapeake bass?
There sure seems to be anecdotal evidence that the Chesapeake stocks are not moving northward in the same manner they may have in the past.
A possibility for this migratory malaise could be that way-adequate forage thereabouts.
One exception, forage-wise, is the amazing dining that can be had here in spring, when bunker schools are thick as bricks along the Jersey coastline. It is very easy to imagine the northern edge of the Chesapeake big-bass biomass drifting slightly northward to feast on our menhaden, then drifting back into the depths off the Delmarva when the hot summer water set in.
Well, if that’s true, we’re not far from the start of a potentially whooping spring cow bass season.
NOTE: Smaller stripers now abound everywhere -- north south and in-between. In fact, they are so numerous they might blur what’s actually going on with the big bass.
MORE ANGLERS MEAN MORE COWS: I do want to add a very gerund point made by a reader who splits time between North Carolina and here. He points out that the population growth along the coastlines of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland is as insane as we’re seeing locally.
He wrote, “I agree that the number of large stripers being caught off the coast (of the Chesapeake region) seems high but I’ve also noticed the huge increase in the number of winter fishermen over just that past 15 years …”
That’s a huge point. Could these big fish, many over 30 years old, be falling to newly arriving fishing pressure? You may recall that right before the coastal collapse of the striped bass fishery (1980s) that the take of cows was actually all-time. One wonders if the removal of smaller (more aggressive fish), eventually exposes the remaining larger (smarter?) fish?
CHECK OUT THE SIXTIES: Above, I mentioned Tony Checko’s new book “The Striped Bass 60 + pound Club,”

Being an editor, reporter and researcher, I have to say this book is nothing less than a superfine effort to verbally to catch the emotions and intricacies surrounding the taking of a 60-pound-plus bass. By interviewing the catchers and writing up the info surrounding their super-striper catches, the book offer many details that a serious striped bass angler will find vital to personal pursuits to crack the 60-pound barrier.

In Tony’s words

The book’s concept stemmed from Tony’s research into any and all existing angling records. He quickly recognized the magic cut-off point where a striped bass angler entered into another high-hooking dimension was ushered in by the taking of a bass of 60 pounds or larger.
In his research, he couldn’t even find 100 registered 60-pounders caught by anglers. What’s more, many of the anglers who became members if the fully prestigious 60-pound club had passed on with no detailed record of their amazing bass takes.

“Investigation showed many of these men and women who had caught these big bass have passed on or can’t be found and their stories lost.
“After interviewing many of these men and women, I realized that each story contained the passion of its angler and the determination of its foe, the striped bass. These rare stories should be preserved; once lost, they will be gone forever. They contain passions from real men and women who have spent countless days, months of even years seeking this trophy.”
The book will soon be available through Amazon at he likes. Tony will also be circulating through the crowd at this weekend’s Southern Regional Fishing Rams Fishing Flea Market, Saturday at the Southern Regional Middle School. (See “Calendar” in this week’s SandPaper for details on the market.)

RIP IGNITES WITH BIRDPLAY: There has been amazing birdplay at the Holgate rip during the outgoing tide. I’ve seen hundreds of gulls swooping, fairly frantically, eating something or other. My pretty-certain guess is the herring gulls are going after sand eels, or, more specifically, the larvae of same.
Sand eels, also known as sand lance due to their spear-like body shape, are hugely important as forage for everything from gamefish to whales. They are famous for their ability to bury themselves in the bottom sand in under a second. The bottom habitat is favored by these small soft-bodied fishes but when under heavy attack from bottom-feeding predators, they bolt upwards toward the surface. Also, sand eels seemingly ball up during spawns (see below). As I’ve oft noted in here, there has been a horrific decline in sand eels in the past 15 or so years.
The odd thing with sand eels is how little is known about them. There is virtually no data on their spawning tendencies. However, the larvae have been known to abound in January and February off the New England seaboard, based on tows taken by scientists aboard the Fish Hawk, between 1924-25 1920s. That was done in Cape Cod. Those dates would align with right here, right now, for us.
However, the same intense birdplay phenomenon taking place at the Rip right now, took place a few winters back -- and it wasn’t larvae involved. There were dark patches of balled up sand eels near the surface. The baitballs were the size of a house and shifted around the shoals, which were near the Rip back then. Back then, I used top-grade Nikon binoculars and clearly saw gulls grabbing full-grown, maximum-sized sand eels. That observation was backed by two high-proof incidents. One morning, I found dead stranded sand eels as I was driving the beach (January). They had been driven ashore at night by, possibly, hake. I also saw gulls fighting over a single sand eel. It was lost over the beach and fell to the ground to allow me a positive ID.
In my research on this species, I found some astounding accounts of fish, namely cod, scarfing down sand eels from thick pods. The sand eels noses were so sharp, some of the swallowed fish apparently used a swimming and burying action inside the fish’s belly and drove though the wall of the stomach cavity and became encysted in the fish’s body, found in captured fish being cleaned.

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