Warmth Needed to Spark Spring
For those of you of-Island, this week began with exactly what we didn’t need: Wicked NE winds and a wind-chill that put a real sting into spring. Throw in an oil slick and you’ll get a feel for just how crappy it was out there.
(I realize that by the time many folks are reading this a large bubble of very mild air arriving from the middle of the country will be in place and this’ll be one of those “What you missed” things.)
From Sunday through Tuesday (deadline), it was just this side of bitter out there, when skin met the gusts arriving off the ocean, coated with the feel of 44-degree water. I was a-beach for various reasons and attest to the frosty discomfort level -- knowing that in a future-shock flash I’ll be out on that same beach grumbling about scalding hot winds and the merciless sun of summer. By the by, I’m predicating a ferociously hot summer with nary a drip of rain – short of any tropical systems we might meet up with.
This latest blow apparently put on an ugly coat as it visited Island Beach State Park. A frothy oily algae-based scum covered almost the entire length of the park’s beachfront. The oil element – secondary to the organic material -- didn’t seem quite bad enough to present a death coating for migratory birds, however, it could be real bad news when coupled with this cooler weather since even a touch of oil on a bird’s feathers can reduce its ability to stave off lower air temps. Park officials described the beach covering as “algal” but I have my doubts, especially after receiving this video clip: http://s78.photobucket.com/albums/j108/bionicbob48/?action=view¤t=2004_0121Image0002.flv. NOTE: The narration in this clip is unedited, i.e. uncensored.
The departing storm was not a huge rainmaker. Runoff was fairly minimal. The amount of road-wash and sewer-stuff that flushed into the bay was likely not enough to stunt the reproductive plans of pollution-sensitive weakfish, arriving to spawn in the shallows of western bay areas. However, we really need a warm-up to make things comfy for the catch-and-release tiderunners rushing our way.
Yes, these huge weakfish – some to 25 pounds in recent springtime runs -- can only be caught and released. Not officially, mind you. However, I have it on good authority that a band of thug-ian Hell’s Angels will soon be patrolling on their blazing “Hogs” to protect the roe-filled sparklers.
No, I’m not frickin’ serious! But, it is the doubly overwhelming consensus of anglers that virtually all large early spring-run weakfish should be allowed to spawn, assuring the future of local stocks. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a blast fishing for these wild, hard-hitting and astoundingly fierce-fighting whooper weakfish. Enjoy – then release.
Most of my weakfishing comes at night in spring. I’m always amazed at how much muscle larger weakfish gain over their spike days. When related to bluefish of equal size, small sparklers aren’t even the fighting ballpark of the blues. A cocktail blue can handily drag around three equal-sized weakfish. Even a medium blue can annihilate a similarly sized weakfish in a mixed martial arts fight. However, something happens when weakfish get up in the 10-pound range. While blues are bulldogs at that size, weakfish are suddenly right up there, muscle-wise.
The largest weakie I ever caught, not only ripped line off my medium surf reel with impunity, it dragged my kayak backwards, against the frickin’ wind. I had it pegged for monster bluefish. It fought the same. That battle-par-excellence trait is yet another reason to catch-and-release all tiderunners. In that way, they’ll surely fight another day.
Oh, one other point. While my fishing skills always come into question (primarily by me), I am a damn good chef and fully qualified to validate the fact that flesh of spawn-ready weakfish (and many other about-to-spawn species) is drained of flavor. Their bodies are putting all juices into reproductive demands, depleting many of the compounds that make fish tasty to eat.
By the by, there are two fishing related businesses coming to the area.
The earlier one is a shop called Barnegat Outfitters. It will soon open in Beach Haven and carry the top-shelf Orvis line of products, including the legendary fly-fishing gear and equipment.
Later this year, Boater’s World, a chain subsidy of Ritz Camera Center, will open next to the Ming Dynasty Buffet, Rte. 72, Manahawkin. That’s what the work being done there now is all about. I
It would be nice if both of these businesses got involved with locale angling events – and join the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce.
