The Fish Story

Intracoastal Waterway Finally Getting Its Due Dredging; Completed Causeway Looking Good for All User Groups

By JAY MANN | Nov 20, 2019
Photo by: Jerry Postorino BLACKFISHING LOOKING LARGE: It's tog time again ... weather permitting. Anglers working the wrecks off the Jersey shore can now keep five blackies of 15 inches or longer. Those seen cooling down here are far above that minimum size. Similar jumbo tog are ready to rumble. Just make sure your boat is meaty enough to take the pounding that often goes along with reaching blackfishing grounds.

Surf City — We went from “Cold enough for ya?” to “Windy enough for ya?” Perish the thought of adding “Snowy enough for you yet?” How about “Is this warm weather weird enough for ya?” I’m still banking on some freaky mild spells in December and throughout winter.

We got through the latest coastal storm with only some spritzes and a good wind-whacking, with 30-mph-plus NNE wind gusts for 36 hours. The wind-whipping low pressure, moving up out of the south, exited before mangling us. Our Hatteras brethren were not so lucky. They got a severe tropical storm-like walloping.

It is of some (anecdotal) weather import that, for the moment, coastal storms seem to again be intensifying off the Carolinas, as they had done for hundreds if not thousands of years. In recent years, coastal lows had begun to explode off the north NJ coast, east of Sandy Hook. That was putting us on the west wind backside of some huge oceanic storm systems. LBI handles offshore west to northwest winds far better than flood-spawning onshore winds. Here’s hoping the overriding trend is for warming oceans to keep coastal lows going gonzo north of LBI. Yep, that would be climate change working for us. This winter could be very telling along those trending storm-track lines.

NEWS-ABOUT: The long-partially-neglected intracoastal waterway (ICW) is now being federally dredged from Cape May to hereabouts. Scheduled for 450 days, the process will start at the far south end of the state, not necessarily working straight northward, concentrating on the more shoaled areas. The ICW in our zone is shoaled to heck and back, particularly just south of Little Egg Inlet – though the channel off Holgate is hardly smooth sailing, sailing vessels being a prime user of the ICW.

The lengthy channel dredging work, covering 60 miles or so, is being done by our own Barnegat Bay Dredging Co., which has the perfect-size equipment for the somewhat delicate ICW channel deepening. It will be dredged to a minimum of 6 nautical feet. OK, so maybe there’s technically no such thing as a nautical foot, though a nautical mile is 6,076.12 feet while a normal dry mile is 5,280 feet, so if you’re real good at math …

As to the placement of what will surely be a solid load of dredged material/sediment, I’m told it will first go to a place called Seven Mile Island. Yep, that has me head scratching along with you, as in “Where the hell?” I’ll try to find out its whereabouts, along with what it’s 7 miles from. I’m not sure where locally dredged material will go.

As to the Corps position on the placement of dredged don’t-call-them-spoils, those fed folks are thinking in positive ecosystem terms. In recent years, dredging and sediment placement activities have been used to, in ACE’s words, “help restore the coastal system and bolster system resilience.” Some of that sediment has gone toward supporting shorelines and marshes near Mordecai Island off bayside Beach Haven. “USACE continues to work with partners to dredge critical shoals while building habitat and restoring marsh on NJDFW lands,” reads its website.

For me, this rather far-reaching dredging job comes a bit out of the blue, though I’m sure the Corps put it out to bid a goodly time back. Usually, even the smallest of bayside dredgings garners a load of what might be called nitpicking attention, what green/blue environmental folks call due diligence – then make a Google rush to make sure they know what that even means.

Traditionally, every potential impact posed by a bay bottom stirring is micro studied into the wee hours, before being passed on for public perusal, reaction and comment. The lack of any state level or grassroots input hints that this project reflects a DC we-say-so supremacy. The entire ICW comes under federal jurisdiction. Also, the ongoing ICW operation and maintenance policy dates back to 1939. This grandfathered angle could further prevent Trenton or enviro groups from having a ton of say, or sway, over any of the dredging’s eco-impacts.

