The Fish Story

LBI Locals Go All Peter, Paul and Mary; Tale Behind Surf City’s Big-Ass Bass

By JAY MANN | Nov 07, 2017

WHERE HAVE ALL THE LOCALS GONE?: It’s hard to imagine Long Beach Island someday filling a chapter in a book called, “Ghost Towns of the Jersey Shore.” But, in a weird way, we’re moving toward it – by moving away from it. I’ll explain.

Sardonically celebrating the five-year Wooden Anniversary of S.S. Sandy, one of the trickledown aftereffects of the sucker-punching storm might be called the trickle-away response here on Long Beach Island. Some of the state’s most population-departing towns are hereupon. I’m betting it’s partially due to the high salability of hot, new, raised Island homes. What’s more, there is the one-Sandy-is-enough, run-for-the-hills thinking.

In NJN’s recent “The 20 fastest-shrinking towns in New Jersey,” by Stephen Stirling, our fair barrier Island is shown to contain three of the top five exiting-locals municipalities, based on the percentage of population.

“A combination of the effects of Hurricane Sandy and a longtime trend of shore residents being replaced by second-homeowners is primarily to blame,” writes Stirling.

I couldn’t agree more, as I personally know of at least a dozen longtime year-round families who have parlayed raised, repaired/replaced homes into highly handsome bucks – and are taking the proverbial “sell high” route out. It’s very apparent to real estate folks that it’s mainly second-homers taking up where the locals leave off.

The story also makes an appropriate point that the residents-departing towns weren’t all that overflowing with locals from the get-go.

Speaking of Surf City, Number 4 on the losing-folks list, Stirling writes, “Surf City appears on this list because it doesn’t have much permanent population to lose. With the popularity of second-homes booming at the shore, it doesn’t take much to have an impact in a sea-bound community.” The town has lost 34 percent of its residents since 2012.

In fourth place is my hometown (since 1964) of Ship Bottom. It has seen a 35 percent drop in localship. The same sell-high thinking is draining residents from the Anchor City – my nickname for Ship Bottom, based on its anchor symbol and the way it anchors the Island, midway, with the Causeway.

Top departure honors for the entire state go to Beach Haven, my first LBI homestead site, long ago.

Astoundingly, the Queen City has bid farewell to 40 percent of its permanent people. What’s more, I know of a goodly number of Beach Havenites who’ll be dearly departing within the next couple of years, most of them bound for warmer climes and cheaper living conditions.

Adding to the impetus to exit, residentially speaking, is the rent high enticement factor.

Folks suddenly owning finer than ever, post-Sandy houses can now make so much hay from seasonally forsaking their homes that bolting is fiscally irresistible. They’ll gladly luxuriate in off-Island digs, watching their one-time primary residences reaping seasonal benefits – in some instances, $5,000 and up per week. While some of those cashers-in might return for the offseason, the hassle of moving in and out twice a year soon drives them to permanently stay off-Island.

For remaining year-round residers, the trend toward a diminishing local population is both appealing and aggravating.

Virtually no 12-monther fears a low-people off-season. Hereabouters wanting to hear an ear-hissing quiet need only step outside on a winter night. Now, that’s some kinda quiet.

Then, there’s the disturbing side of dwindling LBI local stocks, especially when coming up against the special interests of non-permanent property owners, i.e. seasonalites. While possessing an understandable sense of piece-of-Island ownership, such here-and-gone folks can sometimes be less than devoted to off-season LBI lifestyles. That can rear-up at election time, when dual-residency couples split their registered voting venues. Covering two voting bases, one can vote down our local school budgets – to keep their “shore home” taxes down – while the other votes in favor of school budgets back home, where their kids and grandkids reside. They’ll claim they’re giving up a back-home vote that way. Not so. With the local Island populations sinking, a single down-the-shore vote carries way more sway than a vote back in highly populated “other home” towns.

My whining aside, the Island’s delightfully deserted locals are savoring the bennies of fewer and fewer folks … at least for half the year. As a tribute, I’ll pinch the title of a Quiet Riot song, belting out, “Come On Feel the Quiet.”

“But, Jay, what about the way locals are also getting priced off the Island?!” you rightfully snarl in my general direction.

I feel ya, being a proud, albeit edgy owner of one of the last shore shacks on all LBI. The walls are closing in on me, literally. I’m still a ground-level dweller, while everyone else around me has moved up in the pile-driving world. Welcome to the Hamptons South. Beulah, peel me a clam.

That said, I’m actually noticing every arriving winter is becoming quieter and quieter … or, is it just me … literally? Anyone out there?

Anyway, if the de-population trend continues, I foresee the day that a huge sign graces the outgoing Causeway: “Would the last person off the Island in the fall please turn off the lights.”

RUN-DOWN: LBI has become the Land of 10,000 Waves – borrowing a bit from Minnesota’s nickname.

I’ve been riding and watching waves since they were first invented. I can authoritatively assure we used to see many a year when the surf would stay small, even flat, for weeks and sometimes months on end.

To date, 2017 has seen never-ending wave-age. While not always the type waves preferred by waveriders, they’ve been more than enough to make surfcasting a daily man-versus-suds struggle – demanding dedication, heavy sinkers and a ton of windblown patience, winds and waves often going hand-in-foot.

Amid the surf challenge, there’s the unslight matter of precious few fish.

