Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Weekly blog, Oct. 24, 2012: A Hellhole Grows in Holgate, Mola Mola DOA

The Fish Story

A Hellhole Grows in Holgate; The Tale Behind a 48-Pounder

By JAY MANN | Oct 25, 2012

Photo by: Jay Mann

A HOLE GROWS IN HOLGATE: And a huge bugger of a hole it was – and cosmically sudden. I, for one, had never seen the likes and was tickled pink – whatever the hell that means nowadays. (Wink/wink, nod/nod. Say no more.)

One minute we had our usual piece of inlet fishing beach beneath our feet, when, in a rapidly expanding eddy of outgoing tidal water, we were scrambling to safely distance our buggies – and bodies – from what can best be described as a swiftly advancing circle of collapsing sand accompanied by a massive vortex of outgoing bay water.

I instantly dubbed it the Holgate Hellhole, in honor of the Halloween season. At the vortex’s apex, it looked fully capable of loosing demons long trapped deep within the Holgate sand.

Had a beach buggy remained where we had first parked to fish that day, it quickly would have become little more than a truly odd insurance claim.

“Let me get this straight, Mr. Mann, you parked your red 2006 GMC truck on the beach, walked off to fish and when you turned around, what you’re calling ‘a hellhole’ opened up and sucked down your vehicle. Nary a sparkplug nor an engine mount bolt now remains.”

“Uh, it sounded better when I explained it.”

And such a vehicle-eating scenario was utterly possible. The vortex’s expanding circle of cliff-like drops – 6  to 10 feet steep – ate 100 feet of beach in just 30 minutes. In fact, the crisscrossed tire tracks where we had been parked slid into the watery abyss.

As the gaping mouth of the hellhole widened, the churning water within the crater quickly took on the form of a nearly perfectly rounded watery vortex. The foamy whirlpool grew wide enough to swallow up a couple Olympic-sized swimming pools – along with a few dozen water polo teams and who knows how many synchronized swimmers.

The circling water inside the planetary-grade whirlpool was flowing at a solid 5 knots. It got progressively uglier as sickly yellow suds soon fully covered the surface of the water within.

The eddying hole was so oddly ugly it became cool-ish. Huh? Gospel truth, I had this powerful urge to throw on a wetsuit, jump in and go a few rounds within one of nature’s weirdest spin cycles. Or, just maybe, was that a seductive Siren’s call from the demons within? Nah. I just thought it would be cool as all get-out.

As the hellhole progressed across the beach, it took on the overall shape of a fairly well-rounded crater. The only open area, along the south edge, essentially ushered in the rapidly outgoing current, keeping the vortex highly energized – and erosive.

As a goodly group of us stood around ogling over the natural oddity, the hole just kept outwardly eating the surrounding beach. As to where it might go, the sky was the limit – so to speak.

With dusk on the horizon, Forsythe Refuge authorities harbored justifiable fears that a buggyist driving the beach after dark might easily become a meal for the Holgate Hellhole. I one-upped that notion by morosely imagining half a dozen buggy rooftops slowly spinning in the vortex come morning.

There wasn’t much choice that day but to shut down the entire beachfront of the Holgate Wilderness Area.

Anticlimactically, the hole had vanished into itself by the next day. A semi-circular scar was all that remained.

And somewhere far below that scar were the demons, high-fiving and talking about what they had done in the outside world for that one night.

So, what are you gonna be this Halloween?

AFTERIMAGE: I grabbed a goodly load of still photos of the freakish Holgate Hellhole phenomenon. See “Oct. 17” blog at  www.jaymanntoday.ning.com.

Based on accounts and photos of the Holgate earth incident, the smart folks at Stockton College came up with a theory that sure rocked my thinking.  They suggested an earthquake in New England had “liquefied” the sand in Holgate, causing it to collapse in a sinkholeish fashion. While I nonverbally poured cold water on the earthquake scenario by self-asking why hundreds of other equally liquefied hellholes hadn’t concurrently formed between here and Lobsterland, I kinda got off on that wild-and-woolly earthquake notion. It was right up my always-open-for-business “How cool is that!?” alleyway. Fascinating if true – and fascinating anyway.

