Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report
Nina Back and Lookin’ Hot;
Shorebirds in Short Supply
We have to talk a bit weatherly this issue. Unlike most people, I not only talk about the weather but I also do something about, mainly bitch and moan.
It sure seems that Irene ushered in a sultry bubble of purely tropical air. It has hung over us for days on end. On occasion, the air has been so thick and damp you could fillet it and call it sashimi. (Huh?)
All that spells undesirable Indian summer fishing conditions -- before fall has even officially arrives next Friday.
The ocean and bay are both holding 75-degree water.
You have likely noticed the ocean and bay are an odd brownish hue – far from blue. While it might seem to be runoff from Irene’s downpours, I was monitoring that massive algae bloom off Jersey as it was blasted to bits by the hurricane. The remnants were wind-driven landward. I have to think there’s a greater likelihood all this ocean and bay brownness, quite similar to the look of pinelands lakes, is more likely the broken up offshore bloom, not muddy mainland runoff.
By the by, water this dark color heats more rapidly under a strong sun.
Expectedly, this warm water means there are no big bass or chopper blues to bite-start our autumnal fishing. In fact, short of umpteen million tiny snappers – more than we’ve had in decades – there are no alert-worthy bites to talk about.
Many folks, myself included, are playing with this overflow of tiny snappers. I use light freshwater gear and the likes of vintage C-P Swing or Mepp’s spinners to lure the crazed nippers. Going ultralight makes snappering a lot more interesting.
It’s amazing how thin and delicate small snappers are when compared to the muscled out look they’ll assume when they take on serious poundage. Fluke love the downsized snapper phase of bluefish Along with being one of the finest doormat fluke baits, snappers are commonly found in the stomachs of cleaned surfside fluke.
But back to potentially super significant weather stuff.
The big sky news is La Niña. The cold-shouldered sister of El Nino, La Niña is muscling her way back into the western Pacific. And this time she’s seemingly packing more wallop than she showed last winter, when she was in place but not displaying that much authority. This year, her Pacific placement and deportment could very well be of LBI importance.
In the past, I have semi-scientifically documented mild to very mild LBI falls and winters under the rule of various La Niña reigns. My modest observations are now being factually backed by researchers compiling climatologic data. When graphed dating back to 1940 or so, La Niña fall/winter times are “warm to very warm” in Jersey. That is often expressed as “above average to much above average” air temps. Our warmest winter, dating back to 1896, was a La Niña winter. That noted, last winter, a La Niña spawn, was as brutal a snow and ice beat-down as LBI had seen in decades.
I have also documented that back-to-back La Niña years often have see the second winter more closely following historic tendencies, i.e. warm to very warm in NJ.
Yes, that forecast has a massive dose of J-mann wishful thinking. However, in this case, I just might have the sky on my side.
If you’re obsessively weather oriented, you can peruse the latest La Niña vs. NJ data at http://climate.rutgers.edu/stateclim/?section=njcc&target=El_Nino.
MULLET MOVES: Small pods of mullet are making forays along the front beaches, going from inlet to inlet, then zip into the bay to eat algae. The migration has yet to start in earnest. It’s still far too early to tell if it’s going to be a banner year or a bummer, like last fall. Regardless, it’s time to pull out smaller poppers or the likes of 5-inch “Smokey Joes” -- to match the hatch.
I’ve been plugging daily and only sparking swipes from overconfident snapper blues – often getting foul-hooked while attacking plugs large than they are. Same story with small fluke, greedily grabbing the trailing hook of shallow swimming plugs, almost always in the shorebreak zone.
NIGHT MOVES: An email dating back to last fall: Jay, Do mullet also migrate at night? …
I think I know that answer, though I’m not ready to sleep on it.
I constantly see migrating mullet come to a grinding halt the instant the sun goes down. Interestingly, they abandon the tightly balled-up migratory formation and spread out along the bottom, where they hang deathly still.
That said, I’ve also blind thrown my castnet into nearshore holes right at dark, to see if any mullet were holed up, and found zippo inside. Then, the very next morning, before light, I’ve thrown into those same holes and found them loaded with mullet.
