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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Tuesday Jan. 20, 08 -- Ice is so-so; weekly stuff

Icy Cove, Worm Farming and Toothy Art

ICE NOTE: Collins Cove was ice-fished over the weekend. There were perch at a steady pick, per the only reports I got (second hand).
Per usual, the Cove’s shoreline, where the sodbanks and the river ice meet, rose and fell wildly based on tides. At high tide, you can often step evenly from the bank onto the ice. At low tide, there can be truly treacherous 3-foot drop-off between the bank and the ice. To bridge this problem area, a communal walkover plank (often highly improvised) usually appears, semi-magically. Didn’t happen this past weekend. Folks either brought their own crossover lumber or bodily scaled the slippery slope to reach the ice. Apparently, a modified plank eventually found its way to the bank but that cannot be counted upon.
I am, in no way, shape or form, encourage folks to go down there fishing at this point. It’s just too iffy of a fishing proposition. In fact, this fishable freeze – if real – would be one of the fastest freeze-overs seen in many decades.
That said, I’ll be giving it a go tomorrow (Wednesday).
I’m hoping there is enough internalized chill to keep the ice near its current thickness, which is nothing to brag about. Upcoming nighttime lows in the mid-teens (and even a tad colder right around Collin’s Cove) should help the thickness cause. Grass shrimp are available at Scott’s. I’m not sure about the marina at Chestnut Neck.
I’ll put my usual hardwater caveat here. It is rarely thin ice that causes potentially catastrophic problems at Collin’s Cove. It’s breakaway ice, more accurately, pull-away ice. When giving up the hardwater ghost, the cove’s ice cap tends to pull away from the bank, especially during periods of radical low tides. I was almost stuck out there a few times. I still shiver when recalling the sheer dread that blew down my back as I was casually walking off the ice back in the early 1990s, reached the bank, with all my equipment in tow, to find a seemingly un-crossable five-foot stretch of Mullica River winter water between me and the bank. Luck had my back that day. A couple guys with a large (fire truck?) ladder arrived just then. They were actually heading out onto the ice. Another time, I was the very last person off the ice before the cap called it quits. I’ve written about the rescue of those folks left stranded on the ice that day.
DOWN ON THE WORM FARM: I have about 300 jumbo nightcrawlers worms that I collected during falltime archeological/treasure dugs. They currently reside in a ten-gallon Igloo cooler. I’ve named about half of them. While none have perfected tricks yet, a few have seemingly learned how to roll over and play dead.
I guess I’m now officially a worm farmer -- as opposed to someone who inexplicably hoards jumbo worms and could just as easily be dubbed highly unwell.
Well, I have you know -- and I only recently discovered this myself -- worm farming is not only far from freaky but is becoming something of a fad. There are worm farmers out the kazoo in the U.S. and Canada – Canada being epicenter for the raising of my nightcrawler specialty.
There are dozens of websites and a mantel’s worth of books purely dedicated to effectively raising worms, a practice known as vermiculture -- though a weathered worm farmer like myself would just as quickly respond to the word wormiculutre.
I must admit, that I’m into vermiculture by default. As noted, I kinda loaded up on worms long before I knew there was something functional, even socially acceptable, involving worm hording. But, hey, how could any angler pass up huge lively just-dug nightcrawlers? And it’s doubly tough for me since there is a marked similarity to the look of just-dug nightcrawlers and the infinitely more valuable bloodworms I dug -- and sold for many years.
A fun vermiculture website is http://www.vermiculture.com.
If you want a read on the subject, I’m now mulling over a very popular book called, “Worms Eat My Garbage: How to setup & maintain a vermicomposting system.”
If there is anything resembling a best seller in worm rearing and appreciation, this is it.
As the book’s name implies, many very organic-type individuals are now committing almost all of their garbagey throwaways to fattening worms. This is surely a form of farming since worms in close quarters seem more than willing to multiply, some species quadrupling in number within weeks of meeting.
And what does one do with the worms once they multiply into hoardish-numbers? Well, I actually haven’t reached that chapter just yet, however, for the past couple years I’ve been spending three bucks a pop for mere one dozen worms to feed my pet frog.
