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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

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The Fish Story

It’s Blibsy and Blobby Out There; Drones Will Surely Start Fishing

By JAY MANN 

I’m still getting continually asked about snowy owls in Holgate. The concise answer is “the buggers are still there.” As many as five were spotted there Sunday, Jan. 19, including one I saw with a post-meal face – yucked in blood. It musta been something damn tasty it had just eaten. I swear it was smiling, as best an owl can smile.

BUGGY BLAZE: I’m looking for more details on the beach vehicle that got stuck – and then some – on the beach.

In a move I can truly feel for, the driver tried to power out of the sudden sinkage – in semi-panic, I’m sure. At some point, the saying “Never say things can’t get worse” must have burst forth.

The bogged-down driver might have begun with “Oh, no! I’m stuck! This is the worst!” However, the revved engine seemed to have bigger plans, along those worse lines. It soon went from “Oh, no! I’m stuck!” to “Oh, no! I’m stuck – and I’m on fire!”

Yep, the stuck vehicle went up in smoke, right there on the beach – a total, burnt-out loss. And I’m sure somebody called in, “There’s somebody with a fire on the beach and that is totally illegal. I want him ticketed.”

Officially, it was described as an accidental fire in the engine compartment.

The good thing is no one was charred. That’s truly all that matters in such a worst-case scenario – though the vehicle owner might be less inclined to remain that philosophical.

I’ve seen folks left in sad skin shape after trying to go mano-a-mano with a vehicle fire. For me, a buggy fire is a case of mano-a-runyourassoffo. Vehicle engine fires are a bitch to extinguish. A couple shovels of sand ain’t going to do the trick once the full-blown blazing has begun – though I once put out a budding buggy blaze in Holgate using, in fact, shovels of sand, as a suffocater.

And it’s amazing how quickly moods can change. No sooner had the smoke cleared than the formerly freaked-out buggy owner moaned, “Oh, hell, how am I going to get all this sand out of my engine now?” Dude, I’m thinkin’ it’s a helluva sight easier getting sand out of an engine than getting fire out of it.

The closest I came to burning up a truck was in the pines at the Quail Fields off Route 539 in Lacey. I had pulled onto an open field to net damselflies. (Hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.) I walked off a bit and, through the graces of the winds that day – blowing my way from the direction of my vehicle – I snagged the telling odor of grilling grasses. My sizzling-hot muffler had nestled amid dead weeds. Combustion commenced. I looked over to see thin veils of white smoke enveloping my nearly new Toyota Tacoma. By the time I got into the driver’s seat, there was thick, darkening smoke pythoning around the entire truck. I fired up the engine – Toyotas are highly reliable starter-uppers – and reversed all the way to the nearest dirt road. I then rushed back to the now-flaming piece of field and stomped it out good, ruining nearly new boots in the process. Had winds been different, that truck would have surely taken off to truck heaven, scorched sector.

BLIBS AND BLOBS: While moaning through a slew of photos of shark-attack survivors, a group of us stared at the pic of an attractive young woman with a hideously stitched-up right leg. While most of us shuddered and moaned, a gal in our group seriously said, “How cool would it be to have scars like that? People would look at them and you could say, ‘Shark attack.’ That would be so cool!” Those were her exact words – and she meant it. It was kinda weird, since this same gal has wanted to get a tattoo “so bad” – but is afraid it will hurt too much.

Only a few days later, I see on Facebook a fellow who got this grotesquely real-looking tattoo of a shark bite going from his upper chest, over his shoulder and down his back. Maybe I’m missing something here.

*   *   *

State biologists are looking into the possibility that the sub-zero visits from the polar vortex – the latest buzz term – might be killing off the ongoing invasion of Southern pine beetles. These are truly nasty little tree borers that drain the ever-lovin’ sap out of even the toughest conifers.

More localized, the dynamic deep freezes might also give a boost to the bay. There is science behind the notion that fast bay freezes kill harmful bacteria, algae and such. Just as meaningfully, baymen have long sworn up and down that a solid ice-over – providing it doesn’t last too long or go too deep – is the quickest way to “clean things up, real good.” Hopefully, the likes of brown algae and sea nettle jellyfish got their proverbial balls frozen off. Spring will tell, as our baymen get the first reads on shellfishes and crabs. I’m certain we’ll be sittin’ pretty when it comes to our second-to-none seafood. Did you know that the world-famous Maryland blue claw crabs are often from Jersey?

