Friday, September 23, 2016

Merrill Creek Reservoir Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass Outing

Fred Matero has talked about Merrill Creek Reservoir all of these years we've fished from his boat Round Valley Reservoir, and neither of us have fished this other reservoir in at least three. First time I came here, with my son and a friend of his in 2009, I caught a four-pound largemouth and another bass smaller from shore. Maybe most impressive about that introduction lingering in memory isn't the bass, but the beauty of the surroundings. Or really, my boy and his friend getting their feet wet. And they really did.

We got on the water at 7:30, sun having risen not long, shadows deep on the east side, and headed straight across through the middle of about 650 acres, because Fred had caught eight bass last he came here on the spot he had in mind, including a smallmouth nearly three pounds and a largemouth nearly four. He spoke of timber and rocks, and there is some timber (and weeds associated), but what caught my attention is its isolation along this shoreline--a real bass magnet. I felt that when conditions are right, there must be quite a few around. Well, eight bass for Fred wasn't bad. He told me he caught them in the middle of a September afternoon under bright sun.

As you can see in the photo, he did have a fish on. A smallmouth bass that lost the hook boatside. Senko rigged Wacky, about 12 feet down among submerged tree branches.

I later watched him miss two hits on two consecutive casts with the Senko cast to an isolated weedline eastward--surely the same bass--and then I watched five minutes later a largemouth of at least two pounds leap and throw that Senko. Fred was fishing further along the same weedline by about 20 yards.

That's all the action we had. Merrill Creek Reservoir is a New Jersey marvel of environmental value, but the bass see a lot of lures so they're less eager to strike. I suppose quite a number inhabit the various sets of habitat, but bass are hard to catch in New Jersey where nearly a dozen boats prowl on so small an acreage on a weekday. Some of the bass that get caught and released suffer mortality, but the figures I've read put the percentage at about five. That is a pretty high figure over the course of a year, though.

Witness the fallen timber. Before we got in the midst of the trees, I told Fred I had forgotten to study my Lake Survey Map Guides of the reservoir and bring it along. I told him surely bass are deep--about 30-35 feet on rocks--in this sunlight, especially smallmouths. Water is very clear, not as clear as Round Valley and Tilcon, but very. On Tilcon recently, my son and I caught largemouths with plastic worms weighted by bullet sinkers 30 feet down. But once we got in among timber here on larger acreage, I felt satisfied fishing a 3/8th-ounce skirted jig with a weed guard 35 feet deep, amazed at such depths with timber looming overhead. We fished long and fairly thoroughly, and I say only fairly so, because there's acres of water like this, excellent habitat, weeds mixed in where relatively shallow as deep as at least 15 feet.

Later, at the boat ramp, a bassboat owner from Pennsylvania docked right behind us, remarking that he had seen the guys we also saw out in the reservoir's middle catch two smallmouths back to back. I inquired, and he said there's a hump that rises to 30 feet. Surely plenty rocky, and altogether confirming of my earlier thought about smallmouths deep down under today's sunlight.

After nearly six hours of fishing, total, I had relaxed pretty deeply. Later, when we returned to Bernardsville, Fred remarked about getting work off his mind, and I readily agreed, although for me, it isn't my job I have to shake so much, since I've pretty much put it in place where I think about it only while on it, but so much writing I have to get done. I also told him I haven't quite felt like this since driving home from the Outer Banks last summer, thoroughly immersed in flow of experience, though nothing does it like a full vacation. And driving. I love jet travel. But that doesn't compare with driving long distance and total lack of concern about where I'm getting to. But what really makes the difference are the stops along the way. I slow down. I just set the goal and then do my best to utterly forget it.

It was my amazement in that timber environment. A long-duration epiphany that took me out of myself. As we eased off towards the ramp, Fred said, "It makes a difference with no gas outboards allowed. It's so much quieter."

Absolutely. It makes a total difference for environmental quality.

Moment of exalted loss after two-pound-plus bass leapt free.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Allamuchy Pond Largemouth Bass

This year seems to have absorbed my ambition to explore new places in the New Jersey Highlands as deeply as desired, not because I ticked off as many numbers of sites as my imagination had inspired early in the year, but because I feel satisfied with enough and more to come. I'm busy otherwise and manage life well, so to get out as often as I do feels like I'm filling a big canvas. Today, I fished Allamuchy Pond my first time, along with Mike Maxwell, who's never visited this place until today. I did perhaps come here once with my wife in 1996 to hike the trail surrounding the pond, but nothing about the views reminded me of that venture. It's as if we went somewhere else entirely, and just maybe I had Deer Lake confused with this body of water.

