Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Unsafe Ice Fishing

Got word minutes ago: two guys were out ice fishing Lake Hopatcong today, about a half mile south of Bertrand Island. No facts on ice thickness, but my informant was pretty sure it was unsafe.

Guys do it. I once crawled out--a rope around my waist--on two inches of ice over clear water, viewing bottom 10-feet below me, and cut holes with a hatchet. Ice crackled outward from cuts, slightly threatening to weaken under my left hand supporting shoulder-weight.

I set tip-ups. And then watched from shore.

More recently--2008 I think--on Lake Musconetcong with my son, I told him to keep back on the safe three-and-a-half-inch ice, while, curious about a spot, I got on hands and knees, progressing for about seven or eight yards on ice two-and-a-half-inches thick to place a tip-up.

I may not be well-known for this, but I have a streak of hubris. That day, my son and I ice fished for two hours on clear, hard ice before my mood grew until I felt confident that if I fell through the ice over five feet of water, it wouldn't matter. I once suffered a big wetsuit rip in brine of nearly 29 degrees. Treading clams commercially. Air temperature 22, wind 45 mph. I was more than a hundred yards from the boat. The incident resulted in deep second-degree hypothermia, which felt as if I drank at least two six packs, but of course--I'm here to tell you.

Also to tell you, if you do go through extensive thin ice, you likely have less chance of survival than falling through thin ice with thicker nearby. I had ice spikes on Lake Musconetcong that afternoon, but they would have worked by allowing myself to pull my weight up onto ice which at best would support that weight.

Obviously, if I fell through those two inches of ice I dared, I would probably have to keep breaking ice and sort of swimming or floundering, until I reached water shallow enough to stand in. Similar on Lake Musconetcong. I would have had perhaps seven or eight yards of struggle to overcome before my time was up, though I have to say, I was aware the spikes would have helped. Grip that ice and pull! Grip and pull!

Disrespect for my son is implied. Imagine an eight-year-old boy witnessing his Dad in that situation. He would feel, if he did nothing--even if I told him to stay back--compromised.

The hubris I experience, no doubt, does involve heightened perception and heightened tactile coordination. Inevitably, the inner desire of a man of such drive is to try what he sees is possible. But it is dangerous. And it often seems ethically edgy at best.

It can seem to others downright foolish or crazy. But, in fact, the experience--and in my case, I'm ultimately the only one to know the experience at its center--is in essence neither. The hubris is a form of natural force, though of course, to yield to it is to choose to do so. It is dangerous and certainly unconventional, yes. The very essence of daring adventure, and never to be imitated or faked, because without the heightened senses, it is suicidal.

The ethics would require more analysis than I care to offer here. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Fly Fishing March

Sometime in February each year, I feel March approach, the month always proving the process of spring's unfolding has begun. A few times, I've fly fished trout in March, and though I have fished stream trout successfully in February, I would have to consult my handwritten log to be all but absolutely certain I've never tried streams in January. For many years, this hasn't mattered to me, if during the last few or so, I've begun to think of doing this. Last winter, I thought of it a lot, but I never got out this January on any small river or stream, if perhaps next winter I will, or rather, when I get the time. And perhaps the boot-foot waders.

I think this March I will do it.

Over the years, I've caught a lot of bass in March. Quite a few in February also. This year, if things work out and I get an evening, I've learned the whereabouts of a pond nearby I've never fished, with bass present.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Lake Hopatcong Anchoring Restrictions Scrapped

According to the Daily Record, the plans to limit anchoring further than 200 feet from shore between May 15th and September 15th on Lake Hopatcong have been scrapped. No details offered in the story, I can only assume Knee Deep Club and its President Eddie Mackin have especially spoken effectively on the behalf of all of us who fish the lake to gain this result we need in order to continue fishing freely, although no doubt, everyone who wrote the  Boat Commission Chair has helped. Never assume people with more power will take care of such an issue for you. Everyone's voice is important.

