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Hail to the Possum King; A One-Day, $1,000 Bass By JAY MANN | Sep 19, 2013

Holgate high tide drive-down Sept. 18, 2013 -- wet-ish at the tip. 

http://youtu.be/OwuGsf01jPg

The Fish Story

Hail to the Possum King; A One-Day, $1,000 Bass

By JAY MANN | Sep 19, 2013

I’m getting word of a veritable glut of raccoons now on LBI. 

One has to wonder if Sandy’s inundating of every single Barnegat Bay sedge island, not to mention all the back bay meadows, forced the dexterously pawed mammals to hop aboard any available flotsam, riding the storm’s final-phase west winds onto our Island.

By the by, coons are considered some of the brightest beasts in the animal kingdom – and for good reason.

Scene: A landing party of coons arrives on LBI on the wings of Sandy, pawing floodwater off themselves and looking around.

“Well, well. It looks like we’re here.”

“It looks like we’re where?”

“Rocky, how many times do I have to tell you that it doesn’t matter where. We’re a nonspecific destination species.”

“OK, then, Little Miss Nonspecific Destination, how about shooting me a guess as to where we are, nonspecifically speaking?”

“Well, that big, four-legged blue thing in the sky says, ‘Ship Bottom,’ so I’m guessin’ that’s where we are; Home, sweet Ship Bottom, home.”

“Ship Bottom? What the hell does that even mean? I mean, I could half understand Ship Top or Ship Deck or Ship Ahoy, or even, just for the fun of it, Ship Faced. But Ship Bottom?”

“Enough with the name already. We’re here. What say we start making babies?”

“OK, but I still think ‘Ship Bottom’ is gonna look weird on the kids’ birth certificates.”

Closer to reality. I’m not sure of the immediate social impacts from legions of these masked marauders homing in on LBI but take it from a firsthand source (see below), these hefty mammals are not to be idly taunted or toyed with. They have these Hollywood white teeth and are not afraid to use them in a less than smiling manner.

By the same token, coons are speed adjusters, societally speaking. They take astoundingly well to humanity, enthusiastically buddying up with any and all humans treating them kindly, via vittles and “koochie koo” talk.

Mystery: Why is that people talk to wildlife as if it’s sitting in a baby carriage?

Actual goo-goo words I heard from a lady coming across an old, seriously decrepit, one-eyed fox eating cigarette butts in an Island Beach State Park parking lot. “Hey, little guy. What are you doin’, huh? You’re so cute. Yes, you are …”

The mangy fox is lookin’ up at her like, “What the hell’s your problem, lady?”

Note: While the way to a raccoon’s heart is through its paws, it’s against the law to feed them in N.J. Of course, it’s also against the law to offer wildlife whiskey or cigarettes, per statutes.

COON MANN: Once, as a part-time “vacation” job in Florida, I worked at humanelytrapping some of the state’s full-blown coon glut.

Per a recent census, raccoons are the only creatures matching, in number, the arrival of “northerner” retirees. Predictably, the coons are becoming very problematic for newbies to the Sunshine State.

A recent scene outside a prototypical Florida retirement bungalow in a Sarasota over-55 community:

Former New Yorker Norman H., leaning from a patio chair, looks confusedly, albeit intently, toward some nearby shrubbery, yelling out, “Helen! Yo, Helen!”

From inside the bungalow: “Damn-it, Norman, I’m busy making my carrot bits and prunes Jello. What the hell you screamin’ about?”

“Those damn raccoons just went and hauled off the glass-top patio table you won at the raffle; took that sucker clean into those bushes where we seen that snake the other day.”

Rushing out, drying hands with a small white dish towel, seeing Norman sitting right next to where the recently-won, glass-top patio table had sat. “What the hell, Norman!? You mean you just sat there and let them take the whole table?!”

“You know I got that bum knee, Helen. Besides, there were a s***load of ’em. I was lucky to grab my iced tea before they knocked it over.”

But back to my Floridian coon-catchin’ days.

Arriving from Jersey, I was accustomed to tracking down a lone coon at a time, maybe one holed up in an attic. My first day of coon culling in Florida, I pulled my truck into a popular picnic area and had no fewer than a dozen coons waddle outta the woodwork – to either greet me or eat me. I actually stayed in my truck until I was sure which idea they had in mind.

I cautiously stepped out and soon had dozens and dozens of coons surrounding me, all standing on their back legs, their leathery black paws groping out toward me. They looked like a load of mini-zombies. Unzombie-like, these were easily the lard-assiest coons I had ever seen. They were twice the size of even a well-fed N.J. coon.

