Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

See-ya and Hi-there;
Sand Drama Builds

I suppose I should rifle through my bag of profundities to come up with some worthy words to end summer 2009. However, I’m that guy just now walking out of the beach house -- wearing black socks and sandals, holding a hundred-dollar-bill design beach towel in one hand, Coppertone bottle pinned under arm, and a plastic cup with iced herbal tea in the other hand. I’m finally ready for summer to start – as motorists exiting the Island stare at me as I stroll toward the cloudy post-season beach.
Looks like I missed another one. I had hoped to at least see a couple/few bikinis or get to yell at some jackass driver for not stopping to let me walk across the Boulevard even through he has a red light only half a block ahead. No such luck. Writing sucked up much of my time and the rest was spent tweaking the punctuation. Still, here’s hoping the rest of you have some cool memories compliments of summer 2009. And I’ll be making up for lost time via fall 2009.
That’s a proper lead-in to a column that’s fully fishing. It’s a bit of a jumpstart for what could be a banner autumnal angling session.
I’m kinda fired up by the unseasonable fall feel of the air this week. That actually looms a bit larger than simply skin-deep. The ocean has been abnormally warm, almost feverish. That watery mildness can be a real fall-fishing troubler, as fish like bass and blues shun the 70s and put off their arrival until things are cool. Many a dismally late-starting fall fishing season is the result of a balmy ocean that just won’t quit. However, hit that spa-ish water with a week or so of chilliness and the autumnal drop in water temps drop can quickly pick up steam. I know this is not the talk lingering summer-ites want to hear but from here on in fishing rules the roost. Hey, come on now, you guys had the beach and surf all summer. Please politely step aside.
HOLGATE HAPPENINGS: Along those fall’s-a’comin’ lines, let’s first drive to Holgate, which we can now do.
From what I’m told, the beach adjacent to the Forsythe Wilderness Area opened Tuesday. Last week, Chris and Stu D. took down most of the summer “Keep Off” signage, with the exception of those at the entrance near the parking area. It wasn’t until those last beach signs came down that public access was allowed for the first time in 5 months.
Importantly, we will be allowed all the way back to the clamming area. However, I’m told that almost all the flats we used to clam are high on grass, through the ceiling high. Meadow grasses to well over six feet in height have been overtaking the mudflats at an astounding rate. It’s been happening for the last few years and has grown insane this year. All that vegetation is indicative of an attempt by the Holgate end of the Island to migrate westward, as barrier islands are geologically inclined to do. (Every time I hear the term “migrate,” I envision the end of the Island flapping its wings until the sand and land lift up to head west. Quite a sight to behold. I then go back on my meds and everything settles down).
Obviously, that westward migration of barrier island LBI can’t happen anywhere else but Holgate. We’ve bulkheaded the bayfront, thwarting the slow crawl westward. Holgate is on its on, part of the reason it’s on the brink of simply eroding into the sea.
As a sidebar to all the Holgate erosion, I want to point out an astounding build-up of underwater sand around the old Beach Haven Inlet and southeastwardly to the shoals off Little Egg Inlet. There is now enough sand accumulated there to replenish all of LBI – with Brigantine and Atlantic City thrown in for good measure. Let’s hope that when the Holgate erosion gets diminished to near-nothingness, the feds come to their senses and pull their blockade of any beach replenishment efforts.
HOLY HARVEY CEDARS: Further down the sandy line, I have some news that might be a tad disconcerting to surfcasters in Harvey Cedars. The beach replenishment project for that borough is now officially on. The contract will go to the Weeks Company, homed in Louisiana. That’s the same dredging company that did the Surf City project. No need to grab your flak jacket and order a bomb-sniffing dog from Cabela’s. Finer screening will be used at the ends of the dredge pipes so the chances of munitions arriving on the HC beaches is slight. What’s more, the sand source for the HC work is 2.5 miles off HC. That is roughly in the vicinity of “the Lumps” – and a goodly distance north of that locked-and-loaded sand zone off Surf City.
So what’s all that mean to surf fishing? The devil is in the timeframe details. There is a 180-day window of opportunity for the company to work. Right now, it sure seems work will begin around Thanksgiving. It could be earlier. This start date is not etched in granite but the company can’t mess around very long before starting due to seasonal weather considerations (winter) and future contract commitments.
It seems much of the fall surf fishing season will be over by start time. However, the December schoolie season could be plowed under.
Sidebar: Harvey Cedars is in desperate need of beach sand. The town has worked like crazy to finally get the work done. I only bring that up to warn that the town fathers and many residents wanting the sand might not be overly enamored with last-minute efforts to thwart it. That said, it is the right of any and all folks to voice their reservations – and ire – over things they’re not wild about. I fully support beach replenishment; I just as strongly support the right to complain.
THANKS SC AND ACE: I’d like to thank Surf City and the Army Corps of Engineers for what are the best Ship Bottom beaches in decades. I personally have to recollect back to the late 60s to recall beaches that were a bit of a hike to cross. This current beach wideness will play very well with mobile anglers working mid-Island this fall.

