The Fish Story

Imitating Nature Is in Man’s Nature; Using Prayers to Help Mushy Bait

By JAY MANN | May 16, 2018
Photo by: Jay Mann

As recent rains came pummeling down, I idled at my work desk wondering what to wonder about – being a pathological wonderer, which I, uh, often wonder about. Hey, it was raining real hard, a’right? Anyway, out of proximal convenience, I took to pondering a nearby piece of hook-and-loop material, something that almost always goes by the tradename Velcro, which is a French acronym gleaned from the combo-term velours croché, meaning velvet hook. That trivia alone piqued my further interest. Research into how the now-ubiquitous Velcro first came about quickly afforded me an unexpected wilderness ride, during which I took quite a circuitous route. I’ll explain.

To enter Velcro’s historic past, I went in through the back door, though I did debate going in through the kitchen window, as a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ immortal White Album. Hey, I said I opted for a circuitous route.

Seeking Velcro’s roots led me straight into something called biomimetics. No, that’s not another foolproof weight-loss exercise program – though some of us could use one after the prolonged winter we just ate our way through. Instead, biomimetics is the study of nature’s ways and designs, to then mimic same for the betterment of … us. A more exacting definition comes via an article titled “Biomimetics: forecasting the future of science, engineering, and medicine,” published in the International Journal of Nanomedicine. “Biomimetics is the study of nature and natural phenomena to understand the principles of underlying mechanisms, to obtain ideas from nature, and to apply concepts that may benefit science, engineering, and medicine.”

Obviously, humans have been determined to advantageously mimic nature, going back to the first caveman kid who began prowling around, imitating the stealthy moves of a hungry saber tooth tiger – right before he was speared and eaten by the rest of the tribe. That is surely not true … simply circuitous.

Looking into biomimetics in our times, I came across Marc A. Meyers, a professor at University of California – San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering. In a paper published in Materials Science and Engineering, Meyers wrote, “We have turned to nature because millions of years of evolution and natural selection have given rise in many animals to some very sturdy materials with surprising mechanical properties.” I fully agree, dude. Circuitously, every time I’m out exploring, the first thing that jumps to mind upon seeing an example of gorgeous wildlife is just how sturdy and surprisingly mechanical nature can be. “Back off, man. I’m a scientist.” (“Ghostbusters,” Dr. Peter Venkman.)

Meyers is currently micro-interpreting the uniquely layered construction of fiercely tough red abalone shells. His less than rainbowish mother-of-pearl aim is to develop the next generation of bullet-stopping armor, based on the intricate overlapping layers of calcium carbonate that strengthen the abalone’s shell. Meyers is certain that mimicking the abalone shell’s evolution-perfected layering – replacing the calcium carbonate with the latest in body-armor material – would amount to Katy barring the bullet-proof door.

Along with Meyers’ bullet-bouncing biomimicry, I came across a slew of recent nature-mimicking achievements, some seemingly taking nature for an unnatural ride. For instance, engineers are using the shape of whale fins to develop … better wind-energy turbines. Say what?! According to asknature.org, the stubbly tubercles on certain whale fins, when presented in a biomimicry manner, can equate to better wind turbine blades. An article in biomimicry.net titled “Learning From Whales to Create Efficient Wind Power” explains, “Wind tunnel tests of model humpback flippers with and without leading-edge tubercles have demonstrated the fluid dynamic improvements tubercles make – such as a staggering 32% reduction in drag, 8% improvement in lift, and a 40% increase in angle of attack.”

That finding is already being, well, mimicked. “A company called WhalePower is applying these lessons to the design of wind turbines and fans of all sorts – industrial ceiling fans and other HVAC systems, computer fans, etc. – to improve their efficiency, safety, and cost-effectiveness,” offers asknature.org.

Nature’s whale fin designs are also poised to take flight. Researchers at Duke University report, “Wind tunnel tests of scale-model humpback whale flippers have revealed that the scalloped, bumpy flipper is a more efficient wing design than is currently used by the aeronautics industry on airplanes. The tests show that bump-ridged flippers do not stall as quickly and produce more lift and less drag than comparably sized sleek flippers.”

