Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Nothing Lost

Sometimes I just say, "It's enough," and hope that later on there's time for some more. My son, Matt, is back from Boston University, and I had planned on us getting in on the striper fishing "busting wide open," as The Fisherman puts it. I had planned and prepared for us getting a shot at it this morning at Long Branch. I've felt many times that I've done plenty, but as we had turned around and drove CR 514 into Highland Park, I couldn't remember ever having chickened out. Stunts plenty, but abandonments? I still can't remember a single cop-out, but by turning back, I knew my personal commitment to my job is more important than risking it.

I meant to leave promptly at 7 a.m. We left at 8:00, and I knew about rush hour traffic on I-287, but I hadn't remembered how bad it typically is. We got through the two slow stretches; it was the very slow traffic headed back towards Bedminster that gave me the heebie jeebies. Matt found a calculation on this mobile device that indicated return time should be normal, but I just couldn't shake anxiety. What if, despite likelihood, we couldn't get home on time for me to get to work? And fish with that uncertainty on my mind?

We turned around at Raritan Center. I have to be at work by 3:00. This is no casual job I have, which would allow me to just call out. Not without repercussions I do not want to bear.

Point Mountain Trout Conservation Area will work on Saturday. Doesn't depend on a clearly undependable superhighway. As far as stripers go, spending a couple of hours preparing tackle last night refreshed my relationship to these fish. I definitely want to try again sometime, though I really have no idea when this might be. Could be a decade from now, before I catch another. I don't have many decades left to fish, so mostly, I feel the fishing we've done is satisfactory, but if you know me, you understand an obsessive mind may not actually be crazy, but it sure drives a body, as Tom Sawyer would say, towards stunts outdoors, for which maybe most people spend entire lifetimes without ever catching a glimpse of appreciation for what the value means.

Nothing lost this morning.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Trout, Stripers, Pike

Just got word from Jesse Sullivan that my notion of using four-pound tippet at the Point Mountain TCA is sound. That is, if my son, Matt, and I go there on Tuesday morning. The surf is bursting with bass right now, and....

I know a fly fishing guide from Montana coming home to Bernardsville for the holidays also on Monday. (I expect to see my son that evening.) Alex Rundella wants to fish, though we won't use his driftboat on the Musconetcong River. Seems to me, it's a real good choice for fly fishing Passaic River pike, but I have to be at work by 3:00 on Tuesday, and the Passaic presents too many unknowns at short notice for now. This is not to say we couldn't do it. You know I pull stunts It's just to say that whether I pull a stunt or not, I always play by my gut feeling. My moral compass is not in my neocortex. It's properly in my stomach. My center of gravity.  

Alex can teach Matt and I plenty on the Musky, but maybe we can point out a thing or two about stripers, though I wouldn't be surprised if he knows something over there.

Jesse says go with an egg or sucker spawn pattern, with a wd-40 or rs2 trailing behind it...or Rainbow Warrior or Frenchie with a wd-40, rs2, or zebra midge behind it.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Musconetcong River Improvements Expected

Clean cold Musconetcong River at the Point Mountain Trout Conservation Area

Central Jersey Trout Unlimited plans on restoring a section of the Musconetcong River formerly owned by a private fishing club. I imagine the site is somewhere near Asbury. Information on where exactly isn't available, gathering by my search, but the river as a whole--some of it designated National Wild & Scenic--is my primary consideration. If I stumble upon the stretch by hearsay or footwork, who knows, I might fish it with my son someday.

The unnamed club attempted to improve trout habitat by some agency or other, installing such structures as stone weirs and dams, which, instead of increasing catches, diminished the river's ecology by widening the channel, thus flattening the river bottom by increased sedimentation. Who Central Jersey Trout Unlimited will partner with to improve conditions, I don't know, but I have confidence in their plan, since I've seen a little of what restoration outfits have done. Work that holds its own over the years.

