Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report
Now we’re even, all ye summer folks.
The Island kinda owed the tourist public a weekend after that Irene debacle. Well, this past weekend was one for the perfection books. And not many folks missed this reimbursement weekend. The beachfront was truly as busy – and, admittedly as inviting -- as any summer day. It added up to possibly the most crowded fall weekend ever seen on LBI. I kid you not.
The ocean-to-dune people coverage made it a no-go for mobile anglers. However, walk-on surfcasters – and, face it, utterly fair-weathered casters -- were all over the shoreline. Coincidently, it looked like summer (beachgoers) and fall (anglers).
I did most of my time on the far South End (Holgate), the only area that could be driven without major conflicts with lounge-abouters. That’s not to say there wasn’t a super slew of south end strollers, willing to hoof the 1.5 miles wilderness-ish Holgate sands. However, everyone I ran into -- make that, everyone I passed by -- were super friendly. I got nary a bad look or a growl, as I inched by them in my truck. Wave at one little kid and you win over the whole family.
Heinous Violation alert! (Blink-blink, nod-nod): I was seeking nature photographs by looking deeply into the off-limits refuge via my crystal-clear Zeiss binoculars. And, lo and what-the-hell, I inadvertently got a gander at something more naturist than natural in nature. A couple scofflaw gals had illegally wiggled back into the refuge foliage (south of the Osprey Nest) and had gone shockingly topless among some startled laurels. Disgusting! (Blink-blink, nod-nod). No, I did not take a snapshot – you pre-vert! My camera lens wasn’t powerful enough … I mean, I would never!
Both a lot and very little to gab about, fishing-wise.
BALLS AND SNAGS: There are now a lot of serious bunkerballs showing nearshore, per fall tradition – ever since bunker-rendering factory ships were forced, by statute, to cool their heels off the Jersey shore. I’m not saying they weren’t good folks, but for anglers -- and even local commercial fishermen -- it was good riddance.
For the many newer folks to this column – and for whatever reason, tons of first-timers have contacted me of late – a bunkerball is an expression I coined to combine the common term baitball (or tightly packed school of forage fish) and our famed and vital bunker, arguably the most important forage fish in the western Atlantic.
As for the fishing significance of bunker balls, up jumps another phrase coinage on my part, snag-and-drop.
Snag-and-drop is now fairly refined angling technique whereby a snaghook – often a large weighted treble – is cast or dropped into a bunkerball then is fiercely jerked through the baitball until a single bunker is foul-hooked. The snagged bait is then allowed to immediately drop to the bottom, where sometimes dozens of large/larger/largest bass are bottom lurking, gluttonously waiting for just such forage fallout. Once on the drop – with bunker in tow -- a snaghook then assumes its role as a regular always-nasty treble.
Snag-and-drop is now a near obsessive craze among boat anglers, who can easily pull atop massive bunker balls for the ultimate upward-jerking snag angle. However, surfcasters have long used this method from a beach slant, by distance-casting weighted snaghooks into near-beach bunker balls and whipping it (often sidearm) through the baitballs. Same theory applies: Feel the solid snag and let the wounded bunker fall to the bottom.
Point of fact, snag-and-drop likely originated with surfcasters -- quite possibly here on LBI -- who first developed this method by using far-flying Hopkins to snag the bunker. It then evolved into large bare trebles, hung off dropped loops and weighted with metals or sinkers.
There are some boat anglers who snag a bunker then bring it in to re-hook, mainly for better and more solid hook placement. That’s fully nonfunctional in the surf since the whole concept is getting a hook way out to the bunkerballs. There’s absolutely no recasting a huge bunker – on even a peanut bunkie – back out that far out.
While most tackle shops carry a line of variously sized/weighted snaghooks, a number of hardcore surfcasters have begun to make/modify snaghooks for ultimate efficiency. Just this weekend, Kurt H., Beach Haven, showed me a killer treble snaghook he had poured, using a huge treble and a far subtler showing of lead, compared to production models. The thing looked vicious.
By the by, snaghooks cast as far an anything out there, even a Hopkins. It’s a combination of low wind resistance, small size, and yet very goodly weight. I have seen a couple hyper-heavers easily surpass 100 yards distances in wind-assisted casts. That’s over a football field out there – and easily a touchback. (Stinkin’ Eagles!) .
I will note that distance can work against the snagging process. Too much line in the wind, so to speak, reduces the strength of snag, due to both line lag (slack) and line stretch (mono). Still, there’s many a time when it takes a Danny Moeskops cast to reach far-out bunkerballs. Danny holds the world record with a tournament distance cast of a nearly incomprehensible 313.46 yards. Go back to that football field analogy and think in terms of three fields, end-to-end – and Danny’s lure landed on the 15-yard line of the forth field!
BLUEFISH OVERGALORE: The good news is there remains a ton of bluefish. The really bad news is there remains a ton of small bluefish.
Tackle shops finally had a hit of a weekend, the busiest angler showing since like July 4th. Mullet and bunker were flying out the door – on odd sight, in deed. The mullet look a lot like small bats when on the wing.
Following the bait buys came the upside of a million or so 1-pound bluefish in bay, inlets and surfline: everyone who threw out reeled in a fish – or as many as bait supplies would allow.
Concurrently, those anglers quickly tiring of small blues couldn’t turn them off. I went from plugging small lures – and literally hooking a bluefish per cast near Nebraska Avenue on Monday – to the biggest plugs in the box and damn if those one-pounders didn’t somehow get their mouths imbued on those oversized trebles, often just grabbing just one of the three hooks.
