Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

April 15, 09 -- Mittens and Tourneys

MITTENED MARAUDERS: The N.J. Division of Fish and Wildlife (often erroneously referred to as “Fish and Game”) wants us to keep an eye open for mittens. No, not hand-warming type accouterments, but the invasive mitten crab, which has worked its way all the way to Ocean County from Asia, which is located somewhere in the Far East.
“How could these crabs get all the way over here from China?” you ask in geographic astonishment.
Well, let’s examine the random goodies your better half just bought during yet another binge buying spree – brought on when she got the tragic news that the “Fix My Frickin’ House” TV series had been moved from Tuesday to Wednesday.
“Oh, Steph, I’m so upset. I just have to go shopping to get that schedule change out of my mind.”
“I’m with ya, Jen. In fact, why don’t ya grab some of those checks you get in the mail every day from your credit card company. This is gonna take some serious shopping therapy, girl.”
Anyway, I’ll bet the house that fully half of those just-bought assorted items bear the words “Made in China” somewhere thereupon – right next to the penciled message: “Help, I’m being held in a Chinese toaster factory.”
Yep, it’s our imports doing the dirty work. And not just in the ballasts of big ships. Do you know how many mitten crabs can fit inside a toaster? Me neither, but I’m guessing a lot.
As for the invasion of species arriving as a trickle-down effect of China taking over the American economy through default, I’m currently committing to memory “The Handbook of Chinese Wildlife” – just to get an idea of what creatures will be roaming America in the future. Hey, don’t knock it. Just the other day I swear I saw a panda hitchhiking up Route 9 with a sign that read, “Will work for bamboo shoots.” Do you have any idea how many local brown bears will become jobless because of these illegal immigrants? Food for thought.
As for those rapidly approaching mitten crabs, they are easy to identify because they have oversized, hairy claws that look a lot like, well, oversized hairy claws. But didn’t some ditsy female Chinese scientist think it would be so cute to call those savage claws mittens? Yes, even China has ditzy blondes. OK, so maybe I added the blonde part. And, no, I’m not a flagrant perpetuator of the ditzy blonde stereotype, though I recall this ventriloquist doing a local show. His sloppily suited dummy, Gaylord, was telling one blonde joke after another. Suddenly, this breasty young blonde gal stood up in the audience and yelled, “That’s it. I’m sick of you insulting us blondes as if we’re just a bunch of airheads.” The ventriloquist was taken back and began stuttering, “Ma’am, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize ...” At which point the blonde butted in, “Stay out of this, mister, I’m talking to that little bastard on your knee.”
Where was I – after that blonde moment? Oh, those arriving mitten crab hordes. They have actually gone crazy in England, where massive numbers have all but taken over the River Thames, a testament to just how quickly the crabs reproduce – even with a bunch of British gents, with derbies and umbrellas, looking down upon them. Weirdoes.
Not that mittens crabs are all bad. In Shanghai, there is a huge market for the ovaries of female mitten crabs. I’m not sure what to call that part of the female crab, with “mittens” already taken. In fact, a meal of raw mitten crab ovaries is the proverbial cat’s meow in Asia, though that expression takes on a whole different stir-fried meaning thereabouts.
There is even a worldwide market in fresh mitten crab muffs, though there are implicit dangers in going raw, per the World Health Organization. Seems a particularly ugly parasitic lung fluke favors mitten crabs. I won’t go into details, mainly because I hope to dine on sushi at some point this week. Truth be told, I’m not sure I could tell a raw mitten crab ovary from, say, a road-killed mongoose.
Mitten crabs have already been found in tidal waters of Ocean County. In fact, the first N.J. mitten was found in Toms River, last June. It was crawling atop a holding pen with shedder crabs inside. Very little information could be gleaned from the Toms River crab since nobody knew how to speak Mandarin. As to where the invasive crabs are going and at what speed, the federal and state authorities are frantically trying to figure that out. A mitten crab network has been set up, further proving that television will try just about anything nowadays. Check out http://www.serc.si.edu/labs/marine_invasions.
Here’s instruction from that site: “Do not throw it back alive! Freeze the animal, keep it on ice, or preserve it in rubbing alcohol as a last resort. Note the precise location and date where the animal was found.
“Please take a close up photo of the animal. Photos can be emailed to SERCMittenCrab@si.edu for preliminary identification. Include your contact information with the photo. If you cannot take a photo, contact the Mitten Crab Hotline (443-482-2222).”
I’m note sure how much per minute for that hotline – I haven’t gotten my phone bill yet. It’s a problem even trying to get through. All those British oglers keep the line really tied up, especially Luscious Lulu’s.
I’LL GET TO IT, DUDE: Well, the taxman has cometh. If you haven’t filed with the IRS by now, you’d better be extended or so rich you’re one of the co-owners of the IRS.
The only thing in life I do post haste is get my Uncle Sam tax material filled and filed – to get bucks back so I can give my returns to the other Sam, as in Walton. In all other matters, I live by that famed adage: There’s no time like the present to put things off.
