Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report
Bayside cobia: See Run-Down STUPID -- BUT A WISE CHOICE: How about those new Smart Cars? Smart? Can a vehicle look any stupider – or flimsier. Over the weekend, one pulled up outside an Island bar, parking near the establishment’s “outside” smoking section. No sooner had the owner gone in for a drink than this not-that-big guy walked up and fully lifted the tiny car’s tail end. As I looked at that parked Smart Car, I kept getting nudged by this peculiar feeling that I had seen one of these before, long ago and far away. It really bugged me. Then the very next day, a bright yellow Smart Car pulled to a stop a the beach end of my street end and suddenly over two dozen clowns drained out, running around in all directions, spraying me with seltzer water before running onto the beach. That’s when it hit me where I had last seen one of those cars. Anyone seeing these former circus-act vehicles cruising around has to wonder how something this small and underfoot can survive among the titans, like, in fact, the Nissan Titan or Dodge Ra, Mega Cab. Of course, that’s just what they said about primordial mice running through the toenails of dinosaurs. Then I read on the Smart Car website that these wee vehicles achieved the highest ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for front and side crashworthiness. The site self-approvingly reads, “This is big news for our fantastic little car.” In the immortal words of John McEnroe – “You cannot be serious." Who was doing that safety test, Barnum Bailey Crash Dummy Services? One of those cars collides with a loose skateboarder and they’ll be calling out the nearest extrication unit. I even saw a Smart Car that had a serious bumper sticker that read, “I brake for dragonflies.” Or else. I was also looking at the list of options for Smart Cars and saw that a specialized theft determent system is available. Considering just about anybody can stick one in these in their back pocket and walk off, I pictured the theft deterrent system as a scary little person with huge black shoes and a red light bulb for a nose who jumps out and begins pounding the toes of thieves with a big mallet. Then an odd notion set in and I began reversing my gears on these comical vehicles: How about one of these suckers with four-wheel drive? Well, I did some checking around and the company is already on it. When it comes to off-roading, I’m generally into the bigger-suits-me thinking -- as I cast lustful eyes toward one of those mighty fine 8-cylinder Ford F-150 L.L. Bean packages. However, the benefits of going down to clown level, via an off-road Smart SUV, loom large. I imagine myself zipping along the narrowest of Pinelands roads, top down, my hand out the window squeezing the cars “standard” clown honk-honk horn, mounted right below the rearview mirror -- that makes you look hilariously tall and skinny when you look into it. This off-road vehicle would be astounding for nature-watching since virtually no animal short of a maybe leopard slug would consider it even remotely threatening. Hell, the pines would become like one of those safari parks, as deer and coyotes walk right up to the Smart SUV, openly snickering. But how about the big SUV test: Holgate and such? Well, you know those tight-pinch areas where standard buggies don’t have a chance of zipping through at high tide? “Honk, honk. See ya, suckers,” as I wiggle through the tightest spaces, my sound system blaring Looney Tunes music, on my way to awaiting bass. By the by, I’m kinda serious here. With the price of gas – beach buggying sucking gas like a thirsty mallard – it’s worth the added expense of having to stock up on three piece rods that can be broken down small enough to fit into my wallet. On a technically significant side, to compensates for their minute size, Smart Cars actually have a fairly wide wheel base – vital to buggying – and can be fitted with wider street tires, ideal for flattening out when aired down. Anyway, if anyone has one of these freaky little conveyances, let me know what they’re like – and how much it costs, on average, to feed clowns. FOR WHAT EELS YOU: You might remember a few weeks back that I wrote about swelterers in Japan all but panicking because they were running low on top-grade roasted eel, which they traditionally eat to keep themselves cool on searing summer days. Well, the Rising Sunners didn’t get to where they are in the world by standing idly by when crises arise – especially crises they can both cure and simultaneously translate into world-class profits. Shortly after my write-up on eel ingestion beneath the torrid Rising Sun sun, the country of Japan contacted me. Actually, it was simply an expatriate, originally from Tokyo, who offered more details on that boiled eel thing. Turns out that when we’re having our dog days of summer, the Japanese are having their official “Eel Days.” Being very precise people, they have calculated summer’s heat and humidity high points, arriving at two specific days, known as Eel Days. This year they were July 24 and Aug. 5. Per custom, eel days must be quelled in a traditional roasted eel-eating fashion -- or all sorts of devils and dragons burst forth from Mount Fuji and begin scratching the freshly painted surfaces of export vehicles. But what to do when eels aren’t around in adequate numbers? Enter ingenuity. Japan Tobacco, Inc. has introduced, without so much as