Instagram is really hurting my self esteem. Not in the same way online dating would back when I was a single man and my message inbox would stay empty for weeks, but not so dissimilar either. Right now I’m batting 0-4 on this early, but warm, season in the surf, dragging myself out of bed at 430-5AM, which I’m really not good at doing and am constantly amazed people do this everyday (granted they also probably don’t stay up until 2AM drinking beer the previous night). After a couple hours of fruitless casting I drive to work, pull up Instagram while having a coffee, and am inundated with awesome photos and videos like this:
Then there’s this guy:
Granted, I have a lot of respect for John McMurray and that guy Elias Vaisberg as fishermen and hard-working guides in NY waters, but I’m also apparently a jealous person. I like to pretend it’s because one guy is in a boat and the other guy is in a kayak, but it’s really just their experience that’s working for them. I’ve been trying to keep my early season arsenal simple with a bunch of small bucktails, shads (the ones made by Elias Vaisberg have good action and it’s also nice to support a Brooklyn guy), a Cotton Cordell 7” pencil, some Zoom Flukes on jig heads and skirts, and an SP Minnow. All of it has been for naught so far, but it’s too early to give up. Plus I hear through the grapevine of friends who fish Delaware and New Jersey that the big, mean bluefish that terrorized the surf last fall are on their way back up and should be hitting the beaches this week. I’m talking about 15# blues and bigger. I got lucky and got into a gang of them one rainy morning in the Rockaways last fall and crushed on topwater lures. That’s definitely some addicting stuff and I have to get back to it like a drug.
Hopefully your early season is going better than mine. After pulling some absolutely insane hours at work for the first three months of 2017 things are finally settling into a somewhat predictable pattern right when the fishing is heating up so expect more regular posts in the near future (my apologies to the 3 of you who may read this blog still) as I have a bunch of half-written stuff that I aim to finish up. Who’s been catching fish so far?
Happy New Year, everyone! I’ve already started sharpening and replacing hooks in anticipation of the new season. I’m forming a plan to gear up for some light tackle, back-bay stuff in the early Spring, whenever that may be—I suppose it depends on what, if any, kind of winter we have. Until then, I’m working on a couple posts of striper porn and stuff I’ll be reading/researching/studying during the offseason—things to make decent use out of the downtime from surf fishing (or pier fishing, or boat fishing…).
More immediately, however, we have until January 4th to send in comments on menhaden management to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. It’s very important to make our voices and wants/needs known to the Commission (if you need a refresher on WHY it’s important, take a look at the post below this one or read up on Captain John McMurray’s article here). It won’t take much time to send them an email, and in fact you can copy and paste my own comments below if you like. If you were out on the water this fall, then you probably saw a lot of life out there. Even if you don’t fish, there was whale watching in the Rockaways and in the East River, and bird watchers were happy too. There was just a lot of life out there, and there’s a good chance that’s partially because of the menhaden reduction we fought so hard for back in 2012. There’s a vote on an amendment that will determine kind and scope of future menhaden management coming up and we only have until tomorrow to send comments to the Commission. You can also take a few minutes to sign the Pew Public Trust’s Action Alert (which is very easy and painless to do, too).
Send emails to:
Fishery Management Plan Coordinator
1050 N. Highland St,
Arlington, VA 22201
(Use subject line: Menhaden PID)
Dear ASMFC Commissioners,
As you well know, back in 2012 many recreational anglers fought hard for better regulation of menhaden. We won that battle and were rewarded with a 20 percent reduction in the quota. Since that reduction we’ve seen a big increase in the numbers of menhaden, and experienced some of the best fishing in years along the shores of Long Island, New York City, and New Jersey. However anecdotally, we’ve seen more whales in New York waters feeding on more peanut bunker than we’ve seen in a long time—and while the science hasn’t made a direct connection to the increased abundance of this all-too-important bait fish to the better regulated fishery, those of us on the water believe we are seeing positive results from your decision to reduce the quota.
Since 2012 you’ve also increased that quota 10 percent, with another 6.5 percent increase scheduled in the new year. We of the Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association, a fishing group in New York City, do not believe increasing the quota back to pre-2012 numbers without an increase in management is the answer. We are just beginning to see what is possible with better management of menhaden across the board—better for the fishery, the recreational anglers, the recreational industry, whale watchers, and boat captains have all seen the potential benefits this fall. This is why we support Option D for Amendment 3, and we believe this is the best long-term solution for menhaden management.
At the recent New York ASMFC meeting there was a consensus to close the bycatch loophole which allowed caught menhaden to not count toward the quota. We also support the closing of this loophole.
We also support reducing the Chesapeake Bay cap (Issue 8), as the number is currently unattainable and, at least on paper, results in the potential to take as much menhaden as possible out of a crucial nursery area, not just for forage fish, but for larger predatory fish as well.
The Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association is a group of dedicated citizens who fish all of New York City’s waters, from Prospect Park and the East River, to the Rockaways and the upper Hudson. We were established in 2009 with the vision of expanding awareness of New York City’s fishing history, the life found in its waterways, and the benefits of responsible conservation and clean rivers. We believe we are on the cusp of seeing the beginnings of potential long-term benefits of menhaden management. Please consider the impacts of your decisions regarding Amendment 3.
Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association
The end of the season is settling in. In the last six weeks or so I’ve fished both shores of Long Island, our home waters in NYC, explored the NJ shore from Sandy Hook to the Barnegat Lighthouse, and just last week I headed south and fished with Captain Tyler Nonn / Tidewater Charters in the Chesapeake Bay. So while I haven’t fished quite as much as I wanted to, due to some annoying and some not-so-annoying details of life, I did manage to do alright. And in all those places this fall, the one consistent thing was bait—there was a lot of bait in the water this year, mostly of the peanut/juvenile bunker variety. Even this summer in Long Beach Island I found schools of them loaded up under marina lights, and the consensus, at least empirically and anecdotally, is that it’s because of the 20 percent reduction the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) enacted in 2012.
If you remember a few years ago we fought to get the menhaden industry regulated when it was previously essentially a free-for-all. Omega Protein, the last reduction industry in the country, was and still is the primary culprit—they still take 80 percent of the total catch to make their fish pellets and fish oil. But the 20 percent cut we achieved in 2012 made a big difference: if you saw the masses of peanut bunker on the Long Island and New Jersey shores this fall, if you were lucky enough to get into the blitzes and bass and bluefish gorging themselves into footballs, if you saw the whales in the Hudson, then you saw the effects of that reduction. Captain John McMurray, in his article, wrote, “Let me be clear that I absolutely believe that this 20% reduction on a fishery that uses spotter planes to systematically find and scoop entire schools of menhaden out of the water has resulted in the increased menhaden concentrations we are seeing now.”
Since 2012 however, the ASMFC approved a 10 percent increase in 2015-2016, and they’ve scheduled another 6.5 percent for next year. From McMurray’s article: “Both increases were based on a 2015 stock assessment, which indicated such increase would not result in ‘overfishing.’ All the anecdotal reports of increased abundance likely contributed to that decision as well. In other words, if there are more fish, industry should be able to kill more.”
After only a couple short years we already saw some of the effects of a better-regulated industry, and the benefits spread across not only the fishing captains, guides, anglers, whale watchers. The fishing may have been on fire, but the most important beneficiary was the marine life: the bass and bluefish, the whales, and the birds and crabs cleaning it all up.
But evidence of a direct link between leaving more fish in the water and the abundance we saw this fall is still anecdotal and empirical at best. Logically, the more fish left in the ocean would result in more fish down the line—that is, of course, disregarding any environmental factors and changes that may negatively affect fish populations. But that’s not how it’s viewed—yet. Again, from McMurray’s article:
“Stock assessment scientists have not been able to identify what they call ‘stock recruitment relationship,’ a mathematical relationship between the number of mature menhaden and the number of juvenile fish that survive. To be clear, they aren’t saying it doesn’t exist… they just can’t determine what it is.
What that means is that there is no scientific information that indicates the 20% reduction is responsible for current abundance, and so the other theory, which of course looks more attractive to industry and some managers, is that it could be more the result of environmental conditions.
While there may indeed have been good ocean conditions for them to come back, common sense should tell us that if you leave millions of pounds of fish in the water, well, there will be millions of pounds more fish in the water. And that this would likely result in future abundance/expansion.”
At this point it doesn’t look like there is a definite causal link—the scientists, at least according to McMurray, aren’t not saying it either, but they haven’t been able to pin down the abundance to a single source, and even if they could, it’s probably too soon to tell for certain. It probably is a combination of factors, but it’s a good bet that the 20 percent reduction is one of them. Without the scientific hard evidence, however, the industry (i.e. Omega) sees an opportunity to take more fish.
So where does that leave us now?
The ASMFC is now considering what’s called Amendment 3. One important thing to know is that, even with the 10 percent increase the ASMFC approved for 2015-2016, the management of menhaden is pointed toward actual management—meaning there are steps being taken to regulate the population as part of an ecosystem, and not just a product to be removed from the ocean. Meaning the environmental factors and predator/prey relationship with other species in the ocean will be part of the management plan. This is the objective of Amendment 3.
The Amendment is in the draft phase right now which is open for public comment, and that’s why it’s important to have our concerns voiced during this period. “The ASMFC is not like the council. The commission really needs to hear from the public big time on this one,” Jamie Pollack, the Mid-Atlantic Field Rep and my contact at the Pew Charitable Trusts, told me. Here’s the list of state meetings, and here’s the information for the New York meeting on 15 Thursday:
New York Department of Environmental Conservation
December 15, 2016; 6:30 PM
Freeport Memorial Library
144 West Merrick Road
Freeport, New York
Contact: Steve Heins at 631.444.0430
There’s a number of options on the table for Amendment 3 (the pre-draft document is here), but check out the “cheat sheet” that McMurray provided in his article. You can read the option in the PID, but it’s technical and kind of obscure to the layman, so here’s McMurray’s summary of viable options (Option A is a non-factor: that’s the status quo option):
Option B suggests using widely accepted precautionary guidelines for forage species, such as managing to a target of 75% of an unfished stock (in other words leaving a minimum 75% of the number of fish that were there before we started catching them), and ensuring the population never drops below 40 percent.
Option C suggests using the current single-species management until menhaden-specific ecosystem reference points are developed.
Option D is likely the most comprehensive solution. It’s really a combination of B and C. It would use the existing best scientific guidelines for managing forage species described above (e.g. leaving 75% of unfished biomass in the water and not letting it get below 40%), until menhaden-specific ecosystem reference points can be developed.
This is the best long-term solution, and the one we should support.
