Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

March 3, 2010 -- Weekly blog-about

Registration Questions Mount, Snowmelt Marks a Start

Should I register, or what? If one person has asked me this, a couple dozen have. I guess I should quit wearing that T-shirt that reads, “Ask me about the National Saltwater Angler Registry.” Hey, I got it absolutely free from NOAA.

This angler registration is mandatory and stuff, though there’s always room for some sassing of those who devised this dubious means of tabulating what anglers are catching.

If, like me, you’re a child from the golden age of protest, following the Zen of the Sixties, you might opt to fight the man and maybe go Chicago Seven on the census. Just keep in mind that both Abbie (Hoffman) and Jerry Rubin have gone to those happy rioting grounds in the sky. Of course, last week’s Million Angler March on D.C. – nothing to do with the angler census, per se – roused a ghostly spirit of “Burn, baby, burn!” -- though I’d sure as hell like to know who begin singing out “Disco Inferno” from somewhere in the back of the crowd.

Personally, my Sixties dissent gene unraveled after the bra-burning era died from lack of support. (Lack of support. Get it? You had to be there.) I also fully lack the joystick juices of today’s android fighting youth, who can carry out virtual riots at blog speed. The only thing that keeps the embers of my civil disobedience smoldering ever so slightly is writer Joseph Gallivan’s instant adage, “Old hippies don't die, they just lie low until the laughter stops and their time comes round again.”

Still, I don’t think now is the time. I’m still laughing way too often, like when people start to slip on ice and launch their groceries a mile into the air to catch their balance, i.e. Pathmark, last Saturday. Hey, I helped him pick up his stuff – as I tired to look all somber and non-laughing.

At this point, it seems that dutifully registering with NOAA is the most judicious thing to do. It’s free and essentially nonbinding. In the long run, we will switch our saltwater licensing obligation from the feds to the state of New Jersey, which will thereafter handle the annual registration – and related money-grubbing.

Despite what it might seem, signing up is not agreeing to carte blanche transference of the registration funding into the state’s general fund. I’ll spray lighter fluid on my civil disobedience embers when bureaucrats, likely still under Governor Christie, try to abscond with the lion’s share of the registry revenue.

As you’ve likely guessed, it is not a question of if the statehouse will make a move on the saltwater licensing money, but how quickly and how much. When they offer to return a measly 10 percent back to the angling realm, the battle lines are set. We go ballistic. We call up everyone from aging Sixties-ites to nimble-thumbed high school textors. All the organizational skills we’re acquiring, by rallying against the Magnuson Act and commercial fishing on artificial reefs, means we’re battle-tested. We’re ready to climb in the octagon to go full-contact with pudgy politicians trying to steal our angling dollars to cover their overspending arses. Once gain, it is not even remotely a question of if the state will try to grab the registration money but when – and how flagrantly.

MELT MARKS A START: The snowmelt is moving in fast. We’ll be luxuriating in 50-degree weather by this coming weekend. Pass the sun block -- and maybe give those indoor plants an hour of outdoor sun savoring. I balk a bit at suggesting that since I once told a gal to do that with her truly beloved indoor foliage. Didn’t she go and get sidetracked, leaving the tropicals outside clean into the deadly evening air. She hasn’t begun to forgive me yet – a decade later.

With this iffiest of upcoming warm-ups, comes the iffiest start of river striper season. It officially began March 1st. Fat chance it’ll begin-begin. Sure, you can now technically keep legal bass taken in the Mullica River and off Graveling Point, but there’s not a bass in his or her right mind willing to get overly frisky in the fiercely frigid water from the snowmelt. The river has waters still barely above freezing.

Obviously, bass have no trouble surviving lowdown water temps. They most often hang out in the deepest holes, where water in winter is actually warmer near the bottom, opposite of summer thermocline behavior. What stripers can’t do in winter is eat heartily, even if they find forage. Their metabolism is so seasonally slowed they simply can’t digest rapidly. That means any extreme bodily motion would require the expenditure of calories the fish couldn’t compensate for without eating into fat storages. While this winter fasting doesn’t hit bass real hard, because of their generally slow metabolism, bluefish simply can’t turn keep their zippy metabolism from burning up fat, 24-7. Come winter, the digestive capacity of blues is cooled, even when they’re restricted for reaching adequate forage in winter. Thus, the truly emaciated all-head bluefish in spring. You can bet the blues this spring will look downright sickly. Unfortunately, this killer winter might prove fatal for many bluefish.

OUTBACK-ABOUT: Unlike fishes, mammals are already a-move, in a big way. No stinkin’ snow cover is going to cool them down when it comes to readying for a raucous annual roll in the pine needles. The spawn is on.

