Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report
A Hankerin’ For Holgate:
Sharks Every Whichaway
No sooner do we put out one SandPaper than you folks expect another one. I should have gotten into a career of, say, statue building. “There. Done. Called me in a hundred years or so.”
My main umbilical to the real world has become Facebook. It’s got nothing to do with living vicariously through others. Instead, there’s something oddly comforting in knowing that everyone else lives as boringly as I do. “That’s not a real sand crab. That’s too small to be a real sandcrab.”
My main off day, sleepy Sunday, is both a high point and slow point. Church is nice. Then beach volleyball is fine fun. Then, I hit the brakes, plop down and watch NASCAR as race cars go ‘round and ‘round and ‘round for something like 400 laps – albeit occasionally crashing and bursting into flames.
I veg through NASCAR to watch the driving skills of born-and-raised local, Martin Truex Jr., currently hanging tough in the fully prestigious Sprint Cup.
Martin is from our very own Mayetta. That’s M-A-Y-E-T … It’s down Route 9 a ways. Take my word for it.
HOLGATE HANKERIN: I bring up summer tedium as a lush lead-in to the arriving Holgate beach-buggy days, waiting with open arms, starting Saturday afternoon, September 1. Now, if the entrance would only be so open-armed.
With the help of a storm-free summer, that iffy piece of drive-on beach – right past the overlook area near the parking lot – currently seems passable. Of course, an entire summer of accrued Holgate sand can go missing faster than you can say, “Gale warnings.”
Despite the sand speed limit being a mere 20 mph, the Holgate wilderness is a warp-speed escape. Its couple miles of undeveloped LBI sands are like fresh manna covered with a crust of karma and covered in a mellow Zen icing.
Less cosmic is the likelihood this will be the last autumn/winter before serious sand pounding must take place in Holgate. The erosion remains merciless.
Should the sands go bust in a single flash of sky fury, emergency replenishment could reign supreme. That’s a state thing. A fed fix, i.e. full-blown replenishment, is a lot more effective.
Right now, I see the Holgate entrance as being opened, then closed, then opened, and then closed. It won’t take long before getting on and off becomes an unbearable strain in the ass.
Worrisomely, that open/close scenario -- and the hefty mechanical repairs it entails -- costs Long Beach Township a mint. Methinks they just won't foot the bill or the public works manpower much longer.
HELP ME WITH HIGHLIGHTS: I got my first laptop computer and have also been graced (website donation) with a sweet GoPro video camera. I’m hell-bent on collecting written and visual images to memorialize the excellent thoughts, times and scenes from the South End. When its terminal erosion becomes just that, I should have some stunning visual evidence to convince legislators to step up and power-sand Holgate back to its former wide-beach glory.
You can help. Be ye beachcomber, birdwatcher, mobile angler, mudflats clammer, back-cut beach boater, wet sand jogger or even a strolling temporary tourist (daytripper), I need help recording the good-old times – as they’re happening. Take it all down, via cameras, smartphones, even prosody. Family shots are worth their weight in gold.
WORLDLY WELK: Here is yet another reason why Asian eating idiosyncrasies are driving me conservationally crazy.
This week, the Boston Globe exposed the next ungreat “gold rush” in seafood harvesting – and, once again, it cuts into our home waters like a tanto sword through hot butter.
Inauspiciously rising to the top of Asian menu boards is our lowly channeled whelk, sometimes called “conch,” to which it’s related.
Locally, whelks have also been called “winkies.” Not by me. To hear a grizzled baymen saying something like, “Oh, look at all the nice winkies I dug” makes me somehow uncomfortable.
The uncomely whirled whelk is suddenly glittering like a rhinestone cowfish. I’m not sure what a rhinestone cowfish is but it shows how crazy I’m getting over ravenous Japanese eaters and their Far Eastern friends. Once they get a taste-on, it’s pretty much doom for the tastee.
Not that we’ve ever been overly supportive of our whelk life. Most baymen think of a whelk as little more than a clam-killer. In non-prejudicial reality, this huge snail is as important to the bay as any mudslinger out there. In fact, that “clam-killer” crap is typical of humanity’s prissiness. A big-ass bay whelk is full for weeks after dining on a single chowder clam. A belly-bouncing human will down a couple dozen clams in a single sitting -- and waddle back to the raw bar for more.
When I treaded clams for tuition money, I was kinda kind to toe-stubbing whelks. To me, they were cool -- in a gooey, extraterrestrialish kinda way. When first pulled out of the muck, the slimy, bulbous, Jabba-like foot of a whelk slowly draws back into the shell. That look alone made it tough to think in edibility terms, even though I had a few seasonal Italian customers who took as many “scungilli” as I could catch – at a buck a pop. By the time I handed the conchs over, they often had this awful eruption of white goo bubbling out. Bon Appétit -- or however the hell you say it in Italian.
