The Fish Story

That Might Be Rocky Rocking the Rafters; Surf Classic Refuses to Live Up to Name

By JAY MANN | Dec 13, 2017

SQUIRREL HAUNTINGS: It’s the time of year when nature nonchalantly invites itself indoors, opting out of outdoor frigidity, instead targeting all the luxuries of home, sweet, home … ours. It’s well known that attic haunts can house a menagerie of wildlife interlopers, quite content to wile away winter’s hours by lying around amid the insulation, chewing on the nearest anything or other.

I’ve helped folks rid the rafters of many an unwanted over-winterer, including possums, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, mice, rats and, once, a wily ferret family. However, I was recently alerted to a cuddly but newish attic annoyance: the flying squirrel, the southern variety.

I first heard of these flighty furballs from a pest control guy, who warned these gliding rodents can flatten themselves out and literally slip through even the smallest cracks and crevices, making them a shoo-in for attic infiltration. Having never seen one – that wasn’t a cartoon character – I went all Googley on them. I see they vary in color, compared to your average two-tone day squirrel. Sporting coats of tan, brown, gray and white, some can be quite the lookers, particularly comely when enwrapped in dominant whites … with a subtle flash or two of grays.

Flying squirrels are far smaller than the bounding squirrels we live with daily. Closer to the size of a large hamster, they could use the backs of gray squirrels as launch pads. But that won’t be happening soon because flying squirrels are strictly nocturnal, which is just why we don’t see them out there, gliding about. However, should they go attic, the little buggers are among the noisiest of in-house critters as they flit, scratch and cluck about, nocturnally … up above. They surely account for more than a few house exorcisms.

By the by, they don’t fly in the traditional wing-flapping manner. They simply use expandable skin flaps under their front legs to hang-glide, for remarkable distances, in the wild.

When in the wild, flying squirrels are ecological must-haves. Crittercontrolnj.com cites them as highly beneficial, spreaders of essential fungi spores and the seeds of many a plant. They’re also the least-expected answer to what might be emptying the high-hung birdfeeder in the pitch of night. I’ve seen some fun trail-cam videos of them gliding down to corn piles meant for deer.

Flying squirrels become people-problematic when they wiggle into attics, including ductwork, says Critter Control. “Their urine smells foul and can carry harmful bacteria. Flying squirrels also gnaw on walls, structural support beams, and wires,” warns the pest-control company.

How do you know if they’re a-beam above? According to Cowleys Pest Services (cowleys.com), “The most common initial complaint from New Jersey homeowners is from the noise that these nocturnal critters make. Homeowners tend to notice that there is some family of wild animals hovering in the attic during the night hours when flying squirrels are active. Besides the normal sounds of scurrying and footprints, these animals make soft chirping and clucking noises. Suffice it to say, these animals don’t hide their presence and if there is a flying squirrel colony that has set up shop in your home, you will know about it.”

Despite being ardent outdoors types, these squirrels will gladly stay put in comfy human digs throughout the year, getting even noisier, via comings and goings, in warmer weather.

The cuteness and cuddliness of flying squirrels, along with their inclination to take a liking to humans, have made them an increasingly popular pet. Home website thespruce.comwrites, “Southern flying squirrels form a very deep bond with their owners if acquired at a young age from a breeder. They are usually quite happy to spend time climbing and playing on their owner (as though we are a tree) or sleeping in a pocket. Southern flying squirrels are adorable pet rodents that have the unique ability to glide through the air.”

And no, I’m not even remotely trying to sell you on be-petting them. In fact, get bitten by a wild one and there might be a good-old rabies protocol in your future. I simply find it better when folks see any creature in an upbeat light. It betters their chances of being treated humanely, should they show up – as in the attic, up above.

To their credit, flying squirrels have some of the best night vision in the business – needed when gliding about in pitch blackness. Even then, I’m sure there’s not a flying squirrel out there that doesn’t have some wild tales of things they’ve crashed into – like, possibly, a moose.

Hey, you knew I’d have to ADHD my way to an indispensable sidebar on the most famous flying squirrel that ever lived, namely Rocky, of the immortal “Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends.”

Though the Rocky and Bullwinkle show aired only from Nov. 19, 1959, to June 27, 1964, that five-year time slot was right in the wheelhouse of TV-obsessed Baby Boomers. It left a lasting impression – and proved the cartoonish gullibility of the era.

I was among the millions who never once questioned the proportional madness whereby Bullwinkle, a full-grown moose that would likely stand 10 feet tall – and stand, he always did – was inexplicably not much larger than Rocky, a flying squirrel that would need elevator shoes to even reach eight inches in elevation. But life was simpler back then. We accepted things, no questions asked – short of: Ask not what your country can do for you … etc.

Rocky and Bullwinkle had a massive following, helped along by the fact it first aired prior to “American Bandstand” and, later, “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.” It became the highest-rated daytime network program.

