Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

I’d like to say this first blush of spring – and the wonderful addition of reapportioned daylight, thanks to Daylight Savings Time – means fishing is back upon us. Not so, at least on the saltwater front. However, the Pinelands lakes are alive with small pickerel. Sadly, there are damn few large pickerel left, due in large part to thoroughly careless unhooking methods when anglers (allegedly) catch-and-release pickerel.

I have seen more kill-and-release with pickerel than any fish species. This is due mainly to their huge toothy mouths and the high likelihood of a pickerel “swallowing” the hook, especially when taken on artificials. While simple pliers can get at most swallowed hooks, impatience and poor fish handling methods lead to a doomed release.

Squeezing a landed pickerel as if holding an angry cobra behind the head leads to catastrophic internal injuries. Even when a softer holds is applied, the use of dry hands causes a slime removal that allows opportunistic fungal infection to later ravage the releasee.

To a lesser degree, the kill-and-release of pickerel is due to disrespect for the feisty gamer. Often-jaded largemouth bass fishermen hate when pickerel go after artificials meant for Bubba. Many a basser will rip the unwanted by-catch off the hook with no regard for its survival. It’s a form of piscatorial prejudice.

I’ll offer my ongoing appeal: When targeting pickerel, be fully prepared to take nearly as much time unhooking as finding and landing them. Handle fish with wet hands. Use long-nosed pliers. More often than not, access gut hooks through the gill plate. Pulling the freed plug out through the backdoor (gill plate), allows the plug to be clipped. What’s it take to retie a lure? Thirty seconds, tops. No sweat.

REGISTRY MOVES: As for the saltier fishing realm, I’ve been contacting the State’s Department of Environmental Protection and its Division of Fish and Wildlife to see when anglers can go online and to register (FOR FREE!) for the National Saltwater Registry, New Jersey sector.

Through the helpful folks at Fish and Wildlife, I was told the state is in the midst of developing its own angler registry program, apparently fine-tuning the technical language and such. Once that proposed program is NJ perfected – and gets the thumbs up from “legal” – the state then sends it to the feds at NOAA, where it undergoes scrutiny to see how well it fulfills the mandates of the Magnuson Act, from whence came the entire registry.  NOAA either gives it an OK or returns it for tweaking. It’s very much like the legislative process.

A returned program means yet more time before a NJ registry card becomes available. That could soon become problematic, as bassing and floundering days approach.

I was asked: Might the DEP be purposefully slow in coming to grips with what amounts to a defeat of their effort to get a for-pay registry? I really don’t think so. I think they’re a-rush, trying to get all the details of the registry figured out.

I do feel badly of the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife. The folks therein saw a for-pay registry as a way to finally get adequate funding on a yearly basis. They truly need it – as do all sprtemane who rely on their srievecea ands trpoieciton. I’d gladly be part of an organized effort to see angler-related revenues make a better landing on that division.

Important: For now, if you absolutely must register (not sure why), you MUST go through NOAA – and pay $15. That applies until the DEP gets the aforementioned program up and running.

If you acquired a federal National Saltwater Angler Registry card prior to January 1, 2011, check the date on the card to see when it expires. That is done by seeing when it was issued and adding 365 days. Many fishing folks, like myself, got in just under the federal gun, registering with NOAA in December of last year. That means we are pretty much free of needing to register with the NJDEP in 2011. I’ll be your eyes and ears as to any advantage there might be with freely signing up with the state, even though we have the federal NOAA card already in wallet. You never know, there might be a free toaster in it or something. 

I DIDN’T ORDER THIS TO GO: I was forwarded a wild story about a recent dining disaster at a famed seafood eatery on the Ohio River. 

Expectedly, my choice of the term “dining disaster” will initially stir up visions of curdled seafood bisque or, hotsily-totsily, over-scorched flaming Alaska. But this dining fiasco was a lot more literal, occurring when the nationally-acclaimed Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront Restaurant, Covington, Ky., was sorta called away at the height of the dining rush hour.

With 83 diners, including football great Chris Collinsworth, sitting at quaintly candle-lit tables, testing wines and sharing bites from epicurean entrées, an odd sensation overcame the ambience -- and nothing related to the free-flowing house Chablis. Turns out the entire barge-based restaurant had broken away from its moorings, egged on by the always-comical floodwaters of the Ohio River.

If you’re like me (heaven forbid), you have to get a good giggle over the likely reactions of the patrons, upon realizing their laidback fine dinning experience had become an unpiloted river cruise. I don’t recall the entire “Gilligan’s Island” song but I’m sure the tune will work perfectly as backdrop music to the upcoming YouTube videos of the breakaway restaurant barge.

