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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

J-mann : Weekly Blog -- Tuesday May 22, 2007 -- lots of read-age

Wildfire Well Dones and Slow Lane Insane

Like many appreciative folks, I want to profusely thank the firefighters and police officers that did an outstanding job in fighting the Pinelands blaze – and the related traffic nightmares in Stafford.

The number of fire departments that offered back-up to our local guys – some trucks driving over 40 miles – offers a sense of total confidence that we’re covered in any emergency.

Obviously, not enough can be said about the hard work put in by our local forces, including post-blaze worker volunteering time to sift through the rubble of burnt-out residences in Pinewood Estates. Let’s all dig deep to contribute to the fundraisers to help those who lost homes – and everything within – to the wildfire.

A huge thumbs up to the Stafford Police Department as it worked, at every turn, to control smoke-diverted traffic and evacuate folks. Though strict in ordering traffic commands and such, the folks in blue maintained an unusually high degree of professionalism and coolness under pressure, often rendering individualized evacuation assistance to older and disabled folks.

The only hyper-downside to the emergency was the total lack of real-time information offered to an understandably very jittery public. Here Mayor Carl Block works at a county level, where election results are beamed out in a heartbeat, and he couldn’t use that system. Clueless is as clueless does.

A quick fire note: Many folks were questioning the need to evacuate thousands of folks on Wednesday, when southeast wind had the blaze essentially blowing slightly away from developments like Fawn Lakes and Ocean Acres. Well, along with a fire only 90 percent contained, there was the un-slight matter of a looming weather system off to the west. A strong cold front, backed by powerful west winds, was slowly approaching. Sure, there was seemingly a load of rain associated with that front but frontal systems can also go dry very quickly. Imagine that front coming through rain-free, ushering in a wind shift out of the west at over 30 mph hour. In a flash, the wildfire could have turned and burned toward the Parkway. Perish the thought.

As for the immediate knee-jerk chatter, by the likes of state Senator Leonard Connors, to rid the Pines of the Warren Grove Gunnery Range, it’s typical political prattle. Overbuild the area then lose your mind when people get threatened because they live near the woods.

I did a post-fire interview with Public Broadcasting. I included the gunnery range in the context of a preexisting historic usage. I realize it is not technically such, per the Pinelands Commission, but over the decades it has become part of the landscape, so to speak. In fact, the gunnery range serves as a superb wilderness and wildlife reserve, which is one of the main reasons why I’m so supportive of it.

And it’s not as if the Warren Grove area isn’t historically a horrifically dangerous forest fire zone. The Bass River Memorial, dedicated in 1976, honors firefighters who were killed while battling wildfires. It focuses on the commemoration of 5 firefighters (two State Fire Wardens and three Civilian Conservation Corps fire fighters) burned over in 1936 while fighting a forest fire in the Warren Grove area. TURTLES TAKE A HIT: Saturday I went on a search-and-save mission – of sorts.

I did some serious charcoal stomping, walking for miles across black, fully charred expanses of once-woods between 539 and 72.

It was very eerie in the aftermath – and astoundingly quiet, as the charcoal absorbed sound (my theory).

A truly bizarre angle to my walkabout was noticing the actual lay of the land. Where I picture most of the Pinelands as plate-flat, there are actually dips, whoops, gullies, mounds, glens, hallows, draws and arroyos. OK, so maybe no arroyos, but it sure wasn’t what it seems when trees and shrubberies have leveled off the look.

During my charcoal stomp, I noticed the big losers were box turtles. I found three DOAs, not the result of fire but run over by ORVs, after the fires.

The hapless long-lived turtles must have gone to the dirt roads and trails to get away from the hot earth. Their survival instincts were working well but their shells were no match for fast-moving quads. There was also a burn-killed turtle.

And I had a rescue.

I came across a female turtle, heavy with eggs. She was just standing there, quite stunned, looking around at the encompassing blackness. I transplanted the saved turtle to a richly wooded area in Bass River.

SLOW LANE NOT FOR THE INSANE: A tangent.

