Tuesday, August 30, 2016

North Jersey Bass, Salmon with the Sun Watching Overhead


The new job's going well, exercising my back and other muscles; we're getting out despite tight time, and today fully confirmed I'm back to normal. Let's just hope things stay this way. Now it's a little hard to believe that during my 40's and early 50's I was 55 pounds heavier than I am now. I couldn't lose it by exercise, not that I didn't try at all, but I hated working out in the gym, except weight lifting brought back just a touch of nostalgia for high school afternoons when I lifted regularly. Before going off to fish. Instead of running a treadmill, I listened to Gary Null on WNYE and WBAI at noon while on the job as a driver for many years. I took his advice on what to eat and what not to eat; what to drink and what not to drink--and lost the weight. Now that my new job is physically demanding to mild degree, I've gone from very uncomfortable pain in my upper back to barely feeling any in about a month. I feel more in step with time moving along at ground level, and I'm fitting outings into my schedule, which I feared I wouldn't be able to fulfil.

Someday, I want to have every minute my own: writing, shooting photography, fishing, hiking, boating, urban outings, travel. But that's not to waste time dreaming about. If I live to retirement age, its a given anyway, though I'd like to achieve enough earnings from writing and photography before I'm that old. It's just that--I'm pretty old. It's not so long off now. If I don't make those royalties, that's not the most important thing anyhow. The man I consider New Jersey's greatest outdoor writer, Jim Stabile--who was my favorite reading when I was 16--told me last year: "It's not about you. It's about the reader." The debate over whether writers should write for money or not has gone on for millennia and will never end, because writing isn't on the clock. I think anyone who wouldn't accept a check gratefully doesn't understand appreciation implies trade, which necessitates the medium of exchange, just as I also think an artist--writer or otherwise--who doesn't well practice the business end of his endeavor fails at the best antidote to states of mind that might make him a little crazy. But I never forget Jim's words, and also memoirist, novelist, and poet Sheldon Vanauken's, who wrote me, "Books are letters to friends."

Initial plans had Matt and I fishing on Friday, but the head chef had to change the work schedule, so I got this one day off this week instead of two. I got up this morning late and set directly to loading the car, needing Matt's help to car-top the squareback canoe, which weighs about 100 pounds. For a moment there, I felt loading and unloading four times altogether might be so much physical work as to cross the line on what's worthwhile, but the busy work felt invigorating as it should, and rolling the canoe fully loaded--70 pound marine battery, 55-pound-thrust Minn-Kota on the transom, etc.--about an eighth of a mile to the lake never became very difficult, just testy with the dolly pretty weak near the center, weight shifting.

We got out there, and I realized I had left behind my box of jigs. After I took account of the cloudless sky, that is. No doubt, bass could be deep. Sun already burned my face. I swished another cast, the weightless Chomper's worm touching down where I had my doubts any bass would lurk, but after 20 minutes total, I caught a two-pounder. Or a little better. Maybe 45 minutes later, Matt caught his only fish, a bass, though later--near sunset--an Atlantic salmon would crash the surface where he lifted his Binsky bladebait after retrieve, missing the hooks by less than an inch. (My wife took my word yesterday as a promise that we would have super-fresh salmon for a late dinner tonight....)

And sometime after Matt's bass and no more hits from anything but very small fish--like sunfish--it finally came back to me, especially with moderate wind a problem, that allowing weightless worms to sink as deep as 15 feet or more among weeds just wasn't getting to where most of the bass might be, so I reached for my tackle bag, hoping to find a few jigs. None. But I found a pack of quarter-ounce bullet weights and rigged up Texas style, feeling a little giddy, thinking I haven't done this since I can remember. Second cast. That's all it took. I was into another near two pounds hooked 25, maybe 30 feet down at the end of a rocky point.

If you fish, you know how that goes. As if you've found--the pattern. Another word for Holy Grail. As if bass after bass will now come over the gunnel.

But Matt hooked a nice one 15 minutes later.

"Now we're gonna get 'em," he said. His grin belied a mischievous quality unlike his sober intellectual self. His hit 25, 30 feet down also, at the bottom of a drop to the left of the point I thoroughly plumbed. Net in the water, the bass suddenly dove straight for bottom, drag crackling, and pulled free.

