SKIN DIVERS working the depths of Lake Hopatcong in northern New Jersey have all but closed the case of the missing alewives (SI, Aug. 16). After two or three sorties the divers found drowsing schools of them in thick bottom grass at a depth of 30 feet. Having thus simplified, if not solved, the problem of the fresh-water anglers who use alewives as bait, the volunteer divers, all members of the Underwater Fishermen of New Jersey, have tackled another job.
This time it is a combined fish-and fisherman-watching operation around selected ocean jetties. The fish watchers below jot down on waterproof pads the numbers, species and feeding habits of fish, while the fishermen watchers topside—biologists from the state's fisheries lab—note the number, baits and behavior of the anglers atop the jetties. It will be a while before conclusive data is in. For one thing, Jersey water by and large is not the glass-clear wonderworld of the tropics. "At times," admits Nick Nosach, president of the Underwater Fishermen, "it's more like working in a closet." But for all this, the watchers have found a few things to benefit the surface angler.
Often when the angler disgustedly concludes there is not a fish for miles, bass will be stacked up like cordwood around his jetty. "Some of the lures going over even look good to me," reports Nosach, "but the bass don't move. Then I've seen one slap his tail on a rock; out come some bergalls and the bass eats a bergall. You'd think some of these guys would hook a bergall through the tail for bait, but they don't."
Similarly, blackfish are supposed to move away from the jetties to deeper water in midsummer, but the divers are finding blacks hanging in the silty green water in deep holes near the jetty tips. They can hear the blackfish making small clicking noises, and from their stomachs they have taken small green crabs and sand fleas still alive—baits that are easy to get but seldom used in midsummer.
"You can't convince just any guy on a jetty," says Nosach. "Their lines are down there, half the time the bottom hook is buried in sand or there's a crab eating on it. Or they're out on the end throwing their lures away, while in close—four or five feet of water—we see big bass nosing calico crabs out of the sand, spitting out the hardshell and swallowing the soft. With a rake you can get all the soft-shells you need. One guy listened to me and he got a bass."
New Jersey's interest in all this is closely related to the fact that seven or eight million dollars is spent annually there by salt-water anglers, many of them out-of-staters. On a 4th of July, Jersey has counted 92,170 fishing from boats, and nobody knows how many more on piers, jetties, bridges, and thrashing around in the surf. Any data the state can pass on to improve catches will keep the anglers coming back for more.
"We have always felt," Roland Smith, state biologist, says, "that a good number of fishermen are duffers." Watching fishermen has tipped New Jersey's biologists off to a number of things that most fishermen would rather have withheld from the scoffers of the nonfishing world: 1) most fishermen don't get to it until midday, although the best fishing is early morning or late afternoon, 2) the average fisherman spends $5 to $6 to get 726 worth of fish, 3) offshore party boats, often crowded with larking novices and women, catch the most fish, 4) row-boaters catch more crabs than fish, and 5) surf anglers get precious little—in fact, the wild way some surfers go at it, they might as well be standing barehanded at the bottom of Niagara Falls.
Jersey plans to offer its scientific findings to fishermen who care about such things. But it has no notion of forcing its findings on a man; maybe that would spoil his fun.
"There will always be a fisherman who wants to fish the wrong weather and tide, the wrong bait, the wrong way," says Smith. "With everything wrong, he'll catch one big fish and he'll be the happiest man in the world."
The pool players