My first “trapping” reaction was to just run a board from the ground and into the bed of my truck. I would then Pied Piper them aboard – to the tune of hot dogs and chocolate cake. The problem was I had no cover for my truck bed. I could just see an army of suddenly pissed off raccoons crawling all over my truck:

“Jay, what the hell you doing walkin’? Where’s your new truck?”

“Don’t ask. You goin’ back up to Jersey any time soon?”

I opted to go old school, employing a grouping of Havahart traps.

I quickly caught what amounted to the dumbest three or four coons on the block. Within seconds of those captures, the coon grapevine issued the warning, “Watch out for the little trap-settin’ bastard in the GMC truck.” That would be me.

Per previous notations, these are not dumb animals. But I wasn’t done thinkin’, either. I homed in on how these begging buggers were all essentially bunched up, looking for handouts. I then had me a mullet moment – egged on by the fact I would be getting paid per capture.

The next day, I arrived with a two-man crew – and a couple very-used mullet cast nets. The game was afoot. I might not be much at Havahart trappings but don’t mess with me when I’m chuckin’ an eight-foot cast net.

Gospel truth: I had my two-man crew dress just like tourists – Bermuda shorts, brightly colored Oxford shirts, calves-covering black socks anchored by Topsider loafers, the works. They then bandied about hotdogs and potato chips. The raccoon turnout was astounding. I swear that coons from even distant eating districts got word. The critters were so beg-amoniously absorbed they didn’t see me assuming my finest mullet-approach, cast net posture.

It was like shooting ducks in a barrel – albeit big, furry, fiercely toothed ducks. You know the kind.

I was sure that the netted coons would go ballistically bananas – and might even tear the tar out of the old nets – but not before I got me a goodly paycheck worth of ’em.

My first throw netted 11 coons.

Astonishingly, the imposingly strong and potentially savage mammals barely struggled beneath the blanket of monofilament. Sure, they were semi-domesticated – and mired in obesity – but they gave up the ghost of freedom in an oddly capitulatory manner, seemingly thinking, “Screw even trying to get my fat ass out of this mess.”

With varying degrees of last-minute protest, each coon allowed itself be de-netted, caged – and humanely relocated. At least I was told they were humanely relocated since I wouldn’t work under any other condition. I didn’t overly investigate the matter since I quickly reached the 100 head capture point. Wherever they were headin,’ there was soon a ****load of ’em.

In a mere month’s time, I put a damn decent dent in the coon population within the parks I worked.

I should note that each park was good for only one or two casts. The grapevine not only warned all surviving coons of my net-acious ways but also put a price on my head. At that point, the coons became a lot more human-like.

“Why don’t you go after him, Rocky? That’s a real nice bounty on his ugly human head.”

“The hell you say. Who the hell knows where they’re takin’ the ones he’s nettin’? Besides, I’ve been doin’ real good lately sellin’ patio tables on the side.”

CLASSIC CHATTER: Due to my lackluster luck at fishing, I truly fish vicariously through the angling success of others. However, this year I’m sure as hell going to be out there with all my fishing guns blazing during the fast-approaching Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic, running from Oct. 7 to Dec. 1.

Check it out (!): There will be at least one, and possibly two days, where the single-largest bass for just that day will net the hooker $1,000. You heard right. That bass-o’-the-day alone will be worth a cool grand. What’s more, that four-figure fish might not be all that large. Now you’re talking my kind of, uh, subtle fishin’.

The special prize is in fond memory of Derby/Classic champion, the late Frank Panzone, a longtime buddy of ours.

It’s important to sign up for the Classic well in advance of any special $1,000-prize days. Why? Because if you’re as bad a procrastinator as I am, as in world-class, you’ll put off signing up, then put it off just a tad longer. Before you know it, your neighbor is taking his entire extended family out to dinner after winning $1,000 for a measly 12-pound bass in a tourney you still hadn’t signed up for.

Also, I’m not big on last-minute signers up. I’m chronically suspicious of someone who signs up for the Classic and an hour later comes in with a winning fish. Yes, that’s awful for the guy who really did just sign up and legitimately scored a trophy bass but why did he even need to wait until the last possible instant to enter an eight-week event? Just to make me crazy, right?

OK, so maybe that’s just me fretting over nothing. More rational is Margaret at Jingles. She astutely advises: If you’re going to sign up at the last minute and hook that payday fish, make sure you have a frickin’ witness. Hell, that can-I-get-a-witness angle applies even if you signed up well ahead of time.

In the case of the one-day, $1,000-prize bass, you might want to look for a witness to the landing of even a modest fish.