"How big would you say it was?" Matt asked.

"Close to 18."

We never quite got 'em. We took an interlude, trolling for salmon and marking very, very few and small. Finally, we visited a spot that's only failed me once. We fished outside the little area that always responds, with those weighted worms. and nothing happened. Finally, I told Matt we should retie and go weightless. I moved us in a little closer. The worm the way I'm used to it alighted right where I knew--beyond any doubt, right?--it belonged. Immediately, I felt a heavy take and knew this bass had to be big. Or at least three pounds big. More like three-and-a-half, and that's about the size it proved to be. Could have been 18 1/2 inches and an ounce or two more, but I didn't measure her. About eight feet of water, vividly clear with an emerald tone beneath the surface of blue reflection. Sunlit as can be.

"I should have told you to cast there," I said.

"No, I was still taking the sinker off," Matt said.

It was a long six hours or so. The sun accompanied us. Or at least me. I never found the words to express the feeling to my son, a feeling yet tentative, as if all that sky-blue had weight in a balance to judge me yes or no: is this still worthwhile, this sort of thing? A few times, Matt had his mobile device out, and I asked him if he were on that farce of reality, Facebook, though I didn't denigrate the tool for him. Just asked simply.

"No, I'm communicating with friends," he said, and I don't even recall whatever the medium he uses to do that, though he told me, a little ashamed. I quickly thought of how absurd it seems to chat with friends while out here, but said nothing, and further felt the doubt--not oppressive, just iffy--about whether his being out here in "nothingness," as a high school friend of mine once called wild places, is really worth the time.

Now we were after those salmon again, but tolled on far back, where I figured 20 feet of water at most covered any fish, to try bass out of the wind. Instead, I found an interesting drop, and realized we entered the vicinity of the lake's deepest depths. Coming back up a little, the sonar registering a hump, I saw herring on the graph--and lots of salmon on them. We made a number of passes, marking more fish yet from 28 feet up to as shallow as 14, though only a very few small ones in water that thin. And I just knew. None of these fish were going to shoot up to grab a Phoebe spoon as one had in July. So we tied on Binsky bladebaits and began jigging where a few marked directly under the boat. Soon, the graph revealed many dozens of salmon swimming under us, a few of them leaving the trace of the unit's largest fish icon. I had told Matt that by now, some of these salmon are at least 22 inches. Well, maybe 26. Who knows.

Unexpectedly, five or six did bust the surface. I tried to remember. Was it August when I've seen them crash surface herring in recent years? Or only July? I'd have to check my handwritten log. Water temperature at 82 on the surface, I'd like to know what it is 20, 30 feet down. Not so cold bass don't like it.

Matt got his best thrill when the salmon slashed at his Binsky by the boat, and that's all the attention we got. I sure took off on some more trolling passes with the Phoebes flickering under the surface just after that incident. And then we returned to dozens of salmon directly under us that wouldn't hit. I tried jigging a Phoebe, too.

On the way towards the gravel where we would pull the canoe, scuffing the polyethelene a little, we cast weightless worms to another predicable spot, and I caught a bass of less than a pound-a-half. Then we tried a shallow little cove just beyond, a pickerel rushing the worm as I quickly retrieved for the next cast I never made. I tied on a topwater plug. Sun had set a half hour ago. The lake had calmed, though a very slight breeze persisted in the main. This brought back Lake Musconetcong memories,  where we only fished topwater during summers. We spoke about this, some of the best fishing we've done, and my feelings warmed.

On the way home we talked like we haven't talked in a long time. Hours before, I had brought math up, but he's occupied with summer school work and had nothing to say, as if we could have conversed on stuff he probably finds as difficult to verbalize as the sorts of things my mind processed through long silences out there. Now we talked--fishing. Took us 35, 40 minutes to get home, and though we did not talk non-stop, we both voiced values we share.







Sunday, August 28, 2016

On the Big Pond with my Wife and Son

 Trish feels apprehensive after I've backed out of the docks and snapped this shot, just before I engaged forward gear. Matt and Sadie sit stolidly.

