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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Monday Oct. 22, 07 -- Slow as it can go in October

Monday, October 22, 2007: Waves: Choppy 2-4 feet out of the south; short-period wind swell. Water clarity: Very good but could get churned up as we go into another hard wind stretch. Water temps: Are-you-kidding mid to upper 60s. Bay water is cooler.

The action remains sadly slow. There is no other way to put it. Sure, some folks are finding blues or small bass and even a croaker here and big kingfish there but we’re approaching the beginning of the height of fall fishing and there is virtually no consistency to any bites. Weakfish remains the most intense bite for those who know the daily whereabouts of these feisty fighters. Biggest letdown (the bass are only late, not a lost cause) is the kingfish bite that many of us had really hoped would bounce back after a piss-poor year last fall. It isn’t going to happen.

I managed some late-day plugging on the South End and for maybe a hundred casts had one lone swipe right at the entrance ot Holgate, at sunset. Otherwise, it was as slow as I could even imagine a mid-October fishing day.

Boat anglers are having a far better take going after seabass and tog out on the wrecks. Unfortunately, the winds have not been real user-friendly, especially for those heading out to further off structures.

CLASSIC CHATTER: The first two-week segment of the Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic is in the books and the chapter on “Bluefish” is fat -- and steadily fattening -- while the striped bass section is at an old-time thinness.

However, this silence of the stripers is not a tourney troubler. I’ve oft pointed out that it’s not the number of fish that make the event exciting, it’s the winning nature of the fish, regardless of the size. Apropos to the season, it’s like a football team winning a game 9 to 6 instead of a more likely 28 – 21. It’s a win regardless of the lowness of score. We won’t get into the losing side of the comparison.

I do want to point out that it is nothing new for bass to be delayed for the “derby.”

Every year at this time I like to pull out my collection of tattered and yellowing copies of the “Long Beach Island Derby News” A newspaper-sized publication that I have only found from the 1956 Derby. It was written primarily by legendary LBI fishing columnist, Dick Clements, an outdoor writer far ahead of his time, with a fabulously funny style and an immense knowledge of the sport of surfcasting. In a couple of the issues, Clements talked about the horrible bass fishing, as proven by a winning segment fish of 9 pounds. The interesting thing is the way anglers were blaming oddly warm fall weather as the culprit. I’ll be using his exact quotes for my weekly column. It absolutely rings of something that would be frustratingly written this very week.

BASS AS GAMEFISH BLOG: There is an ongoing effort to entitle striped bass with gamefish-only status.

To make that a national designation, the federal government has to step in, via Congress. Such gamefish-only striper efforts are happening as we speak. Already striped bass has been legally placed off-limits in the EEZ.

But, striped bass for anglers only?

Knee-jerk reaction soundly thumps on the “Great!” side of things. Hey, we’ll become a striper nation.

However, there are some less than saucy sides to making bass an overly-almighty species.

I’ll preface my critique by actually offering semi-support for establishing at least one gamefish species that anglers can hold as their own. That said, I hope some fishing folks will also look at the holistic side of things.

If we were to get bass designated as an angler-only gamefish, you better be ready to eat a ton of striper meat – daily – or have a medium-sized village to keep supplied with bass filets. I’m serious. It would fall on the angling public to keep the species in eco-line, to hold their numbers in check.

To favoritize stripers to the point of overwhelmingness, we could find ourselves kissing diversity good-bye. Billions of bass plodding through the ecosystem will be uncompromisingly dining on virtually any other marine species that have the audacity to try coexisting out there.

Early victims of a bass boom would be winter flounder, weakfish, kingfish and blueclaw crabs. Shortly-thereafter, victims would be fluke followed by various wreck and rock species, like tog and black seabass. Bluefish will be unaffected, though even they could feel the crunch should baitfish biomasses go belly-up – or belly-in, in the case of gluttonous stripers.

Note: Back in the days of a balanced ecosystem (say, before white man came to these parts), stripers got along just fine with all those other species. Unfortunately, we have wracked virtually all edible species, meaning no species is in the best of health. To resuscitate a single species, as all the others barely hold their own, instantly creates a dangerously high vulnerability factor for anything but bass.

Then there’s the angling aesthetic. There has to be points where bass are everywhere. We could conceivably catch 25, 50 over a 100 stripers a day. The noble striper could easily drift into commonness. Even when allowed to keep 10 or more bass daily, it could get kinda boring, to the point where anglers will defiantly begin seeking something else to catch.

I’m fully aware that I’m offering a worst-case scenario but I assure you more than few marine biologists will concur, especially scientists down in the Chesapeake region. They are already investigating some horrific predator/prey imbalances, quite likely contributing to diseases among “rockfish.” They can see that it doesn’t take unnatural favoritism – babying bass -- to lead to problems.

Going gamefish-only on stripers could also all but cripple recreational anglers when it comes to negotiating for quotas of other gamefish species. There won’t be a fishery management hearing where commercialites won’t bring up the angler-only striper as a reason for them to get greatly enhanced shares of other species. We could gain bass but see our lines all but pulled out of the mouths of other species. Believe me, many of the folks in management – and even in Congress – are constantly being pressured by commercial fishermen.

That cold water thrown, making stripers a gamefish has a worthy side. It is our noblest coastal species and I’ll bet we can dine wonderfully once we can keep ultra-clean bass of 18 inches, while appropriately slotting out fish between 32 and 38 inches – releasing them to assure top genetic breeding recruitment.

As for that negative management angle, successfully lobbying for striped bass gamefish status could signify a growing power among the angling population. Even though some striper-related compensation may find its way to commercialites, recreationalists as a political force to be reckoned with might allow proper pressure to come into play in the management of all species.

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