The SB sand supplement is all part of the littoral drift thing, whereby sand on LBI is generally transported from north to south, via currents. The huge sand deposits so nobly placed on the beach in Surf City are merrily moving into Ship Bottom. And it’ll just keeps moving southward from there. In fact, I’ll virtually guarantee that the hugely problematic erosion zone in Brant Beach, bordering Ship Bottom, will begin to fill in with sand by as early as next year. That too is good news for mobile fishermen who often find that Brant Beach stretch a tad too testy to even try driving. Of course, that erosional zone is something called a nodal junction, highly prone to erosion, meaning the sand won’t be hangin’ out none too long.
ODD THOUGHT: I’ll bet it’s technically possible to replenish all the Island beaches by placing massive amounts of sand at just one point, i.e. Surf City, and letting nature do the rest. The only thing needed is time (decades) and the folks in Surf City allowing heavy dredging equipment on-scene year in and year out.
Sidebar: I have been thoroughly in support of replenishing Beach Haven because I know that the beachfront area of developed Holgate could well be included in such a project. I guarantee that within one winter thereafter, life-saving sands would pour from the project and onto the dying beaches of the Holgate wilderness area.
SHALLOW HEADACHES: I am looking into the awful shallowing taking place in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) near Mordecai Island. The heavily-navigated waterway between Buoy 107 and 109 gets so shallow at low tide that many vessels simply can’t safely navigate it. I heard it offer less than a two-foot draft. Boats are instead repeatedly testing the Liberty Theretofore eastward of Mordecai. In fact, it seems buoys have been transferred over there. Still, this is technically going out of channel (ICW). Not only is that unadvisable from a navigational angle but the heavier usage is causing silt to settle into that thoroughfare.
Here’s the frustrating part, one of the largest ICW deepening projects in 25 years is underway. It is working up this way from Sea Isle. The dredging money is coming from Obama/Congress’ American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The dredging, being done by Barnegat Bay Dredging, is set to go all the way up to Oyster Creek. However, it totally bypasses what might be called the boating business district of Beach Haven. There are numerous marinas, with hundreds even thousands of boats, that have to navigate the ICW next to BH. It’s folly to think such a prime use area would be excluded from dredging.
I am trying to get the lowdown on why such a vital piece of ICW would fall through the dredging cracks. I did hear that the Army Corps, which is overseeing the work, might still be open for suggestions. I wonder if Congressman John Adler can do anything. Our retired Congressman Jim Saxton would have had that dredging under sight rectified in a D.C. minute. Since Adler is an angler, maybe he’ll light a fire and get the channel prettied up.
CATCH UP EMAILS: I want to finally get to emails from summer folks. I fully savor any and all electronic communiqués. It let’s me know someone is out there.
Email: “I’ve been getting small mullet in my cast net in the bay (backbay near Forked River). This might sound stupid but are these the same mullet that you catch in your net in the fall or do these small ones stay in the bay for one winter? … Are they good for bait? L.M.”
The mullet you netted are full-blown members of the current year-class (juveniles) that were ushered in as eggs/larvae by ocean currents this spring/early summer. Mullet grow like the all get-out in their first couple months of life. They have to since they are, in fact, the same mullet we’ll be netting starting pretty soon. It does not appear that any mullet overwinter in our bays. I have netted a few midwinter, far up backbay creeks. Those were fin-rotted and struggling to survive so my guess is they had migrated late and got caught too far north.
The mullet you’re netting will soon be moving to muster points near inlets. Once gathered there (sometimes in huge numbers), they fatten a bit more. These schools then begin an interesting podding behavior. Schools will break from bottom feeding on algae and rapidly swim in unison to another feeding area. They are acquiring migratory swimming patterns. Then, as days shorten, the distances of these practice runs lengthen. Finally, a single run just keeps going and going – and the instinctive migratory race is on. Also, shotgun starts can occur – tons of pods all bolting at once -- when gamefish move in to, let’s say, motivate migratory moves.
Not commonly known is the fact the mullet actually migrate in steps, roughly from inlet to inlet. The purpose of stops is to recharge by grabbing a quick bite to eat. A perfect example of his can be seen when ocean-run mullet head around the Holgate point. They head in void of stomach content, then they exit, usually the following day, filled to the gills with green algae.
As for bait quality of the bay mullet, I want you backtrack to that part about mullet coming around Holgate point. After swimming in the open ocean – and there’s no discrete way to put this – mullet literally excrete themselves clean. All algal material in their bodies is left behind, so to speak. This is hugely important when talking bait value. The alga inside a bay-based mullet – we sometimes refer to them as “mud mullet -- is so organic that it decays far quicker than a deceased mullet, gathered for bait. The alga then rots the inside of the mullet in quick order. It loses its bait worth in nothing flat. What’s more, even fast freezing bay mullet wont help. When they are thawed, the bellies kinda bust open. Even gamefish seem to turn their noses up at them. I’ve even seen gulls
Email: “Do lady crabs found in the surf shed enough to be used as shedders?”
Absolutely. It’s just tough to track them down since they seem to shed while buried under the sand. I’ve taken shedding calicos by using a sturdy crab/fish net and essentially dredging the bottom sand at low tide on the oceanfront. You have to sort through the hard-shelled models. Many gamefish (weakfish, bass, tog, seabass, fluke) eat shedder calicos. Oddly, hard-shell calico crabs are crappy bait, though I’ve seen stripers scarfing up little ones by the dozens.
Email: “Can you filet striped bass on the beach? …”
Technically, no. However, if you keep the carcass to match to the filets, I think you can pull it off. I know that defeats the purpose of cleaning fish next to the water, where you can throw the remains to gulls or into the surf. Still, the law requires that proof of the fish’s legal size be made available to any questioning enforcement officers. Filets alone can’t do that. I should note that one of the oldest tricks in the books is to fast-filet an undersized fish while still on the beach. If captured, it doesn’t work, never will.

