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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Noodling Nutcases and Bad Crossings

NO, YOU GRAB IT: I have to highlight a fishing practice that defies logic and can send even an extreme adenine junky running for mommy.

Have you ever heard of catfish noodling?

Yes, you’d remember it if you had.

For me – an outdoorsman and veteran diver and surfer – catfish noodling exemplifies everything I’ve never wanted to do – or even think about doing.

In the most dignified terms I can use, there are these numbnuts in the Deep South who put on just a bathing suit and sneakers, then wade into the murky waters of a river, lake or swamp where they slosh along near the banks looking for overhangs or deep holes.

Once a dark and ominous sub-aquatic spot is found – and here’s where it gets beyond freaky – a nutcase noodler dives into it and blindly gropes around in the mud or inside crevasses or among submerged roots or under sunken logs hoping to get huge and perpetually hungry catfish – which can reach 100 pounds – to chomp down on his hands. Once grabbed by a fish, that thinks it’s just gotten hold of a meal of lifetime, the noodler fights the fish until he gets the, uh, upper hand on the catty by grabbing the fish by the lower lip using with both hands. Once firmly gripped, the fisherman explodes from the water like submarine-launched missiles holding his whiskered prize in the air and, along with the boys on the shore, goes “Yeeha!” – and they all have another beer.

Believe me, this is true stuff. And, yes, there are many other things that reside – and hide – right where noodlers noodle about. Among the numerous aquatic bad-grabs hiding in the turbid waters are alligators and, worse yet, alligator snapping turtles, the planets largest “snapper” that can reach 100 pounds and would consider a hairy tattooed redneck arm a mere appetizer – though that can of Miller Beer might perk the reptile’s interest.

But here’s what gets me wondering into the wee hours of the morning: How did that get started? I have to believe it was a buncha drunken Rebs sitting on the banks of a river when one of them drops a bottle of beer into the drink, issues a slurred “Sommabitch” and reaches into the water for the bottle. The rest is pure Deep South folklore. Can you imagine the look on the faces of those Good Old Boys when their buddy screams and pulls his arm out with a 40-pound catfish attached to it? I can see it now, as they all just sit there staring, mouths clean open, with only Big Bubba in his white T-shirt and overalls goin,’ “What in the name of sweet Moses … !?”

I’m guessing it took about seven to eight days for those guys to stop laughin’. After that, it became a daily “Come on, Billy Ray Bob, do it again. Please. We’ll buy the beer.”

A legend is born and noodling roots outward.

By the by, the IGFA does not accept noodled catfish for the record books. Wimps.

TAKE THE RAY TRAIN: The cow-nose rays are back and town – and when they’re back they’re really back; thousands strong. Wave loads have been seen in many surf zones. Since they travel en mass this could be just the start of an arriving ray train.

And this year they’ll be lovin’ life here.

We had a huge calico crab hatch following the last (full) moon. That is the very foodstuff the rays a come all this way to enjoy. Since these are shallow-water crabs, the rays are more than willing to cruise, at length, the very nearshore waters, also frequented by bathers. Cruising rays can be so tightly packed and so numerous they turn waves reddish brown. On many occasions – including a few times over the weekend – rays and humans are fully intermingled.

I was asked: Shouldn’t the lifeguards clear people out of the water?

No way. The rays are fine and kindly. The sharks that follow the rays everywhere are fed and lazy. Now, those stinkin’ bottom-lurking crabs that bite your feet. They’re a whole different story. Aggressive little buggers.

By the by, I don’t even think that blitizing bluefish pose a threat to bathers. I free-dove amid ravenously blitzing blues in North Carolina and even grazed amid the seemingly sheer madness. In fact, none of the hundreds of racing blues even bumped into me.

GOOD SAMARITAN OR NOT: I have to go a bit somber here by bringing up what is, to me, a nightmare accident scenario here on LBI. I know this applies to many fellow anglers driving pickup trucks and larger SUVs.

I fully dread the stop-for-pedestrian scenario as applied to Long Beach Boulevard.

(By the by, I had a couple call-ins on the following incident. Both were eyewitnesses)

I’m the proverbial Good Motoring Samaritan. I ready myself to stop every time I’m driving the Boulevard and see pedestrians all but trapped, mid-Boulevard -- waiting in huddled masses inside the turning lane as traffic zip by, front and behind. It’s beyond spooky when you’re stuck on the hot macadam in that no-man’s land, especially when you have multiple kids in tow.

I’m never in so much of a hurry that I won’t gladly brake and allow those folks to escape. But there arises my greatest terror: I stop, the pedestrians proceed and the vehicles in the lane next to me just keep truckin’.

Such was the case over the weekend when a couple young ladies were crossing the Boulevard in Brighton Beach. A Good Samaritan driver stopped and signaled the girls across. One of the girls, 14, waved thanks and speedily began crossing. Her girlfriend tried to grab her. No sooner did she reach the next lane then she was hit full on by a couple in sedan. I’m guessing the driver in that car assumed the stopped vehicle was either readying to go into the turning lane or was turning from the Number 2 (fast) lane.

The victim was thrown into the air and onto the hood of the sedan. She was apparently knocked unconscious.

The victim was quickly given first aid. The vehicle directly behind the Good Samaritan contained a hospital nurse who managed to resuscitate the girl. Also, the always-speedy police, ambulance and EMT squads were on-scene in no time.

