The Fish Story

Headed to Jail in a Milk Crate; Soft Talking a Trapped Lady ‘Squunck’

By JAY MANN | Oct 04, 2016
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

So, how do you look in bright orange? I’m not talking seasonal hunter’s orange or spooky Halloween orange. I’m talking the unique orange tones of a county jail jumpsuit. Many of us could soon be sporting said shade if Polk County, Fla., is any indicator.

Last week, News Channel 8 in Florida reported that Timothy Troller was rather forcefully arrested and charged with – and I only wish I was good enough to make this stuff up – possession of a dairy crate.

I nervously researched that arrest for attic-based reasons most of you can relate to, and, sure enough, police reports proved Troller had been nabbed while pedaling around with a Sunshine State Dairy Farms milk crate strapped on his purple Mongoose BMX bicycle. Are you crazy, dude!?

Polk County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Carrie Horstman explained to reporters the legal muscle behind the arrest. “You’re possessing something that is stolen from a business, whether it’s as small as a milk crate, or a shopping cart.”

Shopping cart? That’s a pretty rapid growth rate from a milk crate but it indicated how rapidly this crime story was escalating – as did Troller.

“He was charged with possessing stolen property. He may pay a fine or spend a few days in jail.”

Yes, you really should ponder the part “or spend a few days in jail.” That, in fact, is exactly where the flagrant milk crate-carrying cruiser ended up. He did try to offer the age-old excuse for wonton possession of a milk crate, namely, “I just found it on the side of the highway.” Personally, I might have gone with a more organic, “I found it lying deep in the woods” … likely dragged there by some corrupt chipmunks.

But even the best organic excuses can’t hide the writing on the milk crate wall. I’m referring to the standard issue written warning, per crate: “Unauthorized use of milk cases is illegal.” Oh, you can try the old and highly lame, “Geez, I didn’t even see that written there” … in bright letters.

Hell, nearby Pennsylvania really rocks the orange jumpsuit Kasbah by upping its milk crate language: “Fine of $300 or imprisonment up to 90 days.” Holy crap! In the Quaker State it’s straight to the Big House, home to murderers and, seemingly, milk crate-grade criminals. That has to make for some weird-ass cellmates.

Pedaling back to Polk County’s Officer Horstman, she went on to tell reporters the deeper rationale for cracking down on milk crate grabs. “Those who will go out and steal a milk crate, for example, are the same people who are probably breaking into cars, breaking into your house.”

Wow, is that an insane leap, or what? In fact, do you remember when Robbie Knievel tried to leap the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle? We have neck-in-neck leaps by my thinking. The only thing to break that dead heat is someone leaping the Grand Canyon in a stolen shopping cart.

So there you have it. Milk crate ownership is a gateway crime leading into home break-ins – and who-knows-what from there. Well, maybe it’s actually the milk crate inmate who soon has the murderer washing his dirty socks in that prison cell. “And go light on the softener or I swear you’ll be spending another night sleeping on milk crates, Bubba!”

Horstman ended her interview by going a bit didactic, saying, “You know the old rule we always tell our kids: if it’s not yours, don’t take it. Don’t ride around with it attached to your bike.”

“Uh, ma’am, I’m kinda getting mixed messages from that ‘Don’t ride around with it attached to your bike’ part. Does that mean if I just happen to take one – not that I would ever dare to do so here in Polk County – I can sorta keep it, providing I just don’t ride around with it attached to my bike?”

As to more and more of us soon being fitted with jail jumpsuits, emblazoned with a large milk crate to set us off from just any other law breaker, anyone want to venture a guess as to how many American households harbor milk crates? And I’m talking the hard stuff, replete with warnings like, “Illegal possession of milk crates will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.” If Polk County sparks a nationwide law-enforcement trend, we might all be coercing cellmates to do our laundry: “Don’t mess with that dude. He’s a repeat milk-crater.”

I’m going out on a thin blue line here but I’ll bet Horstman and her police force folks secretly own enough milk crates to start a decent-sized dairy. “Look, Kim. I’m still on duty but I need you to climb into the attic, right away, and take all my old albums out of those (whispered) milk crates.”