This is also the position over at Pew, according to Jamie Pollack. “The conservation of menhaden benefits everyone. Managing ‘the most important fish in the sea’ to account for their role as forage fish will enable the population to continue to grow, while increasing menhaden’s value to recreational fishing, commercial seafood, and tourism businesses that all depend on this important fish and its predators.”
We’re also looking to close a bycatch loophole in Issue 6 (Incidental Catch & Small Scale Fishery Allowance). There are millions of pounds of menhaden labeled as “bycatch” in other fisheries which don’t count toward the quota. “The problems this exemption seeks to address should be resolved through the reallocation [to the states] part of the Amendment,” says McMurray.
Finally we want to reduce the cap on menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay (Issue 8). McMurray writes: “The goal of such a Bay-exclusive cap was to prevent all of the reduction fishery harvest from occurring in the Chesapeake Bay, a critical nursery area for menhaden, and to prevent localized depletion in the Bay.
The problem is, the reduction industry rarely even comes close to the cap. That’s because it’s too high.
So, the cap should be kept in Amendment 3, but cut in half (96 million pounds) – closer to current levels of catch – to protect against localized depletion and provide for those predators (and I’m thinking specifically about striped bass here) that depend on menhaden in the Bay.”
The objective for the ASMFC should be to do the most good. If you were out this fall you probably saw some things you haven’t seen in years, and despite the science lacking a direct link to the 20 percent reduction we achieved back in 2012, the evidence has been plain to many, and many who spend a lot more time on the water than me. I don’t care much for the reduction industry and Omega, who basically represents the arch-nemesis in this scenario. I don’t care for pseudo-science, I don’t care for them to scoop up whole schools of bunker and grind them up into fish pellets they’ll sell to fish farms in Asia and I don’t care for the disgusting tilapia and farmed shrimp the U.S. buys back as “seafood.” The Atlantic coast has some of the most prodigious and extensive waters in the world: our seafood is right here and the preservation of menhaden is a huge part of that.
And it’s not just about money: Omega will still keep their 80 percent of the quota or whatever it may be. But the recreational fishing industry saw a big boost from the bunker boom as well: McMurray talks about this himself. Guides like John McMurray and Tyler Nonn, party boats, retailers, and mom and pop tackle shops all benefit from a better regulated menhaden fishery. The recreational fishing industry creates way more work and dollars across a greater spectrum than the reduction industry could ever hope to achieve. This is why we need the ASMFC to manage menhaden as an ecosystem and not acquiesce to Omega and corporate lobbyists who have little interest in the long view and real benefits, some of which we are just starting to see this past fall. This is not the time to go backwards, and if the new Administration shapes up the way its looking, we’re going to be fighting a lot of battles in the future. Let’s not start losing now.
Send public comments on Amendment 3 to:
Megan Ware, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703.842.0741 (FAX) or at firstname.lastname@example.org (Subject line: Menhaden PID).
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.
This is the trailer for about 2-and-a-half-hours of striper porn. There are some faces familiar to me in this movie—Wetzel, Jack Yee, Peter Laurelli (of the fly fishing NYC videos)—and I realized that one of the main characters director Jamie Howard follows around is Tyler Nonn: a guide with whom I’ve booked a trip for December 4 in the Chesapeake Bay. Howard’s film is a trip up and down the striper coast, from Maryland up to the flats of Maine, with all the usual suspects mixed in. There’s a good mix of old timers, sharpies, young guys like Tyler Nonn, fly fishermen like Peter Laurelli, and even world record holder Greg Myerson—who does not seem at all like the kind of guy who deserved the vitriol some people threw at him when he caught that 82# bass. I guess that’s the ugly side of the Internet and jealousy. Howard’s movie checks in at a pricey $30, but I expect this to be on heavy rotation in the winter months (if we even have a winter) while tying leaders, organizing gear, and sharpening hooks. It’ll probably drive me crazy during those months.
It’s been a while since I’ve been able to fish outside of NYC. I haven’t made any trips out east yet to Montauk and some would consider the fall to be already almost over. I haven’t done much in the way of “urban angling” since Greenpoint got hyper-developed, but I have a few spots in my neighborhood marked to hit. Most of my fishing takes place in the Rockaways and Breezy Point these days. But a couple weeks ago I also saw a few pictures of a guy catching schoolies on a fly rod out of Newtown Creek! Right by the new bridge the city is building to replace the Kosciuszko Bridge! (Aside: this is a pretty interesting article about the Kosciuszko) I remember a couple years ago when all the menhaden were schooled up under the Pulaski Bridge and we snagged a few for bait, but there weren’t any bass or blues on them. And I’ve never caught a striper out of Newtown Creek. This city never ceases to surprise me.
It’s also been a LONG time since I’ve fished the North Shore of Long Island, but I got out there a couple weeks ago in a Nor’Easter. I did make it out to Caumsett two weeks prior on a super bright moon and thought the place has a lot of potential that I’ll have to investigate further, but before that it was probably years. If you know the North Shore, you probably know the difficulties of finding a way to fish the very lucrative waters up there. Probably the best bet for us common folk are parks, in this case it was Target Rock National Wildlife Refuge, just east of Caumsett and Lloyd Harbor. It’s about 25 miles from NYC as the crow flies, which means it’ll take you at least an hour and fifteen to get there by car. You will drive past some great looking bay spots along the way, through some pricey neighborhoods in woody lots that exude refinement and pleasant living, and, of course, zero places to legally park along the water. There is literally no place to park along Lloyd Harbor Road, but if you follow it past all those tempting coves and cuts, you will reach Target Rock Park.
