Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Weekly wildness -- Oct 31 to November 05, 2007

Rip-roarin’ Rip; Holgate’s Historic Heyday

RUN-DOWN: There was hot time at the old Holgate Rip on Monday. The bunkies were so packed in right at the Rip null zone – where the current is light – that the water was black and glittering, with explosions of bait, as bluefish and bass ripped through them. It was about the thickest I’ve ever seen peanut bunker packed in. The tops of large baitballs were sometimes three or four inches out of the water as the congestion actually pushed hundreds of fish above the surface. The out-of-water bunker would actually swim back down into the ball of teaming brethren. I was standing right next to the action so I got a hawk-eye view.

And there were gamefish engorging upon the defenseless forage fish. Nearly a dozen bass finally came to those anglers energetically working the bunkies. Needless to say, there were more than a a few fishing folks working the action – as in shoulder-to-shoulder casters, many with cellphones to ear, alerting family and friends. Still, the bunkie balls were spreads for about a hundred yards so most folks had their tiny piece of action real estate. There was also some serious birdplay out in the rip away. Guys waded across the trough to cast on those. Seemed to be small bass and blues.

I saw Ray S. land goodly 15-pound bass on the inside. He got it with the snag-and-drop method.

Snag-and-drop is the use of a dangling treble, usually on a dropper loop, thrown out with a sinker or even a spoon, to snag bait. When the rig is retrieved through a packed in baitball, a radical snagging action is used by the angler until he/she feels the resistance of a foul-hooked bunker. Then, the rig is dropped right then and there. It falls perfectly beneath the baitballs, the snagged bunker sinks in a natural wounded-fish way. It’s then just a question of waiting in a bait stick manner for a pickup. The wait is often very short. A pickup is sometimes marked by line going limp, since an attacking fish is often traveling toward shore. There is a very high hookup rate with this method.

Back to the Rip ruckus, along with the bass, small blues abounded. There were easily 25 blues (or more) for every striper. The largest blues were maybe a couple/few pounds; fat as all get-out. Per typical, the were hitting plugs freely, though bait took them at a rate far above that of artificials. Many snag-and-drop anglers got frustrated by the insistent blues.

I’d like to say the wild Rip action was duplicated elsewhere on LBI but I checked around and didn’t hear of anything quite that intense, though we are definitely into a decent bass flow compared to what we had seen – or hadn’t seen – in recent weeks.

Over the weekend, the bass offered a nice north-to-south run of keepable (Classic-weighable) hookups. You can see the trend by checking the Classic website and noting where the entered fish were caught over the past week. It’s heavily usable data.

The largest Classic fish weighed in over the weekend were in the teens. Most seemed to be taken on bait. Largest striper (non-contest) I heard of was a 30-11 c&r (catch and release) that sounded like a beachfront fish, though the info I got wasn’t clear on that. It was a tagged fish so more info on it may be forthcoming.

Croakers are making a nice showing. I say “nice” because they can be very problematic when they’re out there in overly massive number, as was the case few years back. Right now, you can nab maybe a dozen or so but you won’t have to fret that the croaks are getting to your bait before the bass.

Overall, the bluefishing is getting iffy except at the usual hotspots near the inlets. Still, there is a high likelihood of picking up a couple/few when surf fishing.

The spearing run has given way to the expected rainfish run. Rainfish are thinner, clearer and actually more delicate than the already delicate spearing. The scales of rainfish comes off with the slightest touch.

HOLGATE NOTES: The entrance to Holgate took a serious beating from the recent nor’easter. The Refuge signage across the beach went down and erosion ate well into the duneline in that area.

That pinch point – in the shape of a cove -- is now underwater during even a moderate high tide. Plan your trips accordingly. Until the sand comes back, you’ll either have to wait for the water to drop or go on at low tide and stay through the high tide cycle.

Also, this huge telephone pole – in its entirety – is up at the high-water mark of that erosion area. It could do terminal damage to a vehicle if someone tries to scoot by at high water and doesn’t notice it until it’s too late.

Hyper thanks to the public works guys who have been right there to plow sand, keeping the drive-on open. They even got to it over the weekend. Again, thanks guys, it’s very appreciated.

Erosion along the rest of the Holgate beach was not overly extreme due mainly to the recent build up of berm sand, many months worth of it. Now, though, the uplands are once again vulnerable as we head into the meteorological minefield of winter and spring.

HOLGATE HISTORY: An emailer questioned me about the erosion of Holgate and any relationship that might have to the former Tucker’s Island, totally lost to erosion.

Huge question.

If you have even an iota of interest in the past and future of LBI’s south end, please go on this quick history tour.

It is vital to understand the alignment of LBI and Tucker’s, back in the day.

Going back to the 1700s, the area now known as Holgate (formerly Bond’s or Homer’s beach) was the site of the main inlet for Little Egg Harbor, one of the busiest ports-of-entry in the nation.

