Fishing Tips

The Winds of change

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The
Winds of change;
By Bob Misak
During the early summer and into fall the Jersey shore is home to an assortment
of “Ocean Oddities”.
To what do we owe this influx of
unusual visitors?
“Things anew”
As years pass by and we who reside here along the northeast coast grow in age, we are beginning to witness a series of changes to our eco-system. Though these changes are occurring very slowly, those who are observant are also aware. From the appearance of formerly unseen bird species such as the pelican, both the brown and white species, to many, many different and new species of fish. We have been blessed to see the increased population of the gray triggerfish, which has been caught offshore on wrecks for several years, only to move up into the warm waters of the inlets and bays. I have seen and caught a number of gray triggers in 2008 and 2009, and all were caught without setting foot on a boat, with the exception of the new state record caught by Ron Pires off his boat in Barnegat Bay. Another fish that comes from southerly waters and is drawing a lot of attention from anglers is the sheepshead. This fish is often mistaken for a black drum, with the distinguishing feature being the sharp protruding teeth of the fish. This fish also had its New Jersey record broken at 17 lbs. in the last five years, and both species are going to see new records in New Jersey in years to come. Keep in mind that 20 years ago these fish were not on our list as a game fish, and are still not listed in our fish and game limits as game fish.
But those aren’t the only species making their trek northward to the colder Atlantic waters. So as time goes by and our seas experience a rising in our average water temperatures by a degree or so every few years due to the simple fact that the air temps are rising, to what do we owe this shift from normalcy?
“A warmer Earth?”
Being a fisherman and not a scientist, I try to steer clear of the subject of global warming, as a lot of folks think it’s just pure nonsense. But at this point it seems that this is an unavoidable subject to ignore for several reasons. One, we have scientific proof that the Earth is warming ever so slowly, or as others believe, very quickly. The proof for example, is right there. We are now witnessing desperate pleas on T.V. for help in protecting our polar bears from inevitable doom because the ice caps are melting so quickly, and their habitat is disappearing at mock speed. Up here in the northeast the waters warm earlier in the year than they used to, and they stay warm later as well. This could be the reason for some of the problems we’ve had with our summer and winter flounder stocks. Lately, fluking has been great in the beginning and ending weeks of our season with not much in between, when our waters are in the 80’s. The same has happened to our winter flounder, with the fish leaving our bays before the season ends in April. But as far as tropical species making a showing, warm water is one reason. Cleaner waters are another. Our tough laws on ocean dumping have not completely wiped out illegal dumping, but sure have slowed it some. This saved a lot of species that would have perished otherwise, and the combination of these factors, along with schools of southern bait fish such as the rain fish increasing seems to be bringing in “fish of a different color” as well.
“Seine net secrets”
A handful or two of local anglers have actually become accustomed to targeting and catching such fish as triggers or sheepshead on a rod and reel. But there are group of fishermen who see species of fish that the regular guy rarely, if ever get to see; those are the seine netters. I seine quite a bit to catch the freshest of baits such as spearing and shedder crabs, as most sharp anglers know that it makes a difference to have fresh bait. We revert back to being kids when we seine, and we can’t wait to see what comes up in the net. And I’ll tell you this; we get to see some of the most beautiful tropical species of smaller fish that you could imagine. But these fish can’t be caught on a rod and reel.One species is the spiny box puffer, or striped burr fish. The spiny box is similar to a blowfish in shape, but instead has large thick spines protruding from its body. Box puffers grow to about 12 to 14 inches, and are by no means edible. Anglers catch bow puffers in the surf in summer, but in the seine we see many smaller fish. The spiny box is a colorful addition to a salt water tank enthusiast, but in schools they are aggressive towards other species, and quite voracious eaters.
Lookdown Babies Have a defined hairlike filament
Lookdown Babies Have a defined hairlike filament
Lookdowns are a regular visitor to our bays
Lookdowns are a regular visitor to our bays
lookdowns are strange but attractive
lookdowns are strange but attractive

The silver lookdown is an odd but gracious visitor to the northeast
The silver lookdown is an odd but gracious visitor to the northeast

Another species caught by way of seine is the silver lookdown. This fish is a strange but beautiful creature, silver in color with its eyes way up at the top of its head, sloping forehead, giving it the name lookdown. These fish are gracious swimmers, and have a hair-like appendage protruding out the back of the dorsal fin, making them a stunning addition to a salt water tank. But the lookdown is very shy in captivity and is reluctant to show itself to onlookers. Lookdowns are a highly sought after game fish in Florida and grow to several lbs, but here in the northeast I have only seen smaller one as big as 6 or 7 inches, and those were caught in seines.
“Will the change keep changing?”
As the northeast gets accustomed to seeing the like of triggerfish and sheepsheads and such, I think more and more we will begin to notice these odd ball fish as they increase in number, and they most definitely will in the years to come. The cow-nosed ray is one southern visitor that has made a home here much to the dismay of the light tackle angler, including myself.

I did some research on these strange fish invading our waters, and contacted Rutgers marine science biologist Tom Grothues, who has been studying these species for years. Tom confirmed the spiny box puffer as well as the lookdown, and looked at some photos of what we thought was a spotted grouper that we had caught on a rod and reel by my nephew, Jason Misak. Tom also identified this as a spotted grouper, a dark bodied fish with perfectly aligned brilliant white dots on its entire body. A grouper! Groupers rarely, if ever stray from the warm waters of the Florida coast, and there are hundreds of different types. Mr. Grothues also filled me in on a few species that I haven’t seen yet, such as the blue spotted coronet fish. The coronet is an eel-like bottom dweller that resembles our standard pipefish, but is adorned with very loud and colorful blue dots all over its body. These have also come up in seine nets along the Jersey coast.
“Identifying an oddity”

So now that we have touched base on some of the strange and unusual fish that inhabit our waters, we can identify some of them if we run across them. There are many more southern species of fish making their way northward. I have witnessed catches of amberjacks and skip jacks during chumming trips in the bay, as well as Florida and African pompanos, to the most beautiful of all the southern fishes, the queen triggerfish. The queen trigger sports a coat with every color of the rainbow, and is absolutely stunning to see up close. There is a virtual tropical paradise wandering around our bays and inlets, and if you ever have the chance to snap a photo of, say, a queen triggerfish or a grouper, do so because it could be the only chance you’ll get, unless you’re at an aquarium somewhere. Or who knows, in 5 or 10 years they just might be here for good. That depends on the changes in our weather. Good luck and great fishing.

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