I could boringly note that a hellhole is just as inclined to form when:

• we’ve had a long period of uneventful weather, during which the Holgate tip gains sands for weeks on end.

• a rapidly arriving onslaught of very large hurricane ground swells – out of the southeast – essentially drives ocean energy, via water, directly into the inlet and way up into Little Egg Harbor.

• the prevailing astronomic conditions foster some of the highest tides of the year, further powering ocean water into the bay.

• a hard west wind kicks in, hellbent on driving all that gathered water clean out of the bay and, in doing so, eats the insides out of any sandy landmass that gets in its way.


• an earthquake-based liquidifcation thing does, uh, whatever it does.

BUMP IN THE DAY: Speaking of earthly rocks and rolls, I was among the legions who felt either the earth move or the skies shake last Saturday morning. In Ship Bottom, I thought someone had tapped the front steps of my house with a vehicle – as had happened in the past a couple times. We won’t get into those stories right now.

Ever-vigilant Facebook lit up as folks social media-ed each other to compare notes on the wide-ranging thud.

The “earthquake” word was bandied about – but not by me. I've felt a goodly number of quakes and seismic shakes during my many days in Hawaii, California, Mexico and, more recently, NJ. Saturday’s rapid rattler was closer to a sonic boom thing. It was a window rocker more than a house shaker. It felt very much like a military weapons demolition – albeit way over there, someplace.

Government agencies would later issue statements fully discounting the earthquake angle. No, a new sinkhole didn’t form in Holgate. At least I don’t think one did.

MOLA MOLA BAD NEWS: Hi, Jay. I read your article on the mola mola and have a sad follow up. I was sailing my Sunfish at the end of September and pulled over to Conklin Island in Barnegat to make a repair. I was thrilled and intrigued to see an ocean sunfish. Sadly, it was dead on the beach. I studied it for quite a while as these fish have always fascinated me. It was amazing to see the size and shape. Its long fins had been very beaten and were badly worn. Its mouth struck me as very small for such a large fish. I wish I could have seen it in its glory. I stopped back the next week and it was very decomposed and retained almost no features. Hank N. Barnegat.

Thanks, Hank. Many folks had been wondering.

I had warned that an untimely end awaited a mola trapped in the bay. Nature can be such a bitch, though I sure wouldn't recommend saying that to her face – unless you've always wondered what it would be like to get slapped around by an F6 tornado. “Who’s the bitch now, buddy!?”

I had suspected the marooned mola had already been under the weather when it was swept into Barnegat Bay. Molas can be fairly mobile, especially for short survival spurts. Not that they’re speedsters. In nature, they have to be only fast enough to run down jellyfish and assorted gelatinous zooplankton. Admittedly, that speed bar is set kinda low on the mola mola front. Notice that “Wild Kingdom” seldom offers an episode featuring a mola stalking, then attacking, say, a comb jelly. “Mommy, can we change the channel?”

Even if a healthy mola were to get stranded in our bay, it's not likely it would find its way out before, say, the year 2050. What’s worse, the available food supply in the bay would be catastrophically inadequate – though an in-bay mola might think it had died and gone to gelatinous zooplankton heaven if it eased into a lagoon filled to the gills with bay nettle jellyfish.

Final mola thought: Dining on 98-percent-water jellyfish, how the heck do molas grow into the largest boned fish in the entire ocean? My guess is they’re secretly packing on the pounds by sneaking out at night for some serious carbs. If Gary Larson (“The Far Side”) still did comics, I envision him showing a sea turtle throwing on a light switch in the middle of the night and there's a mortified mola with a giant stack of pizza boxes in front of it.

STORY OF A 48-POUND CLASSIC BASS: I got to talk to Joe Joe Czapkowski today. Real nice guy and understandably thrilled with his tourney-leading 48/10 striper – not only because of its length and girth but also because he caught it in utterly sloppy surf conditions, i.e. both the best conditions to fish for trophy bass and also the worst to haul one through the pounding surf and onto the beach.

For the record, Joe was a-beach in 20 mph ESE winds and contending with grinding surf, pushing 6 to 8 feet.

The winds and currents – south to north – were so bad that Joe had abandoned his usual two-rod surf-fishing modus. He opted for handholding a single, inherited (from father-in-law), 50-year-old, 12-foot rod. It was coupled with a Penn spinning reel holding fresh Berkley 20-pound-test mono line.

