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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

WEEKLY COLUMN FOR AUGUST 29, 07 -- BEACH BUGGYING 101 INCLUDED

Don’t you just hate time warps?

The cosmos does a belch and just like that the time period between Memorial Day and Labor Day, which is supposed to run something like 14 weeks, is over in just under a couple weeks.

Sure, to the untrained eye it looks like we had a full summer, based on inaccurate measuring tools like clocks, calendars and such, but I know better. Heck, I haven’t even decided which sunblock I’ll be using this summer, proof positive that this most soothing of seasons cannot be coming to a close.

Unfortunately, I have to run with the misappropriated timeframe being blindly accepted out there, that means I have to gear up for the instantly approaching fall season – which may only a week or so at the warped rate we’re going.

Anyway, as janitors put the 20th coat of high-slip wax on school hallway floors, awaiting the onslaught of heavy-heeled learners, I always get a localized chuckle at the huge number of anglers who think in terms of the fishing year coming to a close with the arrival of September.

I guess even I should acknowledge the data indicating that fluking fishing is far-and-away the most popular fishery going. When that season ends, as it soon shall, it’s haul-out time for many flattie fisherpersons. What’s more, weakfishing, another species associated with “vacationer summer” (Memorial Day to Labor Day), will also be going the way of lifeguarded beaches.

As we approach that insignificant 9-month time period known as the “frickin’ rest of the year!” a great many of us are champing at the bit to finally get down to some serious angulating. For months to come, I’ll be ratcheting it up in here (and in my daily blogs at http://jaymanntoday.ning.com) as average temps slowly dip down and the hooking heats up.

All this season-end chat moves a slew of mobile anglers into a Holgate state of mind. Though I have no official word yet from Forsythe, it seems the far south end beaches will open this coming weekend. A goodly part of this week’s Fish Story will be dedicated to a beach buggy methods and etiquettes.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007: Waves: 2-3 out of the north. Water clarity: Good.

Full moon tonight will have me first weakfishing near Surf City (bayside) then heading out into the Pines to explore an old homestead site where a tragedy befell an isolated family back in the 1880s. I’m hoping to find something unexplainable. If not, I’ll be looking for a rare type of night tigerbeetle.

I had a couple reports of near insane weakfishing, mainly west Barnegat Bay. The numbers are up their in ducks-in-a-barrel range. Years back I has a couple weakie trips that were so nonstop my buddy and I resorted to the old boredom standby of fishing with just bare gold hooks. Still, it’s fun to hear of any gamefish being that populated in this day and age.

A mid-Island angler caught three kingfish today. All were smallish but keepable. He also had another king dissected by a serious bluefish, far from a cocktail, he said. I’m actually thinking shark. A big shark isn’t even remotely above grabbing even a tiny meal.

A buggy note that Harvey Cedars is still undecided about opening the beaches to mobile fishermen. It might come up at the next town meeting so anyone wanting to add some input should check the meeting’s agenda. Surf City has also not discussed the buggy season. In that case, it will likely come down to what Mayor/King Connors decides.

I had an email suggesting the big bunker snagged from the bait balls off the beach are only fit for later crabbing trips. Perish the thought. Ice those suckers, freeze them quickly after getting home and they’ll serve as super chunk bait later in fall.

The Recreational Fishing Alliance has taken the fluke controversy to a potentially lethal level by suggesting the Magnuson-Steven Act should be re-written. Here’s the release:

UGLY IRONY: I’ve brought up the potentially deadly issue of street crossing here on LBI. The issue became fishing -- in the widest sense -- since many Island anglers deal with the massive summer pedestrian parade while driving larger SUVs and pickup trucks.

Over the weekend, an entirely different and deadly dangerous crossing occurred near the Fish factory.

On Sunday, a 34-foot Ocean Master named Faith apparently ran over a 19-foot Sea Craft cuddy cabin-type vessel. It took place in the middle of the Intercoastal Waterway off the south end of LBI. The smaller boar was mangled and its operator, John A. Cohen was thrown in the water.

As Ocean Master captain Frank Castellvi, 46, haled the Coast Guard, a nearby Seatow vessel, arrived on-scene in under two minutes. The Seatow captain jumped into the water and secured Cohen, who was still conscious and communicating at the time.

However, Cohen was pronounced dead shortly after the rescue.

The accident expectedly caused a ripple of both remorse and response among the boating community.

A distress sets in after any on-water fatality. It reverberates in a personal way among all who fish and motor the waterways. The sense that this could easily happen to anyone out there is coupled with the need to know how and why the accident occurred.

