Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Oct. 16. 2007 -- a week's worth of wildness

Gonzo Blitzes and Brake Huggers

BRAKE HUGGER: So I’m driving along the Boulevard on my way to Holgate, keyed up for angling action, per usual. I get through Beach Haven and find myself tucked behind a larger sedan, one of those fairly upper-end retireemobiles. The silver-haired gal driving is keeping a fairly good pace, mph-wise, so I’m not overly aggressive.

(That previous disclaimer was for the many police officers who read this column. I was actually stuck on this slow-going sedan like a “How’s My Driving” bumper sticker.)

Then, out of the blue, she jams on her brakes.

“Wicked woman!” I offer in other terms.

I’m thinking that maybe it was a signal to me, so I back off Granny Panicstopper. But even with me falling a few car lengths back, she goes hard-brake again. I slam it, too – as does the gathering line of SUVs and trucks following me on a Holgate run.

Now I’m thinking, “What the …?

So, the gal accelerates again, 45 mph-ish, and we the followers feel better. But, before you know it, she does a total panic stop, one of those child-suddenly-found-sleeping-on-highway stops. I slam the brake. I could hear tire squeals behind me.

By now there is a conga line of trucks and SUVs behind her, looking as if we’re playing some child’s game of panic-stop-and-go.

And it went on for miles. I kid you not. She’d gather speed to where things would be highway normal then the brake lights would erupt and the jerk stopping resumed. She does this no less than a dozen times in just the couple miles between Town and Holgate.

There were even some swerves of her vehicle thrown in.

It wasn’t until she was about to turn off that I finally realized what the hell her problem was. And it was, oddly enough, remarkably altruistic – kinda.

First, understand that I’m a naturalist to a fault. I often take pleasure in nature more than humanity. Now that doesn’t make me antisocial. Wait a minute; I guess it pretty well does make me antisocial. Still, I maintain a keen sense of societal mores and civic priorities. I fully realize I can’t, say, arbitrarily spray cockroach killer on someone who bugs me. Besides, they don’t make bug cans that big anyway. I simply hyper-relate to wildlife and such.

That said, my reaction when I finally figured out why this gal was braking fostered an energetic, “Are you frickin’ kidding me, lady!”

Get this: She was driving along panic braking for monarch butterflies! I kid you not. In fact, we, by association, were all braking for frickin’ butterflies, as the golden winged insects labored to make their way westward after getting blown eastward and oceanward by recent winds.

I do credit her with still having her visual and reactive devices in fine order, at her fairly ripe age (I caught a glimpse of her as she turned off the Boulevard). But, there were thousands of these erratic fliers all flitting across the Boulevard.

I toyed with the notion of “I Brake for Monarchs” bumper stickers. Then I envisioned every Boulevard driver, thousands of motorists, randomly stopping and going to avoid butterflies. Although I thoroughly enjoy such surreal scenes, that one would be too much for my Type A personality.

And don’t all you monarch butterfly fans and fellow naturalists get on my case. You have to remember, I’m the one stumping to have the American eel become the “State Eel of New Jersey.” It’s an amazing creature, indeed, worthy of such note. And, yes, I concurrently harbor the hope that on at least one Trenton occasion, lines of communication get crossed and someone demanding a letter with the state seal instead receives a letter with a state eel enclosed.

Aftermath: The worse part of driving behind lady Monarch-Lover is I’m now attuned to the butterflies crossing the Boulevard. However, I’m far more logical. I beep my horn at them . “Get outta the way!” Pedestrians and cars in front of me just love that.

POTBELLIED POT GROWERS: OK, who belongs to this pot plant?

You, the guy with the 1970s vintage tattoo of a hemp leaf on your shoulder, you look kinda real guilty. And that 9-month-pregnancy potbelly tells me you’ve had the munchies more than few times in your illustrious lifetime. OK, so maybe the closest you’ve come to breaking the law in the last 30 years was that 27 ¾-inch striper you kept last year. Still, someone had a lush green marijuana plant growing in the Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, home of our fine south end fishing grounds.

I’m told the illicit herbage was recently busted during a surprise raid by a largish team of LBT’s finest.

During the raid, folks living in that area could clearly hear the police warnings the plant, “Let me see your leaves, mister!” Many of the officers were just itching for the weed to make a wrong move so they could Glock it into hallucinatory heaven. Some of that itching might also have come from the pervasive poison ivy they were traipsing through.

As the siren squad took the plant into custody, roots and all, witnesses said the cops began shouting, “Quit fighting back,” pummeling the residue-heavy resister to the tune of one pummel per word. “Quit (pummel), fighting (pummel) back (pummel).” An extra pummel was added by a few cops who weren’t sure whether the word “fighting” should be broken into two pummel-able syllables. Rookies.

Anyway, after the plant was taken into custody, the township task force foot-flattened the surrounding growth to make sure there weren’t any surreptitious sensemilla saplings lurking in the laurels, so to speak. “We know you’re in there. Come out now or we’ll send in the dogs,” was heard.