Wow. I have to jump in and ask, “How cool is biomimicry!?” In the immortal words of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” surfer dude Jeff Spicoli, “Awesome! Totally awesome!”

Just as totally awesome is how Eiji Nakatsu, the chief engineer in the development of the 200-mph Shinkansen 500 train, parlayed his love of birding into a faster train – after asking himself, “Is there something in Nature that travels quickly and smoothly between two very different mediums?” Enter kingfishers, one of my all-time favorite shoreline birds. These small birds jumped into Nakatsu’s mind. Actually, they dove into his mind. The engineer painstakingly interpreted films of a kingfisher diving into the water. The bird entered the water with so little splash that even the Russian judge gave it a “10.” Get this: He then designed the front end of the world’s fastest train based on the head and beak of kingfishers. His biomimicry move resulted in a quieter, faster and more energy-efficient train. Of course, the train now requires around-the-clock maintenance men to remove splatted kingfishers encrusted on the train’s front windows! That is not true – though I just might send off a quick note, i.e. “Dear Mr. Nakatsu, That’s not true … right?”

One of the most improbable biomimicry accomplishments imaginable draws from New Jersey mosquitoes. Japanese engineer Seiji Aoyagi has gotten up close and personal with the notorious biting mechanism of a mosquito – in hopes of better poking away at mankind. Aoyagi is now all the buzz in the medical realm after successfully developing “the world’s most pain-free hypodermic needle.” The Aoyagi needle is based exclusively on a mosquito’s bloodsucking proboscis. Experimentation was a poke of faith for his patients since the needle has a jagged shape, vis-à-vis a mosquito’s naturally jagged skin-poker. Imagine the first patient to hear “Hold very still. I want to jam this new-type jagged needle into you.” It works! While the pain-free part also works for me, I worry about that horrible itching afterward. Come on, you can’t be that gullible.

At this point, I’m circuitously compelled to speak of a time when I used biomimetics of the highest level, as in black belt level. It was during my days of emulating Kung Fu star “Grasshopper” that I took Hawaiian martial arts classes, during which we’d assume attack moves and defensive positions matching those used by bad-ass animals, like tigers, leopards, snakes, cranes and, most coolly, dragons – a fire-breathing dragon in the case of Sifu (teacher) Chin Yo Fat. Fat would put some kind of highly flammable liquid in his mouth, then execute his patented “flaming dragon breath leap,” during which he’d ignite the stuff – explosively spitting out a cloud of fire! Fat would finish by landing in a squatting-tiger position, looking over at us, all cocky and Bruce Lee-like. We’d all be sitting there, trying to smile admiringly, while thinking, “What a frickin’ whack-job.” At the same time, we knew you sure as hell didn’t want to get into a street fight with him, especially when his mouth was full. Just try to explain that to your insurance company. “I’m afraid I’ll need some more information, Mr. Mann, seeing this is my first time dealing with second-degree burns from, if I’m reading your claim correctly, ‘a fire-spitting dragon-breath kung fu whack-job.’”

Yes, I’m getting to the part biomimicry played in Velcro.

In the late 1940s, while hunting in Switzerland’s Jura Mountains, engineer George de Mestral and his dog were latched onto by highly clingy seed sacs from the cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium). We have many a cocklebur in our parts, none overly endearing when being painstakingly removed from pant legs.

While he was slowly pulling off the ridiculously tenacious seeds, Mestral’s engineering aptitude grabbed hold. He was cerebrally consumed by how the seeds stubbornly hung to clothing – and dog hair.

The engineer’s initial cocklebur ponderings led to months, then years, of cocklebur research, from which he eventually perfected hook-and-loop materials. Going with the tradename Velcro, it was the spittin’ image of the natural hooking structuring of the cocklebur. Mestral now holds a place of honor in biomimetic history – held there by Velcro.

BEYOND HOLY MACKEREL: During a hot surfcasting session last week, local celeb and keyboardist at my church Paul Presto did some downright prayerful angling … and his prayers were answered.

