Sunday, October 20, 2019

State's Algae Agenda a Bad Blow

Rick told me his hat is good for keeping rain off him. My camera proves to be weather-resistant, too.

My brother Rick and I looked forward to this trip for a long while. My brother-in-law Jim planned on coming, but changed plans.

Early on, our set lines yielded only a bullhead for Rick, as I let him have the first take. Line moved off slowly, and so I thought it could be a walleye. As always, we marked plenty of fish on the sonar graph, but like most times--every fall since 2007--these fish we see electronically don't hit. We put live bait and jigs right in among them and they don't hit. Rick watched his jig on the sonar screen, right next to fish. I've been party to few exceptions, but one of them, in 2012, resulted in a catch of about 75 hybrid striped bass for Marty Roberts, all of them released. I don't know why walleye are predictable and the stripers are not. We invariably catch at least one walleye, but never more than four. Also, we catch the walleye relatively blindly. It's not fish on the screen we target. We either set lines along drop-offs by casting away from an anchored boat, or catch them by methodically casting jigs or otherwise drifting the boat with the breeze while jigging along the drop regardless of fish showing up on the graph, the sonar used to keep in line with the drop-off, some of these deep-water spots well out away from shore. (Most of the stripers I've caught have come this way, too.)

The sun having come up just barely over the horizon, we moved to a reliable spot behind an island. Often, a walleye is in the boat before sunrise, but today I hoped I would see line slowly curl off the spool where trees blocked sunlight. It happened, but the fish amounted to three white perch about eight or nine inches long, and a yellow perch. Unfortunately, Dow's Boat Rentals has only small two- or two-and-a-half-inch herring right now. That's all Joe's getting in his nets. I like big four- or five-inch herring, and I think the larger gamefish do, too. We decided to put all the set rods out of the way in the front of the boat and jig instead, so I pulled anchor and began a process of using the electric motor to position, keeping pretty much to the drop-off, venturing back out into the main lake. We missed a few hits. They could have been perch or crappie, but walleye hit subtly, too.

We felt more intensity fishing this way, the method relying on mental concentration, but I grew tired of it and decided to set lines again in the main lake. By then, the sky was completely overcast. I will be honest in spite of myself, because I can seem as silly as a psychic with my ability to home in on fish by hunches, but I felt it was high time to hook up, and setting lines was the ticket. I guess it took 15 minutes. I saw line peeling from the spool quickly, and excitedly said, "Hybrid!" I grabbed the rod and set the hook. That little walleye took line faster than any other we've caught. Later, while driving home, I felt I should have handed the rod to Rick, but I hadn't reflected. In a peculiar sense, it was as if the fish was mine for finding it, but more to the point, it was a little walleye, and I still have hopes that Rick will catch larger.

It's so hard to find time.

Soon thereafter, the anchor came loose, the breeze carrying the boat, set lines dragging, and though we repositioned along the drop, at the top of it, I never felt right about the spot. Why's that? I didn't know. We cast jigs and a Binsky while waiting endlessly on the set lines, rain falling steadily, our rain jackets and rain pants on, and I caught a pickerel on a Binsky. A pickerel from deep water, odd for this species always associated with weeds. Mostly, my bad feeling for this spot involved an uncertainty of just how deep where, but that's usually the case, if maybe a little better informed. Two p.m. neared, when we would leave, and I decided we would give a spot further along the drop 15 minutes, but nothing happened.

I introduced Rick to Laurie on our way out. I told her I hope they don't shut down. Earlier, I had introduced Rick to Joe, who told us algae blooms like this past summer's happen every summer when rain washes too much nitrate into the lakes. He's known them since he was a boy, and I find as particularly pointed evidence that they're no big deal Joe's having worked all summer on the lake through the advisory, pulling nets bare-handed, getting his arms soaked every night, never developing a rash. The state has authority. Everyone certainly knows that. But that's not to say the state is always right. Authority is often, if not usually, wrong. We the people have a voice in the state, and in this case of Lake Hopatcong's demise, I think that voice by and large went very wrong. To this day, Dow's business is down--because people are afraid of the lake. Pathetic.

Joe told us Dow's may shut down next year. That's up to us. (Will we be patrons?) I reminded him that during the last ice season, business was great. He enthusiastically agreed that was true when I was there in February, then said, "But we can't count on it anymore. If we could, that alone would carry the business. Four or five weeks won't do." It's a double whammy. The overblown reaction to algae, and the very real threat of climate change already here and getting much worse quickly. At least for the time being, ice fishing still exists on Lake Hopatcong, but not as it used to.

If Dow's goes, that's it for herring bait in New Jersey. Joe is--far and away--the lead supplier. Who else in today's age will step in and fill the market demand? I've said it before, without word, we anglers have no political voice, and our endeavors on the water would swiftly be outlawed, the voice of animal "rights" theorists at universities like Princeton, for one example, motivating activists to move in directly and take over. Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, Peter Singer, is an intellectual founder of the animal rights movement. The movement doesn't win because we have verbal defenses. But deeds are important, too, and to see herring disappear from bait shops would be a sad farewell. A vital nerve lost.