On the other hand, I watch what I see planned now, comparing this to what I might expect in the future--not as any expert but by what I've seen in nature--if what anyone might dub the resilience factor isn't high. Back in 2000, I caught a number of holdover rainbow trout during July and August from a Peapack Brook hole about six feet deep. Just about bottomless, let's say. Rather, deep enough to qualify, perhaps, for subtle groundwater release. Those rainbows were doing well, no doubt. After Irene or some other storm, that hole filled in with stones the size of basketballs overnight. Obviously, anyone involved in stream restoration anticipates the likes, and the agency designs streamscaping so the workers build and structure pools, riffles, holes and the likes with resilience in mind.

Here's a link for more information: http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?f=001KePGi2SG3bVxQHfjYTiVr5wbIVWtWO13bcBFKi7_M0es-AEqq3ywwohlIlV7uUbIQMFrfOovv2OBqSZEaQ3l4N3JGhZtAm7iHEAJigEUYLzJKC5xdZw2bbVCOL_1lxYwF_kO8AVc-fePSGFUJf014LcOyaWtvBrmIjkXJ4LAaifjBLtlGEbDPt42RXoz2TZ74VacDhA65MeK5vFRCW0vJg==&c=-B5tGgyucqC_WDMr5OVS9NublkPpNPE_3DPmAdtgsv0WqDnVakC4iw==&ch=9gRu0BzyTx7UxR_Iw4vWyUIdra6OdVKonaw-iNvVTu5jxt4-CrdzSw==

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday River Stroll

Have not visited the KLG (Ken Lockwoood Gorge) since about this time last year, though it seems much more recent. Today's outing was real simple. Patricia reads a magazine of that name. I first got 11 needed hours of sleep after going to bed at 9:30, fixed coffee to accompany a bagel with whitefish spread over butter, and got my camera bag just before we walked out, soon connecting with CR 512 from U.S. 206, and some 10 or 15 minutes later stopped at the bookstore in Califon, closed on Sundays. Now we know. Trish found it on her mobile device as we drove off, so she knows when we might return.

Having come in on Hoffman's Crossing Road, I drove past the spot where we parked last time, in April 2016, and where I parked again in November when I fly fished with my son. "Are you supposed to drive here!?" Instead of turning my head Trish's way, I continued to look straight ahead as I prepared to take it slow over a patch of ice covering the entire one-lane width. To my left, a steeply rising bank. To my right, pretty much immediately to my right, the bank steeply descended to South Branch Raritan River. "Yes," I said. The last thing I wanted to do was begin to slide down the slippery slope of explanation.

This is the first I've seen the old train crossing. There's parking here. A chain across the roadway immediately beyond.

We walked a half mile or so one way. I shot 67 photos, but best of all, I accompanied my wife on a walk that was, as I mentioned, a really simple outing, but rather than thin-feeling, substantive. Sadie got in the water a couple of times, air temperature about 34. I watched a couple of guys fly fish. Certainly, the river must harbor plenty of trout. I saw magic happen in a slow stretch during October a couple of years ago. More spring-stockers than large fall fish. Rising for tiny midges. Until the darkening of Magic Hour, there seemed no fish in that stretch, except a couple of obvious, large trout.

On the way home, I pointed out that this was CR 512 we traveled, the same route that leads from Far Hills into Peapack-Gladstone. Once again, as I had during another fairly recent outing, I asked Trish if she had any wherewithal about our location in relation to home and other places. Very little, but this time, her interest piqued. "I want to know this is 512." I wondered if she would actually ride out to Califon Bookstore, though something in me refused to press the issue, as if too delicate to do anything about but let grow on its own, as at least this unexpected turn of concern is something of a positive result from that last query about whereabouts I mentioned. Trish knows the local roads. And when we lived in North Plainfield, she figured out how to drive to U.S. 202 in Morristown to her workplace by convenient back roads; she can certainly make her way to that bookstore, if she wants.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

New Jersey Timber Rattlesnakes' Protector Honored

Photo by Matt Litton

Nothing else seems to remind me better of the value of the unique New Jersey wilderness, hedged about by dense human development, than timber rattlesnakes. A close second for me is the pine snake.

