Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Slow at Bedminster

Sun was bright earlier in the afternoon, temperatures in the 60's, and I knew if Mike and I could fix my front bumper on the Honda in time, Bedminster Pond would be worth trying. That's not to say it wouldn't be worth trying at thirty degrees with a suspending jerkbait, but that I haven't fished for early season largemouths in weather like that in a long time. Tree swallows flew inches above the pond's surface, so it's no longer the early season so much anyhow.

First I hooked on a Johnson spinner what I'm pretty sure was a crappie on the deep side, fishing there because I figured the water's warmed up enough into the low to mid 50's that the northeast side doesn't matter so much with all that sunshine on it. Are there crappies in here? But I went over to that side pretty quickly, catching my first bass on an Aglia Long in the northeast corner where I seem to always catch a bass. I lost another a little way south, and then lost another yet, both fish striking a little short and both bigger than the one I caught, but I judged the fishing slow compared to that day in March, trying the Savko Special, which made no difference, trying a Colorado bladed Blue Fox, ditto.

Before I got to the dual pipes, which clearly seem to have or have had some connection to the river when it floods, I decided I'd walk all the way around the five acres, hoping I could keep to the shoreline edge without a lot of inconvenience, but to the west of the pipes, the beaten path peters out quickly. That says something about the fishing style here for the most part. Go where others have gone before. I made my way through sticks and briars, fishing where virtually no lures scan, but I finally made my way up to the big path along that western side, cutting back down on a well-worn alley, having felt a little impatient and pressed for time since I began working southward. Dusk was coming on, and when I came, I hadn't thought I'd stay out so long, but the effort felt pretty good, despite my upper back and ribs on my right pained from a long shift at the supermarket.

Here to the west the water is at its deepest. I never have counted down to bottom, but it's got to be at least five feet, and from the looks of this place after May--scum algae wall-to-wall--can't be much deeper than that. I worked the Aglia slowly. Elsewhere I had retrieved moderately to quick. Another poppindocker nailed it. This one about eight inches long, two inches or so shorter than the previous, but catching little ones is a lot better than catching nothing, so long as they get a healthy release.

I laid out a few more casts, then tried casting narrowly along overhanging branches and got the spinner caught in twigs. That's what easily happens when a little impatience clouds judgment. I had lost the Johnson to twigs, and now I found myself able to reach the Aglia with a 10-foot stick, knocking it off the twigs, and then trying to catch the treble hook on that stick, my bail open with the rod over to my left about five yards. The maneuver wasn't working, and the Aglia finally wound up getting more entangled, breaking off and dropping into the water as I had continued trying to get it caught on the wood.

So that was enough today. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Climate Clutch

For the record, I can't resist the temptation to report on the weather, as the words will remain on this blog to come back to in the future, perhaps. Jorge and I met in the dark Saturday morning, among Zach Merchant's very first customers, going through the door to Round Valley Bait and Tackle as it opened for the first time at 6:00 a.m., and walking back out into a temperature of 60-something. The sun came up and it was very warm. When we left Van Syckel's Road at 9:30 a.m., temperature could have been 75.

The next day, afternoon temperature was 40 at most, a stiff humid wind making the weather raw as a bad clam. Then, the next day, pleasant 60's, but I would be surprised if it hit 48 today, and it's chillier yet out there as I write now. I heard at work that Newark got three-and-a-half inches of rain the other night and morning. I drove by the North Branch on the way to that job, river having risen to the top of the bank.

Tomorrow's my day off. Trout fishing with Noel in the morning is out. Water is too high, and besides, I will fish trout at 30 degrees, but preferably, I will do that in January. I haven't checked the forecast recently. If there's sun and afternoon temperatures in the 50's, I may go try largemouths at Bedminster Pond. It's going on May and buds have barely opened, so if I catch a good one again, the photo will appear as though I fished very early in the season. And I guess that's almost what it is as yet, nearly a full month into official springtime.

