Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Tuesday June 12, 2007:

RUNDOWN: Despite overly clear waters, some serious bass are coming to light, fish to 30 pounds with many in the 20s of pounds. More than ever, an emphasis has to be placed on the scattered nature of these better bass. I say that because easily the majority of reports I got over the weekend grumbled about super slow hooking – and an insidious (and steady) loss of valuable clam baits, lost to either crabs or (I’m guessing) arriving kingfish.
While the arrival of kingfish is great news for many of us, they are ravenous feeders and even a couple dining kings will make short order of a significant glob of clam meant for stripers.
As many surfcasters have experienced, kingfish will go for large bunker donuts – and have been hooked on 8/0 hooks, as seen during the likes of the Long Beach Island Fishing Club’s fall surf fishing contest.
I should also note that there is a seemingly inordinately large showing of calico crabs (the famed toe-grabbers in the surfside shallows) that could also be the source of bait theft.
As for bunkering for bass, that pod chasing had quieted when seas got riled but it’s coming back quickly. I had a call today (Tuesday) from a boat that had numerous 30-pound-plus stripers using snag-and-drop techniques.
From the legal department (not really), International Game Fish Association rules strictly state that gang hooks may not be used in bait. A fish caught using gang hooks is not eligible for IGFA records and would not qualify in tourneys that apply IGFA rules. So, snagging a bunker using a treble hook then allowing the baitfish to directly sink down to awaiting bass below would disqualify any landed bass from contests or world records. I am hoping to get an IGFA reading on mullet rigs, which I believe would also fall under gang hook rules.
Another “Watch Out!” had to be issued regarding following bunker pods for the three miles out, i.e. into the EEZ. It’s fully illegal to keep bass out there. And a lot of people are being nailed by enforcement. It’s a big fine – and an aggravation if you have to go to federal court – so keep a close eye on those charts (electronic or hard copy) marking the EEZ demarcation line. .
Bluefish are doing their part in a huge way. Cocktail blues in the 2- to 3-pound range are the go-to species for many boat anglers unable to score fluke or bass.
Plastics work great on the smaller blues. Sure you lose them quickly but there’s no better time to pull out that bag of random accumulated plastics that seems to always form nowadays.
Rogue weakfish are also doing their part in saving slow angling days. I have half a dozen reports of spawned out weaks pushing 7 or 8 pounds going for anything from plastics to live-lined herring and such. Almost all of these are fully rogue fish, though a captain on the south end reported seeing an entire school of big weaks lulling about in crystal clear water.
The best time to feel around for a lurking weakie is while drifting for fluke in inlet or east bay. Jig the bottom. And don’t be surprised to find your largest fluke of the day grabbing a plastic-packing Spro meant for sparklers. However, exclusively jigging for fluke is too often a lesson in short hits and total frustration. I know that from kayak fishing. I’ve had yak drifts with dozen of hits that I now are fluke and I’m lucky to get one solid hookup.
Another interesting addition to the surf fishing realm is sharks, big toothy ones. That tells me there are already cow-nosed rays in the mix.
I wrote a short time back that thickly schooled rays have become catastrophically invasive down in the Chesapeake, where they’ve all but crippled human efforts to bring over-fished shellfish back into the waters of that troubled bay. Considering rays can school in groups containing many thousands, they can quickly denude a bottom of all clams and crabs. That’s what they’ve done down there.
Over the past decade – on, roughly, an every-other-year basis -- we have been all but overwashed by cow-nosed ray schools arriving from the south. While we had quite a ray showing last year, the obvious mushrooming of ray numbers could make them an annual invader.
Repeating myself: The overabundance of rays is positively related to the over fishing of sharks, the ray’s only realm adversary.
My initial note that ray-related sharks are now showing locally does not mean the shark populations are increasing. Scientific data shows shark (large-sized) numbers have fallen off the charts. Some species face extermination, thanks in large measure to the shark fin soup demand. The rays are such an easy source of food that remaining sharks are on their case.
It should also be noted that many sharks are now protected. As a fisherman, you have to know which ones you must return to the water.
