Oh, Canada Gets Tactical;
Snapping Turtle Crossings
CANADA DECLARES WAR: Let’s talk pirates. Pirates, sans Johnny Depp. Pirates with fierce weaponry and even uglier intent. We’re talking Somali pirates, murderous goons emanating from a country gone to the dogs – albeit one of the few places I can actual afford to vacation. Unbelievably, they’ll actually pay my way there. I’m not sure what that “one-way ticket” thing is all about but I hear it’s pretty nice in Somalia this time of year.
Despite the draw of the “Somalia Riviera,” this whole thing with Somali pirates attacking fishing boats remains seriously grotesque. Admittedly, these hijackings are damn dramatic, replete with huge vessels being attacked by high-speed boats delivering bands of total goons armed to their remaining teeth with automatic carbines, rocket launchers and blowguns. OK, so maybe that blowgun was just this one Somali guy fresh from the jungle who didn’t realize what he was getting himself into when his distant cousin invited him along.
This is wicked warfare. That’s why I find it fascinating that our generally over-subdued neighbor to the north, Canada by name, is raising some international eyebrows over its refining of techniques to combat terrorist pirates.
I, for one, seldom look first and foremost to Canada for military methodologies. I mean they’re damn good at crosschecking (hockey) and even give invading seal cubs a solid run for their money, but devising a strategy to fight terrorist-trained Somali pirates?
Well, just this week the Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd. reported, and I quote, “The Canadian military is developing a way to detect pirate boats harassing merchant ships off the East African coast.”
To detect pirate boats? My first thought is the Canadian military had tweaked a handheld megaphone so fishing boat captains could boom toward approaching high-speed boats, “You guys are pirates and stuff, eh?”
Turns out the Canadian effort is a load cooler than that.
Seems that pirates indubitably use high-speed vessels. Hey, looting and plundering pays very well nowadays. Those high-speed pirate boats are low to the water. That low-rider profile and the boat’s breakneck speed allow the bad guys to literally skip below the radar, especially at night. Just for fun, some of the Africans wear whiteface just to momentarily fool the Canadians. That stealthy speed strategy has worked all too well, so far.
However, when on a pirate mission, those attack boats churn the water like nobody’s business. That foam formation can actually be a real wake-up call. (Get it? Boat “Wake”? You hadda be there.) That distinct wake, when viewed through infrared equipment and advanced-generation night-vision technology, is a dead giveaway that creeps are fast approaching for a takeover. To its credit, the Canadian military has all but perfected the reading of boat wake signatures. In the very near future, i.e. even as we speak, fishing boats captains, along with those aboard military and quasi-military vessels guarding commercial boats, are being equipped to quickly distinguish between fast-moving bad guys and slow running, low-wake commercial craft. The element of surprise goes up in foam.
Of course, the Canadians aren’t instantly offering any suggestion as to how to fight the actual pirates themselves. I might cautiously note that there are a lot of Canadian seal-clubbers out of work with all the seal pelt boycotts. (It’s hard not to envision pirates climbing up a rope to board a fishing vessel as a long line of burly seal clubbers stand on line anxiously waiting a turn to clonk a pirate on the head. “Oh, you got him one good, eh? Didn’t hurt the pelt at all, eh?”)
BIZARRE FACT: It’s kinda amazing but Canada has more mercenaries – we’re talking the baddest dogs of war – than any other country in the world. True story. And if you don’t think that mercenary work is booming, simply realize that 20 percent of the non-NATO “military” personnel around the world are so-called independent contractors. Hell, the oil industry in the Middle East has its own in-house army – and they end every command with “eh.” Truth be told, I sure wouldn’t want to be a pirate approaching a Canadian fishing vessel if it has hired any of that nation’s dogs of war.
RETIRED TIRES STILL ON A ROLL: I have to jump in here and do a bit of repair work regarding a story we published in The SandPaper about tire reefs. The emphasis of that August 12 article was how tire reefs just don’t work down in Florida but have had banner results up thisaway.
