Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

I'm covering the WMIT -- so I'll slip those reports in here. I hope to get a regular blog in here at some point. Weather hadn't allowed for much nearshore action.

Saturday, August 01, 2009:

Sorry this ran late. I suffered an utterly aggravating loss of notepad. But my frustration/anger/dpression can’t compare to that of the Day Two contestants, who departed the docks under calm and inviting wee hour conditions and returned from the canyons all but war torn – and, for at least one captain, instant candidates for post-traumatic stress disorder. That captain said (in damn near utter honesty) “I’m never fishing again.”

Of the other boats that arrived dockside with weigh-ins, it was more a look of fatigue and even frustration on the faces of captains and crews. The canyons had been creatively cruel – throwing in a near unfishable mix of grounds swells, winds swells and wicked wind to 25 mph. Capping waves in the 7- to 8-foot range were reported. And those were mixed waves, i.e. different types of swells, long period, short-period and serious surface chop. Boats at troll actually had to contend with head-on wave hits, meaning the waves weren’t simply rising and falling below the boats, they were capping and crunching.

After trolling sessions from hell, the long haul back for the boats was so roiled the crew had to all but tie themselves into bunks to grab some in-transit shuteye. No rest for the weary. Then, LE Inlet was absolutely inhospitable, storm-torn and fully uninviting. One captain said the inlet passage was actually “The worst part of the whole damn trip!” Add to that, some boats had to sit out around getting rolled over by the storms that shutdown the club’s weigh-in station – and it’s high metal scale post that all but sticks its tongue out at lighting bolts.

At the club, eyes began steadily watching the Doppler radar at around 4, when that quite-spooky alert sound began being issued by the Weather Service, accompanied by an explanatory bright red scroll at the bottom of the screen on The Weather Channel. A line of storms – pretty much a connected band of fierce storms from down near the Gulf up to us – was displaying as orange and even pure red blobs. That meant storms of downright dangerous proportions were avalanching eastward. Tornado warnings soon arrived. I’m heavily into weather and I have to admit these were easily among the ugliest cells I’ve seen in years. And the speed they were moving in was alarming, as in tornado-alarming.

Just about everyone in the clubhouse got the empathy flow going for the boats out there, most heading in, who were running right into the fangs of that brutal stormage. The many family members of those boats, awaiting them at the clubhouse areas, were doubly concerned. For a couple families that concern would extend for hours after the storm has passed, as two vessels fell off the communications map during the blow. Even by post weigh-in time some vessels had not been accounted for. I stood by as club personnel helped one very distressed relative of The Escape contact the Coast Guard by radio, then cellphone, to report the overdue vessel. The Coast Guard, using more advanced radio capabilities, located The Escape about 90 minutes out. Another boat (I didn’t get the name) had a similar scare with an equally relieved ending. Hey, it’s seriously spooky when a captain all but guarantees a boat will be back in by 4 p.m. and the vessel hasn’t been heard of 4 hours later – after a fierce storm. I say that because folks are sometimes a little embarrassed after a boat is later found to be safe. And what if they had been out there in a life raft or survival suits. I’m thinkin’ they might be a tad glad that folks had quickly called in to report them missing.

Overall, something like 24 boats went out. I’ll make that an estimate because some vessels most likely headed out, saw the insanity building and bounced back in to minimize the damage.

Obviously, there was no rush to the scales when they opened at 4:30. Not making the dockside scales were vessels with something like half a dozen (combined) white marlin releases. Those vessels had no official weigh-ins to go with their upside down banners. (When a fish is caught and released, captains often hoist a representative species flag but fly it upside down, indicating a let-go).

The boats that did make the scales right after the storm had to contend with nasty 20 mph post-storm northwest winds. That’s some sort of imperfecta – not a break the entire day, including weighing in the frickin’ fish. And to think that we of a dockside ilk were grumbling over rain getting all over everything. By the by, the rain delay was actually only maybe 30 minutes, as the storms went NASCAR in both arriving and passing out into the ocean. A special dockside sympathy note to the caterers, who were not that well protected from the storm but had to hold their ground to watch over simmering foodstuffs. Free coleslaw to all of you folks.

