Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

With Heat Comes Evaporation;

Mystery Mastiff Remains Aloof

WEATHER OR NOT: Just a quick sky note. Without overly stating the obvious, it’s now approaching freaky hot out there. Likely culprits: Global warming, Icelandic Volcano, illegal immigrants, La Nina, El Nino, Los Ninanino, 2012, law of summer averages. I’ll take that last one, please.

The weather’s angling impact is sorta mixed. Wind-wise, we are seeing one the calmest summers in many years. Somewhat oddly, they winds have oft been out of the west. This is contrary to the law of averages book, which strongly indicate our prevailing summer winds are out of the south. That west flow is keeping the LBI beaches nearly as torrid as

the mainland.

Mixed winds have led to a lens of dirtier and cooler water along the beachline. Water temps were as low as 64 degrees within. This has hurt surfcasting, though overall surf fishing pressure has been very light. Just outside the beach, maybe a quarter mile, the water is well into the 70s.

Harvey Cedars ocean beaches have been scalding, literally. DO NOT try to cross the Sahara-like sands there without foot covering. Failure to do so can lead to hospital-grade burns. Hottest from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

How about that dragonfly invasion? I had to stop at a number of beach areas over the weekend. Ever walkway onto the sand was buzzing with hundreds and hundreds of blackish medium-sized dragonflies. I personally lost count at just under 17,000. Despite the sorta spooky sight of dragonflies zipping every whichaway, they were all good. Those fluttery insects, as fast at air maneuvering as anything a-fly out there, eat bad bugs until antennae come out their ears. In fact, I honestly think the reason the west winds didn’t blow in trillions of black flies was due to the presence of those dragonflies, which black flies avoid like the plague.

As to what species we were dealing with, it is not an easy ID. I took to some Google searching and found out that we have enough dragonflies and damselflies species to warrant a $31 book called “A Field Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies of New Jersey.” I couldn’t resist buying one? Hey, the book company took PayPal. That’s enough to sway anybody. As I await the book, I’m I have to net one and get a close-up picture. of the current showing so I can get all those juicy details, like wing veins and abdomen patterns. Please don’t let me take on yet another collecting hobby.

HEAVY ON THE SALT: Last week, I write about an odd die-off on blue claws trapped in crab pots. I attributed it to thermal shock —which it most likely was. Then I got an interesting question from a oceanography student, Jason, asking if all this heat, combined with the shallowing of the bay area, can lead to a very high salt content in the bay.

Well, you’re onto something, Jason. Weeks and weeks of relentless sunshine bearing down on surface water has to lead to serious evaporation and, most likely, higher than usual salt contents in bayside waters, particularly backbay areas.

The process: As the bay’s top layer of water evaporates, it leaves its salt behind. Heavier saltwater sinks down to the bottom, to be joined by further salt deposits as evaporation continues. This is essentially the way salt flats are born, albeit over millennia on end.

Obviously, the bay doesn’t get shallower in this process – as water is lost to the sky. Ocean water levels maintain the bay’s water level. However, salt content can steadily increase in areas that have low daily exchanges of tidal water from the sea. Manahawkin Bay is a prime example.

If salt content increases drastically, it can lead to a condition known as hypersalinity. That’s real bad. Per a US Geological Survey, “Hypersaline waters may cause stress in some organisms, making them more susceptible to disease, or they may simply kill salt-sensitive organisms and thus change the composition of the ecosystem.”

That is, of course, a worse case scenario -- and one playing out in places like the Everglades and some Louisiana bayous.

We’re nowhere near that critical sodium chloride condition. In fact, under normal natural circumstances, i.e. if humanity was not on-scene, bouts of heat-related salinity increases wouldn’t leave so much a mark on the ecosystem. Making things a tad more worrisome in our case is the way human impacts may be exacerbating any high salt content problem.