This outing I've awaited ever since trolling in May with Brian Cronk, when I got the idea of taking my wife out on Lake Hopatcong. I ran it by her when I got home, yeah, she brightened immediately. But as the event drew close these past few weeks, apprehension grew on her. It would be too hot on the boat; well, as you can see by the photo I grabbed, it really had little to do with temperature. I kept telling her, it's not the same. She's used to stepping out of air conditioned buildings and feeling the difference as a kind of shock. Once you get out on the lake, even if temperatures hang in humid mid-90's, it doesn't feel the same at all, but you do need to drink water. Friday, temperatures never hit 90. (Once she said she was too cold, after spray dampened her clothes.)

Cut to the quick--she enjoyed the boat and the lake. She got over the disorientation she felt at first, though she never voiced more than her earlier guess about heat. We rode mid-lake from Dow's Boat Rentals to the old Yacht Club rock pile out there in deep water, and I gave the wide area a thorough search, marking very few small, fish on the sonar. Sometimes big hybrids work the edges during the summer--from what I understand, perhaps mistaken--where herring bunch up. I showed her Sharp's Rock and marked few and small there. Ditto Pickerel Point and out far from the drop, where I marked a solitary fish 33 feet down; so somehow out there, oxygen penetrates a good 10 feet deeper than most of the lake now.

So far, we hadn't fished, besides me trolling a Mann's Little George, one of those half-ounce lead-bodied tailspinners that still don't get down very deep on the troll. I had a hunch as we approached Davis Cove and soon started marking a lot of fish, apparently hybrid striped bass of a pound to perhaps three, unless my new Humminbird portable has smaller icons than my previous. We spent at least an hour offering them live herring on five lines before we motored on, checking Elba, checking where Brian and I found big hybrids stacked in May further down towards Sunrise Point, one or two little fish. (Those fish in May wouldn't bite either.)

We crossed over to our favorite spot to try and hook smallmouths. Matt came up with a pumpkinseed on a herring and I caught a yellow perch. On the way there, I found fish where I expected them, up near the top of a drop-off suspended at 17 feet over 23-foot bottom, but I wasn't ready to fish there yet. Eventually, we abandoned any smallmouths where we've caught so many big before and headed well out in the lake to fish that drop. There we stayed until the sun set, and I caught a smallmouth bass less than a pound as light changed, having first offered the rod with something mouthing the bait to Matt, but he refused. The herring meeting the bass halfway needed no weight on the line to find it's end. A couple of lines I weighted and set directly down over the sides, and I wondered about setting slip bobbers, but never took the pains to rig any up. I had all six out. 

I knew this spot offered a chance at a big walleye, smallmouth--who knows, maybe hybrid. Anchored, we fished long and thoroughly, occasionally a school of herring with smaller size fish associated passing under the boat. Guess they were smallmouths and not very eager to eat. As the herring did most of the work, I must have shot 250 photos. Most of these I've yet to delete, but a margin hit the mark, more than I've posted.

On the way back to Dow's, I realized I've never taking a swim in Lake Hopatcong. Mostly, we fish colder water: May, October, November...through the ice. But we've been here summers, my son and I, once me with Landolfi, since 2007. It's not that I want to go to State Park and hit that beach, but sometime get out on some remote rock and take a dive. I put my hand in the lake as the boat cruised at about 13 mph, wet my face with that clean deep, deep blue, and all the while, I couldn't escape a growing sense of guilt.

Albert Camus, the 20th century existentialist, offered the best definition of guilt I've come upon: not being here. That's what I felt, not that I hadn't entered the experience of the afternoon and evening I was leaving with my family, but that the next morning, I would have to get up and prepare to go work at a supermarket. I felt as if I better belong on the lake. More than purely personal gratification, this world we share needs grand affirmations now more than ever, as the effects of the Industrial Revolution threaten us with consequences happening now, but which we have yet to experience the full results. I thought about my feelings Friday on lunch break the next day, and thought: if the world needs grand affirmations more than it needs me on the job, why has the world placed me here, instead of circumstances having worked out to favor me affording more time on the lake? It may seem silly to think that way, but childish thoughts sometimes help to humble the sense of everything in my life seeming to rest on my choices. No one can choose more than what's available to choose.

