The Fish Story

Weird Case of Indian Chitals in NJ; Waxing Nostalgic on Grandma’s Reusable Shopping Bag

By JAY MANN | Sep 25, 2018

GET CLASSY: It’s time to get seriously Classic. I’m talking the upcoming Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic – upcoming as in next weekend. I know, where does the time fly? If it’s smart it goes south for the winter, leaving us with long, cold nights. But let’s not go there since we have an entire fall of fine, best-of-year surf fishing ahead of us.

Helping to fill the stretch of autumnal angling is the nine-week Classic. Having watched the event’s year ’round planning process, I can confidently assure it’s going to rock with enhanced cash and prizes. In fact, there are bennies for simply signing up. Upon entry, you get a thoroughly cool T-shirt, the contest’s famed hat, a decal and a certificate for a slice of pizza. Are you kidding me?! Those are worth the price of entry – not to mention the appreciative collectability factor in years to come. I should note that it is first come/first get with the tees. While there is a goodly number of the aforementioned bennies, they could run out. Get joinin’. All the participating shops are now awaiting entrants and their family, friends and relatives.

I always emphasize that this event often awards fish of any and many a size. In fact, in recent years, humble-sized fish have proven to be the largest of the day, week and even segment. I get taken to task when I say that I favor limited hookups for the entire event. It absolutely levels the playing field, equaling the chances for anglers of every skill level – as if luck concerns itself with skill levels.

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THWARTING CHITALS: Seen any bizarre, heavily white-spotted deer bounding about lately? No, I’m not talking about spotted white-tail deer fawns but fully-grown chitals – from the Sanskrit citrala, which means, “variegated” or “spotted.”

So, what in bloody hell is a chital, right? Well, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife will readily and somewhat angrily tell you they’re a non grata creature in our state. It’s an odd NJ tale, to be sure.

As might be surmised from the Sanskrit lingual angle, a chital is far from a native cervid – a cervid being any member of the deer family. It hails from India and thereabouts, i.e. about as far from Jersey as you can get without circling back, planet-wise. That’s why it was a full-blown mindblower when chitals showed up in Cape May. Yes, our Cape May. I don’t think there’s a Cape May, India.

Here’s the scoop: Some folks thought it would be a swell idea to introduce a little bite of India to NJ. They painstakingly smuggled three chitals into the heretofore chital-less Garden State. That must have taken some serious effort, knowing how chitals incessantly argue over who gets to sit shotgun. (There’s a subtle pun in that shotgun wordage.)

To envision a natural chital, think in terms of the average size and shape of a white-tail deer. Then, add a galaxy of bright white spots all over its hide. However, that’s an Asian view of the cervid. Bring them into America – which has been done big-time in Texas – and the famed non-indigenous growth spurt takes place. Unnaturally favorable forage and low predation gets them growing like the dickens, to the delight of hunters – and the chagrin of many indigenous creatures. The racks on Americanized chitals in Texas can be enormous.

By the by, hunters in the Lone Star State – where the non-indigenous deer now run wild in 27 counties – call them axis deer. (What fun is that name when you can rightfully call them chitals, which, when cooked, leads to a chital vittle?)

How three, high-bounding chitals were rustled into our state is currently being investigated. I’m betting there was game farm intent involved. Then again, it might have been just an innocent attempt by some Cape May Calcuttans to open a “Chital Petting Zoo and Car Wash,” behind their gas station. Whichever, NJ’s Bureau of Wildlife Management was not enamored with the illegal importations, knowing that any arriving outsider cervids could be the bearer of deadly prion diseases, primarily chronic wasting disease, a highly contagious animal illness marked by the truly pathetic deterioration of infected deer. Even indigenous white-tail deer crossing into NJ from adjacent states can pose an infective threat.

“The movement of cervids from nearby states known to be positive for chronic wasting disease is a major risk factor for the disease being introduced into the state,” reported state authorities.

Importantly, CWD/Prion disease has not been documented in NJ to date, though hunters have sworn up and down they’ve seen it out there.

As might be expected, the chital translocation effort did not end well for all involved. The bringers-in were cited and the three blameless deer were seized and euthanized. That’s kinda cruel, though being tied up and heart-shot by for-pay hunting fun would have been no bargain – though that game farm intent is purely the result of my paranoid thinking. The animals’ retropharyngeal lymph nodes and brain tissues were rushed off to the UPenn New Bolton Center to be tested for CWD. The results are not yet available.

Might there be other smuggled-in chitals in NJ? Unknown. Spookily, the Pinelands match up decently with favored chital climate and terrain in India.

HAVING A FIN TIME: I first heard about “the fin” last week. It was being seen in Holgate, usually cutting through the roughed-up Rip waters, almost always when low tide’s outgoing bay waters collided with incoming ocean water at tidal change. Anglers often check out the riled-up Rip, usually eyeing the frenzied bird play that takes place as baitfish get tumbled therein. It can sometimes offer high fishing potential. But the fin being seen represented a fish of a whole other size level, far beyond the largest striped bass. Then, I saw it … two days running.

My fin looks were distant glances but I immediately had my suspicions. Then, last Saturday, an answer was had. As George G. and I were throwing nets for bait, I saw George take off down the beach, where a huge ball of mullet had exploded out of the water. While he never got a throw on the baitfish, he and a couple nearby anglers managed a stunning, close-in read on “the fin.” It belonged to a sizable brown shark, one with an apparent taste for mullet – and likely any other forage fish on the migration trail.

