WEEKLY COLUMN BELOW THIS UPDATE:
Thursday, May 08, 2008: I have two weigh-ins for the Simply bsssin’ but haven’t gotten the forms in hand.
Trying to report on fishing is totally insane so far this year. It literally comes down to one guys doing super and a couple others doing squat. I stand by the certainty that the weather is a huge player – as a lead-in to the next couple days when the skies could get tricky.
I had a hugely upbeat report at 7-11 (SB) today by an angler who had three keeper bass on the beach and has been mugging big weakfish (10-pounhd-plus league). He was understandably very hush-mouthed about locales but he did acknowledge it was South End hooking.
SIDEBAR: The above weakie-stalker swears by pink plastic “slugs.” I sure see the rationale. These squat, essentially no-tailed plastics are what I call inhale baits. Unlike tail grabs common with longer slinkier plastics, slugs shapes invite full-mouth hits. What’s more, less is better when it comes to waggle this time of year. Things are slower. A sluggish hopping action is an easy chance for weakfish in 55-degree water. Obviously, the bluefish have a harder time re-tailing a slug.
The local bassing is next in line after those fine hookups down Brigantine way – and now a super insurgence of major bass in the heretofore kinda quiet Cape May Rips. I think we’ll see a couple lookers this weekend. Make sure to sign up for Simply Bassin’ 2008 before you make the acquaintance of 40-pounder. In the past I would have never suggested clams as bait for the bigger bass but that “clams=small stripers” equation has been totally blown out of the water in recent years.
The cocktail bluefish are in the bay however they are not nearly as prevalent as a year ago, at least not in the widespreadedness of the biomass. I had an email asking about smoking the spring bluefish fillets. He noted the skinnier size and was wondering if they were as good to smoke as in the fall. BETTER by far. I can actually taste the impact of the heavy grass shrimp diet of spring blues, especially when smoking – or, in my case, jerking. Obviously, the thinner filets mean less time in the smoker/dryer.
There is some confusion over LBT beach buggy regs: LBT is closing the beaches on May 31.
Here’s a related email: Hey Jay,
“I just want to start by saying I am an avid reader of your column for many years now. I really appreciate all the hard work you put into keeping LBI fisherman like myself informed of everything that goes on when we can't be there. But I have a question I really need answered. I've been hearing two different stories about when the season ends for beach buggy usage. I've heard its either supposed to be May 15th (a Thursday) or June 1st (a Sunday). And then to begin going back on the beach in the fall will be either September 1st (when Holgate opens) or October 1st. Now I know all of the townships open at different times but there usually a couple weeks apart. If you or anyone could put some clarity to this question I would really appreciate it.
Thanks, Dan S”
(The early closure is off. LBT closes June 1.
Fall will be the same as usual with Holgate opening when the Refuge takes down the fencing, likely Sept. 30. The rest of LBT opens, as usual, on Oct 1.
There will likely be a two week earlier closure next spring but in turn we hope to get the Jap Hole section of LBT -- from Beach Haven south to the parking Lot, open earlier in the fall -- when Beach Haven opens, circa Sept. 15.
Hope that's clear. J-mann)
Here’s an NY fluke update and an eye-opening NY bass report: “hey jay just like to let all the new yokers know that fluke regs are finalized 4 fish at 20 1/2 in. may 15th to sept 1st and that the striper fishing off staten island has been awesome ive only had one short in the last month with the biggest going 39in 30lbs.”
I know you enjoy the reports from far afield so here goes... The west branch was running low and clear, 300 cfs or so on average over the last 4 days, the temperatures started at around 48* on Saturday and warmed into the mid fifties by Tuesday.. The caddis hatches were strong, but mainly ignored by the native brown trout. The Hendricksons were on but not in extra ordinary numbers, some blue quills were on the water with as well as a few blue winged olives and the occasional black stonefly. The trout were feeding off and on most days and seemed to be targeting the hendricksons, taking male duns, size 14, female emergers in size 12, and male spent wing spinners in size 14. You could not go heavier than a 5x tippet and expect to catch a fish. Several fish were caught up to 22”. The smallest being a 13” rainbow, (the only rainbow of the trip). The browns were mainly 16” and above. Great trip, very demanding and wonderful river, you just could not take a fish with a sloppy presentation, it had to be a downstream drag free float or no dice. The west branch fish are amazingly strong with runs taking you deep into your backing and fights lasting over 10 minutes.
Beat the Drum – Loudly
SAY WHAT?: This a must-pass-on phone conversation I had recently.
I have to remain fairly unwise-assish in relating this tale since it is a highly personal life incident for the caller’s dad, who is still alive and well.
The caller was responding to a piece I wrote on drumfish and the way some anglers can actually hear the huge fish beneath the water as they move into the bay for a spring spawn.
Well, this fellow had a damn bizarre tale relating to, of all things, a drumfish experience his dad, Al, had. This was way back in the day so it may have been red drum, i.e. channel bass.
