The Fish Story

Bring on Thanksgiving Striper, Pilgrim; Wildlife-Killing Ribbons Raining Down

By JAY MANN | Nov 27, 2019

Surf City, NJ — I continue to stump for stripers as holiday fare, speaking of just-keeper bass in the 28- to 32-inch range. That is far(e) and away the best size to thoroughly savor. Anything larger and a slew of bass bugaboos move in, including flavor decline and harmful chemical up-ticks.

There are many blue-blooded Americans who will balk at any platter presentation that challenges the Thanksgiving turkey. However, history books tell a whole different table tale regarding the earliest Thanksgiving rituals, which were more closely tied to traditional European pagan harvest ceremonies than presenting a brand new thank-you American affair. What’s more, some spot-on historic documents indicate the tabletop layout was likely very light on wild turkey and heavy on seafood. Even the “fowl” of choice for those earliest non-local Massachusetts settlers was more likely geese, ducks and swans. Yep, they were swan downers of the highest order back in the Pilgrim days.

As to celebratory seafood, we couldn’t come close to matching the colonialists’ horn-of-plenty Thanksgiving layout. Lobsters were so common that Capt. John Smith wrote of them, “In many places (one could) lode your boat if you please.” There are accounts of 3-foot lobsters, weighing 20 pounds or more, just crawling around asking to be chosen. Some even put thick rubber bands around their claws. Modernly inconceivable, lobster was originally thought of as mainly eel bait. It took the arrival of cows and the discovery of drawn butter to change the course of culinary history.

As to those eels, they were the top taste tempters for coastal colonialists. Historian William Wood wrote in a 1634 journal that eels were so thick that a year’s worth could be taken in a couple nights. “Some take a bushell in night in this manner,” he wrote, “eating as many as they have neede of for the present, and salt up the rest against winter.”

As to shellfish and such, the good Capt. Smith inked, “You shall scarce finde any Baye, shallow shore, or Cove of sand, where you may not take many Clampes (clams),” to once again “lode” a boat or two … in short order.”

Per Wood, “The oysters be great ones, in form of a shoe-horne; some be a foot long. This fish without shell is so big that it must admit of a division before you can well get it into your mouth.”

In an oceana.com article, “What Did People Eat at the First Thanksgiving? Probably Way More Seafood than You Thought,” Allison Guy writes: “And these were no ordinary shellfish. Untouched by the centuries of commercial harvesting that had denuded Europe’s shores, America’s coastline was alive with mussels, quahogs and clams.”

On the fish front, things get storyesque, close to unimaginable. The now close-to-extinct wild Atlantic salmon were said to grow “as large as a man.” During spawns, these manly fish were packed side-to-side, shore-to-shore in many rivers. I might sidebar that black bears were also eaten, though likely not commonly served at feasts.

A now-exotic foodstuff came to Thanksgiving tables straight from the ovaries of white sturgeon, which grew so large they sported “scutes,” the size of plates, per Oceana. Barrels upon barrels of sturgeon roe were easily gathered for annual invitation-only Plymouth affairs, i.e. Thanksgivings. Some folks loved it and, per tradition, others spat it out.

As to the angling angle, Smith documented, “Man woman and childe, with a small hooke and line, by angling, may take diverse sorts of excellent fish, at their pleasures.”

As to mainstay New England cod, they could top 200 pounds. “He is a very bad fisher,” Smith said, “(who) cannot kill in one day with his hooke and line, one, two, or three hundred Cods.”

While Smith’s list of everyday fish for pilgrim palates is somewhat obscured by old English, many a species is recognizable: “Cod, Hake, Haddock, Cole, Cusk, or small Ling, Shark, Mackerell, Herring, Mullet, Base, Pinacks, Cunners, Pearch, Eels, Crabs, Lobsters, Muskles, Wilkes, Oysters, and diverse others &c.”

You caught the mention of “base,” right? That would surely be striped base – drop the “e” and add an “s.”

William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth Plantation, wrote that many people “were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, and base, and other fish, of which they tooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All the sommer ther was no wante.”

Other historic documents play up “base” as surely having a place of honor at the earliest Thanksgiving mega-meals.

Which brings me nicely back to my bass-centric Thanksgiving centerpiece, which should now seem closer to history’s menu than modern domesticated turkey. What’s more, any tabled turkey back in Plymouth was surely wildly organic. Petslady.com duly notes, “Their turkeys were wild game birds, not the over-fed, hormone-laden birds we eat today.”

OK, maybe that’s getting close to going Scrooge – for Thanksgiving much less! Not to worry. Your holiday bird will be a nicely tanned blessing – regardless of hormones. What’s more, our nation’s annual Thursdays-only shindig will long shine as a sincere symbol of thanks – as opposed to an original intent to covertly count just how many Indians might be lurking out there.

NATIVE THANKSGIVING THINKING: Mention should be made of the Native American response to the first Thanksgiving invite. A highly accurate conversation, captured and perpetuated in song and chant, offers a conversation between an important Indian couple. It’s my translation from the original Wampanoag language.

Wife: That new tribe has invited us to a big bash they’re having; tons of food.

Husband: Yeah, well, I’m not going.

Wife: Oh, stop. Yes, you are.

Husband: They smell funny. And what’s with those clothes they wear? They look like a pack of Sunday school teachers (loose translation). And those goofy hats the men wear. Hell, I’ve found three of them stuck in tree branches. Me and the boys put them on and go around claiming land in the name of … us.

Wife: Please. I’m sure they’re very nice. Besides, you have to go; you’re our tribe’s chief.