In this instance, the canines have a somewhat unorthodox way of, uh, marking a suspect plant when found. “Good dog! Atta boy, mark it good. OK, enough already. See, I told you not to drink so much water this morning. Uh, someone else wanna take this suspect into custody?”

Word on the street has placed the value of the one found plant in the neighborhood of $10,000. That’s some neighborhood, eh? Must be Loveladies.

Actually, local residents based that value on the number of raiding cops, making on average $70,000 a year, all spending hours on end doing weedwacking detail. Hey, it gets lonely and quiet out there after Chowderfest weekend. What’s a cop to do?

So, the big question now is: From whence came the wicked weed?

There’s always the chance that some stony piping plover transported a hemp seed up from its winter home in Mexico. Of course, how that plover got all its buddies together to build a PVC conduit system to direct rainwater onto the seedling is surely one for The Nature Channel. (No, there was no such irrigation system found, I’m just bored. Hey, what’s write to do?) Natural causes notwithstanding, odds are someone of a human penchant was discretely parlaying the Forsythe Refuge’s perpetually strict “Keep Off” policy into an undercover crop of one. A failed crop, as it were. Yet another glowing example of why farming is such an uncertain occupation.

Hey, come to think of it, what if land developers snuck that plant in there, knowing the real estate would fail as farm land, clearing the way for them to swoop in like vultures and build townhouses? Hey, what’s developer to do?

OH, DEER: A complaint has been forwarded to the state DOT. A “Deer Crossing” sign on a woodsy back road is under heavy scrutiny by a small retirement community. It shall go unnamed. The citizens group is upset over the number of deer being hit by vehicles in the area of the sign. They want the sign relocated. Their complaint: “We don’t believe the deer should be crossing there. It is just too dangerous.”

But do they brake for butterflies?

BLITZ AND BEYOND: Sunday, October 14. It was a blitz from beyond – beyond previous standards and measurement. It ran from Ship Bottom to near Beach Haven Terrace before the fish turned out and vanished into the deep.

The blitzing blues were huge, gators to 20 pounds. Hell, I had one pushing the upper teens (see below).

The sight of these monsters in the waves was utterly awesome; a look similar to waveriding dolphin but, in this case, it was nature moving with deadly intent.

The bluefish barbarian hordes annihilated every swimming creature – and every type of plug – that got in front of them. The savagery of the slammers could be felt right through anglers’ lines as they fought the fish – failing to get their hookup in at a 75 percent average.

But what made this blitz one from beyond was the human volume versus the baddest ass bluefish on the block.

I have been on this fair barrier spit for going on five decades and I have written about blitzes for the last 20 years, often having to one-up that which I had previously written, as newer and more amazing blitzilogical episodes unfold. But Sunday’s action bumped the bar up to some high-water mark, as anglers numbering 1,000-plus got their own piece of the instant action.

The blitz-involved angler population was mind-boggling. It was comprised of a traffic jams’ worth of arriving mobile anglers (one estimate had 200 vehicles fully involved) hastily joining an already in-place weekend crowd scene.

Even before the madness began, there was no piece of mid-Island beach un-fished. The odds of finding a jetty to yourself were so slight that those folks with jetty seats were all but brandishing sidearms (exaggeration).

Then, the blitz began -- and surfcasting took an larger-than-life leap into the modern age.

It has taken a couple/few years but mobile fishermen have fully perfected the art of cellphone blitz-alert methodologies. With awe-inspiring speed and efficiency, word spread, far-and-wide, when the very first big blues came ashore in Ship Bottom.

From this point forth, surf fishing, especially in fall, has changed and will never be the same.

Back in the day, i.e. a mere 15 years ago, it was the exclusive realm of a few radio connected mobile surfcasters to communicate to each other when there were hot goings on. Those of us out of the radio loop simply kept an eye on those who were plugged in. When we saw them rip their gear up and speed off, we were on them like black flies on a black truck.

There is now a preset “call me” network. Most mobile anglers have cohorts who will phone them at the first sign of flair-ups of bass, blues or whatever. All involved know that they must make the calls or risk being removed from The List.

Back to Sunday’s blitz. The mobile angle was also like nothing I’ve ever seen. I was in buggy trains of 20 vehicles or more, all moving briskly to the next likely blitz point, just up ahead. These convoys were above and beyond the hundred or more parked buggies. I actually felt bad for some bystander beachwalkers who could not even get from the beach to the walkway. It was like crossing the Boulevard in summer.

In the wake of Sunday’s mega-blitz, I’m officially self-pissed. I caught one blue and one blue only. It took me so long to get in I said, “That’s enough for today, I’m taking some photos instead.” Anyway, the fellow next to me had a fine hand-scale and he called my catch “19 pounds.” I saw it as a hair under. I released it figuring it wouldn’t stand a prayer in the Classic. Turns out an 18-6 won the weekend. I coulda been a contender. Damn my sorry ass.