So next time I'm on the lake between that period of time when restrictions could have stopped me from anchoring, when I do anchor, I will remember and feel grateful.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Shaping the Planet to Suit Life at All Levels

I'm finishing an article for New Jersey Federated Sportsmen's News about dam removal in this state, obliquely about dam removal nationwide. Alan Hunt at Musconetcong Watershed Association pointed out to me that free movement of migratory fish species positively affects the entire food chain. Brian Cowden of Trout Scapes River Restoration LLC told me striped bass have actually got caught in the pool below what was the Hugesville Dam, removed last year, and to now expect stripers up in the Musky Gorge. (We need to know how big, since we're 18 or 20-inch striper in the Musconetcong River isn't bad at all!)

Four rivers: the Musconetcong, the Raritan, the Millstone, and the Lamington will all involve migratory fish. Now, imagining a striped bass in the shallow Lamington River does seem to border on insanity if believed in, but does it really cross that line? I would put money on this. In the event of a flood, when stripers are moving up river such as during May, if things fall into place in the right ways, I think it could happen that a striped bass gets caught in the Lamington River; that is, if and when the Headgates Dam gets removed. Big ones get caught at the Island Farm Weir during floods. Otherwise, American eels are not all bad anyhow.

And once the two dams on the Millstone River go, stripers might get caught occasionally in Princeton at the Lake Carnegie Dam, not to mention gizzard and Atlantic shad. Homage to the great industrialist!

Where does dam removal lead? The food chain is an important concept. An even more important reality. It symbolizes a whole lot more possible in regards to our enhancing it more as it should be. Trout Scapes River Restoration LLC is the perfect name for Cowden's outfit, in my opinion, and I had already written, in an essay I've submitted to Agni, the Boston University literary journal, that river and stream restoration is really streamscaping, a creative enhancing in alignment with the generally natural course of the flow. I wrote this before I had heard of Trout Scapes, unless I had heard of it through my inner ear, but let's not get back to any temptation of debating insanity. I wrote of streamscaping back in September. It takes six months to get word back from Agni about acceptance or rejection and I'm hoping for the best in any event of placing this essay, but there are larger considerations.

As I see what's happening, dam removal and stream and river restorations involve the beginning of a new age in which we will have grown beyond initial industrialization to shape this planet to suit life on all levels. Honors to Andrew Carnegie, but when striped bass swim up to the end of the lake named after his philanthropy efforts, we will be moving on. As a literary writer who began writing during an amazing year of passion for zoology at age nine, and then first got published as an outdoor writer at 16 with The New Jersey Fisherman, appearing in a number of publications, many articles published until at 18 I took a radial turn for literature and began filling hundreds of handwritten notebooks, I know William Blake at least a little bit. A giant who rose at the industrial revolution's inception, proclaiming "Energy is eternal delight," on deaf ears. They thought him mad. So why did the 20th century begin to listen, until several decades or more ago, his genius is established as among the greatest?

For me these days, the most important idea of Blake's is Organized Innocence. We as adults cannot go back to Original Innocence, and we must pass the tests of Experience before we might reach Organized Innocence, a state of possible affairs I certainly think is synonymous with naturalist E.O. Wilson's hope for future paradise here on earth, despite his purported disdain for (departmental) humanities, this very shaping of the planet to suit life on all levels I've mentioned. This article does not promulgate Wilson's book specifically as focusing on my notion of shaping the planet, but it does refer to Wilson's "prophecy" (a dubious claim about a scientist) of our "turning" the planet into paradise, so there we are on the same page.

This is objective. We are improving the food chain. This is beyond any doubt a start in this direction of great hope.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Looked Back, Encouraged to Go Ahead

So nice to feel hard crunchy ground under foot. That's not the same as ice under boots, but every time I feel it, it makes me think of a frozen lake. Ice fishing may be out for the rest of this winter around here, but at least when I go outside now, I can feel winter more as it should be.

I looked forward to March the other day, and while working in the Home Chef Studio today, looked back on the past 10 years, feeling encouraged through every evaluation. I meant to take a peek at my fishing log, since I remembered catching two keeper stripers in the Long Branch surf on clams, and feeling as if this was several years ago. Then I realized I didn't post on that. It must have been 2010! Let me have a look...