Before we trolled hybrids in May this year, Mike fished trout constantly, mostly along the South Branch Raritan, and I kept in constant touch. Lake Hopatcong served as the background for a lot of talk between us, and Mike got me thinking more about guiding people fishing. I know he did, because I brought this subject up today as the two of us talked nonstop, telling him that's what I should do, and he immediately told me that's what he tried to convince me of months ago. But of course, with family responsibilities, it's not as simple as offering services and off we go, which he understands, though the ought is obvious, regardless of how things are. I'd like to do it, but it will be awhile yet if I ever do. Mike's not the only one who's suggested this. It's good advice from another friend also.

Sqaureback canoe launched, we immediately rode outward to see how deep, and I got 26 feet on the graph, flat bottom, before swerving the canoe in toward shore, expecting a weedline as Fred Matero has told me rounds the shoreline. Allamuchy Pond is 50 acres and we pretty much fished all the way around twice, so after one round, we knew this first edge we came upon to fish is the pond's steepest drop, quickly slanting to 20 feet. I caught a bass a little over a pound on my fourth or fifth cast with a spinnerbait, rolling it pretty slow in about eight feet of water. In the middle of the afternoon when we arrived, after effects of the heaviest rain in a long time remained as breezy conditions, and with relatively cool air circulating into the water, I knew spinnerbait time has come. Water temperature is 72 today. (Bass take chase after forage in water meeting the optimal range for their activity.) Water clarity allows about three feet of view, a greenish tint with some micro algae mixed in. Not bad clarity, and some bass fishermen prefer water stained, though I like it as crystal clear as possible (give me the Florida Keys reef). Clear water may mean wary bass, but it's cleaner.

Most of the nine bass total we caught hit my Chompers worm and Mike's Rapala floater in about four feet of water--a weedy flat towards the dam. None of these weighed more than a pound, nor did any of the other bass, besides a single nice fish of not much over two pounds that hit the black spinnerbait along a weedy shoreline of much less slope near the pond's back.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Pond Purview

With just a short window between working on an essay about a redfish adventure my family took in Charleston, South Carolina, and making the monthly Round Valley Trout Association meeting on time--which I did not make on time, due to traffic--I grabbed my tackle tote in search of Wacky Worm O-rings, and failing to find them, too harried to dig around in my study/tackle storage room, I managed to pull a Senko pre-prepared off a pile of nick-nacks on my desk, tie it on, grab my camera, and take that favorite rod to the neighborhood bass pond half a minute's walk from my front door.
I must have fished 15 minutes before I caught my first bass, feeling despair lurking somewhere down there safely at least a few miles deeper than any possibility threatening me with sinking, but I really like this pond I fish a lot less than visit nightly with my black Lab Sadie, often viewing meteors overhead, sometimes scouting a fox (Sadie barking), and once encountering a black bear.

I've reported on the fish kill here of a couple winters ago. Obviously, the pond has a long way to go before it fishes as well as used to. All three bass I caught weighed less than former average, and it took me nearly 45 minutes to catch them. But they're real, beautiful bass, and to encounter any of these fish anywhere always signals hope to me. I live in the most corrupted state a free country has ever seen--New Jersey--and yet these wild predators of astonishing vitality, coloration, and innocence coexist amidst the most dense society in the nation. Why not laugh at ourselves and take that word dense more ways than one? Our crumbling roadways may be loosening up, but we're as stiff as mythical Jimmy Hoffa's bones somewhere in the Meadowlands when it comes to change that serves everyone's well being.

Monday, September 12, 2016

River Recharge

Day off, I got some writing done, and then took our black Lab, Sadie, to the North Branch Raritan River at the exit from AT&T, sort of hoping to add some photos to my river collection, but mostly just following through on my commitment to get away from nonsense we call real life. I didn't stay more than an hour, quickly catching the little longear I photographed on the same Muddler Minnow I've been using it seems forever now.

When I first stepped in the river wearing the Simms wading boots I enjoy not for the name but the result of design and workmanship, it felt cool--like fall--and the weather's shifted to cooler temperatures, well into the 90's late last week...and I had hoped those 90's would remain indefinitely. (Not good for trout, but I love really hot weather.) But the river's really low, and what will happen when October 11th arrives we might all guess--a lot of trout that would have been stocked in rivers like this one, may get shipped to South Jersey ponds. I hope to fly cast at least once or twice for whatever trout remain when I get at them.

