The Fish Story

Summer Skies Were a Sight to Behold; It’s a Hurricane by Any Other Name

By JAY MANN | Sep 11, 2019
Photo by: Jay Mann Getting in some final fluke drifts before flattie season ends.

Surf City — It’s a fine time to wax back on the departing summer. I’m hallmarking it as the summer of storms – passing in a flash, accompanied by resounding thunderclaps. It offered some wild-sky looks.

By my 60 years of Island reckoning, few other summers have offered such a lineup of lightning-laden storm cells, sometimes day after day. The showier thunder-boomers were like something out of Amazonian jungles … or what’s left of them.

Accompanying the sound and electrical fury of our 2019 summer skies were something akin to riders on the storm, namely towering, immaculately whitewashed clouds – majestic beyond what even Joni Mitchell had in mind. Many of us spent mesmerized hours looking horizonward at the gorgeousness of volcanic thunderheads and tsunami-ish cloud banks, compliments of cumulonimbus skybuster clouds. Can you tell I was really into them?

Not one of this summer’s crackling sky displays went undocumented, thanks to the now forever-focused social media photo corps, comprised of a sprinkle of true photographers and a torrent of growingly talented cell phone scene capturers. When things got atmospherically gaudy, sky shots saturated my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Any storm showing some glitz got paparazzied. My finger never got tired of hitting the “Like” button. Cooler still, folks from truly faraway places enjoyed our sky looks and shared theirs. I never realized the rain in Spain really does fall mainly on the plains.

It’s obvious that storm watching, year-wide, has taken on a sports-like feel, with a filled stadium here along the coastline. Hell, why not? It beats watching, like, a marathon badminton tournament. Just kidding, shuttlecock folks. And, yes, I can use the word “shuttlecock” in relatively mixed company. It’s merely the weird white wingy thingy badmintoners whack around – though, thinking about it in a political correctness vein, doesn’t that term point toward an underlying anti-male bias? I think I’ll be offended! I hereby demand it be called a neutralshuttlethingy. Now, onward to the term manhole cover.

CYCLONE WORDAGE: As summer storms head to the southern hemisphere, we now intensify our sky duties as hurricane watchers and worriers.

Departed Dorian was a god-awful storm made only slightly more tolerable by the fact it steered so well clear of us. The drop-dead gorgeous Bahamas look like a tsunami, not a cyclone, hit them. Let’s help with money and goods – but only after thoroughly researching the best and most upstanding humanitarian organizations to patronize.

Etymologically speaking, the word “hurricane” stems from the ancient Caribbean/Florida Native American Taino culture’s expression hurakán. It was a stand-in term for their “god of evil,” though some termologists allege it meant “the god of wind, storm, and fire.”

In the nearby Mayan language, the almost identical word hunraqan means “having one leg.” It was generally reserved for the K’iche’, the Mayan god of wind, storm and watery hurricane-ish holocausts in general. K’iche’ and his one human leg – I’m afraid to look up what happened to the other one – was the “Heart of Sky” to Mayan skywatchers. He was also a heavy-hitter, one of the Mayan creator deities who had a hand – and, apparently, a leg – in that religion’s belief in three attempts at creating humanity.

K’iche’ might be most famed for pissing off all his demigod cohorts by causing a “great flood” that pretty much drowned out one of those humanization attempts.

Where is he now? It is believed – by the last remaining Mayans – that K’iche’ still reigns within windy mists that accompany flooding. He’s thinking about developing his own line of skin-plumping aerosol sprays. There goes my house.

The final diffusion of hurricane-sounding words came with early Spanish explorers – hot on taking over the islands’ thriving rum and coke business. The conquerors laid claim to the word huracán. Soon thereafter, Great Britain anglicized it into hurricane. Voilá. Speaking of which, French explorers went with ouragan – which was later coined for the famed TV series “Our Gang.”

P.S.: I was once taught (in school, believe it or not) that the word “hurricane” came from a Native American term “hurried cane,” referring to sugar cane blowing wildly in cyclonic winds. As noted above, the word from whence hurricane surely originated existed long before sugar cane was first introduced into the Caribbean, circa 1500. Which brings up a saying of mine: History books are most often written by people who weren’t there, writing about things they know little or nothing about. Just sayin’.

LOCAL IMPORT: It’s a decent time of year to make a stop-see at the Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge Cedar Bonnet Environmental Trail on Bonnet Island. Bugginess has dropped and birds are on the wing.

But that suggestion is not of great “local” import. Instead, I need to bring up what is more than mere passing debate regarding the proper name of the first sedge island immediately east of the Causeway Big Bridges. It’s the island with the Forsythe trail to the south of Route 72 and The Boatyard watering hole to the north.

Here goes: Both the refuge and NJDOT have gone with calling it Cedar Bonnet Island. Au contraire, say many, like those believing the one-and-only Cedar Bonnet Island is the heavily developed member of the “Bonnet Islands” – the one that hosts many households, the formerly-existing Dutchman’s Brauhaus and one of the state’s narrowest, trickiest and sobriety-demanding underpasses.

No, it’s not a moot point. There might even be a safety issue should a Bonnet Island emergency be called in as occurring on Cedar Bonnet Island – or its roadways. Time could be lost looking for the emergency on the wrong Bonnet Island.

