The Fish Story

The Attack of the 50-foot (or Thereabouts) Seal; Bring Back the Days of Measuring Stargazers

By JAY MANN | Apr 24, 2013

Some stellar seal showings have taken place along LBI beaches this spring. A couple seriously hefty and purely healthy harbor seals have been seen pulling out on Island sands. Per usual, misreads had them sick, not simply resting. Folks galore cashed in by taking pics – shot from a goodly and legal distance from the sunning pinnipeds.

Such sightings allow me to revive yet another twice-told tale of the damn dramatic time I was either charged or attacked by a seal. Yes, there seems to be a difference.

Some animal behaviorists differentiate between a charge and an attack. There is apparently an academic iota of a difference.

A charge is an aggressive, forward-moving bodily gesture, whereas an attack is also an aggressive, forward-moving bodily gesture, but with some savage biting and overall mauling thrown in for the fun of it.

OK, so maybe that’s more than a mere iota of differentiation – but not for me, since I’m running my ass off regardless of the creature’s scientific intent. I’ll reference the famed adage “You can’t outrun a bear.” That may be true, but that doesn’t preclude me trying to outrun a bear. You see that subtle difference, right?

To me, the only difference between a charge and an attack is the spelling. Hey, may the force be with any pencil-pusher wanting to hold his or her academic ground, notebook in hand, as a snarling creature approaches at 10 feet a second, just to duly determine if it’s an attack or a charge. I pretty much see their academic actions as a greater chance for me to get away.

Now, onward to the time I was, uh, put upon by a truly unsavory seal. This bugger was not Flapper – or whatever the hell name they give to a friendly seal with a ball on its nose.

It was just after dark at the tip of Holgate. It was real quiet, angler-wise; just my truck and one other buggy. As the other vehicle pulled up, holding a couple locals within, I got a truly odd warning. “Man, there’s a crazy seal around the point! You better watch out.”

Admittedly, I took the warning lightly, mainly because I had no idea what constituted “a crazy seal.” Big mistake.

I parked on the west side of the point and plugged my way back toward where the suspect seal was last seen. I was feeling kinda cool, based on my recent purchase – and proud modeling – of a top-notch Petzel headlamp, capable of producing enough candlepower to light the Sistine Chapel, should the lights blow a fuse there. (I’d do a little piece of dialogue here about the Pope calling me to rush over to the Vatican with my Petzl headlamp to save the Sistine day, but Ciao, bella is the extent of  my Italian-speak.)

So, I’m plugging my way to the back cut when I hear something like heavy breathing up-beach from me. That meant I was between the sound and the water.

I swung my head beam across the sand, and here’s a seal of all seals, the size of an atoll. It was glaring seal daggers at me – huge, black spots on its body, oozy teeth bared, complemented with canine fangs the size of Crystal Cave stalactites.

“Holy Jack S***!” I screamed, much like the sound of a tree falling in the forest.

Now, we go back to that charge or attack nonsense. The monster launched itself toward me.

To my extreme survival credit, I instantly pissed away any semblance of scientifically logicalizing why this beyond enormous, seal-like thing had suddenly hurled its heft toward me. It literally shook the sand beneath my feet.

And the ungodly grunts! This thing was loosing snorts akin to the last sounds heard by someone being stomped into jelly by a hippopotamus. I don’t know where that hippo comparison came from, but when you’re being attacked by the planet’s largest known seal, cosmic comparisons just jump to mind.

I’d like to say I knowingly held onto my rod and reel when I turned and ran. Hell’s bells, I coulda been holding onto 30-pound dumbells and wouldn’t have had the wherewithal to jettison them. Oddly, I instead focused on a vision of having my brand new Petzl headlamp seal-squashed to smithereens – along with, somehow secondarily, my body.

Closer to reality, I hauled ass with the speed of two Kenyans – and a Jamaican thrown in for good measure. Yet I swear to this day, that berserk pinniped was so close on my heels I could feel its fish-laced breath snapping at my leg hairs.

Even a step closer to reality, had I tripped and fallen, I would have been catapulted to the top of those always-quirky “10 Funniest Ways of Dying” lists.

“I know it’s so sad the way he was run over by a pissed-off seal, but I still laugh myself silly every time I hear about it.”

I reached my truck, jumped in and went back for revenge. None to be had.  Royally rattled, I failed to read the marking in the sand from the Great Holgate Seal Charge/Attack. For the sake of posterity, I’ll have it chasing me all the way back to my truck, with me resorting to running backward and warding it off with my fishing rod, fencing-style – one hand stylishly behind my back.

This story gets better each time I tell it. Gospelly true on the chase part.

RUNDOWN: Stripers are there, then they’re not. I’ve been reading in chatrooms about some major bass – to 40 pounds – lurking near bunker balls, twixt here and farther north. Then I read where trollers and jiggers can barely buy a decent keeper, same areas.

One thing is certain, things are still transitioning toward a solid spring striper run, if based only on a significant overall near-beach presence of arriving linesiders – prior to this pissacious northeast blow.

As I type out this column under the unblinking eye of old Dastardly Deadline, it’s just plain freezing out there. This entire week will see spring all but dropping the beachball. Nasty north winds will keep easy surf and nearshore bassing at bay. Speaking of which, the bay will be a tad more workable. In fact, the bridges tend to heat up (figuratively speaking only) during winds and tides like those we’re seeing. I’ll be bundling up for some wee-hour, span-top stripering. I might even tread lightly onto forbidden bridge places, which allow closer approaches to the water.