Some other longears took the Muddler, and then I saw a smallmouth bass that wouldn't, so I cut off the Muddler and tied on a beadhead earthworm. Nothing seemed to want to take it, until finally a largemouth of about eight inches in clear view whomped the fly. I set the hook, feeling just for a sliver of  a second as if the hook might catch before the fish vanished.

I got some photos I'm not displaying that I like, only because they suggest future possibility. (I need to use my tripod well after sundown to get them sharp.) These photographs involved my interest just as I thought I was leaving, and more than anything else today, the effort went deep and sort of flushed out refuse that accumulates working a full time job at a specialty meat counter. It's not good form to complain about jobbing, when more than a few of us are out of work and need it badly, and it's not my intention to complain but to point out--as I try to do in this blog in so many different ways--that work and family and friends are just two of three basic necessities in life. The third is recreation. Whatever form re-creation of your human self takes. Tonight is another example of fishing and photography--dog walking too--merging seamlessly together.

Result? I enjoyed a long, deeply solemn--but solemn like drinking pure mountain spring water from between rocks--moment when hope just welled up from the river I stood in the middle of up to my thighs. Re-creation. Motive to move on. Had I not gone on this little venture, my batteries never would have recharged. Either you move towards some personal goal in life, or you go backward not to childhood, but to the inhuman animal.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fall Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass: Forage Shift

Fall Forage Shift for Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass

          At first, I dislike the change of season. I enjoy fishing a plastic worm or topwater plug as if the retrieve will take all day, because summer is the home season. An early September cold front presents a chill that makes me feel loss instead of anticipation. Nevertheless, bass fishing will get more exciting. By the third week in the month, I’ve adjusted to the new season just as bass begin to feed especially on fish as the summer smorgasbord recedes. Chilly days feel invigorating. By early November when bass fishing slows, I’m hoping for ice fishing. How odd for someone who likes a day when temperatures peak over 100, and yet fall is a transition I celebrate before eagerly accepting what comes next.

          With temperatures falling, adult insects, larvae, crayfish, leeches, newts and other salamanders, tadpoles and frogs, and the occasional small snake or baby muskrat become less and less available to bass. If you watch damselflies skitter about over an aquatic weedbed on a calm summer afternoon, you may witness a bass or two leap for these bugs that don’t seem to offer much of a meal. Most of the time, the damselflies seem too quick to get caught, but I’ve seen bass score by pointed leaps. The range of forage alternatives during summer amounts to a massive availability bass often don’t have to expend much energy to obtain.

          Fall bass prefer prey they can chase. The forage particular to summer recedes, as do weedbeds and terrestrial vegetation which help support it, and forage fish of all descriptions become vulnerable to bass’s increasing diet. The situation amounts to a fall forage shift.

          The most dramatic example occurs in the Delaware River. I’ve never seen it happen, but more than one angler has told me about smallmouth blitzes in late September and early October reminiscent of cocktail blues after spearing. By the billions, shad fry come downriver heading for the Atlantic. Rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, some evidence exists that shad fry is particularly healthy for smallmouth bass. Fish farms, for example, include Omega 3 in fish feed because it’s healthy for the product.

          In any event, forget live crayfish bait and tube plastics on the Delaware when the shad head down. Half-ounce lipless crankbaits cast a mile and can be zipped by quick retrieves right through pods of herding bronzebacks. Sweeping the rod to provoke aggressive reaction strikes may give you some of the best thrills you’ll ever experience on the river, because the bass strike as they do no other time of year. Topwater plugs effective also, quick, churning retrieves produce, rather than attempts to tease out reluctance. And in the shallower, fast moving water with eddies and slack behind boulders where bass stage to snatch fry headed downstream, a jerkbait like a Rapala or Smithwick’s Rattlin’ Rogue gets slammed like thunder.

          The lure doesn’t have to look like a shad. Nevertheless, I prefer chrome patterns for any and all plugs, if only because I think the flash better provokes quick, aggressive response. Sunlit afternoon or misty evening, the bass hit, and especially with sun rays to reflect, chrome adds appeal. Diving crankbaits especially produce around deeply submerged boulders and through deep currents. For open river situations, go with lip-less crankbaits you can retrieve at various levels of the water column.

