Monday, July 24, 2017

No Outing Fails to Surprise

Many outings fulfill their expectation and may leave a little wanting, but no outing fails to surprise. We caught nothing, and though for me this meant we broke even, Oliver really believed we would catch something. Big striped bass, flathead catfish, channel catfish exist in this river. Night requires time, patience, and perseverance to catch any, but on my first night attempt during August 2008, I caught a nine-pound flathead, which I thought must be a big channel cat before it came into view, and I lost a striper. Since then, I've tried two or three more times, neither myself nor my son and a friend caught anything but a smallmouth bass on a shiner, and a nine-inch striper on a Rapala at the mouth of the Pequest.

I don't believe it's a chuck-the-bait-out-there-and-wait appeal, even though all I did to catch the flathead was bait up with a dead eel, lob it out un-weighted (flow slow) just before sunset, and attend to baiting a live eel on the rod I intended to man. Within minutes, the flathead was on. The striper took some doing by drifting eels with current.

When Oliver and I left, he mentioned shallower currents and I knew he was onto the right idea. I knew current like this existed upstream a couple of hundred feet, but the way were situated with a party going on where he could venture, neither of us felt any gumption to try. He had anchored live sunfish with heavy pyramid sinkers. That might work, but we were aware it's hit or miss regarding the make-up of the river bottom, even with the long three-foot leaders. A number of times he found himself snagged before turning the reel crank to check on the bait.

Flatheads sometimes move into shallow, hard-bottomed riffles at night. In any case, working a stretch--and riffles at the head--makes sense. Involvement of any kind tends to yields results. But river night fishing for these big targets...I felt sure the first time I bought live eels for bait that this takes some time and figuring out. Every outing since has confirmed this feeling, and I wasn't fooled by the first, either.

I wanted to get out under night sky, fish, and above all enjoy good company...possibly gaining just a little more insight into the workings of this endeavor for elusive stripers north of tidal water. All expectations felt fulfilled. It's not that I'll ever become a regular at this, either. I'm just satisfied to meet the mysteries on rare occasion.

On the way there, we drove across the Pohatcong. Oliver had his mobile device pinned on the spot. Suddenly, I braked before a huge tree on the road. Rain had fallen, but at least in Bedminster, no wind accompanied.

"We're not far," Oliver said.

"Let's park and walk."

"Better back up and park on the side."


I put it in reverse and as I began to maneuver, Oliver said, "Is there another way?"

"Not that I know."

He was working that mobile device. "There is." Soon it talked to us. I typically find the likes amusing more than annoying. It showed us the way. We rode up and down two mountains. About five miles, I guess. I never would have needed a mobile device. I've never been in a situation when I needed one and have no desire to upgrade from my flip phone. Time it took us to drive around the tree....was probably more than walking would have entailed. Just an amused thought I had.

Mysteries. No stunning meteor on this night. But I haven't heard a screech owl in years.

Surprises. Dead wood tree on the road. Two dead-wood fallen branches on the road, separate places. And weirdly, as we fished near the time we quit at 2:30 a.m.--same time three fishermen across the river quit (they had fish on)--a large tree fell in the woods nearby. Not a trace of wind. I could tell by the sound of the trunk breaking it was dead and rotted. I reasoned and told Oliver that just maybe there had been wind earlier...which loosened that tree. Not much more likely than it falling after what we had witnessed. Another surprise for me is valuable for fishing knowledge. Still on I-78, headed for Exit 3, Oliver asked me if this rain would raise the river level, and so increase our chances. He didn't mean raise it dramatically. I said no. But coming towards Carpenterville, he remarked on us getting close to the river as the road began to descend fairly sharply. Some seconds later, I realized that even with the relatively light rain--sustained and for a little while pretty heavy--a lot of water was coming downhill, and said that, yeah, that level might be coming up a bit. As we set up a little while later, Oliver wedged a surf spike between rocks at river's edge. Just an hour later, he remarked on the level having come up a couple of inches. When we began packing to leave, I noticed three or four inches of water had climbed up that spike. For fishing, yes, a rise in water level not dramatic can be very good.

