Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report
Recent world record carp Oysters With History, Carp in Kid Times I got a goodly amount of feedback on my mentioning of down-south anglers illegally fishing the EEZ for big bass/rockfish. Here’s part of a very insightful letter. I’ll place the entire letter on my website http://jaymanntoday.ning.com/. “I grew up in Virginia and few messed with winter ocean stripers until recently. The fish are there and easy to catch. Most Virginia fishermen fish for stripers in the Bay and associated rivers during the fall season (mid October through December, with milder weather, but weird and changeable limits every year). After January 1, the small charter boats (usually "six packs") will try to find stripers for customers within 3 miles in VA and NC ocean waters, but if they cannot, they will head out for "bluefish". Catch and release targeting of stripers is illegal outside the three mile limit, hence they are fishing for non-existent bluefish, and the bolder boats will keep fish (and some are caught, much like speeders in NJ). I expect most anglers are from out of state, and the winter striper fishing boosts the local economy at a dead time of year. I have also seen lots of illegal striped bass caught and kept outside the three-mile limit off NJ on party boats (the mate told me since they did not target the stripers, it was OK). Given the screwy regulations for stripers everywhere, it seems the fishery management could easily exclude the taking of big females, if they wanted to …” It won’t be long before we see the push of those big bass into our bunker-laden waters. I’m thinking it will be a good thing to make super sure your navigating system are right on the mark – as in perfectly marking the start of the EEZ. The spring “Simply Bassin’” tournament will run again this year. This big-fish event will likely cover 8 weeks again this year, as it did in 2008. I’ll have the dates very soon. The SRHS Fishing Rams Flea market is this at Saturday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. It is again being held at the Southern Regional Middle School cafetorium. Admission is $4 and goes directly to the fishing club activities. It is admission money very well spent. There is a write-up on the event in the calendar section of this week’s SandPaper. OYSTERS WITH A TALE TO TELL: Email: “Jay, I have oysters growing on the pilings of my docks. I’ve lived her 25 years and have never seen them there before. I love oysters and often buy them and throw the shells off my dock. Could this by why they’re there. Also, can I eat the oysters hanging off my pilings?” Oyster talk has grown over the past couple years due to a combination of the mollusk’s return (albeit at a snail’s pace) and all-time blowout tides that have exposed them clinging to pilings. I assure you that the shells you threw off you dock are only calciferous reminders of fine dining experiences and in no way contributed to your dock oyster. It’s not commonly known but oysters have had a wild and wooly history in America, far beyond any other bivalve, including clams. Oysters were so plentiful when the first white colonists arrived from Europe that they were high on the list of highlighted finds reported by returning explorers. Not that Native Americans, like the local Lenni Lenape tribes, hadn’t already developed quite a taste for the bountiful bivalves – thousands of years prior to Europeans sliding ashore hereabouts. I can attest to the Amerindian appreciation of oysters. During many of my (state sponsored) Indian site digs, virtually every major archeo-site featured a heavy oyster shell presence, often in the form of shell mounds, i.e. large repositories for discarded bivalve shells. These shells mounds were also seemingly used to interne deceased tribe members, attesting to the respect the Lenape had for the bivalves. During the colonization of America by Europeans, the number of oysters in coastal and riverine waters of the New World seemed inexhaustible. The only thing equally inexhaustible was mankind’s appetite for them. As is always the case, mankind’s inexhaustibility trumps nature’s. It was the onslaught of settlers that began to bang the bejeezus out of America’s monumental oyster stocks. As foodstuff, the meat of oysters bordered on mythical, buttressed by the ages-old belief that the mollusks were a kick-ass aphrodisiac. It is no coincidence that the goddess of love, Aphrodite, is most often depicted as cruising around in a huge oyster shell. As early America built out, its love affair with oysters also grew. The near obsessive public attraction to the bivalves was so great that downing them in massive numbers became a nationwide obsession throughout the entire of the 19th century. Even as the nation migrated westward, the coastal delicacy followed, as entire train cars filled with iced oyster chugged along, helped by the bivalve’s ability to survive huge periods of time out of water. And it wasn’t just the innards of oysters that helped build America. Since the calciferous shell portion of an oyster is 90 