That inlet was located just past what is now the parking lot overlook at the south end of Long Beach Boulevard. Historical accounts have it at upwards of two miles wide and deep enough to allow the largest of sailing ship to access Tucker’s Town, eventually Tuckerton.

Note: It is very unlikely the inlet was two miles across. That would be the equivalent of the parking lot south to the Rip. No way. But we’ll run with that number – and run into some other dubious historically-accepted distances further along in this tutorial.

In the late 1700s, the sea began playing the sand game. It filled in the huge inlet, making ship passage more and more treacherous. However, further south, a new inlet formed. That was craftily named, New Inlet, later called Little Egg Harbor Inlet.

For whatever reason, the shoaled-over old inlet reopened between 1840 and 1870 and was promptly named Old Inlet.

(It is crucial to make a mental note of these inlet-ish coming and goings. They are quite likely precursors of what’s next to for our South End.)

Between Old Inlet and New Inlet was a barrier island called Short Beach. It was historically measured at five miles long but was far more likely 3 miles, tops.

Short Beach essentially protected Tucker’s Island, which was located inside the far south end hook of Short Beach. That same sand hook configuration is present today, hugging the New Tucker’s Island. There were times when Tucker’s Island connected to Short Beach, mainly in the 1870s. That was short-lived, though.

For upwards of 50 years, Short Beach and Tucker’s were separated by a narrow waterway called “the slough.”

Looking closely at old maps, it would seem the slough was almost identical in shape and depth to the current back cut.

At the height of Tucker’s Island history, circa 1880, it had a Sea Haven section with two highly touristy hotels. There was a wooden “walkway” to Short Beach built over the slough. That “walkway” indicates the slough was likely just about the width it is now. Any wider would have required a bona fide bridge. The walkway allowed Tucker’s tourists to stroll to Beach Haven for shopping and cavorting.

Yes, cavorting. Beach Haven has been a partying town since the get-go. Don’t let any uppity historians tell you any differently.

When time machines are perfected, one of the places I’ll try out is Short Beach in the 1800s, walking along with the Sea Haven tourists, plugging away the whole time.

Anyway, over the years, the popularity of LBI stole virtually all the business from the likes of Tucker’s, which could only be accessed by boat. The golden era of automobiling added to the magic of LBI and the decline of Tucker’s.

As for Holgate, things get doubly tricky during the Twentieth Century.

A second coming of the Old Inlet occurred after a monster nor-easter in 1920 re-opened the waterway, attesting to the overnight potential of storms in changing the entire flow of things on the south end.

With LBI spiking in popularity, the new inlet caused a media stir. Reporters needed a name for the instant inlet. Since “New Old Inlet” was both confusing and un-sexy, it was renamed Beach Haven Inlet. That is still the name you’ll see on the water tank on the south end. It is also attached to the taxpayer’s and homeowners group there.

The newly born Beach Have Inlet marked end times for Tucker’s. The inlet either allowed more seawater to pass into Little Egg Harbor or it changed currents around Little Egg Harbor Inlet. Be it one or both, erosion began attacking Tucker’s Island with a vengeance. Since the tourism potential of Tucker’s was long gone, it was doom and gloom for the remaining life-saving station and lighthouse. In a geological heartbeat the island was gone.

At the same time, highly hyped Beach Haven Inlet began what amounted to a high-speed migration southward, maintaining about a 100-foot width, sand filling in where it had previously been. During this move, the opening between the bay and ocean was too uncertain to be considered navigable, though open periods and high tides allowed smaller craft to sneak through. Little Egg Inlet was far and away the inlet of choice.

Of further geological import, land quickly accrued behind the southward traveling inlet. The piled up and duned up sand became our current “Holgate,” the uplands of which now comprise the Wilderness Area of the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge. It is highly likely that much of the sand comprising the current Holgate was from the deceased Tucker’s Island.

The migrating Beach Haven Inlet’s final resting place is most likely located at the south tip of Holgate, outside the area known as the Rip. In fact, that inlet-like waterway, albeit unpredictably shifty, still shows up as “Beach Haven Inlet” on most navigation charts, however, it is unrecognized by the U.S. Coast Guard. Also, the inlet is marked as “Closed” on a number of popular navigation charts.

At a glance, it would seem that Holgate has been relatively stable for many decades now. Deceiving. A recent study indicates that the exact location of Tucker’s is now well out at sea, demonstrating the entire south end tail of LBI has wagged amazingly westward. That is fully visible when looking northward from about a mile onto Holgate. It’s astounding how much further westward the Holgate Wilderness Area now is from the built-up area. The separation point, where the two areas are essentially breaking, is so distinct because of two manmade conditions. Bayside bulkheading on the west side of LBI and oceanside jettying on the east side has stopped the natural inclination of barrier islands to migrate to the west. The built-out portion of the Island simply cannot move westward like Holgate.

