Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report
Thursday, January 12, 2012: Holgate is closed, again. The combination of astronomically high tides and coastal weather inclemency has led to the ramp portion of the access road to be washed out.
While not many anglers head down there this time of year, it is still a very popular winter stop for visitors, including more than a few new buggy owners wanting to see what the south end sands are all about. Also, a goodly number of folks like to grab a clam or two from the Westside mudflats now and again.
I’m getting reports of bass still in the system, surf and boat. I also had reports of small bass being kept by a couple surfcasters. Zippo proof.
Driving up to Buddtown last night, I was thoroughly stunned to moths smashing my windshield. In January? Gets no weirder. I have also seen more and more forsythia bushes prematurely blooming.
It was very disturbing news hearing of the boat capsize death of Captain Jimmy Mears, a Barnegat light commercial fisherman. I have known Jimmy for something like 30 years. He was always a fun-loving and smiling guy, one of those folks everyone liked.
Loses like this crush the tight-knit
Oddly, I sometimes feel personal guilt when a commercial fisherman dies on the job. They’re the folks who feed me. I’ve been a non-meat/poultry person since the mid-1960s – long before such an eating lifestyle was fashionable. For every one fish I catch and eat myself, the pros get me 100 meals.
I have written in here on countless occasions how, despite my obvious recreational affiliations, I’m hugely supportive and respecting of what commercial fishermen go through to feed the likes of yours truly.
My sincere condolences to Jimmy’s immediate family, friends and his extended family of fellow fishermen.
(I’m among the many wondering how something like this could happen to one of the best captains out there. Conditions were calm. I’m fully aware of lethal cargo shifts but this incident seems a lot odder than that. Struck by another vessel? What kind of captain and crew would hit another vessel and just keep going? I don’t care how large a ship you’re on, not only would a strike of another large vessel be felt but someone onboard such a ship would have seen the hit.)
Even Pineys Read This Column;
Rocky and Bill Sharing Space
It’s a new year but I sure as hell can’t tell it from the old one. Maybe it’s got a bigger engine under the hood or gets better gas mileage. Remains to be seen.
As it is with any winter, it’s a tad tough being profoundly fishy in here, as angling takes a breather. However, there are still some bass being bested off the beach and right outside Barnegat Inlet.
GETTING’ READY: Quiet off-season times leads me into uncharted waters, as I write on subjects only remotely fishingafied. I regularly get helped along by all ya’ll -- emailing ideas or questions on whatever-and-beyond, mainly outdoorsy. So get crackin’. My desk is relatively clean as I return from a longish holiday vacation --though I’m guessin’ this once-bitten chocolate bar from last month is surely still good. Yep, just fine. Vintage.
I should note, as I launch into my umpteenth year of fishing/outdoors columnization, there are two well-marked schools of reading thought visiting this sector of The SandPaper. One is the oft-uppity sector that wants angling and angling stuff alone to grace this space. A few inches of “Rundown” material would be plenty enough to make their week, so to speak. They’re an essential part of the family. For them, I’ll continue to include highly visual subheads in here, making it easier to zip past also-ran items and into fishingness.
However, the familial forerunners among readers are the fine folks who drop in here just for the bloody hell of it. I run into more than a few of them wherever I go.
True tale: Just last week, while tracking through the inner recesses of Timbuktu, Burlington County outback, I inadvertently crossed a (unposted) property line and was put upon by what had to be one of the last Pineys on the planet. Tall and wiry, I could only guess he was somewhere between 50 and 100-something. Clad in seen-way-better-days camo jacket and pants, he also wore a faded oil-stained “Salem” baseball cap – locks of wild gray/black hair escaping out the sides and back of the cap.
His small dark gave way to a bursting and chaotic white beard that could easily hold a second job as a roadkill possum.
Getting fully in my face, I got read the outback riot act about “trespassin’ where ya shouldn’t be!”
The woodsy fellow was obviously enraptured by his own aggressive presentation, the spittin’ image of hoppin’ mad. Meantime, I’m standing there thinking, “This is so cool. A pissed off Piney is rousting me. Who could ask for more during a hike?”
As his initial salvo subsided, I fanned the fire of the moment – and pushed my outback luck a bit -- by mumbling, “If you had some stinkin’ ‘Keep Off’ signs I wouldn’t have come in here.”
He retorted with a gruff, “If you was from around here, you’d know whose property this is.”
Oh, what a tired excuse. Been there/heard that. I shrugged it off in a losing interest way.
My token Piney also sensed the sagging drama level and hissed, “Where you from anyway.”
I matter-of-factly said, “Long Beach Island.”
Talk about a weird brake in the action. His piss and vinegar approach dried instantly.
“No way. What part of LBI?” he eagerly asked.
Noting his use of the colloquialish “LBI,” I had a sense things were shifting gears and suddenly driving headlong toward the shore – a place I was sorta hoping to get away from in the woods.
