Stimulating Dimes and Rollicking Winds
STIMULATE ME: At least a portion of the now famed – and increasingly anticipated – economic stimulus payment checks may be bound for fun fishing stuff. That’s an official read on my part, gleaned after I carried out an exhaustive questioning of a highly-indicative cross-section of society – namely a couple dozen anglers I bumped into around Wawa or 7-11. Using the in-passing voice, I asked anglers if they intended aiming any of their $600 federal refund toward fishing wants and desires? My question was scientifically worded to solicit an accurate Gallop-like response.
“Hey, ya gonna use any of that government money to buy fishing stuff?”
To a person the response was an emphatic, “Maybe.” Most added something along the lines, “Unless my wife gets at it first.”
Since I also asked a load of non-anglers about the stimulus check, I should add that many folks quickly targeted the in-the-mail money toward gas prices. Most unsmilingly joked that the rebated money would be lucky to cover the added cost of filling up this summer.
The oddest proposed use of the 6 bones went to a gal who told me she was immediately going to use all the money to load up on lottery tickets. I’m thinking the state of New Jersey would love that concept. I offered her a “good luck” -- and suggested she watch the show “Intervention,” namely the episode on chronic gambling disorders.
“Honey, this disorder is killing you. You’re throwing your life away on lottery tickets! I’m afraid my only resort is to disown you.”
“I know, Mom. And you’re right as rain. And I’d be devastated if I didn’t just hit $22.6 million!”
“What?! Honey, about that ‘disown’ crap. That was all the producer’s idea. Hell, I’ve always thought, ‘Ya can’t win if you don’t play.’ ”
Personally, I thought long and hard about my gnawing debt and figured it would be a sensible gesture to apply all my stimulus check toward elevating my credit rating. Then I began thinking about how much fun it would be to change my cash into $600 worth of dimes -- you know, make a big-ass pile of them on top of my living room table so every time someone walks in the first thing they say is’ Oh, my. What have we got here?”
“That’s my frickin’ stimulus check. Stimulating, ain’t it.”
What’s in your wallet?
FALLEN ANGEL CLAMS: Most surfcasters are closet beachcombers, taking on this pathetically-touristy activity out of sheer shell-kicking boredom. I should know. I’m Type Triple A personality. Hell, I could be treed by a dinosaur -- honed from the DNA extracted from a biting midge within a block of amber – and no sooner would I be safely up there than I’d start thinking, “Well, this is frickin’ boring.”
Anyway, during boredom-driven beachcombings on LBI, I’ve begun to notice the swash-line arrival of angelwing clamshells. These are delicate white shells that are shaped pretty much like cherub wings – or is it seraphim wings? Hell, if you seen one angle’s wings …
A subtle presence among the brutish surf clam and jumbo oyster shells, the angelwings are now showing in such numbers it’s becoming a bit of a baffler – and, for an eco-worrywart like myself, a possible calciferous warning flag.
In past decades, shells from these nearshore bivalves rarely washed up. An intact half-shell of a fragile angelwing clam was a highlight of a fireplace mantel display. However, for the last couple years, hinged (connected) angelwing clamshells – void of life within – have come ashore in remarkable numbers, sometimes being the main component of shell mounds along the beach. I have collected dozens and dozens of mint-condition shells in a mere 15 minutes; sizes ranging from no larger than a thumb to four inches in length. In years (and decades) past, I had maybe one or two whole shells.
Fully grown, these intertidal clams can attain an overall body of 12 inches, when the foot (the clam itself) is measured in. Shells seldom exceed 6 inches. These clams are burrowers and once established have a hard time re-burrowing after erosion or trauma.
While the arrival of these highly collectible shells is a boon to conchologists (funky name for shell collectors), perpetually fretting folks like myself are far more inclined to seek any ghosts speaking from within the washed up shells. Empty shells mean dead clams. Empty shells in mint conditions mean recently dead clams. The fact these delicate shells are often still connected at the hinges indicates they once lived very near the beach. Had the lived further out, the bumpy push to the beach would have broken the shell halves apart.
As I’ve done in a number of recent columns, I have to explore the possibility of a die-off zone not that far from the beach – as alleged by local headboat Captain Bill Hammarstrom. I’ve been mentally exploring this die-off bottom zone after receiving some disturbing data from Captain Hammarstrom and, more recently, some off-the-record scientists in the midst of some nearshore bottom research
I’d like nothing more than to be proven wrong about eco-troubles out in maybe 25 feet of water. All things considered, that area should be mighty alive, since the days of piping untreated sewage effluent out there are long gone, replaced by days of piping clean and highly-treated water through the same outflow pipes.
