Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Weekly Blog-ism for Aug 1, 2007 -- Tourney talk and serious reg gab

Marlin Tourney Rocks With BFTs

Well, for some odd reason we really have to talk full-blown fishing in here this week since someone went and secretly named this column “The Fish Story.” That name change caught me by surprise since it took place so suddenly – something like 20 years ago.

This week, I’m up to my proverbial gills in angling energy, having spent four consecutive days writing up a very exciting Beach Haven Marlin and Tuna Club’s White Marlin Invitational Tournament 2007.

For those write-ups, you can go to www.wmit2007.wordpress.com or for all my daily write-ups you can electronically enter the blog-world of http://jaymanntoday.ning.com/.)

I learned a loadful of big-game tourney stuff by micro-observing this famed white marlin tourney.

I picked up a nice slab of knowledge about tuna identification, which was useful with this year’s quantum shift from the usual yellowfin tuna over to the rarer bluefin tuna. Seems the offshore canyons had pretty drab waters lacking the warmth needed to hold yft. That’s the lettering found inscribed on the bellies of all yellowfin tuna. Yeah, right?

On opening day, the boat Ocean 58, docking with the tourney’s very first weigh-ins, vividly displayed what bluefin tuna were all about, offering a 181.7-pound bft. I had a sense the bar was being set pretty high. That was confirmed when it held up the entire contest. However, it was dramatically challenged by a spit-and-image bft taken Thursday by the Reel Trouble. Amazingly, that later fish weighed in at a 181.5 – and had a gaff wound that might have been in the 2-ounce range. In other words one fish weighed 2,903 ounces and the challenger weighed 2901. Exciting stuff for us watching the event unfold but we didn’t have to tally the amount those 2 ounces were worth.

Of import was the way the event’s dockside weigh-in team faithfully checked each gill plate for any ice cubes trapped therein. The guys even poked a finger in gaff holes to remove any embedded cubes. That seemed a bit much to me until I saw the the difference between the event’s largest tunas coming down to mere ounces – mere ice curbs.

While doing daily duty at the contest, I also perfected the art of telling a bona fide white marlin from a hatchet “white” marlin, the later being the top theme fish caught this year, via a 85.15-pound billfish taken by the give-it-go crew of the Dragonfly, who attributed their fine catch to “beginner’s luck.” Maybe, but it takes serious skill to bring in a fish like that, regardless. That fish would loom large (prize money-wise) since a marlin of any size essentially trumps all tunas, even those weighing much more than the qualifying billfish. Hey, it’s called the “white marlin” invitational. In prizes and calcuttas (see below) the hatchet marlin pursed Dragonfly a cool $101,975.

The Dragonfly fish was the only qualifying marlin entered in the tourney, though there were upwards of a dozen undersized marlin caught and released, including a few 500-pound-ish blue marlin.
As for other tourney species, two fine wahoo were entered, led by a 43.7-pounder caught by Smokin’ Again and a 42.95 caught by J&J Express, a former white marlin category winner
Somewhat surprisingly, it took until the final day for the scales to read a qualifying mahi (dolphin fish), one taken by Taramar III. That fish was worth a quick $500, which, I’m sure, helped cover the tourney’s $750 entry fee. (Sorry I shortened the name to Tara III on my website, guys)
What I most absorbed from my time at the BHM&TC clubhouse was the complexity -- and astounding tension -- within a big tourney’s calcutta realm.

Most of you know that calcuttas are essentially contestant-driven side monies placed in a kitty that eventually goes to the boat catching the biggest and/or best fish – providing the biggest/best fish is taken by a boat entered into a given calcutta.

Even if you’re not wild about cats, those tourney kitties can get quite cuddly, as in over $100,000 for the so-called “big” calcutta in this event. That chunk of change was won by a 169.5-pound bluefin tuna taken by Fish Trap, even though that tuna was only the third largest – and the boat crew had to sweat out the entire final day to see if any later fish would yank that voluptuous purse from their gaff.

But how did the third largest fish grab the biggest bucks?

Seems neither Ocean 58 (181.7 bft) nor Reel Trouble (181.5 bft) were entered into the big calcutta. What’s more, the Fish Trap third-biggest tuna also weathered the take-all marlin weigh-in, since the Dragonfly had also foregone entering the big calcutta. You can see the weird whoops and whoopies of calcutta-ing.

I should note that Ocean 58 was entered into three smaller calcuttas and took home a very non-paltry $63,000.

Because the Fish Trap had also entered the smaller calcuttas, its total winning reached an event high $119,600.

There were also big bucks via the club, including the “chest,” sporting cash in the $20,000 range, along with other prizes.

For me, easily the most entertaining point in the tourney was watching the Fish Trap crew sweating it out as boats arrived all of Saturday, each one with the potential to steal away its $100,000 prize. Now that’s entertainment.

POLLY WANNA SLACKER?: One final hookup was needed by White Marlin Invitational Tournament anglers before taking home the big prize money they had apparently won via huge fish. Due to the pretty packages of payout now being dangled as bait in the tourney, there is now a mandatory last rite of being polygraph tested.

