Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report



I’m groggy as I write this column (Tuesday a.m.). I had a seriously punctuated sleep session last night. Wild west winds were partying like a buncha drunken spring breakers; kicking stuff around my backyard, playing Frisbee with trashcan lids, shoving around  my loose screens. I was half tempted to call the Weather Service on them but realized they hadn’t partied much all winter. So I let them have their fun. So be prepared for a bleary read.

Speaking of being prepared, I just got an email asking the best way to prepare a blowfish for eating. My advice was to just keep it fast and simple: “Blowfish, I’m going to kill you now and eat you. There, you’re prepared.” I told you I was groggy.

WISTERIAN PHILOSPHY: This is my seasonal informational insert for those folks going through their annual awe over the incredible, huge, blue blossoms seen cascading, grape-like, from shrubs, buildings or the tops of high trees. I regularly hear them called “lilacs.” Ain’t so. They stem from vines of wisteria, among the loudest blossomers in the nation – and one of the more controversial. \

As wisteria take over the flower showing this time of year, they do so while continually strangling the life out of a well-balanced ecology. The prime culprits are wisteria varieties that were, ages ago, imported from foreign lands.

In NJ we have three types of wisteria. The least obvious to the eye is actually our indigenous one, Wisteria frutescens, pruned by nature to fit a noble eco-niche. The born-local wisteria is far more ground bound with colorfullly comely but quieter clusters of flowers.

Then there are the two wildly invasive varieties.

Chinese and Japanese wisteria have become alarmingly common. They are able to climb the tallest trees and buildings. Their cascading flower clusters look like grapes on steroids.

These two Asian wisteria are long-escaped species that came to the US almost 200 hundreds years ago, decided they liked it here, hated the thought of starting laundries and went nomadic. They quickly got outta hand.

In a 2006 study by botanist Srilakshmi Karuturi, the invasive side of Japanese and Chinese wisteria is duly documented. He writes, “Asian wisteria is unlike most other invasives. It is able to kill most surrounding plants, (including) many native herbs, vines, shrubs, and trees through girdling, shading native plants from sunlight, and by forming thick thickets that allow little else to grow in that area. Usually, wisteria pulls down trees and opens canopy cover because its seeds do best in abundant sunlight.”

In a Washington Post article, Ian Shapira reports, “Asian wisteria coils around trees like an anaconda, chokes their bark and leaves huge gashes for insects to feast on, sucking out vital nutrients. Delivering the final blow, wisteria blocks the trees sunlight, starving and eventually killing them. Its victims also include such native species as the berry-producing Virginia creeper vine that deer and other animals feed on.”

And that’s the nicer side of nonindigenous wisteria.

After reading various wisteria studies, I just had to know how to tell Chinese wisteria from Japanese wisteria. Helping the cause was a quietly huge discovery made by National Parks Service researchers in 2004. Freakily, a Chinese wisteria vine winds around a host object, like a tree, counter-clockwise while the Japanese winds clockwise. You can’t make this stuff up. 

When I first read this surefire differentiation, I was sure I’d become an instant wisteria ID king -- always a big hit at garden parties. Well, perish the over-simplified thought.

I rushed out and wound my binoculared eyes around at least a dozen in situ wisteria vines, following the lead of massive blooms. No sooner would I categorize a vine as winding counter-clockwise than I’d refocus and it was suddenly winding clockwise. It was like one of them-there Escher paintings.

I ran home and further researched.

It turns out you gotta get down to ground level, where vine first meets tree, to get a proper read on its spin on things. No problem. Wanna bet?

To reach a huge wisteria’s source required a machete, two or more chainsaws, Agent Orange and a flamethrower. Trying discretely walking across Rte. 9 like that. “Oh, this old thing, officer. It’s just kinda like a flamethrower and stuff.”

When I finally reached one massive wisteria’s ground zero, it offered the rap on its wrap. It was Japanese wisteria.

As if on unwanted queue, my scheming side snapped to. What if I, when no one was watching, untwisted the Japanese wisteria vine and manually wrapped counterclockwise around the tree. Would it instantly turn Chinese? Hmmm. I was duly tempted until one of my little voices suggested I just might be messin’ around with something far more cosmic than I could possibly understand. Could just one prankful retwisting of a wisteria vine in a heavily-wooded area of coastal NJ cause the entire planet to come unwound – and would I then be helping things play out just the way the Mayans want? Those Mayans can be tricky little devils. (By the way, I had been inhaling lot of odd pollens as I hacked my way to those vines.)

Opting not to tempt fate – or egg-on the boys back at the ruins -- I nixed the vine reversal thing and readied myself to carry out my true objective: destroy the vine and all its terroristic tendrils.

As I sharpened my machete I had to fight off yet another bout of cosmicality, after noticing the machete was “made in China.” Was I doing something ethnically inappropriate hacking down a Japanese wisteria with a Chinese blade? Man, this was getting tougher by the minute. And I was about to get worse.  

As I aimed the machete’s razor edge toward the vine’s base, a solid three-inches in circumferences, I looked up at those massive spring-ushering gorgeous blossoms; some over a hundred feet up. Damn if they weren’t all looking straight down at me, all sad and scared. “Could you kinda just look another direction?”

They couldn’t. And neither could I. So, as you drive down Rte. 9, West Creek area, there if a huge tree with an amazing garlands of Japanese wisteria hanging from its branches. I’ll leave politically charged eradications to the UN.