While that might seem to indicate they were on the migratory move at night, it more likely shows they were snapped awake by assorted attackers -- and were forced to make panic runs into the shallows. In fact, I’ve often noticed that those balled up, early a.m. mullet are in sorry shape, bitten up to hell and back. A fitful sleep, if ever.
Another fascinating night moves question is why spearing go utterly ballistic when a spotlight or buggy headlights hit them in the water. I’ve seen hundreds of them go simultaneously skyward when hit by a light beam. It’s quite wild looking.
I have to think that sometime in the past -- and instinctively processed -- these baitfish have seen a sudden light when attacking predatory fish rush headlong through phosphorescent organism in the water. Sudden light means a sudden bite.
Of course, those panic jumps might also mean it’s catastrophically unacceptable for a tasty spearing to be abruptly highlighted by bright lights, overexposed to predators. Finally, and maybe thinking a tad too human-like, spearing are among the most schizophrenic creatures out there, psychotically high-strung. Just about anything freaks the crap out of them, sending them skyward in full-escape mode.
I’m hoping to get a video of this high-flying baitfish phenomenon this fall.
SHORE BIRDS A NO-SHOW?: Hi, Have you or anyone else noticed the lack of sea birds (not the flying rats - seagulls), but egrets, herons, cormorants or brown pelicans. I've been looking and have not seen them in Manahawkin Bay - Barnegat. They've been abundant for years, but not this year.
Any ideas? Thanks, Fishinberb.
I got this email a short time back and didn’t respond right away since I actually wanted to first tune my eyes to the topic.
By way of initial research, I did a few flits within local bird-watching circles. Many of those folks passively agreed there might have been a “deficit” of certain shorebirds. However, somewhat oddly, shorebirds are not that high on the “life lists” of many/most birders.
A “life list” is a highly personalized list of every bird a birder sees before flying off to that great observatory in the sky. Akin to scorecards of many golfers and the “confirmed sightings” by UFO watchers, there are those occasional “life list” entries that may be, let’s say, less than spot-on.
Gospel truth, a gal I know was visiting the Catskills and “thought she heard” the distinct tweet of an exceedingly rare species while she attended a backyard cocktail party, within which she was energetically immersed. That fleeting tweeting was later advanced to a perch of honor within her life list. Cheers.
Anyway, shorebirds are actually pretty easy to scratch off even those Audubon “Have You Seen?” lists. Early in life, birders quickly jot them down – and remove them from their radar, so to speak. It would just as likely be more casual nature observers, like you and I, who would notice population peculiarities among common shoreline species.
I can say for certain that I sure as hell didn’t see many pelicans this summer -- not that they’re really meant to be here anyway. A few years of heightened pelican presences in NJ doesn’t endow it with “resident species” status. I did see a couple small formations (four members) of adult pelicans gliding over Holgate this past weekend.
Much odder to me is the low-show of the hugely common double-crested cormorant, Latin for sea crow. The overall population of cormorant has actually gone gonzo over the past 20 years, even problematically so in some states where fishermen feel the highly skilled diving birds are a tad too good at fishing, vying for precious gamefish. Oddly, cormorants were a near no-show this year around Barnegat Inlet, where they’re usually packed in -- and aggressively fending off gulls trying for top perches on buoys and such. However, I can virtually assure there is has been no sudden die-off of tough-ass cormorant, which even huge black-backed gulls won’t mess with. They’re likely packed in like sardines, somewhere. With planetary warming, they might be slightly further north. By the by, I haven’t seen black-backed gulls in numbers anywhere near what they once were. I wonder if the herring gull explosion has doomed the nesting success of black-back gulls.
A tad more alarming is the dismal snowy egret count at a major rookery in Manahawkin. There was hardly a soul home at an egret roosting tree I annually check on the Road-To-Nowhere. As recently as last summer, I counted up to 50 perching egrets a-tree there. This year, I saw three – and they were looking around like, “Where the hell is everyone? Did I miss an email?”
