Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Hibernation Is Over;

Deer Stand Shooting

With things still cold and snowified, I’ve been doing overtime hanging out for world-curing sit-downs with the Norm and the boys down at the old store in West Creek. Along with hearing the ups, downs and in-betweens of the customers stopping by to talk collectibles and gall stones, I’ve also been taking in tropical tales of fishing, hunting and outdoorsing being done by those with ways and means to leave this place for exotic locales where the only icy conditions are found in frozen fresh-fruit margaritas.

Just this past weekend, I was sitting there absorbing a tale being told by a fellow talking about a friend of his who had gone bonefishing in Coast Rica. That’s when it hit me just how bad this winter has gotten, cabin fever-wise. Here I was sitting there longingly living vicariously through a guy who was, himself, living vicariously through someone else. Vicariousness once removed. Ouch. That’s a new low in vicariousness.

Can you guess there isn’t a lot to write about this thaw-out week? Though that thaw thing is kinda major. The rains have knocked the snow-cover down to size. It also washed the roads clean -- at the utter expense of the environmental.

The more I read about the negative impact of all that road salt being washed into the bay, the more I realized it could leave some sort of mark on the ecosystem this summer. Skewered salinities have been implicated – if not indicted -- in poor spawns for the likes of white perch and (more seriously) weakfish. I have also heard that salinity swings can hurt blue claw crab showings, though I can’t see that connection considering blue crabs are quite likely the top survivalists in the entire bayside ecosystem. However, when you’re talking a cash crop like crabs, even tiny impacts can hurt not only bottom lines for baymen but take-home counts also fun crabbers.

Oddly, the best thing we can get to wash away any concerns about road salt pollution is a honkin’ nor’easter, sans damage and disastrousness. With the bay getting shallower and shallower, due to an odd form of pollution-based eutrophication, storm tides have allowed clean ocean and inlet waters to surge further into the backbay. That water exchange dramatically helps the purge-out process. Ideally, a nor-easter with loads of onshore winds but without heavy rains (washing in more pollutants) would power out salt and insidious minerals, almost all of which are super suspended (dissolved) in the water.

Road salt mineral deposits, like sand and gravel, seldom directly impact the ecosystem but create serious sewer sludge for municipalities to remove.

Another impact of the thaw hits home for the guys who drive around those really cool road sweepers – one of the many things I have on a list of must-owns when I become absurdly rich and famous. Those dark-of-night workers have their sweeping work cut out, as tons atop tons of sand and mineral material now loaf in the gutters.

COLD-START BASS: As for the impact of a real winter on fishing, it should be subtle, though potentially significant.

Look for the Mullica River striped bass to reach Graveling Point in a more organized biomass, i.e. en masse. That happens when winter doesn’t offer any confusing warm snaps -- that lead to the biomass stringing out and departing haphazardly.

The arrival of down-south stripers migrating north might also be very regimented. The Chesapeake area had a consistently cold winter. If the Eastern seaboard has a mild spring – I’d bet on it – the northern migratory procession of bass will also happen in unison.

All this motion should make for a shotgun start to bassing, i.e. fish appearing at once, at all common early-bite sites. However, the whole shebang could run a bit late, as artesian waters feed very chilly flows into rivers and bays, here and down there.

White perch have their very own spring schedule, based on something known to move most living creatures: mating. That surge gets them moving at the drop of a spawn-suggestive hat. They’re always a-move before their close-cousin stripers. Throwing net in winter, I’ve found many white perch never even leave the lovemaking zone. By the by, there are indicators it might be a top perching spring. This is based on very condensed schools in the Mullica and other overwintering locales.

Winter flounder work on a different clock. Unaffected by water temps, they’re length-of-day/sun-height based. It could be a nuclear winter and they’d still be moving out within the same timeframe. I have seen flounder migrations slow down during prolonged overcast conditions.

I recall one of the best winter flounder bank fisherman I ever knew, West Creek Charlie by name, saying that hard west winds made for the best blackback fishing. He attributed it to the stir of the wind but I could have argued – not that Charlie would have listened -- that sunny skies almost always accompany westerlies. That daylong glow would have surely spurred the sun-inspired flounder. Look for a normal to slightly above normal winter flounder bite this spring.

OUTBACK BANTER: I couldn’t take being snowbound any longer. Over the weekend, I layered up and hit a rugged section of woods in Bass River. I got in damn decent hike-about in a quite-wild swampish zone, adjacent to saltwater meadows.

Since I had seen snow retreating here on the Island, I figured a load of outback acreage would also be freed up. Nice try -- but no snow-free cigar. There remained many a knee-deep stretch of snow in low-melt areas.