WICKEDLY DECENT: Being a reality TV junkie – and concurrently a reality connoisseur of sorts – I was wickedly skeptical when I got wind of the new Nat Geo series “Wicked Tuna.” With all the fish harvest shows out there, I would have balked at even seemingly mesmerizing new shows like “Really Mean Blowfish” or “Particularly Ill-natured Croakers.” But after a few weeks’ worth of “Wicked Tuna” under my unused fighting belt (see below), I hate to admit that I kinda really like the series.

More than any other commercial fishing shows, it highlights you-and-me type real people, as opposed to programs with semi-insane fishermen willing to risk life, limb and sinker at every turn.

If you haven’t taste-tested “Wicked Tuna” yet, the show’s apparent theme is the fairly rare hook-and-line commercial blue fin tuna fishery of Gloucester, Massachusetts. However, it becomes quickly clear that the underlying premise is the life and times of angling. Our type fishin’.

The show takes place aboard smaller fishing vessel, often far smaller than many recreational big game fishing boats. The fishing effort is the spitting image of what many hardcore recreational anglers face, including the costly prepping, the search for the bite, the intolerably tedious waiting game and, first and foremost, the tensely stretched nerve endings of fishermen suffering from sleep depravation and general pissiness over rival fishermen.

The wicked real personalities of the show’s main players are easily aligned with personality types every angler knows by name.

What’s more, “Wicked Tuna” impressively portrays the utter frustration when seeking bluefin tuna, especially the wickedly wearisome side of serious big game fishing -- and the dejection and moodiness during that rides back of the tedium.

Just as realistically, it shows the shift from less-than-zero to mach speed when a fish is on – and the stomach sinkage when a monster bluefin breaks off, the equivalent of a nearly in-hand $10,000 bill being swept overboard.

As for the seemingly celebratory landing of a 1,000-pound tuna fish, that’s where Nat Geo is coming under ceaseless attack from conservation groups, which lambaste the channel for ignoring the critical condition of the species due to poorly regulated worldwide commercial fishing. 

And that’s where I part ways with such unfounded conservational fury. Absolutely no other nation on the planet has earned the right to keep some of these fish more than the good old U.S. of A. We conserve more tuna in one month than every other nation combined conserves in a year – or maybe a frickin’ decade. The bitterest part comes when the far-ranging pelagic fish we painfully conserve within our EEZ wander beyond 200 miles out and are instantly annihilated by foreign fishing fleets. Sure, other nations sewer bloody murder that they’re also conserving. They’re all lying through their sushi-coated teeth. As I put it: What America conserves, other nations catch.

I got one email about the show, asking if one of those Gloucester pro anglers could break a world record.

Not as I see it. If they were to land a world record blue fin tuna, challenging Ken Fraser’s 1,596-pound monster, caught in 1979 off Nova Scotia (and sold as pet food), it would be disqualified via landing technique: The tuna pros never take the rod from its holder. Per IGFA: If a rod holder is used and a fish strikes or takes the bait or lure, the angler must remove the rod from the holder as quickly as possible. The intent of this rule is that the angler shall strike and hook the fish with the rod in hand.

What’s more, harpoons are almost always used by hook-and-line commercialites. That’s  prohibited by IGFA record keepers. I’ll bet there’s even some rule against hand-pulling the bare line – something I’d never seen done before this show. It’s meant to sidestep the slippage of a reel’s drag. 

RUNDOWN: It’s hard to say what the sparked the big turn-off of those big bass rolling on baitballs last week. Somewhat oddly, it seems the sand eel/bunker/herring-stalking stripers dispersed. That’s based on the way the last of the bass from that action were being taken haphazardly, all around – often on the troll s opposed to bait dropping. 

I read one captain’s report that the fish “had eaten their fill.” Doesn’t happen. Bass are far more inclined to simply dine to contentment then hunker down, often near the food source.

Stripers metabolize food much slower than, say, bluefish. They can even slow their metabolism down in times of serious shortages. It’s not like they knowingly assume some yoga positions and employ controlled breathing exercises (yes, fish breath). It’s simply a genetic, i.e. natural response to hard times.

Again using bluefish for a comparison, they have a greatly limited ability to quiet their runaway-train metabolism. And it seemingly costs them dearly during tough winters. Short of die-offs, there is no way to explain massive bluefish biomasses going into winter and barebones stocks coming out afterwards.

But back to bass, it’ll be interesting to see if a more normal late-spring showing of bass and bunker takes place after that way-early episode. 

While I’m always gung-ho for a great boat bass bite, I always look out for my surfcasting cohorts. This current breakup of the bass mass might bode well for stripering in the suds -- once this blow is past. That’ll lineup nicely with the start of Simply Bassin’ 2012.


BH REPORT FROM HUTCH: I’ll be looking for reports from all the area’s charters and headboats. Email me please.

Here’s the latest form the BHCFA.  
The captains of the Beach Haven Charter Fishing Association have been facing some un-springlike weather over the past few days along with a slowdown in the striped bass bite in the ocean.

 Seemingly spoiled by the spate of unseasonably warm days, some strong winds and lower temperatures have made it seem like April again. One result of this has been a distinct slowdown of the hot action on the big schools of stripers just offshore the beaches of Long Beach Island. The logical explanation is that the recent fish mass has moved north, and another will be along in a week or so to replace it.

There continues to be a bite on schoolie bass in the bay waters along with some black drum and bluefish. Captain Fran Verdi of the “Dropoff” reports he has been using up some clam chum looking for these fish. Captain Fran says he is looking forward to May 5, which will be official start of the 2012 summer flounder season. Early spring is when the larger fluke are caught in the backbay waters.

There have been scattered reports of some big fluke being caught over the past few weeks by anglers jigging for stripers.

Additional information on the association can be found at www.BHCFA.com

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