Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

A Heart-pounding Winter;

Try Pancake Prevention




CREEPY CARDIAC TALE: I have to share this weird (at first) experience I had last Sunday. It even has a hint of ghostliness to it. I should note, I’ve likely been watching one too many cable TV episodes of “Ghost Hunter,” “Haunted” and “Ghost Adventures.”

While down New Gretna way, I bumped into a hardcore angling buddy, J.W., who I hadn't seen in dog’s age. I opted into conversation with the typical but proven effective, "Hey, how was your winter?"

Without the slightest hint of a smile, he looked at me, sorta strange, and said, "I died last winter."

My unspoken knee-jerk wise-ass reaction was, “Outside of that, how was it?”

I'm not sure if I then smiled a bit or simply commenced to a committed scratching a nonexistent itch on my neck. The itch diversion traditionally allows me some thinking time when caught in an odd spot – and this was truly odd. However, in the case of someone claiming they’ve died, I could be two-handedly clawing at oozing chigger bites and still fall short on enough thinking time.

As for the self-proclaimed dead guy, he just kinda kept standing there, oddly emotionless, even for a dead guy.

I was waiting for some sort of normalish follow-up on his part. It wasn’t immediately forthcoming.

Gospel truth: For a fleeting instant, I got somewhat freaked. Had I accidentally picked up some supernatural ability to talk to the departed? I half expected that "I see dead people" kid to saunter up and ask, "Do you see him, too?" Hey, I'm quite satisfied with my current abilities to merely see dumb people.

At a loss for words, I just stood there. I even began quietly pondering what direction to bolt, should it come to that, i.e. an eerie hand beckoning and a droll, “You must come with me, Jay.” My ass I must! Legs do your thing.

Fortunately, a bit of a smile soon leaked onto J.W.’s lips.

Things immediately morphed back to normal when the fellow -- not that old, by the way -- explained that he had suffered a massive heart attack right around Christmastime. The attack rendered him pretty much dead as a doornail -- that "doornail" thing being his descriptor not mine. 

With that, I quickly took on both a highly relieved and genuinely interested continence, enhanced by the great relief that I hadn't become a spirit magnet of some sort. 

I was then told a very cool near-death experience tale -- "cool" now that it's over and all is well.  

It turned out this angler had been medically yanked, at the last possible instant, from a supersonic flight to the Great Beyond, via Atlanta.

“Welcome aboard, ladies and gentlemen, and on behalf of the pilots and crew, we hope you enjoy you’re nonstop flight from here to eternity. There’s no need to fasten your seatbelts. Hey, what’s the worse that can happen now, right?”

Anyway, paramedics and an inner-city ER saved J.W, utilizing some near-miraculous advances in treating heart attack patients.

“I never realized how important my fishing time was,” he told me, as a segue to the truly odd part of his cardiac collapse.

At the onset of the attack, he recalls being in God-awful pain and scared to death – so to speak. This was followed by an almost instantaneous sense of calmness – and painlessness.

I’m sure my eyes were getting bigger with each bit of his tale, especially when to told me how he could soon hear every little thing going on around him, despite experiencing total eyes-open blackness. “I couldn’t feel a thing, even though I knew they were pushing on my chest, giving me CPR. I only thought about my family. I knew I was dying.”

By then I was just mumbling, “Damn, boy.”

The hyper-hearing gave way to an immense sense of solitude. “It got so quiet and peaceful I just wanted to sleep,” said J.W.

And, yes, the famed light came next.

“It (the light) was just instantly there. Almost a wall of it,” he told me, saying the light was brighter than a welding torch – something he knows well from his work.

By now, I was bombarding the poor guy with mile-a-minute questions, something I can do with the best of ‘em.

For some journalistic reason, I just had to know if the light hurt his eyes. He thought about it and said, “No. I didn’t have to squint or anything. That’s kinda weird, isn’t it?”

That ain’t all that’s weird, dude, I thought strictly to myself. I had often read about this freaky stuff but I could tell by the somber tone this guy was using he had lived it. 

I was totally tensed and ready to hear that some of his long-gone relatives and pets soon came into view through the light, benevolently beckoning him into the brightness. The tale misses the mystic mark there. Instead, J.W. said the next thing he remembers is being in a small boat on a fishing lake with his father, something he often did as a kid. By the by, his father is still alive and quite well. “I never felt so comfortable in my life. I think I could have stayed there forever,” I drew out of him.

The angler had no concept of how long he was fishing on that cosmic lake. The trip ended when he woke up in a hospital bed. “They told me I had flat-lined a couple times,” he said.