Weeks back I was meaning to early-write the soon-to-launch 2009 “Simply Bassing” Spring Bass Tournament. Now the big-bass event is just around the calendar corner, so I’m hoping you’ll go full guns to sign up. It starts on Saturday, May 2, at 12:01 a.m. and ends Sunday, June 28, at noon.
The local sign-up spots are Barnegat Light Bait & Tackle in Barnegat Light, 494-4566; Fisherman’s Headquarters in Ship Bottom, 494-5739; Jingle’s Bait & Tackle in North Beach Haven, 492-2795; and Surf City Bait & Tackle –yes, in Surf City – 494-2333.
Entry fee is a mere $20, which buys you eight weeks of upper-shelf stripering. Fact-or-so: This time of year our waters host the largest bass the biomass has to offer.
Admittedly, the Chesapeake Nation saw a bit of a bassing downturn this past winter. We’re talking a reduction in prize fish of 50 pounds or heftier. That downturn in southern stripers could impact us in a positive way. My logic: The winters were so mild prior to this latest cold season that the bassing went nutso almost every day down south, thus the insane showings of kept fish, more than a dozen fish besting the 60-pound mark. This year the skies fought back in a big way. The take of top-talk bass was down due to nasty weather, a dip in fishing pressure and the moving of the big fish biomass into warmer thermoclinic water farther out at sea – into the EEZ. That meant fewer bass bonanzas for those folks and surely more big bass working their way up to us, beginning very soon.
I just have to think we’ll see a top-take toying with the 60-pound mark. Hopefully, it’ll come out of the surf.
What would enhance the chances of the big cows coming into the suds? Storms and wind, which push the ocean bunker pods all around and make them tougher for bass to stalk. With bunker pods spread all around, big bass reflexively inch toward the beach for some sure-fire crab guzzling.
Anyway, get out and get in the Simply Bassing event. It not only offers me great insights into what’s biting and where, but surely motivates folks to get out and wet lines.
The winning Simply Bassing bucks go as such: first place, $1,000; second place, $800; third, $600; fourth, $500; fifth, $400; sixth, $200; seventh, $150; and eighth, $100.
Note: those numbers are bassed, I mean based, on 200 entrants. Virtually every entrant dollar goes back to winnings. The expense of the tourney – registration forms, fliers and posters – are graciously covered by the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce.
CLASSIC CONCERNS: Speaking of the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, the granddaddy of local surf fishing tournaments, the Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic has become a bit overwhelming. OK, so it’s now a lot overwhelming. It takes such a time-chunk from the Chamber of Commerce’s staff that something has to give. All that real-time data inputing of entrants’ names and a catch’s details (time, place, bait) fall on the shoulders of the chamber. What’s more, the event has been losing money – and that’s with the chamber staff doing the data crunching for free. Admittedly, there’s not a tackle shop that doesn’t benefit from the influx of fall casters, and it surely profits many other non-angling businesses. What that means in dollars is hard to compute, but the autumnal cash flow related to the Classic surely adds a splash of black ink right at the time of year when everyone is trying to extend the season.
It’s hard to say exactly where the Classic will go this year, but dollars to doughnuts it takes turns bordering on a total reinvention, i.e. ultra-radical changes.
And it’s all good if it means the event will carry on far into the future. I’m guessing the immediate impact of wholesale changes to the Classic will depend on the willingness of participants to go with the event’s flow, recognizing it is an Island tradition. It is one of the longest-lived fishing events on the entire Eastern Seaboard. We can’t let it die on our watch.
I will get specifics on the changes once they’re worked out.
RUNDOWN: First, thanks for the flow of early-season reports, even those involving zero-keep sessions. In the past week, small bass have come from the surf, around Barnegat Inlet (shallows and flats) and down at Graveling Point. Keepers are scattered but findable.
I’ve heard of no sizzling striper seasons, or even lukewarm ones for that matter – just here-n-there bass, often caught during a specific tide level. However, it’s nigh impossible to sketch out a pattern of top-angling tides with so few fish coming up.
Despite slow goes, most reports I’ve read tell of “a good time had by all,” meaning folks are finding it’s great to just get out there and see a rod tip move, even if it’s only now and again.
As for this spring’s uncanny coldness, I sure hope all you grow-your-own folks didn’t put any of those delicate transplants out in the garden just yet. (I’m talking legal greenery, mind you.) Greenhouse herbs, the only ones in shops right about now, are especially prone to keeling clean over from thermal shock. Sometimes they can be revitalized through mouth-to-leaf resuscitation – a slow warming-up indoors – but often that limp-noodle look marks end times for that sprout.
Yes, herb growing has to do with fishing, as in flavoring the fillets you’ve invited home.
Top herb for fish, even though it’s not my favorite of favorites, is likely dill.
Toughest of the common herbs to use when seafood seasoning is, ironically, the spittin’ image of dill, namely fennel, which carries the famed and hard-to-fit licorice taste. Interestingly, the woody portion of a larger fennel plant is great for baking fish upon – or placing inside a hyper-hot barbecue setting. It adds a perfect woody essence, non-licoricey.
Top side-dish herb to serve near seafood is chives, on potatoes or even in steamed rice.