Firstly, we are seemingly making over-demands on our famed freshwater aquifers. We are already seeing long-term drops in the freshwater water tables. Such drops create something of a suction, drawing in saltwater, leading to a condition known as saltwater intrusion. It’s ecologically serious when pure saltwater overtakes the brackish water in backbay and estuarine tidal zones. Brackish conditions are essential to the life and times of many vital marine creatures. Now, imagine intruding saltwater rapidly accruing more and more salt due to evaporation. I sure wouldn’t want to be a brackish water creature bonded to a dead-end creek or mosquito ditch.

Another wider reaching impact of high salinity is being seen in areas of Texas, where destructive brown tide blooms have been going on for months and even years. The most recent studies indicate high salinities might be the culprit. Per a study published in the “Journal of Plankton Research”: “Extreme hypersalinity is hypothesized to contribute to the persistence of the bloom in two ways: it may adversely affect potential planktonic and benthic grazers on phytoplankton (Buskey et al.,1997), and it may adversely affect other species of phytoplankton that might compete with (brown tide algae) for resources.”

As you know, that brown tide thing strikes a tad too close to home. We’ve been having our own ongoing struggles with a very nasty type of brown algae, known as A. anophagefferen — seemingly the result of pollution from home, garden and road runoff. What might happen if hypersalinization is added to the mix?

Believe it or not, Jason, I’m not moving toward some over-salted doomsday scenario based on our current hot and rain-free spell. I’m just highlighting what a tenuous relationship exists between mankind and the marine environment, especially when nature has the gall to step in uninvited, adding more to the mix. However, I wouldn’t exclude the possibility that marine life is taking evasive actions to avoid over-salty shallows. Also, folks splashing around in bayside swimming beaches might actually notice the water is seriously salty – and is a load easier to float atop, since high salt content in the water creates a floater’s paradise.

Good luck on your final year, dude.

UP AGAIN: A 32-foot Topaz Gone Again went down in Barnegat Inlet over the weekend. No lives were lost but the speed it went to the bottom was spooky, per some witnesses. It apparently struck Buoy Marker 10.

Rescue vessels and the Coast Guard were on-scene in nothing flat. The captain and crew of the vessel were rescued and taken to Coast Guard Station, Barnegat Light.

I heard that one of the first responders to the scene was, per usual, a boat tow service. The smaller tow vessel apparently tied up to the Topaz in an effort to keep it afloat. For its effort, the smaller boat was almost dragged down when the 32-footer began its rapid emersion. Water pumps from another towing service – the service contracted by the vessel -- couldn’t keep up with the leakage.

After going down, Gone Again sat in a hole, 30-feet deep, or so. Salvage efforts began. By midday Monday, a crane company managed to raise the boat. The crippled vessel was taken to the bay area adjacent to the Coast Guard Station.

See related story, this week’s SandPaper.

MASTIFF REMAINS A MYSTERY: You might have read about the huge English mastiff on the lam down in LEHT.

Actually, the she-dog isn’t so much on the lam as she is seemingly sold on being semi-nomadic – for whatever odd, and as-of-now unexplainable, reason.

It’s a pretty good guess the poor girl was abused early on in life. That would account for her obvious aversion to humans – though not a full-blown aversion to humanity itself. I’ll explain.

Since February, the 150-pound-plus canine has been seen, off-and-on, near a townhouse complex off Radio Road. At first, the sightings were pretty much glancing glimpses from timid folks peaking from behind their closed curtains, certain there was a “bear” right in their very own neighborhood. Never mind the fact it was a third the size of a bear, was light brown in color, wagged its tail and sat on command.

OK, so maybe the madcap mastiff wasn’t quite that obedient but the beast surely didn’t display any behaviors common to real backyard bears around the world. Still, numerous “bear” and “bear-dog” calls reached the local PD.

By keeping in relatively close contact with civilization, the reclusive canine is seemingly displaying a desire to be at least kinda close to humanity – without committing to cozying up to individual representatives of the race.

To date, the shy girl has been so drawn to humanity’s neighborhood that she is often seen spending a goodly amount of high-sun time lying up against a cyclone fence next to a noisy swimming pool. The sound of kids and laughter seems to sooth her. On the other side of the civilization coin, she also goes AWOL for huge chunks of time, slipping into the woods, going who-knows-where.