The overall reef story was fine except for one major mix-up point, which made it sound like fish don’t like the tires reefs even up here. That, of course, is profoundly untrue. In fact, in the editorial section of this week’s paper, you can see a photo of seabass totally populating a single stack of tires. That photo accompanies a letter by Bill Figley, father of the Jersey artificial reef system, explaining that tire habitat seems to have work amazingly well.
In fact, if you look at the photo closely -- noting the fish literally jammed in every whichaway -- it indicates that tire stack is a veritable fish hotel. Now, times the piscatorial presence in that one stack by the total number of stacks out there. One wonders why the use of tires has been discontinued. Never let it be said it was because of a failure of the material to host marine life.
EARLY CLASSIC SPEAK: Here’s a quick look at the fast-approaching 2009 Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic. I want to offer some Classic insights now because fairly important changes have been made. Plus, I’ve had a dozen emails wanting to know the dates – so they can schedule their fall fishing vacations.
The tourney begins on Saturday October 10 and runs until 6 p.m. Sunday December 6. Math tells you the event will run 8 weeks. I heartily embraced that change. I love it when things get cold and gnarly toward end times.
The hugely popular Surf Fishing Seminar is October 10. Make sure to attend that, whether you be a pro or greenhorn. Tons to learn.
The entry fee is bumped up to $30. That’s for 8 frickin’ weeks! And you get a vehicle wash, pizza slice and a hat, that will sell on eBay for thousands of Planetary Dollars by the year 2095. That fee is the same for everyone and their grandmother. Why so? Because everyone can – and has – won big. Kids, students, nannies, gypsies, you name it. The cash and gift prizes remain through the ceiling – too many to list here. See the literature. No more decals.
Importantly, there will be no more mail-in registrations or reserved numbers. That’s part of the effort to save the tourney from falling into a nightmarish abyss of ruinous paperwork. Also, you will no longer be able to sign-up at the Chamber of Commerce building. However, a new station, Oceanside Bait and Tackle, offers a registration point – not mention a weigh-in station. It’s located at 8201 Long Beach Blvd. Brighton Beach, 361-9800.
Other participating shops are Barnegat Light Bait & Tackle, 1501 Bayview Ave., Barnegat Light, 494-4566; Surf City Bait &Tackle, 317 Long Beach Blvd., Surf City, 494-2333; Fisherman's Headquarters, 280 W. 9th St., Ship Bottom, 494-5739; Jingles’ Bait & Tackle, 1214 Long Beach Blvd., Beach Haven, 492-2795. Check with the weigh-in stations for open hours.
The event continues to target bass and blues. Blues must be at least 32 inches and only 2 can be weighed in daily. Bass hold at 34 inches with 2 allowable weigh-ins.
NO FIGHTING THE GREEN MACHINE: Email “The greenheads are like nothing I’ve ever seen. I even looked inside one of those black fly traps in Holgate and it is loaded with them. I can’t imagine what it will be like fishing in Holgate this fall.”
I agree – as I have for decades on end.
Without fail, someone writes me every summer about the “worst’ greenheads ever. And it’s true – every year. So, why in bloody hell is nothing being done?
I once again must turn to Apocalyptic thinking. These flies are up there with ticks, roaches and taxes, i.e., things that can survive anything from asteroid strikes to full-blown audits.
Greenheads, a.k.a. horseflies, are so integrated into the ecosystem that there is no possible way to get at just them. To eradicate greenheads requires pretty much killing the entire ecosystem. This would surely annoy PETA and Greenpeace.
Right about now, I’d settle for simply finding a bug repellant that could stave off greenies. Sure, your standard Deep Woods Off and such thwart them – for about 60 seconds. But should you exude so much a single droplet of sweat, the greenheads will home in on that repellant-free spot in a heartbeat.
What I’m saying is there is virtually nothing we can do about them. They rule. Place as many black box traps as you want. They will mean the demise of thousands of greenies, with literally millions successfully circling out there to chomp away at us. Live with it – and savor that monetary pleasure of successfully crushing one.
SNAPPERS FOR SURE: An observation of a “huge!” turtle crossing the road (mainland) came my way via email. There was no photo but the writer offered very impressive verbiage regarding its size. ”Must of weighed over 40 pounds. At first, I thought it was one of those remote kids toys.”
