A Down-home Locust Hearin’;
Sharks Showing at Every Turn
A HIGH-FLYIN’ HEARIN’: Seeing we’re a-wade amid the soggy doggishness of summer, I want to lead with an olden tale coming from my days of fanatic Pines-ing, i.e., hanging out in the pine barrens, even when the heat was so staggering that sugar sand roads blurred just feet ahead, offering a feeling of walking through some gauzy cosmic portal.
Back then, I buddied up with a few full-blown Pineys. It was the mid-60s. I met them pickerel fishing, which was as popular a pastime as one could find among those secretive semi-indigenous people.
This past week, I was reminded of a fellow named Clem, a Piney’s Piney if ever there was one. I was off Rte. 539, picking the last of what was the finest natural blueberry crop in decades. Both low bush and high bush varieties were so thick with fruit they almost looked like bunches of grapes hanging down. But it was what I heard while out there that brought Clem to mind. There were cicadas screamin’ all over the place.
There had been a 17-year cicada cycle in the state not that many years ago, but it sure seems that a goodly number of those ultra-large flying insects either overslept or just didn’t want to contend with the 17-year crowds. They were whining away, from all angles.
It was Clem who showed me, firsthand, how to do a proper “locust hearin’” -- after managing to catch one.
“Locust” is the only word Pineys know for cicadas. In fact, If you tell any God-fearin’ Piney you have a “cicada,” they’ll step back real fast -- afraid you have some sorta skin disease that might be catchin’.
As for the concept of a locust hearin’, I’m not sure Clem conjured this up himself or if such insect-based shenanigans have been handed down through countless generations of frisky Pineys.
The tale: One day when it got to hot to fish, Clem and I plopped into the water of a cold-water hole near a cedarwood spillway. Floating around, we heard a nearby locust and Clem casually brought up a locust hearin.’
It got my attention.
“You start by going out and getting you as big and noisy a screamin’ locust as ya can find. Then you grab it with your hands.”
That sounded insane to me, considering locust seemed big enough to take off a finger or two.
“Suckers are harmless,” Clem assured. Which was true. Despite their size and astounding strength -- for an insect – locusts are all sound and flap.
But before he explained any further, Clem offered those fateful words, “Hey, let’s do one.”
“One what?” I asked.
“A locust hearin’.”
I was young and gullible so I said “sure.” I swear I still have the scars from running blindly through stickers to save my butt in the aftermath of the hearin’. But I leap too far ahead.
Still dripping wet from our dip, Clem and I began tracking screamin’ locusts until he spotted a huge one fairly near the ground, on the bark of a large pine tree. I didn’t even see the sucker at first.
Clem moved up on it slowly, almost hypnotically, circling his grab hand ever so slightly as he moved in. Then, in one quick cupping action, he gingerly pinned it to the tree trunk. The insect went ballistic, sounding like a trapped horse fly times 50. Next, Clem inched his other hand around the locust, finally bringing both hand together as if making a snowball. He held the insanely irritated insect in his cupped hands.
“Now you hold it until the little bastard quits gonna crazy in there. It can take some time,” said Clem over the wrapped rantings of the cupped insect.
We stood there until the big bug settled. I was thinking to myself, “Now what?”
No sooner had I thought that than Clem said, “Now, once you’ve got you a locust, you have to go find you a fairly dumb fellow. Not sure why but most a the times they’re bigger fellas.” He added, “And whatever you do never pick a gal since their hearts give out too easy – and they’re always kickin’ right where it hurts a fella most.”
As I pondered what the hell he was talking about, Clem began walking off, “Let’s go. I know just the fella for a hearin’.”
To that point, it had been kinda fun hearin’ about a hearin’. Now, red warning flags began flying all over the place.
The following is a damn accurate transcript from my first and last locust hearin’. This is a gospel true tale. If I‘m lyin’, I’m dyin’.
The fella Clem was targeting was a big muscular brute known as BW, with a famous last name (in the Pines), so I’ll discretely skip it since BW is still alive and well -- and larger than ever. We found him workin’ on an old car in the shade of the local fire station.
