The Fish Story

‘Military’ Driving Is Ambush Ready; Holgate’s Same Sad Sand Story

By JAY MANN | Sep 03, 2019

Well, it’s that time of year when the Island dies on a dime … in a not-bad way, mind you. The season of beachiness and sun letting gives way to post-season semi-solitude, as tourist traffic bows out and the trucks of builders take over the highways and Causeway. Now we get to see if it is, in fact, better in September. It can vary like crazy, mainly based on how the skies feel about it from year to year.

AN AMBUSH TALE: After dozens of years of driving summers on LBI, I finally perfected a masterful method of handling our crazed roadways: I drive military.

No, that’s not the same as militantly! In fact, I thoroughly replace aggression with nervous stealth … and an abiding paranoia. This now-gone summer, I likened every Island drive to going out on a dangerous military mission, moving cautiously into known hostile territory – so hostile ambushes are a certainty, coming from every nook and angle. I essentially hump the boonies – closer to loonies.

Neck deep in ambush experience, I know potential hotspots, like roadways near ice cream places, miniature golf courses, arcades, pastry shops and anywhere cars have gathered to offer cover for ambushers.

In summer, Charlie owns the day … and the night. His wife Charlette owns them, too. Along with little Chaz, in the stroller. Attacks come from between cars, around corners and most commonly from atop bicycles.

Which brings me to my greatest military victory this summer, accomplished when driving the right northbound lane through Harvey Cedars. Doing the allotted 30 mph, I spied a highly suspicious duo on the shoulder up ahead. A young dad and a small blonde little girl were heading north on bikes. His was a flat blue fat-tire cruiser and hers was just the cutest 12-inch pink job, which had only recently shed its trainer wheels. To the untrained, it would have been easy to dismiss the two as posing no threat. Instead, the hair on the back of my neck began pirouetting, egged on by the girl’s sudden display of novice rider uncertainty. A wobble arose, alerting me to one of the oldest tricks in the ambush book. It was enough to launch me into Code Red, hitting my brakes. Sure enough, blondie became an instant ambusher. First, she went fully erratic, then fell over sideways … right into my lane! Gospel truth. I was so ready for the ambush that my locked brakes barely let out a yelp.

To his better-late-than-never credit, dad was off his cruiser and to the rescue in nothing flat. Absolutely ashen white, he scooped up his daughter and bike in one motion while looking toward me in profuse and profound thanks, which I took as congratulations for my having such finely tuned anti-ambush skills and reflexes. The old boy was so shaken that I forewent asking what would possess him to take a learner cyclist onto the shoulder of the most hazardous Boulevard stretch on all LBI. No need. He recognized his transgression without rhetoric from me.

By the by, I got the whole ambusheaque incident on my dash cam. But, I’m highly respectful and sensitive to going public with young kids in videos, though I mainly recorded dad’s abjectly horrified look as he power yanked his daughter and bike off the roadway.

Somewhere in this segment is a public service ambush advisory, militarily encouraging one and all to drive as if an attack can come out of anywhere … and everywhere. And that’s a year ’round thing.

PITY PUSHER: Reviewing summer now gone, I must wax critical of what I saw as a rapidly increasing, somehow inappropriate, use of baby strollers by beachgoers. More often than not, there’s absolutely no bona fide baby in the mix. I suspect it’s a case of misusing the “Baby on Board” card to gain street-crossing sympathy.

To my overcritical eye, non-baby strollering diminishes from the enhanced, highly deserved motorist sensitivity to tots truly in tow. I’m therefore suggesting towns adopt a stroller ordinance requiring stroller pushers to display a green flag if there is, in fact, a cute little young’un onboard. If a stroller is being used as mere beach paraphernalia transport, a red flag must be clearly flown.

I’m not serious … or am I not?

FARTHER SOUTH: While of mere passing import, former Cat-5 Hurricane Dorian carried on the ageless cyclonic tradition of being unpredictable right up to the minute it announced, “Well, I’m here … and not going anywhere fast.” Pity the Bahamas.

You might have seen the gif clip of a hurricane path prediction chart whereby a big handful of spaghetti gets flung on a map of the Eastern Seaboard. There are now as many as a dozen assorted weather agencies pitching in their predictive spaghetti strands. Among them are strand tossers trying to make a name for themselves by offering low-probability hurricane path prophecies just in case. That’s exactly how the “European model” became an instant world-respected forecast hit. Since its historic, spot-on prediction of SS Sandy, the Euro model has either gotten rather conservative or has lost its initial accuracy allure.

Dorian offers a timely opportunity to think in what-if LBI terms. Any yet-to-come storms can be inserted into the same extrapolative slot.

The Holgate end is highly unready for a serious cyclonic or winter counterclockwise blow; neither are the refuge-adjacent beaches, nor the town’s populated beachline “ready.” Any sky commotion garnering onshore winds over 50 mph will create three-story cutaways/drop-offs along Holgate bathing beaches. There have already been 15-foot drop-offs from lighter winds.

On the mobile fishing front, the buggy entrance onto the far south end is teetering, made drivable only through the plowing by our buddies at the Long Beach Township public works. While they’re always ready to take a sand-moving shot at repairing the ramp, it can get tedious after the tenth time in a month or so. Their fixes, while appreciated by mobile anglers, also assure emergency access should something nasty happen along the 2.5-mile stretch between the parking lot and the Rip at Little Egg Inlet. Speaking of which …

I was asked if emergency fixes to Holgate’s eaten up beaches might be coming via re-replenishment – by again using sand from Little Egg Inlet (LEI), as was done previously. Fat chance, all you skinny beaches.