Email: “Do you know of any courses on making fishing plugs?”

This is the umpteenth time I’ve gotten this understandable question. With even pop-out wooden plugs now topping 20 bucks a pop, handcrafting one on your own seems economically essential. A “pop-out” is a mass-produced plug, usually marketed by big-name companies. And they’re often great pieces of tackle. Juxtapose those to handmade plugs, which can run 50 bucks or more.
As for those plug-making classes, I know of none – or I’d be in there. I have found dozens of teaser lessons on YouTube but they are so sophomoric as to offer misleading information.
I will emphasize here that the concept of simply running out, buying a medium lathe, and turning out a killer plug is pure folly. There is the unslight matter of tuning a shape to such exacting dimension that mere microns of material can make the difference between a beautifully swimming plug and something that moves in a way that would terrify even a bluefish. Plug making is an art form. There’s not a plug shaper out there that doesn’t look at his/her earliest creations and laugh at same.
It’s kinda interesting that having surfed almost my entire life and I was always amazed at how two surfboards could look identical yet one would ride like a champion and the other would ride like a total dog. When I went more heavily into fishing, plugging became my forte and that odd artistic magic that’s separates one hand-shaped plug from another is a perfect parallel to surfboard shapes. In fact, I’ll bet anything some of the best surfboard shapers I know would quickly excel at shaping plugs, once homed in on the subtle shaping idiosyncrasies to make a plug swim or dive perfectly.
Email: “Where is the saltwater fishing license going?”
Nowhere and everywhere.
Despite what you might hear, the saltwater fishing license for Jersey is a done deal. The only question mark is what it will entail. I can assure it will entail you and me handing money over to someone. And we’re running out of time before the feds step in and implement their own program in the Garden State.
Right now, NJ is one of a few coastal states that have essentially done nothing, as a January 2010 Magnusson Act deadline looms. A few other states, including Florida, have licenses in place but they do not comply with federal standards. States in compliance are Maryland, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Delaware, North Carolina, California, Washington and Oregon.
Jersey must either come up with an approved fishing license, one the feds bless, or accept by default the plan the federal government has in the wings.
The upside of having the feds takeover for 2010 is the fact it’ll be free. However, 2011 will see the feds charge what they feel is fit to cover expenses. I hear the fee will be somewhere in the vicinity of $15 to $25. Compare that with California, which has had a license and is up to something like $60.
For Jersey to get its own census-taking saltwater fishing license will require proposed legislation (which I hear is already bouncing around) to pass the Legislature, followed by the signature of the governor. That would seem tough to pull off before this coming January.
I might add that there is some merit in the state hanging back to see what the feds have in store after deadline time. What’s more, hanging back we can get a good read on what happens to those states with saltwater licenses but are still out of compliance. If they end up getting any perks, then NJ might duly tweak its own licensing setup to include such perks.
By the same token, hanging back and then needing to rush to create a system could easily minimize the input of state anglers. If anglers aren’t muscling up from the get-go, showing their political clout, how can they hope to glean resource money from saltwater fishing license revenues?
My guess is this subject will erupt this winter.