Boy, those guys are strict, eh?

The club’s polygraph is administered by an enormous guy wearing a black hood over his head, with jagged slits cut out where milky blue eyes peer emotionlessly outward. The administer also wears a black leather biker’s vest that buttons down the sides, where bear-like tufts of hair leak out. He manipulates the polygraph with two incredibly monstrous arms, covered in demonic tattoos so large and nasty the tattoos have their own nasty tattoos. He calls himself The Truth Guy.

Just kidding. I hear the test is quick and easy. What’s more, the use of the polygraph, sometimes called “the box,” is now a common practice in bigger fishing events. It is simply meant to keep things on the up and up – lest you have to deal with The Truth Guy.

And I know all about the box. The fishing club I’m in often uses the polygraph. With us, it’s a little different. If you successfully pass the test, you’re banned forever.

IT’S GETTING REAL FISHY OUT THERE: I’ll emphasize the fishy side of things this week since angling recently took some pleasant twists and upturns, especially in Barnegat Bay and outward into the ocean off Barnegat Inlet.

Of the nearly two dozen fluking reports I picked up via emails or by calling around today, all talked of huge takes of flatties, with a very decent keeper count.

I’ve noticed that anglers don’t maintain keeper-to-throwback percentages as much when they’re getting adequate take-homes material. When fluking goes sufferingly small, as it had been earlier this summer, I get a calculator-esque exactness on the keeper-to-throwback ratio. “We averaged 1 keeper to 13 throwbacks,” was typical of exacting emails. Now the reports tend to read like this actual write-in, Jay, Flounder fishing is good, both bay and ocean. Caught a nice limit Saturday near the LE reef, good ratio of keepers to shorts. They wanted meat. Big strips of sea robin or bluefish on either a bucktail or a hook. Sunday, in a short trip south end, my wife caught an 8-lb, 27-inch slab in the bay, south end, on a bucktail tipped with squid, plus one other keeper, then we called it a day. Paul.”

That e-reprot is very telling. While the north end, especially Barnegat Inlet (via Double Creek) has had flounder in very healthy numbers, the less fluke-populated south end has a goodly showing of doormats. I’m not sure why that is.

BAIT SIZE MATTERS: There is a huge contingency of flukers who swear by the “big bait” theory.

While I’m anything but a fluke expert, I, too, like a major “look” when drifting for flatties. I always go with offshore strolling squids (those are the huge squid you buy one at a time). I maximize the length and width of the strips instead of cutting them into smaller lengths – which is kinda crazy since you can just buy the cheaper littler squids for that. Sea robins also work superfine when going chuncky. Those big and fatty single-side fillets from robins may make a seemingly unsightly presentation but apparently it looks just fine to flatties. The only down side to mega-chunks of sea robin is the dead feel, seaweed-ish, it gives a rod if hand-holding it during a drift.

Obviously, there is an increased wait time after a bigger chunk has been picked up and before setting the hook.

FLUKE REG RATTLINGS: Oddly, it’s always with subtle trepidation I talk about ass-kicking fluke fishing like we’re now seeing. Flatties have become as sensitized a subject as striped bass were back in the 1980s, during moratorium times.

As you likely know, there is a huge push by the National Marine Fisheries Service (part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to cut back on next year’s summer flounder quota after, only months back, talking about the great increases on the recreational horizon, beginning in 2008.

The fight against the cutbacks is being lead by Congressmen Jim Saxton and Frank Pallone.

Both of those politicos are heavily geared to help recreational fishing – and both congressmen (Jim, in particular) carry some serious weigh in D.C. However, they could carry the weigh of a wooly mammoth and still not be able to trample down NMFS, which has the legal leverage of the reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Act.

That powerful bipartisan legislation was actually designed to be tamper and trample resistant. One of its most poignant properties was to absolutely assure – and carry out – the scheduled recovery of all U.S. fisheries based on the best data science has to offer. Right now, science is saying things are not on the right track for a proper summer flounder recovery in the allotted timeframe. That would violate federal law, plain and simple.

Fortunately, our country is not run by the no-sway premises of Napoleonic Law. There is always sensible give-and-take within laws. For that reason, the congressmen (heavily spurred by anglers) are looking for some give from NMFS.

Back to hooking. Bluefish abound. Kingfish are pretty much no-shows. Junkfish are easy to find -- and hard to avoid. Bluefin tuna didn’t leave with WMIT’s end. It’s turning into very bad year for mahi. Stripers a non-factor in overall action, though small bass can be taken at just about any jetty. Throw out some bright white plastics on a jighead and nab-and-release any resident stripers.

Typical for summertime, there is a rash of “run-off” reports. From backbay to the main bay to inlets to nearshore water to offshore canyons, those one-that-got-away tales are still the main talk of the block. During the WMIT2007, I heard about losses of fish so big (both the fish and the tales) that one can only guess at what monsters lie in wait when you put a bait or lure in the water.