Sunday, I was hiking toward dark and came across an opossum getting a jump on the upcoming night’s activities. The less-than-speedy marsupial eyed me and, with very measured moves, began to scale a large scraggly cedar. The speed of his ascent was somewhere between water coming to a boil and/or water freezing solid. I stood only a few feet from him, grinning, as the little bugger gave it his wiry-haired all, gaining maybe a whole foot upward, then stopping to optimistically look around to see if he had escaped yet. Seeing me still showing teeth (grin teeth) only inches away, he loosed a huff-ful “This is gonna be harder than I thought,” and resumed his blindingly fast climb, i.e. I’d be old and blind if I waited around for him to reach the top of this stately cedar.

The possum only had the gumption to reach the cedar’s lowest branch, one of those tiny flimsy ones, common to the bases of cedars. He then moved a short way out onto said branch. The only quick thing this possum did was to realize he really didn’t have anywhere to go from there, the branch beginning to bend downward under his weight. He had dropped his ace card of rolling over and playing possum. That would likely entail falling about ten feet down to the ground. Of course, possuming after that would have been helped along by being knocked out cold in the fall.

I snapped a few photos and let the poor slow-moving guy go -- to mentally mold more exacting modes of escape.

Also readying to rock-and-roll are the muskrat, known for their “loving,” via that moronically maudlin “Muskrat Love” song by Captain and Tennille – a song super high on AOL’s list of “The 111 Wussiest Songs of All Time.”

The state’s winter trapping season – when the likes of muskrat fur is prime -- ends in two weeks. That’s also starting point of the semi-aquatic mammal’s mating season. Interestingly, muskrat pairs embrace by biting each other’s neck. No, they don’t just exchange little hickey-esque pecks. Trappers often have to cut pelts to bypass the through-skin scars from those love bites. I imagine more than a few, “Damnit all! Look what you did to my neck. What am I going to tell the other muskrats back at the den? Pass me some of that mud to cover this up.”

Here’s a wildish tidbit about muskrats. As I struggle through my annual Lenten journey, whereby I give up something near and dear to me for 40 days (this year I gave up tattoos), I can attest that it’s a tough go, especially for those non-vegan folks who must also give up meat for Ash Wednesday and every Friday during Lent. Well, turns out that some Catholic dioceses (including the archdiocese of Detroit) allow muskrats to be eaten on those days observance. Although it sure seems muskrats are mighty meaty in a mammalian manner, the muskrat’s water environs allows the church to ball them in with fish -- fish being the allowable protein substitute on meatless days.

I inescapably have this image of going to a fishery and walking along the icy display case, eyeing clean filets of salmon, tuna, flounder, catfish, tilapia, and then hitting bloody slabs of just-skinned muskrats. How do you sell that? Here’s how: “Um, um. Gimme five pounds of that stuff called ‘shiny-haired land grouper,’ please.”

Another late-winter mammal of import is the skunk. The population of these attractive but awesomely unapproachable animals is exploding, after a multi-decade collapse.

On the mainland, the famed striped mammals – famed thanks to the heavily hormoned PePe Le Pew -- are once again becoming regular backyard passersby, including backyards where pets are seeing these slow-go mystery animals for the first time.

Skunks are one of the few animals that can one-up the fight-or-flight behavior principal. They have fight-flight-or-squirt. The last being far from the least.

I once saw a young golden retriever go hog-wild after a skunk trapped under a backyard BBQ deck. The dog bellied down and frantically squirmed under the wooden slats. From beneath arose growls and snarlings common to a Mexican standoff. Then came a long pregnant pause, followed by an uncertain butt-first blackout by the retriever. The look on the dog’s its face, as it unsteadily stood up, all but oozed, “Man, that animal musta stepped in something awful.”

Last week, a similar spraying befell the dog of a West Creek family. The sprayed pup was unknowingly allowed back in the house. The family instantly sniffed out the problem and hit the panic button. That, in turn, automatically activated the dog’s why’s-everyone-chasing-me flight instinct. Half-cocky and half-afraid, hoping this was just some new game and not a decision by the family to finally fry up him up, the family pet fragranced just about the entire household before eventually being corralled and unceremoniously escorted to a backyard kennel.

Calling a vet to find out the best way to de-scent the dog, the family was told to use a concoction of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and Dawn liquid detergent. That newish technique deodorizes a skunked out pet. Also, a small pet soaking in the stuff can simultaneously be used to scrub larger pot and pans.

Sadly, there are currently a few dead skunks on the shoulder of Rte. 9 between Barnegat and New Gretna. When motoring about, especially dusk and dawn (corpuscular time), keep an eye open for season-stimulated wildlife just trying to get to the other side. A skunk can also get in a parting shot should you hit one. It may be many weeks before passengers getting into that brand new Mercedes quit asking, “What stinks in here?”

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