I prejudicially favor the littler house-heavy island being called Cedar Bonnet Island, as many of us have called it for equally many decades. Those living there also go with Cedar Bonnet Island – rightly, wrongly or in between.

For now, the signage placed by the refuge and the map designation by those working on the Route 72 Manahawkin Bay Bridges Project will stick with the larger of the Bonnet Islands being called Cedar Bonnet Island, thus designating the smaller island as Bonnet Island.

By the by, the oldest area maps I own, going well back into the 1800s, use the combination term of “Bonnet Islands” for both. I need some help researching the first maps differentiating between Bonnet Island and Cedar Bonnet Island.

HOLGATE HAPPENINGS: The far south end of the Island is again happening. Both beachwalkers and buggies can access the entire 2.5-mile sandy stretch adjacent to the Forsythe Holgate Unit, part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

As to the publicly accessible beach zone adjacent to the refuge, things are looking highly hoofable – and decently drivable.

The first couple miles of beachline are quite wide, though still highly dynamic, erosion-wise – with ocean/bay overwash points still obvious along the first mile or so.

During my first seasonal drive-upon (Sunday), I eyed an upside in the overwash areas. There is a healthily significant return of grasses thereupon, including stretches that had been devoid of plant life only a couple years back. It’s too early to determine if the growth is a long-term vegetative rebound, i.e. taking root, or simply the result of a quiet storm stint – using the word “storm” in a kick-ass meteorological sense.

Along those tempestuous lines, it can be anecdotally suggested that heavy storm periods are somewhat cyclical. Superstorm Sandy marked a peak in a high-hit storm period dating back to the 1990s. There’s no denying – while knocking on driftwood – that we’ve moved into stormular down times. Sure, we’ve taken some flood hits in recent years, but there’s not that ominous feel to the air common to times of terrible blows at every turn. An old-timer used to call low-storm years “breathers” – unless he was quietly clever enough to be saying “breezers.”

Back to Holgate, buggyists will find the same high-tide testiness in the beach zone about ¾ of the way to the end. Over this past hurricane surf weekend, that skinny zone was pretty much impassable at max high, unless you didn’t mind thoroughly salt-soaking your buggy’s chassis by driving through wet sand and foam. Low tide was fully motorable thereabouts.

As to fishing, the 1-pound blues are the main biters, to the exclusion of what I had hoped would be a fluke showing prior to the fast-approaching season closing on Sept. 22. Of course, there were only a few folks fishing the far south end, so getting a read on the hooking was hard.  An arriving calm-down of the surf might allow flukers to explore the deeper troughs that often hold slews of fluke. In fact, troughs are sometimes called slews for that reason. Really, Jay?

LOCAL NOTE: Traffic signals are off from Surf City northward through Barnegat Light. To be technically exact, they’re on the blink, just not going through all the color motions, vis-à-vis summer cycling.

The rest of LBI – Ship Bottom southward – must wait until after Chowderfest to have flashy lights set in, though I think I recall Beach Haven may be turning its signals off earlier.

Keep in close mind the police know full well that turning off the traffic lights can egg folks into picking up speed. Speed limits are the same as summer, at least for now. Don’t get suckered into becoming a tad heavy-footed in red-light-free stretches. Ticket costs and points are always in season.

Important: It can be trickier seeing/stopping for pedestrians crossing the street when on a motoring roll. Having no red lights can offer a false sense of clear road ahead. With this supremely gorgeous weather, many beachgoing folks are still cashing in on summer’s bushy-tailed end.

Then there’s the problem of east-west drivers trying to pull out. They/we now have to be a bit more daring. And for cryin’ out loud, a vehicle pulling out up ahead isn’t some sort of slight to your character. How many times have I seen folks actually accelerate toward a vehicle that has pulled out up ahead – so they can be aggressively offended, via tailgating and lip service. Believe me, there are many puller-outers whom you really don’t want to, let’s say, take to task.

What I’m saying is signals turned to offseason blinking demand sharpened driving awareness – and a serious dose of share-the-roadness.

RUNDOWN: As mentioned above, small blues – though well beyond mini-snapper size – rule the hookup roost. These are fine dining grade and even juicier smoking/drying material. I’ll possibly be showing via pics or video my procedure for going from precisely filleting cocktail blues to making Jersey jerky, via my own marinade. Check I should mention the blues are far more inclined to take bait right about now, all but ignoring metals and plugs. Jigged plastics work decently, but the bite-off rate is typically sky high.

The fluking is fair to slow, mainly due to weather. Headboats and charters are finding the last of the outgoing flatties. Climb aboard.

Bassing is yet to be. There are a few local stripers hanging near Barnegat Inlet, but the summer season count of resident fish is actually quite down. With mullet now on the migratory move, bass should show up soon, hopefully en masse. I’m joneseing for surface plugging times, offering some of the most exciting fishing we get. Poppers will soon rock, as will Spooks and other surface snakers.

Got word large numbers of small black seabass are exiting the bay. While these are too small to keep, it could bode well for wreck and reef fishing in the future. Of all our targetable species, seabass are proving among the most cyclical both in size and number. Here’s to a big uptick in the cycling process.

Spanish mackerel hooking has gotten sketchier but might be picking up as the remarkable biomass of these tasty speedsters moves back down this way after making an epic showing up New England way. “I’ve never seen anything like this. It got tiring catching them” came from an experienced Massachusetts angler who vacations down here.

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