Unconcerned with the roughness, LBI Surf Fishing Classic veteran Robert Vallone recently took to tossing lures, managing to nail a 15.16 pound slammer in Barnegat Light.

This year, the Classic offers a fine prize for the largest fish caught on artificials – a prize above and beyond any other cashy laurels the same fish might merit.

With the event now hosting almost 700 entrants, appreciation for the historic tourney is obvious. Thanks to all.

Although a highly humble total of 21 bass have been weighed into the Classic, that lowball count belies the fact those fish have garnered comely prizes – both cash and goods.

The true struggler in the Classic is the bluefish category, with a startlingly low total of 11 blues weighed in to date.

In the not-distant tourney past, weekly slammer weigh-ins came in by the hundreds. There had even been a 200-bluefish, single-day count.

The freaky-weird part is how the last few springs have seen our Island waters epically infested with mega blues, like never before. That proves the blues are out there in abundance. Those anglers who have pointed to Sandy and beach replenishments as ruiners have a hard time accounting for boiling schools of big blues being just fine with LBI … only six months ago!

For the latest Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic info, go to

CLASSIC GETS BIGGER IN SURF CITY: I chatted with John Matt about his now Classic-leading 48-pound bass. His hookup and fight had all the hallmarks of a classic, trophy-bass triumph.

Recalling the big-bass day, John was quick to credit his fishing partner/cousin, Gregory, for reconnoitering the surfline as they drove the Surf City beach at low ride. The two are dedicated surfcasters, going out “almost every day,” during the bass season.

“We were driving along and Greg had said, ‘Right here,!’” recalled John.

Greg based the stopping point on a fine-looking hole in a low-water setting. Onshore winds had the water chopped up a bit, making it a tad tougher to pick out pockets of deeper water. At the same time, sunny fall-like conditions were helping the cause. Water temps were near 60.

Stopping and settling in, each man began fishing with a single rod each.

John was using 30-pound braided line on a Penn spinning reel, seated on an eight-foot pole, handmade by a late buddy. John would later wonder if, just maybe, he had a little fishing help from his buddy up above.

As terminal tackle, John was throwing a five-ounce pyramid sinker and using an 8/0 circle hook on … wire leader. Yep, wire leader.

“I thought the big bluefish were around so I was using wire.”

It didn’t take long to realize something big was, in fact, around. “It was only my second cast when it hit,” he said.

John was walking his rod back to the spike when he felt a couple quick raps. “I was still holding the rod and it was like a quick boom … boom.”

Attention highly heightened, a second series of raps let John know he might be onto something. It was Gregory who suggested he set the hook.

“As soon I set the hook, she took off. She took a lot of line.”

The initial run, straight out to sea, guaranteed it wasn’t the likes of a large stingray.

The runaway bass train strained the drag on John’s reel. “It just started beating the hell out of the rod.”

Unable to turn the fish with drag alone, John walked backwards onto the beach, maybe 25 yards. He then walked forward to gain some line back.

At one point, he tightened the drag “a little.”

The famed war-of-wills soon began, with the fish changing its strategy from an out-to-sea bolt to swimming, side-bodied, parallel to the beach – a classic big-ass bass maneuver.

As the fight commenced, Greg offered, “That is one big fish!”

It took 25 to 30 minutes of inch-ish give-and-take for the bass to tire … and offer a look-see to John. “It came up about 30 yards out. I seen the fin and tail.”

Greg announced, “It’s a bass!”

The final phase of the fight was more of the deadweight pull-in, with John backing farther up the beach. Being it was low tide, there was not a large, fish-freeing shorepond to contend with.

The fish was finally wrestled in far enough for Greg to take a shot at grabbing it – though the “grab” part didn’t go quite as expected.

“Greg didn’t want to get his feet wet! I told him to just go grab it!”

Once grabbed and hauled up to higher ground, John got his first gander at the 51.5-inch striper, his largest bass ever.

Then came the problem every angler would love to have. “It was too big for the cooler on the front of the truck.”

The solution was to take the cooler out of the rod rack and just lay the mega-bass inside the rack. This left the fish’s head well out on one side and the tail sticking out on the other side.

John recalls getting a goodly number of stares by motorists and pedestrians as he drove to Surf City Bait and Tackle for the initial weigh-in.

After officially entering the fish into the LBI Surf Fishing Classic, John headed over to Fisherman’s Headquarters, where he was entered into the shop’s Calcutta.

After photo sessions – and allowing a parade of onlookers to check out the fish hanging at the shop – it was time to fillet it. “It took a long time to clean,” said John.

Of import – and a chuckler for many of us – the bass had a bunker head in its belly. It was partially digested but the cut marks from a knife could clearly be seen. Yep, someone fishing a bunker head came that close to grabbing this now Classic-leading striper. Hey, who’s to say the fish’s success in pulling that bunker head off somebody else’s hook didn’t have it over-confident when seeing John’s bunker chunk lying enticingly on the bottom? If so, I’m sure John thanks whoever softened up the fish for his taking.

By the by, that big-ass bass also had tiny sand crabs in its belly, further proving my ongoing point that elephants eat peanuts, metaphorically-speaking.

As to getting back out fishing again, post big ’un, the 48-pound bass hasn’t cooled John’s fishing urges whatsoever. “I’m not looking forward to another one of them, but I don’t care. Even if it’s only 30 inches, it’s a striper.”

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