That screech owl. "We hear them in our backyard," Oliver said. That impressed me, but took a little of the faraway quality of the bird's call away. Some light haloing over horizon to the north made me long for my tripod...and reminded me I need to learn manual camera functions. More than any other attraction, the big fish that repeatedly broke surface mid-river interested me. One of them slashed water close, and I saw the break--immense and exciting. Oliver believed them carp. But he did remind me that carp typically break water around spawning time in spring. I drifted eels right down their ally.

There the current takes a great eddy formation. As far as I could cast--and with my eight-foot Tica I cast a 15-inch eel very far--the eels drifted upstream. The situation reminds me of tarpon fishing behind Big Pine Key. We drifted blue crabs directly on tarpon that turned over at the surface, never taking a crab.

I got into play. The little insight I gleaned involved  a definite idea less than further confirmation of the efficacy involved in letting all go to guide an eel the right way. The humble idea of conscious attunement was enough for me last night. I got snagged three or four times, and the first two or three mishaps resulted in lost eels and hooks....which didn't sit right with me. I knew it possible to open bail, let the eel find its way out and then to continue the drift, because I discovered this that first night in 2008. The last time I got snagged, the eel did just that and redeemed all former losses.

Above all, when drifting an eel, I do not impart much action. I figure the less a striper is alerted to any guidance extraneous to the river itself, the more likely it takes. So naturally, the more I'm attuned to the river, rather than distracted with myself, the more I am like the environment any striper out there occupies. There was often silence between Oliver and I, but more between myself and my activity. We spoke freely without any hindrance. At my best, I felt sleek and active while measurably doing very little. It was about 85 degrees out--at least 80--and upon setting up I had taken off my Woolrich wool shirt, which I used to help subdue wriggling eels to get them hooked. I felt all the more there in the wild with no shirt bagging my skin.

Most of my hooked eels wriggled and scurried. Once and awhile, I enticed them to do more of this. I was curious about where they swam in the water column, but not concerned that they cruise at bottom where they try to get under rocks or whether they swam freely. After all, if stripers were breaking water on occasion, it didn't seem best the eels swim deep. Somewhere out there in the vicinity we fished, the river is 35 feet deep. I've always felt this is probably excessive for stripers, but where I placed most of my casts last night, I hooked and fought a striper almost 10 years ago. A very different style of resistance to a rod than any kind of catfish. When Oliver tried a shallow-swimming surf plug, I thought it an interesting idea.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

How did the Ayn Rand Institute get my Mailing Address?

I-78 Exit 7. Highway 173 begins to uncoil. "I Keep Holding on," Ambrosia, completes as Warren Glenn Road unfurls on my left after a mile. Motion feels smooth as the low register of a French horn, and I wouldn't be surprised if one of the band members plays the instrument. They had performed with Leonard Bernstein at least once. I reach into my stacks stuffed in the driver's door and come up with my Outlaws c.d., load it, and select track 5."Green Grass and High Tides."

Through Finesville, into Riegelsville, I listened to what Tom Breen, during the 1980's, named our Clammer's Anthem. Tom and I had shared a house in Brant Beach or Ship Bottom during spring 1987. I lived in so many houses and apartments and rooms on Long Beach Island, Cedar Bonnet Island through which the Causeway channels, and Manahawkin on the mainland side of the bay during my 13-year adventure, I can no longer place each rental. Breen had enrolled at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, but absconded for the free-spirited and self-employed Long Beach Island and bay life. He wasn't the only Navy man among us. My 1983 and 1984 Surf City housemate, George Cunningham, served in the Navy for a number of years as a scuba diver. He came to Long Beach Island for some of the same reasons as had Breen. George summed his motive in one word. Freedom. 

George read literary classics. His favorite wasn't a classic I would have read at St. John's College, situated across the street from the Naval Academy in Annapolis and dubbed "the American Oxford," where I enrolled during the spring 1982 semester. Kon-Tiki by Peter Mathieson is the true story of crossing the Pacific by raft in 1947. I happened to read The Snow Leopard by the same author--about a soul-searching Himalayan quest--during my March and April 1984 Appalachian Trail hike from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Hot Springs, North Carolina. 

