Anyone’s guess, I guess.

The delectable northern puffer, most commonly known as the blowfish, and, from the culinary corner, “Chicken of the Sea,” has been curiously absent so far this summer, showing here and there is spurts, but nowhere near the numbers and locations accustomed to the past 16-17 years.

Could it be the arrival of the downward trend of this cyclical species?

Some ligature here from a from personal experience.

Tom P.
Tom P.

As a youngster in the Sixties, late May was always when the blowfish arrived, sticking around through maybe the second week in June. The numbers were vast, the quarry so ravenous it seemed they bit the small squid strips baits on the high, slack, and low tides. It was crazy insane psycho drop ‘n swing fishing.

Our blowfish acme was the Memorial Day weekend in ‘69 when, from a Friday afternoon to early evening Sunday, we (five kids and a couple of uncles who eventually left us to our own devices, returning periodically with more buckets to hold the fish) amassed a total of 869 puffers. You bet we counted them...and cleaned every one the old-fashioned way via nail in dock piling, cut to the back of the head, and a pull with the tongs. Our sandpaper hands were Blowfish Badges of Honor!

All were caught from the bulkhead at the end of Butler Boulevard in Bayville, where two adult cousins each had a bungalow. No boat needed. We enjoyed scrumptious fried and baked Chicken of the Sea dinners well into September.

Expecting another blockbuster take, the ride down the Parkway the Friday of the Memorial Day weekend, 1970, seemingly took forever.

And it was a total bust. Twenty blowfish were caught that weekend, the following year a total zero.

Tom P.
Tom P.

And just like that, the incredible puffer fishery was over and remained so for decades. Then, in June 2006, some reports filtered through the tackle shop network that blowfish were being picked off in the surf from Belmar down through Long Beach Island, and parts of the Shark and Manasquan rivers, and in the Barnegat Bay. Within a couple of years, the fishery was going gangbusters and remained so until this season. To be sure, catches approaching and exceeding the century figure were common...until this season.

Who knows. A small boat bay charter captain told us just the other day at a bait and tackle shop in southern Ocean County that his logbook showed the 2022 Barnegat Bay blowfish bite started in earnest August 4, and with the capricious weather so far in ‘23, it could rev as soon as this weekend or next week.

We can only hope because if history repeats, the cyclical droughts can be a generation-long.

Don’t put away the chum pot, baking dish, or deep fryer just yet...

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