My son, Matt, has encountered and photographed both, but this post is less about the two of us, than it is about an honoree of the 12th Annual Women and Wildlife Awards hosted by Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey. Kris Schantz, a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish and Wildlife, biologist, was awarded the Inspiration Award, the DEP says, for her passion in developing greater understanding of the timber rattlesnake, while improving its protection. Among other professional interests as a biologist focused on creatures with ambiguous reputations, Shantz leads the Venomous Snake Response Team, which also serves the public by removing venomous snakes from where they may be a threat to society.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

First Skim Ice Soon

I got the news from Joe at Dow's Boat Rentals. Eighteen degrees coming Saturday morning. They were in a celebratory spirit at the shop, and I'm with them hoping for good business, because good business at Dow's means ice fishing this winter.

It also means my friends have a livelihood, and that's most important.

So this is the first of my sort of cryptic posts on the ice scene, following from the precedent I set late last fall, Mike Maxwell and I getting out on Budd Lake first day of winter, I think it was, and some guys out I think two weeks prior on ponds.

I felt cold again this morning, and I didn't like it. I felt summer gone and the onerous task of a winter, the chill of which tends to put me in depressed moods, some of these really difficult to get through, or at least they were so; I'm always trying to beat them in some way or other without relying on substances beyond cigarettes, and one of my maneuvers is to go out and face the cold while standing on what it halts.

My last break--a full half hour--was after noontime, and I stepped out into brisk air, and for just a moment, felt elated in the same way I feel when walking out onto a freshly frozen lake or pond with snow not yet covering. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Long after the Cowards have Gone Home

Matt Burke and I go back to Ben Franklin Elementary School in Lawrence Township, Mercer County. The second time we've fished together, this morning we departed for Lake Hopatcong under unlikely circumstances, since I had intended to show Mike Maxwell the fall fishing for more than a year now, but he couldn't make it. I felt a driven urge to get out on the lake once more this year, faced with the unlikelihood of finding a friend willing to go during the workweek, wasting no time at contacting Matt and getting a quick reply, all this within about 48 hours before departure from Bedminster at 4:50 a.m. Matt drove here from West Trenton more than an hour distant.

We unloaded at Dow's Boat Rentals almost an hour before the store would open. I had a moment alone, sitting on a big polyethylene crate, when I assessed my situation in the cold pre-dawn. I felt perfectly comfortable and very naively judged no need to take more layers of clothing from my car. It's embarrassing, but for all of my 54 years outdoors, I still make mistakes like this. Sometimes I think I am carried off by deeper levels of prescience within me, as if a very brisk test of the elements today would be worth the experience, as if something in me knew this.

As always, Joe and Jimmy opened the shop early for me. Forty-five minutes early. Half hour. Around that early. I had meant to apologize for making their dog bark (possibly waking them), but had forgotten, so maybe we waited a half hour, but it didn't seem we waited nearly that long. Joe told us fishing was excellent over the weekend. Walleye, pickerel, largemouth bass, crappies, hybrid stripers. Fools we mortals be, at least my hopes rose, though Matt seemed soberly circumspect. Later I told Matt that excellent fishing doesn't usually persist. What goes up, must come down. And fishing has a way of peaking out very quickly, and then coming down hard. I knew all about this likelihood, but when Joe enumerated the recent catches, I didn't think of the way things just are. In any event, we headed out, and I guess it felt right to enjoy an illusion to get started.

