Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Over the past couple decades, my main complaint in life has been how time has begun to accelerate -- without my even touching the gas pedal. Then up steps a winter like this one. The flow of time slows to a drip – then icicles up. It’s like watching a soccer match for three months straight. I’m thinking it’s a not-good sign that I’ve been repeatedly watching “The Shining.” and listening to my finger whisper, “Red drum,” meaning I should be fishing in Florida.

Let’s get this frickin’ winter over with already. I’m even willing to return to the terminal velocity forward motion of life.

Enough bitchin’ and moain’ on that subject. There’s a lot more to B & M out there this week.

The striped bassing realm is in shock (and dismay), as more and more photos arrive showing the insane collateral kill-off of bass as the result of the North Carolina reopening trawl fishing for striped bass.

There have been two huge “die-offs” down there in as many weeks.

Per an article by Jeffrey Weeks, Charlotte Fish and Wildlife Policy Examiner at examiner.com, “… Striped bass trawlers off of Oregon Inlet again killed and discarded thousands of striped bass today in a tragic and wasteful repeat of last month’s fish kill.

Despite the massive striped bass kill last month, (Division of Marine Fisheries) director Dr. Louis Daniel reopened the ocean trawler striper season and once again the commercial trawlers left a miles-long trail of wasted, dead stripers.

‘There are thousands of discarded striped bass covering an area approximately 1-1 ½ miles wide and 3-5 miles long,’ said one eyewitness observer who flew over the fish kill in a helicopter. ‘There is no disputing the fact that these fish came from the trawler fleet as there were no other boats in the area.’”

As I understand it, the insanity is the result of commercial trawlers being limited to a certain number of fish. They’ve begun throwing back smaller fish to get at larger ones. Doubly infuriating for anglers -- and even other commercial fishermen -- is the fact that many discarded fish are larger breeder bass. It’s all a kick in the balls to anglers who sacrificed during the moratorium to help striped bass stocks recover.

That NC state-level nuttiness should come as no surprise to those familiar with the way the Tar Hill State officials handle fishery issues. Its approach to conservation is so bad that a top scientist from NJ who went there to work -- to ostensibly bring some actual science into play -- left in disgust after witnessing the mindless redneck-ish indifference to intelligent management.

This latest fiasco, done in the name of a beyond-minimal trawl industry, may have blown up in the face of the numbnuts running the fishery show down there. The response from up and down the East Coast is fierce outrage and a willingness to do something about it, legally -- as in a class-action suit. I say sue 'em back to the Stone Age.

For a disgusting look at the striper carnage, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X51MKCrn9RE, or YouTube “Dead Striped bass.”

REGISTRY TICKS DOWN: As for the growingly notorious NJ Free Angling Registry Bill, it has become a nightmare too vile (and complicated) for even Stephen King to mess with.

This issue is kinda way important so please read on a bit.

The horrors of the registry issue rear up when you try to wade through the insane amount of dubious data, contradictory opinions, funding forebodings and growing expenses (lost funding) associated with NJ not yet having a registry in place.

The biggest bugaboo comes from trying to figure out what damage having no registry is doing.

As of now, we are not receiving proper funding from the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration, i.e. Dingell-Johnson/Wallop-Breaux. Believe me, that’s real bad.

In order to tap that goodly source of money – gained from a tax we pay on the likes of fishing gear – we have to have a fairly exact count of just how many folks fish in NJ. No registry, no count, no funding.  

What’s more, a state’s access to federal funding is enhanced when it can prove, through science, the status of its fisheries. New Jersey currently has the nation’s worst ratio of scientists to fish species. Some states have three separate scientists assigned to study each species. NJ has three (or more) species for each scientist.

Where’s the money for scientists? The more data you have to prove a fishery is being fished, the more money comes out of the Wallop-Breaux tax – of which Jersey pays more into that any one else in the nation! Yep, we’re the top contributor and near the bottom in getting fed funding. Again: We get NOTHING while a registry is not in place.

SIGN AND BE FUNDED: For now, Governor Chris Christie has a couple more weeks to sign the Registry Bill. I now have no doubts that he is fretting over what a “free” registry might cost the state.

