Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Rant, Chapter 1

The Rant, Chapter 1:
OK ladies and gentlemen, here’s the beginnings of the rant and the ramble.   These are my thoughts based on my experiences, some of which are based on observations while doing research, some are  backed up by statistically significant findings, others based on observations while guiding 60-90 days/year on the lower Neuse/western Pamlico for 20 years.

Four years after graduating from UNCW with a B.S. in Marine Biology, my degree was un-expectantly put into use when I was approached by a scientist from NCSU who was pursuing a Fisheries Resource Grant to study adult red drum.   His goal was to use radio transmitters to track adult red drum in the lower Neuse River and western Pamlico Sound in hopes of documenting where these fish were spawning.  

In the summer of 1999 we were on the way out to tag our first red drum with a radio transmitter the size of half a roll of Life-Savers candy.   It was attached to the drum by one of the shoulder tags that we normally use to tag big drum.   The transmitter was attached to the dart with a material that would break away after about 6 months, about the life of the tag.  Each tag had a different frequency, too high to even be noticed by red drum.  Each tag had a different “ping” sequence so that we could identify individuals.  

To hear the tags, we used a hydrophone on the end of a pole that we would hold in the water, slowly turning and turning until we heard the “ping”.   The cables from the hydrophone went to a box where we could change frequencies; from the box a set of head phones was attached.    The guy with the head phones would sit on the gunnel of the boat, eyes closed, concentrating.   Depth finder would be off,  VHF off, we would often be anchored and we would take turns listening…….and listening…….and listening.  

The range of the tag was over a mile under ideal conditions, under rough conditions, we could easily hear a tag as long as we were within half a mile.  We had the river gridded with different listening positions so that we could effectively search entire sections of the river and Pamlico Sound for the faint sound of a “ping”.   

After we heard the “ping”, we would slowly head in that direction, trying to get closer so that we could hear the tag more clearly and identify from the sequence of pings exactly to which fish we were listening.    After we identified the fish, we tried to get as close as we could to document the habitat and water quality conditions that the fish was utilizing.   This was difficult, because when we got within a 100 yards and often much further in shallow water, the idling boat would “push” the drum.  

The deepest parts of the Neuse River are not much deeper than the deep-end of a swimming pool.  Imagine a school of big drum swimming around in a giant swimming pool.   Consider that they spend most of their year in the open ocean, so when they get in this skinny water, they can be a bit spooky.   Now run an outboard at pretty much any speed through the swimming pool and the drum are going to go the opposite direction.   Idle that motor ever so slowly and they may just casually swim out of the way, but when you run it hard enough to push a wake or get on plane, those drum are going to run

If you are within 200 yards of a school of drum and running your motor, they know you are there.  
If you come within 300 yards of another boat, you are affecting their fishing, so at the very least, be quiet  and just idle.    Also, try not cross the chum slick of another boat, that’s where the drum he will be catching will most likely be coming from.    The courteous thing to do would be to slowly idle off to the side or bow, ideally after being invited.  

This is only a tiny segment of the rant that is coming.  Maybe in little pieces and spelled out it will be easier for the knuckleheads to get it through their thick heads.

 I look forward to telling you about those first fish that we tagged and what we learned.  More to come.