cracking a smile, an essence of roasted eel canned drink called "Unagi Nobori," which loosely means either "Surging Eel" or Elvis Lives,” depending on dialect. The fizzy, alarmingly yellow-colored beverage contains actual stuff processed from roasted eel heads and bones. Amazingly, it’s non-alcoholic. A can costs $1.30, American equivalent. Reading about "Unagi Nobori," on-line, I found the flavor very tolerable. Whether people who actually drink the stuff agree will soon be known. It hit the streets of Tokyo this week. By the by, this cold and carbonated beverage supposedly carries a very strong flavor of eel – and proudly advertises it. This is unlike that squid ice cream from India that I wrote about. That frozen concoction carefully advertises, “Has no fishy taste -- at all.” In a somewhat sexist manner, "Unagi Nobori," is being made almost exclusively with hot gusy in mind. An advertisement running in most major Japan publications reads, “It's mainly for men who are exhausted by the summer's heat." My guess is the wise women of Japan will gladly stick with simply remaining exhausted. NICE DAY FOR A WHITE MARLIN: Well, another chapter in the famed White Marlin Invitational Tournament is in the books -- and it was yet another great read for an event that always seems to be loaded with angst and excitement. The climactic final day of WHIT 2008 was over almost before it began – and that’s a good thing, excitement-wise. Before the 4:30 weigh-in starting gun even sounded, there were two boats waiting to taunt the scale. The second boat would light the white marlin torch – and carry it through to the end. Appropriately, it was the entrant Marlin Hunter that brought the event’s namesake species into play with a truly gorgeous 82-pound white marlin. Just as appropriate was the captain’s name Kurt von Seekamm (as in seek ‘em). The captain gave all the seeking credit to his son Kurt Jr. “He figures everything out. He just points out where I should go,” said senior. Junior’s directions worked to the hilt on Sunday, as marlin were messin’ with Marlin Hunter from the get-go of Day 3. The trophy white marlin – which I might as well let you know right now would end up being worth a tasty $160,000 in winnings – began actively trailing the dredge but took some clever teaser-based coaxing to tempt into sampling a circle hooked ballyhoo. Crew member Fritz Butler had the honor of the 45-minute fight to best the beast. That was about 11 a.m. and Marlin Hunter never looked back from then, pretty much bee-lining back to port. Just like that, WMIT2008 was a game of “next best” for the rest of the entrants, since there was nary another call (required) that any more white marlin were on the way in. Dockside, the von Seekamm family was a tad excited, to say the least. Having been around the big game tourney fishing realm for quite some time, they knew Marlin Hunter was firmly in the driver’s seat. It’s never a bad thing having the only white marlin in an event called the WHITE MARLIN Invitational. However, even with the top bar set somewhere in the stratosphere, a contest as rich as the WMIT left plenty of monetary incentive for others, especially those entrants within the realm of the most hotly contested 2008 species: tuna – this year exclusively yellow fin. And the very next boat up to the scales, MJ’s, was to rock even that realm. As the young crew of the MJ’s maneuvered into weigh-in position, it wasn’t hard to see there was an on-board buzz far above and beyond that of youthful energy. As they dragged their prize catch toward the BHM&TC’s weighing crew, folks looking into the boat could tell there was a "tail" to be told. The hoisting up of the fish told the tail tale. As was noted by someone in the dockside viewing audience, “Damn, that looks kinda big.” Try 129-1 pounds worth of big. MJ’s yowza-sized yellow fin not only raised the tuna bar into the aforementioned stratosphere – it also came with an amazing storm saga. According to the fighter of the fish, Michael Yocco, (who called reaching for the rod when the fish first hit as “the stupidest thing I’ve done in my life,”) he had to first fight one of the worst at-sea storms he had ever seen. As fierce cloud-to-water lightning rained down, sometimes right next to the boat, and 50 mph winds pitched 6-foot seas (“The water was so frothed up it was pure white,” noted another crew member), Michael had to simply sit there holding the rod with the fish on. That's always fun: holding a highly conductive graphite rod in a deadly lightening storm. Astoundingly, the fish obediently sulked in place for over 30 minutes, likely thinking to itself, "OK, what's wrong with this picture?" “There was no way we could try to fight the fish,” said Michael, noting that even if they got it near the surface it was so wild and woolly out there that they couldn't see the hookup to safely gaff it. Actually, there was something of an advantage to the MJ’s guys not knowing exactly what was idly hanging on-line below, i.e. a fish that would garner a $47,000 winning paycheck, if landed. I’m guessing they might not have sat through the tempest so idly. As the storm subsided, it was as if both angler and prey said, “OK, now we can go at it.” Ninety minutes of give-and-take brought the tuna to its knees (so to speak) and led to the captain and crew deciding it was best to bolt back to the scales to maximize the yft’s body weight – and to avoid that famed bugaboo that often befalls