The Island When There’s No Way Out; Fishing Is Panning Out in a Small Way

By JAY MANN | Jul 17, 2019
Supplied Photo Tricia & Erin Doris show off a stellar houndfish, caught about midnight off a bayside bulkhead in Harvey Cedars. See more on houndfish in today's ‘Rundown.’

Surf City, NJ — NO EXIT!: The heavens let loose last week. In a deluge instant, we became an island alone, insular in our inability to get off this 21-mile long strip of vulnerable sand. An estimated 3 or more inches of rain poured down in less than an hour.

It was truly a Flash Gordon flood, above your everyday flash flood. Things got so deep that circa midnight, there was suddenly no way of getting off LBI. Ship Bottom police pulled the plug on exiting when Lake Causeway peaked. As to coming onto the Island, it would have been easier swimming over. Here’s the Nixel alert (caps included): 72E BRIDGE BY MALLARD ISLAND SHUTDOWN UNTIL FLOODING RECEDES IN SHIP BOTTOM. PLEASE BE PATIENT AND STAY OFF ROADS. Ship Bottom borough opened town hall to stranded motorists.

Due to the shutdown’s late-hour arrival, most on-Island folks missed being momentarily marooned, i.e. all alone in the ocean zone. It confirmed the obvious: When things go south … we stay east – whether we like it or not. It can happen just that flashily fast.

As is oft the case with flash flooding, the instant inundation drained off almost as fast as it gathered. By 1 a.m.-ish, you could again use the westbound exit-Island point. In fact, early-morn commuters had no clue about just how many feet of water had covered the roadways only hours earlier.

To be sure, torrents and downpours have flooded LBI to high heaven since long before Lenape times. But are they getting more frequent? Duh.

While rising oceans have yet to play into our flooding to the predicted nth degree, we are already being plagued by a more imminent flood factor, which is taking place even without our ongoing effort to ruin the atmosphere. It stems from our Island sinking, in a settling in way.

When I suggested the sinkage theory decades ago, all I got were skeptical chuckles from brain trusts that wanted something sexier to be taking place, like wholesale rising oceanic overwash. Now the sinking angle has become so viable it is being incorporated into rising-seas vernacular. It’s called relative sea level rise, essentially the combining of all flood factors, with rising seas taking the lead in the hearts and minds of doomologists. Last week, the term was bandied about in New Orleans, among the sinkingest of all cities, though Miami is no slouch when it comes to sinking. Our Island sinkage is also real as rain. Pun intended.

For those who live for global warming domination, I suggest we face the fact LBI sinkage is a flood player, first and foremost, as in dominating the here-and-now.

As I’ve pontificated upon in the past, we have the weight of a gazillion tons of traffic and heavy-ass structures bearing down on the settling sands beneath our feet. The flood waters themselves are an ominous load, pressing down with trillions of pounds of pressure.

Geological logic dictates that the press-down effect of flooding is most apparent and repetitive in areas duly designated as “prone to flooding.” Proneness alone weighs a ton. The more Island areas repeatedly flood, the further they’ll flood in the future. Problematically, there’s then an adjacency effect. Formerly unprone areas residing near prone zones soon find themselves in the zone, so to speak. It’s a sinking feeling – and has also long been part of life hereabouts. Islands flood – sometimes just on their own.

Can anything be done? Sure. Why not. We’re the smartest creatures this side of Pantera, a star in the Metallica galaxy. In fact, there are industrial pumps soon coming to the very Ship Bottom areas that last week stopped outbound traffic in its tracks. Pumps are also planned for the Boulevard areas in south Ship Bottom. They’ll likely work with rain deluges, as they’ve worked in other areas along the Eastern Seaboard. However, when it comes to tidal flooding, like that issued by cyclones and such, ain’t nothing can pump off water of that magnitude and risingness.

What’s to be done when there’s no answer to “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” I can sing it out with that ketchup song by the hippy girl in the tight shirt. It’s called “Anticipation.” (We still love ya, Carly.) It truly comes down to anticipating our above-waterness possibly going seriously south … and our being “Born to Run.” (I have the radio on as I write this, can ya tell?)

While there’s no second-guessing sudden summer downpours, much can be said for having a big-picture big-storm emergency exit strategy, emphasizing the need to get off the Island in a timely, possibly torrid, manner. To that end, we’ve never been so equipped to track impending storms on a minute-to-minute basis, thanks to real-time reports by the National Weather Service and The Weather Channel. I’ll cautiously venture to say a “big one” will never again sneak up on us, as it did in March 1962. It all comes down to us being willing to see “Run!” manifesting on our weather wall … and doing same.

OK, so this has ended up being yet another endorsement of storm-readiness, always a keynote subject as hurricane season does stretching exercise on the horizon. But it truly is essential to be ready to quickly bug out, borrowing a term from those paranoid souls who seemingly live just to survive. But they’re the experts, so it’s worth taking their advice in this instance, especially in the wake of the recent example of how the Island can truly become inescapable to all hereupon.

NUMBNUTS TO THE GILLS: Some sort of dumbass award should go to “multiple individuals using illegal gill nets in the waters off Great Bay Boulevard in Little Egg Harbor Township,” per the N.J. Division of Fish and Wildlife. They had set out two separate gill nets … each one 150 feet in length! You can’t be serious! It’s not like that’s a seldomly used roadway.