I sure as hell don’t recall there ever being a resident shark of any sort at the Rip. My job now is to get a photo of this tidal-change regular. Might it be caught, hook and line?

For the umpteenth time, I’ll report that there are more sharks out there than you can shake all your sticks at. The problem is you can’t be fishing specifically for “the fin.” It’s illegal to knowingly target a hands-off species, like a semi-famed brown shark. However, rig up just right and throw out a chunk of meat and there is no doubt a shark of some ilk will salute.

RUNDOWN: Blowfish-seekers have had insane sessions. One boat had over 150 in short order, bayside. Chum is a must. Blowfish tails freeze up moderately well when dry frozen. I have never seen an accompanying showing of southbound blowfish in the surf, though I have caught them in spring, heading north.

While there have been some serious bursts of kingfish in the surf, the seemingly never-ending surf pound is ruining what is often a very short run of these top-shelf dining delights. Captain’s Quarters Bait and Tackle Shop has heard of some being caught nearby on bloodworms. I had hoped for some kings to show inside the Holgate Rip, but nothing to date.

If there can be an overload of snapper blues, we have it in spades. It is almost impossible to keep mullet or bunker from the smallest ones, even for those fishing blues in hopes of a few eater-sized. Using a gold spoon, I did get into some filletable-sized blues during the tide changes when I saw “the fin.” I threw them back before I realized I could catch enough to smoke them … then the bite turned off.

I’m told there are enough weakfish in the bay to make it worth a fun (mainly) catch-and-release session. Chumming with grass shrimp is always the way to find them.

There is only a mere spattering of stripers. That said, the Classic begins next weekend, so surfcaster angling pressure will be aimed at them. I’ll get a far better overall read as that nine-week event produces winners.

REUSABLE BAG REMEMBRANCE: Pondering the single-use plastic bag bans, I can’t help but flash back to my earliest bipedal days, when I’d shop hand-in-hand with my ultra-great grandma. What a lady, though sometimes a tad confusing, like when she’d rush to church with a Kleenex tissue bobby-pinned to her head. All I could figure, from my pre-school vantage, was the high likelihood that sudden nasal events could happen during mass.

Anyway, grandma would always shop small, as was the custom back in the day. It was most often done at nearby markets, seeing that neither she, nor her gal friends, ever learned to drive. In fact, it seemed she never learned what cars were called. When I went outside, she’d repeatedly warn, “Stay out of the street or you’ll get hit by a machine!”

Machines notwithstanding, we had amazing walks to the market, highlighted by my being allowed to climb onto the barrel of a huge brass cannon in front of a street-end VFW. “I’m gonna be a soldier when I grow up,” I’d always shout, while bouncing around at a full imaginary gallop, having not yet mastered the concept that cannons don’t gallop.

That becoming a soldier thing was always the exact wrong thing for me to holler. The minute it came out, she would use her astounding grandma strength to air-yank me clean off the cannon, after which we’d walk away so fast my furiously pumping little legs would barely hit the ground. I was too young and innocent to realize that a family-costly WWII was less than a decade removed – and my Army Sergeant First-class dad was scheduled to be shipped over to Korea.

Anyway, when grandma shopped, she carried on a long-time tradition, dating back to the Great Depression. She armed herself with a well-used white cloth bag. In fact, she and her friends always traveled with reusable shopping bags. I doubly recall grandma’s bag because I sometimes got to man one of its cloth handles, to assist in bringing home the bacon – which a massive butcher in a bloody apron had sliced from a big chunk of pig. The butcher shop was a fun place, except maybe for the pigs, whose severed heads and wide-open black eyes would stare out at me from behind the display case. I’d offer them the equivalent of a “Whazzup?” I occasionally got an answer … via nightmares.

Going from market to market, the day’s downsized takes got a ride home in the bag.

A goodly number of years later, I less nostalgically recall my mom shopping big, as in huge. Every Friday night, she would go out and fill the back of our “Woodie” Ford station wagon with, at very least, eight jam-packed bags of groceries. I winced upon hearing, “Jay, bring in the groceries.”

It was during the dreaded grocery bring-in that I was faced with the shortcomings, as in frequent failures, of rip-prone brown paper bags, especially those holding drippy produce. Admittedly, my trying to bring them in two or three bags at a pop increased a glass-shattering failure rate, though even during a one-bag carry-in those paper bags tore left and right. As to the brown paper bags with hemp string handles, talk about suddenly giving way; one handle would break, then the remaining handle would be overloaded and that entire side of the bag would rip wide open.

Fast forward, as times and shopping bag materials shifted to plastics. Personally, I haven’t a clue as to exactly when plastic bags utterly and completely took over the whole shopping bag shebang. I’d like to think it was around the time that Benjamin Braddock was told the immortal word “plastics” in “The Graduate.” DYK, that one-word quote now ranks #42 in the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movie quotations in American cinema?

All this brings up the obvious irony of cycling back to bygone, reusable granny bags. As to my partiality to hauling in as many bags as possible, yesterday evening I went for a three-bagger, all fully loaded reusables. I got them about three inches off my truck bed and quickly chose to go totally grandma, opting to become a one-bagger. Anyone who has loaded a modern bag to the max knows the weightiness of the matter.

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