Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Puffers Pack Into the Bay,

Sea Creature from Space,

Captain Defends Old Barney




Please check this week’s Sandpaper’s “SandBox” section for many comments on 9-11.

I bring that black anniversary into this column primarily to note that there is a huge number of anglers and/or regular readers who were first responders, direct victims of 9-11 or were indirectly devastated by the cowardly attack.

The moment of that attack – and the hideously mesmerizing images we all watched in mute horror -- is eternally etched into our minds and psyches. At the same time, the astounding and selfless actions of those responding in the wake of the attack will forever be replayed throughout American history.

I want to offer a special showing of gratitude toward the astounding heroes aboard United Airlines Flight 93, an oft-overlooked tangent of the al Qaeda attack on America. That hijacked aircraft was essentially forced down, near Shanksville, Pa., by aroused passengers unwilling to let the terrorists go any further with their phase of the attack. In an incompressible show of bravery, those passengers rose up and issued a clear “Not on our flight, you don’t” statement of patriotism. It’s the stuff of legend. Per flight recorder data, the hijackers knew instantly that they were finished as soon as the Americans counterattacked. The cowards knew all along they were up against a formidable adversary – even when dealing with everyday Americans. 

(And how are those hagfish treating you, Osama?)   

Frivolous time-spend of the week was spurred on by this short email: “Jay, is it possible to see fish from Google satellite?Hal”

I tried to slough off this email, while knowing full well it had already advanced into that maze of cerebral neurons that mark my perpetually ravenous needless-random-knowledge zone. Off flew my concentration on writing and on came a less-than-needed journey into “Google Earth,” a website offering borderline evasive looks at the entire planet from far above. You can easily home in on a perfectly clear view of your vehicle in the driveway. Referencing this email, a whale is way larger than my red truck – and the easily seen junk in its bed, as seen from space. For sure it could show large baitballs and such.

Off I went, knowing it was a bad time-use idea to look for fish in a sea of satellite images as large as the planet itself. Almost immediately, the folly of it all shined through. I somehow went from journeying toward South Africa (to look for great white sharks) to Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam. I just had to see what housetops now look like at this famed Vietnam War site. While in-country, I then cursored over and took in the crowds and cotton trees of old Saigon. Screw the new name, Ho Chi Minh City. Buncha commies. The name Saigon had been in use for hundreds of years on end. It actually means “China town,” based on the ethnic persuasion of folks who lived thereabouts.

To cool off, I instantly zipped over to check out Mount Everest. I even panned way in to see if could see any of the endless stream of mountain climbers who now all but ravage the once majestic peak. Instead all I could detect was what surely appeared to be a pack of yeti kicking around an old oxygen canister one of them had found.

On Everest, I quickly began suffering from altitude sickness so I Google Earthed over to settle my stomach at sea-level, smack dab in the middle of the Taklamakan Desert, which I never knew even existed until I cursored in on spot-able camels at an oasis called, and I quote, die letzten Pappeln vor der Wüst. At first I thought, “Who the hell would name a place die letzten Pappeln vor der Wüst?” Then it hit me, in a worldly way. It’s a frickin’ desert unbeknownst to even those people who frequent the middle-of-nowhere. I’m probably the first person to mention it since Eddie die Letzten Pappeln vor der Wüst named it after himself.

As my deadline clock whiled away, I finally soared down to South Africa to firstly see if apartheid had fully ended, based on the head tops of people cruising the streets of Cape Town. Seeing a head-top I’m pretty sure was Nelson Mandela, I figured things were going well there. So I then focused on the African waters where those shark videos have been made, documenting 25-foot men in gray suits leaving the water after seals. I easily homed in on some fishing boats but I just couldn’t make out any great whites – an expression I fear is no longer politically correct in South Africa.

Only a phone call from a state official snapped me back into my tiny corner of the globe. I grudgingly closed Google Earth without seeing an in-water creature of any sort. I am passing this quite-cool challenge on to the many observant and obsessively curious minds that touch down in here, especially those with insanely high-def computer screens. Get crackin’ in the search for satellite-seeable marine creatures. Send me the latitude and longitude (very bottom of page) of any suspected sea creatures. I’ll pass them on to Hal.

