Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report





MESSIN’ WITH TOM TURKEY: For a wool-dyed naturalist like myself, just being out in the outback is enough to make my day. For me, nature’s got everything society just ain’t got – most notably, peoplelessness. Out there, I blend in with the greatest of ease – that is until it gets dark and I get freaked out and bolt homeward to watch ghost shows and play with my computer. 

While I try my naturalistic hardest to be a low-impact presence when luxuriating within the pinelands, time and again I get a tad frisky and take to toyin’ around with wildlife, mainly birdlife.

On a small scale mess-around, I chronically taunt the ever-present population of eastern towhees, a larger very colorful auburn and black sparrow that, in its own tough-feathered way, epitomizes the total toughness needed to successfully tolerate the often brutal living conditions within the pinelands.

When it comes to imitating the calls of various bird species, I can’t even do the laundry of most serious birders – a weird lot, one I try to distance myself from, lest I’m one day reduced to mulling about within a large group of L.L. Bean-drenched binocular-ed folks, huddled in easily-accessible nature zones, where someone yells, “Look a titmouse” – and I’m the only one giggling, asking, “Can I be on the itty bitty titmouse committee?”  -- when I’m rudely asked to leave, immediately.

However, one bird I can mock to hell and back is the towhee. And I oft do, to the utter aggravation of the male towhees, which hear me as an invader and drop everything, including nest minding, to duke it out with what turns out to be an unfindable foe. I once had a towhee, a very shy bird in most cases, light on a branch only a foot from my face, as I whistled out a call. Every time I called, it would tilt its head one way and then the other, looking at my mouth as if I was harboring the invader.

Anyway, on Monday I commenced to messin’ with one of the smartest birds on the outback block, wild turkeys. Via whatever tests are done to determine bird aptitude, tested turkeys consistently tally some of the higher scores when it comes to cleverness and cunning -- that is until the macho factor enters the testing affray.

Beknownst to many a hunter, a top-dog tom turkey – a tom is a male – throws wisdom to the wind when he thinks there’s another tom interloper nearby. In spring, an alpha tom just won’t tolerate any sort of power move on his harem, sometimes as many as 25 hens and even a goodly number of other easily dominated males. I’m not even going to touch on why the top tom has males in his harem.

Spring is an ideal time to call tom.

For hundreds of years, hunters have tried to perfect the copious calls of a turkey. In fact, to this day, contests are held at local, state, and national levels to ferret out the top turkey callers, capable of total turkey imitations, via mouth and sundry wooden devices.

Check out the National Wild Turkey Federation website to see just how advanced turkey calling competitions have become. You’ll also register just how many calls turkey throw out there, including yelping, purring, clucking, cutting, gobble, tree yelp, cackle, kee kee-run and assembly – with mixtures thrown in. There are also a slew of owl hoots, which rile the hell out of turkeys. 

I know all about turkey-calling contests since I once entered one – very novicely. While my initial calls failed to impress the judges, my final call attempt did attract a load of laughs, when I offered a loud, “Marco …” -- and every frickin’ test turkey instantly raised its head.

My latest effort to taunt turkeys, friendly like, undoubtedly broke some NJ law – seeing it’s a state has more laws than it’s got brains. That statement might not make total sense on first read, however, the more often you get taken to task -- and court -- over many an idiotic NJ law, you’ll see its opaque wisdom.

Anyway, last weekend I downloaded real-life “aggressive” turkey sounds from my computer and onto a CD. That aggressive/challenging sound works well in spring. I had planned on using a 1980 shoulder-breaker boom box to “sound blast” the calls. However, I was short of the unsupplied three dozen “D’ cell batteries so I instead employed a handheld CD player with small external speakers. Turned out to be the perfect choice.

I went to a Stafford Township area that’s been crawling with wild turkeys. I’m not sure why, but the entire county is experiencing a bizarre population boom of these large ground-hugging game birds. Since the state often stocks turkeys, I’m half wondering if the boys over at Fish and Wildlife have secretly come up with some super turkey inseminating device and, for unknown reasons, have gone crazy with it. Whatever, hoards (rafters) of wild turkeys have actually reached pest levels in some areas.

My zone was ripe for a purely observational effort – not only was it a protected area but  hunting (which I don’t do) is fully off-season.