Well, I know for a fact – as the accused now do – that Fish and Wildlife Detective Harp and CPO Meyer travel thereabouts. Those officers busted the nutso netters, who were in possession of undersized blue claw crabs and sub-legal summer flounder. On the technical violations side, they lacked a gillnet license, were netting in an unlawful area and had no registration identifiers on the nets. Well, they netted themselves a heap of trouble – and some serious fines.

RUNDOWN: It’s becoming the summer of the panfish – and it’s made up of the tastiest of the little buggers to boot.

As kingfish continue to present themselves better than they have in many decades, the bayside blowfish presence has exploded. Chum-issuing anglers are taking the puffers by the 50 count. These are spawned out fish. A good thing. Two folks told me they have never caught so many. Those young’uns must not have been around during the blowfish plague years back in the 1960s.  And I’ll confirm here and now that you didn’t even need bait back then – only a gold hook and a good eye; you could mug them.

Buddy Paul P. had a puffer story to tell. He motored out to a bay area he knew was loaded with blowfish. He got ready to loose some chum – and realized he had left his chum bucket way back on the dock. He hadn’t forgotten the chum itself, so he went MacGyver by emptying his flare bag, cutting strategic holes in it, filling it with tasty goop, weighing it down with at-hand sinkers and throwing it overboard. “I didn’t really expect it to work,” he told me at church. Not only did it work, he took “nonstop” blowfish. His jerry-rigged bucket is now his go-to chum bag. As to the flares …

Every year I get asked where one can buy blowfish tails. I never have an answer, even when I tell them I’ve heard puffers sold as “squab.” I don’t think there’s a commercial way to harvest them from the bay, where commercial seining regs in the summer are kinda strict. Best bet is to find some fishin’ folks who are catching them to excess and see if they’ll give you some. Remember: You can’t buy or sell them without a mercantile license and such.

Was told an interesting crabbing tale. A buddy using both bunker and kingfish racks couldn’t believe the crab preference for the kingfish – and he kept switching things up to make sure the favoritism was real. It was. Keep those kingfish remains for the blue claws.

Less exotic but noteworthy was a huge oystercracker toadfish taken in the back bay. Anybody who grew up on LBI recalls walking the bayside mud flats at low tide and turning over debris. Any piece of larger junk would always have an oystercracker holed up beneath it. Probably still true nowadays. Wait for a blowout tide and give it a try. They have a dorsal fin that’s supposedly toxic.

There are enough houndfish out there to warrant a rundown mention. This highly overgrown type of needlefish can get many feet long. The longest recorded houndfish was 4.9 feet; the heaviest (different fish) was 14.0 pounds. Those now being caught in Jersey in the summer are quite large. The largest one I have ever seen was when spotting at night off High Bar Harbor. It was an easy 4 feet long. Needlefish get stunned by the light beam in the dark and just sit there … until touched. Then it’s water explosion time.

Houndfish is yet another semi-exotic species coming our way rather out of the blue. A few decades back, a single houndfish might have been front-page fishing news. Just this summer, I’ve gotten over a dozen reports of them being caught – ocean, bay and inlets. Such hookups place houndfish on the angling radar – in a good way. To our south they’re sometimes thought of as nuisance fish. Not here. They’re wild to catch and, uh, good eating.

Don’t listen to me on that last one. Although I see a couple recipes for them, I have no way of knowing – firsthand – if houndfish are palatable. Visually detracting from their flavor (huh?) is their having markedly green bones, a turn-off for diners in some societies, like ours. I’m predicting houndfish must be a bit bony. I mean, anything with green bones surely likes to show them off, right?

Had one plugging success report consisting of two striped bass taken on smaller swimming plugs tossed in the early a.m., north end. One was a keeper but released. Fellow has never kept a striped bass – and he has taken oh so many. That constant-release syndrome is not unusual in N.J. I often bring that up when complaints come in about bass being kept.

A nice showing of smaller blues if you can find them. Email: “Jay, I know you’re into smaller blues. … Got a load of one pounders that were perfect smoking thickness.  I’ll drop off some when done.”

As is so often the case, you mention that something has gone mysteriously missing and it shows up in schools of spades. Massive cow-nosed ray schools are skirting our beachline, in one fell swoop. Sightings have come in from bathers and lifeguards along most of LBI. They’ll likely hang around in the surf providing they find enough tasty crabs, including sand crabs/fleas. The schools are also unpopularly inclined to make highly destructive forays into the bay, where they go after small shellfish, including those being farmed. They uncover the clams by using combined wing power to stir the bottom and expose the buried bivalves. Down in the Chesapeake, where they can be a massive pain, they leave behind veritable craters where clam beds once rested.

Got a fun message from a reader in New South Wales, Australia. Along with noting it’s hard to find a SandPaper thereabouts – I’ll have to look into that – he sent a wild video of killer whales in action Down Under. Those orcas are some nasty-ass buggers. Glad they sorta like humans. Of course, birds sorta liked humans until Hitchcock got hold of them. Movie soon to be released: “The Attack of the Land Orcas.”

Knock, knock.

“Who’s there?”


“No, you’re one of those land orcas, aren’t you?”

“Uh, Candygram.”

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