Sharks keep cropping into “run-off” conversations. One kayaker surmised that he needed a “bigger kayak” after hooking a major shark that went acrobatically airborne, not far off the beach – and al too close to his kayak. Although his shark may have been a bull, a blue, a spinner or even a hyped up dusky, I’ve heard from folks who swear they’ve seen makos in close. That is not out of the question, since the nearshore water all the way out to the canyons has been chilly and not that clean. Such watery dankness could get just about any species o shark cruising the close-in coast for a look-see.

By the by, there are indicators that the canyons are about to return to their royal blue summer hue. That has to do with shifts in the Gulf Stream and this tropical depression moving (well out at sea) northward from Bermuda. Such storms often shove tropical water northward.

Cownosed rays are out there. They’re fun during boring times – and they’re more than willing to take lighter tackle to task. However, we seem to be in the “off” side of this off-and-on fishery. When we’re on with rays, the schools are mind-boggling, numbering in the tens of thousands, often darkening huge stretches of beachline waters as they smoothly wing around.

Speaking of cownoses, fishermen and scientists in the Chesapeake Bay area are pondering the possibility of encouraging the commercial fishing of these rays in an effort to prevent their opportunistic eating away at aquacultural shellfish beds -- not to mention natural shellfisheries slowly recovering from flagrant over fishing.

While loosing commercialites on any species would seem a surefire way to knock the species back to its maker, fishery biologists aren’t overly keen to the concept.

Science tells them that female cownose rays don’t reproduce until 7 or 8 years of age, thereafter birthing only one pup a year. History tells us that slow reproducers are catastrophically vulnerable to sophisticated fishing.

Of course, an anglers’ knee jerk reaction is to point to the massive number of rays now in the system and say “Sic ‘em!”

Biologists will counter by pointing to Brazil, where a very similar stingray species was calculatedly targeted. Within a few years, Korean fishermen had all but obliterated that ray’s biomass. That same stingray species is now considered “critically endangered” in most areas and is marked as “obliterated” in others. Geez, and that comes as surprise?

I’d have to say we have a far larger bio-quandary when it comes to skate, which seem legitimately too plentiful -- and more than willing to eat everything in sight, whereas the rays have a more selective diet.

While on the subject of conservation and commercial fishing, there is a very important National Marine Fisheries shark management meeting taking place on August 8, right over the bridge in Manahawkin, at the Manahawkin Public Library, 128 North Main St. It will run from 6 PM to 8:50 PM.

I’m not real up on this management issue so I’ll pas on this communiqué from Captain John Koegler, who is very hot on the subject. Write John, “NMFS proposed to require recreationals to release all the following shark species in future years: Sandbar, Dusky, bull, blacktip, spinner, porbeagle, blacknose and fine tooth sharks.

None of the above will be allowed to be possessed by recreational fishermen in future years.

NMFS proposed the commercial landings of sandbars be limited to selected research commercial boats with a yearly quota of 116.6 MT or 257,056 lbs per year.

The commercial shark destroyers get a quota and recreationals get eliminated.

Does NMFS intends over time to remove all recreationals from HMS fisheries? At this time they have already stated they are issuing too many recreational HMS permits.

So much for justice from NMFS. The Magnuson law says commercials and recreationals must be treated equally.

FLUKE REG FOCUS: JCAA’s Tom Fote is “the man” when it comes to understanding the utter complexities of the entire management system.

In order to get a proper read on what’s about to transpire regarding next year’s (gloomy) fluke fishing regs, please closely read the following release from Tom.

Commit to memory the legal procedures involved. In that way, you won’t be among those last-minute ragers who come up with all these high fallutin’ cure-all fluke management suggestions for 2008 when all that can be done is to assist the state in deciding on which highly undesirable selection should be made.

Fote’s statement: “The Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (MAFMC) and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) will be having a joint meeting in Port Jefferson, NY on August 7-8 to set the total quotas for summer flounder, black seabass, scup and bluefish for 2008.

The ASMFC can delay its actions on setting quotas until another meeting and that is what they did last year.

The MAFMC and the ASMFC will them meet in December to set the recreational size and bag limits for 2008.

If ASMFC decides to allow conservation equivalence it will send out tables to the states that will show different options that states can pick from. These tables do not leave a lot of room for new ideas.

(ASMFC) will also know if NJ went over the quota for 2007. If Marine Recreational Statistical Survey says NJ has gone over the recreational Total Allowable Catch (TAL) then the tables will reflect that extra reduction.

There are not going to be any good options for 2008 since it looks as if the quota is going to be smaller and we are catching a lot of legal fish so we are probably going over the small 2007 TAL. Sometime in early 2008 the NJ Marine Fisheries Council Committee for summer flounder will have a meeting with it advisors to look at options and try to come to consensus. After that meeting at the next NJMFC full meeting the full council will vote on recommends for the size and bag limits for 2008 and forward those recommendations to the Commissioner for approval.

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