Equal Opportunity Hooking of Surf Stripers
This is one of those columns that just oozes fish and fishing. That’s to be expected, as Angling 2009 putts and spurts its way into first gear. However, there is definitely water in the engine.
Maybe I’m just getting sky-sensitive in my old age but this sure seems to be one suckacious spring. Not many breaks in the crappiness. Yes, we all cling to the memory of those few 90-degree days a while back. Of course, many folks barely had time to admire their sun-touched cheeks before the temps halved themselves and the fog, rain, mist, downpours, gloom and wind set in. It’s still sitting out there as I tap out this report.
The weather has surely played the spring spoiler, as loads of anglers are itchin’ to get out – and after the arriving bass, blues, drum and weakies. The problem is many awaiting anglers are unwilling to take on the elements. That’s not to say a number of hardcore-ites aren’t soaking lines. I’ve been getting reports at a goodly clip after not hearing a peep from folks almost all frozen winter.
RUNDOWN: The beach has realty perked up, bass-wise. In fact, some rain-geared fanaticos are absolutely banging the bejeezus outta bass. On Monday, a small buggy gathering toward the South End had surfside stripers biting at a rate that made fishing two rods a tough go. Tales from that troop had a first-rod going down before the second rod was even cast. The flurries are frenzied with the wait-abouts always part of the game. There were just-keeper fish taken, South End, but apparently nothing worthy of weighing into the 2009 Simply Bassin’ tourney.
The mid-Island zone has also seen some detonations of bass, with blues mixed in. A couple Brant Beach surfcasters called me to say they had gone through chunk bait and salted clam to the tune of 15 stripers, two of them keepable. “It was dead quiet then things just turned on like crazy. It was actually one of the best bass catches I’ve ever had in that short of a time,” was messaged on my answering machine.
Also on Monday, the North End looked large, per Basil at the Barnegat Light Bait and Tackle. “Meat” tossers were not into plentiful bass but the average hookup was easily adequate to invite home to dinner. By Tuesday, only a couple anglers were on-beach but the bite carried on, at a smaller scale. Clams had replaced meat and it was once gain a case of sorting through the schoolies for a fillet-able model. “The fish are here; 100 percent here,” said Basil, adding, “The population of people isn’t.” Hey, that works for those dedicated to keeping the sands to themselves. All it takes is some endurance and real decent raingear.
Plugging and jigging is working on the bass, though not nearly as well as bait. Per usual, jetties and rips are the prime cast zones. Bright plastic jigs seem to be outcatching swimming and diving plugs for bass and blues.
Margaret at Jingles reported not only a lot of shorts being caught but also a very even playing field, so to speak. Reports of good to very good fishing were coming in from Brant Beach to Holgate. Keepers were among them. “It is spread very evenly out there,” said Margaret, of the widespread-ness of the bass bite. “As long as you don’t mind the weather, they’re caching fish,” she added. Margaret pointed out that the big bass are a bit behind schedule. “Things are off by a couple weeks.”
I had some striper fillets (from a 28-inch fish) dropped off by a night fisherman working the South End, dockside. It went for a small white plastic tail on a ¾-ounce bullet jig. I’m told there was no shortage of smaller stripers out and about, many breaking water in the wee hours. There sure seems to be a lot of surface action in the bay this spring. That might well be because of the small spearing already hanging near the surface. As oft-noted, tiny spearing routinely show very early in the season. I have seen them under skim ice.
There are even some sizeable bass upriver, both Mullica and Wading. I stopped by a bridge near Leekstown and a less-than-chatty fellow had a very nice striper on a stringer. He was quite willing to show it off but seemed secretive about his bait. I did notice a seemingly filleted road-kill squirrel carcass in a drain at the end of the bridge (gospel truth).
The bluefish are showing in a sketchy way. The rocks, both sides of Barnegat Inlet, have all-head model blues to maybe 8 pounds but averaging much smaller. They were going for plugs when I checked out some of those winter-starved marauders would surely take chunk baits. There are small blues in the bay but not nearly at the pace we’ve seen by now in recent springs. In fact, some sites usually jumping with blues by now are fully void of them – which is very much to the liking of weakfishermen.
Speaking of which: weakfishing just ain’t that good out there. That’s not to say the sharpies and nighters aren’t nabbing some sparklers but the overall showing of weaks is just that, weak.
I have been told (possibly based on theory more than actual observation) that tiderunners have already reached spawning areas, west bay. I can’t debate the point since I lost my X-ray glasses that let me see through waters over at sites near Forked River. I jig-fished weaks in SC a couple nights back and had one sure rap, another fish on and that was it. Felt suspiciously like ocean herring, though.
Togging season is over. Fish and Wildlife officers are taking no prisoners regarding any anglers mistaking the season’s end. The tog issue is very touchy for those officers since there are huge headaches with poachers during the closed season. And, no, that poaching thing hasn’t let up one bit. Small blackfish are still worth big bucks to the Asian and what I call the “live-sushi” markets.