          Small rivers experience the forage shift without shad fry in the mix. A wide range of species including spotfin, common, rosy face and satinfin shiners; blacknose and longnose dace; creek chubs; banded killiefish, and juvenile panfish and bass. They serve smallmouths’ need to increase in size and vitality. Nothing seems to work better than smaller jerkbaits like size 7 and 9 Rapalas, Rebels and any of the multitude of plugs from all over the world. Recently, Noel Sell introduced me to an Ecogear jerkbait from Japan, which cost him $18.00. It has an internal rattle and the rear lifts high as it floats upward. As the fall season deepens, live shiners become most effective in deep pools. Use a light wire, size 6 hook so the shiner swims freely hooked through the lips, and allow 18 inches between the hook and a medium split shot.

          Many New Jersey ponds have no soft-rayed fish forage, but lots of sunfish of a few species. Bluegills especially prevalent, other sunfish include the green and pumpkinseed variety, and on rare occasion a few warmouths may inhabit a pond, which resemble rock bass in shape and mouth size, but sunfish in coloration. Some ponds have crappies, and although I’ve never encountered yellow perch in any pond of just a few acres, I know of a 15-acre pond with plenty. Bass feed on the smaller of their own kind, also, and many ponds contain bullhead catfish. Small, slow-swimming bullheads serve as a summertime treat for largemouths, but may get eaten in the fall, also.

          Ponds thick with summertime forage cool faster than lakes, and a shift can happen overnight with largemouths slamming spinnerbaits and jerkbaits the next day. Despite a prevalence of bluegills and no soft-rayed forage present in many ponds, minnow-imitating jerkbaits produce as if shiners scatter everywhere. Any remaining weedbeds should be fan casted, and if a pond has no weeds, always fish any shallow flat and close to shorelines, particularly where any cover or overhanging trees present themselves. Corners and spillway areas may be especially productive.

          Lakes and reservoirs do have soft-rayed forage. Many host alewife herring—another example of forage loaded with Omega 3. Whatever the reason, gamefish of all kinds gorge on herring whenever they can. In lakes like Hopatcong, Greenwood, and Swartswood, reservoirs like Spruce Run, Manasquan, Monksville, and Merrill Creek, smallmouths may feed on herring more than largemouths, because of shared habitat. Round Valley Reservoir is also worth mention, but has seen a sharp decline in herring forage base, although I spotted a smallmouth of at least six pounds recently and caught another pushing three.

          Beginning in October, herring bunch together on the rocky drop-offs of points and ledges, and smallmouths seem to have the advantage of feeding on them, although largemouths approached with spinnerbaits in declining weedbeds and near wooden structures like docks will feed on any herring in their senses’ range. Besides, October largemouths associated, oddly enough, with rocks at the shallow end of drop-offs strike jerkbaits.

          Diving crankbaits with lips allowing the plugs to bounce off boulders and stones possess great effectiveness for largemouths and smallmouths alike down to depths of 15 feet or so, so long as the habitat isn’t weedy. Crankbaits tend to trip over submerged branches and other snags, but weeds get caught on the treble hooks. In addition to spinnerbaits, weedless jigs tipped with twister-tail or tube plastics get through thin vegetation with ease. Moderate retrieves broken by jerks of the rod tip cover water range and provoke hits, but if weedbeds remain too thick, a jig will get messy.

          We all feel the change in the air of fall. But in the water, where it counts for anglers, the bass never feel the loss of summer fervor.   

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Complete Guide to Round Valley Rainbow, Brown, and Lake Trout from Shore

Mike Petrole and Lake Trout

Round Valley Reservoir Trout from the Gravel

November characterizes some of the best shore-bound action for rainbows and browns at Round Valley until April or early May. Rainbows come in close to shore first, sometimes feeding in a foot or two of wave-churned water as soon as surface water temperature falls to 70 degrees, usually during the third week of September. By sometime in October, brown trout traditionally begin to get caught, although this species has suffered sharp decline without recent stockings. Round Valley Trout Association stocked 200 11-inch browns early this year, likely legal size as they come in this fall, but please return these fish—identifiable by tags--to the reservoir, as the intent is to see them reach trophy size.

Lake trout never seem to meet the gravel at angler’s boots until mid-December. Fishing is tough after November, but as is said, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. A few of us fish through the entire winter, sitting on fold-out chairs or flat slates in temperatures as low as 15 degrees, my personal best as yet, and if the reservoir freezes thick enough, some of us of the same group—plus others who don’t shore fish--pursue trout through the ice.

