Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report
I’ll commence by admitting that it’s only usually better in September. This year, this better month has been a lot iffy on the fishing, weather and business front.
It’s raining as I peck away at the keyboard. That always gets me off on the wrong key.
I especially want to bring up that “business” angle because it very much plays into this column. Tackle shops, the lifeblood of angling LBI and hereabouts, are all nervously asking where you guys are hiding. I’m asking same.
The boat and surf fishing fronts have been almost scarily void on anglers. As one salt-crystaled captain noted, the bay has been all but barren of boaters. “I’ve never seen it so quiet this time of year,” he said, referencing his daily run from Beach Haven to Little Egg Inlet. “Even on the holiday weekend, I only saw a few boats out there,” he recalled, adding, “Last week, I saw one other boat between the inlet and town.”
With most of the LBI beachfront now open to buggying, I’ve also observed the shortfall of surfcasters, the fewest since I don’t know when.
There are many business pros that feel the Island never retuned to its summer self after the hurricane evacuation. Still, that doesn’t even distantly explain the ongoing dearth of fisherfolks. I hope it wasn’t something I said.
Chatting with B.H. angler George G., he worries it’s the lack of take-home meat that has knocked a lot of the oomph out of the fishing spirit. I hear ya. Draconian regulations have taken take-home from riches to rags. In fact, I’m one of the many who crave a fine fish dinner gleaned from a day’s angling. Of course, come fall, the filet potential for both boat and beach anglers goes sky high, via bass, blues, weaks, croakers and kingfish.
I’m hoping, along with shop owners and the folks who work their butts off on the fall tournaments, that this pause in angler participation is just a case of anxious anglers getting all their gear fine-tuned for fall -- clearing the plate of other little annoyances, like work.
RUN-DOWN: With the first mullet-stalking stripers showing along the beachfront, the hum of fall angling may, in fact, be starting. Making it more official is the calendar going autumnal this Friday.
Kingfish are starting to show in the surf, south end. Small weakfish are down near Grassy Channel. No croakers, yet.
Ocean water temps, responding to our recent days of fairly chilly NE winds, went from mid 70s to mid-60s -- in just a few days. However, don’t expect a continued fast-fall of those water temps. While it’s hard for the ocean to hold a solar-inspired 75 degrees, as days get shorter and the sun bear-down weaker, it then clings tenaciously to a core fall temp of, say, 65 degrees. Cooling becomes a super slow process, unless we see air temps suddenly get unseasonably cold. With La Nina in place, such a collapse of core ocean readings could be long in arriving.
Speaking of those first surfside stripers, it’s time to offer my annual popper hype.
I’m among many who feel there is no more exciting nearshore fishing than popping. It’s a poor man’s version of trolling billfish in the canyons. What a rush, seeing a surface-splashing popper getting brutalized by an attacking bass or blue – or, rarer, a weakfish, fluke or Spanish mackerel (I’ve taken three Spanish macks over the decades).
I still jump a foot when a big fish explodes on, say, a blue Gibb’s Polaris, especially when I’m precariously balanced on a jetty rock and nonchalantly about to pull the popper out of the water. It’s borderline heart attack material – but whadda way to go.
TOP POPPING– OR NOT: While I’m anything but an expert, I can offer some surefire tips on advanced popping. Most obvious is the need to have hooks that are hypodermic needle sharp. Either hone the hooks yourself or replace stock plugs with highly advanced (and, admittedly, highly expensive) designer hooks, like the new “surgically sharpened” types. Bass, in particular, will one-blast a popper. If you miss the hook set, a crafty striper will taste something fishy and bolt for underwater arts unknown. Ruthless trebles rule.
Hook-wise, I’m partial to Gamagatsu, Daiichi, and (jigging) Owner trebles. However, a company called LazerTrokar is making saltwater-usable 2X hooks that are downright dangerous. I kid you not.
But back to popping tricks.
