It’s All in the Release
HEAVY-HANDED BASSING: It’s time to oil our lines and change our reels. No, wait. Reverse that.
Bass season is inching toward us – at a snail’s pace, if the current lack of major bass is any indication.
My prepping for the soon-to-be bassing has included mulling over the most recent updates on the state of a stripers, i.e. how well the biomass is faring.
According to the latest Addendum I to Amendment 6 to the to the Atlantic Striped Bass
Fishery Management Plan things are quite well in the striped bass realm, overall. The spawning stock biomass is set at 55 million pounds. That is far over the target threshold of 38.6 million pounds. However, the stat stuff gets a tad trickier on the catchin’ side of things.
The recreational harvest in 2006 (latest stats) is estimated to be 2.7 million fish, or 29.5 million pounds. Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York anglers are the top takers. Those states account for the harvesting 300,000 fish, each.
But it’s not the keeper count that tells a whopping tale, instead it’s the astronomical increase in recreational releases. Catch-and-release numbers have increased nearly every year since 1982, reaching a fully phenomenal 25.9 million fish in 2006.
That stat speaks volumes about the availability of stripers – not to mention the fishing talent and conservation mindedness of most bassers.
However, lurking in the wings of those stellar striper stats is the doomsy DOA count.
In 2006, an estimated 2.1 million released stripers died after being caught and released, per Addendum I.
Although this didn’t-make-it rate is fairly well rooted in science, I have worthy reservations. Not that my two-cents are worth a plug nickel but I think stripers are survivors like no other fish species. That established mortality rate is surely high – but not absurdly so.
Even if something like 18 million bass kick the bucket after being released, that’s a not-good thing.
THE ASMFC Addendum I goes into detail about why a fully flapping fish can go belly up soon after let-go.
The first reason is the most ambiguous: “individual fish characteristics.”
Simply put, some bass are more sensitive than others. Being hooked in the mouth and yanked into the great beyond can cause some fish to just cash it in. Hey, how would you react if you saw this unexplained piece of delicious pizza on the table, bit into it only to be suddenly drug underwater where some fish grabs you to run a tape measure from head to toe then kicks you back to terra firma? (That’s, of course, a complete dramatization –so says that gecko.)
Another catch-and-release survival issue is the environment. Things like lousy water make it tougher for a bass to regain its composure after being thrown back. I believe that environment thing also refers to how long a fish is out of water – hot weather being the kiss of death for a fish caught by an angler who takes a forsakenly long time to afford a release.
The addendum also points to a hook’s point-of-entry as a prime cause of deadly after-release affects.
To me, this hook penetration factor is surely the most potentially lethal. It’s a no-brainer that badly gut-hooked stripers are about to be pushing up sea daisies.
The most dubious suggestion in this scientific report insinuates that the type of bait can matter. The only way that bait can possibly play a major role in striper survival is when live-lining. It is a common when “walking” a herring, bunker or spot to let a bass swallow the bait. That does not loom lucky for a fish firmly planted in a release group. Other than that, I see no other bait as being overtly dangerous.
The addendum offers two catch-and-release calamities that are fully in the hands of the anglers. Firstly, gear and tackle. This is so obvious that within arriving years, circle hooks may become mandatory in the bass realm. I think top striper tournaments should begin toying with the idea of requiring circle hooks.
But far and away the leading factor in the post-release demise of bass is what the addendum words “angler behavior and skill level.”
Per the addendum, “Ignoring fishing practices shown to reduce post-release mortality
is considered contributing to unnecessary waste of the striped bass resource.”
Due to the heavy impact of handling in determining if a released fish will swim off or float up, a mandated catch-and-release education program is underway, dealing specifically with stripers. However, I don’t think it’s a case of teaching irresponsible anglers proper unhooking techniques as much as getting the lazy birds to use common consideration when handling any fish. Laziness kills – and often does. This is worst seen during heavy hooking sessions, i.e. blitz times. Adrenaline can easily neutralize compassion juices. That was seriously seen during the just-done fluke season, when frustration led to the abuse of more than a few undersized flatties. That mentality holds true with stripers. The surge of irritation over an undersized fish can lead to fierce hands – not to mention an abandonment of revival time, whereby a fish is held in the water long enough to get its gills running on all two gears.