The dock was dry when we left it for the open lake.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Hopatcong Report

Laurie Murphy:

We are still open with bait & boat rentals and are happy to report that the advisory for the algae bloom has been lifted for pretty much the whole lake. We still have herring, but only smaller ones & will continue to net until the end of the month. We are fully stocked for the fall jigging season and will start to get ready for hopefully, what will be a great ice fishing season. For the few fisherman still out there, reports have come in for lots of yellow & white perch, pickerel, hybrid striped bass on chicken livers & some walleye and nice crappies, along with several carp caught on jigs in deeper water. Pete Rathjens made his way to the scale with a Largemouth, weighed in at 5 lb 2 oz. Our hours for the fall are 6:30 AM - 6 PM. We are also set up with Fish & Wildlife’s new licensing system & it is up and running. Have a great week !

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Lamington River Dam Removal Begins

Trout Scapes River Restoration, led by Brian Cowden, began removal of the defunct dam on the Lamington River near the bridge over Cowperthwait Road, Bedminster/North Branch, on Saturday morning, October 12. More is on the agenda than removal of the dam. Cowden intends to create better habital for smallmouth bass and stocked trout.

The effort is part of a movement in New Jersey to remove river dams, allowing the passage of migratory fish species like shad, river herrring, and striped bass. Freer flow also creates better ecologies for resident species. Here on the Lamington, the improvement will suit resident and stocked fish, although, if all Raritan River dams were removed, it might not be completely out of the realm of possibility for striped bass to move into the river during periods of high water. It seems extremely unlikely, but stripers do easily move up to the Island Farm Weir in May.

They swim well upstream in the Musconetcong River, now that many dams are removed there.

Monday, October 7, 2019

It Can All Go Slower

The trolling didn't work. (Could you have guessed.) The sonar in front of me as we progressed almost all the way to the back of Split Rock Reservoir, I marked plenty of fish. Our Storm Hot 'n Tots, diving at least 12 feet deep, went past dozens. My only regret now is that I didn't think of trying plugs that dive 18 to 23 feet, but plenty of fish marked at about 11 to 14 feet. 

We often stopped along the way back, thoroughly fishing rocky drops, rocky points, a rocky islet, deadfalls whether tree trunks or brush, little coves, weedbeds. We used Senkos Wacky and Texas, traditional worms weighted, jigs drressed with tubes and twisters, spinnerbaits, Rat-L-Traps. I don't understand why we didn't catch more under cloudy skies with surface water temperatures from 65 down to 63 in the back, but I predicted that I might not understand in the previous post. Ever since I first came to this reservoir and fished from shore, I've felt it somehow odd. (But Oliver Shapiro did catch a 19-inch largemouth from shore here a month ago.) I caught a 14-inch smallmouth all the way back as close as we came to reservoir's end. No more action anywhere besides a definite hit for Oliver. My bass took a Senko fished Wacky style where a massive weedbed ends. I liked that edge especially, before we even tried it, besides a cove at the reservoir's bottleneck where the sonar marked plenty of fish, though we got no takers.

Beautiful surroundings up there above Interstate 80, they did come alive after I finally caught the smallmouth as sunset neared, the reservoir and trees changing color suddenly seeming there for me instead of lonely, isolating the two of us in wilds that would not yield. 

Earlier, Oliver had spoken of an article on fishing I would like to read, about time and memory, about how, as we grow older, time seems to accelerate, and yet poignant memories--fishing produces these--have the effect of slowing it down. The writer postulates that when we're young, we're much more engrossed in events, and so time seems to pass slowly. As an aside, any of us who have a child or children who have grown up know how fast their childhood(s) seem to have passed. And yet we might reflect on our own childhoods and how long the time between our first memories and, say, age 18 had seemed. Like a full life. Incidentally, this state of affairs reminds me that during Paleolithic times, the average age of death wasn't all that much beyond age 18.

Oliver and I both have parents yet alive, and he mentioned the auspices for our living long. I didn't get into the issue, though I didn't take another pull from my vape stick until after we docked, a gesture of good faith rather than bad, and I hope this vapor device is not so bad for my health as were cigarettes. I really should give up this nicotine delivery device, too.

I like to think I've come to terms with my life as enough as it is. If I were die in my sleep tonight, what a pity I didn't finish my book, that for sure, but always the main reason to live long is to be there for family. I, at least, didn't know this in my youth. I thought life was all about actualizing my potential as a creative human being. Well, now that my life has this quality of seeming enough as it is, very well, I've done that to some degree, but that never was all life asked of me. My son Matt has made all the difference. With him in the world, my wife and I are part of our own family.

