Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

I Ate Poison Ivy in Another Life; Dolphins Have a Real Bad Week

I Ate Poison Ivy in Another Life;

Dolphins Have a Real Bad Week

REMEMBER WHEN: Do you believe in reincarnation? Me either. How could I not recollect having once been, say, an earthworm or an exotic shrubbery? Still, now and again, I toy with the re-embodiment subject, mainly when I come across life forms I hope not to morph into for the next existence.

For perfect instance, just last week I got a press release about an effort to squelch a serious plant problem attacking the famed Fort Hancock Park in Sandy Hook.

The mortar battery has protected New York Harbor from foreign invasions since the Spanish American War, up to just after WWII. But, no sooner does it get decommissioned than it gets overrun by the nation’s most famed and hostile plant non grata: poison ivy.

Most folks can relate: It is estimated that over 80 percent of Americans have had some brutal path crossings with the pimply, three-leafed poisonous plant.  Continuing that reincarnation notion, tell me you don’t know a few folks who might have served a stint as poison ivy in a former life. Let’s see, what rhymes with “itch.”

But back to Fort Hancock, which even Hindus are fairly sure has always been a fort. It is now so matted with poison ivy that a ranger there said the site should be nicknamed “Poison Ivy National Monument.” Oddly, I think that’s a quite-cool name for a destination -- you known, one of those places you just have to see someday.  

Unbecomingly, most areas of the fort now bear ominous signs reading: “Extremely Hazardous Conditions, Area Closed.” Again, I picture dad getting the family to dress up and stand next to the sign for this year’s Christmas card cover. Dad has a weird sense of humor.

Back on the reincarnation track, the folks running Fort Itchiness have been unable to find a single plant control company willing to attack such an enemy-held position. Enter goats, namely Nubian goats. 

Seems these head-banging weed warriors devour poison ivy as if it’s … Hell, I don’t know what they think it is but they down it by the gobfull. They then spend the entire night trying to scratch their insanely itchy mouths with barbed wire fencing.

Not true. Goats can bleat defiantly in the face of poison ivy’s nasty oil, called urushiol. They have utter resistance to the stuff.

Poison ivy imperviousness notwithstanding, I still want poison-ivy eating goat to be removed from my list of reincarnatory possibilities. I know I’m adding a human aspect into this but I simply don’t want a life of eating acres of poison ivy -- for years on end. And don’t try to feed me that crap that it might taste just like lobster to the goats. I want my name off that list, now.  

Mind you, I’m not bad-mouthing these maniacal poison ivy munchers. In fact, I’ve bonded a bit after reading up on the background of Nubian goats.

Initially, who would know what a Nubian anything might be? If you wise-assedly joked that it was something that came from Nubia, you’d accidently be right. But don’t try to tell me you knew where the minuscule, now pretty much dissolved nation of Nubia is at. Dyed-in-the-wool Nubians aren’t even sure where they’re at.

I’ll help you out. Nubia is/was somewhere near Sudan. Oh, so even Sudan doesn’t ring much of a bell, eh, Mr. I Don’t Know Why I Have To Even Take Geography?  Well, then, how about Egypt? Put your hands down, we all know that one.

Anyway, Nubian goats are, indeed, named after the once-nation of Nubia. But, oddly, the Nubians really weren’t big on goats, ever. Apparently, the miniscule nation had absolutely nothing of world-class fame, animal-wise, until one day a tribal chief found a children’s farm animal book that blew in from across the desert. Out of all the farm animals, the Nubians adopted the goat as their national creature, based on its ability to make just about every Nubian laugh when looking at the picture of it – though quite a few folks laughed uncontrollably at turkeys. After banishing the turkey laughers, the Nubian goat was introduced to the world – along with the appropriate page ripped out of that farm animal book. In one well-documented scene, a chief was shown moving the picture along as if the goat was walking.

It took almost forever, but the world finally figured out the Nubian goat ruse. They took corrective naming action by expanding the farm animal’s name to Anglo-Nubian goats. That’s where they stand now – and up in Fort Handcock.

But there’s more to that ivy-eating tale.

It turns out these same type goats have been in hugely high demand since their owner, Larry Cihanek of Rhinebeck, N.Y., began essentially renting them out to eat weeds in areas no man will go. In fact, it was during a hire-out in New York City that the critters got a Warholian burst of fame in 2008.

Assigned to de-weed Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, N.Y., the wily goats apparently became dissatisfied with either the ambiance or the carte du jour. The displeased goats engineered their ways out of the heavily-fenced fort and methodically munched toward an intensely high-security area beneath the Verrazano Bridge. That area is not just a no-man’s land but also a no-living-creature zone. 

Per Homeland Security, the areas below all NYC bridges are loaded with military-grade cameras and only the most advanced motion-detecting devices, meant to thoroughly thwart terrorists. Human-proof? Maybe. Goat-proof? The grazing Nubians begged to differ.