Regarding sharks, what is the sense of killing an ecologically important fish simply to momentarily impress a buddy or two?
That same debate is raging regarding huge bass being kept after when caught below bunker pods.
Truth be told, you should put all toothed sharks back into the drink.
Late report: After weeks of very slow fluking in and around Little Egg Harbor, Tuesday saw super drifts near the Middle Grounds with flatties to 7 pounds. It must be the cooler water ushered in during recent wind swings.
THE MAKING OF MATES: One of the finest free vo-tech courses in the state begins this week.
Registration for the 10-week Jersey Mates program takes place Thursday, June 14, at the Little Egg Harbor Yacht Club’s Juniors Building, located bayside on West Avenue and Berkeley Avenue in Beach Haven. Training begins that day.
If you miss that starting point, registrations will also be taken the following Thursday.
This program is one on of very few training courses on becoming a mate on a charter or headboat.
Admittedly, there’s a lot to be learned about mating on a fishing boat. Still, it’s real fun stuff, especially if you like fishing – and wouldn’t be opposed to being paid to make trips out to the Canyons, trips that run customers many hundreds of dollars.
What’s more, the opportunities to put that new mate knowledge to work are everywhere. In fact, those folks running the course are often in need of mates.
Boy, would I have jumped at that opportunity back in the day. Not that long ago, the secrets of being a boat mate were actually very guarded. In many instances, those distinct talents were kept in-family.
For more information on this course, call John at 609-290-3349.
PINELANDS ARE POPPIN’: I had some wild walkabouts this past week, though scalding daytime temps are making this as hot a late spring as I recall.
For us naturalists, there is a ton to take in as the Pine Barrens begin filling in its greenery.
As aficionados of the South Jersey outback know, the plant life of the Pines is always very late in reaching full bloom. As of this week, there are many trees in the core Pines with foliage only half way to completeness.
On the fauna side of things, there was good and bad to be seen while hiking – in my case, the woods along Route 539 north of the Route 72 intersection.
The multiyear gypsy moth invasion continues unabated. The difference this year is the size of the caterpillars. For many years I’ve been watching the plague-like assault of these fully destructive nonindigenous leaf-eating demons and I’ve never seen larger caterpillars, the larval stage of the moths.
Their impact is too obvious.
There is virtually not an unmolested oak leaf in many sections of the Pines. In the hardest hit areas, a hard rain is falling, so to speak. Standing beneath a heavily infested tree, you can easily hear the steady pitter-patter of falling fecal matter. Obviously, the tree above is suffering catastrophic injury.
There is one colorful Pinelands creature that is loving the gypsy moth hatch.
The fiery searcher, a large iridescent green ground beetle -- appropriately nicknamed caterpillar hunter -- royally chows down during caterpillar blitzes.
This species of beetle and I really hit it off, though they always seem a tad annoyed when I run up and grab them – holding them by their sides to avoid a set of choppers that can cut through human skin without breaking a sweat. This beetle also emits a truly vile smelling chemical, one that could drive a skunk into hiding. Tip: Don’t walk into a crowded Wawa for a Pepsi shortly after holding fiery searchers.
Often included in books highlighting the most colorful beetles of the world, caterpillars would hardily debate finding any beauty in a fiery searcher.
Fiercely aggressive and ravenously hungry at every turn, this beetle is a bugger once it grabs its quarry, often nabbing caterpillars are they cross dirt roads.
This past weekend, I watched one-sided battles play out atop a road near Webb’s Mill Bog. A gypsy moth caterpillar would begin a dusty bolt across the road, hauling its furry butt for all it was worth. Then, in a flash, a fiery searcher would come hauling ass out of the weeds siding the road. With remarkable running speed, it would close on the beetle in nothing flat. That would be all she wrote for one caterpillar – out of millions and millions.
Interestingly, the fiery searcher is often considered rare, even by knowledgeable entomologists. Take it from me, this beetle is not only common but quite likely among the most populous beetle in the Pines, even more plentiful than the famed Cicindelidae genus, better known as tiger beetles. Searchers are just very secretive, often staying buried for months once satiated. I know of their commonness via my digging. There is virtually no piece of woodlands that won’t yield fiery searchers reclining a few inches beneath the ground.