Hopatcong's more and less a wild place, and that includes a lot of the residents, the society pretty heavy on the partying, not that I judge the lake community in the negative, and I wouldn't mind moving there. But in my life, I went as wild as I possibly could in the bays behind Long Beach Island, trying to understand the secret of nature, another childish idea, but results came in spades...including my need, eventually, to get out of the bay, off Long Beach Island, and back into society. Philosopher Ayn Rand wrote that a man can't remain for long in a state of nature, not that this statement is earth shaking for anyone. We all seem to know.  Obviously, I want to go back...enough to feel the depths. But if the wild couldn't support me then, it can't now, either. I go do my job with gourmet meats, vegetable preparations, and seafood as the continued effort to make up for the society I threw off as a young man.

A couple of hours after that late lunch break, the only coworker with me this last evening made the remark seemingly from out of the blue, "Work is a necessity."

"It is," I said, trying to be as even-toned as possible, because I knew this guy means it right on the level. The two of us cleaned our work stations thereafter in silence, minding every detail, and I felt the bond between us not in words, but deeds.

   





 "Fire on the Mountain" T-shirt: a favorite Dead tune of mine. Matt reads In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action, by Ellie Alderman and Caroline Kennedy. One of his rods, baited with live herring, rests against his foot, and if he had a take, he'd have felt it.




 Ghostly Sail


 Miss Lolita, the 58-foot cruise boat.

 Jefferson House restaurant, arrive as you will.


The Jefferson Diner serves the best food of the many diners we know of in New Jersey

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What's Done Just Looks Different in New Clothes


Got up early before work this morning, with my son, and we traveled for nearly an hour one way from down here in Bedminster by Interstate 78 to well north of Interstate 80, getting an hour-and-a-half of bass fishing in, fully worthwhile, but the bass doesn't make it so appear. Mine was no bigger, and that's all we caught, though we missed a few hits, apparently from fish no larger.

We fished the shady side, and found it's too shallow for the most part. I kept casting to deeper water, but knew I threw to spots which, for the most part, offered no clues to cover underneath, so it's no surprise I got no takes. It's just that last year, Matt fished where we began this morning, actually a shorter length of shoreline connecting both longer sides, and he tossed his worm about 30 feet from the bank, repeatedly, catching three bass better than today's and losing a big one. That was evening. Today, sun fell on this water, barren of bass, except for a 16-incher Matt spotted in close.

Fishing done, we crossed the spillway on an elevated roadway, which reminded Matt of Sunrise Lake in Washington Township. "I love that place," he said. We haven't been there in six or seven years, but during his boyhood from age two, perhaps nowhere else meant more to him. He mastered the plastic worm for largemouths there by age five. It's where I realized I took fishing seriously again, because almost every day after I picked him up from Mendham Country Day School as a preschooler, we went the opposite direction to home. That's what he wanted; so that's what we did. More important than fishing, at least in a way, he caught frogs--some big bull frogs, too--salamanders, and attempted water snakes, before he went on to sight, capture, and photograph 10 of the 16 New Jersey snake species, including pine snakes, copperheads, and timber rattlesnakes. He related his Sunrise Lake memory--I've never forgotten it either--of going there on a Mendham Country Day daytrip at age five or six and sighting "more water snakes than I've ever seen" below the spillway. That's when his passion for science really dug in. Science begins and ends in the field, because without the real stuff, it's nothing. We walked on towards the car, and I thought about how outings between us seem to end now, now that he's applying for universities as I write, but I looked at his MIT sweatshirt. End? Nah. It began with Mendham Country Day and Sunrise Lake, and MIT is just a different lettering of the same.

Life never ends. It's always beginning, because what's done just looks different in new clothes.



Monday, August 22, 2016

Why Stewart's Root Beer Could Offer Clams on the Half Shell

 Patricia and Matt

Outings anywhere always deliver me to the mental capital I've abstracted off, not to the electronic cloud, no, better than that, to the substance participating in nature, the metaphysical essences infinitely more subtle than binary process wired to digital devices. You think and learn, acquire knowledge, and you have to let it go, when you go into work to man the gourmet meat counter, prepare vegetables, sauces, and Quinoa, every minute of eight hours on concrete tasks. But when I have time off, plenty of what is more truly myself greets me at every turn of whatever it is I do: fish, shoot photography, hike. And always in purely original ways; it's just that every theme plays upon a fundamental story that is my own from birth and before I arrived here, so I can anticipate updates every time I have the chance to meet them, because it's like opening a door to a mansion I've stocked myself.