*   *   *

The latest (though likely not last) word has the Island-long beach replenishment effort beginning next fall. Better late than never? Maybe not, after factoring in we’ll need to get through an entire hurricane season again without proper sand support. Last year’s tropical season was such a dud it was nearly a non-hurricane hurricane season. One has to legitimately worry that the skies that be are only lulling us into complacency – to lower one bitch of a boom upon us. Yes, I’m still dealing with a touch of Sandy-shock. And I’d much rather see some serious sand on the front lines before the tropics heat up.

An autumnal 2014 beach-fix start would also lower another type boom – right on the head of our once-famed fall fishing. The last two falls have been so fishingly bad we might have lost our gold-star fall fishing rating.

Chatting with the Army Corps of Engineers, it’s too early to say which end of the Island would have the honors of being the starting point. I’m betting it’ll be a south start, based on that end’s dire sand deficit. There’s also a chance the big pump might simultaneously start at both ends of LBI, working toward the middle, where a gold ceremonial sand spike would be driven into the beach.

A shotgun start on both ends would be both sweet and suckacious. Sweetly, the discombobulating work would get done in half the time. Suckaciously, dueling sand dumpings would doubly screw up our fall fishing for months on end. I’ll have more on the beach-build issue in future columns.

*   *   *

I’ve taken odometer readings to estimate the beach distance from the Holgate parking lot to the Rip – and around to the back cut. That stint is now being walked and re-walked by seemingly indefatigable birders. By my truck’s measurement, it comes south to about 2.5 miles to the cut. However, for research the Forsythe Refuge has marked off – in feet – the entire stretch. There are markers along the way. Utilizing my lethal observatory skills, I recently noticed a 17,000-foot marker on the west peninsula. The “recent” marker had been there for, only like, 15 years.

Standing there, I began mentally computing feet to miles. Upon carrying a slew of 1's and adding no fewer than three pi-squares, it dawned on me that I surely had more important things to do at that moment. In fact, just the word “pi” had me itching for something sweet. Later, using a calculator, all those feet translated into 3.2 miles. Where did my 2.5 truck miles go?

“ARE YOU DEAD YET, QUAGY?”: For no good reason – which is plenty reason enough for me – I researched how long a hard-shell clam (quahog) can live out of water. I was sorta surprised by the disconnect between scientists and dying clams. One lettered fellow suggested a dry-docked quahog “can only last a few days out of water.” Another scientist went with “no more than a week.”

I might accept those quick-death guesses for clams left outdoors in the summertime, but what about now, when the bivalves essentially close shop for winter? That treads up the question of how long fresh clams can survive in the cold – including the fridge.

Assuming I’m not hand-feeding them in the fridge – I get attached to wildlife very easily – I’ll bet quahogs can last a helluva sight longer than many science guesstimates. Admittedly, the issue begs the cosmic question of when is a clam morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably dead. (Any Oz fans out there? If so, check out http://www.wendyswizardofoz.com/printablescript.htm.)

When checking for aliveness, there’s no knocking on a quahog’s shell. “Yo, you still movin’ in there, dude?” Hooking it up to heart monitors would work, but, lo, there is currently no such thing as mollusk cardiology equipment. That leaves the ultimate test: steaming. If the shell opens during steaming, the clam had likely been alive. Had this been a pet clam of which you were seeking proof of its aliveness such an opening would obviously be a good news/bad news thing.

All said, I’ll venture a guess that a fresh-dug winter clam, placed in the cold (not deep freeze), can live for at least 20 days – and maybe significantly longer.

Does that mean you can eat an 18.5-day-old clam on the half-shell? I’m guessin’ no – though I’d still watch if you wanna try.

CATTY OWL: I recently published the photo of an owl taking a cat. No, not in holy matrimony. Hey, there are tons of YouTube videos showing what might be called friendship affairs between usually opposing animals. You’ll see fawns cuddling with cougars, polar bears petting pit bulls, chimps caressing ducklings, even elephants enamored with armadillos – and more be-huddled cats and dogs than you can shake a stick at.