And therein lies a huge headache for Holgate Wilderness Area aficionados.

That nodal point, right where we first drive on the beach, is a potential breaking point, especially given its history as a former inlet. The ocean is already making inroads toward the bay there.

However, there are many more factors coming into play this go’ round, as opposed to times past.

The jetties along the beachfront are deflecting some of the ocean’s impact, diverting it southward. Not surprisingly, it’s further down the Wilderness Area beach, 4,000 feet from the entrance, that the erosion has now eaten all the former beach, dunes and uplands, along with what was once thick vegetation.

Standing on the high ground of the beach there, one can now look at the nearby bayside marsh meadows. There is now nothing but a thin beach and a slight rise between what is oceanside and bayside. The next major storm will easily dissect the Holgate Wilderness area at this point. And if history is any indicator, a new inlet could easily form overnight.

AFTERTHOUGHT: While much of the Holgate uplands have been lost in the past 10 years, the total landmass of Holgate can also be perceived as gaining acreage. This is because the natural process of barrier island migration leads to marshlands and tidal meadows forming on the west side.

And this is surely taking place.

Mudflats on the bayside of the Wilderness area are filling in with vegetation at an astounding rate. Large areas that were muddy clamming grounds only a decade ago are now heavily overgrowth. However, the Wilderness Area’s uplands are disappearing at an equally amazing rate, as the sea inexorably eats away once richly vegetated uplands.

The trade-off is essentially heavily treed and secure uplands for tenuous tidal marshland and meadows, submerged during high tide.

While the Forsythe Refuge owns the upland portion of Holgate, the property is still part of Long Beach Island – and New Jersey. As such, it is the legal responsibility of the Refuge to assure the maintenance and preservation of the beach. That mandate falls primarily under the power of the Public Trust Doctrine but is also explicitly stated in statutes demanding property owners respect neighboring properties.

At this time, refuge management refuses to allow – or even consider -- beach replenishment or any actions that could conserve the beachfront. However, by law, the state of New Jersey actually owns the riparian areas of the beach, where replenishment sand would be placed. The state could have the final say should the Holgate beach reach the brick of total extinction, a probability far more than a possibility.

Also, by historic precedent, the recently gained “wetlands” on the backside of the Holgate Wilderness Area are tidal, i.e. riparian, and are therefore owned by the state – it is no longer the property of the refuge. The federal Wilderness Area is actually losing acreage at the speed of the current beach erosion. It would surely be in its better interest to ponder the possibility of beach replenishment.

LOOKIN’ BAD FOR 2008: If a recent letter penned by Bill Hogarth, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, is any indication of where fluke fishing is going for New Jersey (and the entire Eastern Seaboard) we can just about kiss this favored flatfish a fond farewell -- something we've already done amongst those of us in the fall boat and surf fishing realm. Hogarth wrote the letter to Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council Chairman Pete Jensen.

The implications within this letter proves things are immensely worse than first thought, especially if you fell for that tripe that fluke regs will only be getting better after one more year – this year -- of tighter regs. In the letter, Hogarth harps on the glowing overages in poundage attributed to recreational anglers in recent-past years. He adds that virtually all fluke states have already exceeded their allotment for 2007.

As for things getting easier next year, Hogarth writes, “I encourage you to consider more precautionary approaches to manage the 2008 recreational summer flounder fisheries to ensure that the 2008 recreational harvest and fishery mortality targets not be exceeded.”

That sounds just like it sounds, more drastic cuts to our allotment for 2008.

As a caveat to his encouragement to cutback for 2008, Hogarth warns, “If 2008 mortality target is again exceeded, it is likely that very restrictive measures may be necessary for 2009 and possibly all of the remaining years of the rebuilding period …”

In what amounts to a sweeping condemnation of state-by-state tweaking of fluke poundage allotments, Hogarth writes “While the concept of allowing states to craft management measures designed to achieve necessary recreational harvest reduction to be equivalent to Federal measures is both appealing and has strong merits, it has not served the rebuilding efforts well, as evident by the fact that the annually established management targets have been exceeded in most years.”

The letter then goes on to threaten closures of the EEZ to fluke fishing. Such a closing of federal water would lead to serious trickle down affects for state-water fluking.

One semi-encouraging aspect of the if the fact Hogarth is at least acknowledging the anecdotal information we’ve been giving him for years. He comments, “I also understand that many recreational fishery participants state that there are more and larger summer flounder in the ocean than ever before; that is welcome news and a sure sign that the rebuilding efforts are working.”

He then coldwaters that by saying management must still adhere to the mandates of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

This does not look good. I, like many anglers (and even some scientists) question the survey findings, especially after reviewing (and living) the anecdotal evidence of healthy stock numbers. And the questioning of the data is the thrust of effort by groups like JCAA and RFA to save fluke fishing.

I’ll be writing more on the fluking problem in coming columns.

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