My entire driving career, including my tazzed-out teen years, I’ve always kinda gotten along with speed limits. I therefore spend a goodly amount of my cruise time in the slow lane, most often listening to heavy-metal music, my head pistoning like a bobble doll’s, happily motoring with a slew of other dedicated slow-laners.

I’ll be the first to admit the slow-laners are often oldsters – and beyond – some hanging onto their driving skills by the skin of their dentures. But it is still a very diversified culture journeying in that lane.

Unbeknownst to many fast-laners – those perpetual passers I enjoy glancing at as they buzz by on the likes of Route 72 – the slow lane actually holds wide-ranging personality types, including many who wouldn’t be there if they had their druthers.

Mixed in among the senior sojourners and myself are the former DWIers, so terrified of having to sit out another year of non-driving that they creep along in the kiddy lane, speedometer glued to the assigned speed limit, yet nary a drip of juice in their systems.

At the other end of that spectrum are the working DWIers, convinced they can hide their newly achieved .10 alcohol rating among a bevy of Cadillacs, painstakingly driven by vintage gals with blue hair going to a Red Hats convocation.

Also in this seemingly innocuous lane are your everyday drug smugglers and bank heist plotters, all wanting to avoid drawing attention to themselves.

OK, so maybe that last one was the way I make the slow lane seem a little more exciting, but still …

Anyway, just this past weekend I had what has become an all-too-common slow lane crisis, compliments of the freaked out fast-laners.

I was rocking out to raging Steve Vai guitar music, trailing behind a veritable train of slow-laners, all of us contentedly moving at a damn-nice 54 mph in a 55 zone, when I glanced in my rearview mirror and spied a fuming face that seemed to be in my pickup truck’s rear seat. This gooned-out gal in a van was driving on my ass and looking frickin’ hysterical. A runaway fast-laner had gone gonzo in the slow lane because her chosen lane of pursuit, the fast track, wasn’t moving any faster than ours, so she had maneuvered to pass on the right. But, lo, we slow-laners were annoyingly taking up all the space, thwarting her illegal passage.

And she was letting me have it, as if I was somehow the underlying cause of her driving slowdown – and apparently everything else gone wrong in her life.

Checking her out in my mirror, I chuckled a bit as her enraged facial contortions perfectly matched my head-banging music, as if she were hatching the screaming guitar notes herself. “Rock on, mamma,” I yelled into my rearview.

That song thing wore thin real fast, as she attained a near bumper-to-bumper position behind me. I was getting a tad, let’s say, unharmonious.

What the hell did she want me to do? I was in the frickin’ slow lane. There were something like 10 slow-laners stacked up ahead of me. I’m the tail end. You don’t get a train to go faster by yelling at the caboose – not that I have any idea what that means. But this gal wasn’t going to get any message, hypothetical or otherwise. So I made the only logical move that didn’t involve systematically flipping bottles of organic water out my window and onto her bugged-out windshield. I signaled and switched over into the fast lane, offering, “You go, girl.”

She did go, flying past me on the right, offering a fingery salute. In a metallic flash, she was on the tail of the next slow-laner.

I then did something I should not have done, at least not in the name of motoring safety. I slid in behind her, closely.

I saw her glimpse into her sideview mirror, her eyes bugging out like a cartoon character, and suddenly all the windows inside her car went red. Her head had exploded.

OK, so once again my imagination (and wishful thinking) had its way with me, but to describe her as simply enraged wouldn’t nearly attest to the insanity of the moment.

It was what happened next that heightened my knowledge of life in the slow lane. The fellow in the car she was now all but touching – as she continued to rant like a headless banshee – calmly rolled his window down, leaned his head out a bit and with an air of theatrics slowly brought out a cell phone, holding it to his ear, just outside the window.

A true Zen master of slow-lane-ness.

Knowing what was to follow, I signaled and scurried back into the fast lane.

Sure enough, this gal, despite her state of stratospheric fury, got the “Guess who I just called?” message. She fell off that guy’s bumper as if he had just put on police car overheads. She fell way back.

