Welcome to another Wooden Boat Wednesday!
This Wednesday continues the sketch of life about Barnegat Bay in the 1890s, courtesy Kobbe's The New Jersey Coast and Pines, an Illustrated Guide-book with Road-maps.
SPORT. —Barnegat Bay is all sport. In summer, hundreds of little vessels scud over its waters to the fishing-grounds near the inlet; and of the early mornings in winter, the figures of gunners may be seen dimly outlined against the gray horizon as they row their sneak-boxes out of the creeks toward some sedgy point or island. The earlier the start the better, for a few of the “shooting points” are considered to be more favor ably located than the rest, and it is a gunner's ambition to get his “man” to one of these points — that is, if he knows his man to be a first-rate sportsman. There is amusing rivalry between the different places along the bay shore for pre-eminence as sporting headquarters, especially between Forked River, Waretown and Barnegat (not to be confounded with Barnegat Pier, Barnegat Park or Barnegat City). At Forked River they will tell you that at Barnegat you have to drive one and a half miles from the station to the landing, and that the gunners there are so numerous they will double up on the good "points.” At Barnegat they will tell you that their landing, although one and a half miles from the station, is right on the bay, while at Forked River, although the landing is near the station, it is far up the creek, and that unless wind and tide are favorable you will be a long time reaching the bay. At both places they will say that, while Waretown is right on the bay, so that you have neither to drive to the landing nor to navigate a creek, the fact of there being no creek for a harbor makes landing there dangerous in stormy weather.
The reason these three places are rivals for pre-eminence as sporting resorts lies in the fact that the best fishing-grounds and shooting points are in their vicinity. The great summer sport is weak-fishing. Weak-fish from one to one and three quarters pounds in weight can be caught in great numbers a short distance from the mouth of Forked River, while in Oyster Creek Channel, or in the Elbow near the Inlet, the large “tide-runners” are almost equally numerous. On a fine summer day there is always a large fleet of fishing-boats from Tom's River, Barnegat Pier, Forked River and Waretown anchored over these grounds. Sheep's-head can also be caught in Oyster Creek Channel during July and August, while many king-fish are taken from near Clam Island. The Barnegat fishermen have an excellent weak-fishing ground a short distance from the north mouth of Double Creek, where their landing is. In the fall, there is also fine striped-bass fishing, especially in the gap between Sandy and Marsh Elder Islands and in the Marsh Elder thoroughfare. From February, or even earlier, if the bay is clear of ice, until May there is excellent sport fishing for flounders through holes in the coral beds formed by worms.
In point of fact, Waretown is the most favorably located of the three places for fishing excursions, because there a tongue of solid ground penetrates the salt meadows to the edge of the bay, and the landing is within a few minutes of the railroad station and at the same time right on the bay. Nevertheless among sportsmen Forked River is considered the fishing headquarters for Barnegat Bay, and Barnegat the headquarters for gunning. Forked River undoubtedly owes much of its reputation among sportsmen to the fame of its comfortable, old fashioned sporting house, the Lafayette, which for many years has been kept by old Sheriff Parker, large of frame and of heart, and as genial and cheery as the blaze of pine logs and stumps, which in winter are piled up on the hearth of the Lafayette sitting-room. The house is noted for its plain but delicious cooking, and the variety of fish, oysters, clams, crabs and game which the Sheriff makes a point of serving. To use his own expressive phrase, he “feeds his guests off the bay.” A free stage is run from the railroad station to the house, and from the house to the landing. Fishermen wishing to make an early start can have breakfast at 5 A. M., or earlier if they desire, and the Sheriff will put up lunch for the party and the captain. When boats return from fishing, a signal flag is hoisted at the landing and a stage is dispatched thither. If, while the boats are out, the horses are not in use, the Sheriff bundles the mothers and children into the stages and sends them out for a drive. The house is picturesquely situated on the most northerly of the three branches which give Forked River its name. On the south bank of this branch is one of those beautiful stretches of dark cedar swamp which add so much to the attractiveness of the scenes in this section of the coast, and which so temper the winter winds that the main shore of Barnegat Bay is a pleasant dwelling-place during the winter months.
The gunners make their headquarters at Barnegat because the principal shooting points are in its vicinity, Lovelady and Sandy Islands being considered the best points on the bay now that the Sedge Islands have become private. Nearly all the islands and points south of Stout's Creek, and whether on the main shore or beach are, however, resorted to by gunners, the points of vantage shifting with the changes of the wind, problems of the sport, the solution of which is best left to the gunner who is piloting the sportsman. The ducks which frequent Barnegat Bay are teal, broad-bills, blacks, red-heads, whistlers, mallards and shelldrakes; occasionally canvas backs stray up from the Chesapeake. From October 20th till December 1st, and March and April are the best periods of the year for duck-shooting on Barnegat Bay. Brant are plentiful in the spring. Goose shooting is followed with greatest success further up the bay, around Tom's River and Chadwick's.
In the woods back of the main shore are quail, rabbits, coons and foxes, and on the meadows English snipe.
Boating, fishing and gunning on Barnegat Bay are not expensive sports. One of the roomy, comfortable Barnegat Bay cat-boats with cabin, can be hired for $ 4 a day. Bait is 75 cents a quart for shrimps; $1 a dozen for soft-shell crabs. The captain finds the tackle. Four should be the limit of a party for comfort, though the $4 allows you to make your party as large as you choose. Gunning is $4 a day, the price covering boats and decoys. Shooting through the woods or over the meadows is $2 a day. Row-boats range from nothing to 20 cents an hour.
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