Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

From Gloomy to Gorgeous;

Classic Ready to Launch

Not much peripheral stuff in this week’s column, though I did get some feedback on last week’s cougar write-up (see below).

This is the time of year where I get overwhelmingly fishy in here. While summer is admittedly the wild and wooly angling season, in terms of total casting pressure, fall is when the serious striper and bluefish seeking takes front stage. With no disrespect to summer fun fishermen, the talent level from now until closing (Decemberish) goes up big time, as does the size of weight-ins.

FROM NOR-EASTER TO MUCH NICE-STER: It’s tough not to talk weather this week. I was among the many who girded for rain and wind ferocity from the tropical systems last week. Zippo hit us on LBI. Then, what was forecast as a fairly tame nor-east wind flow over the weekend, became a mighty conspicuous sky-showing.

The distinguishing factor of the Sunday/Monday storm was the steadiness of the 25-mph winds and the goodly amount of rainfall.

Unfortunately, the last thing our decently recovered (thanks to summer) beaches needed was a side-wind storm of any sort. To have our Island sands eaten away so early in autumn does not bode well this year, should we get the stormy winter that La Nina conditions often offer.

It should be re-noted that sands eroded by northeasterly blows tends to recover pretty quickly. However, there is always an insidious overall sand loss from any large storm, thus the need for long-term beach fixes, be it a local post-storm emergency trucked in fill or the larger pump-in fixes, like the controversial federal/state/local beach replenishment projects in Surf City and Harvey Cedars.

Hopefully, there was enough sand built up prior to the blow to allow easy beach buggy traveling along most LBI beaches. As of this typing (Tuesdays), I haven’t been able to get a good read on how the beaches fared. I’ll update on my website https://jaymanntoday.ning.com/, or Google, “Jay Mann Fishing ning.”

As for the couple inches of rain, that might make a big splash. Not only will the runoff wash a lot of accumulated crap into the backbay, it’ll also KO what had been some of the warmest fall water temps ever recorded bayside. That thermal thwack will surely jolt the holdout forage fish that had been stubbornly hanging out in backbay creeks and lagoons. If there are any mullet remaining for this year’s run, this cool-down will get ‘em movin’.

On the much brighter side of things, by the time you read this column we’ll be into some amazing weather – near perfect surf casting skies. That begs the question of whether or not this storm has cooled the ocean. Not. The ocean is a noticeably big thing. It takes a helluva sight more than a couple days of chilliness to make it change its stripes. In fact, northeast winds actually blow in mild water. The upcoming sun-heavy days will go solar on the surface waters, keeping the seas unseasonably mild. The upside to angling is the more dramatic coldness to our north, which might have nudged the gamefish downward.

RUN-DOWN: Fishing has been so wind-whacked that it’s hard to get any rhyme or reason on bites. I’ve been Holgat-ing a lot, where even wicked winds still allow for some angling. I’ve seen a fair catch of very small blues and a few cocktail blues. I had a couple 2-pounders on plugs and one jump-off blue pushing 5 pounds. It adeptly jumped and head-shook my vintage Red Fin out of its mouth and a solid 10 feet into the air.

The coolest tale of a generally slow email week came from an angler I chatted with in Wawa. He was boat fishing near the Coast Guard Station and on his first drop hooked up big time. The take bent his rod to a serious curvature. After a damn decent struggle, he hoisted up an 11.5-pound sheepshead. Take it from a fan of sheepsheading, that’s gotta be a handful. Even a few-pound sheepshead can rip line off a reel. The fight is similar to a blackfish but the sheepshead has flatter body that it turns sideways for amazing power.

That hookup is consistent with a slew of sheepshead being seen and caught this year. Scuba divers have seen them by the school-load on wrecks. A small group of anglers who work the spans (Causeway bridges) have detected a huge increase in sheepsheads over the past 10 years or so. And, for whatever reason, we have some of the biggest sheepsheads on the planet hanging around here during the summer.

The state record is 17-3, caught in 2003 by Paul Lowe while fishing beneath the Big Bridge (Manahawkin Bay). That’s not so far off the world record of 21-4 caught in Louisiana, where you’d expect worldly sheepsheads.

The mullet run continues to be abysmal, so much so that jockeying for better zones has gotten downright completive among net throwers. Despite that, there’s something of a network (pun) of throwers letting the others know what areas are working and which aren’t.

Not surprisingly, bigger gamefish moving down from the north are often drawn our way while hot on the tails of on-the-run forage fish -- and even young-of-year gamefish -- moving out of bays and toward deeper water. I know of anglers who follow schools of baitfish from Connecticut down to Cape May. On LBI, we’ve often tracked the action from Barnegat light down to Holgate.

