The Fish Story

A Weekend Worth of Downright Crappiness; Hurricane Flo Could Get Floodwaters A-Flow

By JAY MANN | Sep 12, 2018

That was a certified crappy weekend even among crappy weekends. And we’re on a slow track toward more upper-level crapification should the remnants of H. Florence – and hopefully nothing more than her remnants – angle up our way. More on that unlovely lady in a minute.

It was ’cane-ish crap from the remnants of the Gulf’s Hurricane Gordon that meteorologically abused us for four days, via unusually steadfast NE winds. Acting more like a low-pressure system than a well-marked advancing shield of highly unsettled tropical weather, the ghost of Gordon drenchingly haunted us far more than first forecast, wind-wise. In fact, gone-Gordon’s unwavering 20-mph winds munched heartily upon the most recently replenished beaches. While those eroded sands should quickly move back to their assigned beachfront positions, another drawn-out NE blow from Florence could be more deeply erosive. Any south end eat-away could add watery fuel to the Holgate terminal groin affair.

Possibly related to G’s wind and rain, I swear the bay water in Manahawkin Bay is an off tint, as in algal red/brown. Here’s hoping it’s only a blowdown effect from the winds, pushing surface algae southward through Barnegat Bay – and, ideally, out Little Egg Inlet.

FLORENCE AFTERPLAY: Pre-pity the fine coastal folks of the Carolinas. In fact, as of Tuesday, just about the entire Tar Heel State is dead meat, smack in the crosshairs of an F’ing – as in Florence – Cat-4 cyclone. That pre-pity should be extended into NC’s Appalachian area. Those Blue Ridge and Great Smokey Mountain regions could be biblically rained upon, seeing they’re in the “Bible Belt” and all. Hell, there might be enough rain to finally extinguish the smoke in the Smokies.

Pennsylvania mountain dwellers know all too well the havoc tropical deluges can have when an East Coast ’cane allegedly winds down, wind-wise – after coming ashore but still dropping its guts upon the likes of the Lehigh Valley. That Appalachian scenario is setting up to happen in spades up from North Carolina – and likely as far north as Pa.

As to what hurricane returns we might see from sure-to-be-retired (in name) Florence, LBI could get a backdoor dowsing as early as late this weekend. Again, skies willing, F’s big water offload should theoretically rain down well to our west, though extending as far east as N.J.’s I-95 corridor. Per always, a jog here and veer there could carry this cyclone’s juicy remnants all over the map.

RUDDERFISH WEIRDNESS: We have many tropical banded rudderfish out the rudder. They’re thick along the beachline and even out to reefs and other near-in structures. I’ve never seen the likes of it before.  One fellow whose family has long fished this area said there is no record of them coming in like this, “going back over a hundred years.”

Interestingly, an email from North Carolina said they haven’t seen more than one or two rudderfish being caught down their way, all summer. That throws me a little. One would think a bloated population of this near-shore species would first show in a big way along the Outer Banks. Might, therefore, the rudderfish schools somehow be spinning in from the Gulf Stream, after hitching a ride this way? If so, offshore anglers should be finding them in the bellies of tuna, billfish and such. Any offshorers seeing that?

I’m always intensively seeking historic fishing reports, going back to the 1700s. I’ve never heard hide nor hair of N.J. rudderfish, though they might have gone by a different name back in the way-back day. And I’ve come across a slew of fish names in the 1800s that make no modern sense at all.

As to their edibility, I’m seeing decidedly mixed opinions. One local catcher said they’re not bad, but with “too much waste” due to complex bones structures. They have those impossible-to-fillet rib cages. I’ve surfed up loads of e-recipes for them. During that recipe research, I had an “aha!” moment when I saw how rudderfish are often coupled with the amberjack. I knew I had seen that general body shape on fish before. Not surprisingly, amberjack is yet another species of somewhat limited epicurean attraction.

BITERS BINGING: I call this time of year the season of the itch. Last week it was all about black flies, but this week it’s the worst of the worst, the most diabolic biters since Dracula – but so small you need a magnifying glass to see them … and by then it’s likely too late, you’re in for days, maybe weeks, of blood-deep itching. I’m talking chiggers here. It pains me to even call them by name. I recall life episodes of near-insanity from bites. I bear ankle scars from chigger bitedowns. I’m bringing them up because every sign indicates we’re seeing a banner crop, being bitterly facetious.

Social media is onto the bite. Facebookers are forwarding weeping-wound photos of grievous chigger assaults, mainly to legs and ankles. I found an equally indicative indication of a chigger irruption when I went to the pharmacy and found empty shelves where Chiggerex, the OTC go-to for insufferable bites, are normally stocked. There are fingernail scratches on the shelves, showing where bite suffers frantically clawed around looking for an overlooked container or two. Home remedies, like putting nail polish on the bite to vanquish chiggers and their bites, are laughably ineffective, unless you’re the one squirming, willing to do anything.

