The day was definitely not over. The whole family had plans to head over to the Jersey shore for an afternoon on the beach at Belmar. Knowing that there was a chance to catch a plethora of new species, I was more than happy to bring some fishing gear along.
Hopes were high on the beautiful afternoon for fluke, searobin, seabass, and others. Unfortunately, I was caught in a tough situation: I had no bait. Nonetheless, as I got dropped off at the Shark River inlet, I was quite optimistic. As I looked around, there were plenty of anglers, but none seemed to be catching much. Tying on a bucktail jig with Gulp! and a teaser, I cast into the inlet. Cast after cast followed, with not even a nibble. As the day wore on, I began to see people using clams catching what appeared to be tiny seabass. I sighed, knowing that this was a potential lifer I would miss out on.
Oddly enough, the water began to become calmer as time passed, allowing me too look at the life underwater. I began to notice small grey fish swimming along in pairs. I decided to switch my tactics up and put a small hook on with some smelly Gulp! maggots. I planned to poke around the rocks to see if I couldn't find myself a bergall. I knew that this was prime habitat for the pesky bait-stealer.
Lowering my rig into a likely-looking crevice, all doubts I had were eliminated as my bait was immediately swarmed with bergalls. With their hard mouths and sharp teeth, it was a couple savage bites until I finally hooked one.
It was that simple. Species #71, the bergall!
My first was small and rusty-brown. I overheard the guys fishing next to me say with sarcastic disbelief: "He's taking a photo of a cunner(local nickname for bergall)?" Joke's on them. They didn't catch squat with their heavy rigs.
After my first one, it immediately became evident that these were the bluegills of the coast. I understand now why these little buggers are such a bane to fishermen: Their strong jaws and teeth are literally made for ripping baits off hooks.
As I poked around a little more, lots of little bergalls greedily attacked my bait.
I've read that bergalls have the ability to change color. I don't know if that's true, since I didn't observe any changes myself, but I did notice a huge variety of hues present. One I caught was pretty much a bright scarlet. Compared with the greenish-brown one above, the difference is incredible, especially in person.
As I dropped my bait into an enticing hole in the rocks, I felt a sharp tug, then nothing as the fish scrambled into the rocks. The scenario repeated itself before I was able to finally turn it on my light gear and pulled up a much larger bergall. For such small fish, they sure pull hard in some short spurts of power. The bigger specimens seem to have a particular affinity for diving into rocks upon grabbing the bait, not unlike tautog and groupers.
A few more bergalls followed, including a couple larger ones.
After a while of catching bergalls, the sun began to crawl lower and I decided it was a good time to head back to the beach for a swim. It was a pretty productive outing, finishing with 22 bergalls, a new species. In hindsight I should have cut one up for bait, perhaps I would have lucked into a searobin, seabass, skate, or who knows what. Oh well, there's always next time.