Target Rock park gets its name from a large, roughly crystal shaped boulder that juts rudely out of an already very rocky beach in what is technically Huntington Bay. Local history says the rock was used by the British as target practice. Parking in the park is easy: the lot is well maintained with restroom facilities and while it’s small, it doesn’t seem crowded. There is a fee for parking: $4. It’s on the honor system, but do the right thing to help maintain the park. When I reached into the box for pay envelopes I somehow grabbed one, out of about a hundred envelopes, that already had $2 in it. From the lot it’s about a 10 minute walk through the woods on a trail to get to the beach. On this day it was very overcast, with 15 knot winds out of the north east. I arrived about an hour after dead low tide in the early morning. Usually on conditions like this with a Nor’Easter brewing over the weekend I would head to Montauk and tempt fate. However, seeing as how I haven’t been out there all season, plus the fact that my waders have so many holes in them that I pretty much just have to be near the surf for them to start filling with water, I decided that maybe this storm wasn’t the time to get reacquainted. I also knew that guys were watching this storm for at least 7 days and that this weekend would probably be a crowd—also a big turn off, but that’s Montauk in the fall.
There’s a lookout point where the trail reaches the beach. I took a second to look through these park-provided binoculars out over the bay out to Hobart Beach Park across the water. There was a misty rain along with strong winds, so there wasn’t much to see out there. The water an hour after low was already rough and choppy. Snotty as they say. I looked down on to the beach and to the surf to see that it’s very rocky: a very fishy looking boulder field. It almost looked like a mini-Montauk south shore. If one wanted to practice wet suit fishing, this is probably a good spot as there is a good mix of rocks to stand on close to shore as well as big boulders further out. The north east wind and rough water seemed like a good mix, but there wasn’t any sign of fish, no other fishermen around either. Target Rock proper, the park, is not that big, but there is a very prominent point to the south that I didn’t explore on this trip. Technically Target Rock only comprises the half-mile of rocky beach, so I’m not sure if you can fish down at this point which leads in to Lloyd Harbor, but, looking at maps, I certainly hope you can.
I waded out about a dozen yards and found a series of three good rocks to stand on. In places like this I always start with the bucktail as I’ve had lots of success in boulder fields with it. But with the north east blow the water here was really weedy—lots of cabbage as Dave likes to say. Nearly every cast came back with weeds, making it difficult to work the boulders the way I wanted to. I threw a series of pencil poppers and this new 247 Spook, which I have to admit I have no idea how to work as a walk-the-dog kind of plug, and just tried to use the same way as a pencil. It casts very well by the way. Also another By-The-Way: the rod I had Lou Caruso build for me last winter is awesome! It took several trips to break it in on fish, but I love this rod. It’s a Cousins 10M, a one-piece rod comparable to the GSB 120-1M, but without, as Lou explained, the noodle-liness of the GSBs. I’ve never used the 120-1M, but I have a GSB 132-1M and can say the recovery on that rod is slow and it is pretty whippy. It (my GSB) is not my favorite rod—it’s tough as all hell, but the cone-of-flight layout on it, built for a guy who was 6’5” (the guy I bought it from), actually kind of sucks for this rod, but Lamiglas is coming out with their “Old School” GSB series of rods soon, and those rods were the standard for surf fishing for a long time, so I may give them a shot when it comes time for another Montauk rod, with a more custom build for a guy of my size. The Cousins 10M, however, is an excellent all-around rod and is now my go-to rod in most situations. I use a VS 200 on it.
Anyway, getting off track with gear stuff. The three rock perch wasn’t producing so I moved closer to Target Rock itself. The day before I checked the Navionics app (an EXCELLENT app by the way, I highly recommend it) and marked a bunch of deeper holes and cuts. Unfortunately, Target Rock Park is adjacent to a neighborhood, and the residents have taken it on themselves to build sea walls at the high water mark to keep the riff-raff like you and me out, and a lot of the holes I wanted to hit are in these residential areas. At low water you can get in, but if the tide comes in while you’re out there you will probably be stuck and some rich prick is probably going to call security, if not the police, on you. Target Rock is a Can’t Miss landmark, and it has a big osprey nest perched on its peak. It being the early incoming tide, I couldn’t help but notice a high water mark about six feet up Target Rock—something to keep in mind while wading out to stand on rocks. I found a very nice rectangular and flat rock about 20 feet from Target Rock. I wasn’t having any luck with the pencil or bucktails, but the conditions, the wind, the water—it was the kind of water you just knew had fish. I just had to find a way to work the water and not get hung up. Out came the SP Minnow. I initially didn’t want to toss minnow lures because they generally suck at casting, but the SP is a different kind of minnow. I love Bombers, but you’d never get a good cast with a Bomber Long A in wind like this. I lost an SP earlier this season and replaced it with this crazy looking Mother of Pearl and chartreuse colorway. I removed the back treble and replaced it with an inline VMC 3/0.
