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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

 

Off to a Booming Start;

A Porch Fox Mystery

 

 

Boy, is this going to be a boring column. I have all, this bloody fishing, weather and wildlife stuff taking up the space where perfectly good minutia could reign supreme. Oh well, maybe next week I can write about stuff really pertinent issues like the way stores are actually Bogarting Pepsi “Throwback,” barely putting any out on the shelves so we’ll be forced to buy those high-profit, fructose saturated sodas that eat clean through your liver and go looking for your third eyelid. 

 

BOOMING CATCH-UP: It was as if Nature checked that big ledger in the sky and said, “Holy, crap, how did I miss this?” -- referring to the scant number of serious thunderstorms we’ve had going hereabouts, going back to the past few summers. “I hate to do it but it looks like I gotta catch up real quick. Actually, I really can’t say I hate doing it but with all this anger management training I’ve been undergoing lately I’m supposed to convince myself that I hate letting loose on an earthly area,” per Nature

Thusly, we were nailed by that fully rip-roarin’ 12-hour sky assault on Friday, flowed by Monday’s thunderous roof-rocking pop-up T-storms.

After a short high-sky reprieve – and gorgeousness temps, don’t be surprised if hell-on-wheels stormage comes back by week’s end. What’s more, look for an unusually dramatic thunderquakes and lightning throughout the entire summer.

Not that I’m accepting any blame for Friday’s legitimately newsworthy wind and rain whacking but it further fosters my prediction that we’ll see some freaky-wild weather during our R-free months, including the possibility of tornadic action and epic hail events.

“R” NOTE: Dating back to who-knows-when, it’s been a half-shell mandate in coastal communities that the hot/hotter/hottest months, those with no “R” in them (May, June, July, August), mark times when shellfish become suspect – not forsaken, just on the close-watch list, freshness-wise. Back in the bad bay days, shellfishing waters could get mighty, uh, corrupted. Bacteria partied freely.

While modern water testing and eco-improvements have lessened the need to take heed of summer shellfish, R-free months still stand out when it comes to doubly knowing from whence those topless clams and oysters came. By the by, thorough cooking or steaming of any type bivalve curbs any and all, let’s say, summer growths.

But back to my prognosticating a contentious summer season, that’s not just a guessnostication on my part. I’m factoring in that beyond-mild winter, ongoing swings from hot weather to below normal air temps, and our early above-normal ocean water temps. When stirred, those things can light up the skies.

Now a quick dose of downness. All that full-blown flooding late last week couldn’t have come at a worst bay time.

FOX FRIENDLY FOLKS: I got a call from a woodside family which has effectively adopted a male red fox -- more exactly, they were adopted by the young fox. Lately, a bit of a problem has arisen with the creature. Since these folks know I’m opened-minded and open-hearted to such buddying ups with wildlife, they asked me to come have a look.

I’m not even hinting at where these fox-friendly folks are located. Legally, keeping wild animals is a serious no-on -- though, this relationship remains plutonic. The fox is NOT housebound. It is surely not a personal pet. It sleeps on the home’s large back porch/veranda -- albeit atop its favorite plush, meant-for-dogs bed. Oddly, it seldom, if ever, wanders far from its surrogate home.

By the by, it loves grapes (seedless) and “Boar’s Head” chicken cold cuts. Yep, the brand name seems to matter.

Though the family give wide berth to the fox, it will very reluctantly allow itself to be lightly touched by humans, though it fearfully whines and even yelps over such contact. Interestingly, it recently allowed itself to be groomed, via brush, of its thick shedding hair. While it freely allowed the brush to touch its fur, it instantly knew if the human hand holding the brush touched it – and the whimpering began.

HAIR END SIDEBAR: Animals, wild and domesticated, have an amazing read on their hair endings. I used to mess with my late pit bull when he was sound asleep. I would take a pencil and ever so lightly and meticulously touch just one single individual hair on his body. He would flip clean over and even bolt to his feet, as if a bear had just latched onto him. Other times, his body would issue this massive muscle spasm at the touch point. To either his credit or his hair endings’ credit, he quickly got used to messin’ around and would start a bit at first touch then just issue a disgusted huff.

Anyway, I’m off to meet “Mr. Deebs” (don’t ask, I didn’t) and to help this family figure out why the fox has recently been pacing the porch floor all night long, often whining loudly. Not that I don’t know the answer already: It’s gonna be coyotes in the hood. Some track searching near the home will prove me out.

In fact, when I was told how the young fox was first found cowering in the corner of the veranda, I smelt coyotes. I’m betting this porch fox was the sole survivor of a coyote attack on a fox den. Its survival strategy is now simple: Never leave the porch, though it had been doing nightly forays into the nearby wilds. Not of late, though.

