I found this recipe on the Stripersonline site, from a guy who claimed this was the best tasting bluefish he’d ever had, so good that he had to beg the staff for the recipe. Or maybe it was his brother that did the begging. Either way, with all the bluefish running in the area, I thought it would be a good chance to try a secret classic. Only that once I decide I’m going to do something with a fish, that’s a sure way to not catch any—or at least not catch enough. The lone exception was the Thanksgiving Massacre last year in Monmouth County, New Jersey in which my uncle asked me to bring a fish home on Black Friday, and by some damn miracle I did. I’m also allergic to walnuts anyway, but I wonder if one could substitute almonds.
About a week before I saw that post I hit up Breezy Point on a bright and sunny Memorial Day Saturday. I knew it was going to be a bad idea to head down on a holiday weekend, but I went anyway. The back lot was overfull; with lots of untagged cars among the 4WD and other permits. It didn’t matter to me, as I have the 4WD tag this year so I spun a quick U-turn and headed into the sand. I drove through a bunch of decent sized puddles; it apparently rained a few days, or even for a few days, beforehand. But you know, Subaru power! Actually, that got me into a decent amount of trouble about a month before when I got the car stuck in a water-logged ditch in the Poconos—like a two-and-a-half foot ditch full of melted snow and rainwater rushing downhill and eventually partially filling the passenger side interior of my car before the tow truck came to winch me out. I made up a bunch of lies about how I ended up in that ditch, and of course the tow truck guy had to state the customary, “I’ve never seen anyone do this before…” Yeah, right.
But back to that sunny Saturday: the further back I got the deeper the pools became. I plowed through most of them before stopping at the last one before the lot—it was about 20 feet long and stained a, for lack of a better description, water-treatment plant brown. Recalling the aforementioned dunking my car got in Pennsylvania and the $1000+ I spent on repairs and the ongoing DIY sleuthing I’m still in the process of tracking down to clear those damn CELs, I was a little reluctant to make this crossing. I couldn’t tell how deep the pool was and didn’t see any other tire tracks going in or out. I got out of the car and walked around the pond up to the lot to find an even bigger and deeper pond where the parking lot once was. I proceeded to do a kind of Austin Powers 50-point turn to return to the back lot overflowing with cars.
I geared up in the fading light and right out of the gate I see a guy with a good sized bass on a stringer. He’s pencil popping and the water seems ripe for the popper, but as I walk up all I see are bait guys. Bait guys, lots of bluefish, and sacks of fish. I passed one guy with a bluefish still choking out its last bloody breaths (this particular guy was smart enough to bleed out his blues as soon as they were off the hook). I walked about 20 feet past him and tossed a 7” Cotten Cordell pencil—probably the most effective $7 plug you can buy. First cast immediately smashed by a bluefish. Second cast smashed by a bluefish. Third cast smashed by bluefish. It was a good, fun start, but I didn’t take any pictures because it wasn’t really what I was looking for.
After five or six fish I moved on to the jetty. At this point the wind picked up and the clouds rolled in. The crowd petered out the further toward the ocean I walked, but I saw three guys out on the jetty, about halfway out. The tide was up and still coming in. I passed the first break, already flooded with water and the waves turning ugly. The three other guys were past the second break and I considered going just past them before I received a smashing myself with a faceful of ocean water. I left my jacket at home, so I decided to stay put, and it took a few more idiotic drenchings before I decided I ought to move in a little more. I figured I’d stay on the jetty as long as the other guys were out there. I stayed about an hour and a half with no hits under a black sky with an intermittent sliver of moon poking through before I saw them moving back in. As they passed me I saw one of them had rain gear on, and the other two were in jeans and sneakers. Jeans and sneakers on a soaking jetty in snotty weather! I was waiting for these guys??? The guy in rain gear had a head lamp that could have illuminated an abandoned coal mine, which would have made local guys very happy had they been there, and I watched him pour 1000 lumens ahead so the other two could see where those rocks were under water that they had to cross in those jeans and sneakers. I felt bad for them and they looked fairly miserable and wet and cold, but at least they made it back in.
[An aside: PLEASE don’t be that guy who gets knocked off the jetty because you don’t have the right gear or don’t know what you’re doing. If you have a wife, or husband, or kids, or friends and you do this anyway, it’s irresponsible and you are being an asshole. Every year people die off jetties. Don’t walk out on an unfamiliar jetty on an incoming tide. Korkers or Grip Studs are King and absolutely necessary when climbing over wet and uneven rocks. I won’t take anyone out on the jetty without them. Waders are usually frowned upon by locals, but not uncommon. Wear a belt if you wear waders. Bring a knife on that belt. Bring your own light. Even with all of this, it’s still possible to get knocked in and you should be prepared for what you’re going to do if that happens. About 10 years ago my uncle and another guy were swept off the Indian River Inlet jetty in Delaware. My uncle popped his PFD (another smart move) and got scooped up by a fishing boat. They searched for the other guy and by some miracle saw a rod tip sticking straight up out of the water. The guys on the boat pulled on the rod and found the guy, drowning, clutching his rod and he had already swallowed a bunch of water before they revived him.]
A week later I took my friend Heather out fishing. She has never caught a fish before. After some casting lessons at Floyd Bennett we went back to Breezy Point. Since she didn’t have any gear we didn’t go to the jetty but stuck to the sand. Another gorgeous Saturday evening, but this time with few fish. I saw some small blues splashing the surface but my waders were waterlogged as usual and I was slow to get to them. I stubbornly stuck to the water, convinced if I walked out a little further I could hit this drop off with a bucktail. Heather fished on her own behind me, tossing an SP Minnow, which I just remembered is no longer in my bag and have to stop writing to go look for it. Small birds dove here and there around me in about six inches of water and while I worked deeper water I heard shouting behind me. I turned around to see her dragging a little fluke, maybe twice the size of the lure, up the beach. Her first fish, all solo.