By the by, the Ocean County Utilities Authority is touted as one of the best – if not the best – in the country so I’m not slighting them in any way, shape or form. (That’s all I need to do is piss them off and have them divert sewage back to me, saying, “Let’s see you do better.”
Still, it would seem wise to do a full analysis of bottom life in the nearshore zone receiving millions of gallons of treated water annually. There may even be a bit of an urgency, as recent water-quality research projects strongly indicate that minuscule amounts of pharmaceutical products may be slipping into both our drinking water and also into the treated effluent being pumped into the ocean.
PUMP PAIN BY NUMBERS: While gas pains are hitting all of us in the fiscal solar plexus, a number of our bayside marinas with gas pumps are being hit even further below the belt.
Seems those delicate cost-computing dial mechanisms on older gas pumps are actually running out of numbers.
According to industry reports, that little dial used to lock in the current gas price per gallon were traditionally set to only go up to $2.99.
No one is sure why that seemingly random number was the max-out point decided by pump-makers back in the days. Most likely, it was simply the point that seemed absurdly unlikely to be reached, even in the distant future.
(For you young’uns out there, there was a time in the ancient 1960s when we could locally buy gas for 19 cents a gallon -- at a station nicknamed “Cheapy Charlie’s.”)
When prices accelerated to the initial max-out point of $2.99 per gallon, a retrofitting of the dial device was needed to keep up with the times -- at a cost of $650 per pump. Now, future-shock increases in gas prices mean cost-prohibitive retrofitting with every turn of the oil industry screw.
What’s worse, entirely replacing an older pump with an updated computerized model can cost $15,000 a pop, out of the question for mom-and-pop businesses that often offer fuel as an amenity. It seems that gas pumps alone could lead to bayside marinas nixing fuel.
While national estimates have approximately 8,500 out of 170,000 of gas stations using old-style pumps, I’m guessing a far higher percentage of our bayside pumps are suffering from update needs.
And one other bugger: Those same olden pumps only go up to $99 before stopping. Nope, they don’t cycle back and begin at zero. That fix is yet another costly tweak facing many marina operators.
And losing bayside pumps can hit captains kinda hard. While a land-based gas station going under means a quick switch to another nearby station, the loss of a waterfront pump can require some serious navigation to reach the next closest source of petrol.
BUNKER HEADBANGING: As expected, legislative efforts to save menhaden by Reps. Jim Saxton (R-NJ) and Wayne Gilchrest (R-Maryland) have led to hostile responses from congressmen aligned with the fishing industry. Most outspoken is Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Va.), who railed heavily against any further restrictions on commercial bunker fishing. He referenced a 2006 cap that froze the allowable menhaden catch until 2010. Wittman also aligned with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, both of which portray the bunker stocks as healthy and sustainable under current guidelines.
Anglers, conservationists and many marine biologists beg to differ. Backing the concerns voiced by these groups, Saxton penned a House resolution that would impose a partial moratorium on fishing, in lieu of more research on the menhaden population. Gilchrest’s resolution was a lot tougher, calling for an immediate five-year moratorium.
Saxton and Gilchrest have long followed the plight of menhaden stocks. Both men have seen data and listened to reports indicating the bunker stocks are distressed to the point that fisheries reliant on bunker are suffering.
“Atlantic menhaden are a key piece of the Atlantic ecosystem, from Florida to Maine,” Saxton said at a recent hearing. “They serve as a vital link in the food chain, and are a primary source of food for striped bass, bluefish and weakfish, and are favored by seabirds like loons and ospreys.”
Whitman holds firmly to the NMFS claims of healthy menhaden numbers. He also pointed to recent harvests. “The 2007 harvest was larger than in 2006,' he said. 'If there were a problem with the fisheries, we wouldn't see increasing harvests.”
This comment was balked at by supporters of a bunker moratorium, noting the Virginia congressman was essentially setting a precedent based on a single year’s minor increase in harvest. The numbers were not related to historic takes of bunker that were many times greater.
To buttress his efforts to keep the bunker industry banging bunker, Wittman warns of the folly of Congress becoming the lead agency in fishery management.
'If we are going to go to Congress every time we want a fishery to be changed, that's a slippery slope,' he said.
More to come on this battle to save menhaden not only in state waters but also out into the EEZ.
SCALE TALES: I got back some fish scales I found during an archeo-dig at a former Leni Lenape site in Southern Ocean County. I had thought the dozen or so scales were from striped bass caught by the Lenape back in the 1600s.
The dating of the site was based on numerous finds indicating it was a “contact” area, meaning it was a place where arriving Europeans and Native Americans shared terrain – right before we hit the Indians over the head and stole all their fish.