TRADEWIND MEMORIES: I’m having a wind flashback. Never heard of that one before, eh? That’s because I’m the first wind flasher-backer in history. It stems from my decades in Hawaii, where prevailing northeast trade winds were a daily/monthly/yearly given. As we speak, there is a long, ongoing spell of northeast winds blowing right here on LBI,  highlighted by last weekend’s nor’easter. We could end up feeling two weeks straight of these oft gloomy winds.

While such a spell would usually fall under the category of mere freaky wind times, I’m now inclined to try factoring in all this warming oceans stuff going on – and a knocked-about atmosphere trying to find itself.

While endless northeast trade winds work just fine in the former Sandwich Islands, I’m betting they’re not what the tourist doctor would order for our parts. Along with being downright fierce and dastardly when accompanying an approaching storm system, even mellower northeast winds are absolutely not what erosion-fighters and beach replenishers want blowing about.

Yet for all that negative offering, northeast winds are unequivocally vital to our fishing future. They vitally act to blow in fish larvae from the ocean area known as the Middle Atlantic Bight. Without that blow-in effect, we’d likely end up pretty much fishless.

I perpetually encourage wanna-know folks to purchase, The First Year in the Life of Estuarine Fishes in the Middle Atlantic Bight, 1998, by Kenneth W. Able and Michael P. Fahay. It’s technical but quite readable at a layman level. After explaining the process of larvae transport, via onshore wind flow, Able and Fahay go through virtually every single species of fish we deal with hereabout, including pop star fish like striper, bluefish and fluke. A reader quickly recognizes the onshore wind component within the successful life cycle of virtually all gamefish and forage fish species.

I’ll add one more benny of northeast winds: I un-exotically call it the bay-flushing action. With our summers dominated by hot, prevailing south or southwest winds, the bay can get a little too ripe, i.e. way warm and far too algae heavy, aerobically speaking. Then there’s people and petroleum-based road pollution arriving with every shower. A summer-punished bay often begs a critical cleansing from a sudden influx of clean ocean water. Enter the flushing action of a good, multi-tide northeast blow. After such an onshore ocean-water input, the bay can breathe clean and easy again.

But back to the curious concept of us possibly seeing more northeast winds in years to come. Undergoing such a coast-changing, atmospheric shift likely won’t appear with just one tenacious stint of winds, like now. But one never knows when a new sky freakiness becomes more frequent, until it’s the new normal.

A SWEETISH SKUNK: I recently went on a wildlife-release run to a senior community on the mainland. I was on the tail, figuratively speaking, of a small, beautifully patterned female skunk. She had been coaxed into a humane trap by the sweet smell of sardines, set for a bothersome feral cat accused of de-birding an entire neighborhood. Apparently cats and skunks run in the same trap circles.

Upon arrival, I had the trap pointed out to me by the caller and her neighbors, who acted as if the trap contained a couple bricks of plastic explosives and a digital clock running out.

For chuckles, I signaled for them to follow me overtly to the traps. By the shaking of their heads, you’d have thought I had suggested they give up their Social Security checks.

Slowly approaching the Havahart trap, I could tell during the first exchange of glances it wasn’t going to be an overly tense – or stinky – scene.

If you’ve never had the chance to see a skunk’s eyes close up and personal, you’re missing some of the beadiest peepers in the business. At the same time, those tiny black beads are very evocative, even a tad friendlyish.

By way of background, the word skunk is as American as it gets, providing we force Native Americans to go with the whole Italian-Americana Americus Vespucius concept. But there’s a bit of a word tradeoff with the skunk term. Early settlers in New England were introduced to and adopted the word squunck, after hearing it being bandied about by an Algonquian Indian tribe, the Abenaki – most famed for using broken English to suggest, “White man, go pet squunck. Make good pet.” Those dadburn Abenaki.

But back to my sardine-suckered squunck. She had already been behind bars for quite some time before I got there. It only took that glance exchange – and some sweet skunk talk on my part – before she de-tensed a bit. I like to think she sensed I was there in a kimosabe way. Google “Lone Ranger.”