I climbed an old fruit tree and settled in its forked trunk, maybe six feet off the ground.

Setting my CD at full volume, I sent out an aggressive tom turkey call. Of course, it would be more naturalistic to perfect making the call myself but, hey, I had a hovercraft, make that a CD player.

at first call, I quickly realized the CD player’s output was not the stuff of blasting. Still, the results were still amazingly fast. By only the forth spaced cal – about 30 seconds apart  --  I caught some motion out the side of my eye. There, bouncing up a partially grassed over dirt road, was a truly huge lard-ass tom turkey – and those suckers do get big.

If you’ve never seen a turkey in full trot, it’s hard not to disrespectfully laugh. These tail-heavy birds are not graceful gallopers in the classic sense of the word, though they are actually fast as all get-out.

At about 40 yards off, this one suddenly stopped to listen. I quickly resounded the call. It was if that bird had just been skewered, so to speak. It went into a fast-forward rage, its legs pumping furiously while the rest of its portly body was held perfectly and rigidly upright. In this charge mode, it kinda reminded me of a toss-up between a quarterback bound NFL defensive lineman and a cholesterolly-challenged New York City chef who just heard a dish of food crash to the floor.

That’s when they CD player sound system worked an unexpected magic. Apparently it’s volume told the infuriated turkey that the interloper was a goodly distance further off. With me literally holding my hand over my mouth to stifle the laughs, the tom all but flew by me -- and down the road toward a nearby trailer camp, still in fifth gear. 

I probably should have ended my unkindly messin’ right about then but I couldn’t resist another call, which instantly stopped the down-the-road turkey its tracks. Without slowing whatsoever, it did a 180 turn and accelerated back toward me – horrified that the crafty challenger had somehow doubled back and was making a power move on his harem. I thought I even saw a touch of panic in its eyes when it passed for the second time. Poor thing.

I probably could have kept that tom bouncing back and forth until he collapsed and I could walk over and show him the CD player. But it was getting dark and I was flashing back on the final outcome of those “Messin’ with Sasquatch” commercials. It would be tough trying to explain that a pissed off turkey kicked my sorry ass.

SIMPLY BASSIN’ TIME: It’s time to think simply, as in the 10th Annual 2011 Simply Bassin’ Spring Surf Fishing Tournament.

It’s so named because spring stripering in the surf and bay is as basic and simple as it gets. Most of all, it offers the first chances of the year to get out and simply wet some line, while savoring those temperate days before summer’s scald sets in.

This year’s Simply Bassin’ tourney will once again tap into the increasingly awesome quantity of better bass, now working their way into the region from down south. The seasonal striper arrival peaks from May 7 to June 26 – lo and behold, the exact time frame of the tourney this year.

In recent years, it’s been a benign duel between the spring stripering event and the famed fall LBI Surf Fishing Classic to see which contest will hoist the biggest baddest bass. Both events now routinely toy with 50-pounders – and plenty of 40s to fill in the gaps. In the case of the Simply Bassin’, the “gaps” are the other money positions on the one-through-8 leaderboard.

The participating shops are Jingles bait and tackle, Oceanside Bait and Tackle, Fisherman’s Headquarters and Surf City Bait and Tackle. I’m waiting on word of a new Barnegat Light Bait and Tackle, which will likely also be onboard. 

This week, the registration forms should be arriving in shops. Posters will go up the following week.

RUNDOWN: How about these early arriving bass? From beach to bayside, keeper bass are showing like champions.

I have been working mainly artificials (nighttime) with good results. However, seems the more savory still baits, worms and clams, are the surer bet. 

The bay is super active, from Holgate to Manahawkin Bay. I haven’t gotten much info on the north end but this is the time of year they start working the flats west of High Bar, while also live-lining the drop-offs just west of bayside IBSP.

No word on herring.

Perching is good to very good. Check with shops. White perch are also showing in the impound areas, Road to Nowhere.

Drumfishing is still far from peak. A few smaller models, to 25 pounds have been caught. Smaller black drum, those still showing stripe patterns, are incredible eating. After 25 pounds, it’s all a matter of taste – and parasitic worms per cubic inch.  