Before it got dark I got a small bluefish. Not the smallest bluefish I ever caught, but it would probably take five or six more of them to make a meal. I decided to drink the last of the beer instead.
“We’ve had a good day, François. But we must take care not to deplete the stock”
“True, we don’t want to make the same mistake that we did with the beaver.”
“Awwww, the beaver! What were we thinking???”
Today is the deadline for public comments on chub mackerel, a primarily offshore species of baitfish that’s important for pelagic fish like tuna, and others like billfish and sharks. There is currently no management of chub mackerel and yet the commercial take jumped from barely any in 2008 to over 5 million pounds in 2013. In 2014, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council adopted the Unmanaged Forage Amendment, which is designed for this kind of situation: an unmanaged fishery with a growing commercial harvest. The Amendment was written to prevent any large-scale fisheries on forage species from developing before any studies could be done to determine if it was sustainable, both from a yield perspective and an ecosystem one. As we all know with bunker, the forage species are a critical component for ocean life—not just so that the fish we target can get bigger, but for the overall health of the ecosystem.
In 2016 the Council voted to cap the chub mackerel catch to around three million pounds per year. The cap stays in place for three years, with the idea that the Council figure out a management system before the three years is up.
So here’s why this is important, even if you’ve never seen a chub mackerel: the MAFMC is currently in a scoping phase, meaning it’s taking public comments in this initial phase of management. This is the time to let the Council know you consider forage species a public resource and a vital one for the ecosystem. We are all aware of the importance of baitfish from our work with menhaden in the past couple years, and we also know that our comments matter. We’re not asking for a freeze on the fishery, but believe that it should be managed responsibly and intelligently, with considerations for predator-prey impacts as well as commercial yields.
Here’s how to contact:
Written comments are due by Thursday, May 31, 2017 and may be submitted by any of the following methods:
Mail or Fax to Dr. Chris Moore, Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, 800 North State Street, Suite 201, Dover, DE, 19901; FAX: 302-674-5399
Email to Julia Beaty at email@example.com
Online at http://www.mafmc.org/comments/chub-amendment-scoping
PS. This is what I sent to the Council:
I am writing on behalf of the Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association. We established the group in 2009 to promote positive water awareness in New York City, including responsible fishing in our many waterways. We believe the chub mackerel, like all forage species, are a critical component of the marine ecosystem and should be managed responsibly and with regards to predator-prey relationships as much as commercial yield considerations. We have supported the management of other forage species, in particular menhaden, in the past and support the continued actions of the Council to protect these public resources that are so important to the health of our oceans. Thank you for your consideration.
Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association
Someone probably said that you can’t get shut out forever, but I was shooting zero percent, 0-10, before I turned to desperate measures. Everywhere on social media the fish were getting bigger, but my spots were still coming up empty. I got a call from Scott to fish the Rockaways with BAIT. Now, I’m not averse to bait fishing—I usually prefer mine with a 12-pack of beer—and on the piers in Brooklyn it’s pretty much mandatory if other people are fishing. But, as to the aforementioned .000 batting average plugging away in the bay and the beach, I was ready for anything to break the streak.
We drove to meet Scott’s friend Nabil, who’s a local guy in the Rockaways and knows his spots. Scott had basically the monster truck of beach carts that we loaded with rods, beer, ice, bait and we set out under the full moon to an empty beach. I saw a couple big bluefish in Nabil’s refrigerator when we picked him up, but I was willing to settle for a dogfish at this point. The night was cool and the surf rolled in from the left, glittering from the moon. Ever read the Peter Kaminsky book The Moon Pulled Up an Acre of Bass? This is not what happened here tonight. But spirits were high and the bells were ringing, and I was on the board with a small bluefish. I’ll take it.
Nabil is a crazy, energetic character who brought along some incredible smoked bluefish that he smoked himself (with bacon!). He knows his Rockaway spots and is generous with his knowledge. He showed us the spot on the bay where he sneakily built rod holders into the concrete, and took us to his local beach where the ocean forms a deep, curved bowl just down the block from his house. This is where Scott cleaned up on bluefish with the magic touch before we ran out of bunker and steel leaders.
It was a good reminder to go back and watch the somnolent sounds of Rich Trox’s Reading the Beach series of videos, which helped me out a lot last year when I finally started to put some of it to use on some Long Island and New Jersey beaches. I’m pretty sure I posted these before but they’re worth revisiting and taking notes.
Rich Troxler’s Reading the Beach: BING MAPS PART 1
READING THE BEACH VIDEO SERIES
Locally, a Con Ed station in Dumbo dumped a bunch of oil, more than 30,000 gallons worth, into the East River earlier this month. Apparently, the synthetic mineral oil is not as dangerous as the diesel fuel leak that happened in March in Gravesend, but it’s still bad for birds and fish and the overall quality of water on the river. According to this article the same station has leaked 179 times before, leaching transformer oil, hydraulic oil, and antifreeze into the river and the surrounding soil. It’s a bad scene, and one that Con Ed is said to be “evaluating.” With all the new condos the city built on the waterfront right by that station, one would think there would be some pressure on Con Ed to get their containment issues in order. We’ll wait to see if there’s any action.
I’m heading out to the jetty tonight after spending last weekend fishless in Nashville, Tennessee. I’ll report back tomorrow, but I’m hoping this new moon will bring me some bass.
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.