Motivated to spawn, all three species behave as if they will reproduce, but without any streams entering the reservoir, rainbows and browns don’t reproduce. Lake trout spawn with great success in deeper water; the catch and release season is from September 15th through November 3Oth. Fishermen unfamiliar with the Round Valley cold water shore scene tend to think everyone bottom fishes, but a number of approaches prove effective in the main boat launch area and Ranger Cove sections of Lot 2. You can hike into the back of the reservoir if you’re adventurous.

Marshmallows and Mealworms

Most popular, a single small marshmallow to float a mealworm on a light wire hook, weighted by a 3/4-ounce steel egg sinker, separated by a small barrel swivel and four-foot leader of six-pound test: M & M rigs catch rainbows and browns and may possibly work for lakers. Occasionally, lakers get caught on Power Bait employed on the same rig, although better ways exist to fish the frigid band of a month or two when lakers may dominate catches.

Three rods and reels serve any of the bottom methods, medium power and six-pound test line sufficient. Rod holders you can stick through the sand and gravel at shore edge keep order. Some of the guys close the bails after casting to 10-30 feet of water and place bells on rod tips to alert them to a hit. Subtle trout aren’t supposed to wrangle with bait resisting a free take, tight line forcing trout to chomp on the bait in place, but plenty get caught this way. Nevertheless, I witness dropped bait, so I simply position my rods with opened bails and keep an eye on them. The line runs freely through the egg sinker, and then it’s a matter of setting the hook quick to release a trout back into the reservoir safely.

Rainbows average 16 inches. Fish less than 15-inch legal size infrequently get caught. Any browns caught this season will be bigger due to the gap since last stocking. Lakers average a little better than three pounds. People think the trout migrate to the boat launch area and Ranger Cove, but this is just a self-serving notion reflecting the fact that this is where they can fished. The reservoir holds a lot of trout, and they range 12 miles of shoreline by rules other than our ease at catching them. However, the more familiar you may become with this fall and hardcore winter fishery, the better nuances and details, secrets, present themselves to guide choice about just exactly where to cast an M & M. I will divulge more when I discuss lures and shiners.

Lure Options

I met a guy casting a spinner on a 30-degree afternoon in February, shaking ice out of the guides of his ultra-light, having caught an 18-inch brown on two-pound test. The fight seared like heat, but his description of a solid strike impressed me most. A hard-hitting trout in water colder than 40 degrees is exceptional compared to other species, but this trout is not the only one the man has caught on spinners in the middle of winter.

If you want exercise, fish eighth and quarter-ounce spinners; bladebaits like the Binsky; jerkbaits sinking, suspending, or floating as lengthy as four or five inches; lip-less crankbaits, especially in chrome; spoons like the Kastmaster. Some guys never touch bait. And in the fall, Round Valley features a contingent of fly casters. Streamers will catch these trout that frequent very shallow water into November. It’s not impossible to catch a January laker on a streamer, though unlikely because fishing in any event is usually slow. Fly casting for them would require dedicated stamina and I haven’t seen it happen.

Steep drop-offs of Ranger Cove afford the possibility. My buddy Mike opened the belly of a laker full of banded sunfish an inch long. Most of the winter lake trout hug the bottoms of channels and trenches deep as ever during winter, and I’ve never heard of any more than eight pounds caught from shore. Despite the forage fish crisis at the reservoir, lakers as large as 18 pounds get caught by boaters who know the whereabouts and deep water methods. The greatest of the lakers apparently forage largely on other trout, cannibals that put a small dent in results of prolific lake trout reproduction, but smaller lakers feed voraciously on freshwater shrimp and whatever small forage fish, obviously not limited to soft-rayed, lingering alewife herring or the shiners stocked by the state and Round Valley Trout Association to boost the food supply. Lakers ranging from two to six pounds pick off little baitfish as shallow as 10 or 15 feet deep, like this unusual banded sunfish, making a streamer a possible target.

Whichever lures you may decide to cast, hugging bottom isn’t always necessary. Trout get caught on floating jerkbaits fished four feet down over bottom another 12 feet down. The reservoir’s pellucid clarity allows trout to sight a lure from a distance, and despite the metabolism of browns and rainbows slowed in the coldest water, when these fish motivate to feed, they will give chase and strike with abandon.