“How ya doin’, BW?,” asked Clem, walking up to him with cupped hands.
Glimpsing at Clem, then eyeing me suspiciously before seemingly losing interest, BW offered a quiet high-humidity, “OK.”
“Hot enough for ya?” asked Clem.
“Yep. I just saw a tree looking’ for a dog,” offered BW, using a tired oft-told Piney joke. (Hey, how many heat jokes are there?)
Clem then raised his cupped hands. “I just caught me this, BW.”
“I got me a locust,” said Clem, looking over at me for a headshake of confirmation. I didn’t offer much of one, more consumed by the size of BW and the way I was now seeing red warning flags raining down all around.
“Why you got you a locust?” wondered BW out loud.
“Why” You ever hear ‘em sing?”
“Sure. Up in the trees. Loud buggers,” answered BW.
“No, that’s screamin’. When you have ‘em in your cupped hands like this, they hum and sing real quiet, a lot like someone hummin’ a church song.”
“My ass they do,” gruffed BW.
“BW, I’m serious as sin,” said Clem, moving his cupped hands to his left ear, smiling gently and slowly swaying his head as he listened in. Clem was so sincere, I began leaning my head in to hear it -- until Clem threw a sideways glance at me and gave a little “back-off!” shake of his head. “This one’s going at it like all get-out, right now. Check it out, BW.”
A tad suspicious, BW fell for Clem’s genuineness. He stepped up to Clem, leaned over and put his ear real close to Clem’s cupped hands, listening intently.
At this point, Clem slightly opened his cupped hands in the direction of BW’s ear. The huge not-real-bright locust saw an escape opportunity and made a break for it, right into BW’s ear canal.
If you’ve never had a terrified big-ass locust hell-bent on escape fly headlong into you ear cavity, well, you’ve missed out on one of life’s true freak-outs – not to mention something hilarious to watch happen to someone else.
Those red flags I was seeing?
Clem had conveniently forgotten to tell me that the final indispensable part of a locust hearin’ is to run away at the speed of a loosed locust, while BW, or whomever, is still jumpin’ screamin’ swattin’ and cursin’ -- before, finally, chasin’.
Years later, it hit me that part of the big picture locust hearin’ was to also have along a dupe -- me in this case – who stands there half stunned and half entertained while the locust looser hightails it outta there.
Good thing I was fast as blazes back then. When BW finally came to his senses – who’d a guessed such a huge tough guy would be so terrified of a locust in his ear -- all he saw standing there, through the red haze, was me. And I was, in fact, just standing there, trying to piece together what the hell just happened -- and why Clem had let the locust go without letting me hear it hum church songs.
With BW’s loosing of an Incredible Hulk type howl, I quickly figured out my part in the locust hearin’. The chase was on. What a sight that must have been as I took to a nearby overgrown stretch of railroad track to leg it out, with BW hot on my heels, both of us fading into those gauzy curtains of rising heat.
I finally got away by swerving off the railroad bed and into a patch of killer briars, a sure escape route for little guys being chased by much larger guys.
I eventually came out of the woods lookin’ like something the wildcat dragged in. I did have an odd smile on my face as I thought back on BW’s locust dance. Somewhat oddly, BW and I later became semi-friends.
By the by, that part about a cupped locust droning real soft hymnal songs is completely and utterly true. I liken it to “Amazing Grace” being hummed gently through a kazoo. If I were you, I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to listen in.
(My guess is Clem is smilin’down right about now)
SHARK ABOUTS: A very large (possible) bull shark was caught and released in Little Egg Harbor. I saw some pics of the beast and it was hefty, though the nose seemed a tad too pointed and the size of the eyes – very small in a bull – seemed more in line with brown harks.. Still, I didn’t see it directly and the catchers did.
There could be a very specific reason bull sharks are baying about in Little Egg Harbor.
I’ll elaborate on that via a segment from my website http://jaymanntoday.ning.com/.