I wanted to start where Jorge caught his walleye recently, so that's where I pushed the outboard out of gear and turned on the fish finder, finding that it refused to offer any more information than a water temperature of 55. "If I can't get this thing to work, we can't fish here. We'll have to fish that spot in close over there." That spot is a nice drop, but I was really set on this mid-lake drop, and felt alarmed at my relatively new technology reduced to a nice device askew, but suddenly, after I fiddled blindly, it worked. Until then, I had no clear idea where that all-important drop-off was, and more specifically, the right-angle bend in it I especially like.

There were fish under the boat all over the place. I recognized immediately--the bottom was flat, 43 feet deep--that we must be yards from the drop-off's bottom edge, possibly many yards, but schools of herring like mid-summer cumulus clouds, and dozens of fish filling out the largest icons on the graph (big hybrid stripers) on those schools of forage defied my expectations. "Drop that buoy over the side." It would mark these fish for reference as we would drift in the breeze. And as we drifted while I frantically baited hooks, the buoy quickly seemed insignificant, since fish kept showing up on the graph. I felt as if Lou Martinez might have had it right after all in an article he wrote, which I read earlier this year, speaking of 80-day hybrid striper catches. I've seen it happen once, though the bass were only two and three pounds, until after we left and got a cell phone call from way across the lake. Four- and five-pounders came over the guy's gunwale, until Joe Landolfi and I got back to that school this guy, Marty Roberts, found, and they had dispersed. Marty might have caught a hundred total.

So. There were the fish. (Under the boat.) Just getting those hooks baited felt absurdly involved. How waste a minute of this action? Which wasn't happening yet. For all I could really tell, the bass were just cruising with the herring and not eating any. You don't catch fish the way you can pop quarters into a soda machine. We drifted live herring and shiners weighted by 3/4-ounce slip sinkers at the depths the fish showed on the graph, and after a minute without takers, I felt my pie in the sky crumble like the liver cat food between my fingers I would soon use as chum to try to get these bass interested. So I hoped.

It was a hardscrabble morning. With my insouciant attitude regarding the usual state of affairs on this lake, which involves taking my time and methodically and thoroughly fishing drop-offs to catch two or three, maybe four, really good-sized fish, I felt as if we should be catching what was right under us, but it just wasn't happening. I managed to get lines tangled, and though I managed to get same retied in sane amounts of time, it almost felt as if something precious, in terms of time lost, was cheated, but I recognized my own gullibility and slowly worked myself back to things as they normally are out here, submitting to the strenuous act of keeping four baited lines with bails opened, including frequent checks to make sure live bait was still on the hook, line wasn't tangled around a barrel swivel, or that live bait had become dead bait. Above all else, my enjoyment of this madness came home, if you might want to think of a big cold lake as a home, and I shared what I could of it with Matt. Chaos had struck in the beginning, as if it really would be chaos with five- and seven-pound striped bass coming over the gunwales, and now that I imparted order, life felt good. Such is the godlike episode of a cold day fishing as November falls towards winter. But really, any of these days are filled with human folly throughout, and it's only stories that make them seem otherwise.

But first, Matt had to catch that four-and-three-quarter-pound walleye photographed. (Weighed at Dow's later.) This broke the tension, and without that fish, the day wouldn't have felt half as good. And it wasn't easy feeling good. Submitting to strenuous acts of fishing maneuvers was absolutely needed in the face of submitting to temperatures in the 30's with a brisk breeze...as I found my winter coat baggy. I've lost 65 pounds since I fit in this coat! Underneath, only a Woolrich plaid. Matt's mid-body stayed warm, though his hands and feet got cold. Other way 'round for me. "You were shaking." And through the last hour or two, my speech was broken, too, but spirited anyway. We caught a catfish, a bunch of yellow perch, and one of those perch I reeled in got attacked by a muskellunge about 40 inches long. It never got the forage between its jaws, but swooped in my full view below the gunwale.

It's a funny thing about some madmen. They're affected by whatever seizes them, but their attitude remains productive. "Never give up," they say. And they succeed, not in spite of their folly, but because they exercise it long after the cowards go home.

1980's Penn reel I used today and with Jorge.