The Fish Story

‘Rattler Alert’ for the Pinelands; Trump Misses Cue for Pink Floyd’s ‘Wall’

By JAY MANN | Jul 26, 2016

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has just issued alerts for the public to be on the lookout for timber rattlesnakes. Such an alert is manna from media heaven for journalists. Publications around the state jumped on the timber rattlers, technically known as Crotalus horridus – though it absolutely doesn’t live up to the second part of that scientific name. More on that down below.

While the state’s current “Beware of Rattler” heads-up is aimed specifically at fairly nearby Manchester Township, I can confirm, beyond most, that our own Southern Ocean County outback tract entertains a rattler or two of its very own. Not to get site specific, but the more westerly that developers drive on Route 72, the closer to known rattler territory the realty ravenous public gets.

For decades, I’ve been following the news trail of local timber rattlesnakes. Closest to home was the C. horridus flattened on Long Beach Boulevard in Loveladies. That was many years back; I want to guess the Seventies. Maybe someone still has a newspaper with that front-page story.

At that Loveladies time, the area had begun what would be one of the last LBI buildouts. There was still a ton of open grassy ground lying around. That DOA snake might have been a longtime resident, having a real bad day. Of course, it’s more likely it had more recently swum over from the mainland. Such a distance dip would be a breeze for a timber rattler, which can swim like fish, albeit a surface fish. Their swimming talents are far above the serpent average. You won’t find a rattler worth its tail segments willing to take the long, dry route around, say, a Pinelands lake; it’s right in and straight across.

Which was the scenario not that many years back when a canoer was crossing a section of Lake Oswego, Bass River Township – as was a rattler, simultaneously. The two met, far more at the behest of the paddler who, per an apparent human tradition (as you’ll see), felt compelled to help the viper along, via a canoe ride. It ended toxically, though not fatally.

Timber rattlers, despite that horridus, are pacifists, damn near the laid-back hippies of the forest. They’re nothing like their hissy-fit relatives, most notably the decidedly deadly and oft ill-natured Eastern diamondback rattlers. Nonetheless, when push comes to paddle shoves, even a timber rattler will fang up for its rights. There was a fairly sophomoric lesson learned in the rattler/canoe confrontation: It might be best not to bring a protesting rattlesnake aboard a canoe. Just sayin’.

In the same vein, it’s been locally proven that it’s also not an overly great idea to help a rattlesnake cross the road.

I see many of you are nodding your heads while recalling the Tuckerton man bitten near Stage Road when he hopped out of his car to assist a day-warmed rattler get safely to the other side. The 24-year-old man’s heart was in the right place; his hand, not so much so. As we like to say in these-here parts, he got bit. I bring up that “day-warm” angle because the warmer a snake is the faster it can strike. Enough said.

Interestingly, the motorist bite was only a few miles, as the snake crawls, from the Oswego canoe v. rattler event. It shows there are a goodly number of these highly endangered snakes still out there, albeit in so-called colonies.

Over the years, I’ve counted over two-dozen different rattlers, mainly in the Bamber Lakes, New Gretna and Chatsworth areas. Chatsworth is where I was once dry-bitten by a rattler I didn’t see while trying to capture another one for measuring. I still proudly bear – and freely point out – the fang scar.

As to you seeing a rattler during this current alert period, don’t count on it. They’re so well camouflaged even they can’t see their own bodies. Also, they’re hardly ever out and about. Being such proficient hunters, they come out, quickly chow down and go to some highly secretive spot, roost and digest for days on end.

Most of all, you shouldn’t fear their presence. As noted, they’re not one of your bad-ass pit vipers. In fact, I’ve known a pet timber rattler that was absolutely docile, a lap rattler of sorts. He took a liking to me. And it was a wee bit unnerving when I visited and he bee-lined straight for me when let out of his plastic-bin home.

If you do happen to spot a timber rattlesnake, be assured it needs no help crossing the road, or even your yard. Call the state Division of Fish and Wildlife at (609) 628-2103. On nights and weekends, call 1-877-WARN DEP.

FOR WHOM THE TRUMP TOLLS: I’m highly not into politics. Hell, I don’t even know if the word is singular or plural. Is it “Politics is” or is “politics are”? Hey, maybe it’s neither. I’ll give you a second to think on that.

