>> MAY 2, 2017 <<
Early this morning I received the image seen above from one of the captains from around this area showing us the changes that were made to one of the most legendary inshore party fishing boats in this region. Oh she was a classic during her time, and not so much for the vessel, but her skipper who could fill pails with various bottom fish for his customers by only using the traditional mariners skills of time, course and ranges to get squared up on either a wreck or piece of bottom. I stared at this picture for a few moments and wondered if the old 'JET' is in a much better place now, and not so much of the area where she is now home ported, but in that she has been given a new life that is not related to the catching of fish.
Here the story becomes one in which fishermen from as far from the very tip of southern New Jersey to north and eastward to southern Cape Cod continue to wonder about how lifeless the sea has become in such a significant, in terms of the area of the ocean in the catching of any fish that has become the norm at the start of May in 2017.
Yesterday in visiting a captain in Pt. Pleasant Beach, we happened to meet up with another captain whose vessel was tied to the dock behind where the fine seafood eatery 'Spikes' is located. Covered in dust after grinding away on his vessel for the day, he walked over to us as we staring at the 'Queen Mary' and talking about how eye-catching this vessel looks as the sunlight glistened upon her hull.
"Shame she's tied to the dock and not out fishing"......this stated as the sun was beating upon us.
It's routine for fishing captains to talk about the what-is and more so, what-now is going on with the fishing scene and the underlying theme always seems to center upon what is so very wrong within the for-hire fishing business at this time. The griping over the senseless regulations has now become the center of the ills impacting both fishing boat owners, and those who fish upon the various species during the season it always comes back to the utter disconnect between those who sit in their comfortable offices and can count on their bi-weekly check showing up in their bank accounts to those independent small businessman who are scrambling and stressing these days as they wonder how much worse the for-hire fishing environment will become.
"When can we go fishing"....."what can we catch"....."what are the regs at this time"...."the damn price of bait"......"we can't control what we have available to us to fish for"......
Right now with certainty we can point to something which is currently going on within our waters that goes beyond the regulatory environment, and which by itself will push fishing operators to the edge, and that is a phenomena which we have never experienced before as so few fish from a number of traditional species are just not being harvested. Worse and more unsettling by those in the for-hire industry who are trying to catch fish for their customers is the "where are they" as little is seen at this time of the year. It does goes without saying that we can easily check off the disappearance of silver hake/whiting along with winter flounders in the various bays between the Garden and once Empire State, but in what is more shocking is what has occurred on our mid-range and offshore wrecks becoming literally lifeless.
Even with the routine and prevailing strong easterly and southerly winds at this time of the year which have led to many lost weather-fishing days, when for-hire party boats have ventured out, the "catching" score board looks pretty dismal when speaking about the two largest in size fish in our are - cod, and striped bass, while the bucket filling red hake has reached the point where we can say they are reaching the scarce point in the NY-NJ BIGHT. Are catches of a half a dozen fish to a dozen fish what we should expect at this time when it comes to ling?
In fact as it comes to striped bass, the signs of a early decent spring has backed off so significantly that a few captains are praying for some ocean-run fish to make their way up the beach. Those charters boats which were enjoying their ORL or OLR fishing when using either mojo's or bunking dunking since the time season opened are now popping the Costco sized bottles of Excedrin 500's as the rock-fishing has petered out so fast when when it should be cranking up to the point of easy catching, no matter whether trolling, on anchored or if jigging is used when targeting striped bass at this point of the season. Much different than the spring of 2016...wouldn't you all say?
It brings us to the wonderful news on bluefish, and mind you this is not about the bluefish not showing up. They are here....in the bays and rivers where they have suddenly developed a severe case of "lock-jawed" syndrome which normally over the last few years is seen in the coming months of latter June, July and August. One can speculate when seeing the first blues of 2017 as these were big-headed beasts displaying a dark purplish tone to their scales with long bodies but lean bellies. Shouldn't they be feasting on all the bunkers that have been around since the winter?
This is where we see something very strange...for lack of a better description on what is going on under the surface of our local waters. One of the first signs has been the lack of bird life around our parts. A few have asked about the lack of gulls flying around. Others have loudly stated to me about bunkers all of a sudden disappearing from where they were just two weeks ago. Stick bait? Don't ask. But the bunker have all of a sudden gone missing at this time?
Strangely though, their have been a few Bostonian's making their way through the NY-NJ BIGHT nexus, normally caught but not in direct targeting the Atlantic Mackerel, but by those on striper and bluefish boats who just happen to catch a few during the day. Spring mackerel....say it ain't so, but we have seen scattered pockets of mackerel in this area which so far are not being molested by other species which feast upon them. Could it be due to the colder than normal water temps for this time of the year that some captains are mentioning to me when sinker or a fish comes over the rail?
Colder than normal water temps...on the bottom after the reasonably comfortable winter temperatures we saw from January to March in 2017? Who could forget the 60's and 70's temperatures during February, especially when one walked around Manhattan just wearing a tee-shirt and for some, flip-flops......yes how easily we forget the balmy February we had and then just barely a week later this article about the mid month of 2017 March Blizzard which brought back the reality of late winters occurring over the past half decade.
Some will ask about the good fishing news, and I have told a number of captains and fishermen, it will happen...eventually. For some reason inshore sea bass migration is lagging, but sea bass have this mystical "not there one day, then in large numbers the next day" during May. So far what has shown up in the neighboring states here is not BO' sized fish though. What that means for the rest of the spring of this being a run of smaller than average fish, we will see, and yes it is too early to make that call at this time.
As for Summer Flounder/fluke..... I just read the other day this little trinket of news and I would read and pay attention to very closely as far as the direction the Mid-Atlantic Council may go after the findings from this study. What I did find interesting is that now we are seeing acknowledgement about the poor performance of MRIP (and I am putting that nicely here as I did not say "urine" poor) as far as one of the issues with harvest estimates and mortality when it comes to fluke:
The Council wishes to explore the feasibility of tying some or all of the criteria for recreational adjustments to the summer flounder fishing mortality rate.
This has the potential to increase stability in the fishery and the regulations, and mitigate some of the negative consequences associated with annual fine-scale adjustments to measures based on uncertain MRIP estimate.
The goal of this management change would be to meet the requirements of the MSA while minimizing fishery instability caused by frequent changes in management measures driven by uncertain estimates and flawed assumptions.
I know as the sun is shinning this morning that there are many captains praying for fluke to be open right now, though we do know that the legal recreational possession of the flatfish with teeth will not happen until after Mom's and Grandmom's Day. Scup for those who have access to the incoming silver dollar fish will finally get those who enjoy bottom fishing, finally going fishing. The opening day out east between the 'Forks' scup reports where the most optimistic we have seen in awhile...and thankfully too!
So as I wind up these few thoughts on what is currently going on around our little part of the pond, and for those asking me at this where they can see a few fish, I just know the right place where you can very easily find them if you get into your car and take a ride........
Anyhow, as I started off this NY BIGHT INSIDER, just maybe this is the future for those in the for-hire business to go. Who wouldn't mind kicking back with drink in hand telling old fish stories here...... It's so much easier than in trying to catch some fish right now....