The Fish Story

Ugly Fish Proliferates… And Attacks; Keep Rover in Mind If Celling Along

‘That’s One Ugly Fish, Sir’
By JAY MANN | Aug 06, 2019
Photo by: Jay Mann

Surf City — I want to offer some ink to one of our oddest marine species, a fish seen by many as the ugliest thing in our nearshore waters. I’m speaking of the northern stargazer, a bottom-borrowing creature that is mainly head and mouth, with alarmingly beady little eyes that seem to be looking upward for trouble. It lies partially buried in the sand waiting for anything edible it can get its gaping mouth around. Its spooky countenance has become more common in recent LBI years. Many an angler knows the look.

Stargazers have one of the cooler scientific names: Astroscopus guttatus. The guttatus means spotted, though “spotted” is never once mentioned in its common name. The far cooler part is the astroscopus, meaning “one who aims for the stars.” Poetic, eh? Maybe that’s the way Latin tries to compensate for this fish’s ugliness. That Latin flare can also be applied to go-getter, shoot-high humans, as in Astroscopus humanus, meaning humans who aim for the stars and, uh, maybe look like stargazers.

Get this: Stargazers will attack humans. Say what!? I base that on a single, non-bloody incident told to me by a fellow who had been serenely fishing fluke on the back cut at Holgate when his feet were savagely put upon by what I think must have been a rogue stargazer. The fluker was standing in very shallow water – and wiggling his toes. (I kinda added that toe-wiggling part for tale adornment.) When … Bam! The toes on his right foot were chomped upon by a “frickin huge stargazer,” per the chompee.

To be honest, it wasn’t much of an attack since the fish was immediately as fully freaked as the angler. Both screamed – the stargazer as best it could – and bolted in opposite directions. The angler suffered no physical damage; however, the post-traumatic after-effects were palpable.

“I’m afraid to even wade into the water now,” he told me – half-joking and 95 percent serious.

Stargazer attacks can have that cruel after-effect.

Not to worry. The odds against being mouthed by an Astroscopus are astronomical. You see where I went with that Astroscopus and astronomical thing, right?

An odd aspect of local stargazers is their seeming population increase. Per usual, I resort to the thoughts of anecdotally overloaded old-timers. They assure the stargazer presence is new to the region. “I hain’t never seen one before this,” was one particularly colloquial comment.

Even with their influx, they remain an uncommon hookup – and still quite a novelty. I base that on a stargazer hookup I saw only last week in Harvey Cedars. I was doing a pre-volleyball walkabout and saw a group of beachgoers gathered around a surfcaster. The way folks were staring and taking pics, I thought for sure a small shark was in play. I rushed over to get any illegally beached gray suit back in the water, ASAP. No shark … by a long shot. It was a truly huge and particularly ugly stargazer. I think we have the biggest stargazers anywhere. Folks were mesmerized in a horror movie manner. The angler was none too sure what he had unleashed.

In a seemingly helpful way, I tried to get the angler to use his fingers to push down on the back of the fish’s head – you know, for unhooking. I knew first-handedly that stargazers can issue quite an electrical shock when touched behind the head.

No, I wasn’t being mean! The shock isn’t all that bad (I know) … and I needed a good laugh. Besides, how else are new old-timer traditions to be created? I’m in constant search for an equal to the time old man Sprague took me fishing and had me put my ear to the bottom of a garvey to listen intently for the bleating sound of migrating black drumfish. “Wow, I gotta hear this!” Just as I was highly a-listen, that dang Sprague dropped an anchor onto the boat bottom. My hearing hasn’t been the same since. (Hey, so I repeat that story a lot in here. It always offers a bit of local color from back in the weird days of yore.)

The Harvey Cedar angler didn’t fall for my tradition-making effort. In fact, he wanted me to unhook the whatever. He had his suspicions that something had been up when I used my hands to cup the sand well beneath the fish before hurriedly walking it to a watery release point – to cruelly attack swimmers’ toes in coming days.

And, no, you wouldn’t have been smart enough to know what old Spraguey was up to back when.

ANTI-PEREGRINE SPANS: The new Causeway spans have been the downfall of at least two peregrine falcons, both banded, meaning they were being humanly tracked/watched with keen interest.