First cast paid immediate dividends. I was so caught off guard I didn’t really set the hook well and thought I was losing the fish. “Oh what the hell,” I said to nobody because I was the only one on the beach, as I reeled up the slack, only to find the fish was making a beeline for my rock. I recovered enough line to reconnect and get the fish in close. Nothing big, but a nice fat schoolie about 24″ released for another day. A few casts later I had another hit that felt heavier, but because I was lazy about setting the hook I lost it after a couple seconds. In my mind it felt heavier, but that’s how it is whenever you lose a fish. It was probably not any bigger than any of the other fish I caught off that rock, and there were two more, all around the same size. Sorry no pics, but I don’t really take photos of small fish, plus I like to get those guys back in the water as soon as possible. The size limit is beside the point, and anyway if I have to measure the fish, it’s too small I always say. On that note, I had this ridiculous conversation with a friend of mine last month about a 27” “legal” bass:
Again, anyway. Did you know it’s blackfish season? Target Rock, with its rocky coast, I think could be a great blackfish spot too. I’m pretty psyched on this spot seeing as how it’s a public park and pretty easily accessible for the North Shore. It’s a nice walk in the woods before getting to a very fishy looking beach. The only downside I’d say is open hours. You can’t fish here at night at all. The lot opens 30 minutes before sunrise and closes 30 minutes before sundown. I’m sure there’s a way though. There’s always a way.
RIVER HERRING AND SHAD GET THE SHAFT
By now you may have heard the news that river herring and shad did not get the protection they needed from the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, AKA The Council. Earlier this month I made a post about a meeting the Council held whether or not to designate the fish as “stocks in the fishery” under their Fishery Management Plan for the Atlantic Mackerel, Squid and Butterfish Fisheries program. Basically, the fish would have then been under management to regulate their numbers in bycatch of other species (like Atlantic herring, mackerel, and others) in ocean waters. River herring and shad are already protected in state waters, however they are not regulated on a Federal level. From an article on 10 October,
The iconic fish now are under badly needed protections for the parts of their lives they spend in rivers and waters close to the East Coast, said Joseph Gordon, manager for U.S. Oceans Northeast at The Pew Charitable Trusts. But he said, millions of the embattled shad and river herring are caught in federal ocean waters farther from the coast – often as accidental bycatch.
“In the end there’s no limit in the ocean to how many of these fish can be taken and there’s no plan to reduce the catch,” Gordon said. “Hollow statements of support are not enough for species that are this depleted, and in the case of blueback herring, listed at risk for extinction.”
The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council recently turned down proposed catch limits. The fishing industry has described the limits as unnecessary over-regulation.
Historically, shad were so plentiful in Virginia rivers they were easily harvested in huge numbers. Gordon said they’ve been nicknamed America’s founding fish; George Washington was a shad fisherman.
Now the numbers have fallen so low that eastern coastal states have all banned shad fishing entirely, Gordon said. But more than 100,000 pounds of the fish are estimated to be caught in the Atlantic each year – a serious threat to the shad and similar river herring.
“A lot of the states feel like they’ve done almost all that was possible to protect that part of the life cycle of these species,” Gordon said. “If that large catch in the oceans was held in control, the populations might rebound in a very significant way.”
However, as Charles Witek says, it is not just a matter of simple negligence or ignorance by the Council. “The problem is, there isn’t much hard science available to guide federal actions. Pew points out that: ‘The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is planning stock assessments for river herring and shad for 2017 and 2018, a NOAA technical expert working group for river herring is compiling information; a River Herring and Shad Committee and Advisory Panel serves the Mid-Atlantic Council; and council staff members have compiled significant work analyzing river herring and staff issues.’”
Witek, whose blog I read often and respect as a well-informed writer, is not known as the conservation guy who brings the hot mixtape to the house party. He points out that despite the ASMFC’s involvement, there is no guarantee there will be any hard data next year, “or the year after,” that the Council can use as “reasonably accurate reference points that could be used to set biomass and fishing mortality thresholds for various shad and river herring stocks.” That does not mean, however, that the NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) doesn’t have river herring and shad stocks on the radar.
In Amendment 14 to the squid, mackerel and butterfish plan, NMFS adopted rules that allow closer monitoring of major participants in those fisheries, which will better allow federal observers and port samplers to check for shad and river herring bycatch in such fisheries. In addition, unless the safety of the vessel is at risk, or the net is filled with spiny dogfish (which are extremely difficult to handle, and can have their own conservation issues), trawlers are not allowed to dump netfuls of fish at sea, so that they might conceal instances of high river herring bycatch from onboard observers.
Amendment 14 also provided for the establishment of a bycatch cap, which would shut down the mackerel fishery once a preset poundage of shad and river herring were caught.
This of course is dependent on the honor system of fishermen and the availability of fisheries observers, which, also of course, are dependent on budget. The Council sought coverage on 100 percent of the mackerel fishery, but it was rejected.
Instead, the great majority of vessels will sail without observers, and when unobserved fishermen are faced with the choice of either 1) taking nets filled with shad and/or river herring on board so that such fish will be counted and included in a cap that could easily shut down their fishery, or 2) dump the fish dead at sea and not recall them at all, thus better insuring that the fishery, and their personal incomes, will not be impeded, it’s probably safe to assume that in most cases, human nature, and the second option, will prevail.
Like many things in the fishery, we will have to settle for Better Than Nothing. For now.
