OUT OF SIGHT AND ON-LINE: I’m consider myself kinda up with the times. To their credit, computers keep my veins surging with electrical energy and a hard-drive youngishness. But I saw another less sanctimonious side to the Computer Age last week.
I sidled up to a buggy where a fellow I know was inside on one of the latest cell phones. He had two fishing rods spiked near the low-tide water’s edge. Looking in, I realized he was doing real time Internet communicating.. I offered a “Hey.” He threw a glance and muttered a “What’s up?” He went back to checking a chatroom.
“They’re getting nice bass near Little Egg,” he idly offered to me, never looking up at either me or his rods.
He then used seriously dexterous thumb action to text some “up north compadres.” In nothing flat, they volleyed back that they had caught some bass at a decent clip earlier in the day. I was interested since I figured they were up Barnegat Light end, i.e. “north.” Turns out they were in frickin’ Massachusetts! “Water is still too warm up there,” he announced, after checking thermal maps on a weather site.
Realizing conversation was out the window, I glanced over at his rods. They could have been in taking a swim for all he knew. Checking the weather map on his cellphone screen, I saw we’d have nothing but perfect weather for days.
With an ineffective “Catch ya later,” I walked back toward my truck. Out the side of my eye, I caught sight of a huge hawk that was banking almost overhead in the majestically blue fall sky. Using my hands to shade my eyes from the 9-factor sun, I watched as the streamlined raptor went into an astounding freefall, maybe 100 feet worth, catching air at the last possible second and leveling off for a shot at some ground-level prey. Wow. Totally astounding. I checked back to see if maybe the mad texter had seen the spectacle. He was still hunched over his computerized hand tool, oblivious to the surroundings. I smiled to myself as I pondered the irony of his seemingly seeing so much but missing so much more. However, I then found myself sorely temped to run back and ask him to check Google for “Hawks of New Jersey” to confirm the type raptor I had just seen.
CLASSIC REPORTING: On a daily basis I get a super useful insider fishing reports. Some are from newbies hyped over that fish of a lifetime, caught during a spurt of hard-earned spare time. Others are rigid regulars who fish above and beyond the time frames of mere mortals -- retirees and folks who deploy at the drop of a “hot fishing” hat. However, there is no better time for an LBI fishing columnist than fall, thanks to the Long Beach island Surf Fishing Classic (Classic).
The Classic sends upwards of 1,000 anglers into the field. The entrants fan out to cover virtually every square yard of the Island’s beachfront – and many a mile of bayside terrain. Then, when talent and/or luck take the form of a weighable “entry” fish, the data about the catch is mandatorily given.
That tell-us-about-it requirement dates back to tourney’s golden yesteryear, i.e. the event’s launch in 1955. The rationale of the sponsor --back then the Board of Trade, today the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce -- was (and is) legit. The tourney is meant to both extend the Island’s tourist season and hype the awesome autumnal angling. The best way to do that is to offer details of exactly what’s being caught where, and, implicitly, how to become part of the catching crew. Data does all that.
To this day, each Classic angler weighing in a worthy catch must fill out the entry form. The info includes name (not the fish’s name, the entrant’s name), the entrant’s “badge number,” the size of the fish in inches (girth and length), pounds and ounces, where the fish was caught, when it was caught, the bait used.
Back in the day, it was neigh impossible to track down the subtle statistic attached to the hundreds of entered fish. Hell, in 1964 there were 2232 stripers entered. Despite every weigh-in slip holding hyper-useful statistic, wading through such paperwork would have left an angler no fishing time.
Enter the Computer Age.
In just the past decade, the Classic and everyone one of its weigh-ins has come to light at the speed of home computers. Refined by the Chamber staff, the inputting of daily data has become something of an in-house science. The beneficiaries are all those insight-seeking casters who regularly go to the Classic’s website (http://lbift.com/), cursor down the homepage to a red-lined box that reads, “Fish weighed in for the 2008” and click on the week at hand. Therein resides the tasty tale of every single weighed in fish. More subtly within is vital information on where the fish was caught (in general terms), the bait used and the time of day a bass or blue was bested.
This past week (“Week 1”) offers an ideal info-look at how a couple bluefish blitzes played out. A careful perusal of all the weigh-ins clearly indicates the way the action moved from north end and mid-Island (Oct. 12) to almost entirely south end (Oct. 13) over a two-day stretch. Another highly digestible data detail is the way that plugs ended up winning the day during a second bluefish blitz, though bait seemed to be the prime taker overall. That tells a savvy surfcaster to take bunker chunks to the beach while keeping a plugging rod ready to rock and roll.
As for the honesty in form-filling factor, there is an admirably high degree of veracity shown by entrants.
While many an angst-ridden angler fearful of too many details leading to the invasion of a “secret spot” (as if), location descriptives, like “Loveladies” or “Brant Beach,” pose little if any threat to exact cast-out points.
