Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Bad Times for Pelicans;

Our Jetties Really Rock


PELICAN PROBLEMS: This summer our skies and exposed low-tide sandbars may be missing those quite-cool pelicans that have visited us for quite a few years now. Something bad and decidedly mysterious is happening to these sizeable fliers down in North Carolina, a mere stone’s throw away -- as the pelican flies.

Since last November, hundreds of pelicans have been washing up on Outer Banks beaches, either DOA or not feeling very well at all. As recently as last week, more damaged or decidedly deceased pelicans have been collected and rushed to awaiting veterinarians and scientists. NC health authorities believe the arrival of summer crowds will likely lead to the discovery of even more past-tense pelicans.

For both the love of these kinda-goofy birds and the red flags that rise with any sudden upheaval in nature, the die-off is being taken very seriously. Dozens of assorted agencies, from local to state to federal, are scrambling to figure out why these shore birds are going belly-up.

Initial research findings are both assuring and baffling. No diseases present. No toxins present. The big birds are healthy as all get-out, albeit dead. This illogicality is strikingly similar to recent bird die-offs (primarily crows and blackbirds) in other parts of the country, including here in NJ.

Virtually all necropsies on the pelicans indicate causes of death as physical trauma, more specifically, blunt force trauma. Perplexingly, the damage to many birds is akin to a lethal repeated pummeling. A few battered birds were found alive but were so banged up they had to be euthanized. One scientist remarked, “They had been through hell and back.” Another researcher said the damage was far greater than flying into a window pane or windmill.

I have theorized that many of the small bird die-offs are the result of flocks being caught in monumental updrafts caused by storms and winds prior to frontal passages. Once blown miles upward, they get pounded senseless in the rough and rarified air of the upper atmosphere, before fatally falling back to earth. While pelicans are mighty big birds, updrafts can be strong enough to suddenly lift in-flight jumbo jets. Still, this possibility has loopholes – no pun intended. Why are the birds dying over a lengthy period of time, primarily in the Outer banks area? It brings it right back to weird.


While the brown pelican, on a species whole, has made a super comeback after being hunted to death back in the day, they’re not soundly plentiful by any stretch. A bad bout of whatever they’re now battling could be enough to throw their population into a tailspin. Since NJ has become the northern most extension of the bird’s range, it’ll be the first zone vacated by a reduced pelican population.

I’m among the many who really enjoy seeing pelican calmly cruising by on the gentle thermals rising from the sun-heated ocean surface. Here’s to science homing in on what’s essentially attacking these cool fliers.  


About 20 years ago, we began seeing brown pelicans arriving on LBI, at first a mere media-alerting few, then in goodly numbers. They hadn’t been seen here before, going back who knows how far. In fact, long-time locals, including the likes of hunters, birdwatchers and decoy carvers, had never previously seen them hereabouts.

The sudden arrival of these huge majestic shore birds threw many naturalists for a loop. I, for one, was sorta shocked. I didn’t do a loop, per se, but I recall all but falling off my surfboard while sitting in the water in Harvey Cedars and seeing an entire squadron fly just over my head, heading north. A shocker. Plus, it was an odd and nostalgic reunion for me, having admired pelicans while surfing in North Carolina, Florida and, particularly, California and Mexico. They were often a component of some of the best surfing sessions I’ve ever had.

The first over-summering pelicans making their way into our neighborhood were mainly juvenile birds, easily identified by the coloration of their heads. They seemed to be feeling out our coastal environment, mainly bayside, for future nesting potential. However, within a few years, adult pelicans arrived, possibly the return of the original once-juveniles.

Those folks wondering why the pelicans were pushing northward to our waters first focused on an overall increase in the brown pelican population. That didn’t fly so well with my thinking. Way back, when there were tons of pelicans, they hadn’t come up this way. I’m pretty sure the cause was human intrusion on historic nesting areas to our south.  One of the Eastern Seaboard’s most pelican favorable habitats was the Chesapeake region, including the estuary systems feeding it. That entire ecosystem was built over and utterly humanized in less than 25 years. Nature lost hundreds of miles of prime breeding grounds.

In as odd a concept as one can imagine, the birds headed to coastal New Jersey to find some open spaces. Despite our insatiable build-amania, we’ve preserved some vital saltwater wetlands -- easily enough to attract a real estate starved species. As for this coming summer, we’ll know in a few weeks if any pelicans still find Jersey a perfect summer place.