Look in any gardening catalog and there is usually a worm source. It seems that many worm farms are more like victory gardens, maintained by folks fighting the war of the lawns. Many gardeners consider worms exceptional insurgents when it comes to aerating and nutrifying lawns. In fact, worms droppings are apparently quite cashable. Check out the website www.wormpoop.com to get a look at worm casings as a cash maker.
While it’s unlikely that you’ll soon be able to checkout at Wal-Mart by paying with a couple cups of worm droppings, the recycling value of committing all things garbagey to hungry worms has a cool eco-ring to it. Now to find a Japanese sushi market for my nightcrawlers.
Sidebar: There are some stick-in-the-mud naysayers who stump against the fostering of earthworm populations in America since most current North American species are nonindigenous. The worms in our midst most likely hitched a ride to the New World in soil shipped along with European plants, dating back to the first arriving colonialists -- none of whom passed through any agricultural inspection stations. Hey, the American Indians really dropped the ball there.
“Damn it, Captain, those savages have set up another agricultural inspection. This one costs 10 pounds.”
“Eye, Lieutenant, ‘tis a pain in my arse but you still better slow down and get into the right lane.”
Interestingly, the last Ice Age, some 10,00 years back, left a worm-free zone from roughly the northern U.S. states up through Canada. Therein, other non-wormy detritus-eating creatures did the job of breaking down organic stuff that fell from trees and such. No more. Worms du mankind have brutally pushed out those indigenous crawly creatures and claimed the ground as their own. They often put up tiny flags with their European countries of origin. And worms can be fierce, as evidenced by the scientifically accurate documentary “Dune,” by Frank Herbert, which highlights a 400-yard “sandworm” that can eat entire expeditionary forces. Those are kinda tough to keep on the hook but seem to attract larger fish.
By the by, in reading a thesis on how the invasive European earthworms got into Canada, I balked at a scientist who alleges, and I quote, “Another culprit is fishermen who dump out unused bait in the woods.”
Yeah, right. “Here, Sam, we have some leftover worms, why don’t you hike way on back into the woods and dump them suckers.” Fat chance.
Blaming fishermen for the proliferation of invasive worms?
Though, come to think of it, I guess it’s kinda logical. In fact, maybe I’ll just travel the country planting nightcrawlers all over the place. Johnny Wormseed. Hey, apples are not at all indigenous to the U.S.


I SAW THE ARTS: Winters are growingly brutal for me, considering I used to faithfully spend them in Hawaii.
Last week’s stone cold skies got so un-outside-able that I sat around in my room painting saws, an historically common winter pastime along the Jersey shore. In fact, at my SandPaper office I have an incredible handsaw painting. The wall-mounted work highlights the Old Fishing Factory and the Old Coast Guard station. It was done by the late Burrel Adams and is folk art in the stratosphere, at least by my localized thinking.
Unfortunately, my own paintings fall into an elusive category that might be hard to academically endow with a title. I employ a style I refer to as sub-primitive pointillism. I painstakingly apply points of paint, dotted in such a way that they form random color patterns. When done the painting gives the appearance of, well, random color patterns made of points of paint. The look is almost identical to Australian “Dreamscape” art, though I had been doing it for over 10 years before someone showed me the uncanny resemblance between my spontaneous pointillism and the aboriginal works. I sure can’t figure any connection, though I must admit that I often have these dreams in which I’m squatting near a billabong, wearing a animal skin loin cloth and about to attack a saltwater croc with a brightly colored boomerang. That dream scene is so oddly primitive it makes me wonder about reincarnation -- except for the fact the boomerang has one of those barcode boxes and reads, “Made in China.”
As for my art, it is far from the stuff of high society. However, for a snicker, I can just picture some hoity-toity big-bazoomed society women dressed to the nines describing, to a gathered tea party, her recently acquired Jay Mann creation. “This was done during his ‘obsessive-compulsive freaky-ass weird period,’ which lasted most of his life, until that unfortunate accident where a rabid raccoon bit his thyroid and all he painted thereafter were stick figure portraits of Red Skelton.”