I effortlessly swung back into the slow lane, snuggled up appropriately close to the master slow-laner up ahead. I gave him a thumbs-up, which he acknowledged with a smile that fit nicely into his side mirror. All was once again right in the slow lane. I slipped in a Black Sabbath CD and head-banged happily onward.

SIMPLY BASSIN’ BALLOONING: The Simply Bassing 2007 tourney is waking up big time.

While it sure wasn’t as simple as in previous years, the chart is finally full. All 8 top-slots have fish, the largest being a 22-15 caught by perennial boarder John Parzych. The bass was taken at sunrise Sunday, mid-Island. It took bunker.

The smallest fish on the chart is 11-5.

If you haven’t done so, sign up for Simply Bassin’ 2007 and hook your way onto the leader board.

This event is winners take all. No dailies or weeklies – just 8 grand prizers.

For the latest leader Board go to https://jaymanntoday.ning.com/.

DIKE DAYS: Here are two emails regarding The Dike, the northern section of High Bar Harbor. Email 1: “Jay, I have been fishing the Island since I was a child in the early fifties … I have fished the Dike. …People have asked me how the Dike came to be. I always remember seeing it there. Do you have the history of the Dike, when and why and how it was done? John”

Email 2: “… About once a year I try to cross tip of the Dike and each time I give up due to poison ivy, ticks, and briars. This week I
failed again but made an interesting discover. I came across a dump that must have come from an auto garage. There were probably 50+ old oilcans. They were the old style, fat quart
cans where the spout punched a hole in the can … Looks like they were from an Esso
station. There were also some old style car headlights and some automotive
cables … Any idea where they may have came from. I was discussing this with the guys at LBIFC and we were wondering how long that Dike has been there? Final question, I heard a rumor that houses were going to be built on the Dike. Any truth? George L.”

High Bar was created in 1943, after the Army Corps placed fill on sedges just off bayside Barnegat Light. This was done to slow the honking currents that were ripping away at the bayside beaches.
The fill led to a surprise sand accumulation that essentially connected the bay sedges to the LBI.
On one of the sedges was the High Bar Gunning Club, thus the origin of the area’s name.
The sand accumulation – and the solid connection to LBI that came about -- became sizeable enough to lead to a squabble between Barnegat Light and Long Beach Township over who owned the new, potentially developable, parcel. LBT won.
The county built a road between “High Bar” and the Island. That road cleared the way for North Jersey developer Arnold Desiderio. He began constructing houses there in 1953, adding more fill.
It was actually a slow go for “High Bar Harbor” development” as the area took time to catch on, being a goodly distance from the beach. I have seen ads in old newspapers offering some super deals on property there – only dollars down.
On the far more anecdotal side, I used to hear tales of serious sulfuric acid gas problems there, as organic materials, trapped by the fill, escaped upward. Old wives’ tales had people sickened by the gases, back in the day. The oddest tale -- that some old-timers swear was true -- had to do with exploding gas balls. Lore has it that leaking gases occasionally ignited and could be seen at night as fireballs. Again, lest I have the fine folks at High Bar going off on me, those were tales dating back to the 1950s and were very likely full-blown myths.
I think the Dike section was built up more recently, possibly as part of channel dredging. There are still abandoned dredge pipes on the west side. I recall ORV’ing on new sand there in the late 70s and into the 80s, before the state acquired it as part its park system, where it stands now.
Those Esso cans sound old and may have been part of the original fill material placed on the Dike. Esso became Exxon in the 1970s.

As for upcoming building on the Dike, I’ve heard of some observational platforms being considered by the state. Also, you may have gotten wind of some brainstorming done during an erosion mitigation meeting held maybe 7 or 8 years ago. I attended that get-together.
Scientists assessed the current unabated attrition on both banks of the inlet. Part of their initial findings indicated the problem could lie in the huge tidal flood plain, just inside the inlet. Those shallows are likely diverting the inlet’s strong tidal flow to the north and south, leading to the acute erosion near the Barnegat Lighthouse and across the channel, where the Army Corps has bulkheaded the shoreline at IBSP.
A cure would be the dredging of a channel through the flood plain, allowing inlet water to flow freely east and west, taking the pressure off both banks of the inlet.
Qualms arose immediately.
One reservation was the high likelihood that the Dike (not High Bar Harbor) would surely be eroded away in nothing flat, as the full force of the inlet current passed by it daily. It was then suggested that a breakwater or even a jetty be built to protect the Dike. While such a game plan may sound a bit far-fetched, you have to realize that the survival of the Barnegat Lighthouse and the south part of Island Beach State Park is at stake.