TOE ORDINANCE BOOTED FOR NOW: Quite a few folks went to the Long Beach Township commissioners’ meeting, even though the subject of the toe-of-the-dune was tabled, meaning it was not even going to be talked about. However, there was a load of behind-the-scenes communications between anglers and the commissioners. A committee will soon be formed to address the issue of safety and beach buggy use. As for the proposed two-week earlier-than-usual closure of LBT beaches, even that is now back-burnered and will not be implemented this year.
I’d like to suggest an earlier closure of the entire LBT front beach traded for a two-week early opening for the stretch of beach between Beach Haven and Holgate. Currently, Beach Haven opens a couple weeks earlier than LBT in the fall, so anglers have to get off the south BH beach (at Osborne Avenue) and hit the Boulevard to go down to Holgate. It’s not real safe, considering they’re aired down (low tire pressure for the beach) but are faced with the prospect of a fairly fast acceleration when pulling onto the Boulevard. Anyone who has driven with low-pressure tires can tell you how tough it is to get up to speed – not to mention how hideously tough it is on a vehicle.
I’ll keep one and all updated on this mobile fishing issue.
BASS TALK: I guess I better touch on the main angling attraction du spring. Stripers hit the beach a bit early this year and would have been fully in-play by now had the skies not gone awry. Graveling Point has had very dramatic ups and downs, with a load of bass one day and nary a touch the next. Up the Mullica, a few very funs sessions have been had at the various landings.
On LBI, there has been some respectable bayside striper fishing at night, south end. Somewhat oddly, surface and shallow swimming plugs work best, not jigs. The thing is the prefect plug has to be determined via many throws – and short hits. All I know is all plugs have to be either swum slowly or spurted with lengthy stops in-between.
LITTLE CRABS IN BIG NUMBER: I had an interesting nature experience over the weekend. I was in the bayside meadows of Tuckerton, an area I frequent for nature watching. It was low tide and sunny (pre-storm) as I walked out to the first small “mosquito ditches.” I quickly noticed furious scurrying in some very shallow saltwater puddles. On closer inspection, I saw it was a veritable fiddler crab explosion, in numbers I have never seen in all of my years of shoreline exploring. It was downright eerie looking into a couple shallow water areas that teemed with thousands of these indigenous crabs, favored by tog fishermen. The thickest populations were gathered in water that was black and thoroughly stinky, all stirred up by the gathered creatures. I think it was something like ice-out for this species, i.e. end of winter. That, of course, means it’s the dawn of the spawn. The aggressiveness of the crab bore that out. As I approached, the males all held their one huge claw upright in battle position. I assured them I was not there to mess with their gals but they still shadow boxed in my general direction.
I was asked about traps to corral a tassel of these bait crabs.
This time of year all you need is sweep net of any kind. However, the crabs get craftier – and fast as greyhounds – when things warm up. That’s when you resort to bucket traps.
Using a gallon-sized ice cream container (or whatever container you come up with) punch a load of small holes in the bottom and head out to prime fiddler grounds. Pick a fairly open area, low in grass and near a tidal pool. Dig a hole that perfectly accommodates your container. The container must sit inside so its top aligns with the ground level. Also, there can be no openings between the rim of the container and the outside ground. No moots, so to speak. You’ll need a serious shovel to power through the often-dense sod.
Once the trap is perfectly placed, you should “prime” the site by squashing some bunker into the surrounding sod. Next, place bunker chunks (or any smelly fish product) inside. Leave it out late day and overnight but check make sure to check it early. DO NOT allow the trap to fill with crabs then have them bake in high sun. Any trap, even a small one like this, becomes the humane responsibility of the placer.
The holes are in the bottom to allow water (tidal or rain in origin) to drain off since fiddlers are semi-terrestrial and do not do that well under water.
Speaking of little crabs among us, we are in the midst of a significant invasion by a small but potentially nasty anti-ecology crustacean known as the Asian shore crab (Hemigrapsus sanguineus). These are all over bayside LBI right about now.