We chatted a bit more but I was exhausted. I finally got around to asking him if I could do an official SandPaper story on his death-defying experience. He had a very insightful answer, saying he was absolutely thankful to all those who helped him but he was also anxious to get back on with his normal life. He had already found that people back home were treating him differently. “I ain’t dead yet,” he said, laughing for the first time in our conversation.

He did give me the go-ahead to offer the above skeleton insights into his adventure. (Uh, maybe that’s a bad expression, eh?)  I even let him read over this column segment and, being a good sport, he was fine with my blog-ish write-up.

On a far more serious note, J.W. offered the oft-repeated words of cardiac attack converts. “I hadn’t felt sick at all before this. I had some shortness of breath last fall but thought that was from a cold I had,” he said. “Now, my wife and I watch every bite of food I eat. I’ve never felt better -- knock on wood.” He added, “I am taking life easier. I’m going to fish a lot this year. And eat more fish.” 

NO-KILL CRUISING: This is my annual snarly appeal to drivers, especially those frequenting outback roads at night. Please, have a heart and keep an eagle-eye trained for the glowing eyes and scurrying furry butts of  nocturnal critters, currently busting loose after a long winter slowdown. 

Not only is the wildlife of Southern Ocean County hungry for warmer weather but also they’re, for lack of a more sophisticated term, horny. It’s mating season -- thus answering, with certainty, “Why did the possum, beaver, groundhog, mink, raccoon, bobcat, muskrat, skunk, deer, snake, fox, coyote, squirrel, turkey, rabbit, fence swift, otter cross the road?” Face it, to get to the ladies on the other side.  

The problem is their love life is too often being squashed in the bud, thanks to our high speed, cellphone-inattentive, music-blaring, occasionally half-assed driving. We just can’t be running over the remaining wild creatures we have hereabout, considering the way the dogs of development have pit-bulled through the county’s wilderness areas, clear cutting in the name of humanity  and mega-profits.

That said, we still happen to have a decent bit of outback left. It’s when driving near those tenacious blotches of greenery that the greatest motoring attentiveness should to be activated -- anticipating, then steering clear of, highway-challenged creatures.

I bring this up after a morbid drive I had down Rte. 9 on Saturday, as I headed from Manahawkin to New Gretna. I should have had my NJ Wildlife Checklist in hand. Under “Wildlife Seen Today,” I could have checked off a veritable who’s who of known Garden State creatures – all decidedly deceased. Along with two deer, a raccoon, 2 possum, a woodchuck, rabbits and a shiny brown stain of hair on the asphalt that could have been a heretofore unknown species, I found a pancaked kingsnake near my destination woods. What a brutal beat down.

I half wondered if I was seeing the aftermath of a North Jersey “nature lesson.” That’s when the family hops into its climate-contorted Escalade and dapper daddy speeds along heavily-wooded roads in the dark, until there’s a “thump” and “bump.”

Mommy dearest: “Did you hear that, kids? Wildlife! Let’s jump out and see what that was.”

Sister Suzy: “It sounded like a fox. I think I heard a yelp.”

Mommy: “Come on, Billy, hurry up.”

Billy: “I don’t wanna. It’s just gonna be another stinkin’ rabbit.”

Mommy: “Now, Billy, that’s very unfair. You know your father is trying his hardest. Besides, you’re ahead in points.”

Billy: “So what? Suzy finds all the good stuff. She found the fox and the coyote.”

From outside. “Oh, boy. It’s a woodchuck. And he’s still a little bit alive. Everyone hurry!”

Billy “See what I mean?”

Ok, so the above dialogue was straight out of the Theater of the Absurd. However, how much different is that than driving half-assedly along roads in the spring, know wildlife is abounding -- and you’re not giving rat’s patoot if you give creatures, great and small, a terminal road rash. ?

BUSINESS POTENTIAL: There were so many crushed creatures pathetically poised on the shoulders of Rte 9 recently that I was began devising some way to utilize them – so those fine animals hadn’t died in vain. I then had a flash of business brilliance. I devised the perfect family attraction: Mann’s Road-Kill Petting Zoo.

I can feel Popcorn Park Zoo already shaking in its boots.

For my roadside zoo, I would put a series of flashy signs along, say, Rte 72.  “Pet a Pelt -- Only Five Miles Ahead!” “You’re Still Cruisin’ for a Rendezvous with Road-Kill.” “Open Daily – And More Often in the Summer.” “New Attractions Shoveled in Daily.” “We Sell Stuckey Pecan Log Rolls.”