I remember 2012. Amazed at water lilies up on Lake Carnegie late in March. All the trees that faint green you associate with late April in New Jersey. Days and weeks in the 70's and 80's.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Coming from the Big Lake

Now we know the ice season is over. Here it is from Laurie after a long while since she last reported:

So begins another season…except the weather isn’t cooperating too nicely as of yet. But we do have plenty of water in Lake Hopatcong, so this year that isn’t a problem. We are ready with boat rentals, bait and tackle. Our April hours are from 6 AM to 7 PM. There are plenty of trout here with the State having stocked twice already and expected back again this week, and the Knee Deep Club stocked over the weekend, adding over a thousand more trout. They will be holding their Trout and Pickerel contest on Sunday, April 22, starting at 5 AM. It is two separate contests, with an entry fee for each. You can fish either one , or both contests, with a cash prize for the top 3 heaviest fish in each category.  The entry fee is $20/ member and $25/ non-member.  We will open early for the contest and you may register up until 8 AM that morning. Trolling phoebes and  rapalas in shallower water is the way to catch trout this time of year, and trolling rapalas or a mepps spinner should produce the pickerel. We are seeing yellow perch and crappie on rufus jigs and small rubber jigs fished under a bobber, also in the shallow water, and   the walleye have started to hit,  also in the shallower water, taking larger rapala husky jerks. The season for them will reopen on May 1st and remember that  Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass is closed from April 15th until June 15th for their spawning season.  Some notable catches this past week included a 1 lb 11 oz crappie caught by Dylan Cole and a 4 lb 4 oz pickerel weighed in by Pete Rathjens. Have a Great week !!!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Van Syckel's Road Largemouths and Pike Recalled

We bought extra-large shiners at Zach Merchant's Round Valley Bait and Tackle when it opened for the very first time at 6:00 a.m. this morning, arriving at Van Syckel's Road and the mouth of Spruce Run Creek, where it becomes reservoir, well before sunup, beginning our northern pike fishing along the jetty. I haven't done this in what seems a very long time, though only five years ago my son and I came on a cold April evening and tried. Since 2005, we had come at least once a year, catching a number of pike as large as nine pounds, some largemouths as long as 20 1/8 inches, and crappies weighing as much as 2 1/4 pounds. There was a real life to the fishing here, thanks to my son who motivated me to get started, though the fishing took care of itself after that.

When Jorge Hildago and I began fishing this morning, I couldn't catch the feeling, but by the end of three hours on the water, I recognized where I had left off with this form of live-lining shiners and my expecting attention on the fishes' end of the line, feeling returning to me as our outing's end neared, though no fish hit my offerings. But that expectation of eventually hooking up transforms what would be an empty throw-the-bait-out-there and sort-of-reel-it-painfully-slow-back sling-along into a meditative habit that actually had sustained interested focus for years. Dependable on the first try every early spring. Usually we fished a couple of hours or so at most, sometimes longer, always with a line that mattered, despite how meaningless this kind of activity can seem without the vital feel you can really only know from within, although outward graces one may observe of an angler can offer a clue.

It does depend on catching some fish.  And perhaps this begs a question. Could anyone catch fish forever and not get bored with the activity? I was definitely interested in hooking up this morning, but I fished nearly every day during my teens, and then gave up the pursuit. Not entirely, but enough to quit keeping my handwritten fishing log for nine years. And when I began keeping it again, I didn't fish nearly as many days to keep note of over the course of any given year. Above all, it took my four-year-old son's intervention to really get me interested again.

Jorge got his first bass before sunup. I didn't give up when intense light began playing on the water, temperature rising above 70, but I had my doubts anything else would hit. We've never fished pike early in the morning before today. It was always an afternoon and evening affair, and usually, we caught the fish from the time the sun went behind the hill, to dark. But Jorge switched to a Senko plastic worm and caught another bass. So hats off to him. This is his fourth try at Spruce and his first fish here.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Columbia Lake

Fred Matero emailed me the link I'll post. Columbia Lake will wash out in a few months or so, probably sooner than I can get up there with my squareback canoe, the dam across the Paulinskill River destroyed.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Average River Level, Cold, Catching Trout

