The Fish Story

The Man Who Couldn’t Resist Egg-Napping; What’s Behind a Massive Mullet Showing

By JAY MANN | Oct 17, 2018

I have to begin this week with some worldly weirdness – and a rotten-egg kinda guy. A friend across the pond with the BBC sent me this scrambled story. It’s about an obsessive-compulsive man and his record-breaking egg-age. I’ll explain.

I’m as obsessive/compulsive as the next out-there guy, but Daniel Lingham, 65, recently of Norfolk, England, has set the bar too high for us mere mortal obsessers. Egged on by either a unique form of OCD or, just as likely, lunacy, Danny Boy was just busted for illegally collecting and hoarding over 5,000 rare bird eggs. This is not a yolk.

Daniel was busted when his neighbors in the town of Newton St. Faith contacted authorities after seeing him leaving the house daily, wearing head-to-foot camo, enough pseudo-natural coverage to put a ghillie suit to shame. There were also those regular mail deliveries of can after can of camo face paint. All of that comprised un-dapper Dan’s workday look, as he set off to go egging on the moors. He was systematically pilfering the prize possessions of just about every nesting bird in the region.

I need to offer a quick aside here. I’m a dang decent tracker, so I have a feel for such things. I therefore ask why one must resort to full body camo … to hunt eggs. It’s not like you need to sneak up on them lest they take off. OK, so I once saw a cartoon where these little bird legs broke out of an egg and it went running all around, but I’m pretty sure that was just poetic license on the part of Warner Brothers. Dan’s daily work look leads me to think that maybe his egg is a bit cracked, using a Brit expression.

Anyway, once alerted to the weirdness afoot on the block, it didn’t take long for undercover – make that underbrush – investigators to crack the case. Daniel was busted for egg poaching within a pristine natural area known as Cawston Heath.

When captured, the illegal egg accumulator immediately waived his right to remain silent by offering an indirect admission of guilt, telling the constables, “I’ve been a silly man, haven’t I?” No, I don’t think that loses something in translation. Even folks around Newton St. Faith were all “He said what?!”

I’m sensing this was a strategic move toward the seldomly tried silly man defense.

A follow-up Scotland Yardish investigation indicated that Daniel was not only silly as a goose egg, but had gone sillying far and wide. A total of 5,266 eggs were found tucked away in his home, including eggs from such beloved-by-birders species as nightingales, nightjars, turtle doves, chiffchaffs, little-ringed plovers, woodlarks and kingfishers. Evidential eggs were pulled from tubs found in his kitchen, living room and under beds.

Per the BBC, “He pleaded guilty to taking nine linnet eggs at Cawston Heath, having 75 wild bird eggs from species which are in decline, and possessing 4,070 ordinarily protected wild bird eggs.” As to those totals, Lingham was quoted as saying, “I didn’t realize how many eggs there were. I didn’t count them.” Of course not. No time. He seemingly also went egging at night.

I should mention that this was not Dan’s first egg rodeo. In fact, he’s what might be known as a repeat silly man. In 2005, he was popped for criminally snatching 3,603 wild eggs. That was some sort of record … at the time. For that transgression, he was jailed for 12 weeks, where he obviously pined heavily for the heaths since, upon release, he rushed out and proceeded to break his own egg-napping record. The new record was made official via the egg-take score within his charges. Here’s praying The Guinness Book of World Records doesn’t run with this record. That’s all we need – a planet of silly men hellbent on out-egging Daniel.

By the by, in respect to the sanctity of this story, along with the fact Daniel will likely soon be deeply nested in gaol/jail, I refuse to even remotely reference the Beatles’ song lyric “I am the Egg Man,” much less suggest that Daniel would yell “Goo goo g’joob!” with every egg he found. Nor will I frivolously suggest that John Cleese is sorely tempted to come out of Monty Python retirement to go a-prancing through the heaths as Daniel Lingham, singing, “I’m an egg man … and I’m OK.”

Lest you feel bad for an obviously not-nearly-there Dan, he remains a huge hit around Easter, when all the kids want to be on his egg-hunting team.

SMALL FRIES: I gotta talk small fish, as in forage-grade small. For whatever oceanic/cosmic reason, this year’s mullet migration is the heaviest in maybe a decade. The fact it’s still happening as of today makes it one of the longest and latest-running runs in modern mullet times. The run’s overall size also jumps out, literally, as huge schools of mullet can be seen going leaping-lizards out of the water, their scaly tails being rushed by fluke, bluefish, bass and brown sharks. There might be a million mullet in this year’s migratory mix, when factoring in the entire Eastern Seaboard parade size.

Such a memorable event is odd after years of slim showings. Any theorizing on my part is helped along by the subject’s top authority, Rutgers’ Ken Able, author of The First Year in the Life of Estuarine Fishes in the Middle Atlantic Bight. (It’s available at amazon.com.)

