Thursday, March 16, 2017

Largemouth Bass Population Survey Round Valley Reservoir

This one weighed at least five pounds. Twenty inches and fat.

The recent Round Valley Reservoir gamefish survey by the NJ Division of Fish & Game found largemouth bass abundant, though mostly growing at a sub-average rate, compared to statewide statistics. However, the population is unbalanced in this respect, some of the bass apparently growing better than most, and the study points out the possibility of a state-record largemouth lurking under the reservoir's surface, as evidenced by a monstrous largemouth surveyed, nearly 24 inches long, weighing 8.85 pounds. Two other largemouths over five pounds are documented. The current New Jersey state record stands at 10 pounds, 14 ounces from Menantico Sand Wash Pond, Cumberland County.

Smallmouths did not show nearly so well, and the study indicates the population is not so abundant as in the past. Nor are the bass as large. I further speculate that with the low reservoir level, smallmouth bass spawning habitat is decreased. They need gravely bottom. Not only this. Their habitat in general is lacking now.

Keep in mind that an electroshock and netting survey is just a small sample on 2350 surface acres, even though that acreage is reduced somewhat for the time being with low water level. This recent effort by the DFG resulted in only three lake trout 9.9 pounds to 21.2 pounds surveyed, a behemoth over 20 pounds got caught on Super Bowl Sunday. Big largemouths get caught secretly ever year. I have heard the story of a nighttime surface plugger who experienced a huge strike, terrific battle--and break off. Naturally, he believes he hooked the state record.

In my opinion, it's good culture to agree on releasing big largemouths here. The unusual growth statistics suggest something sort of like the difference between Florida and northern strain largemouths, though this surely can't be whatever it is, in fact. And yet, whatever it is--the survey results show very convincing evidence that largemouths over two pounds pretty are rare here. Those larger may be the better growing fish; I've caught and released a number of them, and will continue to release all of my bass. It's in all of our interest to practice catch and release, because the better bass stand a chance of reaching that record size.

And whoever catches that record in season. That one keep.    

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Round Valley Reservoir's Eels

Doing my Round Valley Trout Association homework today as a member of the executive board, I thought I would do a short post on eels, since they were a favorite to catch in Little Shabakunk Creek as a boy; I attempted to harvest them commercially from the bays behind Long Beach Island (they're delicious, had eel Sushi on Sunday), and the eel situation at Round Valley Reservoir is compelling, as the information quoted below from the March 2017 Round Valley Reservoir Fisheries Management Plan suggests. The current New Jersey state record eel came from the reservoir.
Fred Matero has spoken to me on a couple of occasions about using a flashlight at night near the main launch ramp to sight huge eels. Some years ago, I happened to relax on one of the main launch docks while fishing trout on bottom, reading Tom Horton's Chesapeake Bay. I posted about that experience in this blog, relating how coming upon an unexpected chapter on eels and reading it most interested me. Horton writes in that chapter about Aristotle's attempt to determine how eels spawn, which Aristotle discloses as a failure. He couldn't. The Sargasso Sea was a long way from Greece. To the best of my knowledge, both American and European eels spawn there.

By Chris Smith, Principal Fisheries Biologist & Shawn Crouse, Principal Fisheries Biologist:
Approximately 12 American Eels were observed during night-time electrofishing.  They were found along the dams, from approximately 5-15 ft. of water, using rip-rap as cover.  The largest individual weighed 3.1 kg (6.8 lbs.) and was approximately 1,000 mm (39.3 in) in length, just one ounce less than the current state record.  It is estimated that most of the eels observed were 5-6 lbs.  It is assumed that American Eels are pumped into the reservoir from the South Branch of the Raritan River as juveniles.  The pump intakes are fitted with 3/8-inch screen, large enough to allow migrating glass eels (elvers) through.  As a result, they are basically trapped, unable to make their outmigration to the Sargasso Sea to spawn, and thus attaining such a large size.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

You're not Living Somewhere Else

My brother Rick's a true Republican and yet idealist. Occurs to me tonight why. Some years ago now, I can't remember if 2011, but fairly certain then at Thanksgiving or Christmas, he remarked that New Jersey freshwater fishing offers really slim hopes. Obviously, he has an ideal in mind, and he has fished out-of-state. The Green River in Utah, for one example.

Bloomin' onion that I am, I countered his opinion, saying something about New Jersey's freshwater offering flourishing fishing now and in the future. Both of our opinions judgments, the attitudes are relative to the facts. It's more about how the quantity gets colored, than just counting, measuring, and weighing the flesh.