boats that keep a major tourney fish on-board then continue to fish. So, within literally minutes of the scales opening on the final day of the 2008 WMIT, an unreachable marlin and a tuna nearly 30 pounds heavier than the previous top tuna in the event were on the boards. While Marlin Hunter could feel as ease about its catch, the boys from MJ’s had the unenviable time-filler of standing dockside, watching boat after boat – many having radioed in about astounding fishing out in the canyons – as they pulled in with potentially larger tuna. As the lone white marlin and top-tuna held comfortably to their Number One spots during the final hours of the WMIT, tales of epic tuna displays filtered in from boats like Reel Trouble. That crew told of a rainsquall smoothing out the sea surface to expose “500 yards” of tuna bustin’ like nobody’s business. One member of that crew likened it to fishing for inshore bluefish: “You just looked around to see where the birds were working and zipped over and hooked up right away.” Boats that found those tuna detonation zones came home with a dozen or more fish in the cooler. In fact, Reel Trouble tapped the frenzied surface play to win over a far-from-shabby 92-6, second best yellow fin for Day 3. Lobster boat Fish Trap took an impressive trio of weigh-worthy tuna of 88-4, 83-6, 77-7. Those were also from among blitzing tuna. There were a slew of storm stories, including a couple boat captains who were out there distrustfully eyeing a perfectly formed – and obviously powerful -- waterspout. Talking on Tuesday with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, the on-screen radar signature they had seen relating to that Saturday spout was so impressive they saved it for future references. I hope to have that image sent to me soon and will place it on the WMIT website. Also looking sky-awesome were cellphone photos of an approaching squall taken by the guys on MJ’s. That was the ferocious storm that clobbered them minutes later. For WMIT blogs and tons of photos, go to http://www.bhmtc.com/WMIT. WHERE IS IT NOW?: The WMIT’s winning white marlin was given to the club by Marlin Hunter, after the fish’s bill was removed and given to a crewmember. Since the fish had hung for quite a while – as is the custom in the tourney (and appreciated by folks wanting to check a marlin out – the meat will be smoked. I always like to note that a couple years back I was the recipient of the freshly filleted WMIT winning white marlin. Along with barbecuing a load up that same day, I passed poundage off to friends. The reviews were total rave. I have no idea where the notion came about that white marlin is anything less than delectable. My only guess might be that the marlin that are recreationally kept are often tourney fish, which usually have some serious time out of water, post weigh-in. Of course, the smoke-ability of marlin is legendary -- for good reason. It is possibly the finest smoked fish item out there, bar none. This year’s white marlin once again begged that deeper elucidation on whether it was a white marlin or a hatchet marlin. The two are surely different – and something of an ongoing issue in scientific circles. But, not within the WMIT, which accepts “hatchet marlin” as “white marlin” – as do most major big game events. However, this year’s marlin is a perfect indication of just how tricky the ID thing can be. The touchy-feely way to tell a hatchet marlin is to run your fingers against the scale grain. Hatchet’s are smooth, with minute rounded scales. This year’s marlin had skin that surely seemed smooth as all get-out. So it must be a hatchet, right? Not so fast. One of the traits scientists turn to is the location of the anal vent. In hatchet marlin it is 6 inches from the base of the anal fin. Not so with the Marlin Hunter’s fish. The anal opening of that fish was exactly 2 inches from the anal vent, a trait of a white marlin. Further support of the white marlin possibility were some scales taken as the fish was about to be carted off for cleaning. Those scales – of which I grabbed a few -- were very pointed. It should be re-noted that the actual feel of the fish’s skin was very smooth, i.e. hatchet marlin. Sidenote: The scales I got from this year's fish where positively the shape of white marlin scales. You could replace the scales I saw with those displayed at http://www.nova.edu/ocean/ghri/sciencenews_marlincrash.html, they were that similar The on-scene look of the fish had many big game experts quickly calling it a hatchet. Now there is a high likelihood it was a real marlin McCoy. WATER TAKES TO SUMMER: It’s 70 degrees in the surf, as I blogalize here at my office. Now, that’s more like it. And just in case you were wondering how UN-like it the month of July was, the Weather Service recorded water temps at coastal NJ sites that were 8 degrees below normal, on average. That is off the scales when considering even a few degrees of belowness can have a numbing impact. The Weather Service will be reporting on that record-breaking chill in a future release. As predicted within this column, cold water in the summer eventually succumbs to a blazing sun – heating the sea surface – and even some trickle down effects from warm southerly currents out at sea. This is not to say honkin’ southerlies won’t once again elbow their way in and knock the surf temps down to the shrivel-cold levels but even if that happens warmer water will filter back in