For weeks to come, I’ll have the luxury of tapping into the Chamber’s Classic website – as will one and all. The one luxury for me is the blast I get from getting the stories behind big catches.
BASS FROM ABOVE?: Below is one of the more compelling (one might say spiritual) tales attached to a top-take fish. “Jay,
“They say there is a story behind every fish and I think this one is pretty interesting.
“My name is Matt Onofrio and I have been coming to LBI all my I come from a big competitive family (7 brothers and 4 sisters). All the brothers are avid fishermen and we often swap fish stories.
“The biggest fish in the family to date was a 38-pounder and there are several 30lb+ stripers caught over the years.
“I have been fishing a particular beach for the last 10years. We stumbled upon it when my father-in-law rented a house for his family in early July one year. We caught fish in July, then tried it in the fall did well and have been fishing it since.
“Over the years we have spent a lot of time on this beach, seen many a sunrise and had many a good time. Every October I would rent a place for 4 or 5 days and my father-in law and I would fish non stop. Family and friends would visit and a great time was had by all.
“ Unfortunately my father-in law passed away in December of 2005 after having a stroke at the way to young age of 69. He is sadly missed by all that knew him as he was a very special person. At his request we spread some of his ashes on "Bennys Beach".
“My wife has had a specially difficult time with the passing of her father as they were very close, which brings us to this past Friday.
“Every year one of my brothers host a "brothers weekend" at his house in Beasly's Point where we eat, drink and fish-mostly eat and drink. This year was to be special as all 8 brothers and my father were available. One of my brothers and I decided to take off Friday and catch the tide before heading to our brothers.
“After fishing for a while I got a call from my wife wondering how I was doing. During the conversation I remarked that I was thinking of her dad and that he needed to send me a big fish. She talked of how much she missed him and of her doubts of a heaven and such as she had not felt like their had been any contact or signs from him that all is somehow OK.
“Now, I was fishing with my 2 interline poles, one that my wife had bought me and the other that I had given to her father for Christmas one year.
“As soon as I had gotten to the beach I had jigged a Sea Herring from the surf and had put the head on his pole. We had not hung up for more than 15 minutes when I turned to see his pole literally bent in half with a hit of my lifetime.
“Picking up the pole I held on tight as the fish ripped line all the while thinking of all the things I had read or heard about landing a big fish.
“In a surprisingly short period of time I had a "Heaven sent" 46.4 striper on the beach.
“Now this fish may or may not hold up as a tournament winner but it certainly is the biggest of my family and it will always have a special meaning to our family and anyone that knew my father-in-law. It has also made a believer of myself and my wife that our loved ones that are no longer here are somehow looking out for us.”
SAND EEL APPEAL: The recent bursts of beachfront blues had more than just the expected bunker in their bellies. Sand eels by the gob were being regurgitated. Unbeknownst to most, the super showing of sand eels, a.k.a. sand lance, the resurgence of these highly nutritious (fish-wise) forage fish can only be an incredible thing for fish stocks in general.
What eats them?
Every frickin’ gamefish – and their brothers eat sand eels. In fact, only humans don’t.
When sand eels are highly populated and in the midst of migration, balls of them sometimes get spooked toward the beach. When non-migratory, these small fish are famous for burying into the sand with blinding speed – safe from everything mean and hungry.
The current show of sand eels is so sharp I just might pull out my special “sand eel” castnet and try to net some to supply the shops. That net has very small mesh, similar to nets used for spearing. In the distant past, I have loaded up on sand eels right next to jetties, as they try to hide in plain sight, well up in the water column. Why they don’t bolt for the bottom and hide for real is a answer only a sand eel would know – and most of the ones I’ve seen are either dead or don’t feel much like talking.
The slimy side of netting sand eels is, well, the slimy side. They are a bitch to handle. In fact, they can’t be counted and bagged until fully and decisively dead – and even then rubberized gloves are needed.
Fresh sand eels will not only catch everything but also the largest of everything. Where a 50-pound bass would likely pass on, say, a sandworm or bloodworm, it will never ignore a sand eel of pretty much the same size as the worms.
It is nest to fish two or three sand eels on a hook. They take moderate casting pressure but can’t be snap cast. A large sand eel hopped along the bottom on a jig (say, ¾ ounce) is a killer presentation.
One source of sand eels is within the bellies of the blues. I was forwarded a photo of an emptied bluefish belly. There was a day’s fishing supply of recently consumed sand eels on the sand. .
Note: As more and more folks do the snag-and-drop routine over bunker baitballs, it would be hugely interesting to drop a gob of sand eels down if bass seem to be there but disinterested in dropped bunker. Again: Bass seldom if ever pass on a sand eel.
