The Fish Story

Heavy Metal Seniors Escape to Rock On; Jumbo Black Drumfish Are Feline Friendly

By JAY MANN | May 15, 2019
Supplied Photo Matthew Darby, age 8, with his first official striped bass, caught in Surf City, 29.5 inches, approx. 12 lbs on May 11th.  He caught it by himself and when the rod bent, he jumped right on.

Surf City — MANN OVERBOARD: Last week, two elderly men managed to slip away from their nursing home in northern Germany. Their mission: To attend the nearby Wacken Open Air, a killer world-renowned heavy metal festival that annually draws over 75,000 headbangers of – they can now rightfully advertise – “All ages.”

Clashdaily.com headlined a story on the breakout, “Not Dead Yet: 2 Old Dudes Sneak Out of Nursing Home … For a Heavy Metal Festival.”

The two 80-something metalites got into the fest without drawing so much as a second glance. Metal folks are fully accepting and open-minded that way. The oldsters were soon partying hearty to the sounds of Danzig, Judas Priest, Hatebreed and In Flames … until the heat arrived. The two were put upon by the regional Itzehoe Police Department, which nabbed the escapees at about 3 a.m. They had chosen to not return to their retirement home, opting to do an all-nighter so as to not lose their sweet near-stage spot.

Apparently the cops were tipped off to the men’s whereabouts by some fellow oldmates back at the “home.” That’s bogus. Snitches get stiches, dudes!

It’s not known how the officers managed to home in on the two renegades among thousands of wild and sundry partying sorts, though you can bet none of the men’s newfound metal buddies squealed.

When nabbed amid the sprawled out, slumbering throng, cops quickly radioed in that the men were found, although they were, and I quote, “disorientated and dazed.” This instantly sparked rowdy festivalers to burst into a corrective chorus of Led Zeppelin-inspired “I’ve been dazed and confused for so long it’s not true.” Seeing they were outnumbered 1,000 to one, the cops re-radioed, “Better make that: They’re dazed and confused … uh, for so long it’s not true.” That got a heavy metal roar of approval. Cops just got cool.

The captured runaways “did not go peacefully,” per an NBC news report. It was duly suggested they were ready to fight … for their right … to party.

Resistance notwithstanding – and bouncers aplenty showing up – the police escorted the seniors off the premises, to raucous and jeering shouts from fellow metalheads. One particularly (Cheech and) Chong-sounding dude was overheard saying, “Wow, it’s not easy getting kicked out of a heavy metal concert. You guys rock!”

Their ride home was in a taxi – escorted by police cars, “As a precaution,” police said.

Per NBC, “Festival organizers didn’t specifically address the senior daredevils, but their official Twitter account made sure to give a shoutout to elderly fans ‘because you’re never too old to rock.’”

BLACK DRUM GET CATTY: I recently got suckered into a conservation-based discussion with a married, hardcore angling couple. It was over black drum. The New Age-ish couple mildly took me to task over my published suggestion that larger black drum not be kept, due to a rapidly diminishing edibility that comes with a drum’s increased size. I instead recommend taking the catch/photo/release course. Per my usual spiel, I added in the worminess factor with most jumbo drumfish – though, technically, those worms are just another form of marine life, i.e. stringy seafood.

Well, the two offered a disconcertingly compelling reason why they readily (and legally) keep even mega black drum. And it came down to “cats.” I was hoping they meant catfish. Nope, they were speaking of cat cats, as in felines. That subject can become a danger zone for discussion with so many cat folks pussyfooting about.

Their keeping of jumbo fish specifically centered around their highly cat-centric household. Feline-anchored homes are far from rare. Cat fanciers are not only legion, per pet censuses, but multiple house cats seem the norm.

You may have already guessed how huge black drum might fit into a cat matter dialogue.

Seems the angling duo often make cat hay during drumfish season. Huh? Working the waters of Little Egg Inlet, their fish hauls can be robust – and the cats’ meows. The bigger the black drum – and bluefish, to a lesser degree – the better the cats chow down.

This quickly shifted the exchange to the subject of recreationally caught fish being kept as pet food. On principal alone, it has never sounded kosher to me. But, I had much to learn and was soon getting schooled.

Get this: These folks laboriously parboil big-ass batches of fish they’ve filleted. When cool, they break them into pieces, removing any lingering bones. That’s their base cat food stuff. “Once in a while we’ll add in a couple cans of commercial cat food,” I was told. They then bag and vacuum-pack servings suited to feeding their cat crew. A huge freezer holds future meals-to-be.

Mulling over the packing process, I said it seemed kind of labor intensive. That elicited a double-barrel response from both, as they went off on the cost of even tiny cans of “better cat food.” Alright already.

Despite my asking, I never did get a straight answer as to how many cats they officially own since the feral cat angle quickly reared up, a subject they were noticeably hesitant to elaborate upon. I think they knew the cat-feeding matter got a bit less, well, domestic when it comes to keeping gamefish to feed wild felines. Instead, they rather cleverly refocused on the fiscal meat of the matter by asserting, “The money we save on cat food goes toward our food,” meaning their human family eating needs. Wow, did that ever add a layer of complexity to the matter. I was thrown a bit.

Feeling the upper hand shifting in their favor, hubbie went on, “We sometimes freeze up an entire winter of food for all our cats. That’s a huge savings.” Ok, you got me there, folks.

Cornered, I recalculated by idly asking how much fish they freeze up for their own familial dining pleasure. We shared a chuckle as I was told, “We’re actually not big on seafood at all; we’re more meat and potatoes.” I think I might have heard the house cats chuckling along.