A giant remote turtle toy is always my first guess when I’m driving an ultra-rural road and a 40-pound creature comes out of the bushes and begins plodding across the road. Just kidding, Dan.
It was actually the way the turtle was described as holding itself way off the ground and the amazingly brisk rate it was moving -- for a 40-pound turtle and/or battery powered toy -- that tells me it was a major non-mechanical snapping turtle. That high-profile sprint is common to this potentially gnarly but generally shy reptile – which is, admittedly, a tad disagreeable if cornered – being fully willing to instantly shorten a broom handle for you. Such domestic usages of massive snapping turtles is fairly well known to most boys/men of my era – from days when snapper turtles roamed freely, before becoming intricately immersed in freeways and such.
But why was this snapper crossing the road, asked Dan.
First, Dan, did you check across the road to see if there were any long broom handles waiting there? Hey, you gotta think scientifically in those instances.
Truth be told, there’s no guessing as to what would spur a mega-turtle to head out, midday, midsummer, mid-90-degrees. While snappers leave the water primarily for hibernating and egg depositing, I’ve also seen the largest of them going terrestrial for no apparent reason, though they sometimes are happily humming to themselves so maybe it’s just one of those out for a stroll things.
By the by, I’m a huge snapping turtle fan – and that’s not because I once saw one bite a football clean through to the ball’s air bladder. I feel they unfairly get bad rapped for simply freaking out when cornered by humans, some of whom jam various forms of athletic equipment toward them.
In reality, snapper aren’t only secretive in real life but astoundingly skitterish, considering they bask at the very top of a lake’s food chain. Despite growing to well over 50 pounds, all snapping turtles are terrified of humans.
Gospel truth: I used to frequently dive freshwater lakes and you’ve never seen escape acceleration like a startled snapper as it tries get away from an approaching human. It actually does the equivalent of spinning its wheels in place, without going anywhere. You can all but hear it simultaneously screaming. When it finally gains traction and bolts, it leaves behind a rising cloud of muck, weeds, leaves, branches and some accidentally excreted bodily material.
Tales of snappers overtly attacking swimmers are total suburban myth, egged on by the like of the old Chuck Berry song, “My Ding-a-ling.” Stanza 4 of that song: “Once while swimming cross turtle creek, man them snappers right at my feet, sure was hard swimming cross that thing, with both hands holding my ding-a-ling a-ling.”
I wont touch that except to say, if given an option, snapper would never go one-on-one with mankind, even in its smallest form, i.e. children.
The only highly hypothetical possibility of a turtle “attack” – once one gets tired of broomstick handles and footballs -- – is if a human in a boat was gingerly fanning the surface of the water with his or her hand. There is the slightest of slight chances the snapper will see those wiggling fingers as dangling edibles. Even that’s super unlikely. Snappers are actually hawkeyed, as is the case with most turtles. I’ve come over a rise onto a large lake and the instant my head shows, basking turtles on logs and embankments jump from one side of the lake to the other.
Despite nature books suggesting snappers thrive by attacking live birds, small mammals, and even other turtles, that’s really not the nature of the beast – at least the ones I know personally. On the meat-eating side, snappers are primarily scavengers, thriving on anything dead or dying in the water. They will take a snap or two at passing creatures but simply aren’t fast enough to rely on that as a sole source of sustenance. Stomach analysis of locale snapping turtles suggests the reptiles are happy eating huge amounts of organic herbs and vegetation – often using terms like “dude” and “brother” when talking to each other, proving these creatures are mellow -- and badly misunderstood.
A somewhat circuitous proof of a snapping turtle’s zero aggression when faced with humans is seen in the famed -- and unceasingly redneck-ridiculous -- art of noodling, featured just this week on the TV show “Hooked.” Noodling is that fully insane sport-of-sorts where southern anglers wade into lakes and rivers to blindly grope around under submerged banks or among underwater roots or under the hoods of abandoned cars pushed into the water. They’re trying to mouth-grab catfish that bite at their hands, thinking the hands are moving in to hurt their eggs.