Unbeknownst to even better pluggers is the way a popper can be lethal when left motionless in the water, be it after first being cast or stopped during retrieve. I first learned this in fall, 1992. I was plugging off the end of a jetty in Ship Bottom using a blue/white Atoms. Using a high-tech conventional reel, mainly meant for jigging, I got a small bird’s nest in the line. As I hissily undid the knots, the popper idly floated only fifteen feet off the last jetty stone. As I graduated from hissing to cursing, this massive bass annihilated the plug. It damn near scared me outta my swimming shorts.
With an unwanted “fish on,” I did a fairly admirable job of fighting the bass -- with absolutely no drag, due to the line predicament. Still, the big-ass fish, which was going spastic on the water surface, soon got the upper hand (an odd expression when talking about a fish). It finally broke the line.
I was bummed over the lost plug but even more so over a hopelessly encumbered striper, saddled with a superfluous piece of dangling body art. I imagine its buddies: “You got something on the edge of your mouth there. Did you have some mullet today?”
Anyway, after tying on another plug, I was casting out and damn if I didn’t see my just-lost floating only 30 feet out. Yahoo. I did a few of those underhand flick casts until I snagged the loose popper. Good day, good lesson.
I now oft allow poppers to just idly sit afloat, sometimes pretending to be fixing a snag in the line. Hey, you never know what might work.
Another advanced popper technique – one that contradicts the lure’s name -- was shown to me by Mark J. Instead of big-slash popping, Mark will, ever so lightly, simply reel in the plug. The front hollow of the plug issues a steady gentle flow of forward-propelled water. It’s nothing near a pop. He’s taken some of his biggest fish this way.
This slow retrieve needs fairly calm water surface -- but does it ever work. I’m thinking it allows maximum tail sashay, just beneath the water. This waggle motion shines with custom-made wooden poppers, tuned for maximal tail motion.
One sophisticated popper technique that is purely meant for big-ass blues is the panic pop – a nonstop surface splash retrieve. It’s one of my hyperactive favorites. Cast a big popper a mile out. (Larger poppers are arguable the furthest traveling plugs, excluding metals.) Take a deep breath then rip that bugger back to the beach with as much speed as you can reel. Get it up on a proverbial plane. I assure – with utter certainly -- a chopper blue can keep up with it without so much as breaking a sweat. I’ve coaxed major hits like this on days where, prior, I hadn’t gotten even a swipe using standard popping methods.
Got any alternative popping methods, drop me a line.
A BUZZ OVER A BEE REPLACEMENT: It’s sure as hell not easy being a bee.
Most everyone has heard of the disease-fed disappearance of the beloved honeybee. Yes, they’re beloved. Farmers, gardeners, cartoonists, kiddy shows, and, most of all, honey collectors are among the many who treasure this ceaselessly working insect.
The problem is honeybees are becoming such a rarity the only way you’ll find one (or more) is if you’re blessed enough to come across an entire swarm of killer honeybees. And killer bees are, in fact, honeybees – admittedly with a bit of an attitude.
On LBI, there hasn’t been a down-to-earth honeybee around in a dog’s age. What we have had are plenty of good old bumblebees, those jumbo black-and-yellow flower huggers. They’re most famed for their bumble -- and a harmless curiosity as to what a human looks like, close-up.
Bumblebees are actually amazingly docile, damn near friendly, although they’ve been known to send even burly men screaming for cover – to later swear they thought they heard the house phone ringing and were running to pick it up.
It now seems that even our bumblebees are rapidly going missing, quite possibly succumbing to whatever annihilated the honeybee.
Despite the indispensable role bees play in a balanced ecosystem, surprisingly little progress has been made in tracking down what’s ravaging bee around the planet.
There is the now a rushed effort to find a stand-in for bees. What scientists are homing in on might make you cringe a bit. It seems that mosquitoes are prime pollen carriers. I kid you not. A goodly number of mosquito species, including the males of our adored salt marsh mosquitoes, are fully plant oriented.
Obviously, it would be a hard sell to convince NJ residents that stocking the state with more mosquitoes is a sure fire way to keep gardens growing. The first pitch would have to include educating New Jerseyans in the hundreds of mosquito species available, most of which have no desire whatsoever in sucking blood. In fact, some of those oversized skeeters that occasionally get blown into our living rooms, are utterly harmless to humans but are big enough to perform some serious pollen transferring.
