The Fish Story

Popcorn Is the Staff of Snack Life; Free Buggying for Disabled Vets

By JAY MANN | Jan 15, 2020
Photo by: Supplied Photo SEE YA SOON: Michael Greene shows off one of the last big bass gals, taken recently aboard the Tyman. It was safely revived and released. As to smaller model stripers, they're still in the suds, though arriving iciness might drive them seaward.

Surf City, NJ — As we hump through football’s finales and a cascade of televised sports, many of us keep our closest munch buddy nearby – namely popcorn. The indispensable edible is in our nation’s lifeline, born of Native American cuisine, i.e. pre-us/U.S. Popcorn’s presence and snack preeminence are enough to fill entire grocery aisles. Of note, popcorn is about to celebrate its special day, thanks to Congress.

Personally, I categorize popcorn as a major food group, all by its lonesome. Every healthful diet should contain a plethora of popcorns, not only for bodily healthfulness, but also for emotional nutrification. In fact, popcorn’s fun factor might be more important, mental health-wise, than all those other merely essential food groups. It’s the perfect munch when you feel like eating a hundred or more of something. In recent decades, it’s the right upbeat stuff for oft dismally mooded dieters, doing king-fu like battle with Munchy the Diet Destroyer. I have been among the kazillions going popcorn during bouts with bodily bulges.

I bring up America’s favorite snack food to garner appreciation and due participation in popcorn’s official day, Jan. 19, called “National Popcorn Day!” Said day is designated by the Popcorn Board. Yes, there is such a thing. What’s more, it was formed in April 1998 by an act of Congress.

The Popcorn Board’s prime purpose as a nonprofit check-off organization is to “raise awareness of popcorn as a versatile, whole-grain snack,” per its website at Not that the board needs to exert itself getting word out. People of the planet are already quite informed when it comes to popcorn and its many manifestations, ranging from Cracker Jacks to Jiffy Pop to Smartfood to packaging material.

Going back, popcorn’s prehistoric roots are inexorably intertwined with maize, a.k.a. corn. Corn was the survival food of the Amerind founders of North and South America. Maize of a popping nature would add some pop to the otherwise very quiet and sedate staple. It has done so for eons on end.

Some of the oldest historic popcorn kernels ever found were discovered in 1948, within a rock shelter known as the “Bat Cave,” located in New Mexico. There, researchers Herbert Dick and Earle Smith came upon amazingly well-preserved ears of popcorn, along with some popped kernels. Modern carbon-dating indicates they’re easily 5,600 years old. Ancient urns dug up in Mexico, dating back to 300 A.D., bear images proving the Aztecs had a popcorn god, though it was more specifically an overall maize deity – though depicted as being adorned in popped corn.

All Native American societies routinely munched on popcorn, or used it for decorations and celebrations. It was in full snack food mode when Euro-explorers hit New World beaches. In fact, no sooner had the arrivers come ashore than the natives presented them with deerskins full of corn – which the newcomers uncomprehendingly tried to chew whole, before the Indians quickly stepped in and demonstrated the popping angle.

Primordially, popcorn kernels were thrown directly into a fire, soon flying out, fully apop. It then came down to folks gathering them off the ground, blowing off any dirt or clinging creatures, and merrily munching away. It was surely a fun food even back in cave and tomahawk times.

The “discovery” of popcorn in the New World led to its being sent back to the motherlands of explorers. From there, it went viral worldwide. It reached near deific status in such places as India. It took much longer for it to go commercial, first marketed as “Pearls” or “Nonpareils.” The earliest mention of the term “popped corn” is found in John Russell Bartlett’s 1848 Dictionary of Americanisms.

According to, the first commercial popcorn machine was invented by Chicagoan Charles Cretors in 1885. His mobile gas-burning popcorn popper was pushed along the streets, where it was a crowd stopper – and scorcher. Gerund to moviegoing history, future sidewalk popcorn vendors quickly realized their product was a blast outside movie theaters. That hookup would become snacking legend.

Sidebar: My grandmother spoke almost reverently about popcorn, recalling it was the only affordable snack throughout the Great Depression.

While it’s easy to envision Amerinds and colonizers trying to grab popcorn as it exploded from fire pits, it’s more intriguing to imagine when a lost-to-history Amerind soul settled down one evening, maybe after a long day of hunting, placed a couple ears of what he assumed was sweet corn near the flames only to have things suddenly firing off, sparks flying and white balls raining down. His spirit is likely running for the hills to this day, though his legacy-of-sorts thrives worldwide.

So, how in hell does this have anything to do with angling or seafood? What, you never heard of popcorn shrimp?! Duh.

WHERE’S GRANDPAP?: Shoes with embedded GPS tracking devices will be big in 2020. It’s currently just a Japanese thing but will surely go global.

The prime purpose of the discreet device is to keep track of family members who have a tendency to forget their own whereabouts, due to bearings lost to dementia or Alzheimer’s. Our area has seen a slew of just such wandering souls, one of whom has yet to be found. There but for fortune …

Truth be told, I’ve known several far younger but equally mind-muddled partiers who would have greatly benefited from being tracked. “Hey, Sammy, it’s me. Uh, you think you can check your GPS to see where I’m at and stuff?” And what parent wouldn’t mind a little GPS assistance after “Tamatha, where are you?” shoutouts come back empty.