Ever since Patricia and I came to Round Valley on the first day of summer this year, she's wanted to return, and we did last month for the Round Valley Trout Association barbeque. We have family membership. And she wanted to go again, so I offered that today on my day off, we'd hike into the back of the reservoir. Oh, no. Not in the heat, she said. But today's high temperature never reached 80, and I'll get to what we did in a moment. First, she wanted us to have a late lunch at Stewart's Root Beer in Lebanon.

Matt and I got a table, me taking Sadie's leash off to wrap it around a picnic table post, run the end through the loop and reattach it, the two of us receiving drinks--a chocolate milk shake for me, Matt root beer, and another root beer awaited his mother as she returned to the counter to await burgers, fries, onion rings. I noticed the drawing of a sweet-looking young waitress on roller skates, and commented on that rap song the radio still plays, that song lifted directly from the very first rap piece, this knock-off real good in its own right, called "Good Times."

"Stewart's should sell clams on the half shell," I said.

Matt gave me that uncertain look, as if maybe the next thing I'd say would be so stupid, he would be embarrassed to hear it...but maybe not, since his dad says things way off the ordinary, but pretty clear.

"You ever hear the song that took off on the very first rap song? 'Good Times'"?

"No."

"One of the lines concludes a passage," and I pointed to the girl on roller skates, "'Clams on the half shell, and," and I emphasized, "roller skates, roller skates."

He looked at me as if to store the words away somewhere in the back of his mind, because perhaps someday the cryptic observations I relate will make some sort of sense. And then I suggested that Stewart's in Lawrenceville--his mother had just sat down with us--should have a statue of Jon Stewart erected out in front of the drive-in. (Jon Stewart worked there; he graduated from Lawrence High School a year behind me.) Stewart could stop by and etch his signature into wet clay on the front of his likeness.

Matt laughed lightly, and then we returned to mundane things.

So we enjoyed a nice meal in the shade, so cool out that we could almost wear light jackets. I didn't return to my earlier plea that we hike into the back, not yet. When we finished eating and threw out the trash--first I asked Matt to keep his root beer cup as a souvenir for me, since I want to be reminded of Stewart's, roller skates, clams on the half shell...since, after all, I only spent 13 years of my life digging clams for a living with my feet--when we finished, I turned our new Honda Civic, not yet driven 2000 miles, onto a back road which led into the village of Lebanon, or perhaps Whitehouse Station first and then Lebanon immediately thereafter, me pointing out the South Branch Rockaway Creek as we passed over it, and I turned left onto the road, whatever that road is named, which leads uphill to the reservoir and on to the turn into the main launch area.

Patricia and Matt got out ahead of me as I went to use the restroom and relieved myself in a strangely disgusting urinal that doesn't flush, but apparently just releases flow by gravity, remaining half full. I then jaunted down the stairway making a marginal effort to forget about my experience in the men's room, carrying my camera bag on my shoulder, and tripod in my right hand. Matt and Trish, I soon observed, had set up on the gravelly beach shore-style, and Sadie swam some 10 yards out. I took the trail leading down to the edge from the gravel parking strip, through the overgrowth where water once covered sand, gravel, and stone. The reservoir is still down at least 10 or 11 feet, maybe 12. I slung my camera bag off my shoulder and placed it down carefully, so as not to whack my lenses on the hard stuff. I got out the camera, removed the wide angle, and put on my long lens, getting a few good shots of more that won't quite make the cut.

Eventually, I joined my family, sitting not on the towels, but sort of kneeling; my knees got a little chewed up by that iron tinged gravel as I waited upon and took photographs. Finally, things got to seeming boring, at least to me, and it also seemed to me--more so to the rest of my family, really.

So that's when I made my sales pitch. It worked. No, it wasn't 90 degrees out, nowhere near that. We would hike into the back. We rode over to the main entrance and found nobody there to take our five dollar entry fee, just a notice that we could drive on in; an earlier notice informed us park closes at 8:00.

"What time is it," I had asked.

"4:45."

"No one here to tell us where the trail head is," I now say.