While the duo remains massively well-known today, Rocky’s public-eye persona underwent an odd morphing over the decades, thanks to The Beatles. The average nowadays soul assumes Rocky is a raccoon, thanks to the alliteration in the famed McCartney song “Rocky Raccoon.” All it takes is a closer look at the real Rocky’s wearing of an old aviator helmet and flying goggles to get the flying squirrel connection. Whadda ya mean you never really registered that? Actually, I hadn’t, either.

I’ll offer a bit more minutiae by noting the show’s creators, Jay Ward and Alex Anderson, named Bullwinkle after the Bullwinkel Ford-Lincoln-Mercury dealer in the San Francisco area, still around today. Equally trivial, one of the show’s early writers was none other than Mary Tyler Moore, when she wasn’t writing scripts for “The Munsters.”

From the deepest minutiae vault: One of the show’s regular segments featured a genius talking dog named Peabody, starring in “Peabody’s Improbable History.” The doctoral dog owned a “pet boy,” named Sherman. Just try pulling off that dicey relationship nowadays. In 1962, a budding British Invasion band thought its lead singer, Peter Noone, looked a lot like Peabody’s Sherman. With a name tweak, Herman’s Hermits was born. True story.

Now, what the hell was I even writing about?

CLASSIC CRAPS OUT: From snow-covered sands, the 2017 LBI Surf Fishing Classic bid a less than fond adieu on Sunday. It ended as a contest that officially offered some of the worst bassing since the event began in 1955. It’s one of six piss-poor surfcasting autumns in succession. What is going on out there!?

If you entered, you’ll at least be able to tell the grandkids that you lived through yet another fall when the bassing crashed and burned. Here’s hoping that will be astounding to the kids – considering how amazing the bassing got by the very next fall, one of those worst-to-first sports-type reversals.

Yes, I’m already making an effort to hype the great 2018 LBI Surf Fishing Classic. With any luck, the minimum size of bass will drop to 24 inches and the weigh-ins will flow like cheap wine.

No, I’ve heard nothing whatsoever about a drop in the minimum size of N.J. striped bass for 2018. I simply figure that once the what-if birds are loosed, the sky’s the limit. Hell, maybe the event will eventually also accept bass taken by any paddle-powered vessels, like kayaks and SUP boards. I’m not serious. Or am I not?

I will duly note that the final contestant count for this year’s Classic was a dang decent 756 fishing folks. The count represents a huge number of anglers entering for tradition maintenance and mom’s apple pie, as much as to catch bass and blues. Had there been an explosion of fish at any point, I’ll wager that a 100-plus fair-weather fishermen would have come out of the dune fencing, i.e. the woodwork.

The total bass take was 84 stripers. Although that’s pathetically low, it was the second-best count since 2012, not factoring in an added week this year, along with some tweaks to the minimum size for an enterable bass. It’s amazing how numbers can lie like rugs.

It’s almost too painful to mention the total bluefish count for the nine-week Classic was 11 fish. How can I not once again rub in the fact that only last spring we caught more huge blues than possibly any previous spring, ever?

See lbift.com for the final leaderboard. I’ll have winners in here next column.

The contest now over, it’s time for lingering fishing folks to clean up on December schoolie bass, which remain fairly available in the surf – and way more so for boat anglers. Spicing up the boat bassing are pockets of better bass, some well into the keeper range. I think fall bass are some of the tastiest, for whatever reason. Eat ’em up.

WHAT NOW, OH, COLUMN?: To stay afloat from now until angling re-fires, this space will be offering insights into my never-ending nature look-abouts. I’ll also be offering insider looks at Island life … when it shivers.

I’m hoping those Island insights will bring warmth to the many who have gone off afar – as off afar as Florida, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Callie, the Caribbean … and beyond. Lucky ducks. Just don’t be a stranger. Nowadays, it’s as easy reaching this column from Timbuktu as from Trenton. I highly appreciate tales and photos from exotic venues.

Hey, have you seen the NatGeo show about the primitive Ashaninka tribe in the Amazon? They protect their sacred section of rain forest with deadly poison-tipped arrows – along with a highly sharpened knowledge of the internet and GPS tracking system. I kid you not.

“We used to defend ourselves by bow and arrow. But that doesn’t work anymore. Our modern weapon is the internet,” said Benki Piyako, son of the chief of the Ashaninka. “This is the only way to ensure safety on our territory.”

That is spoken a bit coyly. The Ashaninkas still terrify trespassing loggers, who are greeted with Neanderthal untenderness. The natives have not even remotely abandoned arrows; ask around.

Not surprisingly, the satellite images of the natives’ forests reveal razor-sharp territorial boundaries, marking the tribe’s lushly sylvan land and the hideously barren clear-cut land, felled by tropical-wood seekers. Poison arrows have a way of making poignant boundaries.

See how little it takes to get me going in the off-season? Bring it on; email below.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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