More essential data: He was using a #9 Gamakatsu hook, 8-ounce pyramid sinker, 80-pound test fluoro Seagur leader – 12 inches with a fishfinder setup.

And, as was widely announced, he really was using clam gobs when he hooked his one and only fish of the day. Of course, if you have to hook up with just one fish per day, a 48-pounder is atop that exclusive category.

But there is a bit of a story behind that clam choice. Joe had actually begun the wind-blown fishing session chucking bunker chunks. It soon became clear that the meat wasn’t holding up very well in the surf and suds. Mighta been a mushy batch. As the only option, he turned to a few extra-large surf clams, purchased from Bobbie’s Boat Rentals, BL.

The size of the clams played a bit part in the hook-up saga. Joe opened one and decided it warranted being halved. His friends would later kid him about being so cheap that he was conserving bait. Not so, said Joe.  An understated clam gob was actually more suited to staying on the hook in washing-machine conditions.

As for his switch to clam bait that day, it wasn’t simply the hooking convenience. Joe knew full well that roughed-up waters often have bass eating from the clam hatch.

Where things got hmmmm-ish was the way Joe drifted from traditional clam-chucking thinking, i.e. change clam gobs frequently – if not sooner. He kept using and reusing that one halved piece for three casts and retrieves. Hey, it kept staying on the hook. By Joe’s own admission, the bait had likely given up the scent for that third charmed cast.

After its third stint in the surf, the firm-holding clam was sucked in by a bass more than twice the size of the largest striper Joe had caught since first pursuing surfcasting a decade or so back. Not that he’s new to angling, having boat fished with his dad since he was a kid.

As for the hookup, it was a solid, no-denying hit, especially with Joe hand-holding the rod. After an initial “hit hard,” the bass performed a short seaward run before rising up. It made a quick showing on the surface but not nearly enough to offer Joe a read on its true size. “I knew it was bigger, but that’s about all,” he said.

After diving back down, the cow striper then undertook one of those traditional parallel runs along the beach, in this case northward.

Joe countered by “walking” with the fish, to minimize the bow in the line. That mirroring went on for nearly 50 yards.

As Joe finally began gaining line on the quarry, he had bouts of sudden line slackness. That’s always a sinking feeling. In retrospect, Joe couldn’t tell if the slackness was due to surging waves literally shoving the fish forward or if the bass was throwing in some escape runs toward the beach, another very common escape move used by bigger bass.

I’ll note right here that, per Joe, there was actually no chance the fish was going to spit the hook. It was deeply embedded, nearly unremovably, in that ridiculously tough skin on the side of a striper’s mouth. “All that could have happened was the line breaking,” he told me.

Still, there was no way of knowing that as the 10-minute fight moved into its final and spookiest phase – the trial of the pounding shorebreak. And the waves would prove a challenge, mainly during the final grab portion of the landing.

“When it was in close enough, I went after it. Reached for it – and missed,” said Joe, adding, “Then the undertow took it out.”

While such a grab and a miss has oft proven to be end times for a fish fight – fish 1, angler 0 – things got even worse for Joe as a large wave then crashed directly atop the fish. But instead of rolling the fish into deeper water, the powerful wave drove the fish right past Joe and rolled it higher up on the beach.

Essentially backtracking, Joe zeroed in on the sudsed-over fish and executed a solid striper grab. It wasn't until he hauled the fish up to surer sand that he finally got a gander at how large it was.

It was now time for a obligatory public display of the Classic catch, but the windblown beach was bare of other anglers. There were, however, a couple non-angling folks (the Van Ordens) heading onto the beach. And they knew a remarkable catch when they saw one. They quickly shot some photos and essentially served as witnesses to the catch, leaving a business card with Joe.

Wanting even more catch confirmation, Joe called his wife, who was out biking at the time. She rushed to the striper scene to snap off a load of shots, seen in this blog.

For Joe, he'll now wait to see how well his 48-pound cow holds up. It’s sure to be a segment winner – and possibly more. However, Joe will be spending the greater part of the Classic’s remaining six weeks at his East Brunswick home. And he fully understands that his top-rung fish will be the target of all other surf fishing Classicists.

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