The NJ Department of Transportation, which manages the state’s portion of the ICW, is currently bouncing any ICW dredging questions back to the U.S. Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers. The USCG is involved since, by law, it needs a reliable ICW channel to fulfill its Homeland Security requirements, and to conduct search and rescue operations.

For many a boater and bayperson, this deepening news will be very well received. The famed waterway, used by myriad mariners making intracoastal jaunts southward through Jersey’s bay waters, has long been in dire straits from shoaling. Mariner website captainjohn.org notes, “The NJ-ICW is known for its shallow waters, shoaling, winds, and tidal changes. If your boat has a draft of 4' or less, you will be fine. If your draft is 4' 6" it is often touch bottom and go.”

Another boating site, offshoreblue.com, advises, “(ICW) Channel depths are the proverbial fly in the ointment! Every effort is made to maintain a controlling depth of 6’ throughout the waterway, but due to continuous shoaling, depths of 3’ MLW may be found especially in the areas south of Barnegat Bay.”

One might question whether every effort is being made to maintain decent channel depths since the upcoming dredging will be the first such “effort” in these parts, dating back to who-knows-when times.

I know many a sailor – since sailboats greatly favor the ICW – who point to the ICW-NJ in Southern Ocean and Eastern Burlington counties as among the worst areas within the so-called Great Loop. Great what?

Per NOAA, “The Great Loop is a continuous waterway that recreational mariners can travel that includes part of the Atlantic, Gulf Intracoastal Waterways, the Great Lakes, Canadian Heritage Canals, and the inland rivers of America's heartland. Anyone who completes the journey is then named an official Looper.”

The Great Loop has been steadily gaining in popularity, with even the likes of kayakers and standup paddleboarders giving all or parts of it a go. Generally, the Great Loop is taken on by shallow-draft vessels, both motorized and wind-powered. It’s not an easy passage. One Looper captain said, “You gotta be loopy to try it.” Not surprisingly, among his list of loopy areas is NJ-ICW waters. Maybe not for long.

OUR COOL CAUSEWAY: Work on the Causeway bridges and auxiliary trestle bridges is done, short of some cosmetic tweaks. It’s looking sweet out there. I’m serious. The whole stretch is both comely and speedy.

While not much has changed on the smaller trestle bridges, short of sidewalk removal on the south sides, it’s the twin big bridges that shine, literally, with bright new concrete surfaces. They are exceptional specimens of spanness. Job well done, NJDOT. My buddy Dorland J. Henderson would be proud as punch. By the by, the bridges remain a memorial to Dorland, the designer of the first Big Bridge and its string-of-pearls lights, replicated on the new spans.

Pedestrian-wise, the Causeway north is highly inviting, sporting a mighty-fine walkway, running from Ship Bottom to the mainland – and vice versa. In fact, a walkover and back should be listed as among fun things to do when visiting LBI.

The walkway railing facing the traffic is almost sturdy enough to take a locomotive hit and still hold, though it might be wise for the DOT to add a “No Locomotives!” sign to what may be one of the most sign-saturated stretches of roadway in the state. Hell, they range from sundry speed limit signs to Terrapin Crossing warnings.

Note: There’s no walking allowed on the south side of the Causeway, ever, though biking is permitted on the highway’s shoulders, both eastbound and westbound. More on that below.

The big bridges are so new and/or newly renovated that we have yet to colloquially differentiate them. We need to get down to nicknaming. I’ve already yawningly heard the north span called the “Old Big Bridge” and the other the “New Big Bridge.” Lame. Besides, what happens when the New Big Bridge gets older? Future people be thinking “Why is this old thing called the ‘new big bridge?’” I recently heard some policely radio chatter allude to the “Eastbound Big Bridge” and “Westbound Big Bridge.” Come on, we gotta do better than that. How about naming them “Homer” and “Marge” – thus, you don’t want to leave it my hands.