In obviously suspicious weigh-ins, the Classic committee will order a polygraph.

Oddly, someone heavily impacted by that “get a witness” concept is yours truly. I fish alone and often far from the maddening crowd – that’s so I can walk around talking to myself without someone calling the white-coated authorities.

I’ll be writing lots more on the Classic as it nears. Also, check jaymanntoday.ning.com.

RUNDOWN: As for fishing, the angling pressure has, expectedly, been down somewhat with the end of the summer tourist season. But a load of locals are finally getting lines out.

Please include me (jmann99@hotmail.com) when handing out any fishing stories. I have a way with words when retelling such. That’s because I truly enjoy the sport, though my attention deficit places me at the deep low-end of angling success.

Fluking is fast and furious when, well, it’s fast and furious. At other times, it’s a struggle finding a flattie.

Per Rutgers studies, the fluke don’t leave, they just stop eating. Importantly, the feeding patterns of fluke are very much tide driven. Rutgers researchers placed transmitters on fluke to follow their movements and feeding patterns. Proven: When those buggers stop eating, they grind to a halt, often literally.

When not feeding, fluke hunker down on the bottom, showing no feeding interest, even when a seemingly luscious meal passes right over their noses. When the dining bell sounds, the fluke go full-bore, attacking anything edible in sight. Interestingly, fluke move a lot when a-feed.

We often envision them as staying in one place, ambushing anything that drifts by, a lot like stargazers. Not so. Fluke will repetitively swim a short distance, bury, attack, and then swim away to repeat the bury-and-attack process. They can travel miles at a time during this process.

In inlets, moving fluke often follow what might be called tidal edges, i.e. convergence zones between incoming and outgoing tides. An underwater video I saw revealed mats of fluke, dozens of them, lifting up and moving along in a fairly coordinated stop-feed-go manner.

Cocktail blues are moving in fast. And I wonder where some of them have been all summer. I say that because I’ve nabbed well over a dozen (on plugs) and a goodly number were absolutely emaciated: I’m talkin’ just heads attached to scrawny bodies. They looked worse than in spring. Very weird, especially since other identically sized blues were football fat.

If you’re chunk fishing, adjust hook size for 2- to 3-pound blues, i.e. your typical, medium-sized bluefish rigs, with red floats.

I’ve seen a decent showing of small stripers in the surf, with larger versions nearer Barnegat Inlet. Live bait rules, especially spot. Best plugs are mediums with lots of mirroring in silver. While tri-treble plugs are best, if you get into the many blues out and about, you’ll be utterly aggravated trying to dehook those Jersey piranhas.

If you want the last of the blowfish you better get out there quickly. The super large showing of puffers is on the wane – hopefully to return next summer.

Blowfish migrate flush along the beach so they’re only minimally impacted by the Carolina shrimp netters, which brutalize most northbound migrators in the spring. The increased netting is surely the reason behind our lack of Atlantic croakers, the number one shrimping bycatch – by the reckoning (and stats) of the netters themselves. Not that many years back, the netting nearly stopped in the Carolinas due to market problems. We were swimming in croakers shortly thereafter. When shrimping resumed, our croakering croaked.

Kingfish are edging toward the south end of LBI, surfside. However, schools of them migrating down from New England could be passing anywhere along LBI at any time. GULP and “Bites” work great but I’ll buck the trend by saying that pieces of bloodworm still reigns supreme. Rigs meant specifically for kingfish are sorta essential, however. Match them with bank sinkers, which move around and greatly out-catch rigs pinned to the bottom by pyramids, Hatterases and such.

The mullet run is inching forward. It’s a slow start. Still, the ocean’s edge has fluke on the look. And the flatties are leapin’. Email:

Jay,

My wife and I were paddling in our kayak in the bay near the Holgate water tower last week in about 5 feet of water and I noticed a noise near shore and to my surprise we saw the white belly of a keeper fluke clear the water. He looked like he was auditioning for ‘Sea World’.

Jim Hesser

Jim, I hear ya! Myself and a goodly number of other anglers have long tried to convince folks there are leapin’ fluke this time of year – as they come clean out of the water chasing mullet schools. I’m hell-bent on getting it on video this fall.

Migrating spearing are showing strong. This is very important to surfside pluggers. Call on smaller plugs with a lot of flash – or, yuck, use teasers. I favor freshwater-sized Redfins and Bombers that I re-hook with saltwater trebles. You don’t have to get plugs out very far to nab fluke and close-in bass.

Next week: Five mistakes made by (even the best) surfside pluggers.

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