much quicker heretofore. As also previously hypothesized in here, this late start to 70-ish ocean temps could surely mean very mild seas well into fall. The only thing that could thwart that would be way-early frigid air temps in, say, late September or early October – not a real likelihood whatsoever, as long-range forecasts see just the opposite, your proverbial Indian Summer. Nature note: One of the heaviest recent showings of lion’s mane jellyfish – one of the stingingist jellies we regularly see in our waters – began over the weekend, particularly in the waters along the north end of LBI. Lion’s mane jellyfish, Cyanea capillata, are those large reddish/purple centered gelatinous blobs all too willing to drift into bathing areas. They look kinda dangerous even to those folks who don’t know they can sting. It’s a little known fact that the lion’s mane is the largest jellyfish in the world, capable of growing to over 6 feet long, when fully tentacled out. Fortunately, we see the small end of the growth cycle for this coldwater species. The weekend showing of these jellies was far from those crippling influxes we had maybe 30 years back, when they were so thick all water activities totally ceased, even with 75-degree water temps, 100-degree air temps and incredible surfing waves. Still, on Sunday, there were enough lion’s manes in the water that many folks forewent dips. Also, some beachgoers in Harvey Cedars needed to go back to rinse off after getting a little too close and personal with the low-mobility creatures. Rinsing in freshwater is the prime way to end the stinging, which is closer to a burning feeling, often over a wide area of skin. Back in the day, we used a meat tenderizer in an effort to stop the burn while still on the beach. It mainly left us smelling like a tepid soup broth. An odd literary angle to this toxic jellyfish can be found in a short story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, called “The Adventure of the Lion's Mane,” part of the “Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes,” Doyle’s final collection of Sherlock Holmes stories. This jellyfish-based short story is actually fairly famed since it is one of only two Sherlock Homes’ stories (out of hundreds) in which Dr. Watson does not appear. And the lion’s mane theme of the story might very well hold the answer as to why Sherlock’s sidekick was unavailable. The who-done-it takes place when Holmes is retired and living in the seaside community of Sussex. While walking the beach near a school, the solve-meister runs into an old friend. As they’re speaking, the school’s science master, Fitzroy, staggers up to the two men. In obvious agony, as he collapses, offering the curious dying word’s “lion’s mane.” Holmes thinks murder. (Hey, it’s always worked in the past.) His suspicions further rear when he finds ugly red welts on the dead teacher’s body. The legendary detective then goes investigative, quickly finding sinister connections between the deceased and the man with whom Holmes was speaking as the dying scene took place. Give the short story a read. Ain’t half bad if you’re into grisly deaths from taking a simple dip in the ocean. Of course, we already know the salty solution to this mysterious death, deduced from the title alone. But, back then, the words “lion’s mane” added pure nearly insurmountable intrigue when coupled with the possibility of a clever let’s-fool-Holmes homicide. Why no Doctor Watson? As bumbling as he was, he had a fairly decent forensic eye and would likely have nabbed the jellyfish connection too early for even a short story. RUN-DOWN: Over the weekend, I chatted with a number of surfside sitters. I got word of a kingfish or two being caught – and loads of undersized fluke for those aggressively targeting them by casting and retrieving fluke rigs graced with GULP! strips. The fluke reports from the entire Jersey Shore are identical: huge numbers of flatties and dismal numbers of take-homes. If you look hard enough, you can find some small areas that have no fluke – so you can finally relax and drift along with the Phillies game on the radio. The bay is still offering very hot bites on small stuff. Blowfish, kingfish and even croakers are sniffing out chum lines in west Barnegat Bay. Some of the kingfish are jumbo-sized, nearing the state record of 2-pound, 3-ounces. And there’s been some variety in the bay. An email: “Yesterday friends and I were fishing at the Middle Grounds and we caught a fish which none of us had even seen before. I had a copy of Peterson fishes and positively identified the fish as a cobia, from the black horizontal stripe and the distinctive 9 short unconnected spines of the first dorsal fin on the flattened head. The fish was only 26" long but gave a good fight on light tackle.” (Saw your pics and it is surely a cobia. I've caught barracuda and netted young-of-year rarities ranging from butterfly fish to grouper but no cobia. It might very well have been in warm-water eddies off shore and accidentally swam in, hit the cold water and found the bay the only place warm enough. J-mann) Cocktail bluefish are once again showing with regularity. They aren’t a sure find but it would seem things will flare very soon as August’s slowly shortening days set migratory instincts a flutterin’. Bassing will be picking up, at least for the resident linesiders that have been hiding from cold water. Definitely do some sunrise plugging or jigging.