The details, at this point, indicate the Faith had slowed in the chanbnel/waterway – likely due to the boating traffic and also in preparation for a turn in the channel. The captain was traveling at a low-wake speed, sometimes called displacement speed, during a turn. He then accelerated to resume cruising or planing speed, this seems to be when the impact occurred.

This is purely conjecture on my part, but when first accelerating that type of boat –as with many larger vessels – there is a phase, called a transitional speed, during which the hull raises up dramatically. This phase is often accompanied by a blind period, when the pilot’s forward view of the water immediately in front of the boat is greatly obscured by the hull. During this transition, a captain can have even the horizon obscured for as long 10 seconds, though on average it is more in the range of 5 to 6 seconds.

By way of reference, the accident took place at the 126 Buoy, not real far from the Fish Factory, where there’s a dogleg turn in the ICW. The channel there is tucked tightly between extreme shallows on either side. To make that turn, it requires a larger vessel to lose its plane, make the tight turn and reaccelerate.

The response by the boating public has been a learning experience for me. With no specific references to this accident, the chatroom exchanges seem to be bandying about conflicting stances, one side suggesting the ICW is a major highway and should not be frequented by fishermen and such, the other saying larger boats are often guilty of arrogantly pushing around their weight around endangering everyone within publicly-owned waters.

This is not a new debate but incidents like this loose the two schools of thought. Obviously, the most sensible line is somewhere midstream, both sides needing to use safety and discretion at all times. Even in the best-balanced boating sites, accidents often happen, though at a much lower rate then on our highway and byways.

However, and this looms large in the legal scheme of things, all non-powered vessels, including kayaks, sailing vessels and boats at anchor or at drift, have “the right of way.” I’m not saying they’re out there being sensible with that right of way but the law sees them as profoundly vulnerable and technically off-limits. Still, each accident has to be investigated as a unique incident. And, in the end, some come down to being, simply, a tragic accident.

RUN-DOWN: The fishing has been very much to the liking of the Slowskys, those tortoises that work for Comcast -- and like everything comatose or slower. Our angling slowness harkens back to the after-age of the long storm of last week. Things were sluggish in recovering due to large waves and fidgety winds. However, there are strong indicators things could really detonate on the bite fronts, especially weakfish and (I fear saying it) fluke.

Fluking pressure is going to be nearly incalculable with this holiday weekend being so close to the end of the summer flounder season. However, the drifts had been a bit poor recently so there are no guarantees that hooking will be hyper. Here’s a fluking email: Fished Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the ocean off Beach Haven. Keeper ratio is good but the numbers are not there. I've been using live mullet and live peanut bunkers so maybe the bigger baits is why the numbers are so low.”

I just want to doubly alert folks – as we see the end of fluking season on the not-distant horizon – that the bandied about 15-million pound 2008 quota is still very much in doubt. The final “advisory” will be made in December and there is easily a better than even chance that number will plummet, that comes from a source close to NMFS who emailed off the record to say the regulators are very much looking into any overages for this year. I don’t like the drift of this and any further reduction will sit poorly with anglers who have never seen so many fluke out there. Again, that’s the double-edged sword thing: All those fish illustrate that the stocks seem fine but it indicates huge over-takes of poundage. I personally have no doubt we are over by a mountain’s worth of flatties – and, like others, will say “If they weren’t there we wouldn’t have caught them!”

Weakfishing has actually revitalized fairly well, post-storm, but even that action takes some know-how to find the main bite, whereas everyone and anyone was picking them right before the blow.

We’ll surely soon be seeing a mustering of the sparklers since that shifty species is among the earliest departers at season’s end nears. Here’s an early indicator of that mustering: “The weakfish bite yesterday was the best so far this season. It was a 70 – 75 weakfish trip with most being keepers. The biggest fish where in the 18 – 19” range. Everyone on board could have easily kept their limits but released most of them. The bite on the incoming was a nice steady pick but turned hot on the ebb with numerous double headers. It often took no longer than seconds to get a strike after dropping your shrimp over. Capt. Alex Majewski, Lighthouse Sportfishing.”

That report also confirms some earlier indicators that the weakfishing biomass for 2007 is huge. I sure hope they move out a Slowsky pace, taking a load of stop-over time near the inlets – and Holgate.

The bluefishing took maybe the largest drop with the storm, going from gangbusters to occasional flurries. That, however, seems to also be changing with the better water we now have moving in out there. A few full-blown birdplay blitzes were found not far off the beaches on Monday.

The bait showing is impressive in some nearshore areas. Rainfish, spearing, small bunker and larger bunker are among the baitballs. The calmer ocean will allow those bunker to be easily seen, though there is currently nothing below them – short of big sharks. Still, just having all those dinner bells ringing out there will surely attract the good gamefish real soon. You have to remember, we are still technically in the Dog Days, with the better part of a summer month to go before the start of fall – which has not been starting on time for many years now.