In the past couple weeks, I’ve gotten winged by this massive hatch of chiggers. And I know all the tricks to thwart them, beginning with avoidance. I greatly circumvent chigger patches. They truly do gather in patchesque masses. Always be aware that chiggers are into cooler and lusher greenery, where they hang near the ground.

Per custom, I’ll hereby advise that chiggers, unlike ticks, their arachnid brethren, do not burrow into the skin, a prevalent misconception. They instead use microscopic pincer-like mouth pieces to rip surface skin asunder, depositing anticoagulant along the way. Once blood seeps forth, they employ a long licking device to lap up the blood. It’s as disgusting as the soon-itch is itchy.

A case can be made that chiggers are the worst itch-makers on the planet, especially when size-adjusted. I know of chigger bite victims needing hospitalization, where pharm-grade antihistamines reduce the itch … to a minor degree. The worst cases I’ve personally heard of came in the aftermath of a nudist colony kayak field trip. I should know since I was the guide – the fully clothed, well-sunglassed guide, I might add. I wrote about that trip many a column ago. I retired as a guide shortly thereafter.

For the books, chiggers are the larval stage of the harvest mite. Less than 1/50th of an inch in diameter, they’re virtually impossible to see on skin and clothing. You can’t feel them biting. Cruelly, their bites’ insanely itchy welts don’t appear for 12 to 24 hours, meaning there is no instant revenge, like that leveled on caught-in-the-act mosquitoes, biting flies or even ticks. The chiggers are long gone and gloriously engorged by the time the suffering commences. The only good thing that can be said is chiggers in the United States do not carry disease.

In researching chiggers, I noticed an oft-repeated chigger fallacy that the first freeze of fall kills off chiggers. Au contraire … profoundly. Much like ticks, a cold snap will throw them into a nonlethal stupor. Even a short January thaw will awaken the sleeping non-beauties, setting them into a blood-seeking state of mini-mind. I can’t count the number of midwinter times I’ve found this out the hard way, having let my guard down based on those faulty die-in-winter findings.

If you fear you’ve become enchiggered, there might still be time to save your skin. While I’m initially inclined to merely pour lighter fluid on the skin area and light it on fire, I’ve also had instant-kill success by quickly applying a thick layer of 99.9 percent-alcohol hand sanitizer. I prefer Purell. Using my amber microscope, I’ve researched the kill capacity of hand sanitizers on chiggers, scientifically documenting how … those stinkin’ little good-for-nothing scum-bag bloodmongers suffer death throes so glorious that I jump up and down screaming, “Die, suckers, die!” I thereafter adjust my lab coat and dutifully write down “When dabbed with a 95 percent-alcohol hand sanitizing fluid, the larval stage of Trombicula alfreddugesi, commonly referred to as chiggers, began writhing and soon displayed an LD100 response.” LD100 means 100 percent lethality. How’s that feel, sucker?

PLANT COOLDOWN: As you likely know, the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Plant is phasing out of existence … rapidly. The cooling towers are going to be slowly shut down starting Monday, Sept. 17.  Yep, that soon. To the management’s credit, they’re intent on absolutely minimizing any thermal shock the cooldown might have on marine life within the plant’s outflow water, even though it won’t matter much this still-toasty time of year. On the shutdown upside, the copepod (anchor worm) problem associated with the plant’s unnatural man-warmed water environment should disappear in a couple/few years.

I have no idea if the plant’s closing means an end to the fishing action at the nearby Route 9 bridge. Hopefully, that popular little span will remain angling active, as flounder, weakfish, bluefish and stripers move up the creek, having genetically passed on the dining potential of the area. The plant is pushing 50. Old-timers have told me the creek was fine for fishing, pre-plant.

EIGHT BELLS FOR CAPT. BILL: Capt. Bill Hammarstrom, a longtime buddy of mine, passed away last week. What a great man and a tireless activist, especially when it came to keeping the bay and ocean clean – and exposing ways they were being badly abused through human misuse.

Bill and I spent many an hour in intense chat sessions. He was passionate about the waters in which he plied his trade as a headboat captain, offering highly educated and insightful reads on near-beach ocean pollution from outflow pipes. He was the first person to alert me to a die-off of nearshore marine life, a die-off still apparent today.

Bill was also a dedicated writer on environmental themes. His book To Save a Bay remains one of my favorite eelgrass-roots reads. His “Letters to the Editor” were a mainstay at The SandPaper. He was also famed in political offices for his willingness to ably bring problems straight to legislators, mano a mano.

I feel I often fell short when journalistically passing on Bill’s genuine – and often glaring – concerns for the planet. I lived his frustration when authorities were unwilling to heed his warnings to clean things up or face the likes of further die-offs. For decades, he kept on keeping on, even in the face of frequent political indifference.

Bill’s frustration finally got the best of him. I recall when he stopped by my office to say he was moving to the mountains. We exchanged understanding smiles.

I’m proud to say Bill’s activism left a mark not only on me, but also upon many political leaders and budding environmentalists, who have since picked up his causes, leading to changes toward the betterment of the bay and ocean. We should all leave such a legacy.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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