“Ship Bottom,” I said, feigning arrogance in hopes of re-sparking the former tension.
“Ship Bottom? No s***. I met my wife there,” he all but giddily blurted out, smiling through perfect fiercely white teeth. Not one tooth missing -- or even tobacco stained.
Talk about losing the magic of the pinelands moment. What’s worse, I then had to hear how his wife-to-be had first walked up to him in “a tiny red bikini like you never seen.” What’s more (gospel truth), it turned out I actually knew her a bit, back in the partying days.
But that was far from the only connection we had. During an exchange of names – seein’ we wuz all but brothers now -- I offered my usual “J-mann,” a combo name moniker I use as if one word.
He raised his eyebrows. “Oh, you write that column, right? My wife loves it. I read all the fishing’ stuff. But I never know what all that other stuff is about.”
Now where had I heard that before?
So, via this column, and in the middle of surely nowhere, NJ, I made a new kinda-Piney friend – or found an old friend I didn’t know I had. Well, I guess word gets around.
Well, if you’re out there and a-fish, you must officially have your 2011 NJ Angler registry Card, via the New Jersey Saltwater Recreational Registry at http://www.nj.gov/dep/saltwaterregistry/index.html.
I redid mine in less than 60 seconds. There is no excuse for not having one.
Here are some of the many such excuses that won’t work (Hint: None do).
1) I registered but I left me card in my other computer.
2) No one checked me last year so I figured I didn’t need one.
3) I did two tours of duty in Vietnam.
4) I couldn’t afford it. (Not to worry, I’ll lend you all you need.)
5) I’m a Jehovah’s Witness. And would you like one of these pamphlets explaining why you should join us? (While this one doesn’t work as an excuse, per se, many a Fish and Wildlife Enforcement officer might bolt away before even checking for a Jehovah’s Witness for a New Jersey Saltwater Recreational Registry card.)
By the by, the honeymoon is over starting with this year’s registration. Things will be a lot stricter. Bet on it.
The last I checked (today) the fines remain insane for being out of compliance. However, as most of you know, a bill is on the Guv’s desk that would drop noncompliance fines from between $300 to $3,000 down to a very sensible $25.
One of the bill’s prime sponsors, Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May/Cumberland/Atlantic), said, “The purpose of creating the state registry was to prevent individuals from having to pay a $15 federal fee to fish. Imposing an initial fine of up to $3,000 for failing to register with this free database is completely unacceptable,” said Van Drew. “This bill scales back the penalties for noncompliance significantly so that anglers are not forced to fork over hundreds, or possibly thousands, of dollars simply because they were unaware of the new program.”
I’m told our Governeater is behind the bill.
RUNDOWN: Bass are still in the ocean and even along the beachline. I had a decent number of reports indicating those angler willing to put in the time are getting their first January NJ stripers. I’m hoping to get some January clams down Holgate way, reopened today.
I need to include this Renegade Sportfishing report (Monday) from just to our north. It’s one of those heavy-hooking things where you look at the calendar and can’t believe such action is still under bow.
“… Let me start by making an honest confession, there is no rhyme or reason to this bite. Hide tide, low tide, sun, clouds, wind, no wind, time of day, etc I can't make heads or tails out of it. At 7am we ran 20 miles back north and searched for over 3 hours with nothing to read but herring.
”At exactly 11am as predicted based on Mr. Fisheads report from yesterday (Thanks Capt. Mike) all hell broke loose exactly were we started looking 3 hours earlier. At 10:50 am there was zero life, at 11 am all the bass you wanted. Not going to over think any of this as it will drive you nuts, the herring are there, wt's are still 47-49 degrees and the bass fishing remains solid.
…The the boys quickly limited out boating 40 quality, hard fighting bass, keeping their 8 fish limit. Most bass were in the 4 -30 pound class.”
HOLGATE HAPPENIGS: Holgate is opened, closed and opened again. The beachfront is forever smaller but holding its own, survivalist-style.
Expectedly, the entrance erosion isn’t going anywhere soon. Every meteorological or astronomical upheaval usually leads to a closedown to vehicular access.
By the by, some beachcombers have been wondering if the closing of the gates (south end of parking area) means the public is also thwarted from passage.
Yes and no.
If you’re thinking of going through the parking area to reach the Holgate Wilderness Area beaches by foot, it is often a true dead end effort. When erosion has washed away the access road, I’ve seen times when accessing the beach would entail climbing down a veritable two-story cliff of jagged concrete and rusty metallic crap, stuff so nasty it would make a torture chamber executioner grimace.
However, there is a little-known entrance onto the Holgate beachfront. And I’m only letting you winter folks know about this.