And it will cost. However, the likes of the Recreational Fishing Alliance is trying to show Christie that the federal funding gained once we have a registry can go to covering the expense of said registry. I personally have no idea if that can fly legally but something is needed to spur on the governor.

There are other directions the bill can go.

As a signing seems more and more unlikely, a veto possibility arises.

To me, a veto would seem a very costly mistake. It would instantly require all state anglers to register for 2011 via the federal government. All registry monies would then be whisked into – and lost within -- the federal budget. What’s more, a veto means that NJ will continue to miss out on the 2011 federal funding. A hideous big-dollar mistake.

Another possibility is a conditional vet. That’s very unlikely at this point, since it demands amendments be made to the bill by the Legislature. That would prolong the law-making process and likely mean more missed funding.

Looming larger and larger is the cold-shoulder passage of the Free Angler Registry Bill.

By not signing the bill within the next couple weeks, the governor shows his irritation over the bill by allowing it to stew on his desk for 45 days. It then becomes law all on its own. That would at least assure we get federal funding this year -- and allow anglers who aren’t yet registered to sing up with the state.

It should be noted that the free registry thing could get the boot for 2012, should the state hate the economic ramifications. At the same time, the true value of allowing anglers to spend freely when fishing NJ could prove to Trenton that the expense of a free registry is more than worthwhile – especially when factoring in the related tax revenues.

IT’S NOW UP TO NATURE: No U.S. species is being over fished.

That recent announcements, offered by Professor Steve Murawski, former chief fishery scientist for NOAA, sent a buzz of anxious anticipation through the fishing realms, commercial and recreational. Not only is there an ecological soothingness in knowing the carnage caused by over fishing has ceased but also, by default, a hope that better times might be in store for anglers who have seen bag limits cut and minimum size limits hiked.

Turns out that “better times” sub-notion is misbegotten. 

Murawski’s “no over fishing” announcement also contained the worrisome findings that, even though we have properly hit the over-harvesting brakes, many fish stocks remain at “low abundance” – some continuing to decline despite draconian conservational measures, among those the population of weakfish.

An even more chilling premise was forwarded by Murawski, who said (and I paraphrase here) upwards of 70 percent of fish recovery -- after fishing has been curtailed – is attributable to climate and environment, i.e. nature.

That’s cold, man. It means that even when every over-fishing precaution is taken, there is still a seven in ten chance that nature – not humanity -- will have the final say in how a species will eventually recover – or not recover.

Truth be told, there was something a tad too sophomoric in thinking that simply retreating on the fishing pressure front would instantly lead to fisheries charging back to historic glory.

Obviously, our self-serving human thinking is simple: nature should obediently allow all conserved fisheries to instantly flourish. But, to quote singer-songwriter Laurie Anderson, “Nature’s got rules and nature’s got laws and if you cross her look out.” 

And we’ve surely crossed her.

Now, we must wait to see how nature handles those fisheries we’ve wounded through over fishing and environmental destruction. Even if nature shines on our efforts, it could takes decades for anglers to reap the benefits.

CLASSIC CHATTER: Thinking way ahead to the running of the 57th Annual Long Beach Island Fall Surf Fishing Classic, a few changes have been made. In the bluefish category, the weekend prize is no more and the second-place daily price has been eliminated. The first-place daily prize will remain $35.

This is both an effort to place more emphasis on striped bass and also to free up some money for a costly move to more caps.

I’ll note that there has been some serious growling as word of this bluefish de-emphaisis has reached Classic-ites. However, those annual tourney caps are bigger than you might realize. There are even some cap-seekers who will pay the Classic’s entry fee just for the cap. And, man, is there royal hell to pay when the supply runs out before the late entrants get theirs.

I should note that every single year I’m among the many who warn, well ahead of time, that the hats are first come/first serve. They are essentially a way to get folks entering early. Still, the ire of late-signer-uppers who fail to get the annual head covering has been a real distraction for the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce and also participating shops.

