Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Blame the Weather Channel;

Beaches Get a Total Tattooing

In case you’re just getting back from some cozy prissy little winter-long jaunt – jealously oozes out of my ears and onto your lush rugs – we just got strong-armed by a full-contact winter, one for the books. You can always tell we’ve had a bad winter on LBI when you drive down the Boulevard and all the “Slow” signs have been replaced with “No Wake” signs.

Now, it seems that even spring has some sort of attitude. In fact, it seems the weather itself has developed something of a radical mind-set.

Using all my scientific training, I've come up with a precisely provable reason the weather has become so brutal, so extreme. Retro-studying the drastic weather around the world, I channeled in on a startling correlation between weather gone wild and the arrival of The Weather Channel.

There are some folks deluded enough to think that’s only because The Weather Channel made us profoundly aware of the weather out there, feeding us savage sky images from around the planet, 24/7 – while mixing in cool jazzy background music during local forecasts. But, I took things a scientific step further and deduced that The Weather Channel itself arrived with the onslaught of satellite-bounced TV transmissions. And where are those satellites? In the sky. And where does weather hang out? “Hmmm,” you offer.

Face it, the sky gets a perfect view of all the shows being beamed up and back, including all the X-treme shows. But the real attraction for the sky is surely The Weather Channel, and it’s high profile featuring of wild and wooly climate events.

It’s well accepted that the sky is pretty damn high on itself, as portrayed in quotes like “pie in the sky,” “The sky’s the limit,” and “Excuse me while I kiss the sky.”

My conclusion: Once the sky saw itself in all its weathery glory, via The Weather Channel, the sky became its limit. It now stays tuned to The Weather Channel every second of every day, obsessed with seeing itself on the screen. And, having already mastered the concept of Sweeps Week, it realizes it has to go big sky, bad and radical, to really hike its rating. Voila, weather more than willing to go extreme. And just wait until it gets nominated for its first Emmy – and loses!

BEACH BANG BINGO: While the snows have melted into the aquifers and the last freezes are petering out, the one thing we have to show for the recent blizzardy beatdowns and gnarly nor’easters is a battered, still reeling beachfront. Our beaches got tattooed, to coin an old expression.

As federally-contracted work crews try their hardest to replenish Harvey Cedars beaches – two steps forward and 1.5 steps backwards – many stretches of our beloved sands are looking anorectic, some having all but given up the ghost of drivability for beach buggies. Just wait until beachgoers get a gander at the sand loss when they go to lay their summer blankets down. This is the worst weather stretch we’ve plowed through since the ugly-erosion years of early 1990s.

I’d like to think this would spark a rethink process by those beachfront homeowner holdouts unwilling to sell their easements to allow beach replenishment, through the last such federal project of its kind in the nation. I’ll note the obvious: the preventing of beach and dune building by oceanfronters endangers everyone down the block and all the way to the bay. Very uncool.

I fret that, in the face of a major catastrophic storm, insurance companies could play a very black card, claiming that inadequate preventative efforts, i.e. the purposeful prevention of enhancing beaches and dunes, led to the loss of property -- meaning compensation payouts could be reduced or even eliminated. In case that seems like a long shot, insurance companies did, in fact, propose that very same “mitigating circumstance” after Hurricane Katrina. They only got as far as a state and federal admission that flood-prevention preparations were inadequate. But, insurance companies never sleep.

While flood insurance is federal, and would likely not go the we-ain’t-payin’ route, home/property insurances policies are underwritten by firms not afraid to at least consider an end-around to minimize payout damages in the case of a horrific hit.

OK, so I’m being as bleak as the day outside (Monday/Tuesday, raining into the 3-inch-a-day range with 40 mph winds), but we’ve got to get a grip on this beach-loss albatross around our necks. There’s not a job or business on this Island, my job included, that doesn’t rely on healthy happy beaches and dunes. If someone’s half-assing leads to the Island essentially going down the tubes, there will be hell to pay.

HOLGATE DOWN: Please allow me to continue waxing weathery (and woefully) this week – since I know a load of will be down for the Easter weekend.

That’s a leaden lead-in to Holgate, and its end times.

Many folks have been emailing and even calling, asking me about the status of the far south end. It ain’t lookin’ good, fellow Holgate aficionados.

On a couple storm occasions this winter, the ocean water crossed over Holgate and shook hands with the bay, the first time since 1962.

“Boy, I haven’t seen you in ages.”

