The Fish Story

When the Gospel Truth Stretches a Bit; My Pet Quarry Awaits Its Angling Days

By JAY MANN | May 17, 2017

I’m often asked, “Jay, are the things you write about true?” To which I honestly answer, “As true as I want them to be.” Uh, OK.

Truth be told, nowadays my writings almost always include websites and news sources to confirm things that it seems can only be creatively manufactured. One of my favorite Dave Barry usages is “You can’t make this stuff up.” And you can’t.

I also take a lead from a life of fishing, being perpetually soaked in the concept of a fish tale tells no lies, per se. There’s always a scale or two of truth to them.

When I do go purely, let’s say, inventive, it often ass-bites me. Take just last summer, for very-real instance. I was resting beachside with a highly diversified gang of volleyball folks when a few newly arrived vacationers began talking about desperately seeking a babysitter so they could go out that night and pretend they were still somehow socially dynamic.

The conversation dwelt on the impossibility of finding a sitter on LBI in the summer. A few folks said that’s why they always bring along an in-house sitter from back home. I can attest to this, especially regarding that one babysitting gal who came all the way from Sweden. Oh, me. Where can I rent some kids, pronto?

Being the lone single, childless voice in the group, I erroneously figured a little Mannly input, wise-ass-wise, was in order.

Slumped in my caving aluminum beach chair, staring ahead behind my iridescent Oakley sunglasses, face lathered in white sun gunk, head topped with a ’Nam-era boonie hat, I forwardly spoke, as if to nobody in particular: “My buddy, Big Bubba, just opened a ‘Hire a Parolee’ website. His motto is ‘Ex-cons make great workers … They’re well-rested.’ Need a babysitter? Just Google ‘Big Bubba,’ go to his site, and hit the button ‘Tattooing and Babysitting Services.’”

Dead silence from the group. Face not showing it, I was dyin’ laughin’ inside.

But don’t I glance over and one of the gals is fingering her smartphone like she’s trying to thumb-squash a flitting gnat. Then, to my failed-satire horror, she loudly asks, “Is that ‘Bubba’ with two B’s?”

Slowly rising, I weakly offer “Actually, I believe it’s technically three B’s. And, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go into this fine ocean … and thoroughly drown myself.”

Where did I go wrong? Was it my delivery?

However, later I got to thinking about it. Parolees and ex-cons love the heck outta kids. OK, so maybe they’re not so good with fellow adults, but, hey, as babysitters, they can softly rock the cradle with the best of them.

Soon, I just couldn’t shake the image of Big Bubba babysitting, gently tucking in the “childrens.”

“Oh, Mr. Big Bubba, can you tell us a bedtime story?? Please, please.”

“Well, OK, but then it’s beddy-byes. So, let’s see. Once upon a time there was this fellow named, uh, Zeke; went by the street name Z-Dog. So, Z-Dog was doin’ a nickle-to-eight up-state ’cause his so-called friend dropped a dime on him after a botched liquor store stick-up – which, I should add, woulda gone just fine if this so-called friend hadn’t started tippin’ the product before they were even outta the store. Hell, I’d a made a clean get-away … I mean, Z-Dog woulda made a clean get-away if his so-called friend wasn’t a total lush … You get where I’m comin’ from?”

Nothing but the gentle sound of soundly sleeping, marvelously contented “childrens.”

Sure, you can balk at the notion of parolees as babysitters, but think of the ingrained advantage of using ex-cons to watch the kiddies. Pity the fool who hears the house has a babysitter and decides it’s a perfect time to do a break-in.

“Mommy, Mommy! You shoulda seen Mr. Big Bubba hanging those two men upside down from our swing set. Did you know even big men can cry like babies?”

(There were striper-sized scales of truth in the above segment. Simply look up

QUARRY DREAMS: I recently took a jaunt over to my favorite Pinelands quarry. Reaching it is a four-wheel-drive proposition – and, even then, you’d better know the look of bottomless puddles up ahead.

I’m not being sarcastic about having my very own pet quarry. Many a fellow Pinelands aficionado openly despises these massive gouges in the good earth of our Pine Barrens. I, instead, turn a captivated eye toward the eerie aesthetic of their sheer-drop earthen cliffs and bottomless-pit waters, easily as blue as your average piece of Persian turquoise.

While delightfully taking in the odd beauty of a quarry, I simultaneously harbor an educated appreciation that quarrying is a fully permitted, historic Pinelands usage. That was established when the rules regarding the Pinelands – and, thereafter, the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve – were being etched in quarried granite.

Our Pinelands quarries render prime glacial gravel and some of the nation’s finest sand, neither of which I give a whitetail’s patoot about. Instead, I surreptitiously keep my long-term eye on the angling prize that will come with the legally required reclamation of all quarries. When they run dry, material-wise, they must be put back in natural order. More on that shortly.