But last week I was advised that even politically challenged types should not miss the Republican Convention in Cleveland, during which the party would nominate that funny-hair guy … Trump, right? Hey, I told you I wasn’t up on politics. I am more into fashion. Can you imagine the Trump-cut hairstyle coming into vogue? As if our country isn’t freaky enough already.

My lack of political savvy rears up upon hearing how many people can’t stand this Trump guy. So, let me get this straight: that makes him an ideal candidate for president?

Oh, wait, I think I get it. We’ve learned not to elect a president we kinda like, i.e. that semi-African-American President, what’s his name, Broken Obama? This go’round, we just skip the “we kinda like him” phase and commence to hating someone from the get-go. That’s the ticket. “Trump: The Candidate You Can Count on Hating.” You know, I think I could grow to like this politics stuff.

To get me to watch the Republican Convention, I was told it was a bit like a political Super Bowl. So there might be some juicy commercials? Forget that. It was the first TV event I’ve ever seen where nobody stopped talking long enough to squeeze a commercial in edgewise.

It was all “blah, blah, blah.” All the speakers missed the memo that no drones would be allowed in the convention hall. They droned on and on, occasionally interrupted by hoots and hollers from what I looked upon as a truly weird-ass crowd – all of them responding to comely gals flashing big “Make Some Noise!” signs. I’ll bet that’s how Vanna White got her start.

After an hour, I had just about hit the droning-on wall when Trump’s daughter stepped up to the podium. Everyone seemed instantly mesmerized by the sweet-tongued Ivanka. Not so much me. Being a never-say-die Cold War kid, I’m thinkin,’ “What the hell kinda commie name is Ivanka?”

Oh, back off! I also appreciated that she was smart as a button – and kinda hot, at least for a Ruskie. In fact, I nervously waited for some Republican redneck to yell out, “Show us your …” Uh, beads! “Show us your … beads!” He being a New Orleans redneck.

I even felt some psychological sympathy for Ivanka. Her daddy love/hate issues kept surfacing. One minute, she’d go with “my dad,” all huggy-like. Then, she’d suddenly place the man in a detached “Donald Trump” text. I’m betting that cold third-person form reflects the time “daddy” refused to give her a pony farm for her fifth birthday.

But I wasn’t tuned in for psychiatric insights into the children of the rich and routinely bankrupt. I had a secret agenda. I was there to hear about “the wall,” the campaign-promised “law-and-order” separator Trump plans on building between the U.S. and Mexico. I quickly sensed I would be let down when Trump was introduced and there wasn’t so much as a strain from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” symbolically blaring in the background. What a dropped wall ball. Hell, I would have been satisfied with The Offspring singing, “Ya gotta keep ’em separated.” Nope.

Sure enough, there was no real wall talk.

Now, I still have no way of knowing if the US/Mexico “Sacate! Wall” will be more along the lines of the Great Wall of China or closer to the Berlin Wall, that just got progressively uglier over the years. Few people know that President Reagan’s famed speech at the Berlin Wall was cut short. It should have gone, “Mr. Gorbachev, take down this wall,” followed by “It’s really ugly. You can do better. Maybe paint over some of the graffiti and all.”

But history has a way of hearing what it wants to hear. As may be the case with Trump allegedly saying, “The president of Mexico will pay for the wall.”

Now, there’s a bill I’d like to see: “One standard unpainted 1,989-mile border wall … $250,000,000, US.” And, in smaller letters at the bottom of the bill, “If you have trouble paying for this wall, AstraZeneca may be able to help.” OK, so maybe I’m throwing in a little bit of drug smuggling irony there.

But let’s back up. So, who’s going to paint that sucker? Hey, maybe we can save money by hiring some Mexicans. Now I’m throwing in some human resource irony.

Regarding that can-be-seen-from-space wall, there’s also the matter of policing nearly 2,000 miles of hostile wall-frontage. I know Trump is a business guy but has he priced the cost of cops lately? Just keeping them on quads to ride along the tops of the wall will cost a fortune. As for jumping-beans counters in finance, I can all but guarantee that mall security guards won’t cut it. “Yo, get off that wall! Yes, all of you. Don’t give me any lip. I got this real bright flashlight … I’ll have you know, it’s a very hard but lightweight aluminum alloy.”

