NEW RAY IN TOWN: Oddity of the season (to this point): a new ray is in the house, as in stingray.
(Hey ever wonder what happened to Raymond J. Johnson, Jr., i.e. “Now you can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay, or you can call me Johnny, or you can call me Sonny, or you can call me ...”? He’s doing fine. Check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qoYsfbq3vMc.)
I first got a look at one of these extra-large rays via a digital picture emailed me by Nick H., who landed one while surfcasting last week. Nick’s had a four-foot wing span and was of a classic ray shape however it was obviously not one of our now very buddy-buddy cow-nosed rays, which have begun arriving by the multi-thousands over the past ten summers or so.
Here’s Nick’s email: “ … We fished the Brant Beach area and caught quite a few large smooth dogfish and the interesting critter pictured below. Do you know what it is? Skate? Ray? What species? It put up one hell of a fight... we all thought it was the super bass after making quite a few runs.”
I placed Nick’s stingray photo on my daily blog (http://jaymanntoday.ning.com/) and a Baltimore Aquarium marine biologist (who often helps me with IDs) pegged it as a spiny butterfly ray, a.k.a. giant butterfly ray, Gymnura altavela.
The spiny butterfly ray is actually quite local, being native to shallow Atlantic waters. However, it isn’t seen a whole helluva lot of late since it has drastically declined in numbers, to the point of being “critically endangered” in some regions.
Despite its endangered status, there seems to be an entire squadron of these smooth-swimming cartilaginous creatures showing up. Here’s another e-response to my blog picture. In this case, RJB also nailed the ID, including a link to a site on spiny butterfly rays.
“Try this as a possible ID (link to website given). I caught two of these and one cow-nosed this past weekend. (It is) Similar to many (rays) but the short tail is a match to only a few,” wrote RJB.
What is bringing these secretive rays into our realm is hard to say. There are always our wonderfully thick nearshore bunker schools. Since this ray can reach over 80 inches across the disc (wide point of the wings), it can surely suck down some larger forage fish. However, it tends to eat a lot smaller than that, craving crabs and such.
Reading angling publications, it seems that spiny butterfly rays fight like crazy. Have some fun landing them, before gently releasing – as nearly all anglers do with generally inedible rays. Do not clip the hooks. A ray can be safely unhooked with a quick twist of the pliers.
GROUNDS FOR SOBER STEERING: This past week saw the launch of Operation Dry Water, headed by the U.S. Coast Guard with the backing (and manpower)/ of state police. It is part of a national enforcement effort to highlight the dangers of boating when you’re, well, wrecked, i.e. boating while intoxicated. Yes, there seems to be something of an alcoholic affiliation between boating and bountiful beveraging. I will get heavily prejudicial here and say that I believe pleasure boaters are far more guilty of drinking and piloting than anglers.
Twenty-one percent of all boating fatalities were alcohol related.
If you were among the way-many folks (statewide) who fell to the opening days of OP Dry Water, you would prefer to never hear another word about it. Truth be told, you’re in hot water – and it’s not the sun-heated bay I’m talking about. Seems ya’ll successfully blew an .08 (or greater) exhale into the famed and merciless Breathalyzer. The soon-to-follow penalties will include super-nasty fines and possible jail time, not to mention loss of boating or driving privileges. That last one is a biggy since you can, in fact, lose your land-based motoring privileges due to on-water BWI violations. Talk about getting hit in the face with cold water.
Interestingly, the operation also netted a slew of harder criminals, some with outstanding felony warrants. I chuckled a bit. Imagine bucking the legal system by lithely eluding the long arm of the law on land only to go for a seemingly innocent boat outing and wind up getting grabbed.
“I’m sober as a saint, officer.”
“Yeah, and you’re also wanted in 16 states and the District of Colombia.
“But that’s on land, not here.”
“Oh, really? Well, how about you turn around and put your hands behind your back and we’ll escort you back to where you’re most wanted.”
It’s not something you share with the boys back at the pen.
