Year in Review 2012: Hurricane Edition

I thought Tsuritama was the best TV anime this year. It turns out that we have more than fishing in common, that show and I.

It’s probably cliche to have a dramatic seaside story about fishing to conclude with a climatic storm. In real life, it’s not a cliche, especially if it wrecked things Sandy did. Hurricane Sandy itself was not particularly powerful–Japan regularly see hurricane/typhoon/whatevers of this caliber almost every year. People down in Florida see storms like this once every other year or so. What’s special is that the storm took up the eastern seaboard at around October 30th, which is quite late for a hurricane. For a point of reference, there were 2″ of snow on the ground on October 31th, 2011, on my driveway. It’s kind of weird to see a tropical storm hit this late, let alone this far up the coast. It also hit during a new mood high tide. The main thing: the US Northeast gets a storm like this once every … two decades? Certainly none this big in recorded history.

Anyway, basically I went fishing a month after Hurricane Sandy, down by the Jersey shore. Most of the good fishing spots were either closed or destroyed, so party boating was actually the best thing to do. We chatted with the captain of the boat of our choice and got the first-hand details as to how everyone with their boats dodged the storm by going around to the weak side of various islands nearby. On the way to and from the fishing grounds, we also got a very bleak, if oddly scenic, view of the devastation. It’s pretty clear that the shoreline has changed as a result of the storm. The oddly punctuating lawn furniture or marooned sailboat here and there just adds to that sense of dread, despite that most of it has already been cleaned up.

Atlantic Highlands

The weather was relatively nice for fishing; it was not totally freezing for a December day on the seas, and light rain did not fall until later in the day, sparing us from the sun. When it did drizzle, it was manageable. Instead we focused on the catches–blackfish. Or Tautogs if you’re native or a scientist. It’s not a pretty fish, nor a pretty fish to catch–certainly no match to Yuki and Natsuki’s Mahi Mahi runs, but it is complicated in its own way. If you’ve ever done bottom fishing, the blackfish is done similarly as most–using bait on a weighted rig. No need for fancy polarized glasses–I doubt you can see past 10 feet in the darkened water of the North Atlantic anyway (we actually didn’t go that far out). Making itself home among wreckage and rocky terrain, the Tautog feeds on local crustaceans, so small crabs make a good choice for bait. No–these crabs are not big enough to eat for a human, at least. Applying the bait correctly was a major aspect of a successful catch, getting the right size hook and hooking it through the right part of a piece of crab–or an whole one–is not so obvious. Streamlining the rig is also a major part, given the likelihood of losing your rig is pretty high in such environment.

There’s even a special technique to hooking. We were fishing at well-tested spots, so we were getting bites. The tough part is that Tautogs are relatively intelligent and they do not swallow on bite on contact, rather they test it using their specialized lips. Upon actually taking the bait, they chew on it using their molars, so it isn’t that easy to hook versus fish that swallow whole. On first sign of trouble the blackfish swims into the rocks, making the timing challenging. If you pull too early (or even on time) you might not get anything. If you pull too late, you’ll hook up with mother earth, or nothing at all. And you can’t really see any of this. To boil it down to “Enoshima-don” level of technique, I just counted to 3 really quick once I feel the bite. Since we’re fishing with rods, it helps to point the fishing rod down at the water so you can get the maximum pull distance, to quickly get the fish away from the stuff that’ll catch your rig at the bottom.

Winter here is blackfish season; the various fishing grounds we toured that day all had plenty of bites; at some of them we even saw really young ones. The government restricted limit was 6 per person per day, at 15 inches minimum. Unfortunately this means out of the 10 or so I caught in a 6-hour period I had to return 9! I think that might be for the best; one 5-pound blackfish go a long way. It’s a peculiar fish in that on the markets, it sells for anywhere between $8-15 a pound, but it also is a very local fish without a lot of commercial exploitation as it’s not a fish you can readily find at supermarkets. So maybe the supply and demand are both small. Anyways, it tastes pretty good, as you’d expect of a fish that eats mostly crabs and clams, without the more fibrous texture associated with fluke or flounder.

And this is where I kind of raises an eyebrow: where’s all the fish-eating love in Tsuritama? This is Japan we’re talking about, right? Okay, sure, shirasu is fish, but it’s not freshly prepped catch of the day! Okay, yeah, maybe it can be kind of morbid given the whole Haru and Haru-sis’s angle, but that would be the one weird, Nakamura-ism that I would have expected in an anime about the culture of fishing. I respect and enjoy that there’s this polite environmentalism about catching and releasing, about not eating your trade away, what have you. But that is not the reality Japan (and rest of east Asia) faces. Playing it safe is like dropping the nine tautogs I caught back into the sea. I respect that, and I wish those lucky escapees nothing but the best, so they may it end up on the hook of another angler, another day, a few inches larger than I first met them. That’s when humanity’s best intentions coincide with nature’s.

It’s just that, sometimes, nature’s intention yields to no one. I was fortunate to survive Hurricane Sandy with no loss, just power loss for a couple days and lack of internet for about a week. It was an opportunity to snuggle up at night with a handheld game. It was also an opportunity to help each out.

Up next: I also caught a dogfish. These things are vicious and a fun catch.

Year in review 2012:

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