BEAR! CAR! WHAT DAY I’M HAVING: Talk about a really tough hike in the park. A six-month-pregnant Ashley Swendsen, 26, was taking one of those breathingly brisk exercise ambles common to new age moms. She figured the clean Colorado Springs, Colorado, air would offer an ideal aura and atmosphere to foster her ongoing organically inclined pregnancy. Fat chance.
As she speedily hiked a narrow trail, she developed this nagging sense she was being stalked. As behind-her noises got closer, she realized she was truly being followed. Fortunately, this wasn’t the inner city so perish the thought that mugs, thugs, and/or whackos might be on her tail. Nope, her stalker was merely a 500-pound bear, carrying whatever intent it had chosen for the day -- considering it kinda knew it was the biggest and baddest thing in that portion of the forest and could intend however in the hell it wanted. Or so it thought.
Glancing back, the hiker got a goodly gander at her stalker. She was not sure what to make of the follower. When the bear closed the gap to under ten, Swenson decide to elevate her brisk walk to a modest run, hoping to exude the notion, “I’m not really afraid of you, Mr. Bear, I’m only accelerating to loosen up.”
In an actual quote later given to reporters, Swendsen said, "I was thinking, ‘If it was going to hurt me, it already would have.’ ”
Those words instantly move into my Top-10 list of famous last words. For clarity, I’ll modify it to read, “If this bear was going to hurt me, it would have already.”
But this story doesn’t end there, with Swendsen jogging safely off into the sunset. As noted, this was going to be a “really tough” hike.
Once a-run, Swendsen opted to turn toward a nearby embankment that angled up toward a paved road. She scrambled to the top, climbed over a metal railing, and onto the macadam.
Safe at last? Not quite.
Looking back to check on the whereabouts of the bear, doesn’t she get hit by a car.
Once more, for good measure: the gal did not get seriously hurt and a trip to a local hospital indicted all was well with the little one inside. I just keep mental track of tales like this when I want to say to myself, “What a lousy day I’m having.”
I guess I should advise that the bear fared very badly for its over-interest in the hiker/jogger. In something oddly akin to life in the above-mentioned inner city, wildlife authorities questioned Swendsen and (I’d like to imagine) various denizens of the forest area, i.e. coyotes, wolves, bobcats, and such. The lawmen actually managed to figure out which bear, out of the usual dozens of suspects, had been following too closely. They sealed the suspect deal when Swendsen picked it out of a lineup. Picture: Five bears being marched into a small well-lit room with those height marks behind them, an officer gruffly ordering a couple of them to take off their baseball caps. “Turn right, now left. Quite you’re grinning Number 3!”
OK, so maybe they simply caged the suspect bear and brought it Swendsen to see if she recognized it as her stalker. She did.
It gets kinda absurdly ugly for the bear after that so I’ll depart on an upswing by noting that Swendsen said she intends on middle naming her newborn, be it girl or boy, “Bear.”
HOT TIMES, COOL TIMES: It has been hot in the Pines.
Over the weekend, I did some mountain biking for the first time in over a year. Both my burning legs and the little thermometer on my handlebars confirmed it was summerishly strainful peddling the sugar sand roads and trails beneath that 90-degree-plus sky. Giving even more thrust to that sudden unseasonable surge of heat was the fact that only a few nights before heavy frost -- and even some skim ice -- had been in that same woodland neighborhood.
But I was lovin’ the surge of sultriness, as I peddled as if all the heat would give way to cold, rain and wind by later in the week (hint).
With my collapsible (telescoping) freshwater fishing rod in tow, I frequently de-biked to make some mini-casts into seldom-if-ever fished creeks. These minor-est of pinelands waterways are often little more than straddle-wide snakes of crystal-clear cedar water, prone to meandering through red cedar forests. These consummate Pine Barrens creeks flow so lazily that it’s seductively easy to plop down nearby and just stare into the oddly mysterious water, the bottom grasses swaying hypnotically. After a long winter, just such a stop-and-plop relaxation session is an on-sight curative for all that ails. Being a boomer, I must, by law, hum a few strains from the Lovin’ Spoonful’s song, “What a day for daydream, Custom made for a daydreamin’ boy.”
By the by, I fish those tiny stream must by simply dangling the smallest of freshwater spinners in any holes or wide spots. There is always a resident pickerel nearby. Since the water is so clean and I can see the arriving fish, I make sure I hit it just as it grabs the artificial. Only a lip hook, no inhales. A wet-handed unhooking and release and away the little guy goes. Having never been caught before, the bizarre experience is in and out of the fish’s mind within minutes. Another spinner drop and he’s back to bounce on it. It’s small time hooking but, for me, as much fun as those guys seeking the likes of Gila Bend trout.
