The Fish Story

There’s Nothing to Get Rabid Over; Bass Angling Takes on a Banner Air

By JAY MANN | May 22, 2019
Jay Mann

Surf City — Let’s talk rabies. I know: What a pleasant topic on such a nice day. Hey, any day is nicer than a rabies-talkin’ kinda day.

As you might know, we had a confirmed rabies case in our area. A rabid raccoon lived up to its alliteration over in Stafford Township, Village Harbour area. It was trapped by animal control following up on a public lead.

This case is surely too close for comfort, though on Long Beach Island the danger is so minimal as to be unacknowledgeable. It’s a proven fact that rabies has a mortal dread of crossing bridges. On the other hand, raccoons, foxes, bats and other such carriers aren’t as span-aphobic. So, those of an Island ilk should pay at least some heed to the ’hood across the Causeway – and, going forward, ban any and all living mainland creatures from accessing LBI – you know, as a purely preventive move. Maybe you’ll be allowed on LBI by next year, folks.

Assuming a less rabid reaction to rabies, mainlanders need not go into a mini tizzy over this bona fide rabies report, the first case of the year in Ocean County, per the head of the county’s health department.

As to why it popped up, those epidemiological types who track diseases admit it’s nigh impossible to source a case that comes out of the wilds, which is where almost all rabies cases play out. Of note: In rabid time past, pre-1960, most rabies cases in the United States involved domestic animals and livestock. Now, well over 90 percent of all animal rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention occur among wildlife forms. Rabies vaccinations for pets are now mandatory in all states. They are boosted every three years. Locally, free rabies clinics for pets are regularly made available through animal shelters and such.

I’ll go out on a concerned naturalist limb by openly worrying the Stafford raccoon was done in by a bat, which can represent as rabies on the wing. Simply being in an enclosed area with a bat, such as inside a tent or bedroom, can lead to one unknowingly being bitten or scratched by it. In one deadly U.S. case, just the airborne saliva of a bat that flew into a home fatally infected a young family member. reports that from 1995 to 2006, there were 37 human deaths from rabies in the U.S. In 75 percent of cases, the patient was bitten by a bat. Importantly, any bat that is approachable – unable to fly – is more likely to have rabies. This makes bats highly hands-off, even if you’re a wildlife-compassionate soul – which I’m known to be … except when it comes to bats. I’m in no way bat bashing. Although their population is in serious trouble due to white-nose disease, they’re astounding important insectivores and a mainstay of a healthy ecosystem.

There’s no indication the Stafford incident marks the start of a localized pandemic. Nonetheless, rabies is highly zoonotic – able to be spread by animals to humans – so health departments and animal control forces are on heightened alert. The public is also being asked to stay vigilant. In fact, the hoi polloi is often first and foremost in ferreting out new cases. Yes, ferrets can carry rabies. Get yours vaccinated.

Any unvaccinated domesticated creature that does outdoor time is a rabies suspect. “Outside,” i.e. free-roaming, house cats fill the bill, having beaten out dogs as the number one domestic carrier of rabies.

The first sign of rabies in any animal is the disease’s famed “strange behavior.” I routinely go wise-ass by suggesting a raccoon wearing a top hat, hoisting a black cane and doing a cross-leg dance step across a highway just might be rabid. Now, though, the serious side of the disease outpaces the vaudeville aspect, especially for those who own a free-roaming feline.

The first sign of rabies in a house pet is an out-of-character stand-offish behavior. This is known as the prodromal stage. Per, “An active, happy feline will suddenly become shy and nervous … may hide, lose interest in food, and become irritable.” Feral cats, a bona fide rabies threat, can go the dead opposite route. Infected ferals, usually nocturnal in nature, will brazenly come out during the day. Most dangerously and aberrantly, they’ll try to buddy up with people, many of whom can’t resist the invitation to buddy right back. Bad move. Even a scratch from a buddying-up cat can mean a trip to the ER for post-exposure treatment.

The second stage of rabies development in an animal is the spookiest and most famous. It’s known as furious rabies, or the “Mad-Dog” stage. Along with the notorious foaming at the mouth, an animal’s pupils are pinned so wide open that it truly looks insane. This stage is when humans are most often infected due to the blind aggression of infected creatures.

I saw – and bolted from – a rabid dog in Mexico. It came after a group of us. Despite its diseased central nervous system, it moved amazingly fast. Good thing I’m greased lighting when pursued by a crazed dog – shades of “I don’t have to outrun a rabid animal … I only have to outrun you?”

I’ll emphasize that rabies vaccines for pets are remarkably effective. That said, stray dogs and feral cats don’t routinely carry around vaccination paperwork. Intermingling with even seemingly nice little kitties or the like can lead to rabies exposure. Let your kids know this.