The first vessel of the day was Anthracite and its two fat yft of 57.8 and 51.7.

Note: Somewhat astoundingly, a day that had everyone sweating turned to downright chilly by then, a drop of nearly 20 degrees in half an hour. The pink-shirt gang (that elite weigh-in corps) was wondering if they were going to get matching pink long-sleeve hoodies for warmth. Just kidding guys, you look sweet. (If I now go missing, question Kurt H. first)

Smokin Again showed up next, registering an 8:51 p.m. marlin release and offering 43.8, 42.3 and 57.2 yellow fin. That was one of the vessels telling of insane inlet conditions during the blow. Many folks don’t realize how much good captaining comes into play when things go south like that.

As bayside winds lay down, Paula Lynn brought in a 15.9 mahi and a 54.1 yft. That vessel was among others reporting open-ocean waves of 8-foot-plus.

As winds swung to the NE and ushered in an aggravating rain squall, Taramar III brought in a 14.6 mahi.

Peddlers Too arrived and reported a marlin release then offered the event’s largest yft (to that point) with a 72.8 Not to belabor it, but every fish that day should have its size officially doubled considering what the boats went through to get them. Congrats Peddlers Too.

Nutz n Bolts came in next with a fine 61.9 yfy, coupled with a 47.8.

As winds swung west, the 8 p.m. deadline loomed when word came in that a boat was rushing down the ICW with weigh-ins. The captain had chosen – smartly – to come in through Barnegat Inlet. The rush to the finish line made for some last-minute excitement, as dockside folks, including weigh-in troops, looked north to get a visual on the approaching vessel (hung up in “No Wake” zones). Cellphones were checked for the official time. Finally, a visual was made on the boat. Its approach was played as if the boat was racing into the docks to beat the clock by mere seconds. Turns out all that was needed was for the boat to be seen to be allowed to weigh-in after 8 p.m. The odd part – and the definition of anticlimactic -- was the boat reached the end of the club’s lagoon and just kept on trucking right on by. I never did get word on what that was all about since the family and friends of the boat were there at the scales letting folks know it was coming in. And it clearly had fish flags flying. We all kinda stood there shrugging our shoulders, wondering where it had gone. We finally gave up on it and began taking equipment in for the day.

Overall, it surely was day to remember for those that went the distance. It also means that Day Three (Saturday) is finally going to be that massive march to the canyons, as virtually every captain or crew member I talked to in the clubhouse said they were heading out for Day Three.

-- as the first time in recent memory the weigh-in start was put on hold by the umpires, as in the tourney heads. A downright ugly line of T-storms cells, some apparently equipped with tornadoes -- that kindly chose not to launch – approached at a very high speed from the south and west. Lightning came into play – though not nearly as badly as systems like that can generate hereabouts.

Day 1, Thursday: The wee-hours skies – wet and wildly windy -- spooked many a captain. Only about 15 boats headed out. The weather did back down a good bit after sunup, though I got word it was hardly a bargain out there. One angler colorfully described conditions at the canyons as “aggressively ugly.”

With such a small Day One involvement, it now pretty much comes down to a late-starting three-day tourney. I have to admit it was a good call on the committee’s part to go for four days.

When factoring in the fact that many boats can’t do Sunday (Ocean City tournament begins Monday), it would sure seem likely that Friday and Saturday are going to be a mad dash to the canyons -- quite possibly 45 or more vessels heading out on Friday. Weather perfection can also spur that on.

Now onto the first weigh-ins of WMIT2009.

It was one of those slingshot starts. It’s hackneyed but was the bar set high right out of the gate.