Last week, I noticed the season’s first river of migrating hardheads minnows (“s***head minnows” to some folks). They were snaking in a nonstop parade, traveling in very shallow waters.

Hardheads are actually a prime indictor species, marking the general emptying of the bay. This year they’re about three weeks later than usual.

By the by, I was among the many who long believed that hardheads are utterly useless as bait. Turns out, that’s utter nonsense.

A couple years back, I netted a few of the larger ones – and they are by far our largest minnow, some growing to over three inches. I fished them in the back rip at Holgate. I instantly had weakfish and fluke sucking up the livelined hardheads. Then, the blues moved in. I couldn’t keep a hardhead in the water long enough to catch anything else. Eventually, I went around to Stu’s Point, flipped in my largest hardhead and caught a 28-inch striper within five minutes. At least five witnesses saw me take that hardhead-based bass.

Cursory observational skills indicate these are highly sought-after forage fish. Not only do they migrate in dangerously shallow waters but watch their reaction to the slightest splash. That skitterishness comes from being steadily stalked.

CLASSIC READY TO LAUNCH: The Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce’s Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic is upon us – and a complex 2010 tourney it will be.

As noted above, I’m thinking/hoping this nor’easter will finally alert gamefish that it’s time to move south to Jersey.

Does the slowness of this year’s run of mullet and (possibly) bunkies mean a slow year for the Classic? Possibly. But, as I annually preach in here, the 8-week tourney is not a volume event but a quality-catch contest. So what if the largest striped bass of a given week is only 22 pounds? That was the finest fish taken that week – and as big a prize/money winner as a fish twice that size was years back.

It really levels the playing field when weigh-in fish are tough to come by. The lone surfcaster walking on in Brant Beach with a 5-gallon bucket and two carefully hand-picked bunker for bait has as good a chance as the guy in a fully-loaded beach buggy working the most exotic reaches of Holgate.

Focusing on bruiser bluefish, they’re going to be arriving fairly soon, though way later than usual.

Be it warming seas or a genetic change, the fall run of slammers has been getting later each year – but they’re also staying latter. In fact, the Classic committee factored in the later arrival of gamefish when it pushed back the event’s starting date. With the contest going to Dec. 5 this year, slammers are welcome to hang around as late as they want.

I’ll reiterate my appeal that all anglers bound for the Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic first sign up with the federal National Saltwater Angler registry, https://www.countmyfish.noaa.gov/register.

Despite some unprecedented beliefs that this registry is purely optional, it’s just the opposite. It’s purely mandatory. Possibly, by next year, it’ll be state-run -- and free to anglers. However, even then, it will be compulsory that all anglers be signed up. There’s no other way to “count the fish” – the entire purpose of the registry, as mandated by the Magnusson Act.

THE CLASSIC SCOOP: The registration fee is $30 per angler.

The registration entitles contestants to enter fish for the entire eight-week tournament.

If you register early, you’ll get a highly collectible 2010 LBI Surf Fishing Classic hat. Register late and you’ll be hatless. Per the Chamber: Each registration outlet receives a supply of hats and coupons based on prior years registration sales. It is possible for some sales locations (including all weigh-in stations) to run out before others.

Signing up also gets contestants a free exterior carwash coupon presented by

Manahawkin Magic Wash, a coupon for a free slice of Panzone's Cheese Pizza, presented by Panzone's Pizza, Surf City.

PIG OUT: Another tasty perk for entering is an invite to the Oceanside Bait & Tackle 2nd Annual LBI Surf Classic Pig Roast, held on October 16 at 3 PM. Admission is free with proof of registration in the Classic. All others pay $15.00. The roast will include live Music, food and beer, raffles, giveaways and VIP Guest Speakers. Oceanside B&T is located a 8201 Long Beach Boulevard, Brighton Beach.

Make sure to check out the roast. It’s run by fun folks and is very much in the spirit of the Classic.

LBI DERBY FLASHBACK: During the Classic, I like break out my super rare copies of “Derby News,” a publication dedicated to event. It seemingly ran only in 1956.

Here’s the excuse of the day, taken from the November 16 issue.

“We have a brand new fishermen’s excuse of the week to offer in lieu of the great numbers of striped bass which are supposed to be crowding our beaches.

“We’ve exhausted weather, tide, wind and the like and offer sand eels.