The most recent falcon fatality was found atop the Big Bridges by Scott J. as he drove toward home. Scott took the time – and risk – to leg it back onto the bridge to see if the raptor might still be alive. Nope. It was a dead duck. Awful.

It’s easy to get vicariously attached to these majestic birds, especially with the ongoing info forwarded by those who are monitoring nests and such, especially Ben Wurst.

In fact, I contacted Ben about the DOA and he retrieved it from Scott.

“It’s a juvie male. We fostered it. … It’s from AC. This is the second to die from vehicle traffic on the bridge this summer,” said Ben.

That begged the obvious question of what peregrine-killing evil might lurk on the new spans. Ben made a telling point, noting something I had noticed during a photo session of the Causeway Project.

“One thing that has been taken away are good (safe) perching locations away from the roadway on the new “string of pearls.” There are bird spikes on all of them,” he said, adding, “We’re going to see what DOT can do about it.”

Can’t be sure where that NJDOT thing might go but even a non-expert like myself can see where resident and visiting peregrines would be quite satisfied with merely one or two high-point perches. There would be no need to remove all the Causeway’s extensive system of bird spikes.

As you likely guessed – and I’ll play Captain Obvious – the spikes, which look a lot like spent sparklers, are there to keep mainly gulls from fouling the lights, railings, and other perch points. Apparently gull crap is highly caustic – not to mention highly unsightly when dripping off high points, like melting ice cream. Yuck, right? As noted, virtually no higher-up perch points along the entire length of the Causeway are void of these landing disincentives.

With a couple of the loftiest Causeway points made spike-free, peregrines could stand watch high above the traffic mayhem below. Sure, gulls would frequent such prime vantages, but they would quickly abandon ship should the world’s proven “fastest bird” come falconing in to assume its rightful loftiness.

As to fellow peregrines wanting to vie for the limited prime perches – as Ben and others help peregrine falcon upsurge in numbers – that’s a dominance struggle demanded by nature – a high-above method of developing an essential pecking order, i.e. a perching order.

DOGGONE IT, PAY ATTENTION!: Dubbing dogs as merely “Man’s best friend” is a profound understatement. Dogs are more like adoring fans of humans. Often the feeling is mutual, with dogs becoming more like family members than some other bloodline folk. It’s therefore disturbing to witness otherwise loving dog owners now letting down their canine kin … at a time when mutuality is most needed.

Follow me here. Using my deepest canine instincts, I can assure that the walking of a dog is huge to Rover. It fulfills a need to experience the most enthralling and bonding pack behavior known to all canines: the run – primordially marked by charging headlong with pack peers, dashing across hill and dale. Yes, domestication has taken much of the zip from those primitive pack jaunts. Still, for a dog, an everyday walk is always far more than a mere dump-and-go session. It is what remains of the run’s pack-bonding effect.

Focusing on the vital psychological importance of the walk, let’s now go on to recognize the remarkable ability of even an everyday Daisy Girl to home in on human aura energies – to the point some pets know when their masters are driving home when still many miles away. Seriously. Tests have shown the presence of this energy-reading ability even when the arrival times are varied to eliminate the possibility the dogs sit around looking at Rolexes to keep track of usual daily arrival times. They know, somehow, they just know. Those same canine instincts allow a dog to easily recognize when the bonding aura and the energy of a walk have gone disturbingly awry.

Enter the killjoy effect of cellphones.

Mixing cellphone blather and walks is one of the cruelest blows to the usual positive energy exchange twixt man and pooch. It has the capacity to instantly make walk time an oddly detached affair on the four-legged end of things.

“Blah, blah, blah, blah.”

“This sucks.”

Balk all you want but I promise you, pooch fully knows when personal bonding time has been compromised, reduced to mere leg movements: no interplay, no energy exchange, no passion. What’s more, the dog is made even more uneasy when its once-best friend … is talking into thin air.

Think about it. A dog has no idea what a cellphone is all about. All it knows is life has gotten frighteningly weird. And such aberrant behavior by a pack leader can spell doom in nature.

You can disagree all you want. But check out the expressions of dogs being walked by gabbing owners. So many are missing something in their gait and expressions. Better yet, check how your pooch acts when you’re on the phone, and then when you stop and focus full attention on the walk. A discernible uptick can be seen … on both sides.