present of the animal’s bulk (98 percent by weight), the shells became a commodity in its own right. They were crushed and used to sure-up horse paths and roadways. Many American ships used the shells for ballast. Here in Jersey (and in many other states with acetic soils), they were scattered by farmers to stabilize the pH balance of the soil. Many industries burned them for lime. As cities grew larger, oyster shells were literally mined for the sole purpose of building roadbeds. In an article entitled “The Incredible Oyster” by Janelle Robbins of the Waterkeeper Alliance, it’s easy to get a feel for just how frenetically fashionable oysters had become in America. “There were soon oyster parlors, oyster cellars, oyster saloons, oyster bars, oyster houses, oyster lunchrooms and oyster stalls lining the streets of many American cities. In its heyday, the oyster industry supported 38,000 oystermen nationwide and 27 million bushels of oysters were harvested each year from 1880 to 1910 …” Even with virtually everyone out there eating or industrially utilizing oysters, the fertile species still managed to hold on, population-wise. Then mankind did its dirty work. One thing oysters can’t stomach is bad water. And badwater times rushed in with each arriving waves of the Industrial Revolution. Per Robbins, “Raw sewage from early cities was piped, pumped and dumped, untreated, directly into coastal waters, contaminating oyster and other shellfish beds. While the sewage didn’t kill the oysters, the diseases that tainted oysters carried could infect and kill human consumers. Fouled oysters carried a plethora of human diseases, including cholera, vibrio and typhoid. The hysteria surrounding typhoid turned oysters from a gourmet delicacy to a scourge. Oyster saloons and bars were shuttered, oyster villages became veritable ghost towns and oystermen were left unemployed.” Eventually, the oysters themselves began succumbing to diseases, primarily in the second half of the 20th Century. The immune systems on the mollusks reached a breaking point, in this case a point of vulnerability whereby once insignificant bacteria and viruses could kill. Two killers of oysters remain DMX and dermo, both turning ugly mid-1900s. Making matters even worse for suffering oysters is a horrific loss of habitat. All that background info brings us back to the here-and –now, with oysters showing on bayside pilings. The historic bivalve is apparently making a decent recovery hereabouts. Of course, we can’t even hint at a recovery in terms of those bygone days of saturation coverage of the bay bottom and banks, when virtually every piece of structure housed oyster atop oyster. As to whether or not you should eat your backyard oysters, I say, “No, don’t do it!” You’ll probably be dead before the meat hits your stomach -- the devoured oyster exiting your abdomen like that hideous thing that sprang out of John Hurt in the movie “Alien.” OK, so maybe that’s a bit of a dramatization. Actually, allowing your oyster to stay put will, theoretically, lead to thousands upon millions of loosed larvae during the spring spawn. Besides, you can buy all the oysters you want at your favorite fishery. Those left in the wild offer the best chance of encouraging an ongoing comeback. NOTE: Bay oysters are surely clean and edible in the winter but I would never think of eating them raw in the summer. You really could wind up writhing on the ground in a world of Hurt. The mainstay “R month” theory for safely eating shellfish holds especially true for oysters. Never eat them raw except during months that contain the letter “R.” And, with global warming, I’d be cautious about the “R” in months like September and even October. KID CARP AND THE MUD LAKE CREATURE: I was recently chatting with a freshwater angler – and we have a load of them hereabouts. Per usual during angling gab, we resorted to talking about the biggest and baddest freshwater fish we had ever caught in Jersey. The action turned to both of us weighing in with the top-weight largemouth bass we had ever bested. We toyed with fish in the 7-pound zone – made weightier by the fact they were catch-and-release bass. Later on that day, it hit me that I had once taken a freshwater fish maybe 8 times the size of even my largest semi-imaginary largemouth. However, there was a bit of an asterisk by that freshwater mega-fish: It was a shot fish. No, that’s not a little-known species. It was a big old carp I had bested by bow, shot from an embankment overlooking a spawn area of a Camden County lake. A friend of my dad’s was a fanatic bowfisherman. He took me under his archer’s wing. I was 8-ish at the time. On our very first fish hunt, he nobly awarded me the carp shot of a lifetime. I say “awarded me” since he was fully the one who stalked the heavily vegetated banks of the lake then spotted what turned out to be one of the largest Jersey carp he had ever seen. “You see him there just under that overhanging branch?” he asked me. I said “Yeh,” even though all I saw was a sprawling lake in front of me. We inched ever so slowly onto a small