But about The Outlaws. The Outlaws achieve, to my appreciation, a very interesting evaluation. "Green Grass and High Tides" suggests an author I take very seriously. During my second stay in Surf City, this time with George and comprising almost a year of my Island adventure's early period--I came in 1980--I had my most inspired encounters with Friedrich Nietzsche, who I began reading in 1981. The Superman idea is part of the philosophy, but Nietzsche actually names the possibility the Overman. It entails mankind beneath Nietzsche's hero and serving him, a notion that always struck me as absurdly un-American. But the Outlaws' refrain line about kings and queens bowing and playing for the implied hero of "Green Grass and High Tides," I feel amused by this.

Early in 1986, a brochure from the Ayn Rand Institute based in California mysteriously arrived in the mailbox at my front door. I had never sent them any of my contact information; I'm very sure of this. The brochure loudly proclaimed that Nietzsche's Superman idea is NOT....well, whatever were the words, not a good idea. Because, the brochure stated, it's socialist. I've lost the brochure along the way of my travels. Whether or not Nietzsche was socialist, for me it's that simple issue: Imagine you, my reader, in service to me. What more need be said? Nietzsche's notion is ridiculous.

If you read Nietzsche, though, perhaps the only way you would ever imagine him as socialist targets that sense of him as effete despite his work--for the most part--roaring, as if in epic paean style to greatness and vitality. I never did imagine him socialist. And the ARI's loud proclamation seemed absurd.

But there is more to say, coming from another philosopher, for whom that Institute I've named stands. Ayn Rand claimed that man adjusts his background to himself, a notion which, without more detail deduced from the broad grasp it implies, might be almost as ridden with error as Nietzsche's idea. If I simply adjust my background to myself, this seems to include you, adjusted to me. But if my background cannot possibly be your background--this makes sense--then we're fair and equal. But Rand never makes such a distinction to clear up any possible confusion. Typically, she makes broad, sweeping statements. Like a bipolar woman on a manic trip.

By the time I post this story, it will have been yesterday when I was on my way to Riegelsville, Pennsylvania, where, two years ago, my wife and I ate at the Riegelsville Inn. (I shot the photo of the Inn, above, before crossing the bridge to return home.) My destination Mueller's General Store. Eels awaited. So I hoped. I had phoned a second time the day before and was assured.

There I parked, slung out my camera, got a photo. Bagged the camera, went in. "American Woman," the original version by the Guess Who, began to grind. Song I loved as an 11-year-old and still have a liking for. I thought of Rand, also a novelist, whom I took seriously in my early and mid-20's. Conflicts with her presence in my life have continued since, though for the most part, now this is evened out, and the song was a recollection rather than any stormy confrontation.

But frankly, I don't know how that brochure from ARI got to my front door. Maybe I am mistaken. Maybe I mailed for information or subscribed to the Intellectual Activist. But I distinctly remember feeling completely baffled at the time it arrived in the mail. The Guess Who shouts at American Woman, telling her not to come hanging around the door of the assumed man in the song. He don't want to see her shadow no more.

I bought nine eels. Nine to about 16 inches long. Drove home, listening to some of the rest of the Outlaws. I heard my second favorite song, "Hurry Sundown," and though I know the musical and lyrical quality doesn't measure against my upbringing--my father is Director Emeritus of the American Boychoir School--I still like the song and have my personal reasons.

"How do you like my pets?" I said to my wife as I opened the cooler, took hold of an eel, and held it for her to see as it coiled and uncoiled. Laughter.

Oliver Round and I fish a dark bank of the Delaware miles from mainstream civilization until about 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Striped bass, I hope. And for Oliver's sake--flathead catfish. Last I heard from him, he's catching some bluegills to keep alive and use for bait. Flatheads have got very big in the river. I guess 20 or 30 pounds--at least--is possible. I caught a nine-pounder in 2008.

They are not scavengers. Live bait is--almost--the only way. Mine did take an eel that had died. I baited an extra rod and just lobbed the eel out there, where it settled to bottom about 15 or 20 feet down. This was at the beginning of the game that evening, before sunset. I also hooked and lost a striper.