Turns out those Italianos knew of what they ate. The super surge of Asian interest toward the taste and texture of whelk meat had goosed the prices far above that of tuna or lobster.
And price kills.
In New England and the Chesapeake Bay area it’s becoming a deadly “gold rush” for channeled whelks.
Per the Boston Globe story, whelking, as a $6 million a year industry, is damn near compensating for the insane profit dive in lobstering.
And with all such Asian-based seafood rushes comes the inevitable, “Fishermen in southern New England have been so successful that state officials now say that unless significant conservation measures are implemented soon, the little-known industry will be in danger of collapse.”
So what else is new?
Adding another conservational sour note to a swan song for whelk is the fact that most are taken in pots or traps and the prime bait is crushed horseshoe crabs.
By the by, our local baymen have rights to harvest our state’s whelk resource. What works for me is using this big-Yen Asian interest to hike the whelk worth into the stratosphere, meaning a controlled take of Jersey conchs sucks in the greatest buck-bang for baymen.
Case in profit point: Demand for Eastern Seaboard American “glass” eels has hiked the price of a single pound to well over $1,000. In fact, if there were any glass eels around, $1,000 for half a pound is not out of the realm of Asian possibility. That just shows that astute sustainable harvesting can bring in a mint.
WAKE ME FOR SHARK WEEK: I should be way too scientifically cool to fall for something as contrived as The Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” knowing the dorsal-y, ratings-seeking, summer spectacle is wrought with lens-enhanced fish antics and a whole buncha ratings-minded hullabaloo.
Well, call me an antics-loving, hullabalooed mutt but I was all but leading the pack of hundreds of millions viewers who dove in headfirst.
I ushered in Shark Week by watching five straight hours of insane South African great white shark action.
I’m still awed – damn near outta the water – by “Air Jaws Apocalypse.” It is the re-mind-blowing continuation of TDC’s Emmy-nominated great white shark series, “Ultimate Air Jaws.”
Back again are the flying great whites off South Africa, in the vicinity of seal-covered Seal Island. This time they soar in even higher-def color and focus.
In the latest sequel, we are introduced to Colossus, the name given to a “Jaws”-dropping behemothy shark, likely the most humungous great white in the high-flying seal-biting business.
And a cool name it is, especially in light of the “Jaws’ automaton shark(s) being named Bruce -- making the homicidal Carcharodon sound as if it was more inclined to put on make-up and prowl San Francisco Bay Park at night.
Colossus is not only real but also an extreme showman to boot. Virtually everywhere the nutso team of shark researchers and photographers went, up pops the monstrosity.
Talk about playing to the cameras. At one point Colossus struts its stuff before a bottom-sitting camera – for nearly three hours straight. It kept flexing past the reflective camera device like a bodybuilder in a final “pose-off.” Even the researchers began getting a sense the big boy was playing to the audience.
Of utter interest to me was the astoundingly superior skin on the two-ton ogre. Yep, it’s skin. I’ll explain.
The semi-official world record for the largest recorded tagged-and-released shark goes to a 17.9-foot, 4,226-pound great white captured off Baja Mexico, highlighted in a NatGeo series entitled “Shark Men.” It was dubbed Apache.
Per close-up photos, that biggest of the great white bad-asses was gouged, battered, bitten and bruised. Per a Shark Man, "He was all scarred up and had big marks all over him. You could tell he was just a bad-ass shark."
However, I begged to differ, based on street smarts. Sure Apache is big and bad but I’d like to know who the hell gave him those scars.
Now back to Colossus. Its skin could win some sort of Aveeno “Nicest Bad-ass Skin” contest. Barely a mark to be seen.
Apache: “What you lookin’ at, sardine breath!?”
Colossus: “Uh, you talkin’ to me, son?”
Apache: “No, I’m talkin’ to those ugly little fish under your dirty fins.”
Ugly Little Fish: “Oh boy, Apache pieces for dinner!”
DEATH LEFT BEHIND: A barely touched upon and uglyish side-note to the famed scientific studies of leapin’ whites really jumped out and bit me.
The scientists working Seal Island inexplicably decided to haul their shark-taunting methodology – trolling a fake seal behind a boat -- back to a beach area, a high human-usage beach area.
The huge number of juvenile white sharks habitually feeding on fish right in the surfline, literally in among the swimmers and waveriders, fascinated the insatiably fanatic sharkologsists. Seal Island was not that far off.
Those seemingly serene smaller sharks wanted nothing to do with the surly seal hunts.
That makes a load of sense, considering the insane size of the average soaring shark on the hunt for seals.