The Autumn Equinox has come and gone and left in its wake the dropping temperatures we’re feeling this week, and hopefully turning up the fall run. This is some of my favorite weather of the year, but it also for some reason equates a ramped-up work schedule, or seems to. Still, I must remain dedicated, and until my printing presses are running 24-hours a day, there’s always time. Thomas and I hit a north shore spot near Oyster Bay last weekend at the Harvest Moon. Gorgeous night and the water was crystal clear. I haven’t fished the north shore since the days when the son of a cop and I used to sneak into some rich neighborhood’s pier and stay until dawn. Then they put a lock on the gate and we paid some kids a few bucks to tell us the code. Then they put a security guard on duty and it was over. The spot we hit holds a lot of potential: I have mixed results on full moon nights like this one, but it made for good scouting weather and I’m pretty excited about hitting it up during the next couple months. The quickness with which the parking passes fly off the counter seems to support the high probability of fishy-ness of this place. It’s gonna be good.
The summer was hit or miss for me on the off-chance I could fish. I spent one weekend with the lady in Long Beach Island, New Jersey, right across the street from Jingles Tackle shop. In the bay there was a small marina with a bunch of peanut bunker schooling up at night under the light with snappers chasing them around. I snagged a couple peanuts with trout spinners and threw them on bait hooks into the darkness. The first peanut got this little weakfish for the lady—the first one of these I’ve seen in over a decade. We used to get a pretty good run of these fish in the Indian River Inlet down in Delaware, but they dropped out in the mid-90s. I’ve seen and heard a lot about people catching them in the bay this summer. Other than that little weakie we got a bunch of spiny dogfish, some snappers, and the lady’s brother had some fun with big rays with the rod I left for him for the rest of the week. I also broke my rule of No More Party Boats toward the end of summer. I have terrible luck on these things, but sometimes some friends want to go and they can still be fun—sometimes. I ended up on the Brooklyn VI, sipping beer at the dock and watching bluefish chase bunker around the bay. The captain decided to diamond jig for blues until dark, then switch to live eels for bass at night. True to history, the fish were not biting, and for the entire boat of 30+ people the count was one 12” bluefish and two sharks for the night. I think I’m going back to my rule.
On the political front, on the Hudson River earlier this month a panel of judges dismissed the suit against Pier 55, which I wrote about last time. The project, famously funded by the media king Barry Diller and his wife Diane Von Furstenberg, was under suit by the City Club of New York, who claimed the developers and the Hudson River Park Trust were skirting environmental impact studies and proper procedure. A quote from this article, “‘I am disappointed with the Appellate Division’s ruling. If followed, it means that the legislatively mandated protections for the Hudson River have been substantially degraded by this monster project that has avoided proper environmental review,’ said Richard Emery, an attorney representing the City Club.”
The last post talked about the Westway Project and how the area on the west side of Manhattan served as a nursery ground for Hudson River striped bass, a fact which played a significant role in shutting down the project. It’s probably folly to assume Diller’s project would have a similar effect, even as scaled down as the project is compared to Westway. But without an environmental impact study, the type the Army Corps of Engineers tried to manipulate back in the 1970s and 80s, it’s impossible to tell what, if any, effect Pier 55 will have on the water under it. The politics surrounding the suit may be personal, Diller has claimed the City Club’s suits are funded by a vengeful someone who was forced out of the Friends of Hudson River Park group, which is the fundraising arm of the Hudson River Park Trust. But that’s a whole other story; the precedent of skipping proper environmental review is what’s important here, and the suit’s dismissal could set a bad one. For their part, the developers claim to have done a proper EIS, though I haven’t seen any review of it as of yet.
There was one small political victory for conservation this summer: the Mid-Atlantic Marine Fishery Council adopted an amendment to protect more than 50 forage species of fish. From the article: “[The] decision was ‘a huge leap forward in fishery management,’ said Joseph Gordon, who helps oversee ocean-related issues for The Pew Charitable Trusts.
‘These little fish are the unsung heroes of the ocean,’ Gordon said. ‘They’re what feeds everything, from seabirds to seals to whales to sharks. They’re the lifeblood of our Atlantic Ocean.’
Now, commercial fishermen in federal waters from New York to North Carolina can’t start targeting dozens of these lower-rung species in the ocean food frenzy without scientific evidence that it wouldn’t harm the larger ecosystem.
Rick Robins, the mid-Atlantic council’s chairman, said the panel is trying to get ahead of fishing demands.
‘Too often we’ve had fisheries that developed relatively quickly in the absence of any science and the absence of an adequate management plan, and those fisheries had to be rebuilt as a consequence,’ Robins said.”
I wrote about forage fish last year, and this is only one step—the amendment was adopted in the second of eight U.S. regional councils which will decide ultimately which fish will be protected. There is another meeting next week and the MAMFC is accepting comments on river herring and shad here. Back in 2013 the Council decided not to include river herring and shad among the species targeted for federal management, and instead relied on the states to manage the populations. Now in 2016, the populations are at less than 5 percent of historic levels, so if you’re at all concerned about the health of our fisheries and ocean, we need to take some action. It’s simple and easy to comment at the MAMFC site, and Earthfirst already has a letter you can copy and paste, and sign, which I’m posting below. Take a couple minutes to do something good for the resources we all love and share.
Please add river herring and shad as stocks in the Mackerel, Squid, Butterfish Fishery Management Plan
Dear Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council members and staff,
At the October 2016 council meeting, please vote to add river herring and shad as stocks in the Mackerel, Squid, Butterfish Fishery Management Plan (MSB FMP). The current management approach is failing to increase the populations of these forage fish from historic lows. Comprehensive protection at sea is the missing piece in the puzzle to help ensure that conservation efforts already underway are successful and not lost because of what is happening at sea.