The previous beachfill for Holgate proper was the sandy side-shoot of reestablishing an LEI channel for mariners. All agencies involved in that dredge-and-deposit venture made it clear the work was a one-and-done affair. Hell, it was amazing the effort ever got off the ground. The Forsythe Refuge was particularly riled by the proposition of LEI dredging, making protestive note that it would take place far too close to its Holgate Wilderness Area.

Unlike wildlife management areas, there is little backdown when it comes to maximally protecting Congress-designated wilderness areas, which are a unique conservancy animal in the eyes of the federal government. That’s why the Forsythe Refuge is gung-ho against allowing the replenishment of the state-owned beaches adjacent to its property.

Despite constant assurances from the Army Corps of Engineers that replenishment from the parking lot south toward the inlet could be done without negative effect on Forsythe property, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service remains steadfastly opposed to shoring up that highly troubled beachfront, which is in flux like never before. Many spots in the Holgate refuge have experienced the eroding away of 70 percent of its former acreage.

The inability of the Army Corps to get an OK to replenish all Holgate has blocked the 50-year fix known as Barnegat Inlet to Little Egg Inlet Coastal Storm Risk Management project. Notice the “Little Egg Inlet” part of that name. Unable to replenish to the inlet, the erosion carries on. Adding to eating-away woes is the erosion being caused by the new terminal groin adjacent to the parking lot. That groin-related erosion is moving toward the refuge.

SAND APLENTY…AND NOT: A frustrating Holgate angle for the Army Corps is the high availability of massive amounts of sand on the shoals outside Little Egg Inlet. That sand is essentially former Island beachfront. It has been carried southward from as far north as Barnegat Light. The untold cubic yards of shoaled sand sits there for the taking. What’s more, it’s constantly being nourished by on-the-move material, including southwardly moving replenishment sands from most of LBI.

Talking with replenishment guru Keith Watson of the Corps, he would gladly tap into the LEI shoals. The sprawling sand source could be used for replenishing as far north as Spray Beach, maybe farther. However, not being able to use the sand for the refuge-adjacent beaches weakens efforts to acquire the right to mine the shoals – which are far enough out in the ocean that sand removal would not be a detriment to the Holgate Wilderness Area. Of course, convincing the refuge of that …

As Holgate’s beaches waver, here’s hoping we won’t need to activate “emergency” beach replenishment protocols prior to the next scheduled evaluation of the Island-long project in 2023.

I’ll be offering periodic insider updates at my blog (, though I’m not sure I have the energy to maintain the decades-long struggle to save Holgate from dissection in the refuge area, where it’s still breaking through like crazy, as bay and ocean regularly hookup at high tide.

RUNDOWN: The hard winds that blew away many weekend boat fishing plans have made it tough to get a read on how fluking is going, as we approach the last leg of flattie season. A few larger vessels bounced seaward and managed a couple keepers after increasing sinker sizes.

Barnegat Bay’s widespread undersized fluke bite backed off some, possibly due to honking northeast winds pushing cool, ocean water north to south through the bay. Sudden water temp changes can discourage fluke from foraging. It never lasts long.

Of note is an impressive showing of old-fashioned, summer snapper blues. There have been some copious takes by folks using light-gear in north Barnegat Bay. I’ll bet we have the same snapperesque showing in our middle Barnegat Bay region.

A tad different this snapper go ’round is the size of the warm water blues. They are running larger than the mini blues we used to mug going back 30 years or more. Time to break out the old “snapper poppers.”

Might this snapper showing be a sign of chopper blues to come? Sorry, there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between the bayside snapper biomass and autumnal slammers. That said, what if years of low summer snapper counts are behind our truly troubling lack of cannibalistic fall gators? This fall might tell.

Not sure what to make of this growing highly impressive showing of Spanish mackerel, mainly smaller ones. They’re going for artificials – and even being caught in the bay on bait.

Schools of smaller macks travel very quickly, quite akin to bluefish, though even faster afoot/a-swim. You just keep plugging away in hopes a school is passing through. If theory holds true (mine), much larger ones could be in the surf for September and October.

I caught my state record (long since broken) Spanish mackerel in the Holgate surf in October 1980-something. Working super rough surf late afternoon, I was distance casting and fast retrieving a large bucktailed Hopkins, using a sturdy bait rod, targeting monster blues. I took a fierce hookup. It put up a fine, albeit confusing fight. I knew right away it wasn’t a bluefish, though easily as strong. It made these blistering runs, parallel to the beach, so fast my line was singing. I wondered if I had a sizeable false albi.

When I finally landed the fish, I went into a wtf mode. I wasn’t even sure what I had just caught. Some research and help from Bruce Hoagland pegged it as a serious-ass Spanish mackerel. I had only seen shiny bright little ones. This one was bulky and kinda drab colored. Bruce entered it into the state record system, where it reigned supreme for a decade or so.

By the by, current reports have the little ones cooking up deliciously. I couldn’t say that about my big one, though.

CLASSIC ON THE HORIZON: Here’s the first of a slew of notices about this year’s bigger/richer-than-ever Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic. Sign-up forms are in participating shops. It will run from Oct. 5 through Dec. 5. Please sign up early to be assured of receiving the event’s perks, which include rights to fish bass and blues for nine heavily-prized weeks, 2019 LBI Surf Fishing Classic Hat & Decal, a sharp T-shirt, and a coupon for a free slice of Panzone’s cheese pizza.

The shops: Surf City Bait & Tackle, 317 Long Beach Blvd., 494-2333; Fisherman’s Headquarters, 280 West 9th St., Ship Bottom, 494-5739; Jingles’ Bait & Tackle, 1214 Long Beach Blvd., Beach Haven, 492-2795.

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