That beach zone had settled into a fully non-contentious interplay between beach bathers and the men in gray suits. It had been well over twenty years since a shark had even nibbled on a human along that entire coastline -- much less kill one.
And its not like these beachside great whites were beach bunnies. We’re talking sharks over seven feet in length and capable of downing even a human in a single bound. They simply had no hankerin’ for man meat.
Then, over zips the sharkmeisters and don’t they commence to trolling an imitation seal back and forth in the swim zone -- using the same luring action that so-successfully launched massive whites into arguably the most savage attacks in all of nature.
The highly questionable intent of the researchers was to see if juvenile whites could be urged to go airborne.
While the provocateurs didn’t get the younger whites to go aero, they seemed to fire ‘em up one good. After days of coaxing, the beach whites became more and more agitated but wouldn’t jettison themselves.
Oh, well. Some scribbled notes we entered onto a journal page, as the scientists and moviemakers left South Africa, scurrying back home to bundle their footage and make some serious cable channel cash.
But there was a worrisome postscript waiting in the watery wings. Only a week after the shark teasers had departed, a young surfer in a seal-black wetsuit paddled out in usually carefree waters and is savagely killed by a shark -- a brutal attack, unlike anything ever recorded thereabouts. To me, it was the type of overkill attack a once-mellow shark would loose after being shown the ropes by humans. Give a new essence to “Air Jaws Apocalypse.”
SHARKS HEREABOUTS: As if attuned to The Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” we had a couple major shark events real close to home. Most everyone saw the snapshot taken of a truly atrociously-toothed 7-foot sharkstrocity, caught by a kayaker off Ocean City and pulled ashore for photos and a press conference. It was supposedly unhooked and released unharmed – short of a big hit to its in-water pride.
“A frickin’ kayaker, Mel. Are you kidding me? You got caught by a frickin’ kayaker?”
“Hey, I did it on purpose, OK? I musta been on ten TV channels.”
The ferociously dentured beast was improperly dubbed a thresher – the name now all but automatically hung on any shark with a tail. I chuckled off the a suggestion it was a mako. That kayaker would be floundering somewhere in the mid-Atlantic had it been a mako of that size.
The surreal smile of this fish instantly indicated it was sand tiger shark, bearer of arguably the ugliest and toothiest smile in a shark realm notorious for beastly chops. It is more coolly called a rag-tooth shark.
Then there’s the viral video placed on YouTube by Angyfish.com. To see it, type in “Shark feeding frenzy NJ.”
It’s a damn-impressive 2:45-minute video of a bunker ball being annihilated by sharks off Island Beach State Park, not far from Barnegat Inlet. There were a number of sharks going airborne, maybe 50 yards out.
Once again, the thresher shark misnaming took place shortly after the release of the video. Not a prayer. The mannerisms of the flying sharks sure as hell look like black-tips or spinners, species recently photographed off Loveladies.
Shark stat for bathers: For every one shark you think you’ve seen, hundreds have seen you.
Another shark exchange:
“Whadda ya thing, Mel?”
“Well, there sure are a load of ‘em splashin’ around out here but they’re all bones, Luke.”
“And frickin’ noisy if ya grab even one of ‘em.”
RUN-DOWN: Fluke fever continues to flame on, unabated.
I will incur the wrath of the absolute minority by saying the fluking and weakfishing are borderline epic. Somehow a few anglers aren’t cashing in. Sympathies.
On the weakfish front, I remain a tad surprised at the fine size of many releases. I had figured these later runs of weaks would all be spikes at best.
I have to believe we are going to see insane night weakfishing near Barnegat Inlet as the accumulated biomass moves out next month.
I caught some good static this weekend. I had written there was better surf fluking was on the south part of the Island. Three different folks got hold of me and raved about some of the best fluking they have ever seen – and it was mid-Island northward. One gal was ecstatic, having bagged out for the first time ever. Another said, “We’ve been eating fluke every night.”
How about this fluking email for shortness and pointedness: “twenty four inches five pounds, off the surf in surf city.”
Some of the more common Facebook pics show folks who have culled out their fluke catches to take home only the biggest and prettiest.
I have often noted that fluke is one of those rare fish, like tuna, with meat that stays delicious be the fish small, medium, or large.
Headboats are hitting slammer blues out quite a ways. That was a huge fishery in years past, and then it went a bit quiet.
It’s astounding the way the massive so-called offshore stock of truly massive bluefish never comes in close. There were years where literally miles and miles of big blues were offshore in the all and we couldn’t buy weigh-ins for the LBI Surf Fishing Classic.
Panfishing is remarkable. Blowfish, spot, kingfish, scup, small seabass, triggers. Keep light gear and small hooks handy.