Delaware Bay is starting to go big time with seasonal black drum. Take-home drum (to 15 pounds) were thick as bricks at last report. However, the big photo-only models are a lot rarer down there. Not locally, though. Scott’s Bait and Tackle got direct word of a 77-pound black drum caught by boat. Scotty coaxed the catcher into reviving and releasing that bad boy – actually it would be a bad girl at that size. Hey, take it from someone who doesn’t knock ‘em dead when it comes to catching huge fish, it’s gotta be real hard to loose a world-class fish like that. Keep that digital camera at the ready. A good picture is as good as a weigh-in.
Here’s an email and question: : “Hey Jay,
Had a great afternoon fishing for stripers in the BH surf yesterday between 3 and 6 pm. For the first time in my life I lost count of how many I caught. Had 2 on bunker and 6 or 7 on clams. Only one of them was a keeper at 29 inches. All the others were between 23" and 27 1/2". Also got sawed off twice so I guess some bluefish were in the surf too. Had one problem. Even though I only use circle hooks, one of the shortys swallowed the hook. I tried getting it out but I think I was doing more harm than good so I finally cut the line and turned him loose. You think he'll survive??? What's the best way to handle that situation??? J.E. in B.H.”
(I would say it’s pretty much 50-50 the fish will survive. That’s based on the number of internal areas where the hook could prove fatal if impaled and those areas that the fish’s body could easily work around the imbedded object – for its entire lifetime.
Contrary to legend, the hook will not rot out, even if it is steel. It is unlikely it will even rust, since the fish has essentially internalized it. I believe the round shape of circle hooks make them slightly more tolerable than an embedded bait hook or the likes. What’s more, the swallowing of a circle hooking is a rarity. The long-term number of fish saved by using them hyper exceeds fish lost to internalized circle hooks.
For sake of argument, I will offer you the exact wrong read on how to handle a gut-hook situation. I think all gut-hooked fish should be kept and utilized as foodstuff. That cannot be legally done, plain and simple. And all you have to do is read the Fish and Wildlife police blotter to know you can easily get caught keeping an undersized bass. So what you have to do is obediently clip the line as far down the fish’s throat as possible, release it and let the odds play out. Even if it does die, its body stays in the ecosystem to become nutrition for other creatures. Sadly, any rotting fish, right about now, is sure to go to the dogs, as in dogfish.)
WATER TEMP TOPIC: The ocean water is still very cold. I took a dip (wetsuited) and put it at barely 50 -- as in, frickin’ bitter. This is obviously not the optimum comfort range of stripers but they’re out there in notable numbers. This proves there are larger factors than water temps alone that affect the movement of spring fish. The cold ocean should also assure some very fast fishing right inside the inlets. Folks are tapping into that when skies allow. Get ready for that sedge-side action to speed up rapidly. As might be expected, Great Bay (and its warmer water) has drawn in a goodly load of bass, many in the keeper-sized range.
YAK NOTES: Kayak anglers might be interested in recent ordinance changes in Long Beach Township. The township has opened 19 surfing beaches. And that relates to kayak fishing, in a way. While the opening of those beaches specifically permits kayaks to wave ride thereabouts (helmet required), it also means legal points for kayak anglers to put-in. In the past, finding daytime (10 to 5) put-in points was so difficult it discouraged many kayak anglers from giving it a go. Now, it will be way easier to drag your kayak to the nearest legal launch point.
There is one aggravating angle to using the surfing beaches as launch points for yak angling: a helmet is required. This is based on kayak surfers (who use yaks to ride waves) needing that protection. Still, anyone heading out on a waveriding beach must abide by that regulation. Once through the waveline – and into fishing territory -- the helmet can be nixed, and secured to a tie-down strap until returning to the beach.
Note to newbie kayak anglers: It’s not the best idea to head out kayak fishing during big surf, due mainly to the danger of eating it on the way out and possibly losing valuable gear. As I’ve written about in here before, I super-secure every damn thing before I paddle out – unless it’s like a lake out there. My kayak can capsize and wash all the way back to the beach but rods, reels, tackle, even lunch, will remain dutifully attached to the yak.
As you should know, a personal flotation devise is required on kayak. If you have any doubts about your swimming skill, wear it throughout the trip -- instead of having it jammed into some hard to reach storage compartment. They now have PFDs that are sleek, easy to wear, and even look quite cool.