BUGGY BANTER: It was confirmed that Holgate took a horrible hit yesterday with the dead forest now all but blocking the entire beachway near the Osprey Nest. Here’s a report form Joe H.: “I was at Holgate all day today (Monday) and it is a mess. Totally impassible. The water uncovered massive sod banks. USE EXTREME CAUTION WHILE DRIVING!!! There are a few super deep holes at the foot of the sod banks. The are not much bigger then a bath tub. There is also the remains of a ship wreck (very old) about 100 feet north of the forest. There are some timbers and a few iron (spikes sticking out of the sand about 10". They will destroy a tire in a flash. Also a piece of iron boiler??? is sticking about 2 feet out of the sand. Very dangerous. The damage is the worst I've seen down there.”
SLATHER YOURSELF IN BUNKER:
I’m into my skin. Over the years I’ve grown very close to it – on a just-friends basis, mind you.
Skin-deep trivia: Your skin is the largest organ your body owns.
I’ve taken my bodily outer layer to the brink of extinction. I’m be-leathered compliments of surfing, fishing and generally outdoorsing for decades on end – many of those years spent being invisibly riveted by the rays of a tropical sun. When I get tattoos, the artist has to use pneumatic tools just to break the skin.
I bring all this epidermal stuff to light up since I was recently talking with a skin expert. She is one of those academic tweeners, not quite a doctor but hauling a load of letters, including PhD. She offered life-saving insights into how I now try to salvage what remains of my huge outer organ.
I mainly wanted to know what sorta goop I could slap on my skin to make 50 years of abuse all better-- a zippy treatment that would render me high-definition ready. Amazingly, I was told there isn’t some little pat of sticky purple stuff that I can slather on my face to have my skin instantly look like freshly drifted snow. (Hell, I’d even settle for three-day-old snow, like the stuff that gets plowed roadside, freckled with gravel and strips of asphalt.)
To tabulate the sun damage, she pushed, pulled and chuckled at my skin. “A lotion to revitalize this? Dream on,” she said, instantly distancing herself from plastic surgeons -- who would assure a slice here and a pull here and I’d look every bit as good as Michael Jackson and Steven Tyler.
There was no quick fix for the likes of my face. Still, this gal offered some dribs and drabs about the benefits of at least slapping on some high-tech skin lotions, especially when boat and beach fishing.
And she sure know about lotions. Her lengthy high-income career had been centered deep within the pores of a couple NJ pharmaceutical giants. Tucked within the world’s best-equipped labs, she was the chief of a small army of secretive scientists striving for the same quick-fix skin lotion that I sought. Pharm giants are willing to spend billions atop billions in even a wild-goose-chase effort to unearth a magical lotion that will be ravenously purchased by every person on the planet with skin.
Needless to say, neither her or her cohorts have yet to come even grazingly close to concocting a magical high-viscosity fountain of youth recipe able to bring prunes However, our face-to-face talk took a sudden spurt toward the fishing realm. As we marveled over the essentially ineffective skin lotions and elixirs bringing in hundreds of dollar an ounce, she jokingly said, “That’s a lot to pay for some fish oil.”
That in itself stuck me as funny. I laughed out loud, though I wasn’t a hundred percent sure why. “Fish oil,” I muttered, thinking she was just toying with my angling world.
Turns out she wasn’t toying at all. Turns out the base ingredient base of many of the most luxurious “How much!” skin lotions and creams is good old bunker oil. Yep, the stuff we sometime buy by the bottle to squeeze on plugs to make them stink to high heavens.
I guess I maybe already knew that menhaden oil in the cosmetic realm but to place it in the same bottle with the world’s most insanely expensive skin products is laughable.
So, if you guys are looking for that amazing Christmas gift – one that keeps on giving – I’ll be devising a recipes whereby you take a whole fresh or recently thawed bunker, wring it like a wet washcloth and collect all that golden bunker oil. No, I don’t think there’s much more to it than that. Think of what you can buy for yourself with all those holiday savings.
RUNDOWN: As expected, the bluefishing went ballistic over the windy weekend. Blues love a good stir to enhance their ambush potential. Add to the mix, cooler water and enough bunker to feed the ghosts over at the Fish Factory and the hooking got hot –despite the coolness in the wind.
The interplay zone between anglers and slammers was generally the North End, from whence came nearly 40 tourney fish on Saturday. Tom White and Nick Sabatino tied for the bluefish lead in the Classic with equal 16-3 slammers.
I’ll go out on a limb by suggesting Tom was using one of his own handcrafted plugs. Those plugs will now be the equivalent of “shot-over” decoys, bearing the marks of action under fire. Note: You can fake shotgun pellet hits on a wooden duck but you need real-thing jaws to leave the slammer scars of a plug.
There was a scattering of bass but that bite remains well below normal. I still think this coming week might see a steadier showing of stripers.
Winds have hurt the seabass action. The fish are there. The anglers aren’t.