It turns out my excavated fish scales were apparently from large red drumfish, or channel bass.
The fish that inadvertently – and likely unwillingly -- contributed its scales to historical posterity was in the 25-pound range.
The same site yielded a piece of lower jaw from a 2-pound bluefish. I knew that skeletal part at first glance.
Archeologists often find highly identifiable fish parts even at older Indian sites, some dating back to archaic time. This is testimony to the resilience of these seemingly simple fish parts.
Somewhat along those lines, I knew a fellow who used to yank a scale off each of the stripers he caught – and he caught a loadful. It was pretty cool the way he kept the scales in the journal where he wrote meticulous about every on of his fishing sessions. He told me his dad had done the same thing.
I lost track of the angler after his move to Florida to “collect tarpon scales.”
RUNDOWN: At risk of stating the full-blown obvious, that was nasty-ass nor-easter on Monday, albeit yet another one-dayer, when they would traditionally last three day back in the day.
At midday Monday, authorities closed the Causeway to all traffic. Sustained winds were around 66 mph. It was first closed when a furniture truck was blown around so badly the driver bailed. I actually don’t recall the bridges ever being close just because of wind gusts. Feel free to correct me on that.
The winds on my home equipment were flirting with 60 mph. Add in rainsqualls and it was just ’s just plain rotten out there. Also, I got word from the Weather Service that gusts not far from LBI had reached 76 mph.
The beaches were brutalized in many areas, especially northern Beach Haven and the replenished Surf City beachline. I went out fuse collecting in Surf City. They look so good hanging on my wall. (Just kidding, Keith)
Rain really was not a factor, though some road flooding occurred at all the usual suspect places.
Despite some local authorities claiming that NOAA gave little or no warning of the approaching system, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly noted, “We saw it coming. On Friday we were forecasting a pretty nasty day for Monday. It came in close to schedule.”
The meteorologist confirmed the thinking of many of us when he said, “It was kinda late in the season for that kind of nor-easter.”
Storm saga: At the height of Monday’s nasty-ass blow, an angler could be seen on the beach in North Beach, casting for all he was worth, fighting 70 mph gusts and 12-foot sweeping walls of surf. That was an Island angler playing on the theory that bass feed like crazy when the seas quickly go ballistic. Here’s where it gets sketchy. The caster was apparently throwing the largest Ava jig in the box – and nabbing large stripers as quickly as the metal reached the bottom. Hey, Dante, if all that is true, get in touch with me with the details.
Overall, this storm is going to damage fishing for the first part of this week.
Since the rainfall wasn’t heavy, it would seem the runoff might be less of an environmental problem. Known fact: weakfish hate run-off. However, something worse than rainwater runoff occurs when sewers back up the way they did. Baywater mixes with street swash and the whole mess is literally agitated within the sewer pipes (washing machine like) busting away accumulated gunk and who-knows-what.
It’s damn near a worse case scenario for weakfish spawning activities.
The ugly stuff soon to be permeating the backbay waters is surely going to carry a load of highway muck along with yard chemicals -- many folks having just applied (and, most likely, over applied) spring fertilizers. This is not to say the weaks won’t quickly get back into the bite mode. It means the pH balance of waters will not be right for successful spawning.
But let’s think more positively and move onto a weakfishish subject.
PINK PREVAILS: A top weakie stalker swears by pink plastic “slugs,” the shape first put forth by Slug-Go.
I sure see the rationale of using these stubby baits on weakies.
These squat, small-tailed plastics are what might be called inhale baits. Their shape allows them to sidestep tail grabs common when using longer slinkier plastics.
Slug shapes invite full-mouth takes.
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 striper fishing is just ready to rock, obviously knocked a bit off its beat by the blow. Last week, a super insurgence of major bass began rolling in the Cape May Rips. We should begin seeing major hookups by this weekend.
Make sure to sign up for Simply Bassin’ 2008 before you make the acquaintance of 40-pounder. I have to correct last week’s column. The minimum size for simply Bassin’ fish is 32inch minimum. Sorry, for any confusion – though I’m thinking the winning fish will be way beyond that entry-level inch-age.
Leading the event at this point is John Parzych, who took a 16-6 bass on May 3 using clams. Second on the leaderboard is Dante Soriente, who took a 15-12 striper on May 9, also using clam.
As the board fills out, I’ll carry it in here. The leaders are listed on the websites of participating tackle shops and also (soon) at http://jaymanntoday.ning.com/.
The cocktail bluefish are in the bay, however, they are not nearly as prevalent as a year ago.
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 after smoking them – or, in my case, making jerky with the filets. Obviously, the thinner filets mean less time in the smoker/dryer.