Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Eelgrass for Survival and Dugongs;

The Real Shack Ready to Rise Again

If this heat is what global warming is gonna be all about, I’m changing globes.

This pummeling by hideous temperatures has me climbing the walls, albeit air-conditioned walls. I’ve noticed that even the Weather Service isn’t sure how to verbally contend with the base temperature values of late. It’s verbiage: “Sunny and warm. Highs in the low 90s.” Low 90s are merely “warm”?

At the same time, the LBI AC has been turned onto high, thanks to upwelling. While it’s nice to have air temps in the low 80s -- when the mainland is toying with low to mid 90s -- the majority of beachgoers would opt to have the air conditioning turned down a notch or two so they can cool in the ocean without suffering from thermal shock due to 60-dgree beachside waters. I can’t recall many summers where that lens of beachside cold water has hung on so doggedly.

Some might take solace in figuring the cold water will stave off tropical storm systems. It’s a case of too little, too close. You can just about flick a Frisbee out to the warmer water, just off the beach. Out where it matters, the ocean water is normal-ish, i.e. low to mid 70s, plenty sultry enough to feed a hungry hurricane.

On a hugely anecdotal scale, I’ve recorded a high correlation between heavily upwelled summers (cold beach waters) and exceptionally warm water showing in late summer and hanging throughout much of autumn. That’s not really what we want for fall fishing but correlations are meant to be broken.

Speaking of fall – and into winter – it looks more and more like La Nina is in the house, possibly in a big way. Here’s a somewhat technical -- but generally understandable -- snippet from NOAA, regarding the latest read on the ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) tendency.

“Given the strong cooling observed over the last several months and the apparent ocean-atmosphere coupling (positive feedback), the dynamical model outcome of a moderate-to-strong episode is favored at this time. Therefore, La Niña conditions are expected to strengthen and last through Northern Hemisphere Winter 2010-11.”

As recently as last week, there was some upper-level disagreement on how strong Nina might become. As seen above, she has seemingly moved in a load of luggage, indicating she’s overwintering.

Buying into a long-term winter prediction is a pig in a poke. I like that old saying because it entails eating cats. Google it.

I will offer my fearless forecast for the upcoming winter next week. I think you might like it.

EELGRASS GOURMETS: I received one of those savory emails I sometimes get from young’uns. It came from a 7th-grader asking if eelgrass can be used as food. He was one of the fishing folks being foiled by tons of eelgrass that topped much of the bay last month.

Eelgrass as food, eh? Right on, fellow freaky-thinker.

And eelgrass can surely be eaten. Let me get to that by going on a sentimental survivalist journey.

I have undergone survivalist courses during which everything from oozing algae to agnostic praying mantises to sulfur match heads were downed -- all in a display of man’s capacity to artificially devise life-and-death scenarios that wouldn’t befall even a career Special Forces member.

“Now, men, listen up. Today we’ll be simulating the evasive maneuvers and survival techniques that will come in handy when being tracked by a tribe of aboriginal pygmy lesbians brandishing atl-atls.”

“A tribe of what, brandishing what!?”

Sidebar (Get used to it, kid): Somewhat oddly, virtually all survivalist sessions entail instantly seeking something disgusting and borderline dangerous to eat – even when there’s a large mall and busy airport nearby. That “Eat this” thinking didn’t always sit so well with my innards. We used to modify the expression from “Eat this, or die” to “Eat this and die for sure.”

During my training, I had a hard time determining whether I had a distinct advantage or disabling disadvantage due to my vegetarianism. On the one dirty muddy hand, I could readily down roots, fungi, legumes and random shrubbery as if I were dining at an outback buffet.

Other handedly, after a week or so in the boonies, I would sit alone beneath some underbrush and smell the aroma of protein-esque snake meat being cooked over an open flame by the rest of the team. I feigned an organic disinterest in such a serpentine supper, but, all too often, my hidden desires rivered forth on little wings, working their way over to where the guys were pulling pieces of succulent medium-rare rattler off the bone. In fact (gospel truth), it was back then that I spontaneously expanded my diet by philosophically introducing fish as a ‘close enough relative” to plants. Hey, a few days in the bush and you’d accept Paris Hilton as a Rhodes scholar.

So …

Hey, where’d that kid with the eelgrass question go? Must be one of those attention deficit types.

If he’d have hung around, I would have schooled him on the fact that eelgrass, Zostera marina, has a prestigious place in the history of global dining. An archived report (1973) in the journal “Science,” reads, “Discovery of (eelgrass) nutritional value by the Seri Indians … occurs in the northern Gulf of California. The grain of eelgrass is harvested in the spring and formed an important part of traditional Seri diet and culture. This is the only known case of a grain from the sea being used as a human food source,” the report’s synopsis goes on to suggest, “Eelgrass has considerable potential as a general food resource for mankind.”