Anyway, I bring this up as a warning note for the upcoming July 4th weekend, the busiest boating holiday of the year. Remember: A captain is always the designated driver in the boating realm. However, many a boarding has gone bad when some blitzed numbnuts onboard a vessel get caustically cheeky with the cops. Here you, as captain, are being well behaved and your crew is rude enough to piss-off the pope. The whole boat gets a bad name – and placed squarely on the marine police radar thereafter.
Warning: I know of a number of DWIs being delivered to boaters after they get back to shore, dock up and drive off, filled to the gills. This happens a lot near public docks. Best bet for captains and motorists: stay soundly sober.
Email question (newbie-based):
“I hear the expression resident fish. Does that mean they live here year-round? Is it true that having only resident fish makes for very slow summer bassing? ”
Maybe yep, maybe nope.
Though not proven in a court of law, there is a standing conviction that striped bass, while migrating south to north, drop off stragglers along the way, kinda like breadcrumbs. It’s thought that Long Beach Island’s beachfront and inlets get a certain quota of summer bass from the migratory bus. Meet the resident bass.
These resident fish are sometimes depicted as fish that either just didn’t feel like migrating any further or have had it with the crowded conditions on that bus. By making something of an independent move, these stop-and-plop fish establish a bit of an alcove where, for them, it’s summertime and the eatin’ is easy.
From what I’ve seen, there’s a load more behind the fact we catch a few bass all summer, long after migratory front of fish has driven far to the north, i.e. the limited number of migratory drop-offs.
One qualm I have with this summery scenario is the way you can catch resident fish, invite them home for dinner and go back to the same spot and, in no time flat, other “resident bass” have replaced the former fish. That hints that the resident fish concept is a tad more than meets the fishing rod eye. If the strictest resident fish concept is stuck to, the removal of a limited residential population would leave spots bare for the remainder of summer. In reality, there really seems to be a huge recruitment potential.
The resident fish theory is better served by the concept of a summer biomass that hangs hereabouts all season. That biomass can be (and likely is) huge, as opposed to a hypothetical limited showing of a few “resident fish” per jetty from June to September.
The moving north of the spring run of stripers doesn’t mean, by any stretch, that we’re reduced to an angling pittance. It’s more likely that a massive number of fish have settled into a casual residency in Jersey’s nearshore waters. However, unlike during the frantic eating during migration, their summer feeding is done at a far more leisurely pace -- and with a greater familiarity with the surroundings. That familiarity factor looms large since it means these fish are a lot savvier of their territory -- more cautious of oddities, like your plug or bait.
I heard one striped bass scientist explain that resident fish are simply bass that end their migration here due to genetic signals, or triggers. They aren’t migratory dropouts.
By the by, I’m still convinced that the largest of bass have changed their migratory pattern over the past couple decades. I think the mega-bass of the Chesapeake zone come up to about our region (knowing of the bunker bonanza here) then actually drift back southward, into the Delaware Bay drop-off to over-summer. Not to worry, the number of fall fish heading back from up north is now through the ceiling. They might not be the biggest but some mega-cows are still in the mix, guaranteed.
FLUKE FULFILLEDNESS: There is no other way to describe the fluke presence in and around inlets as laid out like tiles. Flatties are everywhere. I don’t want to get into that frustrating keeper-to-throwback ratio. That ain’t science. The scale of a biological biomass has very little to do with how many fish are at-or-above 18 inches. Sure, there are some breeding aspects to the number large fish in a biomass but the telltale factor is the population, even above the poundage.
Despite the strictest fluking regs ever seen in Jersey, the presence of the species is borderline alarming to me. I hate bio-imbalances, especially when they’re the result of fishery management favoring certain top-shelf fish, i.e. stripers and summer flounder.
If you think bass are grubbers, willing to scarf down any organism in sight, fluke make them seem like picky eaters. Fluke will eat anything that floats by their post. Their stealth is as sneaky as it gets. Imagine trying to be a young-of-year tog, blackfish, bluefish, weakfish, kingfish, blowfish, winter flounder, you-name-it and need to travel even a short distance across sand – or for a full-blown migration. Fluke are buried all over the place, like mines. Boom!