 THAT’S OUR BOY: You likely heard about – and saw, on the news – the final flight of the Endeavor Space Shuttle, launched Monday. You might have even heard the profound in-flight words of Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly: "It is in the DNA of our great country to reach for the stars and explore. We must not stop. To all the millions watching today, including our spouses, children, family and friends, we thank you for your support."

What you might not know is Commander Kelly has spicy LBI roots.

A number of folks hereabouts know him well from his pizza parlor years here on LBI. In fact, I recently flashed on the face when I saw a photo of him wearing his younger man’s beach-LBI look.

His coworkers recall Mark was verbally shooting for the stars even as he crafted larges to-go, with everything -- except anchovies.

Per interviews with the astronaut, he’s still a big fan of the Island.

By the by, his pizza crafting was done at one of LBI’s favorite pizzerias. Since the owner is kinda reluctant to talk about Mark’s time under his employ, we’ll just call the place “PZ’s.”

Mark has been further thrust into the spotlight via his heroic wife, Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Attending his launch on Monday, Giffords furthered her battle back from an in-country terrorist act, committed by scumbag skinhead Jared Lee Loughner. His maniacal massacre left 6 people dead, out of 19 shot. In fact, the bullet Gifford took to the head led to initial reports of here death. Amazing doctoring and a full-blown American will to live now allow her to smilingly say, “Reports of my death were slightly exaggerated.”


SERIOUS STRIPER READ: Please grab a tasty drink, plop down at the computer and surf over to www.jcaa.org. When within the Jersey Coast Angler Association website, go to “Fisheries Management and Legislative Report.” Read through the “Pots off Reefs” section, then, take in Tom Fote’s detailed read on striped bass management. He brings up many of the complexities involved with trying to manage a prime fishery that is both burgeoning (small fish) and in trouble (large fish). There’s no solution within Tom’s write-up but his advice is to go super slow when making major changes. I’m all too familiar with a change seemingly for the better plays out as being catastrophic for recreationalists – and a boom for commercialites.

RFA FULFILLS FUNDING PROMISE: When various angling interests fought the for-pay registry, and won, they concurrently stuck a filet blade in the fiscal heart of the Division of Fish and Wildlife. That lowly-funded sector of the DEP had that heart set on receiving a goodly gob of trickle-down funding from the millions to be collected via an annual for-pay registry.

Since most of the recreational realm agrees we badly need the Division of Fish and Wildlife, for everything from enforcement to running fish hatcheries, a promise was made that the recreational sector, if gifted with a no-pay registry, would thereafter seek alternative sources of income to run the department. Such funding would also cover the additional expense and manpower needed to run the free registry.

That seems to now be happening.

A recent RFA press release announces a two-pronged legislative effort to develop a tax form check-off contribution and a striper license plate, both meant to support fish and wildlife management.

Per the release, proposed legislation would offer New Jersey taxpayers the opportunity to indicate on their annual tax return if a portion of a tax refund -- or enclosed contribution -- should be deposited in a special fund known as “the Fish and Wildlife Management and Conservation Fund."

A second bill would also establish a flat digital striped bass motor vehicle license plate, with monies dedicated to a new Striped Bass License Plate Fund. That money would also benefit fish and wildlife conservation. 

I’m onboard -- but with a legitimate worry or two.

Yet another new license plate or yet another tax form contribution all too easily becomes one of those Peter, Paul and Mary things. That’s where you borrow from Peter to pay Paul. I’m not sure where Mary comes in.

Experts on such things say that, as often as not, new worthy causes often mean old worthy causes get left in the lurched – de-funded, as it were. I’ve seen it. It become a shift in donations more than an influx of what might be called new money.

However, I’m hoping there is an untapped sector of NJ motorists who will jump aboard the vanity/specialty plates. I’ve even been told by a number of anglers they would gladly get a striped bass tag – and all they have are drab everyday tags at this time. Boring.

I’m not nearly as upbeat on that donation via tax forms check-offs. That’s where there is moist often a full-blown abandonment of a former favorite cause for a new one. Seldom is someone, even a generous “someone,” willing to throw more money into the system. Truth be told, there is the ongoing concern that too many “Pick me! Pick me!” boxes might lead folks to simply forego the entire donation thing. Maybe that’s where Mary comes in – as in Mary’s Massage Parlor.