Before reaching over to lift the trap for transport, I first set an open can of cat food next to the trap. My offering was actually not meant as a dinner. We weren’t quite that intimate just yet. It was a tuna-based tension-reducer, a trick a buddy showed me.

Sure enough, she calmed down enough to sniff the Purina offering, ever so slightly. A don’t-dare-approach skunk, ready to squirt at the drop of a hat, actually abandons the use of olfactory senses; it’s in a fight-or-flight-or squirt mode. That tiny, sniffy nose wiggle meant she was spooked but not in a hair-trigger panic.

Gaining her sniffs, I settled down on nearby ground. She soon found me either less threatening or less interesting. She began nosing around for an escape point inside the trap. It was time to rise – and reach.

Standing up slowly, I even more slowly reached over for the handle on the top of the trap. The now somewhat sullen skunk then became far more focused on nosing around for an escape. I lifted the trap – the highest squirt-danger point. She was kinda heavy – but you better believe I wasn’t going to mention that to her.

I should note that it’s a stinkin’ fallacy that a skunk can’t spray unless its tail is up and back legs firmly set. My gal could have issued an instantaneous shot of so-called liquid volatile compounds without batting a beady eye.

Fortunately, skunks are, by nature, pretty laid back. They’re not even in the aggression ballpark when it comes to the likes of possums or raccoons, which can go totally ballistic when trapped or cornered. It almost seems as if skunks know they have a malodorous ace up their sleeves.

Once I had lifted the trap, tail facing away, I only had to move her to some fairly nearby woods. Despite the caller’s fear of getting skunked, she was fine with my releasing the critter a mere 50 yards from her home.

As is often the case when first opening a trap to allow a captive to go free, the captor just hung inside, staring out, unencumbered. She gave me a glance like, “This is way too easy. You’re up to something, right?”

It was when she once again calmed enough to sniff the air, she immediately smelled freedom, waddled out rather indignantly and moved toward the forest. No kindly little skunk-paw wave-back toward me. Drat.

By the time she reached the woods, I had moved off a ways – to prevent a repeat of the time a homeowner and I released a caged raccoon only to have it vengefully charge back at us. The homeowner swears I jumped into his arms but I know it was the other way around. The raccoon decided against taking canine-tooth revenge on his legs … I mean my legs.

CLASSIC TIMES ARE HERE AGAIN: This weekend, LBI’s biggest battle of the bass and blues begins. The 62nd Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic begins its eight-week run on Saturday. As was said at the first event in 1954, “Be there or be square.”

I’ve attended some of the many Classic meetings leading up to the Oct. 8 through Dec. 4 contest. Not only is this famed fishing tourney ready to rock like never before but prizes will flow like inlet water during a blowout tide.

Per the event website,, “The eight-week surf fishing tournament for striped bass and bluefish offers surfcasters the opportunity to compete for thousands of dollars in daily, weekly, segment and grand prizes. There are additional special prizes presented by businesses, fishing clubs as well as participants and supporters.”

If you’re a bit new to the Classic, simply go to that Once on the website, look below the event logo to find “About.” Click on that and read all the reasons you want to sign up, ASAP.

If you’re a bit new to surfcasting, click on the other box below the logo, titled “Seminar.” Read about this amazing outdoor class. I know many an experienced surfcaster who wouldn’t miss it – and its expert instructors.

The website will show up-to-date weigh-in news for the duration of the Classic. I’ll also be talking Classic on my blog at – or simply Google, “jay mann fishing.”

RUNDOWN: This week’s rundown has been rained out for this week. Or maybe it was simply blown away. I will note there are tons of small bluefish if you find some workable water during quitter sky times.

Somewhat expectedly, bass are not eagerly bounding about with this near 70-degree water. Way too mild – with some near record-breaking warmth inching in this week.

What’s more, the mullet run might have run its course, slowing dramatically early this week. There will surely be some more spurts of mullet but not in numbers that have been known to get stripers snapping to.

The end to mullet migration is not such a biggy, though, angling-wise. We’ll soon be seeing some major clouds of bunkies (small bunker) along the beachfront and near the inlets.

Rainfish and spearing are already rivering about; always a good fishing sign.

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