According to U.S. Geological Survey: “Hemigrapsus was first recorded in the United States at Townsend Inlet, Cape May County, New Jersey in 1988. This species is now well established and exceptionally abundant along the Atlantic intertidal coastline of the United States from Maine to North Carolina. It is actively breeding and expanding its population within its nonnative range. Because the species is tolerant of a wide range of environmental conditions, it is likely that the invasion will continue along the US coastline.”
Since this species is so new to the U.S. it’s hard top say what it might do to our ecosystem but no invasive species has brought any good along with it. The crabs are very small so I doubt they might serve as tog bait or the likes. And I’m thinking they offer very little of epicurean import, unless you’re into using tweezers and a magnifying glass to pick crab meat out of tiny crabs.
SURF CLAM DOWN: Per tradition, I’ll bring up the enduring notion that NE storms stir the bottom, exposing surf clams that get the bass in a bit of a biting frenzy. That should set this week up, post storm, right?
Unfortunately, that notion leads me into yet another eco-alert. I’ve been raising so many warning flags this spring I could open a Catastrophes ‘R’ Us franchise. Still, it has to be done.
I want to reference an insider report I recently got regarding a DEP study conducted just off the Jersey shoreline, out in something like 25 feet of water. Though nothing has yet to be published, I heard the researchers were shocked to find virtually no surf clams in that nearshore zone, once chockfull of clams.
As readers of this column know, there was a goodly amount of angler chatter last fall and winter when next to no surf clams washed ashore. Traditionally, fall and winter storms cause major clam strandings. That’s when we can load up on clams to shuck and freeze for fall and spring stripers usages. I was among folks who alerted authorities about the silence of the surf clams. We definitely had enough big storms.
And it wasn’t as if warnings hadn’t been issued about the possible formation of a dead-zone near the beach. For years, Carolyn Ann III Captain Bill Hammarstrom tried everything within his powers to get folks to realize there was something hideously wrong right off the beach. Logically, Bill homed in on discharge from Ocean County’s famed sewerage treatment facility. I say “famed” because that system is actually world-renowned for its efficiency and effectiveness in removing pollutants from ocean-bound effluent. (Scientists and PR people hate that word “effluent but I’m sticking with it).
Here’s the thing, the particulates being removed from our sewerage are those commonly seen as dangers to human health. All along, Bill felt that the Ocean County’s filtering system was missing something. For his effort, he was soundly squelched by politicians and sewerage authority members. They claimed the effluent going into the ocean was quite clean. Panties bunched up when Bill suggested our ocean bound effluent should be treated one final time, via tertiary plants, which use activated charcoal or diatomaceous earth to essentially buff the water clean, chemically speaking. The costs of such a final filtration system were frightening, despite Bill actually going out, pricing the systems, and finding them reasonable.
Bill kinda gave up the fight, moving to West Virginia for the off-season. Now, it might be panning out that the nearshore zone is in eco-trouble. What’s more, scientists around the country are now looking into potentially disastrous ecological problems stemming from minute quantities of high-impact chemicals in not only sewerage discharge but also drinking water.
As we speak, JCAA legislative liaison Tom Fote is in Washington trying to make politicos aware of heretofore-unknown chemicals in the water supply – chemicals that trickle down, eventually reaching the ocean. Among chemicals with a micro-presence in the water are the likes of estrogen. Lest you think this stuff can’t impact fishing in a lethal way, there are now bayside areas where the presence of manmade hormones have caused entire populations of flounder to become one sex. This is not a joke. One such bay in New York could literally lose its entire flounder presence via aging, as no young are born to repopulate the stocks. Scary.
I’ll leave this subject dangerously dangling for now. However, one has to realize that millions and millions of gallons of effluent pours into the waters off Ocean County. We have to at least consider the possibility that designer chemicals (my words) are slowly neutralizing the nearshore bottom ecology. I am not yet married to this possibility but I’m pretty much going steady with it. I have always been a huge backer of a final “tertiary” filtering of outgoing effluent. It’s time to go that extra step to purify sewerage. By the by, part of the tertiary treatment process could include spraying the effluent onto land so it can return to our diminishing aquifers. That could mean no ocean bound effluent – someday.