Here’s how: Park in the usual lot area, but then walk north from the lot and turn left (west) onto the first east/west road, McKinley Avenue. Walk to the end, where it intersects West Avenue. It’s not a long haul at all. Turn left (south) and follow West to its end. You’ll see a pathway through the dunes. Walk it to hit the Holgate beaches. DO NOT venture to park on West Avenue. It’s mainly residential and has a lot of “Tow Away” areas. It’s not worth the risk.
Holgate clamming has been nearly nonexistent all fall and into winter. If it’s not high tides killing access it’s the washed out access road. Of course, that low-level harvesting of the best eating clams in the world means there’s an easy pick if and when you can get to the mudflats. I’ll be getting there, even if it means biking down.
Important: It’s a new year, in case you hadn’t noticed (as evidenced by the dates on your checks). You must get a 2012 Beach Buggy Permit from LBT to legally travel the Holgate beachfront.
ROCKY AND BILL: (Here’s a tale from our buddy Bill Figley, the man who developed the state’s artificial reef program.)
Rocky and me
A few weeks ago, I took my 22-fot center console out for its last run of the year. I wanted to check out the waterfowl on the bay. When I returned, I was going to disconnect all of my electronics and get the boat ready to pull out of the water for the winter.
When I stepped into the boat, I noticed a pair of my son’s gloves lying on the deck. The sliding glass door of my electronics box was open, kind of strange, since I always keep it closed. My son must have left it open, I thought. Anyway, I picked up the gloves, shoved them into the box and slid the door shut. I started the motor and was soon patrolling the bay, on plane, but at slow speed, searching for ducks and brant with my two-year-old golden retriever, Season. He loves the boat.
Back to my electronics box again, this homemade box is different than most in construction and location. Mine is not overhead, it is just above the steering wheel at chest level so the plotter and depth finder are just below my eye level when I am driving the boat. Because of this location, I built it with sliding plexiglass doors, rather than the customary flip up panels. Small details that are important to the story.
I hadn’t gone very long, when I heard a cracking noise, the distinct sound of plastic breaking. I was paying close attention to where I was going, so I didn’t think I hit anything, but I looked forward instinctively anyway. Nothing there, I didn’t hit anything. I looked down and 18 inches from my face two black eyes stared back at me through a black mask. They were the eyes of a rather serious-sized raccoon, whose face and body were protruding from the shattered door of my electronics box. This is not good, I thought.
Without hesitation, the coon exited the box, slid down the aluminum T-top frame and hit the deck. My immediate concern was Season. Dogs and coons in a confined space don’t mix and I knew who would get the worst of it. Season spotted the hairy intruder and came to investigate, out of curiosity, not malice. I knew if he got close enough, the coon was ready to open a can or two of whoop-ass on him, so I yelled at the dog to get back. He must be smarter than I think he is, because he listened to my command and stayed his distance.
The coon circled the boat a couple time, probably trying to assess his predicament, and then jumped over the side. Situation over, disaster avoided. I watched the coon swim away, but it soon became clear that he was heading straight down the bay, with nothing but open water in front of him. How long could he go before he drowned? I didn’t want that, so I decided to attempt a rescue. I motored over and tried several times to fish him out with various poles and boat hooks, each time receiving an aggressive retort from the raccoon, but as I expected, you can’t lift a soaking wet, pissed-off coon out of the water with a stick. Finally, I draped the canvas console cover over the gunwale and without hesitation, the coon climbed right up and back into the boat. Season remained polite and respectfully distant.
I steered directly towards the bay bank and after a few minutes, ran the boat up onto the muddy bank. I felt the rush of success, but the coon deviated from my plan. Instead of jumping over the bow onto the marsh and freedom, he dived into the anchor locker under the bow and wedged himself in. Now what?
I motored back to the dock, tied up and got Season out of the boat. Then, I called for my son, Nate, told him what happened and explained my plan: you stand on the bow, stick this 2x4 through the top access hole to the anchor locker and pry the coon out, when he runs out, I’ll catch him in this landing net and throw him on the dock. What could possibly go wrong?
My thirty-year-old son was laughing and looking at me like he didn’t really believe there was any coon in there. When he stuck the 2x4 in and touched the coon, it let out a nasty high-pitched growl that sent Nate off the bow and onto the dock. Yeah, he’s in there. Nate looked at me, net in hand, and said, “Dad, you’re nuts, that coon’s gonna tear…”.
“No”, I replied, “we’re not changing the plan.”
So, my son, now a true believer, stepped back onto the bow and to my surprise, fulfilled his part of the mission by prying the coon out of the anchor locker. My turn. It went so fast, I can’t really explain exactly what happened, but somehow, the coon ended up in the net and onto the dock. The last we saw of black-masked Rocky was him scampering along the bulkhead whaler. It still makes me shiver to think what would have happened if the coon had remained incognito in the box and I had stuck both hands in there to remove my electronic equipment.
A humorous encounter that explains why one sliding door in my electronics box is white and the other is now clear.