Blog: I’ve now gotten over a dozen reports of “old time” hyper hot shark fishing nearshore. The action comes via brown (sandbar) sharks, Carcharhinus plumbeus, and dusky sharks, Carcharhinus obscurus. These are being found – with relative ease — after dark, in the surf, near the inlets and even the far backbay.
I got phoned a fun story about a “6-foot” shark hookup, bayside off a mid-Island location, at night. The harried hookup took place a stone’s throw from a swimming beach. The fight included a man overbroad incident. An older nonswimming member of the crew fell in and went into a mandatory heart attack mode, until he realized the water was only a little over knee deep. Nonetheless, how frickin’ spooky is it slipping headfirst into water in the pitch dark with a large shark being inched toward the boat?
By the by, the area where the above boat had been successfully sharking is more than familiar to me -- from back in my clamming day. It is the only bay shallows where I regularly saw fins cutting through the water where I was treading. Most memorable was a truly massive dorsal fin that zipped straight toward fellow clammer Joe S. He saw it coming first, yelled, and then somehow got his also-massive body fully atop the clam-loaded metal basket and inner tube he was using. The basket instantly sank; leaving Joe huddled atop it in a bit of a fetal ball position, with 90 percent of his body still under water. I had rushed back to the nearby boat, admittedly laughing like a hyena as I saw Joe pathetically trying to seek refuge on top of that sinking basket. Obviously, there was no attack on Joe or it would be part of granitized LBI shark lore. Still, that was one monster beast – quite possibly pushing ten feet (dusky?) -- and likely way more frightened of us than the other way around.
Anyway, all these current sandbar and dusky sharks present no major problem to bathers. Of import, law heavily protects them from being kept by anglers -- though this fishery has long been almost exclusively catch-and-release.
Nature note: Duskies and browns are coming into the shallows to feed on the stingrays and also to bare live young, up to a dozen pups per female. Pups are quite capable of fending for themselves from birth, feeding on small crustaceans, especially shrimp and crabs.
What is interesting about this annual birthing schedule is the concurrent arrival of bull sharks, which arrive to feed on the young.
In scientific studies, bull sharks are mentioned, specifically, as being the prime killer of juvenile and young brown and ducky sharks. I mention that in light of the recent bull shark sightings – and possible hookings.
Note: Any big non-dogfish shark you get after dark is almost certain to be a brown or a dusky. Bull sharks are not only rare but seem very wary of rigged offerings. And, yes, both dusky and brown sharks have some serious cutlery. They can lope off a careless angler finger without batting a nictitating eye.
There are more than a few shark folks itching to see Holgate open since the inlet banks at night were formerly famous for offering big sharks, almost exclusively after dark. Some fishing folks feel sharking is best during full and new moon phases. By the by, it doesn’t hurt to handle the sharks for a quick photo but get them in the water quickly for safe release. As many shark fishermen know, it is not uncommon to have a female begin to deliver live young when first pulled onto beach or into boat. Release the young. They have a decent shot at survival.
Here’s an email
“Jay, there are a lot of sharks in the water right now and it makes for some fun summer surfcasting. we went 8 for 15 (!) last night using bunker heads on 10/0 hooks and 120 lb. fluorocarbon leaders. full moon + warm water = brown sharks off the Jersey beaches.
RAY DAYS: Cownose rays continue to fly into town. We had a significant showing of them earlier in the summer but this latest squadron looks to be very large, based on the sightings of folks spotting them in the water.
Here’s a recent email: “… There was an amazing showing of rays. Every minute or so a squadron of 20-30 would cruise past between the back of the boat and the rocks. I had to time my bait drop back so that they did not pick it up. I've never seen so many ‘packs’ cruising. There were also bunker pods coming past and I managed to gather some crab bait throwing a single hook jig. They were completely calm coming right up to the boat. WP.”
As you likely know, cow-nosed rays can travel in schools of hundreds of thousands at a pop. One estimate just this year (in the Carolinas) had a school at “possibly over one half million.” They’ll sometimes be so tightly packed in the shallows (right along the beach) that they make the water look darker for entire block-long stretches. The only things that break up that dark hue are the darker forms of the congregating sharks that incessantly stalk rays, which are like pizzas with wings to them.