Naturally, the best fishing conditions will be windy, wet, or snowy. I’ve fished under 45-mph gusts driving rain against the side of my face to get skunked, and another year fished in nearly identical conditions for steady action. No hard and fast rule guarantees success for efforts, and we’ve caught trout under the severest of cold fronts without a cloud in the sky, but nasty days have proved the best.

Lures give you the chance to scout the reservoir’s shores under any conditions. The back of Ranger Cove, for example, is accessible by trail and productive. I spoke to someone who reported a brown trout suspended near the surface as long as his arm, wouldn’t hit anything. Wherever you try, do so with an open mind that may subtly guide casts in directions that count. Life attracts life, and deep in the back of the human mind, intuitive connectivity exists that helps sense where action might happen. We’re animals like any other, and although all species use all of their senses to hunt, more is involved than the outward five, though it is nothing simple like the use of GPS coordinates.

If you regularly scout the reservoir’s shores, casting as you go, over time you will come to know spots better, developing a total affinity for the main launch and Cove regions accessible by foot, like a map in the mind with a live report, cluing you into the present situation. This hardly makes the fishing any easier—especially in the dead of winter—but the gains in interest far surpass the dull blindness of random luck. Even one-time outing can be plenty interesting for anyone who pays attention.

Live Shiners Catch Lakers

Shiners will catch rainbows and browns also, so after the flourish of November M & M action, I switch to shiners and hold my breath. Some winters very few lakers get caught. Mysteriously, other winters produce many. Last winter, during three weeks before the reservoir froze over, I heard word only of lakers, no rainbows or browns while a laker or two hit nearly each time out. Possibly, rainbows passed on our shiners. Browns take shiners better than rainbows, but few remain. Waiting on bottom sets other times, rainbows have taken this bait, so last winter remains a curiosity.

Some fishermen experiment with floats and catch trout, setting at four feet and casting the rig over 10-20 feet of water. Others go to the opposite extreme with limber 12-foot rods capable of casting a one-ounce weight great distance. I marvel at how the shiner isn’t ripped from the hook, but these slow action rods soften the blow of forward momentum. By keeping bail open for the weighted bait to sink straight down, these anglers achieve sets as deep as at least 35 feet.

I catch lakers using the same rig as I do for M & M, only I slide a Styrofoam walleye nightcrawler float—painted black to reduce visibility—through the leader line just like an egg sinker. Others simply acquire white Styrofoam and cut into a small piece with the leader line so it stays in place. Styrofoam seems to make a difference in keeping a shiner out of rock crevices or from hugging bottom.

In pursuit, I’ve micromanaged a 150-yard stretch of Ranger Cove over the years, deepening my familiarity. Last winter, I reduced the possibilities until I seemed to know exactly where to expect hits. And those hits came—most of the fish lost, unfortunately. Fish don’t really behave by random senselessness, so the better we guess whereabouts, the better come results.

As a rule, when bottom fishing three sets, space them as widely as comfort and accessibility allow. If you learn enough in the process of experimentation to guess a good spot, set one there, and move the other two wherever the best guesses lead, but don’t crowd a spot unnecessarily.

Fall involves the best action you’ll see until next year. The winter scene can show you the slowest fishing you’ll ever know, but patiently catch a laker and the entire natural wonder of Round Valley may seem yours.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Headwaters North Branch Raritan River Outing

Places exist, accessible, where owner's rights don't make it impossible to enjoy the wild in good conscience, even though most of the headwaters flow off limits to anyone who doesn't live on the land that edges the water. Sometimes you have to get a permit to cook hotdogs, but to my mind, that's an equitable deal. The township makes the cookout possible, so why not uphold their accountability in the matter?

Water's really low. All this year, I've seen the river down here in Bedminster flood only once, and that time it really didn't come close to breaching the bank.

I got down below a falls to mount my D7100 on tripod for a shoot, knowing in advance this effort just wouldn't cut the margin. I'm going to have to come back for more pictures when the falls behave that way.

And then I took out my two-weight fly rod, wading in sneakers, cast a dry Muddler Minnow that floated, cast it well back in the shade, and a wild brown trout struck with a splash. A tried to set the hook, but the trout was gone before the point grabbed.

The main thing to remember is that all of this land and water, owned privately or not, is wild and free, most of it unknown to anyone, because it takes effort and time to really experience what's in front of you. And you have to get to what's in front of you, too. It's so easy to measure acres and miles, and then pretend you have what the quantifications represent. But to see infinity in a speck of sand breaks all the rules.