“They say we have a tremendous crop of sand eels (one of the favorite feeding food of stripers) and the bait extends out into the ocean for about five miles. As long as the eels hold out in great numbers and that far away from the beach, the stripers won’t be interested in coming over the bar and snapping up your metal squid.

“At least it’s a new excuse and one that seems plausible enough.”

(Likely written by Dick Clements, though no byline is given.)

FELONIOUS BASS FISHING: Lest one think the U.S. Department of Justice goes light on fishing violations involving stripers, U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte has sentenced Virginia commercial fisherman Dennis Dent, age 47, to five months of incarceration and five months of home detention for violating the Lacey Act by illegally catching, transporting and selling striped bass.

Of course, it wasn’t as if Dent was a smalltime player. In fact, from 2005 to 2007, he king-pinned a covert striped bass enterprise that harvested and marketed 16,647 pounds of “rockfish,” with a street value of $83,236.

“Pssst. Hey, buddy. Over here. Ya wanna score some hot rockfish?”

“Uh, does it come with fries?”

For years on end, Dent managed to clandestinely harvest tons of bass, above and beyond the allowable limits. He did so by fooling around with the federally required tags that must be affixed to all commercially taken stripers. The tags are used by management to monitor the amount of bass being taken by a permitted fisherman and where they go once caught. They’re a tracking system similar to the one used with commercial clams in NJ. Dent not only failed to affix tags to tons of fish but also used bogus tags, apparently manufactured by other suspects, soon to be tried.

Dent was also charged with keeping undersized fish and fishing during the closed spawning season.

A lengthy investigation by the feds proved Dent transported and sold the illegal rockfish to Profish, Ltd., a major fishmonger in Washington, D.C. Along with the company itself, members of Profish are also in hot water. On July 1, 2010, Profish’s vice-president, Timothy Lydon, and its fish buyer, Benjamin Clough, were convicted of purchasing the illegal striped bass from Dent, also in violation of the Lacey Act. Profish, Lydon, and Clough will be sentenced on or before November 8, 2010.

Along with jail time, Dent must serve three years of supervised release. Money-wise, he must pay $5,818 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. That money will go toward conservation efforts within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. He must also cough up a $1,000 fine for miscellaneous fishery violations. The court assigned that money to the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund.

The overall investigation that netted Dent and Profish, led to the prosecution of 19 individuals and three fish wholesale companies in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. The punishments were a wake-up call to the commercial fishing industry – and also recreational anglers – that both the feds and state officials aren’t going to tolerate nonsense when it comes to obeying striped bass laws.

CAT EYEING: I wrote about cougars last week and got four emails from folks having seen (over the years) big cats in the outback, particularly further up into Central NJ. The verbal details I got point heavily toward bobcats over pumas.

While uncommon in Southern and Central New Jersey, bobcats are indigenous – and have been confirmed a helluva lot more often than cougars. There are no confirmed cougar sightings in NJ. The DEP recently introduced 24 Maine-caught bobcats into North NJ, as part of species rescue effort.

Bobcats are differentiated from a cougar by size (largest bobs barely reach 50 pounds), white patches on outsides of ears, triangularly shaped ears, mottled overall appearance (sometimes weakly spoted or splotchy), 4- to 5-inch tails (the “bobbed” in bobcats) and sideburn whiskers on the cheeks. Cougar are a single coloring, topside, from head to the tail, have markedly rounded ear (no tufts) and are a much larger size.

I have positively seen bobcat tracks in the northern parts of the Pines. In the early 1980s, I saw what was seemingly a roadkill bobcat on a back road in western Lacey Township. I later went back for that roadkill (to practice my taxidermy) and either someone had picked it up or a predator had dragged it into the bush.

As recently as the 1970s, the bobcat was thought to be extinct in Jersey. Since then, the state has begun a reintroduction effort, bringing in cats from Maine. The extra effort

given to tracking the released cats led to the discovery of an extant population. Per a bobcat conservation group’s website, sightings of bobcats are now increasingly being submitted from various areas of the state, including Ocean County. The up side of that is the larger-than-thought population of the wild felines. The down side is the fact that the over developing of the last wilderness areas is likely why so many bobcats are now being spotted.

By the by, the bobcat is now an endangered species in NJ, which means you can’t hunt it. In fact, you can’t even have a roadkill bobcat in your possession. I’ll have to keep that in mind.

Obviously, I’m profoundly interested in any other cat spottings, especially related to the upcoming deer and small game hunting seasons. You better believe that photos, with recognizable background images, would be nice but, I’ll even settle for side-glance sightings from your backyard. Even pussyfooting felines leave telltale tracks.

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