“Well, you may be seeing a lot more of me, Dude.”

A potential chronic breaking point in Holgate is located maybe 1,000 feet south of the parking lot (end of Long Beach Boulevard.) Only 20 years back, at that very spot, there had been a quarter mile of shrubbery and even tree growth between the ocean and bay. Now, only a few doomed bayberry bushes and a stretch of bayside tidal meadow grass lie between the Atlantic and Little Egg Harbor.

Steve Atzert, manager of the Forsythe Wildlife Refuge (owners of the upland portion of Holgate), believes that the wilderness area of Holgate is actually gaining in acreage. However, overlaying high-altitude air photographs from 1980 with satellite shots from today, one can clearly see that the portion of beach we now drive on was the absolute heart of the wilderness area 30 years ago. The loss of eastward facing real estate – and, in particular, the loss of vegetation common to uplands -- is catastrophic.

I use the expression “end times” for Holgate in referencing the public access and use of the far south end by anglers. I’ll be the first to admit that Holgate is not melting away to nothing. It is instead being allowed to break away from the rest of the Island. When that occurs, LBI will be two miles shorter -- and the public will be deprived of a huge section of undeveloped beach. This is not kosher, either ethically or legally.

Yes, the refuge owns the land above the mean high tide line – a line so dynamic it is moving westerly with every storm. However, the state of New Jersey and its residents own not only below the mean high tide line but the public has legal rights to use the beach area, even that part owned by the federal government. In New Jersey, this beach-use right has been repeatedly born out in court cases.

It all comes down to when – and if – an effort will be made to keep Holgate part of LBI, via beach replenishment. Atzert has not totally panned the concept of a beach fix. However, holding to the letter of the Wilderness Act law, he states that no equipment can cross the Wilderness Area.

There is a proposed project (actually just an idea being bandied about) to pump bayside sand from the shallowing Intracoastal Waterway – killing two problematic shore birds with one stone. Atzert has said the running of temporary pipes outside -- and essentially around -- the Wilderness Area might be acceptable, providing the activity doesn’t interfere with migrating or nesting shorebirds and related wilderness area wildlife.

Atzert is by no means adopting or supporting any beach-fix plan. In fact, I’ve gleaned from interviews that Atzert feels the developing of a new inlet is a geological event that has historically taken place in Holgate. I, in fact, have even written about Holgate inlets (more often called Beach Haven Inlet) of the past, dating back hundreds of years. The inlets migrate southward and fill in behind, eventually recreating a two-mile Holgate, reattached to LBI. However, I resurrect the famed expression “You can’t jump in the same ocean twice” Things have changed beyond recognition since the last Holgate inlet. Along with million-dollar homes flush against the refuge, vulnerable to erosion from an expanding inlet, numerous businesses in the area rely on the tourist traffic created by the prospect of using the Holgate beaches.

While I had predicted a new inlet would form in Holgate maybe five to even ten years down the line, a few more wrathful winters like this past one and even the immediate future looks dim for a publicly accessible Holgate. A hurricane hit would do it in one felled swoop.

I personally see a win-win with replenishing the Holgate beachfront with sand pumped from the deepening of the bayside ICW channel – which must be kept deep and navigable, via federal laws. However, the sands that were once the Holgate beachfront are now sandy shoals, located southeast of Beach Haven Inlet. As I’ve oft-noted in here, that sand cache holds enough material to pump up another Long Beach Island or two. It could rebuild all of Holgate in nothing flat – and would not necessarily impact the refuge.

RAINS WORTH CROAKING OVER: So is all this rain and melt off useful in any ways? A ton of ‘em.

Watersheds are bursting, which we’ll sorely need for the scalding hot and dry summer coming up. Creeks (properly pronounced cricks) are flowing so high that kayak and canoe folks are dripping with anticipation of the upcoming days of temps near 80 (by Easter). The deciduous greenery we’ll soon see blasting forth will be epically lush. But the greatest gleaners of rain-sent benefits are out there all but drunk with excitement. To tilt the title of classic country singer/songwriter Jerry Chesnut’s “A good year for the roses” it’s going to be exactly that for the frogs. If ever there was a spring to do a post-sunset drive to a wetlands area just to take in the frog choruses, this is it.

As of this weekend, you’ll hear a veritable aural assault from spring peepers.

Spring peepers are the showstoppers of spring. They offer easily the loudest prolonged clamor made by any creature in North America, albeit for just a few short weeks.