"Bruce," Trish complained, "I told you...."

"Don't worry. There'll be a posting."

"Really?"

She had said we would not bushwhack.

A most obvious posting, there is. I wasn't very surprised to see it in bold lettering.

"That's the trail?" Trish asked in a tone of voice to suggest I couldn't be right.

"Yes," is all I said.

We read the description. No loop. I knew that. Nine miles in, nine out. We determined it's three miles in to the first real juncture with the reservoir edge. Not time for that, Trish saw the white trail description and suggested we do that, further suggesting--to my pleasure--we hike into the back during the fall. I said we will. But I also said it might have to wait until next fall. It might have to wait until the next fall after that, given what little time off I have. But I didn't say that. 

So we hiked a half mile or so, taking plenty of time by the reservoir at three different junctures, having enjoyed a nice walk in the woods, and I'm not sure if the pines are white pine or not, but I always like to see pine groves, gives me a sense of forest quality that deciduous trees don't quite fulfill, not that more pines than deciduous exist here, or that I got good photography of the pines.

As for the photography, I shot 242 total, plus the shots I deleted, and most of these still on the card will be deleted, but quite a number more than what I've posted are good. I'm going to pitch a book of Round Valley photographs eventually, but this may be 10 years from now, don't know when. I certainly don't take these outings, whether with family, with friends, or alone, so I can create books. Books are just expressions of life, or they are so, if they're any good. Every one of these outings is a joy in itself. For years during my 20's, I kept a correspondence with Sheldon Vanauken, author of A Severe Mercy, a memoir that riveted me as a teen. He's also the author of at least one novel I read. He wrote me, "Books are letters to friends," and I never forget how honored I felt.


 St. John's Wort



 Matt and Sadie, rain gully with pan effect.
 Sadie
 Never a random dog walker.
 Star Flower
 Thistle
The White Trail

Monday, August 15, 2016

Soil on the Bottom of the Slough

 Complicated take on the exit bridge for former AT&T World Headquarters, composed for balance sake best I could.


Told my wife I was taking Sadie the black Lab to the river, went upstairs to pack, heard the front door shut, came downstairs with my stuff, set it down noticing the dog missing, and went outside to pursue them, finally catching up around the condo unit corner.

"I don't understand! I want to take Sadie to the river."

"I'll walk her around the block."

So I went back, put on my wading boots, walked outside wondering where they are, looked around the other corner for them. No. So I loaded the car, figuring maybe I could catch them at the pass, over there by Mike Maxwell The Trout Assassin's unit, but really feeling, "Nah, she's done something other than walk around the block." I looked for them, driving out the long way. Nothing.

Oh, well, I figured, so Trish decided she wants to walk Sadie long. Let her be.

So this time, no loyal companion, my "dog" (what is this being, really?), who mostly sits in the water directly beside and behind me as I fish, gazing longingly into my eyes when I look.

I got back in the undergrowth and slough to get some camera shots I haven't yet attempted, here at this "spot" I have frequented for 17 years. And then I fly cast, once seeing what looked like a six-inch smallmouth bass gobble my Muddler Minnow, strike missed, my two-weight rod light as ever. That was all the action I had in almost a half hour's respite.

Hot. Well, earlier, hot. This evening, sultry for sure. The water felt just a little too warm. I've wet-waded after September nights in the 40's, and enjoyed the brisk feel. I've wet-waded in October, too. Water so cold my feet and legs fell completely numb, and yet I kept at catching bass. Crazy? No waders, crazy? Nah. Everybody says crazy all the time. So the likes of what I do must be normal.

Even the TV. Remember how circumspect the spiel used to be? The TV says crazy, constantly. So does the radio. Allen Ginsberg must have been ahead of his time in the 1950's, when he shouted that we live in an armed madhouse.

Not the North Branch Raritan, no. This place long predates any human presence here. What if there's no crazy; what if crazy is just crazy for crazy sake, since nothing falls out to land that way?

I felt the water cooler than warm too. I still feel coolness of wet shorts on my thighs as I write now. Carl Jung was the greatest psychiatrist who has ever lived. He claimed truth arises from the soil. Some might say, from water, but there's soil underneath water. You can see some in the slough I photographed with the bridge at an angle overhead. But truth? What is truth? Life certainly arises from soil.

