Tale End: The Lost Ark - The Fisherman

Tale End: The Lost Ark

Indiana Ackerman and her Good Friday discovery.

Late afternoon on Good Friday, The Fisherman team received the group text from Roxanne Willmer of Gray Fishtag Research stating that a MiniPAT satellite tag that they initially lost contact with had made contact with the Argos satellite.  However, there were complications, specifically an obstruction that might be impacting the uplink.  By studying the LAT/LON numbers to that point, Roxanne felt the MiniPAT was either offshore, or onshore someone along the beach in cozy Lavallette, NJ with something impeding the signal.

The onshore argument made sense; perhaps it was along the beach covered by debris from the ocean heave in the days preceding Easter weekend. So I decided to grab my work phone and laptop and go mobile. Lavallette was only 20 minutes south of me, so I sent a few text messages to a few fellow surfcasters.  My plan was to go into this recovery alone but I thought it would be helpful to get as many boots on the ground as possible in an effort to recover that tag.

This MiniPAT device holds crucial data on light, depth and water temps; since the data uplink was being obstructed, finding that tag would be critical in gathering that information about this particular striper’s winter migration having originally been caught, tagged and released in the NY Bight back on November 26, 2023 aboard Chuck Many’s Tyman.  As I parked on the road, I got a phone call from local surfcaster JM Basile who told me he was about to drive onto the beach checking but also posted about the tag to a couple of Facebook groups.  As I stepped out of my car and started to walk up the dunes, I took one last check on my phone for the picture Roxanne sent of the map and pin for the potential location of the tag.  I felt a bit like Indiana Jones, using the sun’s rays to find the location of the Lost Ark, staring at my phone in an effort to help pinpoint that lost tag.

Scanning the beach from the top of the dune brought me to a circle of people standing around something on the beach. I thought to myself “oh this is easy it probably washed up right there” since it was the exact pin location on my phone. Walking out along the beach however I discovered that the crowd was assembled around a seal pup that had come to rest onshore.  My first thought was that I hoped that seal didn’t eat the striper and our pricey satellite tracking device.  After taking a picture of the sleepy seal, I continue my search for the MiniPAT.   Surprisingly, give the ocean heave days before, there really wasn’t much debris to check, and everything I dug up returned fruitless. JM pulled up in his beach buggy to report that he saw nothing, and continued along to the south. Grumpys Tackle staffer Scott Thomas then drove up on the beach in his waders with rods on his truck, as the gannets were actively diving out front; I was convinced that he was here to fish, but it turned out that he was in fact there to help. But at this point things were looking grim, and we really began thinking that the seal may have eaten the tag.

It wasn’t long before I received a call from JM, his truck still visible on the beach a few miles south by the pier up by the dunes. JM told me that someone had posted in one of the Facebook groups saying that there had been a garbage cleanup along the beach, and that someone “may have” found our device and left it in a garbage pile by the benches up on the dunes. All I heard from that conversation was “garbage” and “dune bench” as my brain went into panic mode thinking someone threw away the satellite tag!

I sprinted up the beach, photobombing some woman’s photo of the sleeping seal, and found my way to the dunes where I’d had my Indiana Jones moment a couple of hours prior.  I began inspecting the area like a forensic analyst; there were no garbage piles under the benches, only a pair of surf clam shells placed underneath.  When I say placed, these were placed purposely by a human, and upon lifting them, there it was, the Gray Fishtag Research MiniPAT tag.

I thought to myself, this has to be the wildest Easter egg hunt I’ve ever been on! After taking a selfie and sending it to the group chat I relished in the moment for helping recover this important tag, originally deployed on a 38-inch striped bass aboard Tyman back in November.  The MiniPAT has since been sent to Gray Fishtag Research for analysis, and hopefully we’ll have more to share in the next months about those missing 120 days.


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