The fox’s nightlong pacing is, to me, a sure sign of predators, a-stalk. And a coyote couple (mates for life) can be astoundingly patient stalkers, willing to spend many a day and night in the vicinity of a potential meal. The coyotes may also be hanging about due to the wafting scent of Boar’s Head cold cuts. The fox doesn’t know that.

When not whelping young, a coyote pair will essentially set up camp near a potential food source. If a family fox or household pet is on the menu, they’ll settle in and go about everyday sustenance-seeking life while waiting for the ideal opportunity to go after the piece de résistance. Many suspicious cat or small dog disappearances I’ve investigated are the results of coyotes having put in long drawn-out surveillances. Temporary coyote lairs near homes where pets have gone missing is proof apparent.

I almost never find the telltale fur or uneaten remains in backyard pet predation cases. The coyotes quickly carry their kill to safer, oft-distant real estate, seemingly knowing they’ve pulled off a caper – and are on the lam.    

But back to Mr. Deebs. Dollar to donuts I can find the hangout of the ‘yotes dogging Mr Deebs -- and send them packing for the hills.

Coyotes are decidedly clever and likely more deserving of that “sly” attribute historically bestowed upon foxes. They can be snarlingly aggressive predators when feeding or when a situation is totally on their terms. However, mark my first-hand words, coyotes are total pussies when suddenly set upon by an aggressive human – or a single pissed off pit bull.

This has already gotten long so I’ll just touch on the way the above-noted pit bull saved her little terrier buddy from an entire family unit of attacking coyote -- as many as four of them, per witnesses. The actual exchange between pit bull and coyotes took place in the woods, unseen by the dog’s owners. The wordless story was told when the pit ultimately – and nonchalantly -- strutted into the backyard, covered in blood. Ready to rush their beloved hound to the vet, the family hosed her down and found just a few minor nicks and scratches. One can only guess at what retribution had been levied against the coyotes.

No animal died in that exchange. I checked thoroughly.

I’ll update after making my visit to meet Mr. Deebs.

If you have any similar outdoor/backyard mysteries, please include me in your search for answers. I make house calls.

 

BAY BLUEFISHING FLASHBACK:  I saw a bit of a nostalgic sight over the weekend as a dad was walking toward the bay with his two small sons, holding three smaller rods equipped with bright red and white snapper poppers, vintage circa mid-1970s. They’re a throwback to summers past, when you could go anywhere bayside an endlessly nab 8-ounce snappers until you actually had enough to feed an entire family. Hasn’t been like that for many years. And it turned out that day wouldn’t be the same either. Oh, they hooked blues all right -- 2 to 3 pound terrors. That size bluefish can have its way with light gear. Despite bite-offs finally ending their day, they landed a couple cocktail blues. They made sure I knew about it. I had left my cell number in case they had any luck. I had three messages, as the guys gave me a fish-by-fish account. Absolutely cool. 

SUDSY FLUKE: As the bay fishing for flatties remains a losing percentage proposition – some folks reporting a 1 in 20 keeper ration – that can actually mark the arrival of decent summer floundering in the swash. I’m just going to Fin-S it to see if any fluke salute, If so, I’ll hit the tackle shop and gear up with GULP! strips to place on smaller Avas (with tubes) -- or maybe go the SPRO route. Smaller is better when jigging the suds, even when after larger fluke.

A more tried and proven methodology came to me via Oceanside Bait and Tackle, where gorgeous bring-em-home fluke hit the shop scales.

A more tried and proven methodology came to me via Oceanside Bait and Tackle, where gorgeous bring-em-home fluke hit the shop scales.

As for nabbing those surfside fluke, Val at Oceanside said “the boys” are using a Corky teaser-looped bucktail rig, with a tag-end clip for quickly trading out various jigs and leadheads. Holding down the fort on the tag end, ESPN-hyped S&S “rattlin’ bucktails” are working great – and better yet with GULP! attached, throwing some essential scent into the mix. 

With that two-part set-up, the flatties more often go wild for the teasers. That makes sense. The raucous jig is likely perceived by fluke as a suspicious something-or-other exploring the bottom for whatever. The teaser then looks like something spooked by the marauder. It’s a safe grab. As for the best teaser, that’s where preference carries the day. I’m guessing it’s as much the target as the look, though its always a sure thing when using something Clouser-like.

I have to get me some of those rattlin’ buggers over at Val’s.

By the by, Oceanside is carrying on its very cool kid’s seining/fishing/crabbing classes. Give the shop a ring to join up, 609-361-9800.

SWASH SCUTTLEBUTT: I want to talk swash. No, you don’t have to cover the kids’ ears.

The swash is that roughed up area of the ocean where waves meet beach. In surfing lingo we call it the shorebreak zone.