We departed ways on a highly friendly basis. I managed a reluctant appreciation as to why they keep oversized black drum, though I simply couldn’t shake the feeling that it’s wrong to relegate our catches to pet food. But circuitously converting recreationally caught fish into meaty meals for family dining was novel.

As of this columnizing, I’m inclined to accept using our fish stocks to feed in-house pets. At the same discerning time, I’m criticizing its use to feed feral cats. I’ll await the calls from feral folks. Why does everything have to get so complicated?!

RUNDOWN: There are many striped bass and bluefish swimming out there that can thank their lucky stars that the sky above has picked now to beat down, driving anglers to distraction. Those anglers are loosing every weather-related expletive at their disposal.

The drawn-out, crappified weather stints couldn’t have moved in at a worse time for fishermen. The fish have been upon us in a dang decent way. In fact, spring angling was heading toward being among the better runs in many a year. Then the honking winds drove boat fishermen off the water. Soon thereafter, it gusted most surfcasters from the ocean’s edge. A few hard-code hangers-on fought the elements, at least long enough to prove the fish were still a-swim. Their weigh-ins inadvertently added to the frustration of the vanquished majority, those less inclined to brave the likes of steady, rainy, unseasonably chilly 20 mph NE winds. It was a grueling case of fish with little capacity to fish for them.

For those unfamiliar with the penchants of piscatorial species in spring, they’re most often only passing through. It’s imperative to nab them before the catch-’em window closes. The loss of days on end, at the height of the pass-through, is a bitter vernal pill for anglers to swallow. Again, many merrily swimming fish don’t know they would have been dead ducks if not saved by radical skies.

Speaking as if sky things will soon take a break, striped bass are running large, many being caught are in that nice take-home range of between 28 and 35 inches. The multitudinous schoolies we had seen a few weeks back have disappeared to a major degree, meaning it will take some significant wet-line time to cajole a bass, though the odds of it being something sizeable are good.

Bluefish have been a bit sparse, though typically fierce when available. There have been no concentrated bluefish showings, per se, but the overall cumulative take of choppers, some into the teens-of-pounds, has made it an almost fair bluefish spring … to date. To repeat: If things will settle the hell down, there should be some lingering gators to be had for a couple/few weeks to come.

Troublingly, the more-edible smaller blues, once a mainstay of May, are barely showing; a few fast and furious hooking sessions if you’re at the exact right locale. Nothing widespread. There were not-long-ago springs when I’d load up on tailor/tinker/cocktail/eater blues, just about anywhere. It was great fun taking them on poppers splashed atop the Middle Ground shallows off Beach Haven.

If any other species displayed such a weird downturn, we’d be hearing cries of overfishing or global warming. Not so much with Pomatomus saltatrix (bluefish), a surprisingly unique species, the only existing member in the family Pomatomidae. It is possibly the most cyclically inclined fish species in the sea. It is notorious for coming and going and coming back again. They’ll disappear on a dime, for decades, then suddenly reshow like gangbusters; no apparent rhyme or reason.

There are mongo black drum now being caught; fish well over 50 pounds. Smaller models are also in the mix, including the edible size still showing stripes. The prime zone for our area is near and well inside Little Egg Inlet, though some smaller black drum are coming out of the surf. There’s always a chance at a world-class black drum showing surfside, like the 100-pound-class one caught in Beach Haven not that many years back.

I saw a photo of a mid-sized keepable red drum taken in the LBI surf. Nothing would be finer than to have this once remarkably abundant species reshow in a major way, helping to take up some of the slack from other waning fisheries, like weakfish and possibly bluefish. That said, there are scant few signs of a red drum return of any great volume.

Folks are asking about any blowfish action, which traditionally begins about now, as spawners head into Barnegat Bay. Due to hyper-riled water conditions, it’s hard to determine what smaller gamefish might be arriving out there. I’m guessing some captains, jonesing for something to do, will resort to bayside chumming for panfish, while waiting for the coast to clear. Going with smaller hooks, they’ll be able to check for any kingfish, blowfish, small weakfish and such. Unfortunately, it’s a bad time to keep blowfish, which are ripe for spawning.

Crabbing aficionados are singing the blueclaw blues because of the weather. This fair-weather fishery had been showing decently on the mainland side of the bay. Clearing skies might offer a read by this coming weekend.

A couple brown sharks have shown already; a tad early. While I always risk the wrath of the regulation gods, which prohibit even hooking into this species, the browns have become a viable catch-and-quickly-release summer species, especially after dark. With shark protection being what it is, i.e. strict as all get-out, this is close to a bourgeoning species at a time when de-burgeoning is the norm. In fact, we should be loaded with them – a humanly harmless species – starting mainly next month.

Recently, in my now-and-then blog at fishlbi.com, I passed on the latest NJ marine fish records. Within are records that won’t be changing anytime soon since regulations prohibit keeping them, for instance red drum, of which any drum over 27 inches must be released. But the most noticeable unapproachable state records are in the shark realm where many species cannot be kept. This brings up an interesting concept of catch-measure-release. I would go there if I were you. The regs are emphatic that these are all but a no-touch species, hauling one out of the water long enough to take exacting measurements would be pretty much a violation. To then submit those numbers to the state would be affording an equally exacting information to law enforcement. “Uh, no, officer, that’s not what it looks like. Uh, the picture is actually Photo-shopped. I’m really holding an eight-foot inflatable dolphin.” Nice try.

Speaking of state records, I see that a late good buddy of mine, Bert Harper, still holds the spotted seatrout record, an 11-2 shocker taken from the Holgate surf in 1974. Having heavily fished seatrout in Florida, his seatrout was a monster by any state’s standards.

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