This is the same eco-pissiness I feel toward what I believe is the overprotecting of striper stocks, lead by the near moronic nurturing of small bass -- veritable vacuum cleaners when it comes to sucking up everything they can get their mouths around.
You heard it here first: This species-specific nursing plan by fishery management is dooming diversity. Sadly, such favoritism will surely float in the minds of many fishermen wanting nothing more out of their angling lives than coolers worth of fluke each summer and bass on-demand each spring and fall. Just want until management tries to get most other species back to normal in the face of such flagrant species favoritism from the top of the food chain, i.e. mankind. The recovery of less-loved species won’t be happening.
For now, get out there and enjoy the fluke bounty. Take some sort of herb that calms you into accepting the fact you’ll have to throw back 90 percent of what you catch. So what? There must surely be some fun fishing factor in there somewhere, whereby it’s just nice to be out there hooking up. I know, fat chance. If there was a sure way to catch just keeper-sized fluke I’d sell the secret and retire – in other words, I’ll be heading to work first thing tomorrow.
BLUEFISH ALL BETTER: The National Marine Fisheries Service has declared the Eastern Seaboard’s bluefish stocks as all-better. I even heard the expression “fully recovered” bandied about. Now, that’s open for debate. I’m guessing the bluefish are not out there in numbers seen back in, say, 1700. So they’re recovered to a manmade point, not a nature-made point.
By the by, during digs of coastal Lenni Lenape Indian sights, we frequently come across pieces of bluefish jaws, among the easiest biological artifacts to identify when sifting middens. Interestingly, the aboriginal people of NJ quite obviously preferred small blues, based on archeo-digs. Over in West Creek, I found dozens of jaws once attached to bluefish in the 2-pound range. Dollar to donuts there is a Lenape expression that means, “eatin’-sized blues.”
As for that fully recovered status – meaning the blues will be back to normal right on schedule (2010) – there are some beg-to-differ voices out there. Many local anglers, including charter boat captains, are bemoaning the lack of bayside blues this summer. I know I’ve been moaning, as my jerky machine sits unused, waiting fillets from cocktail blues. Still, I’m guessing the slow-go of blues this summer is most likely a cyclical thing and not a misread of the biomass at the management level. Overall, it seems the blues are doing nicely.
And should bluefish be on my list of over-nursed species? Somewhat oddly, these thought to be ravenous feeders are clearly not among the species that denude entire areas of other marine creatures. Blues are constantly on the fly and grab forage fish – and other marine life meals -- on a just-passin’-through basis. Unlike bass and fluke, blues don’t graze right down to the roots, to add a sheep-farming concept to the mix.
BASSING IS BUSY: Despite downbeat chatter of migratory stripers having moved out for the summer, I have beg-to-differ reports of bass being taken on many fronts, including surf, inlets, ocean and Causeway bridges. Admittedly, cows of 35 pounds and up have given way to nice fat take-home fish in the 30- to 33-inch zone.
Mornings seem to have an edge, though a 30-some-pounder taken on the North End was caught mid afternoon.
Ocean conditions have remained very good for bassing, stirred but not shaken – though it was a tad too flat with hard offshore winds on Monday, when I did a late-day mid-Island plugging session to take advantage of the winds at my back. Using small jigs with white plastic curly tails attached, I quickly fooled a 24-inch bass and thought I was getting other bass-ly takes until I hard-hooked a 16-inch fluke, which inhaled the jig. It took some gentle surgery to free the jig – and the fish. I quickly realized that the short hits were flatties. When I went over to silver Red Fins I couldn’t draw a look.
The trick to finding bass to invite home is a willingness to try do some site shifting. If things aren’t clicking on one beach, zip to another area. In fact, many of the emails I’ve been publishing in my daily-blog website, have folks reporting slow fishing at first then a total turn-on after moving elsewhere.
SHARK ARRIVALS: As this warmer ocean water mixes with an increasing load of humanity – peaking like nobody’s business this coming holiday weekend – many eyes will be upon the water. Shark sightings will surely be leaking in. Now, add the growing presence of stingrays and we’re likely in for a real jaw-sy summer. By the by, sharks see rays as pizzas with wings.