Per the caller: His dad was born in the city and at a young age fell in with a bad crowd. By 13, his own parents were referring to him as “the hoodlum.”
“I won’t get into the details but he was getting into a lot of bad trouble,” said the caller.
In full-blown save-the-kid desperation, they sent hoodlum-boy down the Shore (hereabouts) to spend a summer with his bayman grandfather, known as the Old Man. “They knew if anyone could straighten (my dad) out it was the Old Man,” said the caller.
As he headed for the coastline, Al was city-wise and street-wise beyond his years. He hardly seemed suited for plying the tricky bay waters for profit and personal improvement; after all, a single purse snatch could net more than 1,000 cherrystone clams would fetch.
Despite his concrete and steel background, Al quickly found life on the bay wasn’t half bad. During that first summer with the Old Man, Al impressively handled the demanding lifestyle of baymen.
Returning home in the fall, Al was no saint but didn’t seem to be going bad as quickly as before.
It was the second summer at the Shore that the first drumfish episode took place.
“My dad perfectly remembers being in the garvey and having the Old Man tell him to put his ear on the bottom of the boat to listen for any drumfish.”
The Old man would even put his head to garvey bottom and say, “Yep there’s some drum down there.”
The drum-listening concept was so bizarre that Al’s street smarts told him it had to be total BS.
“My dad just wouldn’t do it. For the next couple summers the Old Man kept telling him to listen for the drumfish but he’d completely ignored him. It got to be a question of trust, I think,” said the caller.
And who would think a small issue like that would become a life burden for Al?
Jumping ahead, Al normalized – surely helped along by his summer baymanship -- to the point he became a huge success story in industry.
Then, the Old Man died suddenly. Al took it real hard.
Now comes the weird part. The caller said his dad “to this day” pines over the fact he distrusted the Old Man and never put his ear to the bottom of the garvey to listen for drumfish.
“My dad brings it up a lot. I actually get pissed off at him. For some reason he doesn’t remember the good stuff just that drumfish thing,” said the caller.
As I’m listening to the caller go into downright maudlin details of this family micro-trauma, I soon have my hand lightly over my mouth in one of those “You can’t be serious” gestures.
As a prelude to passing on some life-changing information to the caller – and subsequently to his dad – I explained that I had a short stint back in my formative years when I hung with some of the last hard-core Island baymen. Without going into immediate detail, I emphasized that most baymen back in the day were all but nutcases when it came to coming up with tall tales and, even more so, inane pranks.
Not sure how the caller would take it, I guaranteed -- absolutely and completely -- that the Old Man telling Al to put his ear on the bottom of the boat to listen for drumfish was, indeed, an effort to offer the boy a vital life lesson; but, it wasn’t centered on the glory of nature or the miraculous sound a spawning drumfish could make. With 100 percent certainty, I assured the caller that once the boy had his ear pinned to the bottom of the boat the Old Man would have dropped an anchor on the bottom near Al’s head -- laughing himself over the sideboard, as Al writhed on the boat bottom with a screaming eardrum.
There was a long silence on the caller’s end. Then he asked, “Really?”
“You better believe it. I know this with a certainty beyond measure, my friend.”
Post script: Have I ever mentioned that, for most of my life, my left ear has never been quite normal?
Yep, I was once told by old Sprague-y that you could actually hear the clams squirting water out their siphons if you listened real close.
“Really?” I asked, looking into the most sincere eyes a baymen could muster when sober.
“Absolutely, son. Just go on and put your ear right there on the boat bottom.”
“Wow, I gotta hear this.”
“That’s it, put your ear on the bottom nice and tight. Ya hear ‘em yet?”
“Uhhh, yeah, I think so.”
“Listen a little harder.”
BOLD BUNKER MOVE: Departing Congressman Jim Saxton is being missed before he even officially retires early next year.
Long appreciated for his effort to fuel fishing – being a friend to both commercial and recreational sectors – Jim is this week spearheading one of his boldest fishing-oriented conservation moves.
On Thursday, the House Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans Subcommittee will meet to go over two resolutions (H.R. 3840 and H.R. 3841), which would impose either a partial moratorium or full moratorium on Atlantic menhaden fishing.
H.R. 3840, proposed by Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.), would impose a partial moratorium on fishing while more research is conducted on the health of the fish population. H.R. 3841, proposed by Rep.Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) would impose an immediate five-year moratorium on menhaden fishing.
Such stoppages would be huge, even beyond the scopes of many anglers and conservationists. What’s more, a halt to “factory ship” bunker harvesting would surely profit commercial fishing in the long run, via increased stocks of far more marketable species of fish.
As expected, the reaction by menhaden industry leader Omega Protein is off-the-chart rage.
Omega Protein swears up and down that the menhaden stocks are in a sustainable state and that not enough data exists to impose either a partial or full moratorium.
That Omega Protein catches its fair share is obvious in its 2007 net profit of $12.1 million and $157.1 million in total revenue.
