Dolphins Show, Fish Go in South Jersey
Everyone, except the coldest of the heartless, loves Flipper. Indeed, seeing the gamboling and frolicking marine mammal makes one feel all warm and fuzzy inside. For those of us ancient enough to remember Bud, Sandy and Dad on that Saturday evening TV show, well, the bottlenose dolphin is an adorable, intelligent, gentle and social creature that could save you from a shark attack (as per a Flipper TV episode) and is at peace with its surroundings and fellow underwater kin.
In today’s vernacular, “Cancel that!” Save for the intelligent and social descriptions, this apex predator, the males which can reach lengths of a dozen feet and weigh upwards of a half-ton (the females can grow as long but are mostly in the 7-8 foot range and typically weigh-in at 400 to almost 600-pounds) is an eating machine that will pillage and plunder, sometimes in a bloody way, its intended prey.
Off a Pie Key flat on the lower Florida Keys (somewhere between Big Pine and Sugarloaf), we waited, water lapping the ankle tops and fly rods in hand, as the sun crept over the horizon, waiting for a school of bonefish to appear from the depths then get to business of hunting crabs and shrimp.
At the edge of the flat, the channel dropped to a dozen feet or more. An explosion, then another and another on the upper edge of the flat worked its way towards us, shreds and hunks of flesh and a scarlet spray made for a gruesome yet mesmerizing confetti. On it came and passed a few yards of us: a foursome of Flippers ripping into a fleeing school of jack crevalle. Blood everywhere.
Farther to the rear where the carnage started, more dolphins were rolling as they gorged on the remains.
Fast forward a dozen years to a just-past sunrise early June morning. We’re enjoying ultra-light tackle action with 10- to 13-inch weakfish aboard the Bayhound with Capt. Al
Crudele III just inside Townsends Inlet. The testing of a client’s new near-whisker thin monofilament and copolymer lines was going well as the weakies whacked the small jigs and downsized Yo-Zuri crankbaits. And then, just like that, it stopped.
“There’s why,” pointed the skipper as his glance led us to a pair of dorsal fins that submerged, then emerged, then went down again. “Those weakfish are gone,” he added.
One of the pair passed close and gave us the eye, and game me chance for a photo. That same October, with the same skipper in nearly the same location, this time on a
gorgeous Indian Summer afternoon, the 16- to 20 inch schoolie stripers were all over the Mr. Twister Sassy Shads and D.A.R.T.S. And then, just like that, it stopped.
A dorsal fin sliced the surface then disappeared in the vicinity where we were casting and catching. We exchanged glances.
“One of the two from last spring?”
“Could be. But, who knows? One thing is for sure: when they show, the fish go,” rhymed Capt. Al.
As if on cue, the dolphin stalled alongside and held its maw open displaying its formidable dentition in either a “Get outta here” or “Toss me some eats,” gesture. Another photo op.
Make no mistake about it: when Flipper appears, fish vamoose, be they weakfish, small stripers and blues, sea bass, croakers, triggerfish...they know they are doomed if they hang around. Flounder and sea robins have the option of burrowing in the sand and hiding, and others may dash into the sanctuary afforded by rocks or a wreck, but if they are caught in the open, they are lunch.
Pretty adorable, huh? Faster than lightning...