I have tried doing edible-ish thing with eelgrass. Firstly, I have munched on both fresh green and older blackish eelgrass blades.

For being so understated in size, eelgrass has a curiously strong marine flavor, not unlike that of, well, seaweed. It is also more than a tad tough. In fact, it’s easy to see why it has long been used as mulch, taking years on end to breakdown in a garden environment. With that in mind, an entire mouthful could have weigh-loss potential, considering it would take an entire day of calorie burning chewing to grind down. I once tried putting a big ball of it in the side of my jaw for a day.

“Whatcha got there in your chaw, Jay, a ball of tobacci?”

“Nope. Got me a big ole ball of eelgrass.”

“You’re off your meds again, ain’t ya, boy?”

Nearer reality, the closest I came to bringing eelgrass into my eating mainstream came about when I sun-dried it, ground it (mortar and pestle) and used it as a seasoning. Tweren’t bad at all, though getting every last atom of sand and grit off it is was essential. I still use that seasoning on serious seafood items.

I also tried making hot tea of dried eelgrass. Mouthful in. “Hey, this ain’t so bad …” Mouthful out. Yuk!

Interestingly, the digestibility of eelgrass is currently being closely studied in Japan. That isn’t overly surprising. Land of the Rising Sunners will try eating most anything from the sea, including older fiberglass boats. But the eelgrass research in Japan actually centers on foodstuff for their beloved dugong, the Asian version of the manatee.

The Japanese feel that manatee-like creatures are a reincarnate manifestation of their dead relatives. Personally, I’m not sure that I’d openly admit to having any relatives that resembled manatees. Still, there is an Asian effort to find the best vegetation to sustain the dugong population. Eelgrass is loaming large as a save-all, being very rich in nutritional stuff. Of course, if I were a worldly dugong, I’d be a good bit apprehensive about any Japanese “kind-hearted” efforts to fatten me up.

Translated from Japanese.

“Come over here, oh revered and respected dugong. We just need to take a few little ‘test” slices from your fat to see how you’re doing.”

“Oh, for crying out loud. You just tested me a few hours ago.”

“Oh, honored and admired creature of the gods, our concern never wanes.”


(Aside) “Here, Fujimoto, zip this over to the Tokyo Hilton restaurant.”

Back in America, the only place where I found folks actually dining on eelgrass came via a popular "foraging” website. That’s one of those sites that cater to new age folks who don’t need to be chased by lesbian pygmies to eat odd items. Per that site: “(Eelgrass) Rhizomes, stems and leaf bases are edible raw, and have a sweet, crisp taste. Rhizomes can be dried for storage. Eelgrass may contain herring spawn, which is also edible.”

That site kinda lost me with the “spawn” thing. Still, it seems eelgrass might someday be on menus. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if magically showed up as a pickled side dish to dugong sushi.

SHACK INCHES BACK: The Causeway Clam Shack is trying to come back. Don’t laugh. That’s cruel – and hopefully The Shack will hear you and send out a squadron of gulls to “season” your vehicle as you drive by.

In reality, that sadly sinking, sedge island, cedar-shaken, gunning hovel might not be as dead as it appears – and, at this point, it surely looks more like an artifact the pit bull dug up, as opposed to a working piece of architectural folk art.

In what amounts to manually dragging a deceased Phoenix from the phragmites ashes, an ongoing effort to save The Shack seems to be taking hold, with the help of Stafford Township and the Ocean County Historic Society. The current owner of the property, Chet Atkins (no relation), is on the brink of selling the township the parcel on which the famed landmark sits. However, that ownership thing is mired in a mud thicker than even the bay can offer.

The late-Wes Bell, the parcel’s former owner, and myself once all but microscopically waded through a batch of crumbling paperwork related to The Shack’s terrain. Looking over olden documents – dating back well over 125 years -- we went on an archival journey to, pretty much, nowhere. It was only after Wes added anecdotal findings that he was the self-proclaimed sure-fire owner. Worked for me. Now, it seems that same poorly papered trail is being trod by those trying to make things all clear and free – actually, one dollar will be charged for the land.

I have been close to the concerted early-on effort to rebuild Happy Days, the one-time name of the building. I know the folks who buttressed the failing form with 2-bys. Though that suring up seemed pathetically, little pathetically late, the fresh wood ribs might have bought just enough time, preventing the imminent collapse of the shack’s sides.

I am a couple thousand percent behind restoring The Shack. It does not have to brought back to its former glory. In fact, heaven forbid. The last thing we want to see is some new shack, just like the old shack. To me, a replica is utterly meaningless, tantamount to an act of newbies. It wouldn’t offer so much as shell of a memory. We have to maintain the magic of that landmark, a landmark everyone of an LBI/mainland ilk have grown up with. I’ve talked with locals, left and right. To a person, it is agreed that it is all but mandatory to keep as much of the original shack as possible.