Ever since I posted about pike the other day, I've had hopes that post would rank online on the national level. Some of my posts have--very well--such as "Catching Smallmouth Bass in Streams and Small Rivers" and another on salmon eggs and trout. Yes, trout get stocked nationwide. So....I began to compare that little 31-inch pike photographed in the recent post to video and photo accounts of numerous pike five and six times heavier caught on single outings elsewhere in this country and Canada. Besides, any one of us might fish numerous outings for five or six catch one 31-inch pike in our state. I know. Go on NJ and you can see a lot of 36-inchers, some bigger. And my son and I have done a little better than I've exemplified of "anyone." But NJ. suggests that there are guys who really have it knocked. But not like Manitoba.

This is New Jersey. And if you live here, well, that's that. You're not living somewhere else. Maybe you can go on vacation and meet with higher ideals, but here's an example of what once happened in accord with what I said in response to my brother.

We went to Maine. We fished smallmouth bass all week. We did OK. But I've had the dream of a five-pounder for years. Naturally, hopes peaked. Matt did hook one we think was at least four, judging the steady freight of its run, hook pulling free. The biggest--about two-and-a-half. But at least we caught maybe half a dozen nearly that.

We came home. Had another day off work. We ride up north and fish a crick. In one afternoon, we caught and released about a dozen-and-a-half smallmouths, some of these over a pound, but two of them--way over that weight. One of mine, nearly 20 inches long, weighed over four pounds. Next spot down the road, Matt caught one that weighed at least three-and-a-half.

We laughed like dogs. Hours before, we're up in Maine for the ideal fishing. We come back to Jersey, fish a crick, and beat Maine by a long shot.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Trying to Make Good

Always planning makes possible. My father called his workplace his study. That's what I call mine, though besides books (philosophy, literature, science, naturalism, religion, history, mathematics, fishing...), hundreds of handwritten journals, a fishing log, and loads of unbound papers all over my desk and in various unkempt piles--there's fishing equipment sort of scattered all over. Also old coins, select beer bottles I've kept as souvenirs, seashells of stunning colors and patterns, printed photographs framed and hung on the walls, etc. I think there's a geode in an obscure corner that weighs at least 50 pounds. Drawings I've created over the years. I've neatly taped to a wall a printout of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song," which appears there in a clean appealing way, as if anyone would read the lines, recognize the tune, and say, "Aha, I understand a little about this man's ironic obscurity." The coins I've mostly bought in neat little cardboard frames with cellophane to view through; some I've ripped open so I can have the coin itself here or there, just as if I might pocket to spend it. I just picked one up from in front of me...1856. Half dollar.

If I'm eccentric, I don't feel that way. So as far as I'm concerned, I'm not.

But about the planning, that's what so many of the unbound papers have to do. Plans constantly shifting, but since they're updated day to day, I manage to survive and even thrive. I'm hoping a healthy percentage of my plans--though this is hard to account for as a percentage, because as I say, the plans are almost as fluid as water....well, let's just say they get wet--I'm hoping that over the course of the year ahead, my fishing outings mesh well. That involves me as just an ordinary guy passionate about being fully there as I fish and catching the fish I's about time I start catching again...and as someone really trying to make good on this activity.

Here it is about an hour later, and since I'm tempted to add more, I skipped an extra line to emphasize the transition. Jesus Christ purportedly said, "I will make you fishers of men," and I consider this ancillary to my reported observation of fishing equipment spread all about this intellectual's Wolf Den. (That's more or less what the proper name of Aristotle's Lyceum means.) What catches me about Jesus's statement is omission of--what for? Catch men. To what purpose? To die? Just go to heaven? Or do I omit "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light," as if this is sufficient to imply purpose here on earth? Is it?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Getting Psyched

Getting psyched for fishing this year. For the first time in many years, it's March 9th, and I haven't caught a fish since October 12th. I guess it's possible this hasn't happened since the years I lived at the shore, when I didn't fish as much. I'm glad I've got so much writing done these months, but I've converted back to my fish sense already.

At work today, I was all ready to go fish Pompton Lakes for pike on Wednesday, assuming Mike Maxwell would want to go. Forecast high temperature, turns out, is 32. I've fished open water at 15 degrees, but not in a canoe. And besides, having a friend along--forget it. And besides yet, it's the warm weather that's getting me so interested in fishing. I could go to Round Valley, but I'll get stuff done instead, get back out as soon as milder weather returns.

And by that forecast. If anyone wants to ice fish ponds, looks as if you'll have an opportunity next week. Four consecutive nights of temperatures from 14 to 21.  

