Friday, February 01, 2013

Fish on Friday - The Fish Guru of Piermont Pier

"If you are on the river long enough, you will meet a sturgeon. If you are lucky, you will get to touch it." -Susan Fox Rogers, My Reach

Well, no, I haven't met a sturgeon yet, but the group that I paddled with on that beautiful foggy day on the Hudson a couple of weeks did have a very interesting encounter of the piscine variety. Ours was with a young striped bass who got caught on the Piermont Pier, but was lucky enough to get to go home again with a strange tale of adventures above, and a souvenir to prove it. I've been meaning to share this ever since, but I keep getting sidetracked, so before I forget, here's the story of our visit with the Fish Guru (so said his license plate!) of the Piermont Pier.

We'd stopped at the pier for lunch and a bit of a leg-stretch, and just as we walked down to the end, we noticed that one of the fishermen had something on the line and stopped to see what he was going to bring in.

He gradually brought the fish to shore - 

a striped bass, not too big yet. 

The fisherman brought his catch over to the bench where his tackle was, laid the fish on the bench beside the tackle box, and I think that's when one of our crew noticed that the tackle box had some unusual-looking equipment in it. 
As he pulled out a couple of items, we started to ask him what he was going to do - as we began asking questions the fish began flopping in earnest. He asked us to please be quiet for a bit and he'd explain when he was doing when he was done. He began by gently laying the towel over the fish - this seemed to calm the animal, which settled down and laid there quietly.
The towel came off for a moment for measuring, then went back on. 
The fish was re-wrapped for the next step.  The fisherman picked up what looked like a length of wire, tilted the fish's tail up to vertical, and swiftly punched the wire through the flesh of the tail. I was confused for a moment, but then the fisherman attached the loose ends of the wire - 
And as he pulled his hands away, I could see that the fish was now wearing a tag.
That was about it. This was a nice, fat, healthy bass, although not too long nose to tail, so the fisherman decided to weigh it (think he said around 5 pounds), then it was time for the fish to go home again - although the fisherman did let us grab a couple more pictures.
Closeup of the tag. If you click for detail on either one of these, you might be able to see the tiny, tiny print on the tag that says "Littoral Soc., Highland", part of the contact information for the owners of the tag, the American Littoral Society. 

After a couple of  quick photos, it was time for the fish to go home again. Insert dreadful joke about "flying fish" here. 
And a minute and a tail-flick later, all that was left was spreading rings on the calm calm water. 
With the tagged fish back in the water and swimming away, the fisherman was now happy to talk to us about his volunteer work as a fish tagger for the American Littoral Society. It was an interesting program to find out about, I've done some beach cleanups and shorewalks with our own local chapter of the ALS so I'm familiar with the organization, but not with this particular program, one of the ALS's Citizen Science programs, and this gentleman is a very enthusiastic participant. He loves to fish, but only catch-and-release, when we asked if he ever ate them he laughed and said "No, they're like my pets", then he got a little more serious and said that he would order fish in a restaurant but that although the Hudson is better than it once was, it's still polluted enough that the toxins concentrate in fish, especially predators like the striped bass and bluefish that are some of the most popular species to fish for. But I'd also say that he really does like the fish too - he reserves the tagging for the striped bass, but he knew a lot a ton about all kinds of fish. 

One of his friends there mentioned that he was a retired principal - well, you can take the educator out of the school, but with a good one, I think the classroom will just happen wherever people who want to learn appear. Realizing that some of us were genuinely fascinated, class was in session and it was time for show and tell. First a little more about the tagging program, which I'll link to at the end of the post. The tags come attached to these numbered cards; when a tagger tags a fish, he fills out the information and sends the card back to the ALS, which keeps it on file. Down the road, when another fisherman catches that striper, if they return the tag (whether they keep the fish or just take the tag off and release it), the ALS will let them know when and where the fish was tagged and how big it was at the time, and they'll let the tagger know where and when the fish was re-taken. The farthest that one of this fisherman's fish had traveled was all the way to Montauk correction from one of the folks on the trip - MAINE, try MAINE (!!!!)(and he'd tagged it there in Piermont so that was a pretty good distanceFAR); the ALS pages that I'll link to have a few more interesting statistics if you're curious.
With the ALS tagging program explained it was time for general fish stories;
we didn't get to meet a sturgeon but he did have a picture to show us.
Finally it was getting time for us to move on, and for him, there were more fish to be caught - but what a pleasant interlude with the Fish Guru of Piermont Pier. 
And how nice to see actual research being done here in the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve. Want to learn more about the American Littoral Society's fish tagging program? Click here to visit the site.


Unknown said...

Great post! (fisheries biologist here in Gloucester Mass so I love it!)

question: what are the glasses the person with the green drysuit has on???? those look like they are great!
Keep the hull side down!

Buck said...

Love this!

Baydog said...

I may not have been so pro-life.

bonnie said...

Me neither. I actually like fishing (proof here!) although I haven't done much since I was a kid. There was one summer when a friend of my Texas aunt and uncle took me under her wing during a trip to the lake - she fixed me up with a bamboo pole, and we would seine for minnows for bait and then go out in her little johnboat and catch largemouth bass; the other fishing trips were in Seattle, where my folks had a friend who had a boat, on which my dad & I went for a few nice trips - we were technically salmon fishing although I mostly caught cod.

And no, none of the fish I have caught lived to tell the tale unless they were undersized. I do admire the catch-and-release philosophy, but I do have to admit that when I did fish as a kid, the idea was that we were catching fish to take home for dinner, and mostly when we had what we knew we could use, we'd call it a good day and head for home.

There was one undersized fish that also didn't make it. It was one of the salmon fishing trips, I got a fish on my line that fought so hard we thought it was going to be a monster. Well, when it finally shows itself we all start laughing because it's a baby, about the size of a trout, definitely not a keeper. We brought the fish on board planning to take the hook out and put it back in the water, but when Mr. C. opens the fish's mouth, he finds that it's completely swallowed the hook. It's doomed. We're sad, we don't want to let a salmon go to waste, but at the same time we can't have it on board in case the fish & game warden stops by to visit. What to do?

Fortunately Mr. C. had supplies for just such an emergency on board. A hot plate, a little frying pan, corn oil and some seasoned bread crumbs and the dirty deed was done - we ate the evidence.

I think that my dad and I both agree to this day that that was the best fish we ever ate.

bonnie said...

Wow, Baydog, this is strange - right around the time I posted that herring fishing trip report was also the first time you popped up in my comments. Haiti had just had their terrible earthquake, you had commented about Sails for Sustenance and I had turned that into a post in its own right.

The eerie part is that in the comments, I'd ended up posting a list of "Disaster Relief Do's and Dont's". Sort of eerie rereading that today, got a whole new perspective now.

bonnie said...

Oh, and hi, Corgimas! I have to come visit your blog sometime, looks interesting - and reminds me that I was curious about trying to go watch some kite fighting at Floyd Bennett Field this year.

I don't know what kind of glasses those are and as it turns out, I actually haven't got her email address, but I sent a link to this post to the rest of the folks who were on this paddle this morning and hopefully one of them will pass it on to her.

my2fish said...

cool story. next time I vote that Baydog cooks it up for us all to share.

Pua; Bakin' and Tendin' Bar said...

Great, great story Bon!

The bit about the sturgeon caught my eye. Only because Charlie is such a fan of said fish. I'm glad I stayed and read on.

Loved it.