Despite her detachment, the mystery mastiff has taken to a kindly couple that lives in a gated community within her territory. Those highly humane folks took to sympathetically feeding the big gal, starting many months back. They have become something akin to the animal’s benefactors – to the tune of offering big bowls of dog and plenty of water. The H20 is the biggy, as the pooch sweats out having to wear a heavy coat on 100-degree days. The home of the benefactors is now a regular food run for the dog.

As the canine’s fame has grown, the reality has leaked in that only bad can come out of her continuing her fairly feral lifestyle. There are numerous ailments that can befall a once-domesticated animal returning to nature. I can speak of this first-hand. I have rescued four dogs from deep in the wilds of the Pinelands. Those once-pampered canines were not faring well when I finally coaxed them my way. Ticks, mosquitoes and assorted parasites had begun to get the upper hand. All survived, one just barely.

My most empathetic thought regarding the mastiff’s life in the wilds is what she must go through every night, as mosquitoes come out in clouds. Long hair or no, bloodsuckers can home in on ears, paws, and eyelids. I can’t even think about it. On a smaller scale, Lyme disease for a large dog is bad news.

There is also the heavy metal reality of her outlaw existence near high-speed highways. I dread that the most. Hell, there are drivers out there who wouldn’t notice a frickin’ mastodon if it happened onto the road in front of them.

“Fred, what’s that in the road up ahead?”

“Who cares? It’ll get outta the way.”

“My god, Fred. It’s a mastodon!”

“I don’t know any Master Don. Bastard shouldn’t be in the road anyway. Let it taste my Cadillac.”


Out of need and compassion, a multi-faceted “Save the Mastiff” task force has formed, somewhat spontaneously. It includes local animal control, Popcorn Park Zoo, an English bullmastiff rescue groups, a bullmastiff rescue and, if need be, the Little Egg Harbor Police Department. Ironically, two LEHT police officers – a husband and wife team – are fanatic mastiff folks.

After some wrangling and brainstorming, a capture-the-mastiff game plan was devised. Popcorn Park Zoo rented a large cyclone fencing “run.” The run is closed at one end and is equipped with a slam-down door at the other. It is easily capable of trapping the dog when manually sprung. It has been placed in the yard of the mastiff’s surrogate saviors.

At first glance, it sure looked like the run/trap concept would work. Shortly after set-up, the mastiff confidently walked inside to get at the daily food and water offered by the couple. However, since only the couple was on hand at the time, the trap was not sprung– and for good reason. With a high likelihood of the huge canine royally freaking out, the couple – who have grown quite close to the dog – feared the extreme measures the animal might take to escape. The big capture, the coordinated springing of the trap, needed to be made with professionals around to tranquilize the animal.

And that’s where things stand now, essentially going nowhere fast. Despite hours of run sitting, with a professional at the ready, the dog has seemingly sniffed out the effort. It is quite possibly a misread of how perceptive a sharp mastiff can be.

This stalemate doesn’t surprise me at all. I can assure you that even at a football field’s distance from the trap, the mastiff is registering odd energies buzzing all around, as noisily as any mosquito or greenhead fly. The same place it had happily entered to get food only a few days before is now all but screaming out warnings – only dogs can hear.

That’s where I uninvitedly put myself into the capture equation, hypothetically.

I have absolutely no doubt I could easily track this animal to its den in nearby wetlands.

Tracking-wise, its weight will leave obvious paw prints. Its untended claws will add to those prints. With so little rain of late, the print trail will be doubly hot, so to speak. What’s more, hair indicators will be like flags showing the way, as the animal goes through its shed. Added to that, the repetitive use of certain trails and paths will leave veritable “press down” indicators, pointing toward the animal’s haunts.

Tracking 101. Right?

If that’s all there is to bringing in this massive animal, I’d have been out there already – even in the heat. I’m a fanatical dog person.