rise to get the best shot at the carp. My mentor then placed the bow in my hands, secured my fingers just right, aimed the weapon just so, as if I was the one homing in on the murky form of the submerged fish (which I still couldn’t see), drew the bow’s string back using my fingers (ouch) and only loosed his tense grip on the cocked bow when whispering, “Now!” The arrow flew. Quite cool. What happened next was not so cool to a skinny afraid-of-his-own-shadow kid. I was not expecting the fury after the arrow broke the water and found its mark. Here I was thinking we were shooting a sunfish-sized fish. Instead, this crazed creature damn near as large as me went ballistic in the shallows, mud and froth exploding as if we had unloosed some demon. I let loose of the bow and turned to run -- seeing this was back in the days when every Saturday afternoon was spent at the movies watching double features of hideous monsters rising from lakes. Fight or flight was not in my repertoire. Flight or frenzied flight were my options. I can still recall my teacher laughing near diabolically as he held me in place. I momentarily thought he was in bloody cahoots with the Crazed Creature of Muddy Lake. I literally had no choice but to reluctantly fight and slowly hand haul the monster in. I was less than committed to actually getting it up on the bank next to me. In what seemed like a month of Saturday matinees, we finally dragged the carp ashore. Getting pounded on the shoulders with crazed congratulations from my instructor, I just stood there staring dumbly at the fish, over 50 inches long -- and ugly to boot. I do recall being royally relieved that it was, in fact, just a big-ass fish – fully lacking poison dripping fangs or jugular-ripping teeth, per movie monsters. There’s a scrapbook somewhere in my dangerously crammed attic with photos of me standing unsteadily beside this, the biggest ugliest fish I had ever seen. In all the shots, I have this strained smile on my face – and my eyes are clearly glancing sideways to make sure the thing was quite dead. How big was it? It was somewhere in the 50-pound range. No exact weight was taken since that was back in the day when a “trashy” carp was far too lowly a creature to bring into any respectable tackle shop. The weight was instead determined by first taking the weight of the fishermen on a bathroom scale then re-weighing the same angler as he caressed the slimy fish. I somehow got full credit for corralling that incredible carp, however … I should note here that bowfishing has really taken off in the U.S. It is most often done by boat. The equipment has come a long way from the hand-hauling retrieve from back in the day. Targeted species are various carp, though gar, paddlefish and catfish are also in the bowfisherman’s sights. As for the seeming anti-conservational aspects of the sport, virtually all bowfishing targets extreme trash species, not just those species of minimal eating value but species that are ravaging the ecosystem, as is the case with all carp. However, I want to gingerly put in a good word for less-than-cuddly carp. Despite being horrifically invasive and environmentally destructive, they are as strong a fighter as any species out there. Oddly, anglers unfamiliar with carp saddle them as being “dead weight” hookups, which is fully absurd. Large carp fight with every ounce they got, throwing in headshakes, dives, runs -- very, very similar to stripers. The dead weight labeling may rise from the tight quarters in which even huge carp can be caught. It’s tough for a fish to show much fight if it’s in a one-hole lake. Many decades back, my buddies and I knew of a 30-pound-plus carp in a pond about the size of your average kitchen. It was adjacent to a sewer plant. After literally years of trying now and again to get the easily seen carp it to take bait, a beyond-patient buddy of mine used a balled up piece of white Wonder bread to finally hook the biggy. He was the only around during the hookup. He missed the fish and later told a bunch of us what we first took to be a typical BS tall tale. He swore up and down that he hooked the fish and it immediately disappeared into the murky water – and swam and swam and swam, taking all the line off his reel. We all knew the tiny pond couldn’t be more than a maybe 8-feet deep and 20 feet across, a very odd place to lose over 100 yards of line to a running fish. We laughed off the illogical tale – for years afterwards. Long afterwards, when hunting the same area for sharks teeth in green marl clay, I suddenly figured out the mystery of the reel emptying run of a big carp in a tiny pond. A worker at the plant just happened to mention to me that a huge pipe was located well under the waterline of the pond. The pipe had something to do with sewer overflow. It went well over a football field distance toward the plant. The forensics of fishing kicked in. Unbelievable. After something like 25 years, my buddy was finally let off the hook for his carp-based fairy tale. He had taken on a huge carp – and a city block’s worth of community infrastructure.