I managed to ferret out some sans-snow grassy zones, one of which surrounded a craggily elm tree that housed the pine and plywood visages of a primitive deer stand, a good 20 feet up there.

I’m a fanatic deer stand climber, especially drawn to the oldest abandoned stands, some dating back over 100 years, as evidenced by their presence in ancient photos of hunters and their bagged deer. These elevated relics of the area’s shotgun past offer only the flimsiest footholds (steps) for climbing but tender the maximal amount of flashback to “the day.”

The stand I found last weekend had footholds that were still perfectly in place, extending up the elm. The steps were two-foot pieces of rough-cut 2-by-4s.

The 2-bys had been nailed in place as if the stand-builder expected a conga line of elephants to routinely climb up there to hunt. Each rung had no less than ten large 60-penny nails driven haphazardly into the point where the 2-bys centered on the tree trunk. Any number of nails had been mis-hit, then simply bent over and smashed flat to the wood. I can hear the builder now, “Hey, it’s a deer stand not the frickin’ Taj Mahal.”

Despite the shabby craftsmanship, the over-nail concept worked. I confidently climbed the sturdy footholds, in place for surely 50 years or longer. In fact, the 2-bys had been there so long, the tree had begun enveloping the invasive wooded slats with thick lips of bark.

All that was left of the deer stand itself were a couple underlying braces, also 2-bys, holding the stand’s way-worse-for-wear plywood floor. The composite wood was strategically decomposing, helped along by a large shotgun-blasted hole right in the middle, where the hunter would have been poised. There was no longer poising to be done thereupon. The center of the stand had become elevator material – nonstop to the ground floor.

As for those shotgun blasts to the heart of the stand, they were definitely fired from above, aimed downward. One has to question the advisability of taking potshots at the only thing separating one’s self from a drop to certain pain and breakage. I have a funny feeling the through-and-through was actually a misfire of story-telling proportions.

“So heres I’m usin’ a string to yank up my shotgun, what were down below, and no sooner do I get the sucker up thans it goes and fires off both barrels, all on its own. I was liked to die. Come close to blowin’ my feet clean off. And blasts a hole right through the floor so’s I can see the ground. Good for pissin’ through but that’s about it. All the work I put in that deer stand, shot to s*** and back.”

Anyway, I warily straddled the ragged hole and stood on what remained of plywood. It’s always interesting how a deer stand doesn’t seem to be that far up when seen from the ground, but just climb on up there and look down. Different story, especially when the wind muscles in and that entire rooted world starts to sway and even moan a bit, right where the stand is secured. Spooky.

Sadly, many an RIP hunter has inadvertently taken the instant elevator out of their stands. Per the Centers for Disease control, falls from deer stands have proven fatal ten times more often than all other hunting-related accidents combined. The number-one cause of falls is dozing on the job, so to speak. Hunters working the wee hours of sunrise and sunset are highly prone to have a siesta sneak up on them -- involuntarily tumbling into the lap of eternity.

But how can that the CDC be so sure of this, seeing that dead folks are seldom forthcoming with end-time details? Forensics, evidence and interviews with fall survivors. The evidence of a fatal falling is pretty telltale, especially when it involves the demise of perfectly healthy individuals – healthy, albeit dead – lying in an awkward heap at the base of a tree, shotgun frequently still in hand. Those deer hunters who survived the big fall, pretty much offer the same exact words, “One minute I was up there hunting and the next minute I was on the ground writhing.”

But back to my deer stand sojourn. As is the case with most old-time deer stands, the view from this one was super. Those back-then folks really knew where to set a stand to get a perfect gander at the lay of the land – and related deer trials. While I often put a goodly load of observational time when in a stand, I knew I wouldn’t be hanging their too long, seeing there was no safe and relaxing sit-down point. I opted to call on my Nikon binoculars to add some intensity to my lofty sightseeing.

Despite the snowmelt – and mildish air temps -- it was quite quiet on the wildlife front, almost eerily so. That same area is usually all but a zoo. Not this visit. Even the nearby duck ponds were void of the usual showing of overwintering black ducks.

MUSKRAT LOVE: While outbacking, I did notice a number of muskrat lodges I hadn’t seen in the past. I’ve heard from hunters that the muskrats are trying to make a comeback in the wake of an odd decline after the prohibiting of foothold traps in NJ. That change in trapping law should have led to a leap in its population of this aquatic mammals. Didn’t happen.

I’m a muskrat backer. You’ll oft read where these rodents are bloody nuisances and must be sought-and-destroyed at every watery turn. However, look at why they are mammals non grata and you’ll see they’re a nuisance to mankind, not nature.