Bluefish have made a quick pass, here and there, but are definitely not making a big splash. As you know, there seems to be in a major downturn in bluefish stocks.  That’s not to say a single season can’t turn things around. I have researched bluefish populations going back over 100 years and there have been a couple instances of the species all but falling off the face of the Earth for up to 10 years. However, in this day and age, one never knows if natural cycles apply any more. And shoot me if I’m wrong, but snapper bluefish (future bluefish stocks) are sweet eatin’ to the likes of overpopulated striped bass and summer flounder stocks.

Weakfish are mainly a no-show, so far. Did I mention that bass and fluke scarf down small weakfish as fast as they can swallow?

TYPICAL TRASH TALK: On a junkful note, we had a bit of a wash-up of foul sh-stuff over the Ester and Earth Day weekend. I had three calls, and as many face-to-face mentions of raw material on the beaches. Per usual, the crap was associated with up-north sewer run-off.

The wash-up, technically a wash-down, make ugly sense. The state has had frog-chocking rainstorms and also northeast winds. That traditionally overloads North Jersey’s antiquated combined sewer overflow system, which never fails to live up to its name, when too much water arrives too quickly, can’t be duly directed to proper filtering system, and overflows into the waterways leading to the ocean.

Disgustingly, there were some syringes, mainly used diabetic needles.

Such crap remains brutally frustrating hereabouts. We’ve worked so hard to set up a state-of-the-art sewer and sewerage system down here only to have invasive trash blown our way. This is not to say the crap-flow was some monumental wash-up. It wasn’t. It was just a lousy look and even lousier timing, seeing it was not only Easter weekend but also Earth Day weekend.

I do need to take one caller to task -- a fellow formerly from Hoboken, now retired and living nearabouts. He came over the Island and saw a syringe -- and went after me! In one short phone message, he alleged such wash-ups are covered up. Three times he said “you people” hide te problem. I assume he meant me and, well, certain assorted miscellaneous people.

“It’s all to save tourism,” were his exact words. He spewed out the word “tourism,” as if it was as filthy as the washed up crap arriving from up north, where he lived – and polluted -- most of his life.

I know that north bashing is unfair. It’s just sort of a custom I grew up with. Truth be told, I have many fully organic friends up north – and over Philly way -- who are forever fighting the good fight to better the environment in highly industrialized regions.

Anyway, this caller obviously knows squat about our moods and attitudes down here. If he did, he’d be fully familiar with the way we go psychotic over pollution and wash-ups. In fact, years back, local groups like LBI-based Alliance for a Living Ocean were instrumental in activating government (state and federal) to track down the sources of medical waste that had begun to invade our beaches with increased regularity. Not only was a medical waste tracking system created but also that waste-tracking method has been adopted worldwide. Note: Recent fertilizer restrictions, born right here in Southern Ocean County, are now a state law. They are also being considered or adopted up and down the coast.

Face it, we’re a leading pollution-fighting community. 

As for the beached junk last weekend, it sucks. I talked with health department head and beachside lifer Tim Hilferty and he confirmed the wash-down was “typical.” It was a lot organic, loosed eelgrass and inorganic, beach whistles (tampon applicators) and such. Also typical was the way it struck some areas of the Island worst than others. Free-floating mats of debris fan out. When they hit the beach, it’s the bad luck of the draw as to which street ends are messed the worst.

Per Tim, the south end was hit hardest. Beach areas just south of Wooden Jetty (Holgate parking area) got loaded down.

As most mobile anglers know, that half-moon stretch of beach, right as you go on the Holgate beach, is perpetually a gathering point for wayward floatables. I’ll be the first to admit I often have a fun time sorting through all that debris, where many wayward fishing plugs and assorted collectible goodies hide.

I once found a nice scattering weatherworn 20 bills there, eight in total. They were mighty damn faded and had either hung together as a small unit during a monumental ocean ride or were just a wee part of a huge lost load of currency. When I nonchalantly went to cash them in at a (now defunct) bank, I was not only refused dollar-for-dollar compensation but was told I had to render the bills to them, right then and there. I offered a kindly, “My ass” and and walked out. A few years later I mailed the bills into the federal government (Bureau of Printing and Engraving) and got 100 percent reimbursement, no questions asked.


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