RUN-DOWN: There are already black drum entering Little Egg Inlet to spawn in far back-bay waters. Those big buggers can really get themselves way up into the backwaters. They also shine when it comes to spawning in lagoons ends and such. The drum is beating slowly at this point, though a couple fairly sizeable models were either hooked (up to boat side) or marked on fishfinders. I’ll be offering specifics on drumfish action as the bite gets bigger. Many of those anglers.

There are goodly loads of white perch arriving, after overwintering in the Mullica -- with some having spent the frigid months in smaller waterways and estuaries. Early-arriving spawn perch are already being taken from west Little Egg and are now fanning up toward Forked River. Prime perching holes near back lagoons and around creek entrances are showing fish throughout cloudy days – and primarily toward sunset on sunny days. Ask at shops for directions to perching waters. The ones I know about are extremely space limited so I no longer offer turn-by-turn directions.


I’m getting reports of unusually large areas of nervous water and even splashing baitfish near the ICW, from Little Egg all the way to the Causeway spans. I’ve yet to see those large baitfish balls in Manahawkin Bay, just south of the Big Bridge. For the last few springs, that fairly shallow-watered zone has entertained impressive batches of surface-sitting bait, sometimes being hit hard by the likes of bass, blues and weakfish, even at high sun. It really seems those balls are bunker, based on how much the surface gets riled when they’re showing fins. Spearing would be a lot subtler on the surface. However, there are also these smaller type herring that arrive, en mass, right about now. They are always in super-packed balls. I once netted some of these three-inchers and sent them to an ichthyologist, expecting them to be the young of our plentiful ocean herring. Turns out they were an uncommon type of herring. I lost that letter and can’t recall the species scientific name.

The night striped bass fishing has been very decent. Signs of a super stripering spring, bayside, are showing on all fishable Causeway spans. Somewhat surprisingly, there has also been The cooler bayside action is highly productive daytime plugging of stripers sunning near sedges -- particularly near creeks coming off or between sedge islands. Those creek are not only a prime dining area (as shrimp move out to head toward a spawn) but the slightly deeper water of the creeks extends along the bay bottom, allowing bass a slight channel to secretly sneak toward flats. This is really clear when you spook bass off the flats and they bolt toward that bay bottom creek topography.

Somewhat out of the blue (to me anyway), the state's marine fisheries council has opted for a longer fluke season, meaning we locals get 25 days into September to fish fluke after the summer masses have de-massed and gone home.

Though the minimum size remains at 18 inches, Holgaters will get weeks of working the banks of the Rip for big fluke  -- though I seriously doubt the council was overly concerned with those of us that fish there. Still, we get the bennies of this fairer-to-all choice of fluke options. 

RECALLING MACKEREL DAYS: Can we talk a minute about the Atlantic mackerel, what we dub Boston mackerel. Once one of the truest harbingers of an upcoming saltwater fishing year, mackerel are now just about history, as in DOA.

Even younger anglers recall springtime trips, casting off to intercept massive schools of northbound Bostom macks. We’d easily fill 40-gallon containers with feisty macks. While folks like myself deliriously dined on one of the tastiest fish known, most of those spring macks were cleaned and placed in cold storage to be used in the fall as a top-line chunk bait.

I want to note an irony at the federal level -- using the word irony as a euphemism for some nastier language that could be bandied about. A National Marine Fisheries Service website lists the Atlantic mackerel biomass as being 257% above the target level -- in other words, plentiful, times two, nearer three.  However, another National Marine Fisheries Service Quota Monitoring web site (www.nero.noaa.gov/ro/fso/reports_frame.htm) reveals there is a beyond-serious problem with mackerel.

Ponder this: The overall mackerel quota allotted by NMFS for 2010 was over 220 million pounds. The fleet launched off in big-tonnage anticipation. Working long and hard, commercialites landed a measly 22 million pounds. No, I didn’t miss a zero. They caught just 10 percent of the quota in 2010.

It gets way worse. So far this year – in the same timeframe when 20 million pounds were landed in 2010 – only 320,986 pounds have hit the nets, less than 1 percent of the quota. That’s clearly a collapse of monumental proportions. 

Amazingly, to me, it was a flotilla of foreign ships strip-mining mackerel off the East Coast in the Seventies that led to the mackerel’s collapse, resulting in a little something now known as the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Despite the power of that act, the collapse of the very same species that led to its creation is currently taking place again.

I’m among legions that miss the spring Boston mack action. The upside is the way the species can seemingly bounce back in a very short time, providing it’s left to its own recuperative resources. 

The 4th Annual Spring Perch Derby hosted by Red Man Lodge #61 Saturday, April 16, 2011. All proceeds are donated to charity. Get more info at http://www.tuckertonredmen.com/Perch_Tournament.html

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