Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Tues. Dec. 9, 32008 -- Weekly madness

Schoolie Mysteries and Eradicated Egos

BASS EVERYWHERE – EXCEPT HERE: Email “Jay, I spent weeks fishing the surf (Harvey Cedars) and had no luck at all. Then I was invited out on a boat and caught more striped bass in a few hours than I had in the past five years. What’s with that? …”

There are a couple elements at play here, though I’m not sure what game they’re playing.
Firstly, let me touch on your chosen point of line entry.
Harvey Cedars was within a zone of surfcasting sadness this entire fall. For whatever mystical reasons, bass bypassed it – virtually all autumn.
That zone of no-bass-returns was roughly from south Loveladies all the way into north Ship Bottom, though the further south you got in that zero zone the better the chances of at least some bass takes.
The oddest part of that exclusionary idiosyncrasy is the fact that HC (Harvey Cedars) is rightfully famed for its striped bass presence. It’s an historical hotpoint for fab fish. Yet I had literally dozens of hard-fishing folks from that area tell me they had some of the worst autumnal angling ever.
For me, this is a fully unexplainable occurrence, since nearby locales –Loveladies and (especially) B.L. – had decidedly decent to above average bass times. At the same time, Ship Bottom all the way down to the south tip of LBI, had fine fishing, with Holgate taking the striper cake for much of the LBI Classic stint.
That oddity addressed, the even trickier question arises over why the late-season striper hordes simply failed to do the beachline. And just off the sandbars was likely the largest bass mass seen in modern times.
Food is always the most likely cause of bass masses doing what they do.
As was oft noted in past columns, we had a stratospheric sand eel year. While this forage of all forage (quite likely the favorite food of bass – when available) is not at all immune from coming flush to the beach, sand eels are also heavily inclined to ball-up off the beach, especially when out there in massive number. Those sand eel balls are far less inclined to roll in too close. They are especially drawn to inlets areas, where the recent boat action was insane.
Another equally compelling possibility for the bass hanging just out of surfcasting distance was the ongoing diner bell being sounded by the best bunker presence in likely decades. As we all know, big bunker are very un-inclined to go shallowing around -- where horrid things happen at the speed of blues and bass.
I didn’t blog about it much, but along with a fully failed mullet run, the peanut bunker migratory passage was terrible. How that could happen after we had bayside biomasses of baby bunker in veritable clouds (all summer) is one more mighty mystery attached to fall fishing 2008. While big bunker sidestep the shoreline, peanuts greatly prefer a close-in cruise, where we cash in on the gamefish they suck in. Not this year, though.
A final possibility for bad beachline schoolie fishing is even more cryptic. The surfside mullet and peanut absence had larger bass drifting outside, chasing sand eels and big bunker. The arriving school stripers hung where the big fish were showing the feeding way. The schoolies just didn’t get around to exploring the beachline.
As likely as not, next fall will see thing return to normal – providing the fish fully cooperate.
EGO-BEGONE: I got an email with some good-natured taunting over the fact I once again had a year with no weigh-ins for the LBI Surf Fishing Classic.
I tried to rally by noting I’ll only weigh-in a bass over 45 pounds (true story) -- knowing I wouldn’t have had even a low-end entry this year.
The thing that struck me the funniest was the writer’s words “that must be a blow to your ego.”
Ah, yes, that thing called ego.
Many years back, I was married to a very healthy and active ego. We were inseparable. In fact, it seemed like I never had a stinkin minute to myself, my ego telling me to kick this or go after that.
It got to the point where my ego seemed perpetually pissed off at everything. When it wasn't cruelly laughing its ass off over what other people were wearing or doing, it would be looking to get me in a fight -- just to see if I was tougher than the other egos out there. Back in the Seventies, it screamed at me for a solid two weeks when I hedged on buying elevator shoes with clear hollow heels and a live goldfish swimming in each one.
Then, out of the ego blue, I woke up one brilliantly sunny morning and found a scribbled note that read, "I'm outta here. You're unbearable. Yours untruly, Your Ego."
I stood there stunned, wondering how anyone could survive without a ferocious ego close at hand. Hell, what would I do the next time someone came up and said, “Hey, buddy, you’re a (obscene words) moron.”
But I surely liked the way things worked out. For instance:
“Hey, buddy, you’re a (obscene words) moron,” offered by a full-blown ego-bearer.
“So what's your point," I’d nonchalantly reply.
“What’s my point?! I just called you a (obscene words) moron.”
“I hear ya. Now what?” I say, smiling contentedly.
“Huh?" is all the confused ego-hugger can emit.
“We’ve established that I’m a total (obscene words) moron. And that’s fine by me. Now what?"
“Uh, I'm not sure actually. Truth be told, my ego tells me to say stuff like that. It never really tells me what to do next."
“I hear ya. I was recently married to an ego just like that.”
“Really, what happened?”
“I got a Dear John letter and my ego took off to shack up with some politician.”
“Wow. What can I do to get my ego to hit the highway?”
“You might have just started the process. High five. Hey, do you fish?”
“Sure do.”
“Wanna drive down to Holgate and see what's biting?”
“Damn, straight. By the way, my name is Seymour.”
“Seymour? Maybe your should hang onto that ego, just for survival purposes.
“Just kiddin'. High five, Seymour!"