RUNDOWN: Blowfish still blowing the socks off bay anglers. At church, I got two reports, one was 50 fish taken and the other told of almost that many, i.e. uncounted. I was also told of folks now freezing bag after bag of tail for winter dining. I hear that works fine with puffers, though I’ve never done it.

Bluefishing is fair when schools are in the vicinity; nothing certain enough about to target them. They’ve been commonly showing when anglers are after other species and these summer one-pounders plow past with their usual ferocity. Inlets and oceanfront showing them best. Meaty baits and sacrificial plastics are sure to interest them.

Beachfront shallows still holding plentiful fluke, with some sizeable take-homes thrown in. Boat fluking in the bay remains maddeningly sub-keeper. A few just-keepers are frequently in the mix, but boat anglers expect a higher success rate. Oceantop fluking is very unpredictable. One boat will nail them and the next boat barely needs to deploy makeshift markers to indicate better drift points.

Shoreline kingfish bite continues to be subdued, mainly due to churned up conditions. Kingfish are known to hang around well into fall, so they’ll likely return – and maybe show like crazy by October or so, especially on the south end.

Spanish mackerel are off the charts, being taken in good numbers from the shoreline and to many miles out. Among the healthiest fish to eat, they are a tad oily. They seem to barbecue nicely, though a lot of drippage.

The numbers of bunker showing from miles out to in close – even amid swimmers over the weekend – are astonishing, both in school size and acreage. It now borders on an epic modern showing, from Sandy Hook down to Cape May, with water off Island Beach State Park being epicenter. Is there such a thing as too many bunker? Nope. There were far greater numbers way back when, as in times when the ocean was churning with life. These filter feeders surely mark a sound ecology. The current bunker showing admired, there’s no guessing what it means in terms of fall fishing. Here’s hoping.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Neal J Roberts | Aug 07, 2019 14:26

Cellphone Sense

Exhortation

 

To the Editor:

Readers who are familiar with The Fish Story, Jay Mann’s weekly column that has run 25 or 30 years straight in the SandPaper, know there are often curious tidbits of commentary on current events, on life experiences, and on keen observations of the natural world … or on human nature. To those of you who turn past the column because you have little or no interest in fishing, I highly recommend you reconsider.

I direct your attention to a fine example in his latest column (“Ugly Fish Proliferates… And Attacks; Keep Rover in Mind If Celling Along,” Aug. 7).

Here are the key points:

“…for a dog, an everyday walk is always far more than a mere dump-and-go session…. Mixing cellphone blather and walks is one of the cruelest blows to the usual positive energy exchange twixt man and pooch.… Balk all you want but I promise you, pooch fully knows when personal bonding time has been compromised, reduced to mere leg movements: no interplay, no energy exchange, no passion. What’s more, the dog is made even more uneasy when its once-best friend … is talking into thin air.”

Wonderful insight,  I say.

Fully applicable to inter-human relations, from what I observe.

Such as the lady in the county park throwing a Frisbee to her frisky dog, but failing to notice (or care?) whether the famously delightful mid-air catch is made. The lady’s drone-like attention was on her cellphone.

Or the young man at the playground with his young son or nephew, engaged in an alleged game of catch with a toy football. Only the guy was playing one-handed, only catching the ball occasionally, and often making a poor return throw to the poor little boy. Because the guy’s drone-like attention was on his cellphone.

Or the young woman at the playground with her young daughter or niece, pushing her on a swing. Only the woman was awkwardly pushing one-handed, entirely oblivious to the joy the little girl was trying to feel even though she might feel a bit neglected in this bonding moment. Because the young woman’s drone-like attention was on her cellphone.

(Three of many modern-day examples I have personally observed, with a deep sigh in my heart for the little ones: children or canines.)

“You can disagree all you want,” Jay continued, anticipating disdain from cellphone addicts at what he wrote. “But check out the expressions of dogs being walked by gabbing owners. So many are missing something in their gait and expressions. Better yet, check how your pooch acts when you’re on the phone, and then when you stop and focus full attention on the walk.”

“Hear, Hear!” says I.

Put down the cellphone awhile.

And just Live.

 

Neal Roberts

Lanoka Harbor

 



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