After 10 a.m. Mass, Paul told me, “I used the ‘Hail, Mary, send me a fish’ prayer on my first cast.” He had barely finished the prayer when “Bam!” he had hooked into a 27-inch bass – and on some pretty lame bait much less. “I was using this mushy bunker.”

After returning the short bass to the water, Paul was hooked on the prayer approach. He repeated the words, this time with an increased faith. Heavens above, he immediately hooks another striper. This one came in at over 28 inches. This, might it be said, godsend was duly invited home to dinner.

But Paul’s day of fishin’ and prayin’ was far from over. In fact, his seemingly heaven-assisted day took a turn toward the near-weird.

After offering some upward thanks for the stripers, Paul pushed the spiritual boundaries a bit. Before his next cast, he not only prayed for a fish but kinda-sorta requested, you know, a specific species. “Thanks for the bass and all. Oh, is there any chance I could get a bluefish this time?” My thinking: “Wow, that’s pushin it, Paul.” Apparently not. The instant his bait hit the water, it got unholily clobbered. You guessed it: He was into a ferocious chopper blue, which he landed, thankfully. To that I say, “Praise the Lord … and pass the bunker.”

There was a bit of cold water thrown on the amazing day of fishing and prayer. “So I then asked, ‘Can I please win the lottery?’” Nice try, Paul.

By the by, I was told all this in church, assuring it was the gospel truth. Anglers know not to tell fish stories in church … if we ever want to catch a fish again, prayer or no.

TASTY AFTERMATH: Paul’s son cooked his dad’s hot-session bluefish – real simple like, using a quality olive oil, salt and, for an uncommon touch, some stevia, an herbal sweetener. “It was the best bluefish I ever tasted,” said Paul.

Speaking of that best-ever bluefish, I perpetually sing the praises of spring bluefish, as being as deliciously tasty as this mild-flavored fish gets. As oft noted, after their spring arrival from who knows how far away – I think they go on massive winter sojourns – the emaciated blues first take to eating crustaceans, especially shrimp, just to regain their energy, far more than trying to add body fat, which won’t come from a mere crustacean diet.

The spring sweetness of bluefish also indicates the arrivals haven’t yet been feasting and fattening on bunker, which offers the flesh a slightly fishier taste, though blues, overall, are simply not a fishy fish, despite that common misconception.

Even a bunkerized bluefish can be rendered sweet by quickly bleeding it with a throat cut immediately after landing – followed by a careful removal of any dark meat when cleaning. The sooner the dark meat is removed, the better. While some folks then soak cleaned bluefish meat in milk, that is likely overkill.

I almost always make my spring bluefish into a fishy form of jerky, using an everyday food dehydrator. The final tough-texture (jerky) product can be amazingly tasty once the method is perfected.

To engineer superfine bluefish jerky, first make doubly sure all dark meat is removed. Cut meat into strips of equal size, shape and thickness. Then fully immerse the cuts in a thick jerky marinade, be it store-bought or a creative brew of your own highly spiced making. I highly recommend using a good shot of natural liquid smoke. Refrigerate for a few hours, or even overnight – though no longer, lest the powerful spices literally cook the meat, rendering it too mushy for jerking.

Once bluefish cuts are marinated, evenly layer them on the dehydrator trays; pieces shouldn’t touch. I use a light spray of “Original” Pam on the trays. If dehydrator has power levels, set at low. Good jerky profits from a slow dry. Overdrying bluefish will render it too tough and stringy.

Important: Rotate the trays every now and again. Do not turn the cuts.

Doneness is when the jerky bends without breaking; think in terms of a beef jerky texture.

It takes a bit of practice to jerk around bluefish meat, but the results are worth the experimental effort.

GET JOININ’: Action has sparked in the 2018 17th annual LBI Spring Surf Fishing Derby (April 21 through June 24). Some hot passages of both bass and bluefish have filled the event’s leaderboard, meaning it’s time for bigger fish to be caught – bumping the top fish in both categories.

Top fish are currently Patrick Presutto’s 22.64-pound striped bass and Kurt Horensky’s 12.70-pound bluefish.

For info and updates on the event, go to lbift.com and click on the event’s logo, or Google “LBI spring fishing tournament.”

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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