Husband: Let someone else be chief that day.

Wife: No. They know you’re chief … so you’re going. You’ll enjoy yourself.

Husband: Well, I’m not eating any meat. You know I gave it up.

Wife: There will be plenty of veggies and fish. You know you love striped base. Also, I really need to mention the tribe is getting a little antsy over this vegan thing you’ve got going. They’re starting to call you things like Chief Eat No Meat and Chief Meatless. That last one can be taken in a slew of different ways.

Husband: Whatever. So, when is this stupid feast?

Wife: Thursday.

Husband: Thursday! Who the hell does anything on a Thursday?

Wife: I know … but please don’t bring that up. And don’t you dare wear one of their hats to the dinner!

Husband: Whatever.

FORGET BALLOONS, TARGET RIBBONS: I cut a slew of ribbons on Saturday. Had they been the celebratory kind, I could have opened an entire mall worth of stores. To the contrary, they were the killer kind, snaking about all over the place in Holgate.

I recently came to what will be an unpopular stance regarding ignobly released balloons, of which I’ve collected over 100 while cruising LBI beaches this fall. Such balloons have become the bane – and rallying point – of better-environment folks. I’ll therefore raise eyebrows and garner hissy fits with my new premise that ferally flying balloons aren’t all that harmful … once they’ve lit on land. They do remain trashy ugly.

No, the American Balloon Society didn’t offer me a new Tesla sportster to come over to its lighter-than-air dark side. I’m just starting to see that balloons, once ashore, no longer present the intestinal obstruction danger they posed to sea turtles and marine mammals when coming down in the ocean.

Not to worry, comrades in balloon bashing, I’m still energetically targeting washed-up or blown-in balloons. I’ve simply chosen to light upon a far uglier angle, namely, the related ribbons. Those snaring strands do the destructive dirty work, wildlife-wise. There is now more than enough gruesome evidence that ribbons can kill critters, to hell and back.

To understand the killingness of ribbons, one must understand the snare concept. In its purest – and many will say ugliest – form: Snares are used by N.J. trappers, who can no longer use leghold traps. Snares are little more than wire contraptions, looped and hidden on trails frequented by targeted wildlife. When wildlife – be it the targeted species or any other just-passin’-through creatures – pass through the loop, it tightens on their bodies. It’s snared – and often doomed. By law, trapper snares must be checked daily. Ghost ribbons from balloons can perform the same snare-ish tightening act, though more in an entanglement sense. And they’re never checked for entrapments. What an awful way to go.

Balloon ribbons are insanely strong nowadays. While collecting over 30 of them from just a small stretch of Holgate (See fishlbi.com, Nov. 24 blog), I needed to resort to cutting them since my fingers were suffering from trying to hand-break them. Creatures lacking opposable thumbs – or pocketknives – are definitely dead ducks when stuck in their grip.

As to how ribbons go from a seemingly harmless straight and narrow nature to snare-ready shape comes with their intermingling with branches and such. A few loops and wildlife is fit to be tied. Again, there are many photo examples of the pathetic outcome for beribboned birds and small mammals. Even larger mammals have been found with balloon ribbons wrapped on legs, antlers or even around the neck. I assure you not one of them took to the ribbons just to gussy up a bit. Just as lethal, birds use pieces of breakaway ribbons when building nests. Birds aren’t all that adept at baby-proofing their haunts.

A high-flying angle regarding ribbon dissemination is how they can end high up in the trees, seeing they’re balloon powered and all. When enwrapped in the branches, they’re smack dab in the avian wheelhouse.

All this is my rationale for going great guns after eco-invasive ribbons. They’re out there, all too aplenty. Even dedicated trash pickup people often overlook them, as I did while balloon hunting, though there were often attached ribbons. However, my latest ribbon quests prove just how often ribbons break off on their own.

As to that Tesla, the balloon industry will now be more inclined to run me down with one, as I suggest we badmouth any ribboned balloons, even those of a biodegradable nature. My attack comes as the industry felt they were making progress with the green groups. But how can I not foster fears that it’s not the land-landed balloons that present the biggest anti-green problems, but the strings that are attached. Sorry, balloon dudes, you’re busted again.

RUNDOWN: Wonderful things can come in small packages. That’s my indefatigable way of finding upbeatness in our beachside bass bogusness. We’re now likely past the big bass days, like those that never came for surfcasters. It has been the worst LBI surfcasting stripering in the history of the world. A pittance of poundage has come to the LBI Surfcasting Classic scales. Only 13 bass are entered. Of course, there are still a couple more weeks to go in the nine-week event, with this looking-fine Thanksgiving weekend upon us. Sign up and maybe take a big money prize with a small-package striper.

As to coaxing a 28-inch or over bass out of the suds, it’s the time of year to think bait – smaller chunks with smaller hooks, maybe double up hooks via a pompano rig.

Traditionally, clams often work nicely right about now. However, the surfline’s total loss of surf clams might have stripers more cautious about suddenly-appearing clam meat. If so, smaller bunker chunks will have the edge.

Please, go with circle hooks when targeting smaller stripers. You’d better get used to using them. Methinks circles will be required in 2020. We should know the final regs come February or so.

Artificially, Ava jigs or similar metal offerings, coupled with teasers, have been working decently on schoolie bass amassed just to our north. I’m sure they’ll be down here soon … or not. Yep, even my indefatigableness is fatiguing.

Here’s to the many boat bassers who have had a dang decent stripering fall. I see you’re now into the small bass biomass – at a fine take rate. We who are about to die, striper-wise … salute you.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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