When peepers are poppin’ there is virtually no break in the sound barrage. I won’t call it deafening but in some wet areas the sound can cross your eyes after a while. CIA agents are taught to put tight-lipped suspects in among spring peepers until they sing. “They’re driving me crazy. I’ll talk.”

For some really fun frog-based ‘puter fun, go to http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/ensp/fieldguide_herps.htm.

That website, “Online Field Guide for Reptiles and Amphibians” offers a free listen to the call of every NJ frog and toad species. Scroll down to “Frog and Toad” section and click on the “Call” link. Then click on “Open.” Within a short time you’ll hear the sound of that species’ mating call. You can also order the excellent CD to hear longer versions.

TRUE TALE: I have inordinate fascinations with the lives and times of frogs. I’ve held them in high esteem since I can’t remember when.

As a mere entry-level kid, I vividly recall my grandmother was clearing her throat, looked at me and nonchalantly said, “I have a frog in my throat.”

I was mortified. That was the most awful news I had heard to that point in my life. I was real close to my grandmother but even at that tender age I was also assuming a high regard for frogs. The thought of her casually downing frogs rattled my world. And was I genetically destined to someday develop such a taste? The weight of the world was thrust upon me.

It was shortly after that esophageal frog episode that my grandma was scurrying around the kitchen, making red Jell-o (with tiny shreds of carrots trapped inside), when she blurted out, “I don’t know where my head is at today.”

In such a short time span, I was seeing an entirely new side to this woman. My first reaction to her head loss was to simply point out that it appeared to be right where it should be, but I was still way out of sorts over the frog thing so I instead began making half-hearted gestures to look for her head under the couch and behind easy chair pillows. She asked me what I was doing and I told her I was looking for her lost head. In a heartbeat, she charged me -- and gave me one of those suffocating bosomy grandma hugs. I do remember feeling really relieved I was in her good graces -- now that I knew how odd she could be.

RUNDOWN: The bassing is fair to good at Graveling Point. The upper part of tide offers more water and a seemingly enhanced bite, through dropping tide. But, per usual, it’s more a matter of winds than the tides out there. While south winds are the main action activator, too much of a good thing can make standing around barely worth the wait between hits. And you can surely feel the cold ocean winds out there this time of year.

I chatted with a Mullica angler who has three “good-sized” keepers in three trips. “That’s as good a keeper rate as I’ve ever gotten this early on,” he told me, adding he’s into his 40th year of bassing thereabouts. Of late, he’s been mixing bloods and fake-o worms. He knows all kinds of alternative fishing sites along the river so I’m not sure he’s doing the Point or not.

Bassing is decent at the Rte 9 OC bridge.

The LBI beachfront surely holds stripers but trying to find a chink in the wicked wind/weather’s armor is a tough go. This arriving batch of sunny and hot weather might render the surfline operational for bait casters. Make sure to really check out beach conditions before bolting on in your buggy. I’ve tried to monitor the erosion but it just doesn’t stop, especially when prolonged 40 mph south winds eat way at the sand and suddenly switch over to north winds at the same speed.

That odd and early run of bluefish seems to have moseyed on. That is not a disappointment to those rigged and ready to greet arriving spawn-sized weakfish – for catch-and-release. It sure seems the weakies hang longer, bridge-wise, when the blues aren’t harassing everything in sight. It’s not so much the springtime blues are big enough to threaten spawning sparklers but the Jersey piranhas sure as hell scare off the herring and bunker that pack in around the spans. The routing of those forage fish turn weakies toward grass shrimp, over in the west bay.

LBI winter floundering is really taking its good old time getting a move on it. This is not to say sharpies aren’t giving it their all, from tons of chum to assorted baits -- issued for hours on end. It simply seems the main overwintering holes, like Hochstrasser’s, are still holding the fish, per folks angling thereabouts. In fact, the bridges may be the best bet for this holiday weekend, though ocean bound flounder scoot along much faster than you might think. Blackbacks at the Causeway during the day can easily reach Harvey Cedars that night. In the past, I’ve written about monitoring underwater cams and seeing flounder literally flying by, off the bottom in some instances. Whether they were hauling along at that pace or were spooked by the cameras is hard to say but it proved they could accelerate in a heartbeat.

Nature-wise, there are seals even in the far backbay. There is a load of otter around the Causeway bridges, more than usual. The resident minks at the New South jetty are getting brazen, stealing bait from rock anglers (see photo this column).

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