I once wrote in here how that sport started when a buncha Louisiana boys was “sippin’” near a lake when a fella named Bubba dropped an unopened can of beer in the water. As he felt around around for it underwater, he suddenly came up screamin’ with a huge catfish attached to his hand. The look on the faces of that group of good old boys may have never been photographed but one’s imagination can easily fill in the blanks. Bubba became instantly famous and was invited to lakeside events all over the place, where folks threw beer cans in the water and Bubba would commence to grabbin’ around for ‘em. He was forced into retirement after his liver began to give out.
Anyway, I always like the interviews with those catfish noodlers. Media folks unceasingly ask, “Aren’t you afraid of snapping turtles?” For drama and theatrics, the noodlers cockily say, “That just one of the hazards of this sport.”
What a laugh and a half. I assure you the sport of noodling would have ended before it began if it weren’t for the total tilliness of turtles. In fact, the first noodler to come screaming out of the water with even a 9-ounce painted turtle on his little finger will clear the waters of that sport forever.
RUNDOWN: Bassing is perking, more below the water than above. (Hell, even I’m not sure what I mean by that.) Seems divers/snorklers are seeing bass in the most bountiful numbers since June. Hotspots are ye typical zones in and around Barnegat Inlet. In fact, here’s an email of an above-water angler tapping into those arriving schoolie stripers. “… Set up at 8:00 for the tide in start but it was delayed almost 45 minutes with the big bay holding off the incoming. 15 minutes into the set the bass came. I had a fish on 9 consecutive drop backs and ended up with 15 bass. One keeper, two almost, and the rest from 20" to 24". It was a lot of fun. … WP.”
As for the many spearfishermen working rocks and jetties, they have had no trouble seeing bass but they have to be doubly sure of legal size before firing and, as the above email relates, there aren’t a whole lotta take-homers swimming about – just yet.
Tog are everywhere. They are spawned out and fattening up. Only one per day but it’s good to see such a fine showing. Again, these observations are being offered to me by over half a dozen regular divers – only a couple of whom shoot blackfish. In fact, even the guys who take an occasional fish when diving are mainly out there for the scenery. And we’ve had some very clean water session now and again, though it’ll take a bit of time for the water to settle after H. Bill’s stir. By then, most of the divers I know will be back at school.
Small blues are moving in like gangbusters, beginning north but moving south quickly.
It sure seems the weakies have gone AWOL for this summer. There is a fair influx of them up toward the Raritan but our local stocks, genetically inclined to return to this area, have gone missing. I’m the one constantly warning against panicking over a single-season disappearance of a species so I’ll only lightly fret over the no-show of sparklers -- and ignore the heavy commercial netting to our south, where lousy shrimping has caused netters to work overtime. Just because the shrimping sucks, the brutal bycatch is always taking place – maybe worse since more pulls have o be made to locate the sparse shrimp. I will proffer apologies to the hilt if next year we see a decent return of weakfish, kingfish, croakers, blowfish and other fish that fall to shrimp netters down south. By the by, I’m not against shrimping at all, however, the near primitive methods they use sorting out (bycatch from target) is in the Stone Age.
Speaking of blowfish, they are one of the few young-of-year species prolifically showing up bayside. I have reports from Little Egg and Barnegat Bay that not only aren’t the grass shrimp around but the myriad of late-summer y-o-y species are missing. Email from net puller: “Tried pulling my shrimp trawl this morning. Four pulls with these results: Maybe 2 dozen shrimp, two crabs, one sea horse, a couple of pipe fish and not one juvenile fluke, blackfish, seabass or tropical to be seen. I think the bay is in BIG trouble. …”
There could be a ton of reasons for this absence of these eelgrass bed denizens, including the aftereffects of storms that stirred the entire bay in spring and early summer. Reports of clouds of peanut bunker in the far backbay could be a sign that this very hot August is holding all types of small fry in their deep-summer shallows mode. I dread even mentioning mullet because I’m not liking what I’m seeing in August muster areas. I have this abiding fear that the massive influx of bunker babies might somehow foul up the mullet hatch. Still, 90 percent of our mullet come from north of here, where bunker are not nearly as protected as in NJ waters. I’ll know a lot more by this time next month.