PUFFER PARADE: Blowfish are showing, big time. These popular puffers are both a wonder to behold and wonderful eating. Along with blowing up like pokey balloons and offering some of the coolest eyes in the maritime realm -- able to change colors based on mood swings -- they are perpetually a learning launch-point for kids just breaking into the marine environment.

As to the tastiness of this very meaty panfish, the species is not only delicious in a nostalgic sorta way (as kids we ate blowfish just about every day of the week back in the Sixties) but it is also one of those plate-ables that even fish-resistant folk rave over.

As to the current super showing of outgoing blowfish, it’s mainly the small models indicating a fine year-class was born in our bays. Just about every backyard dock on bayside LBI has a quota of little blowfish, from one inch up to maybe 8 inches.

There have also been some LEH fishing sessions offering full-blown jumbo puffers, a dozen or more at a pop. They’re most often taken on small hooks, light gear and in the wake of heavy chumming.

I’m never sure what to make of a super summer showing of a particular species. It would seem logical to think that next year all these little puffers will return as big ones. If so, 2012 could be a blowfish year to remember. But seldom does that math work out. We’ve all seen astounding year classes of many species depart in the fall, never to return. 

When it comes to panfish (blowfish, kingfish, croakers and such), science points to the shrimping industry as the taker/destroyer of countless small fish, as by-catch. Seemingly nothing can be done to stem that by-catch “bias,” as science sometimes euphemistically calls it.

But back to our current fine showing of migrating puffers. I want to quell a toxic misconception often loosed upon blowfish. It is a very common myth that there are parts of a northern blowfish, especially the genitalia, which are toxic. It’s simply not so. The “sea squab” sold in fish markets is northern blowfish. Admittedly, once you’re south of, say, North Carolina, downing blowfish gets a tad more toxic. The potentially sickening problem is differentiating northern blowfish from southern blowfish – or other look-alike species.

IRENE REMAINS A STICK IN THE MUD: Irene’s runoff rage has left NJ clammers high and dry, essentially grounded and growingly grumpy.

The DEP has banned clamming until further notice. The bay is simply carrying too many pathogens to safely allow harvesting.

For the final folks still eking out a living from clamming – and I was among their ranks for many, many years – this closure is akin to having a power outage, on income! Hardcore clammers don’t have some secret back-up revenue source. For them, this is famine during what should be feast times.

While money never flows freely in that tedious dirtiest job realm, summer means meals and garvey payments are easily covered. Take away a couple week from the meat of summer earning and all is not well in Mudville.

Baymen Joe Rizzo, Mayetta, bemoaned the loss of not one but two weekends – the hurricane weekend was also a total washout. He explained that the Labor Day weekend is second to only July 4th in the clam-marketing realm. “People don’t realize we’re also in a seasonal business,” said Joe.

As to when the all-clear/all-clean horn is sounded by the DEP, it takes a series of successful test readings to free clammers to resume treading, tonging and scratching.

That bivalve closure hits way too close to home, fishing-wise. You gotta choke on the realization that our baywaters can get so frickin’ dirty they go pathogenic on us. If that isn’t a clean-up-your-act warning flag nothing is. And the governor has haled his own efforts to clean up the bay. It obviously ain’t happenin’ fast enough, Sir Trenton. 

SMELLY BLAME GAME: I have to mention one lingering angle on the hurricane – and make a correction to my last column. I had noted an “oil fuel” leak on the Boulevard, Ship Bottom/Brant Beach line.

In the end, the Hazmat whomevers singled out Island Surf and Sail building as the source point for the petroleum-based leak. To the credit of the fine folks who own that heavily-utilized water sports establishment, they spent days and days after the spill literally hand-cleaning the block. With detergents and rags in tow, they literally got down on hands and knees, detailing any surrounding areas by removing residual heating fuel residue. Over the days, they began to tabulate a huge clean-up cost, mainly in man-hours.

It was during the ongoing mop up, something began to gnaw away on the clean-up crews. The stuff they were mopping up was burning their nostrils to hell and back. Headaches and throat soreness ensued. To them, those worrisome woes seemed to have way more chemical bite than old heating fuel should inflict on the human body. Doing some homework – and asking around – it became clear the leak was a goodly part diesel fuel, i.e. a petroleum byproduct related to marinas.

If true, that’s huge. This eco-friendly outdoor life business takes a bad rap for a hidden fuel tank it had no control over, then, gets strapped with brutal cleanup costs -- exhausting resources while hand-cleaning a leak which may very well not be from that tank.