Most of all, the paddle should also be attached to the yak. It’s astounding how quickly a lost paddle can move off on its own. I was once fighting a major fish and at some point or another during the lengthy struggle (as many yak fish fights are) my paddle crept over the side and into the water. It was attached but had it not been, that sucker could have been 40, 60 even 100 feet from me before I would have noticed. Had it not been tethered? Jump overboard and swim for it? Now you have a paddle in hand but nothing to paddle, as your designated fishing vessel has now moved off on its own. Just try swimming with a paddle in hand – to chase after a wind/current/tide-powered kayak. A more logical notion is to hold onto the kayak with one arm and stroke toward the paddle with the other. Good luck. So, you forgo paddle chasing, have no paddle and you’re over half a mile from shore with a west wind blowing you further out. Bummer.
By the by, you may have guessed I was once in that predicament, prior to my tethering days. I saved my sorry butt by tying a rope to the front of the yak, sliding into the water, grabbing the rope and swimming all the frickin’ way back to shore. Those were my fully conditioned days – and I still almost went hypothermic. If that were to happen this coming week, I’d try to figure out how to signal giant oceangoing vessels in the shipping lanes. By the by, along with keeping my paddle tethered to the kayak, I also keep a small one-stroke raft oar in a cubby hole. I hate sitting in the shipping lanes at night.
Anyway, the new surfing beaches in LBT will sure offer some fine fishing potential, put-in wise. Just remember, you have to keep close tabs on where you put in at. You can’t launch at a surfing beach then blow way along the beachline and expect to paddle in on a non-surfing beach. The trick to kayaking the beach is to note beachside landmarks. It’s good to first do that when still on the beach then again when outside the wave line looking back in. That’s to make sure there aren’t any look-alike landmarks that come into view when out in the ocean a ways.
I bring up the kayak angle because I’m going to be doing a lot more fluke fishing from my yak this year. The powers that be have taken away any hope of my besting bigger flatties from the beach so I have to get out there drifting. While near-beach angling, say 15 to 20 feet of water, isn’t the best fluking depth, I’ve always had decent luck right on the backside of the sandbars, maybe 10 to 15 feet of water. Those are obviously fluke working the bars during tide changes. Some serious fish in that high-flow mix.
TUNA TODO: There is a nasty battle of words and data between those who want consumers to believe there is a serious mercury threat from eating tuna and those assuring that the benefits of fish eating dramatically outweigh any and all dangers.
While federal authorities want certain vulnerable people (primarily pregnant mothers) to limit tuna intake to a mere few ounces a week, a recent Center for Consumer Freedom report, “Tuna Meltdown,” found that more than 250,000 children in low-income households were born at risk of IQ deficits because their mothers were needlessly scared to eat tuna while they were pregnant.
Entering the tuna intake battle is a fairly shocking finding made by Francois Morel, a distinguished Princeton University geochemist. His research found that mercury levels in Pacific Ocean tuna did not increase at all during a 27-year period, even though atmospheric mercury from human activities had taken off. So why wasn’t the additional atmospheric mercury not reaching the tuna flesh?
Heavy metals can be gradually absorbed into the body (bioaccumulation) through various forms of exposure, including constant contact with ocean water, i.e. a fish’s life. However, the ocean also contains selenium, known to thwart the uptake of mercury into the human body. There might very well be a relationship between the selenium and mercury that limits the absorption of mercury by tuna – and other marine organisms.
“'No matter how much mercury is in ocean water, the levels in actual fish aren't increasing,” said Center for Consumer Freedom Director of Research David Martosko. “And the entire medical literature still contains zero U.S. mercury-poisoning cases related to eating commercial fish…”
This is not to say that there is no mercury in tuna. Finding s simply point out that the mercury in tuna may have been constant dating back to who-knows-when, including times when tuna was eaten freely with no negative affects on public health.
But the government is not buying it.
United States Geological Survey (USGS) scientists recently published a work in the journal “Global Biogeochemical Cycles,” confirming that mercury is increasing in the planet’s oceans. However, those scientists unexplainably extrapolated from their findings that tuna and other marine life would be taking on a greater and greater mercury load. The odd part: Those scientists didn’t test a single fish. They obviously overlooked those documented findings that the mercury levels in marine organisms have been holding perfectly steady for over a quarter century.
Center for Consumer Freedom went after the USGS scientists' failure to actually test fish. “It's the Food and Drug Administration's job to tell us what's safe to eat,” Martosko said. “And the latest FDA report says we should be looking at all the health benefits of eating fish. Hand-wringing about mercury in ocean water isn't terribly useful.”
Per CCF, the USGS study didn’t even acknowledge that the mercury found in the ocean – and tuna -- comes from underwater volcanic activity. There was absolutely no effort to make the selenium/mercury connections, the CCF claims.
“Saying that human activity is putting any mercury into ocean fish is a wild guess,” Martosko added. “And it's reckless to suggest that tuna and other marine fish are somehow unsafe to eat.
Recently, California courts have thwarted efforts by consumer’s groups to have mercury-content warning labels on tuna cans. The findings of the courts were that virtually all the mercury traces in tuna and other marine life are naturally occurring.