Enter that above-mentioned sixth sense that dogs have when they’re being tracked or stalked. That mastiff will know I’m on its tail literally the minute I step out of my truck thereabouts. Even at a mile or more away.

You might not buy into that but after decades of tracking (for fun), I’m beyond convinced that near paranormal forces take over when it comes to tracking the likes of coyote, wolves and even everyday domesticated pups. In fact, that has been proven, somewhat, in tests wherein domesticated dogs sense the approach of their masters at distances as far as ten miles away. In one case study, a pet pit bull that hadn’t seen its master in over 10 days became increasingly excited as the man was on a cross country flight back home, going almost ballistic when the man was still miles away in a cab. What’s that all about?

Anyway, I can’t in good conscience track this dog, knowing it will surely sense me and most likely leave the safety of its territory. Considering its territory is all but enclosed by highways, I can’t take on that responsibility.

However, once the big girl is captured, I’ll feel obligated to locate where she had been hanging, to make perfectly sure there is not a litter or family unit at risk.

It’s a long shot but this gal might already be shacking up with a coyote. Sure that sounds half-baked but in this day of sushi and sashimi even half-baked passes as highly palatable.

Pups -- or even year-old young -- back at the den might explain a lot of things, like the dog’s long absences from human sight, her tendency to eat and then bolt and, most of all, her reluctance to cozy up to humans -- who just might try to take her back into captivity.

What’s more, if there’s a coyote dad on scene, the den is in perfect hands while she’s away. A coyote pa is one of the finest tenders in the business.

Of course, there are still those to-be-expected squabbles back at the den.

“Where the hell of you been? These kids are driving me nuts. You were over with the humans again, weren’t you?”

“No I wasn’t. I was far afield chasing, uh, ling.”

“My tailbone. Your hair is oozing human smell.”

“Oh, right. And how can you smell anything over the stink of those roadkill possum you drag home as an oh so big contribution to the family?”

“Oh, sure, and I supposes that canned crap you keep regurgitating is Cordon Bleu.”

Eeks. Looks like I’m slipping far afield. But I’ll keep you updated on the mastiff saga.

RUN-DOWN: This past weekend fishing remained the tale of fluke -- being caught by the thousands, maybe tens of thousand, statewide.

However, sampling the famed lines from the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” -- “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink” – it has been fluke, fluke everywhere, but not a bite to eat. Keeper ratios were generally 1 take-home to 30 releases.

Recognizing that anecdotal evidence is seldom science at its finest, I still can’t buy into a summer flounder shortage, per research. And you’re hearing that from a guy who backs any action to save the fishes.

When it comes to babying fluke, I once again fret over the insatiable nature of this species. Face it, they’re all over the frickin’ bottom -- and eating like there’s no tomorrow. How can any other game species young-of-year expect to get by them -- then the bass hoards, then the bluefish?

I won’t be around to gloat over those future scientists and conservationists openly laughing over the ill-advised unilateral fishery management efforts tried way back in the 21st Century.

Expectedly, I’m now getting a gushload of gripes from angst-laden anglers who are certain that nearby boats are keeping undersized fluke. I don’t place many such negative emails in here, but, take my word for it, I’m somehow partially to blame. I kid you not. Every call or email indubitably contains a line like, “Why aren’t you writing about these guys?” or “You should be doing something” Or “Why can’t you get hold of the state?”

Hell, I don’t even go fluking any more. I quit at something like 16 inches. I will note that I do pass some of these gripes on, as best I can. Still, how does one tell the law to target a “white” boat last seen on Sunday, amid dozens of other boats, and bearing a name like “Obsession,” the most common boat name over the past two decades?

There is also the reliability of eying a fish at 30 yards away and knowing, for sure, it’s undersized. I must admit that there is some logic behind this mailer’s observation: “We couldn’t find a keeper to save our souls and neither could any boat around us and here’s some guy and his family putting half their fish in the cooler. Don’t tell me he’s that lucky.” I have to admit, that’s what I’d call suspicious by default.

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