So, should bathers and beachgoers be freaked? Nah. What’s the sense? For every shark you think you’ve seen when swimming, hundreds have seen you. Fortunately, our nearshore sharks are very polite and well mannered. In fact, most of our shark species are not only harmless but in sad shape due to overfishing, including being finned by commercialites, who cut off just the shark’s fins and return the still-living fish to the water to die a slow death.
Spookily, there is one shark that does not play well with others: the bull shark.
Decades back I wrote a couple magazine articles about the fully unpredictable nature of bull sharks. Not only do they get huge, particularly in girth, but also are willing to start trouble if you even remind them of something they don’t like.
Most importantly, bull sharks have special anatomical abilities that allow them to move from saltwater to brackish water and into freshwater without losing one bit of appetite.
I was not among those who first realized that the planet’s most famous shark saga, the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916 (manifest in the movie/novel “Jaws”), was far more likely centered around a crazed bull shark and not a great white -- even though the only human body parts found in the countless sharks hunted down and gutted after the attacks were taken from the inside of a medium-sized great white. That said, the historic accounts of the shark attacks of 1916 indicated the killer fish moved into freshwater creeks with an ease and speed that totally excludes a great white, which can actually die from such a rapid change in salinity.
I bring that bull shark issue up only because last summers back there were suspected bull shark sightings along the Jersey Shore, including one sighting disturbingly close to a bay-side swimming beach in Atlantic County. I am fairly certain there are bulls now summering in the region from Cape May to Barnegat Inlet. I base that on numerous first-hand sightings by fishing folks who truly know their sharks.
Anyway, I’m very interested in any shark spottings experienced by anglers this summer. With the growing population of nearshore bunker, there shouldn’t be any shortage of the men in gray suits.
UGLY ARRIVALS: Over the weekend, onshore winds picked up, blowing in more warm water along with some seriously ugly s*** to boot.
I received a load of reports (some fishermen, lifeguards and environmentalists) about waste washing in on the beaches of Barnegat Light, then working slowly southwards. Beaches in Surf City were supposedly closed to swimming. Syringes were found.
That sucks on a half-shell. The fight we waged in the 80s to forever remove medical waste from the marine waters of New Jersey has succumbed to another environmental invader: the public drug-using realm.
That’s my guess as to the source of syringes washing up on the beach. It is mainliners “booting” elicit drugs and eventually throwing their needles. Also, diabetics often carelessly dispose of their one-use syringes.
So how is it we have so many self-injecting druggies hereabouts? We don’t. They do up north, though.
All this beached crap is washing in from the north: North Jersey and New York City.
The problem up that-a-way is combined sewer overflow common to antiquated sewer systems. The water from massive downpours can’t be contained by the sewers. The sewers are designed to overflow when stressed, emptying everything into a drainage system that gushes seaward. Amid that “everything” is some ugly crap that then floats out to sea, sits in the sun festering before being blown ashore somewhere – in this case, here.
In case you think I’m inventing some diversionary blame point. Here’s a Rutger's explanation of combined sewer overflow.
“Combined sewers are designed to carry sanitary sewage at all times and stormwater collected from streets and other sources, thus serving a combined purpose. However, when it rains, combined sewer systems may not have the capacity to carry all of the stormwater and sanitary sewage, causing an overflow into the nearest waterbody. These untreated overflows, which contain pathogens (disease causing organisms),floatable debris, toxic metals, settle able solids, toxic organic chemicals, nutrients, and organic contaminants, degrade water quality and adversely impact aquatic animals, plants, and human health in certain situations. In the New Jersey/New York Harbor Estuary complex alone, CSOs contribute 89% of the pathogenic indicator organisms.”
It is once gain time to rally to keep our ocean clean at all times. While North Jersey, through the help of the state (and our tax dollars) is developing “socks” to place over outflow pipes to catch crap before it hits the ocean, New York is making no such effort. Some in-depth analyses of wash-up along the Jersey Shore, clearly indicate the trash is from the Big Apple, which has no plans to fix the filthy problem.
Please, consider joining the Alliance for a Living Ocean (www.livingocean.org) to get involved with fighting wars against overflowing polluters.