Federal, state and local governments have invested over $100 million to help river herring and shad populations return to rivers. But the large-scale catch of river herring and shad offshore is undermining this substantial investment and preventing the recovery of these imperiled species. The Mid-Atlantic Council can solve this problem by adding river herring and shad to the MSB plan. Bringing these critically important forage species under sound federal management will ensure that they are managed sustainably coastwide, through science-based population goals, annual catch limits set to rebuild stocks, and protection of essential habitat.
Restored river herring and shad populations will help support predator fish important to commercial and recreational fishermen–such as striped bass and bluefish–along with other marine wildlife, including shorebirds and marine mammals. Robust populations of river herring and shad will also bring important benefits to coastal Mid-Atlantic communities that once depended upon these fish as a key component of their local economies and cultures.
Restoring and maintaining river herring and shad populations will take commitment, cooperation and coordination from all authorities with management responsibility. The Mid-Atlantic Council has an opportunity to lead the way in addressing the threats these species face at sea.
Please act now to restore river herring and shad by adding them to stocks in the MSB FMP.
This first moon tide of the official start of Fall is getting the blood moving. I’m checking my gear and repairing/replacing anything that looks suspect so I can hopefully avoid any nights of equipment failures and focus on fishing. This weekend is when it’s going to start for me, though I’m going to try to get out tomorrow or the next day for a night tide out on the jetty. By the way, if you head out to Breezy Point, or any jetty for that matter, be careful out there and be aware of the tides, otherwise you might end up like these two guys.
Under the Full Buck Moon of July, some of us are hoping for a change of luck that’ll come like a break in the weather. This past week saw some bad Airbnb guests sink Ben’s houseboat out in Marina 59 and our good buddy Dave Cole broke his leg playing what he claims was sports in McCarren Park. Hopefully Airbnb’s insurance is solid and Dave feels good enough so I can come over and bring some beer for the guy. We are in the dead of summer and the fluke and sea bass action is on, though there are still some pretty nice bluefish out there too. I have yet to make it east yet this summer, but with this upcoming string of 90+ degree days, I’m already yearning for an early fall, though with 14 straight months of the warmest global temperatures since 1880, those days might be over. At least in my lifetime.
Also this week there’s been some news about Barry Diller’s proposed “floating park,” called Pier 55, on the Hudson River. Located near 14th Street, the semi-private/semi-public park will comprise a green space and performance venue. In an artist rendering it resembles a lush oasis propped up by golf tees with a band shell carved into artificial rolling hills. Funding for the park comes from Barry Diller and his wife, Diane von Furstenberg, who have committed $113 million to the project, with the rest coming from New York State and NYC funding. Who is Barry Diller, you might ask? He is the man responsible for the Fox Broadcasting Company and the USA network. He is a member of the Television Hall of Fame, a billionaire (valued at 2.6b), and an apparent lover of the arts. This is not the new news: construction on Diller’s Pier 55 was halted earlier this month because of a lawsuit by the City Club of New York claiming, according to this article, the “Hudson River Park Trust [who partnered with Diller-von Furstenberg on the project] didn’t adequately invite public comment, rushed environmental reviews, and ‘violated the public trust doctrine by alienating public parkland to Pier55, Inc., a private entity.’” The City Club, an advocacy group backing responsible urban development, filed its lawsuit last summer and recently won a battle halting construction of the park until September. That is, until this week, when an appellate court ruled construction can continue—but only consist of driving the first nine support pilings into the river.
Now, one might also ask why would anyone who fishes in NYC, or fishes at all, care if a rich Hollywood guy wants to donate $100 million to a public park on the Hudson. If you’re like me and not from New York City, you may not remember the Westway Project in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Westway Project was a David Rockefeller creation: a proposed 4.2 mile, six-lane highway to replace the then-dilapidated West Side Highway. The Westway highway would be built underground by filling in the shore of the Hudson, making available the newly created street-level, river-front property open for real estate—242 acres for parkland and apartment and office buildings. The project was estimated at $2-$4 billion and qualified for 90 percent funding by the Department of Transportation—which was huge for the city and fervently championed by Mayor Ed Koch and Governor Hugh Carey.
From Dick Russell’s excellent history STRIPER WARS (2005): “[T]he Westway Project heads wanted to create a massive landfill on 181 acres along the shore—requiring a mountain of dirt big enough, by one estimate, to bury all of Central Park six feet deep. This was where the future real estate would be built, replacing a series of dilapidated piers along a two-mile strip of Hudson River waterfront.”
The project depended on a series of favorable Environmental Impact Studies, including one by the Army Corps of Engineers. Since 1899, the Army has had control of all US navigable waters, and in particular issued the dredge-and-fill permits needed to destroy the pilings and old piers the project required. Al Butzel, an attorney who worked on a lawsuit further upriver at Storm King concerning a striped bass spawning area, was representing the New York City Clean Air Campaign at the time. From Russell’s book: “Butzel knew that a study of the interpier area had been conducted by the New York State Department of Transportation and passed along to the Army Corps. ‘I had heard rumors they were pulling up fish left and right, but I never thought that would make any difference. But when I saw the comments that the [National Marine Fisheries Service] had sent in, basically saying the Westway Project had the potential to decimate the striped bass population of the Hudson, well, suddenly a lawsuit on this seemed like an awfully good idea.’”