It’s surely worth a shot to give a few more seconds to off-hooking and all fish. And with bass that’s doubly true as the fish will do it’s bulldog part of given half a chance.
TV TUNA: As I waited out the non-TS event (by my ratings), I watched an astounding high-def show program “Tuna Wranglers” on The Discovery Channel. It’s about Aussie fishermen that net massive number of tuna, to transfer into a monster pen for fattening.
The underwater photographer is mind-boggling, especially when the divers are down there determining if a netted school is the right size and quality. Yep, these guys ever check out the desirability of tons and tons of circling fish before committing them to pen time – and expense.
Once transferred to a transfer pen, the captain ever so slowly transports the tuna to allotted farming areas.
The program shows lots of beer drinking. These are, after all, guys from Down Under, with the highest per capita beer consumption of anywhere else in the world.
I’m not sure if that beer-drinking angle goes hand-in-hand with the way crew members clear the pens of invasive sharks by jumping in and hand-wrestling the men in gray suits (Aussie for sharks) into the open sea.
A very cool clipette centers on “tuna thunder,” when the massed fish sway their tails side-to-side in unison, making a rumbling alarm sound. It’s a vibratory signal the crew can use to tell if a shark is stalking the penned up fish.
The biting of a single “farmed” tuna can mean thousands of dollars in lost perfection – perfection being the goal of the tuna farmers, knowing what Asian eaters will fork out for flawlessness. A pen’s worth of fattened tuna are worth over $20 million.
Check out the show – which, per all Discovery Channel shows, is frequently replayed.
RUN-DOWN: Well, non-sassy TS Hanna was a real confidence builder, which is exactly what the evacuation doctors can’t stand. Complacency breeds coziness which in turn breeds quietude which in turn breeds – hell, when all that breeding gets done, there ends up being hoards of coastal people staying put in he face of serious storms.
I have a simple motto about the approach of tropical systems: If you’ve seen one hurricane, you’ve seen them all – evacuate.
And I’m serious. I’ve stupidly sat on LBI during too many storms and they all go the same: the winds blow until entire buildings convulse uncontrollably, unchallengeable rain squalls sniff out every little opening in a home to spit in water, and sitting around with just candle power gets hideously boring. I’ve found it’s far more fun to hang out at an evacuation center and party.
Anyway, Hanna did next to nothing damaging. She stirred the waves many days before her official arrival, holding some small craft in bay, to fish the dying days of fluke season. That water stir carried into this week, with dirty water nearshore and in the bay. It’ll surely clear by week’s end, as the first truly fall-felling weather of the season sets in.
There are some croakers making their presence known. I had two more contacts from down Virginia way echoing other emails that the croaker count this year has all but “ruint” the fishing in many prime surfcasting and bank fishing zones. I’m hoping that’s a localized tidelands phenomenon and those numbers stay put to our south. Sure, a few croakers are allowed to slide into our fishing picture -- for variety’s sake.
Bluefishing – whether wanted or unwanted – is fair, though very off-and-onish. Desirable cocktail blues are popping up around inlets and (less so) along the beachfront.
Tiny snappers (some to only three inches) are so plentiful that they could become painfully over-present during the rapidly arriving net-throwing season. Snappers often show up hopelessly mixed in with netted mullet. This forces netters like myself to take precious prime time to snatch them out of holding bushels. Many fishing folks don’t realize that even the tiniest kept snapper applies to the 15-fish allowable bluefish daily limit. It’s beyond easy to accidentally net twice that many in a single throw.
Bassing by all measure is slow; as slow as it gets for this late in the summer. Still, that in no way means fall is going to smolder on the striper front. In fact, if the old premise holds true that loads of bait – which we have -- means loads of bass there should be no shortage of linesiders stacked just over the horizon.
Black seabass are surely going to be plentiful after seas calm. That break from anglers has to have these tasty critters massing around wrecks, rocks and reefs. Note: There is a phenomenal showing of small seabass in the bay. None of these are over the minimum size of 12 inches. Too many are being kept by neophyte anglers.
Mahi continue to make fine showing in nearshore and middle waters.