There is a cool irony in keeping the mosquito as the unofficial “state bird,” but in a good way.
BLOOMIN’ SHROOMS: On the nature side of things, I’ve gotten a few emails on mushrooms. No, I wasn’t on mushrooms. They were from folks who noticed the truly impressive explosion of fungi this fall. When I’m out there swinging my metal detector, I’m really noticing the fungal fantasy afoot.
Like all growing things, mushrooms and related fungi have those bigger and better years. This year has gone steroidal.
Since shrooms grow in the same spot most every year, I can actually rate year-classes. Without getting into technical species names and such, sufficed to say certain species are running ten times the usual size this year. I’ve seen a couple brain mushrooms the size of the heads on those big-eyed extraterrestrials allegedly spotted around the planet. More significantly, I’ve seen explosions of freaky-looking mushrooms that even expert mushroom ID’ers give up on. “Anyone here wants to try taste-testing this one? I agree. Let’s move on.”
Here’s my academic read on mushroom picking for later consumption: Are you out of your bloody mind!? Hell, you don’t even like mushrooms that much – and that one actually has a scull and crossbones on it.
A lot safer is this Sunday’s Fungus Fest 2011. This is fully for-real. It’s being held at the Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown, NJ, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. I’d sure like to make it. Per a release, “Be prepared to have your eyes opened and to have your mind boggled by the amazing and beautiful world of mushrooms and fungi! It’s a full day of fun and education for the entire family that you won’t soon forget.”
For more info, go to www.njmyco.org.
MULLET DAYS AND WAYS: I want to put in my annual plug for mullet as bait. They rule in the fall. They can be fished on special mullet rigs or hung off one of dozens of different “bluefish rigs,” with or without floats. It sure seems blue like red floats the best.
Whole dead mullet can also be drug/swum along the bottom, where just about every gamefish we have will suck them up.
Personally, I have this thing about de-scaling a mullet, to release the oils and to also offer more flash. You can easily see a scaled mullet has better color patterning showing, even some light iridescence.
However, serving mullet whole barely touches on all it can do. Fluke anglers have always had very good luck by filleting a mullet and using a single flap side to fish on a fluke rig.
Mullet can even be chunked. My largest tourney bluefish ever, pushing 20 lbs, inhaled a big mullet chunk. I took a jumbo mullet, beheaded and de-tailed it and served it up lie a bunker slab. Since the early run of mullet always has larger models, this chunking is very doable.
Smaller fresh mullet work wonders on late-day weakfish. Again, it seems to me that scratching off scales makes the bait looser, so to speak. It allows fanged sparklers to get a surer first bite, a capture bite.
Sidebar: I’ve watched weakfish eat mullet and they capture with a bite-down grab, then hold the prey, sometimes for a goodly amount of time. To down the held mullet, weakfish lurch a bit forward as they release their bite, simultaneously sucking down the meal. It’s kinda snake-like, enhanced by those fang-like front teeth. If you try to hook a weakie too soon -- and you get those famed fang marks left on the mullet – it shows the fish had grabbed on but hadn’t yet committed to the swallow.
I know a fellow who bangs kingfish using small bits of mullet.
It’s simply and ideal bait – and running as we speak.
HOLAGTE HAPPENINGS: As we move between moons, the Holgate ons-and-offs are a tad more forgiving, though a seemingly never-ending swell keeps adding a significant rising tide push. There is still damn little departure leeway if you’re down at the Rip and see the outgoing tide slacking off. You might get (at best) a couple hours after slack -- but that dead forest zone gets sudsy very quickly.
Buggy conservation note: 1) I’ve seen – and have been warned by mechanics – that wet sand thrown under the chassis is actually worse than saltwater. I’ve seen the tiny rust zones develop around single grains of un-rinsed sand. Rust is forever, though a hand waxing – or a liquid spray waxing in hard to reach places – can temporarily stop it in its tracks.2) Grab one of those better grade undercoating or flat black spray paints and attack undercarriage early-on rust outbreaks. If the rust has gotten to the blister zone, those have to be busted off and sanded. Still, you’d be amazed at how well some preemptive spraying works under the carriage.