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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Monday march 24, 2008 -- Mobile fishing threat in LBT; Slow stripering, death via airborne fish

Monday, March 24, 2008:


Long Beach Township commissioners are considering a shortening of the beach buggy season by something like 6 weeks. That would put a huge glitch in mobile angling -- and Island surfcasting in general.
I might agree with a week loping off a week from either end of the current beach-driving season. Any longer and the number of beachgoers being served by the closure would not be commensurate with the removal of a historic usage, tapped into by a growing contingent of mobile anglers.
What I hate is the fact that the fall and spring usages by the beachgoers are always limited to fair weather conditions. A heavily extended buggy closure would be there for the sake of beachgoers who as often as not decide against coming down for a given weekend or Susie’s school play. Many days – and even weeks – the beaches would be closed to mobile anglers just for the sake of what are essentially weekend warriors. We’ve been through this anti-mobile fishing threat before and surfcasters have risen up in opposition. That was when there were far fewer anglers. Still, nowadays, more and more municipal leaders are pampering deep-pocketed part-time residences at the expense of fulltime users, i.e. locals.
I will be talking with the commissioners tomorrow and will get the whole story. What I have to this point are some emails on the subject. I am not being overly dramatic by saying any such extension of the buggy exclusion period is an awful precedent.
There is also an effort to keep buggies 25 feet from the dune toe. That is fully impossible and reflects a [possible veiled effort to totally restrict buggying LBT. That is a dramatization on my part but I worry about this stuff a lot as I see more and more cases of well-heeled types driving out us be-wadered folks. However, we now also have a load of moneyed casters so it’s not like we’re all bucket-sitters.
I also talked with Margaret (Jingles) and she’ll be stopping by LBT municipal complex tomorrow. More then.
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There were a lot of anglers out and about, at least based on my rods on trucks observations. Many have been heading to the Mullica zone. While the big talk is always Graveling Point, I see as many local anglers heading up river, to places that include some very secretive landings that I would be instantly gutted if I disclosed. As for the upriver bridges at the Banks, they can be surmised by simply looking at any road map, noting the river crossover points. I strongly advise friendliness and discretion if coming upon those bridges when they’re being heavily worked by local anglers.
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Freshwater fishing is starting kinda slow due mainly to the cold nights. Obviously, pickerel are a sure thing but largemouth bass are sluggish to say the least. A flavored white plastic worm bumped slowly from a Texas rig with black bullet weight worked for one hardcore caster I know. Even then, the hits were often tail grabs.
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I received half a dozen emails about a female boater, Judy Kay Zagorski, 57, of Pigeon, Mich., being killed in the Florida Keys when a 75-pound spotted eagle ray jumped out of the water and struck her in the face.
Despite a couple emailers’ claims she was killed by the ray’s poisonous barb, the Monroe County medical examiner, Dr. Michael Hunter, determined the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the skull.
With Steve Erwin’s tragic death by a ray sting still on many minds, it turns out the out-of-water impact by rays is easily as dangerous as the threat posed by the barbs of these fish. Along with the likes of the above-mentioned collision, there have even been deaths from small boats being sunk by huge manta rays purposefully leaving the water to crush the craft.
For me, the strangest impact threat from fish comes from a sub-pint-sized species. In Hawaii, there is a much danger from punt needlefish as sharks.
Those needlefish are maybe a 12 to 18 inches long, about as round as a thick pen and almost identical to those we see locally (though we also get some huge models). However, the needlefish in Hawaii display a feeding behavior not quite as commonly seen in our local variety. A single needlefish, or just as often a small school of them, will propel itself out of the water in multiple successive low-trajectory jumps, skipping along the surface for sometimes ten feet or further. This maneuver is done to confuse smaller forage fish below. Doing this, the needlefish utilizes speed, surprise and a sharply pointed stout, which easily cuts through the water and is very sensitive to stimuli, allowing the fish to snap at anything it rubs against in the water.
It’s hard to believe but there have been a number of fatalities and blindings of humans by jumping needlefish in Hawaii. The most common victims are surfers, as they paddle with their faces close to water, right in the jumping zone of the needlefish.
In the two fatalities I read about over my 20-plus winters there, both involved waveriders being essentially impaled through the eye socket and into the brain. I recently read on the Internet that a child was similarly killed in Kauai. There have been a number of blindings due to similar impacts.
And it’s not just waveriders threatened by needlefish. Here’s a read from the World Health Organization:
“The various species of needlefish pose a more significant threat to humans. Needlefish are slender, possess very long, strong and pointed jaws and reach an average length of 1.8m. They are most often found swimming in surface waters. At night, they are strongly attracted by bright lights. Cases of fishermen or divers on night expeditions being severely wounded and even killed by jumping needlefish have been reported (Halstead et al., 1990).”
Tourists going out for night swims in the Waikiki waters, a common needlefish haunt, have been impaled by needlefish. Honolulu County lifeguards can offer numerous tales of such body piercing.
While surfing in various sites around the world, I have often seen “skipping” needlefish and have even had close calls while paddling in Hawaii. Once near Ala Moana (Waikiki), I had a needlefish leap out of the water and poke the inside of my leg while I was sitting on my surfboard. It bled like crazy. Yes, it was dangerously close to a far more sensitive impact zone.
The reason there is an unusually high interrelationship between paddling surfers and needlefish is both are active early morning and early evening, top surfing times. Though primarily nocturnal feeders, needlefish also utilize the low-light hours of dusk and dawn. Adding to the mix is the way a paddled surfboard frightens the forage fish sought by needlefish, resulting in an attack response from the needlefish. Also, when a surfer is sitting on a board waiting for a wave, the board acts as cover where the forage fish gather, which was likely the reason I ended up with one on my lap.
Locally, night-feeding needlefish are the number one splashing sound heard around docks on hot summer nights. The big difference here is how recumbent the needlefish become during the day, plus they are primarily bayside dwellers (except during fall migration) so waveriders don’t paddle into their feeding zones.
I do have to note one aspect of our needlefish that many fishing folks are unaware. They can get huge – to the point of prime night fishing prey – or so I would suppose. No, I’m not talking those puny needlefish models we see migrating along the beach come fall. Many times a summer (sometimes on a nightly basis) I go out “spotting” with a handheld million-CP flashlight. While crabs are my main prey, I also like going to the west side of the Dike (High Bar Harbor) to spotlight the largest needlefish I’ve ever seen anywhere on the planet – and still have them be officially “needlefish.” And not barracuda. Yes, we have a few barracuda, not many.
The needlefish I’ve seen out there have been without an inch of exaggeration, the size of a medium Wiffle Ball bat. Anyone who balks at that is invited out for a night scoping adventure this summer. The fun part of needlefish spotting is the way the spotlight causes the fish to stop in its tracks, right near the surface. You can literally grab them by the tail, though they will readily swing around and bite any hand that grabs. Anyone who has cleared needlefish from a cast net knows they are one of the only fish that will, with full intent, swing around the bite the bejeezus out of any hand grabbing them. For that reason, there’s no way I’d hand-catch the mongo needlefish, though it’s fun just to touch them and break them from the spotlight-induced trance.

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