And with friends to fish with, it all goes a little slower.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Annual Wine Tasting Event on the Musconetcong


Event Name: Wine Tasting on the Musky

Date: October 12, 2019 (Rain Date: October 12, 2019)

Time: 2:00 – 5:00 pm

Contact: Alan Hunt, Executive Director, Musconetcong Watershed Association, (908) 537-7060 or

Musconetcong Watershed Association to host 17th Annual Wine Tasting on the Musky

The Musconetcong Watershed Association (MWA) will host a wine tasting on Saturday, October 12 from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm at the Warren County Rod & Gun Club Pavilion, 279 Asbury-Bloomsbury Road, Asbury, NJ 08802.  The rain date is Sunday, October 13 at the same time.

Guests will enjoy dozens of fine wines as well as a curated selection of craft beer and ciders thanks to sponsor Perryville Wine & Spirits.  The tasting will include selections from local producers as well as an interesting assortment from around the world.

There will be live music by the Caren Kennedy Duo, and the first 100 attendees will receive a commemorative stemless wine glass.  Guests won’t want to miss the annual rubber ducky regatta on the Musconetcong River where sponsoring a duck provides the opportunity to win bragging rights for fastest waterfowl.

Tickets are $30 pre-paid or $35 at the door.  Call 908-537-7060 or visit to buy online.  Proceeds benefit the MWA, and a portion of the ticket price is tax-deductible.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Anticipating Sunday Ahead

The plan was to fish Merrill Creek Reservoir. Getting skunked at Split Rock changed my mind, particularly because I see such potential for trolling crankbaits there. At least, I see the rocky shorelines dropping off quickly. (I really only assume this potential.) There may be reasons I don't know about which prevent Oliver Shapiro and I from connecting.

Another problem with Merrill Creek Reservoir is the heavy timber we would fish. I have felt my tackle isn't up to it. I have a medium-heavy Lew's Speed Stick, the Ardent spinning reel loaded with 20-pound braid. Just the other day, a coworker at Shop Rite and I discussed the use of braid up to 65-pound-test for fishing largemouths. And then, last night, I came upon a great article in The Fisherman by Mark Modoski. An issue from two or three years ago, Modoski had interviewed professional bass fisherman Denny Bauer on flipping and pitching bass with heavy tackle and the careful use of a bow-mount electric motor. I read it in my car while on break today.

Both instances spoke to my fears about Merrill Creek, after the fact. I caught a largemouth of nearly eight pounds there a year ago, fortunately from deep water away from cover...

Many anglers feel 20-pound braid is heavy stuff. It's not very. Nor is a medium-heavy spinning rod, but while I could afford a seven-and-a-half-foot heavy-power baitcasting outfit, I won't, because I can't afford a bassboat with a bow-mount electric apparently needed to methodically ply heavy cover. But anyone who has followed this blog all along since 2011 knows I have fished cover since 2011, and that I promote the habit. Until last year, I kept to a mere medium-power spinning rod and 15-pound test braid, until, early last summer, a bass seemed to nearly bring that rod to its breaking point at Tilcon Lake, owing to this fish stuffing its head into thick weeds.

Many years ago now, before I began blogging, my son and I fished Lake Musconetcong constantly, but never caught a largemouth much over three pounds, which left us wondering. Well, the apparent reason wasn't hard to figure out, once I attended a Knee Deep Club meeting featuring a seminar by a Lake Musconetcong regular. He had caught four largemouths in the lake over seven pounds during that summer, and his secret was really very simple. He penetrated the thickest weeds with tungsten jigs and horsed big bass out of it.

Biggest bass=thickest cover.

I don't have equipment for it. Or this is my starting point to test, though I'll skip Merrill Creek and stick to my little lakes next summer. Furnace Lake is one of them, and on Furnace with Fred Matero in July this year, I was afflicted by a mixture of stupidity and curiosity, sticking to my medium-power rod and that 15-pound braid while fishing thick weeds, when I had the Speed Stick I had bought for exactly this purpose right in the canoe next to me. So after catching a two-and-a-half-pounder, the significantly larger bass I hooked--I could tell it was no five-pounder--put me in an acutely observant state of mind. I took in every nuance of the contest I felt, because it was all about testing that light rod and light line test. I noticed that it seemed to have more power than I had thought it had on Tilcon last year. I was horsing a bass of about three pounds, three-and-a-half at most, along with a load of weeds, and it seemed as if I would get the fish into the canoe. Apparently, the hook pulled because it never set quite well enough, but I couldn't be sure. You never want a bass to bog down in weeds, because the line can loosen between the hook and where weeds catch on the line. (Bass throws hook.) For all I know, the additional power I certainly could have exerted on the bass with my medium-heavy rod would have resulted in bass caught.

Anyhow, when all is said and done, I believe in anglers who can't afford bassboats, more than I believe in those who can. For me, angling is first and foremost about the big picture, secondarily about how it is done. If you can afford a bassboat, good for you; I certainly would never deny money matters, and that fishing practices matter, too. But above and beyond it all. That alone is where possibilities reside.

(There's more you can do with what you own than advertisers will tell you.)