Story by Tom P

Don’t fall in the bay, or you may not get out alive. Possible death by a thousand nips.

At the very least you’ll need a blood transfusion.

It’s mid-August, and snapper bluefish are on the search ‘n slash throughout Barnegat and Great bays as well as tidal flows such as the Shark, Manasquan, Toms and Mullica rivers. Like their parents, these young-of-the-year blues are savage eating machines that travel in various size schools and positively terrorize every living creature in their rampaging paths. Seemingly, no quarry is too big to bite, and they will put the chew to sate voracious appetites that fuel an absolutely amazing growth rate.

Affectionately (?!) known as “Jersey piranhas”, snappers are the first to herald the advent of the balls-to-the-walls autumn saltwater fishing season. They offer outstanding fishing opportunities for anglers of all ages and, upon attaining lengths of 8-inches or better, provide scrumptious vittles via the frying pan or grill.

And kept frisky in an aerated bucket or livewell, they make a Godzilla of a live bait for big fluke and resident stripers.

This is really easy fishing, hence its appeal to youngsters and those of us who enjoy the typical bluefish fury once hooked, albeit it at a downsized degree. Ultra-light tackle is the game and gives the snappers a chance to show their mettle. Bait is a spearing (preferably fresh, but thawed will do) on a long shank hook under a bobber. Hate bait? No problem, as the miniature masticators will attack tiny metals and plugs and simply can’t resist the fluorescent tube at the business end of a Snapper Popper rig. A unique setup is the Lenny Lance It Rig (available at the Capt’n Hippo Bait & Tackle on Route 166 in South Toms River adjacent to the snapper-sizzling Mathis Park on the Toms River) that allows a spearing to be slid up a thin wire shaft and then a double hook is attached at the bottom near the bait’s tail. Atop is a spinner that adds extra attraction when the rig is moved with a turn or two of the reel handle. A bobber keeps the offering in the snapper strike zone.

Once they get to 10-11 inches, usually by mid-September, the snappers begin moving en masse to the inlets and then out front for their migration south. Here, too, they put the bite on the likes of mullet, peanut bunker, bay anchovies, …anything and everything that has a tail and is moving.

While there is no minimum length limit on snappers, there is a possession limit of 15. That’s plenty enough for a late summer repast or bait for that doormat or keeper bass.

Go with the Crow: Getting a wing up on the September 1st special Canada goose season and the railbird season, is the crow season which opens Monday, August 14. The ubiquitous black bandit is at home in the cities and suburbs, in the wooded mountains, farmlands and saltmarsh expanses…and all areas in between. An incredibly “smart” quarry (rumor is that it can count, comprehend the Julian and Gregorian calendars, and tell the difference between a shotgun and, say, a fishing rod) the crow can make ducks and geese, normally considered wary, look downright dimwitted. At this point of the year they’ll be found in singles, pairs and small groups…the flocking (sometimes hundreds of birds per flock) becoming more pronounced in late autumn through far edge of winter. Right now, the gunning can be lean. Sure, they’ll respond to calls (electronic callers permitted), especially those of a young crow in distress, and decoy set ups, but don’t figure on the barrel-smoking shooting to be encountered later in the season. It’ll be more of a couple of shots here, a few more there. By all means be mobile! If no birds appear in a half-hour, move to a second location. There is no bag limit, but hunting is relegated to Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday only.

Eat crow? Yep, but the dark red breast meat personifies the term “gamey”. We make a feast of it by first filleting the meat off the breastbone, then pounding each fillet with a meat mallet a few times to facilitate tenderizing, then soaking the meat for a couple of hours (in a refrigerator) in a combination of a quart of seltzer water, a teaspoon of white vinegar and half a white onion. Remove, pat dry, baste liberally with a favorite BBQ sauce and put on the grill, turning every couple of minutes...maybe 3-4 turns. Serve over fluffy white rice. Leftover breasts make a great sandwich on a hard (Kaiser) roll topped with summer fresh tomato and lettuce, and a generous spread of honey mustard.

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