MYSTERIOUS SPEED SIGNAGE: There are a couple mixed messages faced by motorists using the Causeway. Something of a baffler is the posted speed limit applied to the first bridge leaving LBI, technically the East Thoroughfare trestle bridge. That’s the bridge where we all torque it toward 55 mph as we exit the 40-mph zone on Eighth Street, Ship Bottom. Indeed, that bridge seems a safe and proper place to commence accelerating, ASAP – especially when being egged on by frenetic tailgaters glued to our back bumpers like a “Make America Great Again” bumper sticker. Don’t look now, fellow gas pedal-pressers, but we’re actually supposed to be slowing down as we reach that first westbound bridge – that is, if we’re to believe official NJDOT signage. Look to the right and thar she blows: a legal sign clearly reading “35 mph.” It has something to do with “Hill Blocks View.”

Make sure to safely check it out next time you’re leaving LBI.

Another mixed Causeway message is the rather wordy signs demanding bicyclists dismount and walk their bikes over all the bridges when using the pedestrian walkway. At first glance, that might seem to distantly contradict the “Share the Road” signs scattered along the length of the Causeway. However, those “Share” signs are a different cycling animal.

It makes total sense that bikers should not be pedaling the walkway due to possible clashes/crashes with what has become a regular flow of pedestrians, including walkers, runners, exercisers and even backpacked hikers.

It’s the downslope of the North Westbound Homer Big Bridge that concerns the NJDOT. I’m told it could present a killer conflict zone, as bikers get gravity-assisted downhill speeds going … and come upon walk-abouters. I can attest to the walkway not allowing safe passage for pedestrians and moving bikes. I was a walk-abouter at one time and met up with a less-than-in-control downhill biker. No collision … but highly discomforting, as I pressed my back to the bayside railing to let the rider pass.

For morbid kicks, imagine a violent bike v. pedestrian impact leading to a rider or walker (or both) getting launched clear over the side of the bridge and into the bay far, far below. That does not bode well for either splashdown party. Just as ugly, imagine getting thrown over the guardrail onto the traffic side of things. I know the odds of such things are infinitesimally small, but when humans are involved, things can get infinitesimal all too fast. In fact, history and newscasts have proven that weird sh…tuff can take place on bridges.

As to the “Share the Road” signs, the Causeway roadways are legally bike accessible, meaning you can pedal the shoulders. For let’s-see kicks, I made the over-and-back pedal with no trouble, short of some sucking air on the uphill portions of the big bridges. It does get hairily intimate on the trestle bridges, where the shoulders are narrow and the traffic is often blisteringly fast. I also had a couple easily-amused drivers lay on their horns just to freak me out. It worked … as did my middle-finger response.

By the by, I would not bike the Causeway roadway at night without serious lights and reflectiveness. While the big bridges are well lit, the in-betweens and trestle bridges are not nearly as glowing. Overall, I’d highly suggest going walkway when biking – and dismounting at bridges, as demanded.

RUNDOWN: Surfcasting is slower than dry and frozen molasses. As things calm down after the latest blow, we’ll have a decently extended shot at nabbing beach bass for the 2019 LBI Surf Casting Classic. To date, 11 entries have hit the striped bass side of the weigh-in ledger. That low-end showing of bass means there are prizes galore to be had for even the most modest striper. Get with it. Entrants have until Dec. 8 to become a big-money winner. Largest bass is still Mike Curtin’s 35.72-pounder, caught in BL on Nov. 7 using an eel.

No Classic bluefish. Yep, el zero. I’ll re-reiterate, the bluefish autumnal no-show surely seems aligned with warming seas from climate change, regardless of said change being caused by mankind or natural planetary processes. I wouldn’t be so sold on this concept if it weren’t for several other fisheries, worldwide, being climatologically impacted to the hilt. The possible ocean temperature impetus behind this shift in fall choppers isn’t yet affecting the northward spring migration of blues. Next spring, we’ll be banging them again.

Boat bassing is bountiful, occasionally epic. When on the biomass, anglers have had their ways with cow stripers to over 50 pounds. Forty-pounders are common. That big-bass bite has a little more time to go but will quickly change over to schoolie fish in arm-tiring numbers. Among those schoolies will be a slew of eater bass – exactly 28 inches is spot-on for table fare.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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