If exposed, the CDC recommends, a person who is exposed and has never been vaccinated against rabies should get four doses of rabies vaccine – one dose right away, and additional doses on the third, seventh and 14th days. They should also get another shot called Rabies Immune Globulin at the same time as the first dose.

CHOPPER SUMMER RUNS: The NJDEP announces, “Coastal surveillance flights are conducted six days a week during the summer season, weather permitting, in order to get a visual assessment of coastal water and beach conditions. This aerial surveillance of the coast and bathing beaches allows DEP to determine the extent of potential hazards such as floatable debris, sewer line breaks or fish kills. In addition, the aircraft are equipped with chlorophyll A sensors that provide DEP with information on chlorophyll levels in coastal waters and allow the early detection of potential algal blooms. Increased chlorophyll A levels are not necessarily harmful to human health but can give the Bureau information on where to target more intensive boat sampling. Click here to view coastal flight paths and chlorophyll A information.”

RUNDOWN: Our nuclear spring is over. It’s so over I take back everything bad I’ve been saying about the weather … at least momentarily. Such sky sweetness nicety gets me doing some wide-ranging nature bathing, going from Island to back bay to deep woods. There’s a lot of epic greening going on. All that rain and, now, sun are jump-starting the annual outback regrowth. That combo is also exactly what the frog doctor ordered. Pine Barrens tree frogs are sounding off in the loudest choruses in many years. Its song sounds a lot like a mallard duck.

For those translating the huggable weather into angling effort, I know for a highly documented fact that impressive numbers of bass and smaller blues are being taken from beaches, banks, bays and the ocean, top.

At my blog site (, I’ve pretty much given up on trying to display the plethora of pictures showing fat stripers being bested. Truly impressive, all things considered, i.e. the lousiness of last fall.

Some boating angling folks have been winning a bit of a trifecta by mugging black seabass, scale-straining stripers and smoker loads of small bluefish … all in one outing. Uncountable numbers of out-of-season doormat fluke have been jumping on lines – to be obligatorily and frustratingly released.

As to the cocktail blues, they are now showing like wild … thanks to me. It was my columnistic reverse logic that got the bite going. By strategically suggesting (last week) that so-called “eater” bluefish population might be suffering a weight-class failing, I irked them into showing, big-time. That’s right, my writings have that much sway over the entire marine ecosystem.

Throwing cold water on this bluefish showing, even a banner May showing is only part of a happy return equation. The most telling factor will show this fall. An autumnal resurgence of southbound blues is required to round out what might be called a recovery, using the term recovery to indicate a return to how we were not that many years back. When that time approaches, I’ll be sure to prewrite on how the fall blues don’t seem to be arriving – since that reverse-stimulation just worked so well.

A quick note that the best way to the mouths of eater-sized blues in the surf is via smaller chunks of bunker. If targeting them from atop the South Jetty, Barnegat Inlet, go with metals and plugs.

While I allude only to boat bassing in here – since these topwater folks move so much, day to day – I’m jealously marveling over the sea-top stripering. The hooking is torrid, providing you don’t mind besting schoolies, which are again showing in force. Many are coming a mere inch under keepability.

Every mongo cow now being caught – and often released – makes it that much freakier how last fall was such an utter big-bass bassing failure. At optimism’s urging, I’ll wonder out loud if maybe we’ll be reversing the fallen fall pattern. In the same cast of optimism, I’ll strongly suggest not allowing the current spring bite to go untapped – you know, just in case.

Of other species import: “Jay, Haven’t done great with (Little Egg) black drum but the hooking in the Delaware Bay has been insane. Fish over 50 pounds are common. Too many being kept. Sorry, but I can’t agree with what you wrote in your weekly column about people using them for cat food. This is still a rebuilding fishery.” There was more to the above email, but it was more about what the writer thinks people might be doing with those jumbo black drum, like assigning them fertilizer duty or selling to Asian restaurant markets. Unsubstantiated.

Along similar too-much lines, I’m fielding squawks about the black seabass keeping of late. I’m fully obligated to hold my objective course by saying the current keepage is fully permitted. What’s more, seabass is a highly regulated fishery, with significant closures. Since we’re coming off such a shutdown, this catching frenzy is very likely a highly productive initial showing, post-closure. It will stabilize quickly.

The USCG has turned up the heat on anyone illegally bass keeping past 3.45234 miles out, a.k.a. 3 nautical miles. The EEZ is closed to all bassing, always.

I will state the obvious: Nowadays, nobody can say they accidentally slipped into the EEZ. With parallel multi-channel GPS locating systems, one’s ocean top position can be pinned down to within 10 feet of real time positioning. I don’t think many folks toy around with the EEZ; nonetheless, patrols will be a-watch. The good part is they’ll already be near should you suddenly need them when s*** gets real. Safety checks are far more the norm than striper searches.

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