The shop is now trying to get a scientific interpretation of what it is they’ve been cleaning, ad nauseam.

One other not-minor detail from my vantage, at the height of that spill, I was on-scene and was warned by the Hazardous Material Response Unit personnel that I had to be careful because there was “diesel fuel” all over the place. Three different responders there said it was diesel. When the heck did it go over to heating fuel?

I just want to double emphasize that my use of the term “heating fuel” was handed down from officials, after the fact. 

OLD BARNEY BACKER: Below is a Letter to the Editor” addressing one of my previous columns.

To the Editor,

 I just got done reading Jay Mann's comment about the causeway shack being of more important than "Old Barney".

I can understand his line of thinking. Jay has never been on a swordfishing trip for weeks at a time. The sight of our lighthouse means we are close to home and will be seeing our families and friends soon.

       Jay has never rode out a gale of wind for days at time as the our boat pounds it way home, in a icy winter time nor'wester.

To see "Old Barney" means the danger, the cold, the crashing waves will soon be over.

       Now that the beam on "Old Barney" shines I get the same feeling that a schooner captain of the 1880's my have felt, that the journey was over.

Coming across the bridge one day with my father, Capt George Svelling, I asked him "Dad, does that old shack hold any significance for you"?

answered bluntly, "no".

 "Old Barney" has saved the lives of countless sailors, has the "shack" done anything remotely similar?

For Jay to say "Hell, Barney could fall over the hell over and I'd mainly go up there just to see what a fallen-over lighthouse looks like ", is completely disrespectful to the men and women who embrace that life saving land mark. Eric Svelling.

Eric, I was expecting more responses but yours nails what I’m sure many people felt after having read my purposefully inflammatory blog. 

I should first note that "fall over" part in my blog was more a reference to the Shack's fate -- the way folks drive by and check its decay. It was hardly a solemn hit against Barney -- or any lighthouse. But you did aggressively bite at my effort to enhance public insights into the Shack -- and, in some ways, the Barnegat Lighthouse.

It should be duly noted that Barney, after excluding the likely non-Jersey Statue of Liberty, is the most visited and appreciated monument in the entire state. The Shack is hardly a serious challenge in importance, except for those of us who have also gone off to our own battles, being fully relieved to come back alive -- and see the Shack awaiting.

Hey, why can't I fight as hard for the Shack as you would for the lighthouse -- which will never be allowed to fall?

By the by, for years now, I've been trying to get a real-time camera -- or a few -- mounted atop the lighthouse so mariners can tune in on computer or cell phones and actually see inlet and nearshore conditions. Barney would once again not only be serving a comforting role to mariners but return as a new type navigational aid. 

Eric, I can assure that I would be the first person fighting to the death if anyone or anything truly threatened the integrity of Old Barney – including nature. But thanks for coming forth to kick some ass over what you believe in. 

JUST KEEP PLUGGIN’:  Jay, Your blog got me into collecting old plugs. Through garage sales and eBay I’ve bought over 50. The big question now is whether you ever use them. I’m not talking the most valuable one but the more common vintage lures. S.W.


There are some LBI regulars who have plug collections numbering tens of thousands. In fact, I’ve long been wanting to do a story on one or two of those guys, a couple of whom spend literally every penny of extra income – and a load of essential life money -- on their collection. I bring them up because I have asked that same usage question and, to a man, they gave me an incredulous “of course.”

Now that I have hundreds of essentially entry-level vintage plugs, I see how that question becomes a no-brainer. There is almost an overwhelming compunction to try out even the rarest of vintage plugs.

I will add that the pro collectors often try out massively valuable plugs in, let’s say, controlled waters -- with little if any chance of an actual fish catching wind of the plug. That’s to see how it swims and looks. Afterwards, it’s hand-dried and babied back to its box and display case.

I’ve written a couple times about a buddy of mine checking out a just-acquired classic old plug. He was throwing it in the seemingly innocent waters next to the old flounder fishing ground near Hochstrasser’s, Ship Bottom. As we both admired the swim of the olden artificial, this springtime bluefish, with a head the size of a water-trained T-Rex, came out of nowhere. It somehow missed the plug. Afterwards, I just about had to administer CPR to the shaken plug collector.

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