Fishing for shark – the real thing, not dogfish – is as brisk as nearshore fishing folks have seen it in 15 years. Great fun. Tackle shops can tell you where and how to target the brutes. And is that 100-pound shark you just landed keepable, you ask? No. What the hell you gonna do with it anyway? Enjoy the fight and take time to release your worthy target. Sharks, despite their ferocious reputation, have possibly the highest catch-and-release mortality rate of any fish. It has something to do with the animal shaking its insides so violently during the fight (and when landed) that it busts up internal organs.
Spot remain profusely plentiful, mainly South End. Kingfish are being caught primarily on the North End, but in low numbers.
HOLGATE HAPPENINGS: The first section of Holgate – right as you go on – has widened remarkably. Don’t take that to heart. It’s the result of a very calm summer, surf and wind-wise. A single sky hit can down that piece of beach like an appetizer.
The prime decay zone is about 1/2 way to the end. That is a pinch-off zone at high tide and will likely remain so all fall. Still, the current access and egress along the entire beach is far better than when we left it last spring. Time – and winds – will tell how well the build-up perseveres.
The Holgate fishing has been iffy at best. Some fluke had shown (prior to the season’s slamming door) but was actually less than most other LBI surf zones. Cocktail blues are stopping by to say hi but then quickly departing. A few kingfish (large) have been coaxed out the Rip’s lull zone.
There has been no clamming because the water has been hugging the mudflats area, even during low tides. Those flats are astoundingly grown over with grasses, as is all of Not-Tucker’s Island. That greenery is going to be a major issue since clams can’t survive long amid that aggressive growth.
Last week, I helped St D. use ropes and straps to secure a significant piece of an old ship that had taken up temporary quarters near the Rip. Stu then used his buggy to drag the flat (roughly 3-foot by 4 foot) find off the beach. The odd-looking 500-pound piece of maritime history was heading, appropriately enough, to the Maritime Museum in Beach Haven.
Talking with museumeur Jim V., the not-overly-attractive chunk of worm-riddled wood is the rudder from a major vessel, one that seemingly took to the bottom somewhere around here. Research is pending on the find. The bulky artifact had been bouncing around the Holgate beachfront for a year or more. Jim and Deb W. will be looking at the rudder for display potential.
Along the entire stretch of Holgate, flies have ranged from hideous to worse-than-that, with the far end being abuzz with primarily greenheads, technically horseflies. Black flies and deer flies haven’t shown just yet but are most likely just hanging on the mainland sharpening their proboscises.
BUGGY NOTE: Got a new front-mounted rack? Got a new costly surf rod set-up? Better make sure the two are on the same tack.
Always check how the butts of your rods are sitting down below the rack.
Over the weekend, I saw another dismayed caster who lost a prime rod because it extended too far through the rod holder on the buggy’s rack. It came in contact with the sand within seconds of the buggy going beach. A hideous crunching sound marked the meeting. It was a total loss of rod – and not such a good time for the reel, which got run over after falling off the fractured rod.
I’ve seen this happen many times. It most often occurs when a rod’s reel seat is customized to sit further up the rod, leaving a load of butt hanging out. Such a high-up placement of the reel seat is sometimes done to allow the rod to sit better in sand spikes, or just to offer a surfcaster a comfortable feel. Most production rods do not have the problem.
When an extended butt goes through a buggy’s rod holder, even a slight bump on the open road can lead to an explosive contact. I saw that just last fall while airing up at the now-gone Jack’s Garage, Beach Haven. I just happened to be looking toward the Boulevard when a very fine SUV turned into the station and had two custom-made rods bottom out. Not only did pieces of shattered graphite fly freely about but one of the costly reels flew all the way over to where I was stooped over, air hose in hand. I noticed the reel had lost much of its look and feel in its travels across the asphalt. I walked it over (sheepishly) and offered a solemn “I think you lost this” to the two anglers trying to figure what went wrong. They were both convinced the rod rack had malfunctioned but couldn’t figure why the sturdy aluminum device seemed firmly in-place. I simply hinted at the possibility the rod butts were hanging too low, knowing they wanted no part of anything short of blaming the rack.
No, I didn’t laugh. Subdued a chuckle or two, maybe.
By the by, it’s easy to check on the rod rack clearance by simply placing rods in their holders and stepping back to check how they’re hanging below the rack, remembering that bouncing along the beach can really cause the front of a buggy to dip deeply