Headfast rule: Lots of rays mean lots of shark. These are very well fed sharks, a very good thing.
I’m sure I’ll be getting a slew of concerned letters, emails and phone calls asking if it’s safe to be in the water with thousands of passing rays. All I can say to that (and bear with me if you read this in here before) is I’ve gone out amid veritable clouds of rays, standing and strolling among them. I was never once even brushed by one. I even chased them. I couldn’t get close. I did, however, fall off a surfboard once and landed on a load of ‘em. Yuck. It was all squishy and weird.
As for angling for rays, I offer the same caveat every year: Never bring them aboard a vessel. Still, every year, Southern Ocean County Hospital and local medical facilities treat ray “stings” to anglers who just have to invite one onboard. While I’ve personally never heard of any of those stings being overly serious, short of short-term reactions to the venom, I got a secondhand account of a fellow who had follow-up complications that have left him permanently disabled. I do know that recovering from a ray poke can take a real long time.
Speaking of rays, in a larger way, I heard from Pop’s Pride skipper John Koegler that he saw “monster rays,” a slew of them together. While there is always a chance these were a group of classic manta rays up from the tropics, it’s more likely they were Atlantic stingrays, which can reach a solid six feet across – and look larger if feeding in a group.
RUNDOWN: I do have a very intriguing report of major bass in the system. Fishing in only 18 feet of water (off LBI), Dan V. and Brian C. caught bass of 30 and 40 pounds, respectively. Those hefty hookups loom large in the face of the recent massive influx of bunker and other baitfish. Could we be seeing a rare summer showing of mega-bass hawking the baitballs? I’ll take it -- as I haul my kayaks out of the bushes where they’ve been overgrown since spring usages .
I also want to forward this Massachusetts report from Captain Jason Colby, Little Sister Charters: “… Caught 4 bass, all over 30 POUNDS! … Taken on eels in Hull Gut and secret rock piles. Saturday morning all hell broke loose … 20 bass from 35-43 inches! At least half a dozen of those fish were well over 40 inches and we broke off one that looked over 50.”
That Bostonian report shows northern bassing is flaring up nicely. I have this sense that these northern fish heavily influence our fall bass fishing, above and beyond returning Chesapeake fish heading south. I hate to jinx it but there are certain very good signs pointing to some serious stripering this fall. Set aside some time – and get signing up for the 2009 Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic – which is 8 weeks this year!
Sea robins are running rampant out there, though it sure seems they travel in tight schools -- or tend to gather near a prime feeding zone. They can sometimes be outdistanced by shifting a drift by only a quarter-mile or so. At other times, they can be a tolerable presence when they’re mixed in with larger fluke. I know a few folks who believe that bigger fluke are among bigger sea robins – or vice-versa.
Lots of flukers are using plastic tails. Chartreuse seems to be popular. Keeper ratios are still abysmal to merely bad. There is truly no way to fish for only bigger fluke. Bigger baits help but it comes down to exploring until you hit a patch of flatties with a greater number of larger models.
More and more reports of large schools of small blues, some even sub-cocktail. They are not ubiquitous – a big word for “everywhere” – but, once found, it’s easy to reach a bluefish bag limit by following indicators, like bird play or nervous surface water.
Speaking of nervous surface water, there is enough bait right off the beaches of LBI to fill a factory ship. That’s a bad reference, I know. Still, huge schools of bunker are very obvious. You need to peer deeper to focus on rivers of either small spearing or (more likely) rainfish. Some of the fluke coming out of the surf are regurgitating these small silver-sided baits, I’m told.
I went to the mainland to throw net to check for juvenile mullet or bunker. For the first time ever, the biting bugs were so bad – and so uncaring of my bug spray – I fled in thorough defeat. I drove out cursing and scratching my already welting legs. I’m thinking that rainy spring we had is still coming back to haunt us.