Anyway, this is not a unique accident at all, be it here or around the state.

The NJ statute requiring all vehicles to stop for pedestrians in marked crosswalks actually adds it’s own unintended consequences. It gets terribly tricky when some folks – including out-of-staters -- apply the law to non-painted crosswalks, which includes many Boulevard crossings. Sticklers for the law are inclined to make frequent stops, while other drivers keep on keeping on, either oblivious to the law or interpreting it differently. Bad combo.

I want to offer motorists a huge tip on how to avoid this catastrophic crosswalk miss-match. It’s hyper-simple. With just a tad of insight, you can see folks wanting to cross up ahead in a crosswalk. Begin slowing up way back. Put on your flashers if you’re so inclined. Come to complete stop maybe 20 yards from the crossers. No, you’re not too far away for them to know what you’re doing. I do this daily and I’ve never had a single time when the crossers didn’t notice I was stopping for them – and 99.9 percent of the time they acknowledge me with a wave. That spacing allows a large margin of error for vehicles in adjacent lanes to slow/stop. Most importantly, it gives the crossers a huge read on any fast-approaching vehicles.

Needles to say, there’s no ultimate solution to this potentially deadly pedestrian-crossing scenario. Once again it comes down to indelible defensive driving, even when that surge of Island excitement is riding along. If ever there’s a time to put cellphones to rest and coffee cups in their holders it’s when steering the crowded roads and side streets of LBI.

KILL SWITCH -- OR BE KILLED: I’ve had a couple emails asking why I haven’t referenced the fatal boating accident in LE Inlet since it involved a lone fisherman – and the extreme dangers there-of.

I have talked to a witness to the tragedy and was told it was not an event to repeat in detail.

Simply put, an experienced Tuckerton fisherman either fell out of his vessel or was pitched overboard by a wave. The vessel was still in-gear and circled back, running over the man and killing him instantly.

As I often write, when you fall out of a boat you’re no longer a fishermen, you’re a swimmer. And, dare I say, many anglers are not the stuff of Olympiad strokers. What’s more, the potential of being pitched out of a boat is proportionate to the absolute aversion boaters have to wearing personal flotation devices.

But one device a number of lone anglers use faithfully is a “kill switch,” a simple appliance, attached by a lanyard to the boater and a key motor part. It shuts off a vessel if the captain becomes a swimmer.

Here’s a related email: “… I almost flew out of the boat years ago, by just hitting a wave while running fast. I always make it a point to have the kill switch tied to me when by myself. At least the boat stops then. I think most people view the kill switch as a pain and hence don't use it. Pete M.”

New-tech kill switches, like those offered by MariTech Industries, are wireless so captains won’t have to deal with that tethered sensation of lanyard-type devices.

BLOODWORM FARMS A NO-GO: Here’s an interesting email question I received: “Jay, Can bloodworms be raised? … I have a bayfront property with exposed mud every low tide and was thinking about buying worms at the shop and farming them.”

(The shock imported Maine worms would go through in being transplanted would lead to a 100 percent fatality rate. I know. There is a slight chance you could raise local bloodworms but even that possibility is fading fast.

I am probably one of the only people who has commercially harvested bloodworms in NJ. The work was horrifically hard, especially compared to harvesting in Maine, where every turn of the mud offers a showing of bloods.

On average, it took me maybe five pitchfork turnovers to harvest a single worm. They do come in spurts, though.

A couple decades back, I could dig upwards of 25 dozen bloods a tide – before collapsing in the mud from exhaustion, where five foot long ribbonworms would begin burrowing into my ears and nostrils.

Anyway, something very bad happened within the local bloodworm realm. They’re disappearing at a horrific rate. Understand, for over ten years I harvested them every year and saw no decline whatsoever. In fact, it seemed the more I annually turned the mud, the better the worming became. That same reap-and-sow pattern has long been noted by Maine diggers.

Then, about five or six years back – and within a couple summers – the worms went AWOL.

I don’t think it was a disease since other worms – like the aforementioned ribbonworms, along with a variety of other species closely related to bloodworms – are doing just fine as we speak. .

For a numerical comparison: In my prime North End dig area, throughout the mid 1990s, I had averaged over 20 dozen worms per one low tide. This spring, in three full-tide digs, I found 26 worms total -- for three days! The South End, where I could average 10 to 12 dozen per tide, I found none, zero, ziltch.

Trying to scientifically rationalize the problem, I considered the sand intrusion from nearby erosion (on both ends of the Island) but that didn’t jibe for the same reason as noted above: every other mudflat burrowing creature was doing utterly fine in the mud and sand, prospering, as it were.

It was through some technical scientific studies that I fear I may have found the main factor in their demise: heat.

We are in the very furthest southerly point in what might be called prime bloodworm habitat. They are very much a New England species. They just don’t like heavy heat.

When I look at my weather records, sure enough, there is a small overall summer temperature rise aligned with their disappearance.

Remember, in nature, even a seemingly small increase can cause huge changes.

In the last decade or so, we’ve experienced something like four of the seven hottest summers on record.

However, if we’ve learned anything about the coming and goings of all marine species, it’s the way they do, in fact, come and go. A couple cooler years – or some series of minor habitat changes -- and I may be writing about the huge resurgence of bloodworms. I sure wouldn’t mind that – and neither would my wallet, with the going price of those bloodworms.

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