My main herbal taste-hikers are sage, celery seed and (tops) cilantro.
But enough eating and back to fishing. Winter floundering is not where it should be. First, wicked winds just won’t quit. From a comfort-factor angle, honking westerlies can blow away one’s desire to flounder on the bay. What’s more, those subtle bites of blackbacks are tough to detect when trying to stabilize a rod tip in 30-mph gusts. “The winter flounder continue to be picky but the size of the flounder is well over the 12-inch size limit with most of the flounder being 14 inches and some of the fish approaching 17 inches,” per Captain Steve Purul, Reel Fantasea Charters.
After an ahead-of-time passing of some bluefish a couple weeks back, I haven’t heard of (or seen) any hereabouts. They will show soon, though they may also be running late due to chilly ocean waters. What’s more, once the blues arrive from overwintering out at sea, the chill of the ocean will likely drive them into the bay.
Locally, the prime nutrifier for skinny spring blues is grass shrimp, which are already on the move to spawning grounds. Winter-clean bay waters and scant subaquatic vegetation mean the tiny shrimp have nowhere to run and hide if found mid-move. And if the blues don’t get the shrimp, herring and weakfish will.
Spring bluefish are temptingly tasty. I’m among the many who believe they temporarily take on the sweet flavor of shrimp (and even crabs), as opposed to oozing the essence of oily baitfish, a taste they assume once they begin steadily dining upon bunker and such. It’s amazing how many grass shrimp can be found in the bellies of spring blues. I’ve seen cocktail blues with fully distended bellies, jam packed with hundreds of shrimp. It’s a look similar to the one they acquire at the height of overeating during baby bunker times. I’d guess the marauding blues blast beneath overhangs on the edge of backbay creeks/ditches or near edges of sedge islands and simply hold their mouths open to nab a slew of shrimp before crunching down. I recall one shrimp-stuffed bluefish I cleaned that contained a few shrimp that were still moving – ever so slightly. The fish’s fierce stomach acids were having a hard time reaching the inside of the dense shrimp ball.
Weakfish are showing in small numbers. I know this firsthand but won’t go into any more detail here. I’ve been asked by many folks to downplay the arrival of spawning tiderunners. Removing even a few big female fish from the spawn system means tens of thousands of eggs will never have a chance.
A conservational angler, who is constantly trying to protect spawning weakies, brought up a very provocative point about how the crummy economy may be bankrupting catch-and-release thinking. “I know a bunch of guys who never used to keep fish but are doing it now, to save some food money,” he told me outside the SB Wawa. I heard similar reads last summer, as boaters were coolering more fish than usual to cover greed-fanned fuel prices. With surf and bank fishermen also boarding the take-home train in response to the recession, it’s not the best year to be a gamefish in N.J. Of course, fluke fishermen aren’t even going to consider the notion of self-imposed conservation. I can’t blame them, considering this year’s summer flounder regs.
I’m not overly concerned with heavy fluking pressure for 2009. I still harbor a nagging notion that summer flounder are starting to overpopulate, not in terms of historic population highs (which will never again be evenly remotely approached), but in terms of the impact the recovering fluke biomass is having on numerous other hammered gamefish species trying to work their way back to relative health. I’m talking about winter flounder, weakfish, blackfish, black seabass and even the likes of blue crabs.
Speaking of blue crabs, a few knowledgeable baymen are liking the spring indicators they’re seeing with mud-out. The early crab numbers are good for April.
Mill Creek dredge note: The actual dredging of Mill Creek is just now beginning. That’s right, beginning. I figured it would be done by now. Turns out the geotubes that needed to be in place for the project to proceed were lost in the transit. By the by, the tubes are technically known as geotextile sludge dewatering tubes. Seems the crated tubes were delivered to the wrong place. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a flaccid geotube, but you’d be hard pressed to venture even a glancing guess at what it is, especially when all folded up. Then, once it’s unwound, you’d be absolutely no closer to knowing. I picture somebody in town hall, Midnowhere, Okla., staring at the load of geotubes and mumbling, “What the hell has that fool mayor gone and bought now?”
Anyway, the tubular delay moved the project into the forbidden moon phase, during which the DEP had ordered work must be halted to accommodate the migration patterns of anadromous fish returning to spawn in Mill Creek. The prime returners are white perch and blueback herring. A few columns back I had thrown in the American eel, but only to show the variety of spawning fish that use the creek. The American eel is actually catadromous, meaning it lives its life in fresh or brackish water, then moves into saltwater to spawn.
The dredge should be done by week’s end. However, at the onset of the dredge work, an oil sheen could be seen atop the water all the way out to the bay. It was apparently coming from the dredge, per an eyewitness.
I’ve gotten only fragmented reports on angling in Mill Creek. The perch were there. Another small striper had been caught,and herring were flashing here and there.
We’re approaching the Beach Haven Marlin and Tuna Club’s second annual Flea Market, taking place on Saturday, April 25, from 80 a.m. to noon. There should be some deals and steals at the market, so stop on by. Also, there may still be time to grab a table so you sell all those goodies related to fishing – and even items not fully related to angling. Call Tim Irons to reserve a table, 744 3230. v

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