RUNDOWN: As noted above, the bass continue to amuse and confound. It’s a crap shoot as to which beach the bass will be cruising from one day to the next. It’s still one of the finest times of the year to be out there trying.

Indicative email: “My dad and I fished our beach for hours on Saturday and only had a skate to show. People walking by told us other fishermen were catching stripers just down the beach. We had too much gear to make a move. On Sunday, we barely got our lines into the water and we had a keeper (bass). We had hookups until we had to head back to the city. We got a chuckle when people came by and said we were the only fishermen they talked to who were catching fish. Patience is everything.”

There’s simply no guessing which beach will be chosen next by the fish. I wouldn’t know about that “patience” thing – though I hear it’s nice.

Clam and bunker are attracting the bass, from surf and boat, though boaters are more heavily into the clam thing.

Here’s a related clam post: “Jay, Caught my first two keepers of the year. I resorted to large eating clams. They worked fine. Is there any reason more people don't use the store clams? …” (It's a matter of price and convenience. The edible chowders (quahogs) can get pricey, even though they're often the cheapest clams at many fish markets. Surf clams, or soft-shell clams, offer larger chunks of meat and are infinitely easier to open than hard-shell clams. One aspect favoring the hard-shell quahogs is the very firm meat. I often use hard-shell clams because they are easy for me to dig. I can cast those tongues way further than the mushier surf clam tongues. Still, when it comes to putting a huge gob of clam on a hook, surf clams win -- though you know as well as me that a third of the gob casts off almost immediately. J-mann)

Bluefishing continues to blaze. Some hooking (mainly boat) has reached the point of bluesy boredom, as cocktail blues, between 3 and 4 pounds, hit anything dropped near them. I laugh at boat chatter where captains announce they’re bored with blues and going looking for bass or weakfish. An hour or so later, you hear those same captains back catching blues. Fishing truly gets no easier than when those ravenous fish are a-prowl.

Weakfishing is slow, possibly for the spawn or in lieu of the next batch of arriving sparklers.

Spiny dogs and skate are really beginning to make their presences known. Not good.

A few large American eels showing.

It appears to be a banner year for blowfish. Spawn-ready puffers are thick in Manahawkin Bay. It’s hard to believe these delectable panfish were once considered a terrible nuisance fish to many gamefishermen. Back in the Sixties, these puffers truly over proliferated. Literally millions of them were in the bays of Jersey, knocking out all other fishing and devastating the fluke stocks by nibbling the fins off young-of-year summer flounder. Back then, it was a novelty to fish with a plain un-baited gold hook and still catch blowfish at every drop. There wasn’t a bayside bulkhead that didn’t have a “blowfish nail,” protruding from the top of a piling. It was used to hook a blowfish’s Kevlar-like skin for a quick one-step removal. I still recall some of the finest BBQs of all time being blowfish tail-based, though I could have skipped the Peter, Paul and Mary songs sung by the coals after dark. “Michael rowed the boat ashore …”

“I’m outta here.”

Back to nowadays, the reefs and wrecks, the Miss Beach Haven has been into some very good black seabass, some to 5 pounds. At the same time, bottom anglers on Captain Frank Camarda’s boat have bested some big tog to round out their coolers. Frank will be going out throughout the holiday weekend, departing each morning at 8 a.m. from Centre Street.

Note: Fishing boat captains wanting to get reports to me, please call at 361-9000, etc 3034. You can leave reports on the machine.

Next week: A slew of fishing tourneys, including the brand new “High Point Volunteer Fire Company Striper Shootout” on Saturday, June 9.

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