WMIT2009 was officially launched when Pez Machine snuggled up to the club’s dock. Being the first boat for the army of volunteers to service, the tourney’s entire weigh-in crew and we of a media tilt swarmed the scales. Expectations weren’t overly high. When the Pez Machine crew hand-lifted a pretty little albacore, pushing 52.5 pounds, we looked on adequately impressed. It was a start – and nobody was expecting much more. We shoulda been. The next Pez fish was tied at the tail inside the vessel. It raised more than a few eyebrows as it strained the hoist as it rose into public view. I was among the many not even remotely expecting a 159.4 big eye tuna to rise from the event’s first boat. Not only was the tuna rotund, it was in mint condition, testimony to first-class icing techniques – vitally important during tourneys.

A crew member I know on that boat, suggested the conditions were so crappy out there that no other boats should try to go out for the rest of the tourney. I said, “OK, I’ll go in and get your prize money right now.” For some reason they pulled away from the dock without waiting for me to return.

While setting the bar sky-high from the get-go is a good feeling, it also maximizes the amount of wait-and-see time for the boat to find out if the fish holds up long-term. With three entire days to go, it will prove a long wait -- though the Day One tuna honors surely went to Pez Machine – by a mile. I didn’t check to see if they had anything riding on the day, money-wise. Of course, this vessel still has another fishing day. It sure doesn’t hurt to already have a top fish under the belt when heading back out.

Soon after Pez Machine departed the docks, word began to inch through the growing crowd that Viking 68 was heading in – and a “marlin” was in play. Well, there was indeed marlin in play – and still in play, somewhere in the open ocean. Viking 68 had two white marlin releases at 6:30 a.m. and 1:33 p.m. As for blood and guts weigh-ins, the vessel trucked in a 48.2 and a 57.5 yellow fin tuna.

Next, Outer Limits brought in a nice 60.5 yft and a near mirror-image 59.7 yft.

The Escape radioed it had a “big yellowfin” on board. It was 58.2.

Northern Light brought in a mahi pushing 20.9 to take the lead in that humble but proud category.

Moon Shadow entered a 54.6 yft and a 17.8 mahi. Its mahi still held a glowing gold hue – usually long gone by scale time. Cameras were clicking heavily on the colorful fish, paparazzi-like. I always wish folks unfamiliar with mahi could see what the species looks like when on-line or just landed.

First Light was the first vessel to offer the three-tuna max for weigh-in: 52.9, 59.1 and 45.6.

As the light of day drained out, conditions laid down to near nothing. The day was fierce to start but downright serene by sundown.

Paperwork was very well readied by the few boats that arrived dockside today. Friday and Saturday will be the big tests. I’m thinking the queue of boats waiting to weigh in fish might get a tad backed up each of those days. I’ll be there for the action but sure won’t be able to write on every weigh-in. We’ll hopefully get all those unpublished hook up weights on this website.

Sunday could prove interesting with only a few boats involved but each one able to shake the leaderboard to its core.

HELLO, FISH ON: Rush of the day for me happened in the clubhouse when I came that close to yelling “Fish on!” and jumping out of my table seat. A fellow near me had one of those cellphone ring tones of a dramatically clicking drag. Maybe you’ve heard that bell tone. I hadn’t. It got me going like Pavlov’s dog. Of course, I had no idea what I was impulsively about to grab for. I just had this overwhelming desire to set the hook. My next reaction: “I need one of those ring tones.” I quickly rethought that. I’m hyper enough without leaping up and blindly grabbing for a ghost rod every time I get a phone call. That could prove a tad scary for anyone near me. I better stick with my gently sleeping cricket rings.

Hey, anyone going to bid on those Guy Harvey prints? If not, I’m gonna steal them. John F. says it’s going to be a real auction for them, meaning a low start.

While gas prices are mercifully down from last summer, it’s still no bargain out there. A captain motoring down here from Brielle said he dropped $180 in fuel just getting here. He anticipated up to $5,000 fuel costs for the tourney. I imagine that’s not an uncommon figure. Not to worry, scientists are working on a way to make biofuel from skate. Imagine, you simply fish skate the week prior to a tourney to cover fuel costs.

More blogging tomorrow. Any WMIT info, please email jmann99@hotmail.com. Especially interested in wild and wooly goings on during fishing.

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