Blitz notes: Joe H. made a good point when noting that there were astoundingly few crossed lines amid the frantic action. Considering the brute power of these maniacal blues, there was nothing anyone could do to stop their fish from going exactly where it wanted. That usually means crisscrossed lines and knotty tempers. The worst I saw was an occasional casting overage, when a plug would be cast over another angler’s line. Even those conflicts were untangled with sheer friendliness. Weird.

How big have the recent blitzes been? Try, 178 blues entered into the Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic in just the event’s first week.

In fact, with that, I’m officially going to call an end to the slammer scare begun about ten years back, when slammers had all but gone AWOL. During the slowdown, the LBI Surf Fishing Classic saw bluefish weigh-ins drop from 2,066 in 1986 to 45 in 1996.

A congressional subcommittee, chaired by Congressman Jim Saxton, convened in the mid-1990s to look into the disappearance of large coastal blues. Conservation measures followed – and so have the big blues.

Welcome back, boys.

BLUE NOTES: A few weeks back, I had written in here about mega-blues being up Cape Cod way, in numbers many of those New Englanders had never seen before. There were 20-pounders in the mix. I guesstermised (guessed and surmised) that those Cape blues seemed to be of the nearshore stock and might well rush our way. I, for one, saw a bunch of our blitzing blues bearing Massachusetts tags and sporting “Cape Cod Nude Beach” parking permits. Dead giveaway.

As many of you know, there is a famed “offshore” bluefish stock that has never once lagged, even when the nearshore blues all but vanished. Those Ridge blues have been out there for literally decades, surface feeding by the acre-load. They are the stuff of some of the finest nighttime headboat fishing trips.

DIGIT-SAVING PLUG: If the fellow who got a finger semi-chomped by the bluefish reads this site, please drop me a line.

An Atom Popper solidly saved this angler’s finger.

The teen-pounded blue was being unhooked and performed one of those famed head swings – with accompanying chomp. The plug went inside the fish’s mouth, along with one of the guy’s fingers. The hard plastic took the brunt of the bite; fully preventing what I imagine might have been a dissection. Still, there was apparently a goodly amount of blood near the fellow’s tooth-embraced knuckle -- and panic began to set in when the blue went bulldog, as they all do with that incomparable jaw strength.

For any of you unfamiliar with big bluefish, it is simply impossible to manually pry open a chopper’s jaws when it decides it wants to stay shut-mouthed. I’ve been told that boat captains jam their fingers in both of the fish’s eyes and squeeze, causing the blue to open up. Fortunately, in this case, the pigheaded creature opted to try for a better grip, allowing the finger to escape. The fish then slapped its fins on its sides and growled, “Damn! It got away.”

RUNDOWN: The small blues are still very much in the mix. Though they conveniently cleared out during the slammer showings, they were near the inlets in massive numbers, as they have been since spring. And they’ll bang poppers and plugs, though mullet on the hook is the surest way to reach a 15-bag limit of these eating-sized blues.

I hate to even bring this up because it makes so many surfcasters spittin’ mad but the fluke are thick out there, many being taken as bycatch, going for mullet rigs and even bunker chunks. Just over the weekend flatties to 5 pounds were caught in Holgate. On Tuesday morning, Stu D. had 5 large fluke as bycatch while fishing for small blues.

The croakers and kingfish just aren’t doing what anglers had hoped. There are some nice rushes of croakers but that action is often inconsistent. When there, croaks come in by the dozens. The kingfish, a huge favorite among fish eaters, are even less predictable. Oddly, kingfish are being caught one at a time, totally contrary to the species usual heavy schooling manner. That’s not a good sign, obviously.

Sea robin, skate and sand dogs are everywhere.

A few large blowfish are showing, going for small offerings on kingfish hooks.

Weakfishing is amazing, mainly in terms of late-season showings. They can be caught heavily near both inlets, with top hooking in Myers Hole. Jigs with pink plastics seem irresistible. They have to be departing soon or be among the beaches hapless – often halved -- victims of slammer bluefish blitzes. Bluefish love weakfish, seemingly above even bunker.

Formations of double-crested cormorant – 100 birds of more – are becoming a constant sight in the airway – and atop waterways, as they land and feed voraciously on bunker, mullet and flatfish. Hunters sometimes call them mud ducks.

I catch hell from the bird folks for saying this, but the cormorant numbers are approaching the overpopulation point, by my reckoning. They eat huge numbers of fish while bullying many other shorebird species. Hell, even the gulls won’t stand up to them – though the gulls harass the cormorant as they eat, trying to steal the cormorant’s fish before they can adjust it in their beaks to swallow headfirst.

The first gannet showed recently and will surely increase drastically in numbers. These insanely diving offshore birds are famed for dive-bombing from 150 feet straight down into the water. They are the largest members of the famed booby family. Every fall a couple few of them come ashore, seemingly stunned from having hit the water wrong. And they are, indeed, laughably goofy looking – until you get too close and they loose a beak attack you don’t want to have connect.

Congrats to Sue Kaiser, member BHM&TC, for her 20-pound (and change) slammer taken with her husband, Billy, on his boat. I liken a 20-pound blue to a 50-pound striper. It’s a threshold of upper excellence.

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