RUNDOWN: Weakfish are mixing in with bayside fluke and blues, Barnegat bay. They are not there in significant, i.e. summerish numbers. In act, I have to think these are sparklers drifting down for north Barnegat Bay or even from the Raritan area. This might be good news for Holgate weakfishing. (See “Holgate Happenings”).
The collapsing weakfish stock thing is a baffler to many. And it’s collapsing. This stock might be in worse shape than any other major species we have. The thing is even management seems baffled as to whys behind the specie’s decline/demise. If you read the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission stock assessment it attributes the decline to “to increasing natural mortality, not fishing mortality.”

Am I the only one that sees the way the “natural mortality” of weakfish aligns perfectly with the unnatural increase in striped bass? Yes, “unnatural increase in stripers.” The bass recovery is manmade – and not a bad thing on many fronts. However, the utter nursing of bass makes weakfish feel like chopped liver, literally. Bass suck down weakies like humans eating clams on the half shell. There’s your “natural.”
By the by, the decline in weakfish between 1986 and 2006 is far worse than the stripped bass decline that led to a moratorium.
Bassing is expectedly slow. Bluefishing is brisk around the north end, all cocktails.
Seabassing will likely be closed or reduced to near nothingness after Tuesday’s meeting of the ASMFC Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Board which is addressing extreme overages of those species taken by recreational anglers.
FLUKE OVER AND OUT: The interesting angle on the fluke fishing has to do with the fishing effort related to it. Fishing effort is how many anglers are out there, how hard they’re angling and for how long.
Fishing effort gets supremely significant when evaluating the true economic worth of anglers. The more anglers are out there, for the greatest amount of time, the more money rushes headlong into what might be called the angling economy -- and eventually into the local, state and national economies. Tackle, bait, fuel, food, beverages, plus a myriad of other monetary outlays come into play when fishing effort is in high gear, as it has been this year in the fluking realm.
Due to this summer’s excellent fluke fishing, in terms of at least hooking up, anglers keep going out for more and more action – admittedly spurred on by hopes of finally getting some significant take-home material. The overall effort has been through the ceiling, meaning the fishing economy has shined. Unfortunately, so has the final tally (poundage) of keeper fluke.
But why relate the overtaking of fluke to money?
A seldom-emphasized mandate of the Magnuson/Stevens Act is to maximize the value of the resource. The final value of NJ fluke this year is absolutely astronomical when one juxtaposes the effort with the fish taken home. Millions of dollars have been spent by anglers in pursuit of the species. It is highly likely that NJ anglers will get punished for this year’s fluke overages. Any retribution will be attached to the 2010 season, one in which we’re supposed to see an easing of the regs. I’m already trying to get fishery folks thinking in terms of the sky-high profit the fluke fishery reached this year and that the achieving of Magnuson/Stevens Act goals offsets any overages.

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