Cihanek’s goats, all too nonchalantly, found fine foraging in the shade of the Verrazano. Needless to say, that invasive little stunt got the goat of Homeland Security.

By the time the grazers non grata were finally noticed – ironically, chewing vegetation around the “High Security Area” signs -- the goats could have easily taken over the bridge. They took the high road. It’s a good thing we have good relationships with once-Nubia.

When the story of the pussyfooting goats broke, “The Daily News” dubbed them “weapons of grass destruction.”

Just like that, the goats became a NYC sensation – though, thereafter, required to graze within electric fences set by Cihanek.

But a new problem has since arisen. Seems that the domesticated goats – under man’s care longer than any other form of livestock – display a hankering for human hands of kindness. In both Fort Hancock and Fort Wadsworth, the sociable Nubians scurry over to be petted by visitors. The only problem is their fur is soaked with concentrated poison ivy oils. You gotta love it. Goats. It’s just a funny name for an animal to begin with.

Sidebar: I’m among the 15 percent of the world’s population fully immune to poison ivy. Hmmm. Could that mean I was Nubian goat a few lives back – before poison ivy eating became derigor” , I don’t have to worry about becoming one. Now I can fret over becoming one of those eels the Japanese skin alive at the table – then eat in a such a way that the heart keeps pumping right up to the final bite. Send me back to Nubia.

DOLPHIN DOWN: (Ed note: Dolphin death toll has increased to 27 by August 2) A disturbing showing of dead dolphin on LBI has more than few environmental folks on high alert, including LBI’s Alliance for a Living Ocean. At last tally, seven of these truly beloved marine mammals had washed ashore, DOA – with another washing ashore in Surf City as I write this column, Tuesday afternoon.

As is often the case with even minor die-offs, there is no instant answer as to why seemingly healthy creatures are arriving on the beach, either belly up or not feeling very well at all. 

Dolphins are the spittin’ image of canaries in a coal mine. OK, so maybe they’re a bitch getting into a cage and are about 30,000 times larger than a canary, and eat fish instead of seeds, lack wings -- uh, you get my drift. Still, when dolphins show signs of being weak and woozy, it often means there’s something bad wafting about in the water.

Dolphins are insanely insatiable explorers, nosing about in virtually every crack and crevice in bay or ocean. If there’s a putrid patch of water out there -- loaded with contagious who-knows-what -- they’ll likely come upon it. Unfortunately, some who-knows-whats are way worse than others. Deadly comes to mind.

Admittedly, dolphins are generally strong as horses -- though half the size, have no hair, eat fish instead of hay, take poorly to being shoed, can’t speak English (Mr. Ed), seldom stampede … (Knock it off, Jay!). But, just like humans, the smallest of “bugs” can knock the toughest dolphin for a lethal loop.

As bright as dolphins are, they’ve yet to perfect penicillin. While that’s being typically wise-assish on my part, many of the death-dealing illnesses that ravage dolphin could be vanquished by a simply bolt of antibiotics.

Chatting with Bob Schoelkopf at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, at least 17 dead or dying dolphins have already washed up along NJ beaches. After retrieving them and sending them off for necropsies, he now anxiously awaits word on the cause of death. However, Bob says he’s not overly surprised over an opportunistic disease striking the marine mammals.

Outbreaks of certain viral and bacterial infections tend to cycle through the dolphin population, often based on animals losing their natural resistance. The last disease outbreak, in 1987, killed 187 dolphins – and drew tons of sharks into our shoreline.

“During that die-off, we flew over and saw sharks gathering around the (dead) dolphins,” Bob said.

This go’round, one of dolphins that washed ashore in North Beach had been seriously put upon by a decidedly large-mouthed shark, surely post-mortem. Photos of the 14-inch bite marks have been sent to Richard Fernicola, author of “Twelve Days of Terror: A Definitive Investigation of the 1916 New Jersey Shark Attacks.” Bite mark signatures can sometimes be used to determine the exact shark that bit.

I don’t need any such shark exactitude. Simply rule me out when it comes to swimming with dead dolphins. Hey, that could be the Jersey version of swimming with dolphins. I’m just kidding. I’ve actually grown to like NJ – so I can openly mock it.

While Bob isn’t offering any definitive guesses on what might be causing the dolphin deaths, he has exonerated fishermen. Commercialites had been undeservedly implicated in the initial media coverage of the die-off.

Grossly, someone had, in fact, mutilated one of the dolphin carcasses with a knife. “The animal was dead already. It looks like it was repeatedly stabbed with something like a fillet knife,” Bob said.  That stabber is one sick pup -- worthy of chum status.

The Marine Mammals Stranding Center issues warnings that any dolphin-killing microbes are nothing to toy with -- as if.