YOU GOTTA KEEP ‘EM SEPERATED: I want to direct your attention over to the Gulf of Alaska, to what I consider one of the rare times management and management scientists are seemingly seeing the ecological forest through the trees, so to speak.
Over there, NMFS is relaxing certain bycatch constraints to encourage commercial fishermen into taking tons and more tons of a fish known as arrowtooth flounder.
Since the early 1970s, these mushy-meated flatfish have increased seven fold – if not more. They’ve literally taken over, despite having been, heretofore, a very minor of bottom feeder in the Gulf of Alaska eco-picture.
Of course, I'm not wild about backing off on any bycatch constraints -- and doubt the Green groups will look the other bycatch direction for very long. However, the only way to get professional fishermen interested in going after these low-shelf flounder is to make it easy.
What I relate to most in this instance is an open acknowledgment on the part of management that an overpopulated species, even one of small status and stature, can single-mouthedly consume the hopes of other important species struggling to recover. Bruce Leaman, director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, was among those convincing NMFS that such an imbalances on the Gulf’s bottom made life miserable for all the struggling members of that once-vibrant ecosystem
So why the glut of arrowtooths? Mankind, per usual.
These flounder pretty much suck as foodstuff. Mushy meat and a spoilage rate off the charts have them rock bottom on the groundfish usability list, the list that has long had West Coast fishermen all but obliterating the Gulf’s top-shelf seafood species, like halibut and king crabs.
The current population of this fairly-foul flounder can be pictured via the target numbers scientists have handed over to NMFS. They estimate that half a billion pounds of the species could be harvested per year -- just for starters.
Currently, fishermen are taking less than 5 million pounds or arrowtooth annually. However, lab folks have found a way to make the meat of the flounder sturdier and longer lasting. That coupled with the above-mentioned relaxing of bycatch rules will make it more cost-effective for fishermen to target the flounder and allow folks to see the correlation between knocking down an over populated species and the recovery of threatened species needing to be nursed back to health.
I’ll only note in passing that I openly allege that our over babying of small striped bass is devastating the recovery of virtually every troubled gamefish species out there – all of which piggish stripers will engorge upon. It also can’t pass without note the way a smaller flatfish can be the bane of the bottom if given the chance. I’m also thinking that the Magnuson movers might have set the recovery bar too high on fluke, not factoring in the way aggressive fish too easily overpower whimper species. Pity the poor winter flounder – that has to swim through ravenous fluke and stripers as they head into the bay in fall. Also, pity any young-of-year even seabass and tog that have to work their way across a bottom bricked with fluke.
SEAL SADNESS: Some disturbing findings regarding the wellbeing of harbor seals have come out of the Université de Liège, Belgium.
Scientists there have completed a study indicating harbor seals may be the chief victims of occult methylmercury in the ocean waters. It gets there mainly via fallout (my word) from coal-burning utility plants.
Seals eat seafood at a near nonstop rate. Having a high-flying metabolism, seals need to feed to the hilt. -- high metabolism, big bones and all that. Many of its favorite meals are species heavily laced with methylmercury. They must keep blubber on their bodies to stave off coldness.
Virtually all their prime food sources are creatures carrying nasty loads of mercury.
Think of the danger in human terms. It is recommended that, per week, we eat no more than a couple/few portion (6 to 8 ounces) of those fish species containing high levels of mercury. Seals down pound after pound of those dangerous species -- everyday, year ‘round.