Anyway, I insert this artistic aside as a response to emails referring to last week’s column in which I hyped fishing plug carvers as folk artists. A slew of folks were interested in learning the art of plug-making, while others wanted to know where to buy existing plugs. Some of those wanting to buy were bona fide art people, who already collect fishing and hunting folk art and thought I might have some insider knowledge of plug carvers. I actually do have just such insights but I’d wind up carved into the shape of a Fat Albert plug if I loosed their phone numbers or home addresses.
I can more safely note that rapidly approaching “springtime” fishing flea markets often have a carver to two featuring their works. The trick is to research the shows on-line to see if any big-name plugmakers are going to officially, or even unofficially, be there. I once got a couple real nice plugs at a northern Ocean County fisherman’s flea market when a carver I knew just happened to be there. We walked out to his truck to look at a very limited selection of newly crafted plugs. I got a couple as a trade (for antique decoy weights) and turned around to leave and found no less than half a dozen guys who guessed what was up and had followed us out to see what the carver had to sell. It’s that kind of business.
A big angling market that runs annually up in Asbury is famed for highlighting top carvers. In fact, some of the biggest names in plug making sell at only this show. It might be an exaggeration but I heard buyers line up as much as 8 hours before the show just to get at the designers’ plugs. I have also heard that some carvers limit how many plugs a buyer can purchase.
As I’ve written before, when purchasing premier handmade plugs it is hugely important to establish a provenance, a pedigree, so to speak. That comes with having the artist sign the piece. Placing a year on it is a bonus. Oddly, a goodly number of plug carvers do not sign their pieces, or only initial them. That’s something of a throwback to decoy carving, when working ducks never had a signature. Amazingly, hardcore hunters actually knew who carved a duck by look alone. Anyway, serious plug collectors keep a special gold ink pen at the ready. The indelible, permanent ink is something of an industry standard when getting artists to sign plugs.
But what about making your own artistic splash in the plug caving pond?
If you want a super e-read on the subject, check out Bassbarn.com. At that site’s homepage, click on the “Message Board,” top of page, and cursor down to “Plug Building Forum.” The direct address is http://www.thebassbarn.com/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=21.
That Bassbarn site will get you so fired up for carving you’ll grab a goodly chunk of your kids’ college funds to get a lathe and air brush kit. Hey, that’s why they have the U.S. Army programs.
As you lathe away, let me be the first to forewarn that an artistically crafted plug is often not even remotely related to a deadly fishing plug. Gospel truth: I had a buddy who was beyond proud of his first self-made plugs. I clearly recall him hyping them as “Easily as good an anything out there.” And they, upon visual inspection, looked damn decent. He was actually an artist to start with so balance and symmetry was in his blood. I was apparently the first to suggest the plugs really should be swum to show their true colors. Although he’s been an angler for almost 25 years, he wasn’t aware that pretty plugs are also meant to actually work, So we went down to a bayside bulkhead and cast one of his most prized swimming creations into the water. Not only did his “swimming plug” instantly sink but when retrieved, it surfaced and spun like a helicopter blade. I’m guessing any fish within eyesight of the whirling contraption would have fled in terror, with their fins over their heads for protection against any in-coming chopper fire. It was one of those rare times (yeah, right) where I had to ignore the potential psychological damage of laughing out loud. I cracked up so wontedly I thought he was going to shove me in the frickin’ bay. Appropriately, it took him months on end to begin figuring out the truly complicated interrelationship between a plug’s shape and its action. He honed his own creations by studying plugs made by top carvers.
For serious collectors, the action of handmade plugs is easily as important as their looks. The most sought after collector plugs – I call them “wall plugs” -- are almost always kin to working plugs – often made by turners who never entertained the notion that their creations would be used for anything beyond hardcore casting and catching. I even know craftsmen who are not at all enamored with the notion that their plugs might never feel water – or the ravages of an attacking gamefish. That, again, reflects the fact that fully half the soul of a handmade plug is its magical motion and in-water energy.
As I’ve noted before, I always make a few casts with my collector plugs, just to appreciate their swimming action. I, of course, do those swims in waters where there’s no chance an actual fish mucking things up.
By the by, a bit like “shot over” duck decoys, an old handcrafted plug with some fish attack marks loses no value whatsoever.

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