Don't sparkle striper eyes with a lantern or fire. We had a lantern burning after midnight, and when the striper got close to the bank--and that light--it took off on a run so powerful I could hardly believe it. Pulled the hook free.

Mueller's General Store

Common Roadside Attractions. Chicory (blue) and Queen Ann's Lace.

An old Riegelsville, New Jersey, station. Riegelsville, Pennsylvania, is directly across the river.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Lehigh River Smallmouth Bass, Crappie, Musky

I didn't know Pennsylvania's Lehigh River flows to the south of Interstate 78. Cramped for time, I snatched directions off the web and set out on an equally distracted ride west, finding myself in the middle of some neighborhood at least 10 miles west of Easton, not any sort of river or stream nearby. Not surprised--because I know web directions and GPS units alike shouldn't be trusted--I headed to U.S. Highway 22 for Easton. I use a flip phone and have no interest in upgrading. Nor did I bother with a map and I didn't need any. I own no GPS. I figured I could have continued north on 512 to cross the river, but it didn't feel right to turn north, instead of south back to U.S. 22. Committed to 10 eastward miles, a highway halfway to Easton tempted me to go north, though I wasn't really sure if this effort would result in what I wanted, but if the Lehigh flowed northward of 78, surely this fast paced four-lane highway 33 would cross it. I passed Stockertown (felt humor over the name) and wound up beyond the Wind Gap 12 miles north of where I began. Big mountains with only wind getting between. So I turned back to highway 22, drove on into Easton, and within some minutes, rode along the Lehigh River.

I must have driven three or four miles before finding a pullover. Here the river flowed slowly, as it had this entire length. Not promising. I walked the edge with my black Lab, shot a couple of photos for good measure, rounded up Sadie, and drove on. A mile or two later, I found Riverside Park and some riffling water. Down by the river, we began to head upstream as here and there I fished a paddletail swimbait, focusing especially on edges between swift current and slow water, also plumbing relative depths of eddying current, but the flow in either case was not very deep.

As we walked and waded the river's edge, alternately using a trail up on the bank when things got tricky, I wondered about the sound of roaring water upstream. All this time, I didn't feel well. In fact, very shortly after I began fishing, the second or third cast, I wondered if I was going to quit. But I had told myself before we set out--by writing in a notebook I keep in my car--that those of us who achieve glory in life invariably get tested by the opposite. I concluded: "That man who does not submit is a fool." (Who does not submit to the tests he cannot escape, except by suicide...but what would happen then?) Now only minutes later, I had forgotten about the words I had written. I was left to the mercy of my habits, and since I guess for the most part they're good habits, I bore down to gather my strength and went onward.

A big dam eventually came into view. Aha. That sound of roaring water. We got up on the bank and found a paved trail leading that way. After at least a half mile's walk in total, I cut off the pavement onto a trail leading down to the river and saw good-looking water for fishing, having--I felt--arrived upon destiny, feeling that uplift of mood telling me life will be worthwhile--normal--after all.

My third or fourth cast, I hooked a small bass that got off, and almost at my feet as the cast completed, a long narrow shadow came up behind the paddletail in the shadow-enclosed water. Sure this fish was a little musky, I got a better view as I pitched the lure back it's way, and when I saw it strike, I was even more certain the fish was a little muskellunge of about 16 inches. I missed that strike, but kept working the swimbait by its indifferent nose, until after a minute or two, it leisurely descended out of sight. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stocks the river with muskies a little smaller, which attain great lengths of 50 inches or more. They're not common, but in the river.

I snagged and broke a paddletail off, repeatedly cast and retrieved another higher in the water column to no avail, so again I let the lure drop, risking its loss by working slow and deep. Something added weight to the line and I reared back, felt sluggish weight, and then I felt a fish throbbing and--suddenly--brisk, line-straining resistance. Those tell-tale bulldog jabs. (A smallmouth bass lets you know it exists.) This one wasn't big at 12 1/2 inches. The drag on my reel had yielded, but such is the nature of an average bronzeback. I measured the fish be sure: I had paid $26.50 for the day's licensing, and my wife likes smallmouth bass for dinner. When Old Bay seasoning is added liberally. And by the way, the fish was absolutely delicious!