For kicks, let’s say the So-so Wall of Trumpness gets built – and manned by mall/wall security guards. Trump will then suddenly be faced with thousands of unemployed union wall-builders. Face it; the only way to then stay on an upbeat “wall economy” would be to build an even bigger and cooler wall – along the 5,525-mile Canadian border.

The Canadians won’t give a rat’s ass!

“Buildin’ a big wall there, eh?”

“Yep. No offense to Canada or anything, mind ya.”

“Oh, no offense taken, eh. In fact, over here we’re kinda likin’ the idea of something to keep all you Americans out. … No offense, eh?”

“Why you lousy, good for nothin’!!!… Wait until I get down from this ladder …”

MORE SHARK TALK: Hey, I like sharks, what can I say?

The number of daytime sharks being caught has gotten remarkable.

Recognizing they are fish, we can apply some simple fish-count logic to all those hookups, by questioning: For every one being caught, how many are out there not being caught?

Admittedly, seaside sharks aren’t as jam-packed as, say, marauding bluefish hordes. Nonetheless, there simply has to be a slew and a half of them mulling about out there.

While sharks are always on the move – in a move-or-die breathing way – they are proven to be more active and aggressive at night. I’m forwarding a guess that our current nearshore shark population is on such an upward swing that it’s ratcheting up the need for many of them to feed 24/7. The high-sun, beachfront landings seem to prove that out.

Despite the massive numbers of shark studies out there, many done by folks who live and breathe the creatures, the intricacies of shark behavior remain mysterious to the max.

But there might be meatier reasons for the uptick in day-caught sharks. Bunker conservation has to be feeding into the shark resurgence. Not only do sharks down bunker with relish, but also they’re surely not opposed to going bigger-bite, by going after the gamefish fattening up on the bunker.

The shark menu thickens when adding in what many researchers are describing as an irruption (biomass burst) in stingrays, many a shark’s all-time favorite foodstuff.

With so much mighty-fine forage afoot, we seemingly have the makings of a shark boom unseen in many a “Jaws” moon. Note that “we.” Our remarkable U.S. shark conservation is surely behind the swimming return of the gray suits. Catch-and-release is how we add to the boom.

As I’ve been writing in my daily blogs (, I’ve been dying, figuratively, to do some diving to eyeball the sharks I’m certain are highly viewable a very short way out. However, recent cold and murky upwell waters have kept me at bay. Last month, we had a stretch of acrylic clear water. And me with a brand new full-face mask … unused.

If cleaner waters return, I have to think that paddleboarders, donning glare-cutting sunglasses, can get a mighty fine shark show down below – providing they know what to look for.

When a-swim, sharks don’t jump out at you – visually speaking. To pick them out, one’s lookdown gaze must be totally tuned to first penetrate the water column and then distinguish what is a big patch of wavy sand and what is a 10-foot shark. In the water, the likes of sandbar tiger sharks and even so-called brown sharks (they’re not, when seen from above) are as good as ghosts. It’s easy to see why, by looking at the photos of landed LBI sharks. Notice how light-colored they are: the spittin’ image of sand.

The inevitable question: Jay, will you be safe swimming with sharks?

Uh, as safe as you are when in the water since you’re swimming with them, left and right. Sure, take yourself a selfie.

By the by, sharks instinctively come up from behind. So what happens when you’re diving and turn around to find you’re face-to-face with one? Just recall the Drew Barrymore meets E.T. scream exchange.

RUNDOWN: I’m getting a couple questions about the large hauls of kingfish being caught in the LBI surf. I posted a couple north end reports showing impressive takes. Then I got a message from a mid-Island angler who knows his kingfishing, and he couldn’t draw a kingfish touch. Both he and I agree that kingfish are often tightly schooled.

As noted earlier, when the ocean water cleans up, I’ll finally be able to get some diving in – and maybe some kingfish looks. Once, when diving, I put some Ship Bottom surfcasters on a big showing of bottom-feeding kingfish. They mugged them.

Although kingfish meat rates as top-self, I’ve never tried it as sashimi. Gotta do it this summer.

Fluking is good – and sketchy. That sounds like I’m covering bases for those who aren’t catching flatties. Not so. That “sketchy” angle means the fish are out there but you have to be willing to find them. One radio comment encapsulated the good-hunt concept: “We caught all our fish in just the last hour of our trip.” I hear that.

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