I was emailed regarding the Big Bridge. I was asked if there is any bank fishing to be done thereabouts. I’ve never found any. On the other hand, as soon as you get in a boat or kayak, the Big Bridge’s channel (too far to reach from the bank) is a fascinating, rarely tested fishing zone. The Causeway bridge’s pylons are most famed for the state-record (17-3) sheepshead, caught there in 2003 by Paul Lowe.  Divers say those waters are interestingly active.

Generally speaking, it’s the so-called trestle bridges  – the three little bridges of the Causeway circuit (I’ll huff and I’ll puff and …) – where bank fishing shines. In one of those “Do as I say, not as I do” thingies, it’s safer and surer to fish beneath the spans, not atop.

Colloquially speaking, the three little bridges are the Hochstrasser bridge (last bridge onto LBI), the Dutchman’s bridge and the Margo bridge (last bridge onto the mainland). You can actually get a decent read on where to fish by going there in the day and noting angler and crabber trails. Then, when you go after dark when things pop, you’ll know the ropes.

RECORD SURFING: Ever wonder about all those state record marine fish? Simply go to http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/recfish-salt.htm or Google “NJ marine fish record.” The simple chart is a quite-fun read.

On that record-book subject, I’m not sure how they now handle shark records, or any other species you simply can’t keep any longer. I’m guessing catch-measure-release numbers don’t qualify. The record-keepers are often fairly strict since there is often very close, oft-bitchy attention given to any record-breaking fish.

GAZERS SHOULD ONCE AGAIN RATE: If you go to that DEP Division of Fish  and Wildlife “New Jersey State Record Saltwater Fish”  page, you’ll notice “retired categories” at the bottom of the page. I have a problem with one particular category that now sleeps with the fishes. They’ve removed stargazer from year-after-year contention. The frickin’ nerve!

It’s abysmally unfair. Hell, stargazers are a fish even I can catch. In fact, that was vividly portrayed at the height of one of the largest bass blitzes LBI had ever seen, not that many years back. (Yes, I’m retelling this story! So sue me. Use Dewey, Cheatam & Howe for all I care.)

Anyway, it was at the peak of a hoardacious striped bass happening that I inched my truck amid upwards of 50 vehicles, all plastered along the beach. Easily 100-plus anglers were hooking up as quickly as they threw out bunker-hued “Wildeye” plastics. It was the “in” lure that blitz.

After exploding out of my GMC, I grabbed my rod, slapped on a “Wildeye” and plowed my way in among dozens of frenzied folks, hauling  in fish to 25 pounds. Within an instant, I hooked up.

Now in the manly mix of hookers, I dutifully assumed an exaggerated, surfside, fish-fighting stance – back hunched, arms bodybuildingly tensed and legs akimbo, as if preventing being dragged clean out to sea. I was fully involved. A bassman at work.

Then, with anglers of all sizes and shapes side-watching the columnist angler, I hauled in what, at the time, had to be the world’s biggest stargazer. Here every other frickin’ angler was besting the fattest, prettiest stripers going while I stank up the landing zone with a gooey, lard-ass stargazer. “Just rapidly unhook it, Jay. Do not look up for any reason.”

As best I could, I secreted the gazer back into the water; a mere flesh wound to my angler persona.

Acting unfazed, I cockily muscled my way back among the shoulder-to-shoulder blitz-chasers.

This time, I really hooked up. I really hunched my back this time. And after a showy fight, don’t I drag in a stargazer that made the other one look anemic. This was a galaxy-grade gazer – a true eye-opener for all those near me.

By the by, for those of you landing bass after bass that day, don’t think for one minute I didn’t hear those snotty little snickers as I hauled in my hookups. I’ll have you know I was targeting stargazers that particular day. Damn straight, I was. In fact, that’s why I quickly departed after that second gazer – in as many casts, I might add. My work was done. I had duly proven my prowess.

Which begs the question of why the state has pretty much banned stargazers from state record contention. My guess is they got wind of my stargazing prowess.

“SIMPLY” ABOUT TO LAUNCH: Speaking of kick-ass contests, I have to alert antsy surfcasters that the 12th annual “Simply Bassin’” tourney begins on May 4. I sure would like to see all ya’ll joining up for this eight-week event. It’s only $20 and hits at the height of the spring run of surf stripers.

Annually, 40-pound-plus stripers hit the “Simply” scales. Fifities are always a high-ranking possibility.

The eco-nice part of “Simply” is its very low kill rate. Since only the top eight weigh-in spots are swimmin’ for the money, only competitively sized fish need apply at the scales. For an entire eight weeks, we seldom take what even a one-day boat tourney brings in.

Obviously, Simply Bassin’ 2013 is yet another event with a recovery signature on it. We have simply got to shake this Sandy thing, especially on the surfcasting front. Nothing says, “Good riddance, Superstorm” like a slew of anglers assigning some quality time to serious stripering. Many folks will mingle “Simply” in with fix-up schedules. Works for me.

The three participating shops this year (alphabetically) are Fisherman’s HDQ, Jingles B&T and Surf City B&T. However, the spring-into-spring event is a boon to all cottage industries/businesses that instantly gain strength by having folks around to patronize – and egg on – their favorite establishments.

Note: There have been some problems getting entry forms done; predictably, it’s a flood factor. Shops should have them real soon. The chamber of commerce will be again be printing up the posters. By the by, if you have a business that can display these standard-sized “Simply Basssin’” posters, please let me know. It’ll draw in angler folks and families.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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