Maybe a half or more later, I caught the crappie. Best I can judge, most of this species--black crappie, I think--are above the dam in the implied slow water above that dam I estimated at 13 feet high. I never had a look. I released this fish, unsure if it was quite keeper size, not knowing the rule on this type. I fished somewhat into dusk, losing a total of four of my paddletails to submerged rocks, the entire remainder of my package of the smaller size, and I refused to tie on one of the larger I prefer for stripers in the New Jersey Meadowlands. They're more expensive, but especially, more useful to me for that Meadowlands reason. I cast an X-Rap and thoroughly enjoyed keeping level control of the plug while imparting frantic rhythms. Nothing ever hit it. That water must be eight feet deep or so out there below the falls. An X-Rap won't get down more than four. Above all else, I had become much more of my own self again, which daily drains at labor on the job steal from me six days a week. I had become free. Freedom is never a given. It is betterment that must be fought for. And though my half-mile effort up the river really wasn't much, it was infinitely better than had I given up.

Life in our society today with its cramped and uncertain economy, its loss of purpose and values, is a sickening and fearful demise that seems to test us all. America is the freest, noblest nation which has ever existed, and I just heard these words paraphrased by my friend Santiago from Paraguay, while I sat and enjoyed a beer with him minutes before I continued writing this post. We are the pinnacle of glory. At our best. When I saw white water flowing over that dam from a distance, I didn't feel elated, but I did feel a hint of relief. I recognized possibility, though I did not yet feel it. The catch wasn't much, compared to other outings. And yet, until the hook grabbed on that third or fourth cast, I felt as if the river would remain naked to me like an unclean vagabond. The destiny I felt upon arriving upon the spot at the dam, I felt this would be limited to getting some good photographs. But we never know until we have completed a full effort.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


Well into summer, Laurie at Dow's Boat Rentals reports Knee Deep Club's hybrid striped bass derby saw an eight-pound, four-ounce winning fish and many others over seven pounds. Don't say they can't get caught during summertime. Last week, a rainbow trout nearly two pounds got caught. That's unusual with lake stratification, cold water down where no oxygen remains present, but it does happen. I don't know of any trout caught in August, though. Otherwise, a number of walleye as large as over seven pounds have come to the scale recently. Laurie also says a number of largemouths as large as five pounds, three ounces have recently come in, as well as that numerous smallmouths have been caught.

Closer to home, my son, Matt, caught a six-pound largemouth around graduation time while fishing with a friend, Jason, who caught another slightly better than five pounds. That wasn't on Hopatcong but a local pond. They caught eight smaller, also, but neither have fished since I took Matt to Aeroflex, what with partying, going to the shore...and their jobs.

Fred Matero caught a pool-winning fluke on a fairly recent Jersey venture, but I don't recall exactly how big. Nice one, though, and congrats!

Lenny Matera, from what I can assume, has not caught a fish all year. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Andy Still Wins Rutgers Sustainable Raritan Award

(Photo care of Andy Still.)

If you want to see hardcore environmental action at work, I urge you to go to Save the Raritan River on Facebook. Like the page. There you will see scads of photos featuring what Andy Still and the Central Jersey Stream Team do. Tons of junk they remove from the Raritan River System.

I volunteered once last year, gathering tires and shooting photos of the event I hope I can yet get published to give the efforts some more profile. It's only because I get no time off on weekends and only day off mid-week besides, that I haven't volunteered this year. It might look like a lot of strained labor--and it is true; they work hard--but everyone has a good time together.

Andy Still puts in his time on the river and online. He is a 2017 recipient of the Sustainable Raritan Award, given by Rutgers Sustainable Raritan River Initiative.

I've never seen anything like it before, and doubt I ever will again. Andy and the CJST have worked at cleaning up the river week after week for years now. The amount of good one man, unfunded, can do is staggering. What other word describes the way anyone might feel who sees post after post of dozens of tires, here and there a refrigerator, engine manifold, mattress, and two cars removed with the help of Somerset County Parks, etc. come out of the river system. This world seems to be about collective agencies and massive funds, but history shows individuals always make the critical differences.