Not the case in the trail cam photo I placed on my blog (jaymanntoday.ning.com) on Jan. 16. It graphically shows a full-grown house cat being talon grabbed, and then flown off, by a huge owl.

I’m not a cat buff by any stretch, but even I groaned a bit at the sight, which I’m betting got a lot more groan-worthy for the cat later in the flight.

A raptor must be mighty frickin’ hungry to eat a cat. They’re so damn boney. I’m guessing at that, of course. I stick with soy cat burgers. Not so with feline-unfancying folks in areas of southern China, where cat meat is described as the perfect “heating” food. Huh!? Sounds like they’re using them for kindling. Or does it refer to the heat taken from cat lovers who notice a couple Garfield hairs stuck between their teeth?

On a brighter escapee note, might this simply help to explain how cats sometimes go missing for days and even weeks – before staggering in, mumbling, “Damn, that was as freaky as it gets. I’m never going outside again”?

I’m now wondering how many cat disappearances being blamed on coyotes are actually ravenous raptors – most species of which are greatly increasing in numbers via conservation efforts.

By the by, a coyote expert I talked to says that coyotes do, indeed, routinely kill cats, but not always for din-din. Adept hunters that they are, cats present a clear and present challenge to a coyote’s territories.

Long and short of it, you likely won’t be seeing cutesy videos of coyotes (or owls) affectionately embracing cats.

DAY OF THE DRONE: 

I first mentioned last spring that remote-controlled unmanned aerial devices, known to one and all as drones, could/would soon be playing a role in fishing.

As we speak, smaller handheld drones are flying off the shelves. They’re selling by tens of thousands. Hell, I think some newer smart phones now include drone capacities. I clearly foresee personal drones becoming a real buzz within – and above – the angling realm. Price-wise, even better drones are not much costlier than some upper-shelf fishing reels.

Anglers and drones make a perfect match. For surfcasters, drones offer a chance to finally see what’s in the water below fevered birdplay just off the beach. I’ve been told drones were used this past fall by anglers trying to spot striped bass in New England waters. For me, I’m already tabulating the tons of truck fuel I’ll save by sending out a drone to reconnoiter along the beachline, looking for schools of migrating mullet heading my way.

Shark spotting might become a fun-in-the-surf use for personal drones. We’re steadily told that sharks are regularly a-cruise in the beachside shallows, but it might prove highly entertaining to see, in real bug-eyed time, just how many sharks are out there – and how frickin’ close they are to clueless, splashing human masses. In Cali and Hawaii, drones have already grabbed shots of sharks nonchalantly touring surfing line-ups.

What about droning over dolphins and whales? Sure, there are likely laws against that, but should your drone be up there minding its own business and marine mammals just happen to pass beneath it, they’re surely fair game. That’s just an expression, of course. All I need is to look in my rearview mirror and see Sea Shepherd about to ram me from behind.

Trenton is about to codify how state and local authorities can use drones. For cops, a warrant will be required. Not so for robbers and such.

Based on case law across the nation, it’ll seemingly be fine for personal drones to be guided over crowded summer beaches – even doing close-ups of scantily clad gals. Hey, I don’t like it any more than you do, but the courts say that’s fair wampum.

Back to fishing, I’m betting that drones will be banned from fishing tournaments, especially million-dollar, big-game events. Billfish, especially swordfish, are highly inclined to hang near the surface, making them highly drone-able. By the same fishing token, think how much troll fuel could be saved by bringing a vessel to an offshore halt to launch a drone to test nearby waters for the likes of billfish.

Closer to the beach, even I might question the correctness of drones assisting anglers in locating fish during the likes of the Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic. If nothing else, I’d surely want to ban the use of drones for carrying baited lines way out to sea for dropping. It can easily be done. Hell, a drone can even hang out there to watch a live-lined bunker, just to see if anything is after its scaly butt.

To be sure, this is not idle Orson Wellsian, phantasmagoric talk. As early as this coming fall, there will be at least one fish-watching drone in the skies over LBI – mine.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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