COLD JELLIES: Last week I talked about the attack of marine sci-fi creatures then this week I get flooded with concerned calls about huge scary-looking pulsating gelatinous masses in the bay waters off Harvey Cedars.
Typical. Other editors get reports of Big Foots or big-eyed things exiting UFOs and all I get is the attack of the jellyfish hordes. Oh, well, I guess this is potentially spooky stuff if these huge numbers of jellyfish are what I think they are, namely, sea nettles in sickening numbers.
Last summer, northern Barnegat Bay got overloaded with these very large stinging sea creatures, easily capable of keeping folks out of the water, including baymen needing to make the lion’s share of their livelihood during the summer.
The reason for the sudden gush in nettles may be the nightmarish part. It is now certain that Barnegat Bay is being ignobly overloaded with nitrogen, much of it coming from a growing number of fertilizers placed on a growing number of lawns in a growing number of shore side communities.
The runoff from what is often a rampant over-use of lawn chemicals hits the bay in nothing flat, primarily during storm periods. The same nitrogen-based stuff that perks grass to grow faster also perks certain marine organisms to grow hog wild. And you never want particular organisms to flourish beyond natural balances. In a marine environment, an over flourishing can lead to potentially catastrophic blooms of certain algae. Red tides and brown tides, capable of killing nearly every other organism in the ecosystem, have become the bane of oceans and bays worldwide.
The relationship between over-nitrification (a.k.a over-nutrification) of the bay and the likes of sea nettle population explosions is complex. It’s proven that nettles like higher nitrogen content in the water – or, if they don’t actually like it, they tolerate it far better than most other marine organisms. But, do they thrive because of the nitrogen itself or the greater presence of certain algae they feed upon? Whatever the eco-intricacies of jellyfish blooms might be, the headache posed by millions of large stinging jellyfish in our bay is not merely a human bodily concern. What about all the tiny young-of-year fish that won’t stand a chance if negotiating through the killing field of tentacles? He’ll, that’s all we need: to add even more variables and complexities the entire fishery management future.
DRUMMING UP SOME HOT HOOKING: A super savvy black drum angler said the hooking is picking up rapidly, mainly near the holes and deep-water sectors around Little Egg Inlet, extending back into Grassy Channel.
The arriving black drum – their stocks seeming to be on a fast track upward -- are eventually going to head to the far backbay for spawning. However, prior to that romp they often linger (muster) near Little Egg and Beach Haven inlets, sometimes for a significant time period. That stopover may be to chow down prior to partying or simply to stay in the cool water for as long as possible.
Drums suffer horribly from parasites, seemingly far worse than nearly any other local species. I’m not sure why but it most likely has to do with the species propensity to get very far into backbay areas, including not-so-pristine lagoons. They then spend large chunks of time in ultra-warm, often unhealthfully hot waters. It leaves them susceptible to manmade pollutions, which can lead to a vulnerability to an array of parasites. Note: I have seen as many as five different worms wriggle out of a drumfish fillet. Centuries back, when folks actually knew more about fish meat than we do now, the flesh of large black drum was commonly eaten. It simply did not contain the parasite infestation we see in modern times.
But onward to the fun part of fishing for these huge fish -- our largest nearshore gamefish, excluding sharks.
The trick to targeting black drum is bait type, size and presentation. On a whole, you’re sorta fishing for drum when chunking clams for stripers. In fact, clams are the local black drum bait of choice. This penchant for clams allows anglers to also keep the catch door open to bass, blues and (to a lesser degree) fluke and weakfish.
However, one baiting trick sure to tempt the largest drum is going blue, as in blue claw crabs. In many areas of the eastern seaboard -- black drum range from Florida all the way up to New England -- leading back drum enthusiasts use blue crabs, almost exclusively.
Halving a large blue crab looses loads of oily essence that will draw a drum from a goodly distance off. Of course, taking the crab route lessens (but doesn’t eliminate) the striper potential. At the same time, it greatly increasing the chances of a serious shark pick-up. This is why many black drumists use steel leader when working in zones common to both drum and sharks, like Little Egg. It should be noted that blue crabs must be of legal size to be used as bait,.