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

How Where: Catch Pike Peak Season

Tom Slota's 31-inch Spruce Run Reservoir northern.

Northern Pike: Peak Season

By Bruce Edward Litton

          More than a decade ago, I took my young son to Lebanon Bait & Sport, bought live herring, and drove the short distance to New Jersey’s Spruce Run Reservoir. Herring had just become available in late April, awkwardly cast by the lighter of our surf rods, eight-foot sticks we use for striped bass and Spanish mackerel. I remembered from my teens the breaking news of Herb Hepler’s 30-pound, two-ounce state record pike from the reservoir, and felt powerfully prepared with big tackle. The state record got broken in Pompton Lakes by a 30-pound, 8.5-ounce pike in 2009, during years when we came to Spruce Run beginning in March, having scaled back drastically on the means of rods and reels, although catching plenty of pike on large shiners.

          I’ve met some who use seven-inch trout for bait, bought at the Musky Fish Hatchery. And before Lebanon Bait & Sport closed its doors after the death of proprietor Steve Welgoss, the shop carried extra-large shiners I never felt needed. We catch plenty of three to nine-pound pike on medium power, 5 ½-foot spinning rods, reels loaded with six-pound test monofilament. For those large live shiners, a barrel swivel provides minimal weight, besides a size 6 hook and sinking 15-pound test fluorocarbon leader. Pike weighing more than 15 pounds get caught fairly frequently in New Jersey, especially in the Passaic River, but an average pike is closer to five pounds, packing plenty of power to load light gear.

          Pugnacious predators coiling like springs before striking, pike also hit a variety of lures in cold water. My favorite is the suspending Rapala Husky Jerk. Take advantage of the pike’s habit of halting before its body twists to explode on prey or a lure: Pause a lure or shiner during retrieve. Any brand of suspending jerkbaits represent this deadly technique. By short, intense twitches, the jerkbait creates commotion to attract the curiosity of any pike nearby. If you follow the habits of most fishermen, you may notice they don’t twitch the plug enough. Most jerk it a few times and pause, or retrieve constantly while bouncing the rod tip, as if the number of casts makes more of a difference than the presentation. Rather than focus on retrieve, focus on tantalizing any nearby pike by keeping the plug shaking in place as much as possible. The plug will move forward, but slowly. You can twitch for as long as 20 seconds to a full minute to draw any fish from a distance, and then cease all action. That pause can trigger a strike, as if a pike’s mesmerized attention suddenly transforms into action, the target plainly visible and vulnerable. A fast action rod is a must, and I recommend the same for all pike techniques but bobber fishing, when any rod suffices.

          With spinnerbaits, kill the action. Let a Colorado blade flutter relatively lame as the lure descends a few feet to bottom, and if no strike occurs, let it sit there a good five seconds. Pike are just as focused as fierce, apt to stare at a lure until you snap it off bottom to rev the motor. Chartreuse is a good color choice, as is any bright color or combination of color during sunny conditions. And brightly colored lure paused on bottom will help fixate a pike’s attention on it.

          In-line spinners can be fished the same way if no residual weeds complicate matters, but I prefer short pauses, just enough to make a regular retrieve interesting. Many times, pike will follow. Pausing a spinner the first two or three times may not provoke a take, but by pausing in quicker succession thereafter, a pike may get irritated enough to turn interest into action. A moderately slow retrieve interrupted by increased pace can also provoke a charge.

          A long American tradition associates lots of flash with the fierce reactions of pike. Spinners work. And they don’t have to be outsized. A 3/8th ounce, size 6 variety fits the need, but if you can’t find a spinner to your liking with reflective tape on the blade, you can buy tape and put it on yourself. The red tubing on the treble hook shaft of the Mepp’s Aglia Long serves the function of capturing that visual focus of pike and may make the difference, as bucktail offers possibility also—especially in red, chartreuse and white.

         New Jersey has lots of where-to-go options. The Passaic River, Pompton River, Millstone River, Spruce Run Reservoir, Pompton Lakes, Budd Lake, Cranberry Lake, Deal Lake and even the Raritan River all have benefitted from the state’s stocking program, although it is the Millstone, not Raritan River, that actually gets stocked, pike working their way into the larger river system. Pike also get caught in the South Branch Raritan River on seldom occasion, since Spruce Run Reservoir and Budd Lake feed its flow. All of these waters involve pike spawning behavior in March and April. Regardless of any marginal reproductive success, the fish seek areas of residual weeds in lake and reservoir coves especially associated with feeder streams. The rivers congregate pike at any dams, or otherwise at the mouths of tributaries. Passaic River veteran Steve Slota Jr. told me about sighting a three-foot pike well upstream of the river in a tiny tributary creek in Verona’s city limits.