“Gimme the special this week, Mary. I saved a good chunk of change by pocketing my tax form donations.”

RUNDOWN: Big bass remain to our north (IBSP, Seaside), beneath bunker pods so large that many folks have never seen the likes. If targeting this zone, it helps to know the ropes when trying to home in on pods with fish below, as opposed to the pods that are dry. For whatever reason, more bunker pods off LBI are showing basslessness. That doesn’t mean things can’t activate overnight.


Here’s a segment from my personal blog-site (simply Google jaymanntoday): I have been checking out a slew of bass reports from north of Barnegat Inlet. I've heard words like "epic," "insane," "sizzling" and can't miss." It seems all-time out there. Then, I hear from some other fishing folks who zigged when they should have zagged, getting skunked or nearly so right where others had shined. Overall, the odds of hitting torrid bassing from the Bathing Beach north is high. A buddy trolling spoons went large with a bass he puts at 40 pounds. He released it but failed to boat another fish. Snag and drop remains a sure thing when on the bunker. Extra large white Sassy Shads are also working when marking fish.


The fluking has gone a tad sour, due to wild swings in water temps, especially near inlets, where the ocean water itself has been all over the board -- as high as 60-something one day, then down to 50 the next. Ocean water temps are based on wind directions. I heard of a few better flatties being taken near Grassy Channel (Little Egg area) and over in west Double Creek (west lower Barnegat Bay. Fluking seems most doable when we get into a water temp solidarity, by June. Fluking pressure is not that great. With the longer season, many folks are pacing themselves – going after high-energy hookups, like stripers and blues.


The bluefish have been making a decent showing, though that big batch of migrants hooked into last week have moved on, as slightly smaller models settle in near the inlets and into the backbays. I’ve gotten some at night near Manahawkin Bay. Good eating size, though I released all.


Weakfishing is weak, truly. I thought I might latch into some breeders but have failed miserably at three top locales. I have recently been getting “lifters,” -- weaks so small I can lift them out of the water without needing a net. It’s too early for those.


Shoddy boating has already begun in Barnegat Inlet. Here’s a report from Walt P: "Put my boat in the water at 1:00 for the start of a new season. Reached the North Jetty monument at 1:10. Saw my first boat (28') of the 2011 fishing year go over the rocks at 1:15 with a big crunch. Tow boat USA to the rescue. Not a pretty sound for a boat captain to hear and feel on probably his first trip of the year.  ..."



On the creature front, mosquitoes have gone crazy, particularly down LEHT and Tuckerton. This is a tad odd for this early in the year, still there's no denying a hellish hatch of some type of mosquito has taken place. 

THANK COD: Boy did I miss the filet mark over the weekend. I glanced at a goodie bag of dropped off doorway fish fillets and over-quickly assumed they were striper meat. Holy pleasant surprise (and not to detract from delicious striped bass) but it turned out it was fresh cod!

I don’t know if any other fishaholics like myself have been noticing that the price of cod is now up there with the planet’s costliest seafood. Hell’s bells, it was less than 20 years ago cod was literally a bottom-shelf species, one you’d buy when funds were tight but you need a goodly chunk of seafood. Now, it is not uncommon for it to be pushing well over $15 a pound – frozen.

Needless to say, I put the dropped off cod to instant personal use. And the reason for its top-shelf status was instantly recognizable. What a clean and delectable fish product.

By the by, it has apparently been a very good year for coldwater bottom fishing. I don’t get many reports on the boats that go way out to work deep-water structures and such. But, per some aficionados, the fishing restrictions being placed on bottom fishing to our north is apparently paying off big time, with packs of pollock leading the way.

Simply Bassin’ is shifting into higher gear. The 8-week tourney saw more stripers added to the leaderboard, which shows the eight best fish – in the running for cash at tourney’s end. Get signed up and cash in on the roughed up weather forecasted this week, conducive to beachside bassing.

Warning: Keep an ear open for thunder. There’s sure to be some killer squalls this week. When you’re only one of few people on the sand, the odds of meeting up with Joltin Joe Lighting are way too high. Add a graphite fishing rod to the mix and you might as well hop up and down and scream “Hit me! Hit me!”


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