Tuna fishing is very good, with some ultra-rare swordfish showing. Canyon bite has been active enough to get big gamefishermen doing turnarounds to get back out again.

Bassing remains bad by even summer standards. The very few fish taken are smallish. The best bet seems to be inside Barnegat Inlet, either side. In fact, folks walking the New south Jetty throwing plugs and teasers are having a lot of fun, mainly because they’re willing to have fun even if it means no walk-off meat.

Ocean herring are everywhere but to catch them you need teasers or (better yet) daisy chains of small white freshwater plastic grubtails. By the by, these are the type herring that are used for large-scale pickling purposes around the world, though our spring blueback herring are by-far the best tasting herring on the planet.

It is neigh impossible to eat herring by frying or baking. The bones, tiny and wicked, are everywhere – and it’s easy to consider tempting the choke monster since the cooked meat is delicious, very similar to Boston mackerel. As you know, pickling dissolves herring bones while baking actually hardens them.

BEACH BUGGYING 101: I can’t count the number of emails I’ve had requesting info on beach buggying. So, here’s a crash course.

(By the by, I’m building toward a possible brochure so I’m very open to additional material any of fellow buggyists think should be included.)

IT’S EASY – AND NOT: Up and down the Island, there has been a spike in fishing folks buying buggy permits. Many permit seekers are first-timers. I could write a coffee table-type book on just the subtleties and peculiarities of driving the beaches of LBI. Our sands are easily among the toughest beaches to drive in all North America. I’ve talked with beach buggyists from around the nation who have also driven LBI’s sands and they instantly rate our beaches among the toughest goes in the business.

That in mind, here’s the moist obvious – and oft overlooked -- starting point to buggying: Buy your frickin’ permits!

You’ll need different permits from each LBI municipality where you plan on driving to fish (or whatever). Barnegat Light does not allow buggies for whatever reason.

You need a localized permit to even drive across a municipality’s beach. I bring that up since the popular Long Beach Township permit (see below) covers widely separated sections of the Island with entire towns lying between those beach sections. For instance, getting from the Brant Beach section of LBT to the North Beach section of the municipality entails driving across the beaches of Ship Bottom and Surf City. Though there is likely a strong case for the state’s Public Trust Doctrine being applied to allow simple crossages from Point A to Point B without needing separate permits, currently you must have permits for any town driven through.

The best permit buy for any buggyist is Long Beach Township, which covers roughly 60 percent of the LBI’s beaches, including Holgate. That permit is $50 and runs from January to December, excluding the summer months. There are no drivable beaches from May through August.

I don’t have room to list the various opened and closed buggying months but the beach driving begins with the opening of Holgate (September 1) and gets going all the way by October 1, final beaches.

The prices for permits run from $25 (Beach Haven and Ship Botom) upward. It’s up to you to contact each municipality for buggying details. Also, this year both Harvey Cedars (eroded beaches) and Surf City (new beaches) have yet to determine if buggies will be allowed.

Regarding permits, you may not be confronted by the law very often but those of us who pay for permits get highly irritated by slack-offs. I, for one, go from suspicious to satisfied when I see a new vehicle coming on the beach then see the legal permit(s). Welcome.

But on to better stuff.

First, always air down your tires -- significantly. It’s disturbing how many dealerships sell 4WD vehicles and fail to notify new owners about letting air out of the tires. I even had a dealer once tell me that the SUVs he sold didn’t need to air down tires since they had “oversized” tires. Double BS, as you’ll see below.

On wide average, letting your tire pressure down to between 16 to 18 psi is about right for beginners, depending on size and make of your buggy. Once you get expert-ized – a few years, at least – you can ride the edge of deflation. I often sneak through weeks of buggying at maybe 22 psi, allowing for limited on-road driving at higher speeds. I also know instantly when the sand is winning – and I’m sinking. I jump out and perform a rapid deflate way before I reach Bogsville – and the dig-out it requires. Rule: Always keep a load of digging tools on hand – always.

Speaking of tires, big beefy tire treads are not at all good for soft-sand travel. They bite too deeply. I’m sure they’re fine for rocky terrain but they’ll need a lot of air released before they are able to travel atop the sand. Aggravatingly, dealerships often hype these thick treaded tires as perfect for the beach. Total opposite.

I prefer wide so-called road tires. Road tire tread quickly flatten out with even minimal air removal, allowing the tires to cross atop sand without biting into it. They are also better on gas when not beaching it.

With our tires tweaked, let’s hit the sand.

Getting on the beach is usually a breeze, which is actually not the best thing (see below).

Use only legal access points. Most beach buggy access streets have signs. Become expertized on these allowable streets – and mark what they look like from the beach so you can pick them out based on landmarks, usually unusual houses.