Unbeknownst to many Jersey anglers, the swash zone is a hotbed of fish activity, as edibles (mainly crabs and more crabs), get steadily rolled over and exposed to predators.

Down North Carolina way, the beachside roil area is heavily utilized by anglers, especially through the summer. When I was down there for fall fishing forays, I’d find the whole NC angling world (and a million or so visitors) was stalking huge drum with bear gear. I, on the smaller hand, would be underfoot, joyously using light gear in the suds, catching nonstop everythings. I needed a what’s-what of fish to ID the variety of species that greeted my baited hooks or jigs in fall. It was always a chuckle when the boys of heavy sinkers saw me hooking nonstop and soon inched over, trying to employ a meat sticks to play with small stuff in the suds.

Up here, the swash zone doesn’t have nearly the NC hook-up lineup but, as noted earlier in this column, we got swash fluke aplenty -- which, by the way, NC’ers would kill for.

There is also some variety in there. By the end of July, kingfish enter the suds, especially just past the drop-offs, out toward the slews. When around, weakfish often frequent the drop-off portion of the swash, cruising in the water column above the fluke.

Going with 1/0 hooks, I’ve also swashed up black drum, red drum and speckled trout. About ten years back, I dropped to size 1 hooks and caught eating-sized pompano. Another year, spot (Lafayette) were everywhere in the swashline. Not sized to eat but fun to play with.

Thinking larger, I’ve hooked into biger bass within a few feet from the beach – using minuscule baits much less. In fact, it was while swashing I first realized that even big-ass bass would scarf up the smallest of baits. Admittedly, it’s a chore to turn the likes of a 30-inch bass using such light gear. That has nothing to do with the gear being too light to fight the fish – which falls to proper drag and patience – but the inability to drive home a small hook using a fast (flimsy) rod. Still, if that small hook happens to penetrate the insanely tough skin on the side of a striper jaw, you’re in for a fight to the finish – with absolutely no guarantee on which will give first: fish, angler, hook or line.

Somewhat oddly, you’ll seldom see a ton of bluefish in the summer swash, even though larger blues invade the shallowest suds later in fall, egged ashore by bolting baitfish. If you want the snappers while swashing, just cast out a bit further into the slews.

Why am I getting all swashy? Well, truth be told, I think the summer surfcasting doldrums are already upon us. Short of a scant few resident stripers around the jetties and a passing blue or two, there won’t be much line activation for fishing folks confined to the beachline – family commitment and all. I think the swash constantly holds some fun catching, even at the height of the summer. What’s more, very few (if any) anglers faithfully work that zone. Coming home with a couple fat surf fluke can match the take-home of many a summer boat angler.

To gear up, stop at tackle shops, explain that your going swash fishing – with fluke in mind. They’ll show you various rigs, smaller hooks and oval or bank sinkers to use. Small jigs work great if you want to get a tad more aggressive.

FURTHER RUNDOWN: Black seabassing has been very decent. Nothing like we had about five years back, but damn decent, possibly indicating the current conservation measures are taking hold. 

Tog are off-limits and still reeling. They’re out there, and routinely being caught by sea bass folks, but the total tog biomass continues to plummet based on ongoing studies. I’d like to bitterly point to poachers as the root evil, wiping out blackies, but it’s way more complex, possibly reflecting pollution in Barnegat Bay.

Gardening sidebar: Is it just my piece of backyard agriculture or have things been growing at an insane clip this spring/summer. I have cherry tomato plants so packed with fruit – yes, a tomato is a fruit – t looks like it crossed with a pomegranate.

Rays continued to arrive in our 70-dgree-plus waters. There seems to be some rarer stingray species mixed in with the over-plentiful cow-nosed rays.

I’ll note for the umpteenth time that rays are very good to excellent eating. This has been proven out via contests to develop the best recipes for this fully underutilized species, a bane to areas of the Chesapeake Bay. Even folks with picky taste buds rave about well-reciped ray presentations. Smaller wings fry very well when the skin is left on. Spicing up is done after the fried skin is pulled off and meat exposed. Here’s a video showing the simplicity of cooking up rays: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNhpFlzvQbw&feature=related.

SIMPLY BASSIN’ FINALS: The 2012 running of the 8-week “Simply Bassin’” surf tournament closed out over the weekend. Despite a slow go at the scales, five of the leaderboard’s eight fish were over 40 pounds. Quite impressive. Congrats to all. Contact shops for information on picking up prize money.

Here’s the final board:

1)  Mark McAuliff,  45-5

2) Greg O’ Connell, 44-3

3) Dante Soriente, 44-2

4) Tim Stumpf,  42-2

5) Jason Hoch,  41-6

6) Fred Strausbaugh,  37-13

7) John Parzych,   31-1

8) Blake Griffiths,  28-4

 

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