All this talk has led me to ponder GPS-tracked chest waders. Hey, not all anglers are spring pickerel any longer. As Wi-Fi and Bluetooth get more powerful, concerned folks might soon be able to keep track of that growingly forgetful family angler – or the one inclined to hide a rod and reel in the weeds near the old folks home.

BUGGY BANTER: Our state reps, the team of Connors, Rumpf and Gove, have proposed legislation that would allow disabled military veterans to buggy the beaches for free. Great idea. Get it done, folks.

But why not all vets, you ask, knowing you haven’t got a prayer of ever again fitting into that mothballed uniform. That would be a bit too costly – and crowded. That’s my guess, mind you.

Beach buggy fees offer a decent little influx of ready money for towns, though I’m sure they’ll duly counterpoint the collected fees barely cover the cost of keeping buggy ramps open – even though that openness must be mandatorily done to assure beach access for emergency vehicles.

I don’t mind paying the permit piper for the privilege of semi-exclusively driving chosen beaches. That said, I can’t afford to go the full monte route by buying five separate permits to drive all the beaches from Loveladies through Holgate. I also relate to those buggyists annually pissed at getting hit left and right when it comes to legally navigating the entire LBI beachline. How about a one Island/one buggy permit? Sure, that’ll happen right after we achieve the one Island/one beach badge, i.e. around the 12th of fuhgeddaboudit.

Mildly defending buggy permits, I see the fees as a viable means of minimizing the number of buggyists bounding along the beachfront – though we’ll never stem the flow of scofflaws who hit the beaches feigning ignorance of the buggy permitting process. They’re the number one sinkers, truly unaware of airing down tires.

Speaking of surfside sink jobs, when I find permitless folks hopelessly stuck in the sand, l tell them – in a smiling way – if they’ll admit they knew they shouldn’t be driving the beach without a permit, I’ll try to dig/pull them out. Unspoken: “Only don’t tell me you’re innocent. Because it insults my intelligence,” spoken in a Michael Corleone timbre. To date, every single stuck soul, most often offering a sheepish grin of guilt, has gone the mea culpa guilt route. I’m not sure if they know the gig is up or they’ll say anything to avoid a costly pullout.

By the by, I never accept a single offered penny for pullout help. It’s a karma thing. However, I do have offerers promise me they’ll donate the money to a good cause, like tithe time at church. I know what you’re thinking: fat chance. Hey, a man is only as good as his promise, right? And did I mention that karma thing?

SEAL AND SNOWY DEALS: There’s now quite the seal showing playing out in Island waters, mainly inlets and bays. Seeing the many reports and fine photos of harbor seals splashily gallivanting about, it seems the experts who predicted quite a pinniped show for this winter were a lot more on the money than those folks who predict meteorite showers.

The presence of these “true seals” will surely last all winter, possibly boosted in number by late arrivers. In case you’re asking: Merriam-Webster defines a true seal, a.k.a. hair seal, as “a family (Phocidae) of seals having a coarse hairy coat, the hind limbs reduced to swimming flippers, and no external ears.”

I think almost everyone of an LBI overwintering nature knows the seal ropes by now, i.e. leave those suckers alone, even when they’re seductively lying on the beach all but exuding “I’m ready for my closeup.”

Truth be told, seals of most every ilk are anything but wild about humans. To be sure, their look of doggy-like pet-me innocence has long hounded these dang ferocious marine mammals. Speaking of dogs and hounds, they’re something seals disdain even more than flirtatious humans.

Where to see safely see seals … from a distance: Check Facebook posts for the seal nearest you.

Unlike the slew of seal sightings, nary a single snowy owl has been seen since that truly handsome male stopped by Holgate for maybe a week before heading south. With some moderate coldness and icy weather moving in, maybe a snowy or two will slip-slide down this way.

As owl experts up Canada way had predicted, the Midwest is seeing the more respectable influx of oft overly beloved snowys. Interestingly, the Midwest has had a far colder winter than us. Might this be the proving of old wives’ tales that birds know the upcoming season months in advance? Snowys do prefer things icy and white, as opposed to our so-far mild and damp.

A snow aside: There are some forecasts of a snowstorm heading our way. Nope. Go just a tad north if you’re into that kinda thing.

RUNDOWN: Not only are there small stripers still cruising the beachline, but I even got a report of over a dozen taken in a single session, on jigs and plugs, by a single caster – albeit a highly skilled caster, i.e. not me.

Since there isn’t a major fight for angling room right about now, I’ll burn an area by saying Harvey Cedars has been epicenter for this rare January bass bite.

Where do those near-in bass go from here, come true coldness? I’m told the fish simply slink pretty much straight off, into deeper water, where the thermocline offers milder temps down deep.

Bass feed steadily all winter, taking in bottom crustaceans most of the time, though rising into cold water lenses to nab sand eels.

Come spring, the local bass head for spawning grounds, likely up in the Hudson, though a case can be made that the Delaware has a spawn. While some anglers and researchers claim the Mullica River estuary system has a striped bass breeding biomass, it sure doesn’t come through with young-of-year showings, which are minimal in seine pulls.

For those more into winter panfishing, there is apparently a stellar showing of white perch. Think Mullica River.

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