Still, it’s not as if harbor seals wash up bearing all the medical symptoms of methylmercury poisoning. The negative impacts are far more insidious, often showing in an animal’s immune system. A mercury-heavy harbor seal often shows its heavy metal woes via colds, flues and pneumonias. And more and more coughing and sneezing seals are coming ashore, per the data from the Brigantine Marine Mammal Stranding Center.
While there are no studies aligning the rash of local seal strandings with the impacts of mercury, it is surely something to ponder – along with ways to keep us from saturating the skyways with tons of mercury.
GET THE LEAD OUT: While on the topic of insidiously invasive metals, I want to make a quick mention of lead. This malicious mind-mangling metal fortunately lost much of its toxic luster when lead-based fuels and paints were banned. However, it has crept back into the news (and into the populace) via an unlikely source: venison.
The deer meat nearest the resting place of the shotgun pellets used to kill a deer has what might be called a blow-over effect. Lead particles, often microscopic, reach the meat that reaches the plates of both venison lovers and very poor folks.
Yep, very poor folks.
A huge chunk of highly appreciated deer meat is donated to food banks by hunters. It’s a great gesture and one that should not be lost to leaden fears. In fact, I don’t bring up this subject to jump on what has become a bandwagon of worryism but to encourage states looking into lead in venison (NJ being among them) to find a away to pare way the problem while leaving the meat in good mouths, as in those who need it most.
I’m not a deer hunter but as a hardcore tracker. I keep very close track of all goings on in the Jersey Outback.
After a couple slow deer harvesting years, initial kills (black powder/muzzleloaders and the start of shotgun season) indicate the 2008/09 yield will be pretty brisk, this after some slow shooting years.
Like all hunts – including fishing, which is a hunt of a different sort – there are always cyclical swings in nature, mixed in with the far more significant man-caused catastrophes. The recent downswing in the deer kill count for Jersey has led to an absurd blame being placed solely on coyote. Never mind the fact that we’re still building out the state’s remaining wooded areas at a deadly rate, and ignore the fact that Jersey has far-and-away the highest deer kill per acre of any state in the nation, and bypass the fact that deer are seemingly learning to muster near developments where the chance of sportsmen-based death is scant, and shirk the impact of recent deer diseases, and never mind the fact that the number of fatal vehicular hits to deer has quadrupled in recent years, and instead place deer hunt downswings solely on the heads of coyote, a natural predator -- whereas mankind is the most dangerously over populated species the planet has ever seen.
It’s totally ridiculous to single out coyote – to the point of demanding the state begin eradicating them, using poisoning if need be. The effort clearly indicates how many weekend-warrior hunters lack a real knowledge of the outdoors, except from what they read or glance during the few times of year they actually get out there. The hunters I respect most are those who couple their shooting with massive amounts of time spent simply exploring the wilds.
As referenced in the above rant, there is a marked movement of deer populations toward human population centers. I can easily substantiate that through the extreme decrease in the number of deer tracks I’ve seen deep in the Pines and the near insane increase in hoof tracks flush to housing developments.
A fellow I know in Zone 22 (east of Parkway, near Rte. 9) recently sent me a photo of no less than a dozen deer munching away in his backyard, where he used to see maybe one or two. His property is up against the refuge. On the west side of the Parkway, a bunch of mobile homes can match that backyard dozen and even raise it a half dozen more. One fellow’s tiny patch of mobile home backyard grass looks more like an overloaded deer farm most every evening. Yet, in the heavily wooded areas no more than a few hundred yards away from those deer-heavy yards, hunting has totally sucked in recent years. Hey, it’s not out of the question that deer are smartening up – coupled with more and more housing developments for them to cozy up to for grass and protection.

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