Our very common lady crabs can also be used to coax drum but for whatever reason this species of crab is irresistible to smaller sharks, especially dogfish. More subtle drumfish draws are large worms and even store-bought jumbo shrimp.
While low tide rising is considered a prime time for big drum, the use of blue crabs can work very well during the last of outgoing, as the bait smell waft out into deeper water, where drum wait to make their move into the bay. Obviously, shedders really loose the oil.
The terminal tackle I was taught to use for black drum consists of a fish-finder rig, weighed with enough lead to just hold bottom. The leader – attached to a 6/0 to 8/9 hooks -- should be 60-to 80-pound class monofilament. Wire should be substituted if sharks, like duskies, are around. Fifty-pound test line is about right for the reel. A short heavy boat rod is needed if you hope to pull up a 75-pound-plus drum, a weight not at all uncommon locally. Circle hooks work very well when fishing clams, however, they are not a best-bet when hooking on crabs.
I have taken maybe a dozen or so big drum over the years, one pushing 70 pounds. That bigger fish was caught on an eel -- albeit a nearly deceased eel -- which I had found in the water after being worked and thrown away by another angler. Hey, waste not, want not -- and all that cheapskate thinking.
Black drum are not super fighters but they’re sure aren’t slouches. The fight is very akin to a shark or large skate but with more attitude.
RUNDOWN: The bay-cruising blues seem to be holding back for whatever reason. This is not the best thing since these high-impact marauders will now likely move in with reckless abandon, possibly spooking the spawning weakfish.
On the other hand, smaller spawning weaks are now moving in on schedule (after the biggest spawners are in place). This late showing of blues might afford them an opportunity to reach spawning grounds without harassment. That’ll surely help the future stocks.
I have a few reports of under-bridge anglers having some after-dark luck with weakfish. I’m not going too heavy with this hooking data since I’m committed -- along with many other writers and shop owners – to downplay taking weaks before they spawn. I will note that fully 90 percent of the spots where spring weakfish can be taken are not even fished. I’ll be toying with some street ends in Surf City, throwing out white grubs on jigheads. It’s all strictly catch-and-release.
The larger ocean run blues, 8- to 10-pound range, are showing off the end of the South Jetty, Barnegat Inlet. They’re upchucking spearing type baitfish.
Speaking of those rocks, the blackfish have moved in – big tog, at that. That fishing legally ends this week.
There are some short bass on the beach, south end. Jingles has weighed in a couple keepers. Also, busting bass on the surface at night (near the docks) has some folks setting their clocks for way-early, as in 3 a.m. Those are fish from 18 to 26 inches. Plugs and jigs work.
Bass-wise, the North End is way brisker, from beach to inlet. The sedges have real decent pickin’ on clams dropped at anchor. That carries up to Tice’s. The flats have some early day and late-day plugging action.
Large fluke are showing; Fully off-limits for a few weeks yet. Remember the Fish and Wildlife citation reports I published in last week’s column. You cheat, you pay.
Many of the better report are coming from boaters working nearshore wrecks.
Speaking of wreck fishing, here’s a report from the Beach Haven Charter Fishing Association:
“A sudden warm spell has raised water temperatures in southern Ocean County, and the boats of the Beach Haven Charter Fishing Association are finding the fish are in a feeding mode.
“The boats bottom fishing in the ocean have seen some very good catches of big blackfish, but that season ends on May 1. Fortunately, black sea bass have started to arrive to pick up the slack.
“Captain Adam Nowalsky of the “Karen Ann II” reports some good catches of tog or blackfish. Along with the tog, he has been noticing more nice sea bass showing up. The boat saw some limit catches of blackfish.
“Capt. Brant Whittaker took over the chores on the “Miss Beach Haven” from Frank Camarda last weekend and found some nice blackfish and sea bass on inshore wrecks and reefs. Dave Agar was the pool winner with his fat 12-pound tautog. On Sunday the boat found even better fishing with a mixed bag of sea bass and tog with high hook being 7 fish.
“Captain Fran Verdi ran some open boat trips on the “Cousins” recently and caught fish each time. They fished in 55-degree water off Graveling Point. After a slow start, the fish started to bite when the tide turned and the rain started. Several short fish were caught, along with keepers of 34 and 29-inches.
“On Sunday Captain Fran tried bottom fishing in the ocean. After trying several spots with little success, they found a sweet spot on the Little Egg Reef. They managed to boat about 30 fish, mostly blackfish, with some sea bass mixed in. Many of the fish were shorts, but they did manage several keeper blackfish.”