Any mullet showing for us begins well offshore, in the Middle Atlantic Bight, where larval mullet arrive after riding south-to-north currents from as far down as Florida. And it’s not a slam-dunk ride. Cooperative offshore current conditions are needed. Things like cold-water eddies and, especially, storms can derail an entire crop of northbound mullet larvae.

Once in our bight, the tiny, low-mobility larvae are wind-driven toward shore, ending up in the kindly and nurturing waters of bay regions.

Harkening back to last spring, we had a huge showing of northeast and easterly winds. They surely played a role in getting a load of mullet larvae rolling our way.

Of note: There must have been one helluva spawn down south to first produce the larval showing. That’s good news since the rampant harvesting of adult mullet in Florida, mainly for Japan-bound roe, had to be curtailed due to overfishing. It might be working – in our favor.

Once blown into the bay, micro mullet grow like crazy, feeding off nutrient-rich bottom detritus. Early arrivers, moving in-bay by May, achieve lengths of 3 to 4 inches by summer’s end. We dub these “finger mullet.” Smaller mullet in the mix likely blew in later, possibly as late July.

As summer recedes, the year-class fish face their largest life challenge: a southward migration of maybe 1,000 miles. Schooling up for support and protection, the mullet, having known mainly bay bottom mud to this life-point, swim off on blind faith alone, though buttressed by powerful inner instincts. There is no “Next stop … the South Atlantic Bight” in their combined mindset. It’s headlong into the great unknown – an unknown that ferociously attacks. Awaiting them in the cruel outside waters are gamefish of every ilk, not to mention many a human net thrower.

While water temperature changes and shortening lengths of days first spark the instinctive fall migration, those motivations fade once the schooled-up young-of-year mullet get moving along the shoreline. It then comes down to a far more nebulous “Are we there yet?” thought pattern. Again, these fish haven’t a clue as to their ultimate destination. Their group mentality is pretty much “We’ll know when we get there.”

Confusing the mullets’ migratory just-get-there mindset this year is the summerish early-fall feel of Barnegat Bay. First reaching here when the bay was 75 degrees, the mullet wondered if this just might be their mystical journey’s end. At least that’s my theory on why they hung around so late. But, lo, the recent overnight drop of 15 bay degrees has them rethinking their over-optimistic fin-jerk read. As we speak, the last of them are bolting out of the bay, once again blindly sniffing their way southward. Fare thee well. And make sure to send us loads of larvae when you grow up and frolic in the South Atlantic Bight.

A quick aside: I once read where migrations are led by something like alpha members – for notable instance, the lead bird at the head of a migrating V-pattern. Being cynical, I can also envision the flock-leading bird just being a jock, looking back and wondering, “Where’s everyone going?” I’ll bet that’s how you get North American birds suddenly arriving over in Portugal.

RUNDOWN: I received my N.J. Striped Bass Bonus Program permit, acquired via nj.gov/dep/fgw/bonusbas.htm. You have till Oct. 31 to climb aboard. Just keep in mind it takes some time to get the permit after mailing in the forms. You cannot assume you’re getting one, so don’t go with “The permit is in the mail” angle.

It is essentially a thin metal strip that must be securely attached to a bass between 24 and 28 inches in length. I still get to keep two bass; one fish 28 inches to less than 43 inches and one fish 43 inches or greater.

I’m giving this somewhat demanding bonus program a go. I’m now committed to quickly calling in – or e-reporting – when I keep an eater striper. I’ll also be documenting any other stripers I catch and release. It’s all good data gathering, though the state also wants the details to make sure we stay under the allowable poundage given the program by the feds.

Please note: In N.J., you cannot keep TWO stripers between 28 inches and 43 inches, something I see done all too often. A second kept bass over 28 inches must then be over 43 inches. I’m trying to make that as simple as possible. It still likely won’t sink in for many an angler. At my blog (fishlbi.com), I even get photos of an angler holding up two fish twixt 28 and 43. While I would never (!) turn anybody in for such an infraction, others might.

With the miles of migrating mullet slowly moving offward and southward, we’ll now count on any bass attraction served up by a very early showing of rainfish. They’re generally thickest throughout November. Out of all forage fish, I have seen gamefish slobbing these down beyond stomach-holding capacity. Boaters have found their decks covered in rainfish regurgitated from a single fish.

Then there are the peanut bunker, many of which are still hanging in the west bay lagoons. They seem to be having a normal to slightly down year in numbers. Even then, there are tons of them. I nabbed a couple/few mixed in with mullet, but they are not yet making their big southeastward move.

Big bunker balls are so thick off the beach that I fear only a wicked onshore wind will break them up and force into shore the trophy fish that stalk them.

The LBI Surf Fishing Classic is in full swing. Get into it! The lone bass weighed in had some great cash value.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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