          Until May warmth breaks the pattern of cool water shallows, pike remain vulnerable like no other time of year. However, during the cold water period of March, when pike first get interested in congregating on spawning grounds, they won’t chase after jerkbaits cranked fast or smash topwater plugs chugged along as if powered by a diesel engine.

          Remember that pausing a lure is key to success with it, but if you like using live shiners, possibly this bait is never more appropriate, except for ice fishing. I always set out a couple of bobbers on whatever rods I don’t care to manually fish. Usually, I fish pike with guests, so as many as half-a-dozen get set. Predictably, no matter how well placed the bobbers, most of the pike get caught by live-lining technique, however. A bobber means waiting on fish; it puts you in a dependent position. Live-lining is proactive and will always better produce, at least over time, in the hands of anglers who know how to do it.

          Where exactly do the pike in a given cove hang out? They move about, but going after them involves not only your senses, muscles, and judgement based on outward observation of branch stickups, perhaps, or a belly of deeper water or creek channel in a cove. Any and all structure is important, but there’s more to finding fish. Pay attention to your own internal promptings. Urges and ideas never just happen randomly, unrelated to what you’re doing and where you are. They may indicate where a fish is, so long as you are truly intent on discovery.

          Why make a cast unless believed in? At the least, let every cast be your best guess, and you may be surprised when something tells you this is the cast that really counts—and it comes true.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Trout in the River but None on the Hook

I walked upstream, forded the river's strong current up to my knees, calling for my black Labrador, Sadie, to follow after me. She hesitated, but crossed. Once stocked, rainbow trout supposedly spread out in a river by swimming downstream; brook trout do the opposite, but though I've caught stocked brook trout more than a mile upstream of Little Shabakunk Creek's confluence with Assunpink Creek--the latter creek stocked upstream of that meeting between the two--I've never fished as a faithful adherent to the dogma. Where Mike and I arrived this afternoon at the South Branch Raritan, I've fished down below the bridge access area and up above, so I knew of better water northward.

Upon arriving, I immediately saw what I thought to be a golden rainbow. Mike let me alone to cast. The fish swam into better view, tail forked--golden carp. But in the meantime, I sighted four or five very good-size rainbows, quite active in that very cold water, though none of them gave any response whatsoever to my brown beadhead stonefly nymph, about size 16. I sort of hoped that little gold bead would turn a fish on, while Mike switched to gold and silver Phoebe spoons on his spinning outfit, getting in on these fish beneath the bridge. Fish not caring one iota.

I began that walking I mentioned. First to only 75 yards north of the bridge or so, a nice run. I enjoyed the thrill of fly casting, a value just to practice, standing in that cold water with my Simm's wading boots over neoprene, my feet getting cold. I switched to a black stonefly beadhead, then to a pheasant tail larger, about size 14 or 12. Some color might make a difference. Who knows. And after fishing fairly thoroughly, really nothing compared to what steelhead fly casters endure, I put my rod aside and spent at least 20 minutes at photography, further north along the river. When I returned to casting, I knew I must walk with the rod back on upstream to where I knew I could cross. Of course, Sadie would follow along again. She would have to cross, because she would feel worse if left behind and humiliated.

I got better casting angles on the run leading down to the bridge, not as deep as I had thought, but certainly enough water. On down to the bridge I waded, drifting the pheasant tail persistently, and as I made my back upstream, doing same, I thought of my wool fleece pants left at home. My feet had numbed, thighs cold.

Light diminished, and I took a look at the bridge on impulse, the view sort of given to me, evaluated by no immediate effort on my part. A good camera shot. My camera in my bag sat on the sand across the river. I felt tempted to hurry on over, but before my head had swung around to look at the bridge--as if I am just a puppet of alternatives something deeper in me offers--I saw what appeared to be a series of undercut bank fish holds...maybe some deep water...which I never have explored on past occasions here. Far to the northward right, the river divides, island in the middle, and this interesting spot must get overlooked. I wasn't going to.

Some difficult casting--for accuracy--but I got the nymph right under the bank more than a dozen times, of more or less three nice cuts. And there's a hole maybe five or six feet deep, which made me think smallmouth bass. Dusk deepened. I persisted. And I wondered if any rainbows take winter residence here. If so, maybe they have better brains than the fish I saw right under the bridge, where they got dumped back in October. Especially since they would have to break the rule about swimming downstream, but that doesn't really count--just our own nonsense.