I got home. My wife frowned on me. Did I not look for them? Sure did. Didn't I feel disappointed? Yes. Did I refuse to be pissed at her? Yes.




Friday, August 12, 2016

601

Just experimenting with an idea I dreamt up for a novel about five or six years ago. My writing mentor, a poet and novelist I won't name to protect his privacy, took a stay at Carrier Clinic in Central Jersey. He'd undergone cancer treatment, had a bad reaction to chemo, got hospitalized again, and in some state of delirium, muttered words about suicide. You know how it is in our uncertain times, when no one knows simple care anymore--you get thrown in the looney bin for no reason, really.

So I went and visited him there; conversation found us both intensely lucid, under the circumstances...he soon won dismissal from the place and never resented the experience, finding it interesting material.

How's this. As I was driving down U.S. 206, I thought of a former job as a meal carrier by car, this during 1992. I was asked to pick any number for my long-range, two-way radio handle. "601," I said. A mile or two before coming upon the road I knew Carrier is on--just by physical association, familiar with the area, not by road name or number--I thought of this novel I might write, 601, about country roads, radio music connectivity, and other weird linkages between signposts of sorts. As I drove out of Carrier two hours later, I headed back out that same road, and something nudged me to look over my shoulder before turning left onto 206 towards Bedminster. Well, check the number. It's a Country Road, right? I figured now I need to learn as many as I can.

CR 601.

That's the road Carrier is on. Didn't fully blow me away. I was already thinking of weird connectivity.

I'm still thinking of our recent Boston trip. Maybe this one particular novel, if I ever write it, needs to do with interstates and state highways, state highways like CT-15, also. Clear of the Metropolitan region, I switched on the radio, turned the dial, pausing at three or four stations worthless to linger upon, and then hit upon Boston's "Foreplay/Long Time," this certainly worth our time, the song just warming up. Trish and I both love the band--and Boston.

"Bach on mescaline," I said.

Trish chuckled. I started thinking I really need to study up on Bach's musical structure, to find correlations of any significance between Bach and Boston, the band. I notice Boston's alternating notes in a few falling-tone guitar riffs, which suggest Bach, if I'm not mistaken, though this pattern is too trivial without more substance behind comparison.

Further on the way, sort of suspended in Island Time, three hours feeling at least a little closer to eternity than strictly to hours, flying up Interstate 91 in our brand new Honda Civic--Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Free Bird," live. The live recording. God, I had never before heard it so well. The standard recording absolutely sucks by comparison. And this bird will never change--won't you fly high, oh freebird, and I say, yeah!

The Topwater Bass Secret



The Topwater Bass Secret





          Ninety-degree noontime sun scoured my neck. Anchored along a weedline, fishing weightless plastic worms 17-feet deep, water reflected in our faces, dead calm, making line control easy. We set hooks into average-size bass. When chop began to build, I looked around, thinking of an alternative to finesse. A boat ventured onto the large weedy flat behind us, and I witnessed a terrific surface strike. One of two guys lifted high, moments later, a largemouth of at least three pounds. The sky informed me why. Clouds thickened, not enough to block sun entirely, but the amount of light endured a process of change. Minutes later, they boated another bass just as big and I rowed to try Hedden Torpedoes well aside from their fun.

          Once July heats up, the word among bass anglers is early and late until about mid-September. Traditionally, we think it’s because of relatively cool temperatures, but largemouths and smallmouths have an eye structure that advantages them to see prey, like shiners and sunfish that don’t see them as well when light is changing. This is what university research has suggested, though bass don’t have the tapitum lucidum retinal eye structure that allows walleye to see well in darkness, but something a little different. According to what I’ve read, it’s a chemical structure specific to light in transition from brighter to darker, or vice versa, and not necessarily light occuring early and late.

          Changing light helps explain why topwater plugs, buzzbaits and soft-bodied weedless lures like Phat Rats and Scum Frogs are so effective in the morning and evening for bass. Bass scoot along below, looking upward to better see the outline of forage, and our friends the apex predators of so many waters go on the attack. Naturally, if bass have this advantage, they’ll use it, choosing to feed especially when they best can. But what many anglers don’t know is that topwater lures can be deadly effective in the middle of summer afternoons, so long as the degree of light is changing.