By the by, I can make light fare of this fully insane incident since no one will get hurt, though I personally remorse over untouched Alaska king crab platters going to waste. And how about the guy ordering shrimp Diablo at the cash register. No sooner does he say, “Can I have that to go” than the entire restaurant shutters and begins to move from the pier. Amid the rising commotion, he could be heard shouting, “OK, let’s nix the to go. I’ll eat it right here, right now. No problem.”

A lot less giggle-worthy was the high-scare point during the restaurant’s effort to go free-range. About 150 yards downriver, it got lodged against the big and brutish Clay Wade Bailey Bridge. Even I shudder a tad there. I know of many full-blown tragedies when river-run buildings got wedged against a bridge then went into a series of inescapable crocodile rolls. Far more than just crab legs at risk then.

A pack of plaudits goes out to the always-alert Covington Fire Department for its rapid river response. Those local ax-and-ladder folks were on-scene in nothing flat -- and executing some damn impressive rescues, including launching ropes from the river bank and onto the barge.

Heroically, former Cincinnati Bengal Pro-bowl wide-receiver Chris C. made the reception of the first launched rope -- keeping the toes of both his feet clearly on the barge, before making the catch and landing out of bounds. Being Bengals fans, virtually all of the firefighters went crazy over the reception – and before hauling Chris out of the water. OK, so maybe I contrived some/all of that, but, hey, every football fan in the world would want it that way.

Seeing that virtually none of the diners or restaurant employees were wearing Coast Guard Approved Personal Floatation Devices, all were tossed life vests. One by one, they were then rescued -- to the growingly less vocal acknowledgment of a gathered crowd. “Cone on, Mel. They’re going to be rescuing these people all night. Actually, they could have taken a bunch at a time but this all happened during prime TV news time so it took nearly three hours -- meaning many of the rescuees arrived onshore well after the fire company’s “early bird” rescue special -- and had to pay full fare. (Hey, that was joked about by firefighters themselves, after the crisis had passed.) 

After the incident, emergency response officials praised the fast thinking of the restaurant patrons. “Luckily the people on the boat called for help immediately on their cell phones,” Covington Fire Department Capt. Chris Kiely told the Associated Press.

(The boat?)   

Not for nothin’, but I’m guessing it’s fairly fundamental knowledge to phone “immediately” when the restaurant you’re in has begun to float uncontrollably down a flooded river -- though I guess there’s always that portly-plus fellow warning his wife, “Don’t you dare touch that cell phone, Elsa! I’ve barely touched my crawfish surprise. Besides, we’ve settled in real nice next to this bridge. Just pass me the secret sauce, please.”    

Timely cell phone calls were made, though. Here’s one 911 call-in that wasn’t immediately released to the media:

“And what is your problem today?”

(Garbled.) “Our frickin’ restaurant is frickin’ floating down the frickin’ river!” 

“Sir, if you’d take the frickin’ food outta your frickin’ mouth maybe a I could understand what you’re frickin’ sayin’!”

(Apparently they use “frickin’” a lot in that part of the country.)

The part played by the Bailey Bridge was also noted. “If the bridge wasn't there, the restaurant could have traveled down the river quite a ways,” said Kiely.

Quite a ways, Cap? Try, over 20 nautical miles – gaining momentum along the way. Then we’d have a rescue for the all-time record books – Possibly: the panicked patrons on the surely-doomed barge forlornly looking out the portside windows and through the mist seeing a cartoon-bright Theodore Tugboat bravely coming to the rescue amid angry whirlpools. Cheers from within Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront Restaurant. Hey, I was reading children books to my friends’ kids all last summer, all right? I kinda took a liking to Theodore.

SHRIMP MANTIS TOTAL COOLNESS: I got this email a while back and had a fun time researching the subject.

“Hi Jay.. Just wanted to mention that I saw a seagull in my lagoon with a mantis shrimp ... doubt if he caught it there.. but I am quite sure what it was (he ate it all!!).. This one was barely 6" long... I saw one last winter that was closer to 8"... wild.. thanks ..bob.”

Mantis shrimp are quite possibly the coolest marine creature we have hereabouts. I kid you not.

Firstly, they are not shrimp – not even close. And they’re even further from land-based mantises, most famed for seemingly praying about everything in sight. In fact, the only reason they’re called mantis shrimp is their so-slight resemblance to both these non-relatives. 