Familiar scenes from about a month ago, when Matt and I fly fished minus the trout. This afternoon Mike and I found the favored hole crowded, so we drove on downstream to the second favorite, meeting a couple of older gentlemen leaving a spot just below, reporting few fish in the river, despite the state having stocked spots of these stretches yesterday. Words exchanged pleasing, instead of pocked by rough resentment and obscenity, none out of the ordinary in the healthy respect, they did get us on to the put and take stocking mentality I typically avoid. Trout always swim these stretches near Califon, and though Matt and I caught none in March, big trout stocked last fall are still there.

I caught a little nine-incher I tossed back, and since no more hits came on my salmon eggs and the drifts seemed too fast, I crimped on a BB split shot to navigate that strong current by tighter control, the river not flowing high, a little below average, actually, according to the graph Mike accessed on the way over, but this spot is a sluiceway concentrating flow on a pretty sharp slope of the bottom. The BB shot made no difference besides better performance.

We hadn't stayed long before driving back upstream, finding the favorite spot abandoned. After his first cast, Mike had one on. I drifted an egg twice with the shot still on the line, finding, as expected, drift not right in slower current, but thinking maybe with the added casting range I could provoke a hit anyhow, though a moment later I sat on the bench provided by someone or other, cutting the line and retying. Split shot without the flanges to undo the lead crimped on line are one-use only.

Mike got a trout to the pebbles, after losing that first fish, and released it. Within a minute or two, he caught another, then a third. The deeper and slower water immediately above, where we did so well last year, wasn't producing, but I feel sure a big trout or two hangs there among the rocks.

I repositioned where the trout lay and started catching, Mike going upstream to fish that wider water and getting in too deep, over one of his hip boots. "It's cold!" Within seconds, his foot and leg were numb. That was all for him.

Filling out my limit of six in little time, missing too many hits as I often do, getting involved at trying to improve the ratio of hits to fish on in my favor, I got into the familiar springtime feel of connection with life in the form of trout, which struggle on the line--as if resistance might not be desirable though anyone who fishes would disagree. My appreciations for life include painstaking effort while caught on a hook of sorts. Anyone fascinated by a worthy goal is more than willing to struggle for it, doing his or her best to stay vitally connected to the end sought.

I knew my wife would be pleased with what have proven to be orange-fleshed fish for dinner, and I caught a couple more, giving the wider water a thorough try for a possible big trout, drifting the eggs by two differences of weight added to the line: a couple of barrel swivels snapped on, and then just one. I got one solid strike and that was all. A fly fisherman arrived and the swishing and whipping of his line, the loud cricketing of his reel, made me ironically compare sleek microlight spinning to fly fishing. The latter a noisy and somewhat awkward affair.

Which way to go home. Right or left? With a vague notion of seeing more trout territory on the way, I wheeled left, and we wound up following along the river well north, stopping at the bridge dividing public water from Shannon's private club stretch. I got out and tried the seams, runs, eddies, and depressions, getting no hits, though we caught a few here last spring.

We rode over that bridge, me telling Mike about big trout Jim Holland, owner of Shannon's Fly shop and columnist for The Black River Journal, posts on Facebook all year. We rounded a curve, and sighting the Musky Fish Hatchery truck in action, slowed. I recognized the guy on the road there as Jim himself, pausing the car as we greeted each other, shaking hands through the opened passenger window.

"I've got to let this guy through," I said, an SUV waiting in the opposite lane I occupied halfway, "Good to see you, Jim!"

What a service Shannon's does for this river. I can't get over it. It would cost me a big chunk of my yearly wage to join the club, but the numerous big trout that get stocked in the private stretch don't all stay there, and besides, according to Mike, Shannon's stocks public spots all year, me having interpreted this as meaning spring and fall, in addition to the winter stocking I know they provide.

We drove on past public stretches in Long Valley, where I know a very significant percentage of the trout are wild browns. I'm told wild fish occupy the Califon regions, too, and I don't see why not. I just haven't witnessed any as yet.