          We know about topwater bass at night especially during August. Changing light doesn’t explain how good the fishing is, especially for lunkers, unless the moon shades in and out of clouds, perhaps. Surface action can be terrific on rainy afternoons when cloud cover remains constant, too. Changing light doesn’t explain everything. It can, however, make you more confident in a surface lure when it happens.

          When my son and I approach bass in the morning, we get to the pond or lake well before sun-up. We’ve had to contend with bears active in the lingering dark, but never have reneged on our enjoyment in taking advantage of the full spectrum of transition from night to day. We start fishing with some blue to the east. I feel as if every cast is golden, and always target very shallow spots first. Experience has informed me that big bass like very shallow water a foot or two deep. They feel comfortable and emboldened to feed in the quiet. Very early and late into dusk is when we find them in skinny water.

          Even on Round Valley Reservoir, Fred Matero and I have nailed smallies on Torpedoes right up against the banks among rocks after sunset. At 18-acre Mount Hope Pond, I once took the liberty of what felt like a perfect first cast into a corner a foot deep. “Bloop, bloop, bloop—kabam!” Minutes later, I lifted a bass of nearly five pounds that hit as if previous hours stored gusto in its muscles just for this release.

          I’ve spoken to some anglers who feel topwater fishing is strictly a shallow water affair, three or four-feet deep maximum. Nevertheless, especially when bass strike on the surface during the afternoon, topwaters may be effective over 10-foot depths. Usually, this is weedy water, though not always. Smallmouths strike topwaters fished over rocks 10 or 12 feet below the lure at times, invariably a matter of clear water.

          On lakes like Hopatcong and Wawayanda, reservoirs like Spruce Run and Round Valley, all of these waters in New Jersey, finding bass may seem more of a challenge than need be. Hopatcong and Wawayanda are loaded with weedy habitat for largemouths, and yet a morning’s outing can seem slow as if bass are scarcer than places evidently serving as good habitat. Make every cast count. If nothing hits, you’ve eliminated water. This doesn’t mean no bass is present. None may be interested. If I feel a dock with lots of vegetation deserves more than one cast, I’ll offer the plug again, perhaps angling it in closer to a sweet spot, but I’m more interested in covering a range of water before the sun gets up. Experience has taught my senses to leap to alertness when, for examples, a particular open pocket in weeds or a corner along a weedline seems fishy, but I don’t stay too long. I’m always looking ahead for further spots to make casts wortwhile.

          This principle of selective casting doesn’t depend on having already figured out a lake, knowing what to expect. When my son and I visited Jefferson Lake on an August evening last year, fishing began slowly and I felt a little bewildered fishing here the first time. I caught the first bass after 20 minutes or so on a Torpedo, and then fell right into the groove. An hour and a half later as we got out with darkness approaching, I had caught four more, not a big catch, but satisfactory. My son didn’t mind that he got skunked, but he was a little curious as to why. I told him he has to feel the purpose behind every cast he makes by learning to sense where bass might be, based on previous success.

          Likewise for bronzebacks. Once they turn on at about sunset at Round Valley Reservoir, I forget my leech jigs entirely. Every cast has expectation behind it, because I know these bass are active and it’s only a matter of the plug coinciding with interested quarry below. During the day, Round Valley smallmouths hang tight to rock piles (not only along the dikes) in water as deep as 35 feet or more, and as shallow as about 15. Mostly, the bottom is sandy gravel and fist-sized stones vacant of bass, but the situation loosens as sunset approaches, smallmouths spreading out actively after forage and invading shallows where shiners take refuge. I work topwaters fervently, often by quick-paced retrieves. And the hits come—in foot-deep shallows and over 10 feet or more of water.

          Whatever it is that drives us to fish the surface, whether it’s the thrill of the strikes or the tantalizing uncertainty of figuring out whether bass want a slow cadence on calm surface or quick chase, whether it’s the awe of provoking big bass to erupt through vegetation so thick only a weedless soft plastic suffices, or if it’s the slam a buzzbait draws from between stick-ups, we seem to fish this way ultimately for very similar reasons bass hit. It’s in our nature to pursue.