I’ll be the first to admit that an old decrepit shack is the oddest of timeless institutions. Still, it’s a visual tradition of the highest order. To tourists it marks, “We’re here,” to locals it mark, “We’re home.” I can attest to that from my over travelative days. After a year or more on the worldwide hoof, I’d see be coming home, see that Shack and commence to shakin’ inside -- in a good way.

Anyway, a call will soon be going out for help in saving the old Shack. While money always works wonders, the needs list also includes old photos and old building materials, to realistically restore the building.

I’ll keep you posted.

LBI UNDERGROUND: You likely received your Long Beach Island Disaster Reentry Pass for 2010 to 2014. Do not take that bugger lightly. As the name clearly states, that’s the golden yellow pass to get you back on the Island after an emergency evacuation.

Take it from someone who’s been through a goodly number of hurricane-based evacuations, you’ll desperately want it when the storm departs and, 1) You’re worried to hell and back about your Island home, and, 2) You’re bored sick hanging out at the evacuation center at Southern Regional High School.

For me, that second one had me climbing the walls after Hurricane Someoneorother. I wanted to head home to Ship Bottom so bad I could taste it but when the all-clear horn sounded, the traffic on 72 was impenetrable, choked to a stop by hoards of touristy sightseers wanting to see destruction. That near voyeuristic post-storm human behavior is, in fact, why the passes came about.

But where does one keep this priceless pass? I’m half thinking it would cuddle nicely within that suggested quick-exit package that hurricane preparedness people suggest everyone have at the ready. In that package we’re all supposed to have essential evacuation goodies, like insurance policies, medical records, insurance cards, extra sets of vehicle and house keys, an M16 in case anarchy reigns. I’m absolutely not serious on that last one. I just wanted to see if you’re listening. Ammo, change of underwear …

By the by, that pass does not give you rights above and beyond central command. It kicks in only after emergency management gives the all clear.

RUNDOWN: Here’s a segment from my daily blog at http:jaymanntoday.ning.com:

I talked to a fellow who took some visiting friends out fishing for fluke. After hours of hooking – and one keeper – the captain heard those fateful words, “Is there anything else we can fish for?”

That, my fiends, is a very sticky question this summer. Stripers have bolted to wherever. Usually reliable bluefish do not like the warmer water. Weakfish are off the target board. Tog are plentiful but hardly worth rigging for, at one-a-day. The seabass count is way off, except maybe for sharpies that know all their hiding places. Tuna and mahi are looming large – providing you have the time and money. Blowfish and kingfish are all but AWOL. While catching is not the better part of fishing for many folks, it sure doesn’t hurt to also score some filets.

When I wrote that, I have to admit I dropped the garbage fish ball. I don’t know where my junkfish head was. I’m fully into tapping into those species that are considered – at very best – also ran, make that also bit. I got politely reminded of my angling shortsightedness by the man behind the garbage fish. Here’s his email: “Hey Jay - Brian from garbagefish.com here. I read your post yesterday regarding what's a catching and I concur. It's slim pick'ins out there as far as bringing home meat - but don't forget about those lovable skate which are blanketing the ocean right now. Dogfish have been making another showing too. Check out what I did with this tasty 12 pound doggy: http://www.garbagefish.com/images/pics/dog4.jpg.”

Hey, if folks want both variety and meat, it’s out there for the taking. I can’t think of a better year to experiment with what might be coyly called alternative species.

Fluking remains fast furious and, often, futile. I do like the way many anglers seem pretty contented when they get just a couple take-homes. I have to wonder how management interprets this massive nonstop fishing pressure. I doubt very much anyone would pull the plug early on NJ fluking 2010. Tradition has it that overages are allowed but manifest in the following year’s quota. That remains to be seen. Still, I can’t imagine 2011 not being a lot kinder to recreational fluke fishermen – though we know all too well the tricks that can be pulled when it’s time to divvy out poundage.

Here’s a pro report reflecting the fluking: “Well nothing new to report. Still averaging 15-20 fluke per hour and boxing 1 keeper for every 40-50 fish landed. For instance, on a recent trip we landed over 150, probably closer to 180, and brought home 3. I have seen a lot of kids with big smiles during trips. The fish are very aggressive often chasing your bait/lure in when reeling up. Sometimes they have even hit the baits at the top of the water. Capt. Alex F. Majewski, Lighthouse Sportfishing.”

Email: “I read with interest the article in this week's Sandpaper about the 276 pound tuna and their 3 hour fight with the fist. They deserve a lot a credit, besides the prize money.

I was telling this to my cousin, who just returned from a trip to Ascension Island. The captain of a local fishing boat landed a 275 pound tuna in about five minutes, using a bamboo pole, without a reel. The entire video of the catch, posted online about a month ago, can be seen at http://www.vimeo.com/13073967.

Interesting fishing technique, by the way. Gary K., North Beach.”

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