Back to my Pinelands travels, I came across an unusual eyeful in the form of an eerie hatch of Fowler toads, another quintessential common Pinelands creature. Walking a road near the Quail Fields off Route 539 in Lacey Township, the ground literally leapt forth as hundreds and hundreds of recently transitioned toads from nearby puddles scattered to avoid becoming bottom spatter on my Gore-Tex hiking boats.
About the size of peas – providing the peas are toad-shaped – these ex-tadpoles offered a very odd as they bounced about in all directions. It’s not hard to see why people panic during plagues of locusts, toads and such.
It’s any herpetologist’s guess as to where those legions of little toads were heading. There’s no possible way that many little anythings can survive to adulthood, especially in the often unkind Pines. Though wrapped in skin with poisonous glands, something dines on them. My guess is its a self-attrition thing, i.e. cannibalism. Of course, there is another species of herptile, the hognose snake, that finds toads terribly tasty. These snakes are immune to toad toxin. The problem is, all the hognose snakes in the state couldn’t polish off just the toads I found on the road that day.
Back to the not-fun hatches taking place in the Pines.
First and foremost, the ticks, all species, are fully atrocious this year. OK, so maybe it’s a banner year for all you tick lovers out there but if you’re among those less than enamored with disease-carrying creatures boring their heads into your body you may want to hyper-prepare for any woodsy trips.
More woods stuff in coming weeks. Have any good (or weird) outdoor tales? Please contact me.

FRESH-FACED BUNKER HEADS: One of the largest entries into the Simply Bassin’ 2007 tourney was taken Bob Misak, Jr. He caught his 42-pounder on a bunker head. I always marvel over folks besting bass on bunker noggins.
Well, I’ve vowed to make this the year I finally catch a covet-sized striper using a bunker skull.
To date, the best I’ve ever done throwing out heads was a tiny crab I once beached as it held onto my bunker for all its little pinchers were worth.
The thing is, I now think I might know where I was going wrong. I wasn’t patient enough. I was using the wrong head, The stock market price for frozen condensed orange juice was too unstable. That last one might is a tad iffy, cause-wise.

Bunkerhead fishing is the epitome of high-patience angling. For a Type-A personality like myself, a dead fish head on a dead stick in the dead of night is a tough go, Chinese water torture is preferable.
I’ve now been instructed that time is of the utter essence when presenting a hooked head. Per expert headers, tons and tons of time must first float free before a bunker head is finally inhaled by a lazy mongo striper, a fish that doesn’t feel much like chasing anything overly fast – as in anything faster than a slow crawl. A dead bunker head sitting idly on the bottom is a real nice meal speed.
But even with a working knowledge that time is the best bait when tossing about bunker heads, there may be even a bigger trick to getting striper takes.
Fresh is foremost.
I was among the lost legions that figured the bunker head was the last salvageable part of a gone-bad bunker. In other words, after a bunker has given up the ghost of freshness, the head is the only portion that looks remotely usable. It’s the “last hope for this carcass” theory.
That’s a dead wrong concept.
For a head to work it big-bass magic, it has to be dripping freshness, literally.
What was I thinking? Here I’m a baitman tied to the fresh is best axiom. In the past, I’ve even written about kingfish heads as a super striper bait -- but only when bleedingly fresh.
Well, fresh bunker heads, here I come. An audible shutter passes through the striper biomass.

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