As for the now AWOL choppers (big blues over, say, 8 pounds), I thought Saturday’s jumpstart of the 8-week Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic would show there were at least a few slammers (also big blues over, say, 8 pounds) cruising about. Apparently not. No blues over 32 inches came to the event’s scales – and just one would have been worth a petty penny in cash and prizes.
Back to those bunny blues (one-pounders), those royally ravenous mullet and spearing chasers should be history by now, driven out in panic by always cannibalistic bigger blues. Small blues watch life go from predator to prey in a slammer instant. However, La Nina is dealing a whole new hand this fall, as opposed to last fall – or El Nino years. I took an unheard of 64-degree ocean temp on Sunday, with even warmer water coming out of the sun-heated bay. Where chopper blues are historically ripping through the system by now, their sky-high metabolism requires massive amounts, dangerously lacking in warm water. At the same time, there is a huge natural calendar that require the big blues be somewhere on a given date. It’s not impossible that the tourney-desirable choppers will speed through the area in nothing flat if considerably cooler water doesn’t soon hit home hereabouts.
By the by, snag-and-drop is allowed in the Long Beach Island Fishing Classic.
For the first read on the Classic, immediately go to http://lbift.com/. I’ll be blogging on the subject for my next column.
BIRDS BACK: Nature always has the final say. And it has been talking loud and clear of late, announcing all is well in the shorebird realm.
Just a few columns back, I openly wondered if there was a shortage of shorebirds this year. And here on LBI there sure seemed to be a dearth of wading birds and such. I also noted that it might simply be a case of our zone temporarily falling out of annual avian graces. So it seems. Bayside and south end LBI has suddenly been absolutely saturated with egrets, herons, oyster catchers (in unheard of flock sizes), sanderlings (out the kazoo), raptors and hundreds of juvenile pelicans. It sure seems most had gone a bit north for the summer, possibly due to the scalding hot weather we had early on last spring.
I recently met the new manager of the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, Virginia Rettig. Seems very nice – and a fervid birder, with a background in the Jersey shore.
In our short chat at Holgate, the new manager said she hopes to become more involved with refuge issues and activities relating to Southern Ocean County. It all seemed quite upbeat.
LOOK AGAIN: While cruising toward the Island on Rte. 72, you might have sensed something somehow visually different as you crossed Bonnet Island. The refuge’s wildlife area on the south side of the road like looks more open and natural. True enough. A huge, night-lit roadside billboard, right before the second to last bridge onto LBI, blew down -- and that’s all she wrote for that landmark signage, there since the 1950s. Since the billboard was on refuge property, it can’t be rebuilt. Though it was there prior to the refuge obtaining the property, no grandfathering allowed here. Say hello to a sweeter view.
HOLGATE HAPPENING: Time and ocean penchants are not on our side.
Although Long Beach Township Public Works personnel did overtime suring up the base of the access road (coming onto and off the beach at the overlook), the fact the earthmoving equipment was in the water for the entire sure-up process, sadly shows even a minor storm will routinely end any and all Holgate access. Very disturbing. For a look at just how bad it is, go to www.jaymanntoday.ning.com.
As for the remainder of the Holgate run to the Rip, it’s looking exceptionally smooth. We’ll overlook the minor fact the entire Island is breaking at the Osprey Nest area and focus on the way you can readily buggy to the end, except during the highest of tides.
Buggyists have etched a drive-through among the dead forest shrubberies. Just go slowly through the twisted tree skeletons, they can gouge paint off if hit wrong.
Enjoy the south ending now. The catastrophic clock is ticking down the hours the it will remain as one.
SPEARING SCARE: The lack of a fall spearing run has gone from weird to alarming. These tiny forage fish are way more important than one – or many -- might think. They fill predators bellies for the long winter haul.
Not that it’s overly apropos, but I believe that’s this fall’s speedy pullout of surfside fluke (season closed) was due to the absolute no-show of the annual underwater rivers of spearing.
Over the weekend, I heavily threw cast net, meaning my eyes were pinned to the bottom. (Ouch. I don’t think I like that simile.) I saw four spearing. Not four schools -- or four rivers --but four lone spearing, huddled as if one of them was about to deal some Texas Hold’em poker.
Semi-related is the dearth of needlefish this fall. Needlefish live and breath spearing, to the exclusion of most other forage fish, except the rarer-than-spearing rainfish. I’ve seen only a few dozen needles where there is usually a never-ending needlefish migratory passage. Again, weird.
PLUG PRATTLE: One of my new BFPs (best frickin’ plugs) is a once-mangled recycled lure. I’ve idly taken a couple royally ruined 5- and 7-inch Red Fins and very carefully belt sanded down the lip, took them clean away. Now, they’re pretty much elongated torpedoes.
When reeled in, this mutated plug firstly performs fairly straight runs, much like a needlefish plug. But, when popped, via a rod tip zip, it jumps forward with a hyper-realistic right-hand speed turn. A confused looking baitfish is ever there was one.
A lipless Red Fin can also be walked (snake action) via a series of rod tip jerks or even coaxed to swim a few feet underwater, with a fast retrieve action. What’s more, it cast very well and looks super in the shorebreak.
I’m high on these tortured artificials after they were the only thing that got me off the striper snide this fall -- taking hit after hit from schoolies in the Holgate shorebreak last weekIf salvaging (recycling) a Red Fin into this lipless shape, extreme care is needed not to sand through the plug and into the hollow. If you break through – or purposely do so to weigh the plug for further casting -- patch up the openings with quality two-part epoxies or resins. By the by, all your best epoxies and resins can take color perfectly. A few drops of common pigments work perfectly.