With the mantis shrimp, we’re talking about a thoroughly distinct form of planetary life. Technically, they’re classified as stomatopods, a true living fossil – far more so than many other creatures dubbed such. The modern-day stomatapod (solely the mantis shrimp) are spittin’ images of Palaeo- and archaeostomatopods dating back 350 million years.


What they should be called, more appropriately, is world’s smashingest creature – with nearly unfathomable speed to boot.

In order to see how this is so, you have to downsize measurements – and bring in the latest cameras capable of slowing thing down to the point of allowing a .22 caliber bullet to be seen exiting a gun. Amazingly, that’s how fast a mantis shrimp can essentially club with its arm. Its strike is so fast it causes the water ahead of the attack claw to boil – and create a flash of light. 

“The strike is one of the fastest limb movements in the animal kingdom. It’s especially impressive considering the substantial drag imposed by water,” says Sheila Patek, a UC Berkeley biologist, all but obsessed with clocking creatures, then figuring out how they move so damn fast. 

With cutting-edge equipment, namely a high-speed video camera that records at 20,000 frames per second, Patek managed to capture footage of the strike of a mantis shrimp’s claw, also referred to as a club. The action was then slowed down over 800 times. The low-profile bottom-dweller could club at about 50 mph, twice as fast as had been previously estimated -- easily out-punching its land-living namesake, no slouch in its own right.

It was after putting the creature under the scalpel that Patek came across one of the odder biological mechanism she had ever encountered -- a part of the creature’s arm that allows it to finish its strike in under three thousandths of a second. She describes it as a bizarre saddlebag-shaped organ, which backs disproportionately large muscles in the creature’s upper arm, the bicep realm in humans. The organ is like a hypebolic paraboloid, an insanely equationed geometric concept that ends up looking just like an upright Pringle potato chip – or, less fatty, a saddlebag.

“Saddle-shaped springs are well-known to engineers and architects”, explains Patek,  “but is unusual in biological systems. Interestingly, a recent paper showed that a similarly shaped spring closes the Venus’s fly trap.”

But even weirder is this chemical energy buildup that takes place within the saddlebags.

As the energy builds, the powerful muscles are slowly compressed, tighter and tighter. When all but quivering with tension, a latching system locks the arm in place. It’s roughly equivalent to a cocked crossbow.

Patek and other scientists are still trying to figure out what that chemical mix might be that essentially activates the saddlebag organ.

When power-dining, the marine creature uses its claw arm more like a club, capable of accelerating to 10,000 times the force of gravity. Scientists have seen it at its smashing best. When tested, a mantis shrimp can smash so hard it’s able to put a dent in stainless steel boat propeller or even capable of breaking the glass of an aquarium -- as was discovered, the wet way. 

Another stunner for Patek was the realization that it wasn’t the creature’s high-impact appendage doing the actual heavy hitting. In a process called cavitation, the blistering forward speed of the club created such friction that small heat bubbles were produced. The water was boiling. As the bubbles were driven forward, they collapsed at the impact point of the strike, unleashing phenomenal energy. That all makes sense. If the claw itself impacted with all that force, the breakage could easily be collateral, leaving the mantis shrimp with a nice meal – and a broken claw. Amazingly, the cavitation is so intense on impact, it causes a flash of light.

Common foodstuffs for mantis shrimp are hard-shelled crustaceans. To invite itself in for a meal, the mantis shrimp knocks just once. A single knock sends foodstuffs flying, not dissimilar to myself when taking on a load of snow crab legs with my trusty nutcracker.

Giving the creature a fairly formidable presence in the undersea realm is its displeasing habit of blasting the ever-lovin’ life out of virtually any unfortunate passer-by that unknowing blocks its burrow. Larger fish and octopi are common victims, though they also represent predators, should a mantis shrimp be caught outside its lair.

FLASHY AFTERNOTE: In the name of scientific accuracy, I must note that the mantis shrimp’s seemingly unparalleled speed of assault has recently been bypassed – by an ant, no less. And who discovered this? None other than Ms. Patek. She and her team of researchers timed the trap-jaw ant’s strike at a ridiculous 78 to 146 miles per hour, accelerating at 100,000 times the force of gravity.  

Yawn. That doesn’t top the busting bubble power and awe of the mantis shrimp. Besides, you face ‘em off one-on-one and the ant might land the first blow but then it would have to swim back to the surface for air. “Get back here, you skinny little wimp. I’ll knock you back to the Cretaceous.”  

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