I was in-shop once when an older fellow went all but cardiac over no hat – and we were into the second week of the contest. Outside, I gave him mine. Ain’t I a nice guy? Despite his previous rant, he offered a sincere, “Oh, I can’t do that.” I insisted and he sheepishly accepted it. Hey, I’m not really a hat man – I say, as I see what the early hats are going for on eBay.  However, a happy contestant is a happy angler so an effort is being made to significantly up the cap purchase so there’s a hat for one and all. 

I won’t get into dollars and cents but you’d be floored by the cost of buying, say, 800 caps. Yes, it gets shopped out for the best price. And, no, your cousin Angelo can’t get them at half that price, even if he is a “made man.” 

To reduce the added expense brought on by the hat count hike, the tournament is now focusing on a cap sponsor. The sponsor’s logo would go on the back of the cap. 

I would like to doubly emphasize that the Classic, while very nicely holding its own in recent years, is still trying to establish some solid fiscal ground -- to assure it healthfully survives for many years to come. At the same time, finding sponsors to cover increasing costs – yes, inflation and the icky economy even hits fishing tournaments – might be a nice way to counteract the need to implement cutbacks.

DEER ALERT: The white tails are seemingly on the ice-out move.

Per usual, Route 9 is a never-ending strike zone. There is almost a DOA deer a night between, say, Lacey Township and Bass River. However, the latest dangerous drive zone is along Rte. 72. There have been a slew of close calls – and at least a few strikes –from Pinewood Estates to the Parkway, especially in the vicinity of Fawn Lakes.

The strike seriousness factor gets turned up big notch on 72 with its 55-plus pace. It’s bad enough that a vehicle vs. deer crash can easily cost many thousands of dollars in vehicular repairs, but the danger of injury and death to motorists quickly enters the mix when speed joins in.

Lest you think this is a non-issue, in just five years, between 2005-2009, 1,017 people were killed nationwide in meet-ups between motor vehicles and animals, primarily deer. Six fatalities occurred in NJ. Obviously, the number of related injuries is many times that fatality number.

The more fabled result of a deer strike is the through-the-windshield scenario.

When a deer is struck, especially a bounding deer, it can easily get knocked upwards and essentially into the faces of those in the front seat of a vehicle. And if you’re thinking to yourself, “I’ll just duck real fast,” you’ve obviously never hit a deer. The impact can happen so quickly you can’t even blink much less take more advanced personal evasive action.

Far more serious are accidents when drivers – sometimes with the entire family in-vehicle -- swerve off the road or into oncoming traffic to avoid a deer. Once again, the soothing idea that “I’d never stupidly swerve like that” totally ignores those involuntary human reactions when something really big suddenly leaps in front of a vehicle. In fact, if you think about it, swerving to avoid an impact is also fulfilling the noble need to protect those in the vehicle.

By the by, I personally know of numerous “unknown cause” fatal crashes taking place on Pinelands roads, where vehicles are found off in the woods for no apparent reason. On police reports, falling asleep at the wheel is often the likely/possible/probable cause. But, I have no doubt that a goodly number of those deaths are the result of deer-related swerves. I say that based on the many motorists surviving such accidents, including a goodly number of folks I know who have gone off-road to avoid a “stupid effin deer.”

Best advice: Be alert and slow if you see a deer near the shoulder of a highway. Often you can see a deer’s eyes in your headlights before the whole animal comes into view. That offers time to decelerate.

When driving in deer territory – virtually all of mainland Ocean County -- keep in mind that deer often cross the road in pairs, even groups. There is a Piney saying about hitting a deer: “It’s the second one that always gets ya.”

By the by, it doesn’t matter which way a deer is facing when its standing near a road. It can perform a180-degree turn and bound into the air in less than one second – and they often do so when spooked.

Why does a deer even cross the road? To get to the other side. No joke. When no traffic is around, a deer often edges outside its comfort zone, to graze on the other side of the highway, away from its well-marked home turf. It then suddenly finds itself on the wrong side of things as a vehicle approaches. If it loses its cool, it opts to instantly bolt for home. Hope you slowed down. 

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