My fave pit, near old Woodmansie, offers hundreds of acres worth of mystically beautiful, yellowish cliffs, highlighted by a huge circular-ish lake filled with jewel-blue waters. Taking an occasional dip in the bottomless blue, I follow that up by sitting atop the sheer 10-story cliffs, looking down at the tropicalish water while imagining myself somewhere exotic, like Bermuda or Belize or … this place. (Insert strains of Murray Head’s “One Night in Bangkok.”)

On a nature note, my quarry’s drop-offs are alive with swallows, nesting in hollows they’ve carved into the sheer cliff sides. I binoc them for hours.

I only visit my quarry on weekends, when it’s closed. That’s to avoid a little thing called blatant trespassing.

Truth be told, it’s not really my quarry, in case you hadn’t guessed. Hey, what would you rather have, me dreamily sitting there birdwatching in the sun, lazily dangling my legs over a cliff, or dozens of dirt bikers and quadaholics tearing up nearby dirt roads and trails near Hidden Lake? Gimme me all day.

But onward to the inner reaches of my quarry infatuation, the reclamation angle. It has already sprung forth at the far south end of my quarry, where an abandoned, tapped-out section has been rather remarkably reclaimed. There’s very little indicating it was once a gouged-out, steep-cliffed quarry, short of the water. The cliffs have been greatly graded down. It is now pretty much a remarkably blue lake, replete with trees and other indigenous Pinelands plants, right up to its shores. Just as importantly, the pickerel have already moved in, via whatever updraft miracles lead to a sky-delivery of eggs and fry from nearby natural waters. Frogs and snakes are also showing, the former hopping for joy over their new digs.

But there’s more post-quarrying coolness. The loose sands near the reclaimed lake are a who’s-who of the indigenous animal kingdom. It’s an opened-wide trackers’ handbook. Those tracks ensure the Pinelands wildlife is lovin’ coming to the place.

I’ll be the first to admit that reclaimed quarries are essentially manmade. That said, we’ve destroyed so much of our wildlife’s domain, this serves as something akin to reparation. Enjoy, critters, enjoy.

RUN-DOWN: Blues by you. (Insert strains of Linda Ronstadt, in this instance.) This blueness is true if you’re near any saltwater areas right about now.

While we’re likely past the peak of another kick-ass bluefish spring, there are still some slammers south of us, i.e. Outer Banks. That could mean another week to 10 days of chopper shopping. Please, double please, keep only what you need. And don’t be offloading stinky racks and innards in the woods along roadways heading back home. I often smell them when I’m out there. Whew!

Happily, anglers are seemingly keeping their fingers out of harm’s way. I periodically check with ER docs I know to see if any finger-ravaging mishaps have occurred, as fishing hordes face off against bluefish hordes. So far, so good. Keeping fingers crossed.

I got an interesting report of big blues all the way into the Beach Haven West lagoons. One fellow, who has lived there since BHW was first formed in the 1960s, said this is the first time he has ever had backyard blues.

The same older angler is particularly cool because he regularly fishes for American eels from his backyard – and does amazingly well. He mainly traps the eels, but, for larger ones, he often keeps a hand-line soaking, recently switching to circle hooks, which allow sure hookups without his having to pay constant attention to the line. The problem there: A hooked eel, if given time, will wrap the line around everything in sight, like an entire neighborhood of dock pilings. I used to fish eels over there (Jennifer Lane), so I know all too well the dekes and gyrations an irate hooked eel can perform.

I hope to do a story on this eel angler since he also has a book’s worth of recipes for preparing eels, stemming from his old-country Italian grandmother.

I won’t retell the story of the fellow who hooked a gigantic black drum in his BHW lagoon – and how he had to jump over fences, run along bulkheads, avoid guard dogs and negotiate around the ends of docks, just to get a decent look at the monster fish, estimated to have been well over 50 pounds per a number of witnesses who ran out to see why some guy was running through their backyards – only to join a growing mob of folks, all climbing fences, running along bulkheads, avoiding guard dogs … quite a sight on a sleepy summer’s evening. Fish won.

Bassing hasn’t been all that bad … or good. The weather has been a ruiner for boat fishermen. Winds have seemingly had fun making it tough to troll – and overly wavy for surfcasting. Boat bassing should go bananas starting any calm day now.

To the good, stripers in the 50-pound range have periodically come to eelers, jiggers and trollers. I’ve seen only a few keeper bass from the surf, though that bass bite should also be on the upswing, but primarily schoolie in nature. Of course, the upper end of the schoolie-bass category inches into our legal take-home length. Those 28-inchers are fine dining on the hoof. Big ones, not so much.

Weakfishing is slow, though a few sharpies are besting sparklers to tiderunner length, i.e. bigger than a breadbox.

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