Here’s an excerpt from a pest control company. “…Muskrats can cause damage to property when they burrow into ditch banks as they make their den and by eating vegetation such as lawn grass, or garden and ornamental plants.

“The damage to banks around ponds and dams is far greater than the damage they may cause to ornamental landscaping. They also can damage swimming pools by attempting to burrow into the ‘bank’ (liner). Another problem sometimes arises (when muskrats) turn to floating docks where Styrofoam presents a convenient tunneling site and by burrowing behind the retaining walls. This will eventually cause structural problems…”

Now, I fully understand this company is geared to helping the humanity cause – and right they should – but you see how it’s once again (as always) a case of mankind moving in and wildlife be damned.

One other quick reference to pest control people, I know quite a few – and even watch them on reality TV shows – and they are almost always huge conservationists, traveling miles to humanely release captured critters, as opposed to destroying – though I’m thinking muskrats are seldom on the “return” list.

REDBREASTS RALLY: The only real wildlife showing of note this spring is on the backyard front. I’m not sure why but the red robin flocks – and they are legitimate flocks – are an eye-opener. Not only are there congregations containing 50 or more of these famed spring-related thrushes, but there are a load of separate flocks. I sure can’t see that an overpopulation of these generally mild-mannered birds could unbalance the ecosystem in any way. Still, one always wonders why a certain species goes gonzo population-wise.

BLUEFIN TUNA BLOG: Trying to get commercial fishermen to stop fishing for blue fin tuna (bft) is like telling a prospector to stop panning gold nuggets -- when the price of gold has gone batty. Holding onto that parallel, a prospector will always find some way to clandestinely dig for “color,” as will fishermen savoring the thought of over $100,000 for a single bluefin tuna.

Despite efforts to farm raise bft, the demand for this fattiest of tunas has once again gone damn near psycho, due in large part to a now-worldwide craving of the fish’s raw flesh – though Asia remains the only region more than willing to use the kids’ college savings to cover the hikes in bft prices.

Over 80 percent of out Atlantic bft ends up on Asian tongues, mainly Japanese. The bft craving there is disturbingly close to a physical dependence. “Users” are as much as seeking a fix when paying the equivalent of $50 an ounce for sushi-fied tuna. Yes, $50 an ounce. That number is from a study that found better restaurants in Tokyo easily charge that equivalency when serving paper-thin sheets of the fattiest tuna, as sushi and sashimi. What’s more, any ban on bluefin tuna trading – as is now being proposed in many areas around the world – will spike the value of bft even higher.

As the European Union gets ready to play hardball by ending all trade in Atlantic bft, Japan has already announced it will go sushi on any such bans. Japan is already scoffing at the mere suggestion that bft might receive an “Endangered Species” declaration at an upcoming CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) meeting in Qatar.

In a Feb. 22, 2010 article in the “International Herald Tribune,” a Japanese official, Masanori Miyahara, was quoted as saying "(Japan) would have no choice but to take a reservation'' on any and all bans. That’s a politically nice way of saying, “Screw all you all. We’re going to totally ignore you and import every friggin tuna we can get our hands on. Sayonara.” The translator that day opted to stick with a more literal and theatrical interpretation, “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.”

I, like most, have gotten a sardonic chuckle over Japan’s suggestion that the world stick with tuna terms devised by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, or ICCAT. It is common knowledge that ICCAT is in Japan’s back pocket.

Is there any heart to be taken from a bft trade ban – or even its rightful receiving of endangered species status? Nah.

It is more evident than ever that there is virtually no way to police the planet’s oceans. The rampant terroristic pirating off Somalia is proof. That bloody mayhem can’t be quelled, even though it’s flagrant war lording and attacks against humanity confined to a tiny, specific piece of ocean. How the hell is anyone supposed to address tuna-taking that can take place in virtually every ocean and sea? What’s more, many nations, even those buying into the current effort to reduce bft fishing to near nothingness, aren’t all that gung-ho about arresting their own fishermen, even when they break what amounts to international law..

It then comes down to what amounts to holds full of contraband tuna. It’s mighty obvious the Japanese won’t be turning down “hot” tuna without a fight. Remember how they fought to the death in WWII?. Sure, that’s a tad dramatic, but tuna has become a matter or fiscal life and death for those within the Japanese fishing industry. And those can be some rough boys, from the actual fishermen right on up to the Yakuza-based mongers at the wholesale markets. What’s more, other Asian nations are also none too keen on giving up the bling garnered from dealing in solid gold tuna. It would be utterly odd if WWIII arises, not from holy crusades or nuclear proliferation, but bluefin tuna. Whodda thunk it?

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