The Fish Story

Hunters, Birders Circle Wetlands Wagons; Headboat Tradition Craves Last-Gasp Love

By JAY MANN | Jul 31, 2018

It could be that wildlife and wilderness areas won’t survive without the bedfellowing of some diametrically opposed folks. I’ll explain.

First, just imagine duck hunters discussing the wonders of wildlife with, say, your average birdwatcher. It’s not a conversation made in – or fit for – heaven. Now, imagine onward, as I herein try to convince bird lovers that it behooves them to more faithfully follow the conservation ball, as it bounces around in today’s eco-whacky world. I’m herein suggesting the conservation ball’s final bounce will end in a wet and wild place – a natural place where odd bedfellows should ponder interlocking arms to become a united army of bird adorers … of both a binocular-based and locked-and-loaded nature. As such, they can take a powerful stand to protect the most verdant of all bird habitats: wetlands.

Anyone with a jot of nature lovingness knows the life-bearing value of wetlands – and the unspeakable folly of seemingly untameable wetlands annihilation. Unless arms of opposing dispositions interlock, the remorseless whacking of pristine wetlands will carry on. Making whack matters worse, wetland destruction could once again go gonzo, as it has in the past. I’m referencing the planned Congressional so-called updating of the Endangered Species Act. In the name of oil, gas and buildout in general, many endangered wildlife species will be frivolously removed from an endangered list, a list that has quite nicely acted to prevent habitat destruction.

The D.C. effort to covertly reduce the wilderness-saving impact of endangered species is an insultingly transparent effort to favor those forces more than willing to plow through natural areas, further endangering the endangered. It is now being said that the Endangered Species Act is endangered.

This uncoyly leads me back to the fragile concept of all bird lovers – of admittedly opposing persuasions – joining forces for the good of all that flies, not to mention the land beneath their wings. Enter Ducks Unlimited (ducks.org). If you refuse to read on, you might be killing the last chance for many wild creatures.

Ducks Unlimited is undeniably the ultimate hunting organization, far more so than the highly dubious NRA. DU is also the nation’s foremost independent preserver of nature and natural spaces. Its wilderness acquisitions greatly exceed all other wildlife-preserving groups combined … by millions of wetlands acres.

Now to the meat of this matter. Ducks Unlimited is undertaking an unprecedented, seven-year continental campaign that, in its words, “Aims to change the face of conservation in North America by securing $2 billion to invest in conservation.” It’s called Rescue Our Wetlands.

On behalf of the organization, Gregg Powers writes, “Ducks Unlimited has a bold vision: wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow, and forever. DU’s work also benefits many other wildlife species and provides clean water, recreational opportunities, and other ecological benefits for people.”

The group is comprised of hunters on one hand but also ultimate conservationists on the other. Instead of merely talking the conservation talk, they’ve walked the walk … through wetlands they’ve actually saved, over 12 million acres worth of wildfowl habitat in North America.

By my thinking, DU’s big-bucks rally is one way to mollify any upcoming hits to the Endangered Species Program. Most developers can’t stand the mention of DU-acquired properties. They know they’ve forever lost the right to build there.

So, am I implying that the wetlands-savings ends justifies the dead duck means? Uh, yes, I am.

While never firing a shot myself, I have sat in duck blinds located within astounding parcels of pristine landscape preserved solely by Ducks Unlimited. Even though I’m now fully on the bird-watching side of things, I’m more than willing to drop differences and circle the wetlands-saving wagons – with DU manning the guns, so to speak.

I also offer my full support to those currently trying to fight governmental mismoves on the Endangered Species Act. However, rapidly buying and conserving the land harboring wildlife reduces the reliance on wildlife activists and pro-nature political reps going up against an administration adamant about having free reign over even the most natural of landscapes.

HEADBOATS ROCK: There’s many a time I wish this column could reach out farther and wider than it does. Like now, when I want to shout the praises of headboats and the amazing top-water fishing experiences they offer anglers, including entire generational-linked angling families.

I’m offering a headboat shoutout in hopes of revitalizing this traditional coastal industry … as it drifts toward extinction. I kid you not. What has long been one of the finest ways to fish is not only dying figuratively but also literally.

A local headboat captain noted that many of his boat’s once-regulars have simply died off. Entire fishing groups that would frequent his headboat once a week, if not more, have faded into the sunset. The worst part is nobody is filling the void.

It’s therefore onward to crucial guessworking. Where have all the headboat fans gone, short time passing? Simply, angling recruits are at an all-time low, starting with the young’uns. Might it be Milennials and the like are obsessed with, maybe, virtual fishing – leaving firsthand headboating high and, eventually, dry docked?

Could it also be, as I’m commonly hearing, a growing lack of keepable fish?

As to that last guess, I beg to retort on aesthetic and reminiscing grounds. I’m among Island Boomers raised on headboat fishing. It was a way-of-life thing, even for those of us owning boats. I remember “party boat” fishing trips as if I boarded the Black Whale only yesterday. I just as clearly recall that the actual catching of fish was absolutely of no import. My dad, his buddies and I always had a bonding blast. Don’t get me wrong. A filled burlap bag – which was the day’s standard of fish transport – was an amazing bonus, though not so much for the moms, who had those slime-oozing bags thrown into the sinks, while we manly anglers went off to crash.

With the future of headboats in the balance, I’d like to do my semi-minuscule part by highly recommending taking a headboat fishing cruise. Bringing along the family is akin to resurrecting an Island tradition.