Drive on very slowly, looking for pedestrians or other vehicles that might be coming off the beach. Exiting vehicles often have a head of steam for affecting a beach departure. There is really no rule (or law) as to who has the right of way in that instance. Politeness with a goodly amount of logic works best. The vehicle that can most easily pull over or back-up should do so. I’m always backing down or pulling over to allow other the rights of way. That’s just me.

But back to driving onto the beach. After every storm, without fail (!), make sure erosion hasn’t created a deadly drop-off – what we call cut-aways -- right where you routinely drive onto the beach. If unsure, get out and do a visual check before committing. Remember, you don’t even want to get too close to cutaways. The weight of your buggy can cause a collapse from many feet away from the edge.

Once on the beach, be a tred-setter not a trendsetter. Look for well-carved tracks from previous vehicles. If you travel those tred tracks faithfully you’ll be a happy buggyist. If everyone would do the same, we wouldn’t have nearly as many SBAHs (Stuck Beyond All Hope).

When traveling, keep a steady speed (15 mph tops, legally). Always maintain momentum when heading into tougher, looser sand beach areas. The ends of jetties are especially tricky to get around -- and dangerous when erosion has left gaping drop-offs near the rocks. If it looks too narrow, it probably is. Ask yourself, “Is it worth wrecking my vehicle?” That same question can be asked a lot when safely buggying.

Always be well aware of what’s up ahead. You’ll quickly learn how to detect tricky or treacherous zones even in the distance. If it looks too junked up ahead, turn around.

And turning around can be tricky business.

The best way to turn around is to stop on a solid stretch of beach, check rearview mirror, go into reverse, get some momentum and quickly turn up-beach (toward dunes) at a 90 degree angle, for about a vehicle’s length. Switch into drive and go forward, turning quickly onto the tracks you made driving there. Sure, you can do the same thing with a big swooping U-turn-- and that’s what many folks do -- but that has some serious sinkage dangers for newbies and it also leaves huge scars in the sand that are like potholes for other buggies as the pass over them. You won’t be making buggy buddies by leaving torn up beaches in your wake.

When readying to fish, you don’t have to buggy all the way down to water’s edge. That is yet another kiss of death for newby mobile fishermen. If the sand near the water is firm or wet during lower tides, it’s easy to sidle up to the surf. But, more often than not, you’ll likely be dealing with parking on the sinky sand berms nearest the water. Berms are those built-up sand walls closest to the water. They hold the worst sand possible, loose and willing to consume any vehicle at any time.

Also, berms are often slightly, or heavily, tilted downward toward the water. It’s a doomsday buggying scenario to drive anywhere on the tilt (or even the top) of berms. Next to access/exit points, more buggies bog down on berms than anywhere else. And it is easily the scariest of all places to sink – your buggy sunk up to the chassis with pounding surf beginning to move in with the rising tide. If you have to transit a berm, hit as straight on as practical, accelerating with enough speed to make it over the top but not so fast as you go Dukes of Hazzard. It’s a learning curve, one best learned with a buddy in another buggy keeping track of things.

Best place to park when fishing is on solid wet sand nearer the water (always knowing the exact tide times – ready to roll as water rise). During higher tides or tricky wet sand conditions, there’s nothing wrong with parking higher up on the beach, just don’t park on the main thoroughfare, marked by heavy tire tracks in the sand.

Finally, unlike entering a beach, exiting can be frustratingly problematic. The steeper the angle of the beach at an exit point, the greater the challenge. A newby should find the gentlest off-and-on beach buggy accesses and stick with them -- forever. If in doubt, ask (or watch) experienced buggyists.

It should go without saying that if you keep bogging down trying to get up a tough beach exit, drive to the next access point -- or, the next, or, the next. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen neophyte buggyists (and more than a few veteran) repeatedly try to scale the same street-end slope, their buggies throwing plumes of sand from behind their furiously spinning tires. It’s always a headshaker for those of us seeing that – and a royal pain as we go to get off and the exit is torn to hell and back.

Final notes: At the first signs of a bog-down, just stop right then and there. Get out and let more air out of the tires. Dig a little to clear the tires, front and back. Works almost every time. Should you get in deep, get ready to dig – remember those tools I told you to have at all times? To help your dig-out cause, there are often folks to help you move sand. Still, keep a cellphone around to call police, who will alert towing services that have 4WD trucks. To get towed you’re looking at $250 and up. I often do a headshake when a buggyist driving a $40,000 vehicle gets towed from hopeless sinkage -- with a rising tide -- then balks at the payment. Hey, there are hazards to beach buggying, face that and you’ll actually drive more cautiously -- have more fun.

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