Per law and common sense, no one should touch a dead dolphin, period. But that’s not always how it plays out. “I’ve seen kids sitting on top of a dead dolphin for a photo,” said Bob, adding, “People will let their dogs come up and sniff at it.” 

Spookily, the agent most worrisome (and suspected) in the current die-off is a gram-positive bacteria called vibrio. Yikes! In case the name doesn’t register on your cringe meter, vibrio is at the cruel root of cholera and also the I-can’t-look, flesh-eating disease. If that doesn’t convince you not to touch the dead dolphins, you might have other issues afloat.

I’ll have more on the dolphin deaths after those necropsies are completed.  

ROWDY RACCOON: A Surf City man, crossing his porch, was put upon by a pissed off raccoon, late Monday. Although the man avoided the truly fierce bite of the beast, it scratched his legs one good.

Health Department and animal control authorities are investigating.

I’ll limb out by first guessing this was a ‘coon with a purpose -- other than randomly attacking anything that got in its way. A sow will go ballistic if its cubs are near at paw. The ruckus is meant to allow some escape time for the young.

On the other paw, that behavior is surely part and parcel to a rabid animal. However, not only did the victim avoid the saliva-bearing teeth of the animal, from whence comes rabies, but the way it struck, scratched and ran is not consistent with the indefatigable aggression of a rabid creature.

The after-talk focused on the huge size of this raccoon. I oft note that ‘coons can be huge, easily as big as a medium-sized dog, but way broader. In the attack mode, one can seem even larger, as it lowers its  head and hunches up.

I’m way familiar with raccoons because they are very often the culprit behind chicken and cat killings. Coyotes always catch the blame because everyone envisions raccoons as smallish and inoffensive. Admittedly, when food is plentiful, ‘coons and cats will peacefully sidle up to a dish. However, when things go south, there is no contest between even the toughest tom cat and a ‘coon, the latter being a disemboweler when fighting.

RUNDOWN: I Had some fun fishing small weakies. Found a new bayside street end in Surf City where I could easily cast into the channel and work back into shallows. Had one slammin’ take but my small jighead offering was way outclassed, though I worked it for maybe two minutes; likely a larger weak since it didn’t bite me off (blue) or fray the line (bass). It just spat the hook. Also, hooked a nice fluke but lost it trying to lift it over bulkhead. No biggie. It was going back anyway.

Lots of small sharks out there. Spiny dogs are fooling some folks who didn’t know they have (smooth) teeth -- that rotate into position when needed, the same as larger sharks.  However (!) I also got photos of three different large brown (sandbar) sharks. Per usual, they’re being mistaken for threshers. The thresher’s tail is almost absurdly long.

I also heard of another brown, possibly dusky, that a knowledgeable surfcaster (who was watching the hookup) pegged at maybe 100 pounds, based on the one surfacing it did before biting off mono leader. I didn’t get if it was a boat or surf hookup.

If you’re lookin’ to fish the LBI suds think small – and numerous. The spot are so thick you can nab double headers on kingfish rigs or even pompano rigs (tweaked with smaller hooks). The last I heard the North End was alive with them, though they’ll surely be spreading Island-wide. 

Then there are the kingfish. Not nearly as plentiful as the spot but larger -- and running large. A couple kingfish taken in the surf have been as big as the species gets around here.  

Kingfish are arguably our tastiest nearshore fish BUT  (!) they really need to be cared for. Bad: Throwing them in a hot empty bucket or, even worse, allowing them to suffocate then stew in a bucket filled with water. I'd much rather see them buried in cool sand, or, best of all, in some ice that you've brought along knowing you'll be hooking into some of the finest top-shelf eating material in the sea. It doesn't take a huge load of ice at the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket to keep catches cool, providing you jam a towel fully over the ice. Best of all is a good old cooled down cooler. It doesn't have to be huge since these are panfish. However, a cooler with nothing cold inside is even worse than an open bucket. It's an oven. Ice packs are great, but even then cover the cooler with towel to help the freshness cause. 

Clean fish as quickly as possible -- but not necessarily on the beach. You heard right. it's not a freshness factor but a sand crunch matter. On the beach it's way too easy to get sand in the filets. Take it from a former chef, there is no way to rinse all the sand out of the meat later. When bitten, a  single grain of sand can ruin an otherwise tasty bite of fish. 

As for readying kingfish, they're best cooked in the round, though they are nicely shaped for very accurate fileting.

When cooking, do not go crazy with spice since this is one of the purest tasting fish out there. However, they deep fry to a through-the-ceiling scrumptiousness. Beer batter rules.

Fresh kingfish heads are as good as bunker heads for those anglers patient enough to fish heads for big bass.   I've never once been patient enough with bunker but have taken bass on kingfish heads, which seem to solicit rapid attacks when first dropping to the bottom. 

And how about those houndfish? They look like immense needlefish For whatever reason, folks are nabbing these southern visitors like never before. Wild fighters when larger. 

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