Per its website, “Omega Protein is the nation’s largest manufacturer of heart-healthy fish oils containing Omega-3 fatty acids for human consumption, as well as specialty fish meals and fish oil used as value-added ingredients in aquaculture, swine and other livestock feeds.”
Jim took a different cant on the worth of bunker.
“Menhaden are an important part of the food chain,” Saxton said in a statement. “It is strongly suspected that they are a primary food source of gamefish that are crucial to Jersey Shore tourism. I'm not telling fishermen anything they don't know. What's good for menhaden is good for the stripers and the blues.”
A fellow I’ve read and heard speak, Rutgers University professor Bruce Franklin, authored a book titled, “The Most Important Fish in the Sea,” accusing Omega Protein of literally wiping out the menhaden stocks. Without singling out Omega Protein, other Green Groups concur that far too many of these eco-essential forage fish are being lost to over-harvesting.
Franklin is pleased to see both resolutions being heard, but has thrown his hat in with H.R. 3841, immediate and full moratorium. He was quoted as saying, “I think that most people who are concerned with the interaction of the industry and the menhaden feel that we have quite enough science to be able to make a decision … If we wait another three to five years it may be too late and we may have gone past the point of having a viable species.”
An important angler aspect of the bunker stock crisis is the horrific drop in baby bunker stocks in the Chesapeake Bay. Scientists I’ve talked with in Maryland feel a halt to wholesale bunker harvesting (they stopped short of using the “moratorium” word) is the only way to bring the Bay’s bunker hatches up to snuff. With our biggest bass now seemingly haling from the south, it certainly behooves us to see the Chesapeake perk up, bunker-wise.
I’ll keep you posted on this issue, though I have no doubt that Omega Protein is saving its heaviest guns for Congress, should one of these resolutions work its way up to a larger consideration in D.C.
RUN-DOWN: I really thought the news from the fishing front would be headline material by this week. Well, I’m having a hard time finding even a moderately upbeat report much less one that glows. In fact, the most positive tale comes from slightly out of our region.
Chatting with Jim down at the Riptide Bait and Tackle in Brigantine, the shop recently awarded Tom Ready with a $1,400 in-house kitty for weighing in the first 40-inch plus bass of the season.. Tom’s catch measured 45 inches and weighed 36-4. It was caught in Brigantine (required for the shop contest) and went for clam. Entry fee was 10 per angler
While getting info on Ready’s bass, Jim said that they were just having “one of our better days,” (Tuesday) with larger bass showing from the beach.
Like us, the anglers down there are awaiting the cows from the big winter biomass from the Delmarva.
On the down side, the Cape May Rips are not on fire by any stretch. What’s more, the brigantine area boaters are, like us, looking all over for the big bunker pods, like we chased last spring. Nothing in sight.
As noted a while back, I’m hoping that horde-like attack by migrating slammer bluefish scattered the bunkies. No bunker, no reasons for the down-south mega-stripers to mosey up this way. Scary.
Locally, there are some stripers if you look closely enough. In a week’s time, I gathered here-and-there reports of small fish and those rare take-homers, usually caught by the guy down the beach a ways.
The 2008 Simply Bassin’ Spring Tourney is underway and the comely cash prizes are still totally up for grabs. Sign up now so that cow bass of yours – to be taken this coming week – qualifies for more than just verbal praise. With the above-mentioned Brigantine bass able to make it here in just one night’s swim, we could soon be dealing with stripers well over the event’s 34-inch minimum mark.
The weakfish are likely present but they do not like all this shifting weather – weather calming drastically this week. While I was told by a few sharpies that they’ve been doing fairly well on spawning sparklers, I had some other weakfish aficionados tell me it simply is not that good out there. Personally, I’ve had a few weakfish pickups at night jigging with small plastic curly tail plastics. They were smaller fish. The blues are less than kind with the plastic tails -- and end any after-dark weakfishing spurts real fast.
Overall, the bay is the better bet if you just want to see a line move. Small blues (2-4 pounds, tops), black drum (the bite slowing down already), small weakfish (oddly lacking in spawn bulk), fluke to 20 inches (the better to throw back), a couple blowfish and some day and/or night stripers off the sod banks, far south end.
Regarding the keeping of penned herring for live-lining, it should be emphasized that you can only have 35 herring in a pen -- or you’ve gone and broken through to some strict state regulations.
Fish and Wildlife Enforcement is now doubly cracking down on illegal herring holders surpassing the allowable 35-limit. They are allowed to check in-bay pens, via boat or walking through your side yard.
Many anglers think you can take a maximum of 35 herring while catching them but when it comes to putting them in the holding pens the sky’s the limit – since the baitfish were caught in legal numbers, each day. Not so. .
There is apparently some leeway when numerous pens are used, each holding the legal number of baitfish, since separate anglers might own each pen. In that instance, the law isn’t inclined to seek proof of who owns which pen