There’s an important meeting on menhaden management coming up December 15. I’m drafting a letter and will have a more thorough post on the particulars in the next couple days, but please take a few minutes to read John McMurray’s article over at Conserve Fish. The gist of the meeting concerns increasing the menhaden quota. If you recall back in 2012 we pushed for a 20 percent reduction in the overall quota, with 80 percent of that new number still going to Omega Protein. Since the, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission allowed a 10 percent increase in 2015-2016, with another 6.5 percent increase coming in 2017. If you were out on the water this year, you probably saw what, at least anecdotally, was the result of that 20 percent reduction—and what came out of it was some amazing fishing and the ocean alive like people hadn’t seen in many years.
New York Department of Environmental Conservation
December 15, 2016; 6:30 PM
Freeport Memorial Library
144 West Merrick Road
Contact: Steve Heins at 631.444.0430
I give thanks nearly every day that I don’t have a peanut allergy because I think I would probably wish I was dead if I couldn’t eat peanuts with a beer. If I couldn’t have boiled peanuts and all the glorious Southern variants. If I couldn’t eat Thai food with chopped and crumbled peanuts and the spicy peanut sauce I make. I do have a slightly deadly allergy to raw walnuts and pecans though, but peanuts? No problem. I’ll crush them all day.
There’s been another kind of peanut massacre happening over the last couple weeks and it seemed to culminate around Black Friday in Central New Jersey. Actually, it probably peaked on Thanksgiving, because Black Friday was the day I showed up, but I did get a glimpse of the New Jersey blitz madness and was glad for the bait shop owners like those at Betty and Nick’s. I showed up at a pink dawn, just as the sun was coming up over the horizon. I picked a random beach in Seaside Park, which I chose simply because there seemed to be the least amount of cars near the walkway. For days I’d heard from friends who skipped or snuck out of work to get their share of the peanut mass staging off the coast. I congratulated myself on making the 2.5-ish hour drive from my parents house to this beach in less than 2 hours, eager to hit the water before the crowds set in—only to find a beach packed with surfcasters as far as the eye could see.
It wasn’t quite this bad at 0630, but it wasn’t far off. There was already a blitz of birds and fish well within casting distance. This being Jersey, everyone had a pencil popper on. I found a spot within a comfortable range between two casters and did as Jersey does. After 10 minutes of the 50 of us in a 20 yard span doing as Jersey does, with birds flying back and forth picking up bait, I concluded that we were all doing as Mike Louie does, and not catching any fish. In fact, no one I saw up and down the beach had a bent rod. I surrendered my spot to another unlucky soul and got back in my car and headed further south to Island Beach State Park.
I assumed incorrectly that since one had to pay to get in the park, it would be less crowded. I disproved this assumption driving past the first lot and all the beach buggy driveways until I found a lot I was sort of familiar with, and happened to be empty. Still geared up from the last beach, I hopped to the beach path pretty quickly, lamenting that I’d forgotten sunglasses in the car, but also I wasn’t going back for them. On the beach there was a nice deep dip to the surf. There were plenty of surfcasters and plenty of trucks hovering and buzzing back and forth like the birds everyone was watching. One of the annoying things about this part of Jersey is that a lot of guys just cruise the beach looking for people to catch fish before they’ll even get out of their car. And when someone does catch a fish, they’re usually mobbed for about 10 minutes by these car guys before they don’t catch anything and move on to the next poor schmuck.
One nice guy I passed told me there were some bass schooled up but they weren’t hitting his pencil popper. I already knew the water was full of peanut bunker here, so I wasn’t sure if pencils were the ticket. There was a nice bar and trough combo in front of me, with about 4 feet of water on the dropping tide. One of the nice things about this part of Jersey is there aren’t many jetties, so, while primarily a sand beach, the surf creates some really good beach structure. I credit the somnolent sounds of Rich Troxler’s voice and his videos (excellent for offseason homework, by the way) in helping me recognize some of these.
I snapped on a 5” Tsunami shad and worked the bar and within a couple casts felt a fumbling hit. I swung hard and fast. The previous night my uncle asked me to bring a fish to dinner, so I was feeling the family pressure. I got the fish on the beach pretty quickly. The Cousins 10M rod I’ve been using has a lot of power behind it and I’ve caught a lot of fish on it this season, but only a few have really tested it (more on that later). I unhooked, made sure it was (barely) legal, and, true to form, there were now 6 other guys by me who weren’t there before.
I didn’t have any interest in this kind of mugging. I took the fish back to my car, bled it, and stuffed it in a too-small cooler full of ice. This was the first bass in years that I’ve kept, going back to the glory days of the Green Street pier. At 29” it was nothing special size-wise, but even then it’s still a magnificent creature with its sharp black lines and muscular shoulders and head. Most of the fish I’d seen my friends and others catching that week were all around this size, with the occasional fish at 33” or so. You can see from the video up top, these fish were just crushing the peanut bunker—even through the legs of people fishing. The horizon was full of boats, so perhaps they were on bigger fish, but up on shore, they were all about this size.
I walked back to the beach, this time with my sunglasses. I moved further north up the beach and found another nice bar unoccupied with birds working the far edge. To my left a massive dark cloud swirled and darted among the waves, which took me a second to realize was a school of peanut bunker. Occasionally a few bass would slash their way through, but for the most part it was quiet. A guy up the beach live-lining peanuts came through with only short bass. I watched a guy who mugged me earlier run back to his truck with what I can only assume was a keeper bass, which he threw in his truck, then took off all his gear and left the beach immediately.
I fished through the end of the tide with no hits, no runs, no errors. I saw a few short fish pulled and released, but that was it for Black Friday. The fish seemed keyed in on peanut bunker and that was all they wanted. There was no shortage of birds or bait or boats, but the bass were sick of the fishermen getting over all week. But to see and experience that kind of stacked bait with bass crashing through is still pretty special.
About a week earlier back in our waters, I was keeping an eye and ear on a mass of bait hanging off the southern Long Island coast. I forget what possessed me to wake up at 4AM the morning/night of the Beaver Moon, and while I recalled hearing rain around at 0130, it stopped when my alarm started buzzing. After only driving a couple miles it was pouring again. At a red light, I had a moment to contemplate: turn around or stupidly forge ahead. But the beach held promise in its beer-bottle green waters. The surf was flat and calm despite the rain and high moon tide, and no birds belied any life below the surface. I tried a bunch of plugs before tying on a pencil, not really sure if fish would be into it with the sizzling rain pockmarking the water everywhere. I made a cast straight out from the jetty and didn’t make it past two pops before a bluefish smashed it out of the water. This was the first real test for the Cousins rod I had made last year and it manhandled these monster bluefish as they tried to make a run for the rocks. Five straight casts had bluefish 15#-18#s on them and no one else was around except some poor bastards setting up a shoot for some cop TV show in the dumping rain. And for once, it was a pretty good morning.