I can also note that my favorite wading bird, the glossy ibis, was not showing in normal numbers this past spring. I always get a read on them by checking the sedge wetlands of south Bonnet Island. I saw scant few this year.
Related, I got a call at The SandPaper from a concerned citizen who was certain the laughing gull count was disturbingly low this summer. I first joked they were all in my backyard. However, a quick canvas of beach folks I know point to a summer strangely quiet on the usually raucous laughing gull front. Now that’s a lot odd.
With those shorebird shortcomings in mind, bird numbers can be all over the board from one summer to the next, a lot like fish. Should the next couple summers see similar low-shows, I can assure that diligent bird people, especially those down at the Cape May Observatory, will be sounding every alarm they’ve got.
WORLD SERIES HITS THE SUDS: The 65th annual Long Beach Island Fishing Club’s World Series of Surf Fishing Tournament is right around the angling bend. It will take place on September 24, so you better get crackin’ to enter. This is both an historic tourney and a great way t launch into fall competitive fishing.
This year will again see both team and individual competitions. It will also offer a trendy “Fly Fishing Only” category -- for individuals with tippet infatuations. Quite cool.
The first 40 teams and a limited number of individuals will be accepted. The cost for a team is $60.00 and $15 per individual.
Beach buggies participating in the tourney will be using the beaches of Surf City, North Beach, Harvey Cedars and Loveladies. There is a two-buggy limit per team.
Fishing times are 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.
For more information, call John at (856) 220-2082, or Bob at (267) 994-7423.
HOLGATE HAPPENINGS: Through a super effort by the Long Beach Township public works crews, a fine new raised entryway (that’s what I’ll be calling it) now beckons buggies and beachgoers onto the serene beaches of Holgate. That beach buggy access area had been ravaged by Irene.
This new buggy access set-up could create some, uh, priority issues. There is maybe 75 yards of entryway that, width-wise, can handle only one vehicle at a time. It's a bit reminiscent of the Shackleton Thoroughfare of the late 1980s. That older, very tight entrance/exit would often see on-and-off traffic running into each other, headlong. This sometimes forced a Mexican standoff, as to who would back down. Those standoffs were often fueled by either sleep-deprivation and/or coffee-hyped mobile anglers. Near fisticuffs ensued. I can attest to that.
The new stretch of entryway is way less contestable. From both the parking lot and the beach, it easily allows a clear read of who's angling to come on or off the beach. It then comes down to civility and courtesy – albeit sleep-deprived and/or coffee-hyped civility and courtesy.
Technically, if two vehicles reach either end of the entryway at roughly the same time -- one coming off, one going on -- a tie should always go to the vehicle coming off the beach – even if you know the bastard doesn’t have a beach buggy permit. This is because the buggy already on the beach is on the sand. Stopping risks bogging down. Having a vehicle bog down in the sand at the entryway means there is then no chance of anyone in other buggies getting on or off. It’s very advantageous to bite the patience bullet and allow the departers to do so. The less chewed up the sand is on the beach side of the entryway, the better for one and all.
If things get so ugly that weapons must be drawn, please let me get off or on before the cops arrive.
As to the state of Holgate, it is holding on like a champ. I kid you not. It could have totally broken but clings to its wholeness. When driving past the Osprey Nest, there is now equidistance between the bayside water and the ocean. It’s maybe 150 yards twixt the two waters – and that close to the bay and ocean meeting up for a long-term relationship.
As for driving the distance to the point, the dead forest near the final leg to the rip is atrocious. Shrubbery skeletons, jutting out from the infringing sand cover, can only be dryly driven past from medium low dropping tides to first phase rising tides. The rising tide moves in all too quickly. There is no possible way to drive among the dead trees without ravaging your buggy.
Of all the bad fall beach buggy season we’ve had at Holgate, this is far-and-away the worst when it comes to that final run to the Rip. Getting off in time is supremely critical. I’ve already established a cell phone social network so we can all stay in touch, especially when one of us is way back on the clamming flats and someone else is on the front beach -- and sees a fast-rising tide.By the by, there are now sophisticated cell phone apps with tidal data out the kazoo