Andy Still in Action

That is heftly pay off for Andy's friend Ken (Photo care of Andy Still)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Yesterday was a good day off from the job, and the point of the previous post is relevant but seems to downplay ambition. I later felt as if I had denied its need. Of course, a day off spent relaxed can make me feel that way, but speaking for myself, life isn't easy and I hope I bring this life to a better self-establishment before I "retire." (I plan to keep on writing.) That's not likely, and if I don't earn enough royalties to finally let go of wage jobs, retirement will get me out of them anyway.

Many years ago at Hampshire College where all of us, students and faculty alike, labored under the motto "To know is not enough," attributed to ancient Athenian philosopher Aristotle, I received stellar evaluations for my first semester's work. Then I went to the shore for the summer, into my sixth year licensed as a commercial clammer, and felt a very deep affirmation for that work in the wild bays, the freedom of that self-employed lifestyle, and the depth of insight this life engendered. I went back for the fall semester and found myself completely at odds with the college program. In December, I took a leave of absence, booked an apartment in Beach Haven, struggled to decide whether or not to return to college...and after a month of back-and-forth, withdrew my enrollment. I did earn an Associate degree--Liberal Arts--at Raritan Valley Community College, 2006.

I had gone on clamming until 1993. When I returned to mainstream America, I had no degree, no regular employment to claim on a resume. Pretty much no more than a social security number. I asked myself what I had for any woman to feel any interest in dating me. One of my many notebooks bears the answer. "Language." She would have to be intellectual, of course. She would have to be this in any case. Actually, I found I had more than words, as my wife, Patricia, was attracted to my family's musical endeavor. My father is now Director Emeritus of the American Boychoir School.

Finding employment wasn't difficult. I built up a resume and by 2001 landed a good job in Operations with New Jersey's largest credit union. They eliminated my position in 2015, and since then, I've found work, but not corporate work as was my former job and I yet hope to find. It won't be a job involving long driving distance every day. Such jobs have vanished not only from the credit union I worked for.

I have to pay for the freedom I enjoyed in the past. Clamming paid well. But of course, it couldn't last, not in an honorable way fitting a man with the family background I have and the need of social connection a writer depends on. My dad was trenchantly emphatic. He wanted me out of clamming long before I left the Island. It's why I've worked wage jobs ever since. But better than pay for that freedom as if it were a sin, maybe it can yet inspire my best written work. And any of you who read this blog regularly, you know I express connection to the wilds and account for them not as something other than the real world, but as essential to what the real world is. I was deep into the wilds before I went to the shore, but those early years and the shore ensure days like yesterday relieve me of job hardship.  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

River Respite

Last Thursday or Friday, I saw the local river--North Branch Raritan--flooded almost to the edge of its banks. Last year's drought is long gone. Today it flows clear and neither low nor high. I went over with my black Lab Sadie and my camera bag. I had thought last night of bringing my 2-weight fly rod, but I didn't wake up until 2:30, having stayed up last night until 6:00 a.m., writing. So this would be a shorter jaunt and that it was. I wore the Simms wading boots I love, got in the water and carefully negotiated my steps among stones, finding here and there an image to capture with the Nikon, which certainly should not take a dunking. I still managed to get over to the condo association pool for laps.

I recently visited posts from last year, particularly those about the river. I enjoyed catching little sunfish on that 2-weight. I caught a trout on June 21st over here at the AT&T stretch, the popular Zoo abandoned. Once the stocking trucks stop coming, the only other visitors I see, they pass through on the Hike & Bike Trail. Most of all, photography compelled me. And it did today, though I'm keeping the shots for my files. I hope to get a book of Raritan River System photography published 10 or 15 years from now.

I'm a dreamer, but I know something of hard it is to convince people with the means to publish such a actually do that. I believe the most important thing about dreams is the happiness they bestow in the present. You find they're not "dreams" (unreal), but life experiences without the clutter and hard edges of simple obvious stuff. To merely use experience valuable as an end in itself as means towards something "great" like a book's publication, is to miss the point of living.

My photo files aren't there just to serve my ambition. Once and awhile I enjoy viewing them.