The initial EIS dismissed the pier area as a wasteland and “biologically impoverished,” but a further study by a consulting firm found “‘an astonishing amount of fish life’ in the interpier area, fifty times more fish than were found in the river channel,” according to Russell. “Substantial numbers found calm waters among the broken piers and littered bulkheads of the New York City shoreline and—thanks ironically, to about 150 million gallons a day of raw sewage discharged by Manhattan into this sector of the river—also found warmer water temperatures and nutrient-rich sustenance in the form of micro-organisms.”
Still in 1981, the Army gave its approval to the Westway project, but was stifled by lawsuits brought by the Sierra Club, the Clean Air Campaign, and the Hudson River Fisherman’s Association, led by Al Butzel. The judge in the case was Thomas Griesa, whose decision would be based on the Army’s EIS. Using “hundreds of pages of data on fish populations from thousands of spots in the Hudson River Harbor,” the Army Corps of Engineers concluded Westway “would harm the habitat for less than .04 percent of the Hudson River’s commercially valuable striped bass (p. 96).” But a scientist named Ian Fletcher reviewed the same documents and found the project would affect 64 percent of the overwintering nursery habitat for juvenile striped bass would be destroyed. While unraveling the discrepancy, Fletcher found the Army consultants distributed the fish population evenly across a wide spread of the lower Hudson River area in order to mask the concentration of fish directly in the path of Westway.
On March 31, 1982 Judge Griesa, citing the Army’s data manipulation and the “obvious purpose… to detract from the startling revelations about the presence of fish in the proposed landfill area,” invalidated the Army Corps’ permit. The New York Times’ headline read that day: “U.S. Judge Blocks Westway Landfill as Threat to Bass.”
In 1984, the Army resubmitted its EIS and again was sued by the Sierra Club. A year later, Judge Griesa, citing a history of deception and collusion by the Army Corps, the Westway Project, and the Federal Highway Administration while preparing its EIS reports, blocked all funding for Westway. Perhaps because of striped bass, but probably more so because of shady dealings with Federal agencies, the Westway project was dead.
From a NY Times opinion piece in 1984: “During the trial, two years ago, Judge Griesa became outraged at the behavior of the Westway witnesses and their lawyers and said: ‘I have sentenced people to prison for securities fraud where the conduct was less blatant. . . .’ And a year ago, a former Federal Prosecutor, Thomas Puccio, who had been asked by Governor Cuomo to examine the allegations of wrongdoing, declared them serious and called for an independent investigation. In an interview at the time, Mr. Puccio said: ‘This is a real-estate boondoggle. People commit perjury because big money is at stake. There are heavy interests involved here.’ Now the [State Investigation Commission], following up on the Puccio report, has confirmed virtually all of Judge Griesa’s findings of dishonest conduct.”
Now, Diller’s floating pier project is no where near the scale of the Westway. But if allowed to proceed without the proper environmental impact studies, as the lawsuit by the City Club alleges, it could set another bad precedent for overdevelopment in the area. A thread on Stripersonline.com started by Pete Silverstein, a longtime opponent of Westway and member and former director of the Hudson River Fisherman’s Association (that later became Riverkeeper, which now supports Diller’s project), stresses the importance of the EIS and the fact that, again, 30-some years later the Army Corps of Engineers apparently approved the project without one. Some posters support Diller, in a bizarre pro-capitalist trumpeting that what’s-good-for-this-rich-guy-is-good-for-me.
Not knowing anything about Barry Diller’s character and intentions, it’s still obvious who benefits most from privately-owned waterfront property, and it’s not the visitors, tourists, music and arts fans, and it’s not the common taxpayer. None of this discounts any inherent goodness in Diller/von Furstenberg’s project—but the fact is that this is an investment for them and when a media mogul, even a billionaire one, makes moves like this, even with the best of altruistic intentions, he expects a return on that investment. That’s all well and good, but circumventing the proper channels, much as those pushing for Westway and advocating all the financial and public benefits it would have afforded, arouses some suspicion. The people know when they’re being lied to and they know when they’re being screwed. All one has to do is look at the current political climate in America to see massive evidence of that being played out in various extremes.
Is there any good news out there? In the same thread, Charles Witek, whose blog One Anglers Voyage is usually full of depressing news regarding fish stocks and conservation, pointed out: “One of the most interesting things that came out of the Westway debate was the way the bass adapted to what was an entirely artificial habitat along the coast of Manhattan.
Historically–or, perhaps, I should say “prehistorically,” as European colonists began changing the shape of the island just about as soon as they landed–juvenile striped bass inhabited the marshes that bordered Manhattan, and sought food in the interface between the saltier water of the Hudson and the fresher water poured into the big river by a host of streams.
In late-twentieth century Manhattan, the coastal marshes were long gone, and the streams had been filled. However, the juvenile bass were still there, now living among the decaying pilings of old piers, and the new ecosystem that had sprung up around the man-made structures. Fresh water incursions still existed, too, but now they came in the form of discharges from wastewater treatment plants. And it turned out that the juvenile bass were thriving in the novel environment that surrounded them, and that destruction of the piers and old pilings to create Westway would have had a significant deleterious effect on the Hudson River stock. It’s not speculation: although this occurred before everyone had Internet access, there is still information out there for people who care to look.”
Lots of information out there still. One final epitaph on Westway can be found here in the Observer, Rocky’s Last Laugh: The Westway Project Comes Full Circle. It turns out maybe the landfill from building Westway may have mitigated the damage from Hurricane Sandy, though building lower Manhattan on landfill and trees from midtown didn’t seem to help them any when Sandy buried it under 14 feet of water.