HARD RAINS A GONNA FALL: We had yet another rain-bred flood situation on Saturday. Per the rain gauge, this cloudburst was an inch short of the monster downpour and flood event we had a week prior. That earlier deluge from tropical-borne moisture inching up the coast loosed almost 4 inches of rain in nothing flat. The recent cloudburst measured in at a bit under 3 inches. Still, the latest inundated roadways had Island-departing tourist hordes pissing, moaning and screaming for the kids to quit fighting!

Data-point: It should be demographically recognized that LBI has never had so many day-hoppers. I base that solely on the demonstrable mega increase in nearby mainland populations – filling new and expanding housing developments. Never have so many near-local folks taken to the daily drive on/drive off circuit. When things go south on the Causeway, things mega back-up … in both directions.

Back to that rain, it had a noteworthy meteorological angle to it, at least for those of a weather-watching fixation. If, like me, you were beaching early in the day, you reveled beneath a majorly a-shine sun. Barely noticed, but of utmost import, ENE began blowing in at 15 mph. That onshore flow of moist air was what led to the eventual buildup of portentous cloudage to the west. Those increasingly mean-looking clouds were the immediate manifestation of moisture being blown off the ocean and into an impenetrable sky blockage on the mainland, where strong west winds had taken over, as nearby as Route 539.

The two opposing winds collided, with the meatier westerlies rapidly up-drafting the onshore winds into thoroughly saturated rain clouds. As the westerlies won the push-of-war, they powered literally every drip of the ocean-based moisture back and down upon us … and just us! It was such a local deluge event that five miles north or south, all folks got was a look at amazing clouds towering over LBI. It was three inches worth of instant moisture payback.

Come on, that’s kinda interesting even if you’re not a weather buff.

ODD CAUSEWAY FLOODING: During the deluge, I got disturbing reports of flooding and rapids-like runoff on the Causeway bridges, in places where this essential roadway – a life/death evacuation route – didn’t used to flood.

While I didn’t see that flooding firsthand, the folks contacting me about it know this area. They were duly annoyed by the profuse amounts of moving water on the bridge surfaces and the gathered water on the Bonnet Islands – and even over on inland Route 72. Hitting flooding thereabouts was a double-downer for drivers having just dealt with the Island’s famed flood zones.

I’m compelled to scientifically wonder if there might be an enhanced road-flooding potential now that two bridges – wide bridges, at that – will be directing torrential rainwater runoff east and west, onto adjacent low-lying areas. Keep in mind, I’m not talking tidal flooding, which is a whole other animal.

It’s way too early to over-jump to conclusions. Plus, I know full well that appropriate drainage has been worked into the new Causeway’s design. Nonetheless, spans with the steep cant of the new Causeway bridges simply can’t handle heavy runoff, even with well-thought-out drains in play. Overflow will surely happen.

RUSH TO CAST: On the fish front, we managed a quick stint of calm winds and seas, enough to reestablish where the fluke are hanging, along with the whereabouts of cartilaginous fish, both sharks and rays. Bothersomely, we are sinking into another unstable weather pattern, potentially leading to a return of protracted, side-ass and onshore winds, though likely marked by periods of calmer air.

The cow-nosed stingray count remains very high. I’ll once again suggest that rays are a targetable species for surfcasters, especially those anglers out for fun more than meat. That said, there are a number of recipes on how to prepare cow-nosed rays into something remotely edible. Down south, many such recipes suggest using whiskey … before, during and after a meal of stingray meat. Take that as you may.

On a very distantly related, historic gastronomical note, as recently as the 1950s, the fresh tuna regularly caught off our shores was considered purely unpalatable. It was caught for sport, pet food and photos, i.e. trash fish. Juxtapose those dumb and distant days with the 2013 purchase of a 488-pound bluefin tuna by businessman Kiyoshi Kimura, who paid $1.76 million for it. Unfortunately, the chances of cow-nosed stingray sushi someday going for $1,000 a wing seems sorta slim.

REPLEN CORRECTION: I had written in my personal blog (fishlbi.com) that the Surf City beach replenishment project was reaching the end; finishing up at the north part of town. What I failed to properly convey was the unsmall fact that the Surf City beach fix now shifts to the south end of town for what should be a fairly fast fix, per the workers I chatted with.

Harvey Cedars, which is also receiving a sand job, still has a long time/way to go, though the Weeks Company will soon be throwing all its effort into that final phase of the project.

Speaking of sand pounds, I’ve gotten calls about Holgate’s ongoing erosional edginess, beachside. It looks bad primarily due to the escarping of recently emplaced sand. The overall loss of beachline isn’t all that horrible. There remains a goodly load of sand between the ocean and the nearest homes. However, of high import, any eaten-away look will surely work in Long Beach Township’s favor, as the township ratchets up efforts to get a terminal groin built at Wooden Jetty. “Just look how bad it is, Trenton! We need a groin al grande.”

I can pretty much assure that some semi-definitive news regarding the proposed big-ass groin will be issued this fall. I have reliable info that there’s already an exact-to-the-stone blueprint of this maybe-to-be terminal groin. That design plan is simply waiting to be plugged in – as in, funded.

As to hyping or panning the project, that should be left solely in the hands of the township and the Holgate taxpayers. Despite my lifelong intimate attachment to Holgate – sultry stories I would love to someday tell – I’m a Ship Bottomer of the highest 50-year order. That said, I will likely support what the prime groin players decide upon. Stay tuned.

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