June 5th, 2010. I caught them--one, two--right off the bat, fishing alone, and phoned for my brother Rick. My sister-in-law answered. He was out. Almost seven years ago! Got to get back and do the likes again! Actually, I did soak clams at least once since I began this blog. Caught several three-foot dogfish. My son and I used to do it for years, and we caught a lot of stripers. But he caught the only one over 28" besides these two.

Do my posts seem to say this past year was a bad one? I doubt it. A little uncertain, sure. I entitled a recent piece "Fortune or Misfortune?" Obviously, there's some rumination going on. There is a concluding statement in the words, however. In our time, literature has lost it's bearing, except for the very recent political uprising. (One might doubt the immortal quality of it!) I refer to Sven Birkhert's authority on the matter and disagree with him, or almost, since in his essay he never concluded with any certainty that the primary is impossible to access beneath the layers of electronic preoccupations.

The primary facts of life will never abandon me. It is quite true: much else has abandoned me to them. And to that I can say, "Thank you very much!"

The happiness of Aristotle is my own.

Perhaps "Fortune or Misfortune?" did not make this so clear.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Dead Hopes for these Days Down Here

Even hopes for safe ice on ponds died down here, although low temperature tomorrow morning is forecast at 13 degrees in Budd Lake, 18 degrees Bedminster, so even further north colder temperatures yet may result in some fishing. I looked ahead to February 17th, and according to the forecast, there's no hope. After mid-February, the chance of an enduring arctic air mass lessens pretty dramatically, as I remember years in the past.

When I bought my power auger five years ago, my wife told me I'll never use it. Winters are getting warmer and there won't be any ice fishing. Nonsense.

And to extrapolate from a hunch is foolish. Just because I've felt pretty certain for about three weeks now that ice fishing is pretty much out this season, to turn such a specific psychic fact into an assumption about seasons to come has nothing to do with the hunch itself. Hunches are always about just what they are about and nothing more. However, if I were to speculate, that's different. And hunches easily may suggest speculative ideation, but if regarding the likes I don't gather evidence to support assumptions, they're just based on fear. As if to say, Gee whiz, I didn't get out ice fishing much this winter....Maybe I never will again.

This isn't to say the climate's not changing. Abundant evidence exists for this. But no more ice fishing in New Jersey? I doubt this will become the case for awhile yet.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Water Column Approach Springtime Largemouth Bass Can't Escape

Bottom Grindin’, Middle Movin’, and Top Teasin’

By Bruce Edward Litton

          By early March, lakes and reservoirs of the Northeast region typically ice-out, largemouth bass lethargically responsive to a variety of lure techniques. Two years ago it didn’t happen until days before trout Opening Day in the New Jersey Highlands, early in April. This year, water has remained open most of the winter, but when ice cover helps compose winter as I like it, shallow, stained ponds open long before lakes and reservoirs, especially ponds with a feeder creek that pumps in runoff to break up ice. Late winter/early spring fishing begins at bottom.

          Gravel or hard bottoms of 8-20 feet invite the use of an old standby, the Johnson Beetle Spin, and I could be wrong, but I would almost bet a lot of us have never heard of this spinnerbait with a detaching arm. The Beetle Spin’s insecurity adds special effectiveness for a method I called “tick spinning” during my teens, because the second hand of my watch rotated around the dial almost as slowly as the crank of my reel completed a turn. The cupped Colorado blade just waggles along without spinning. Instead of holding a fixed place, the arm subtly moves about as the jig head crawls over gravel or along hard bottom, not so much imitating a crawfish or any other sort of creature, but creating a very effective presentation that the slow metabolism of a bass responds to regardless of close imitation to anything living down in the cold darkness.

           In a toss-up between much more popular tube jigs and the throwback Beetle Spin, I would put my money on the less popular lure bass see a lot less, because the cricketing metal seems just the ticket to getting the attention of metabolically deficient bass, whether or not the bass’s familiarity with tube jigs has anything at all to do with getting more strikes from the Beetle Spin.

          Another old standby, in-line spinners achieve performance perfection through the mid-column early in the season for a number of reasons. The most obvious, perhaps, involves lack of vegetation to foul treble hooks. A willowleaf spinnerbait will better suit timber, but residual weeds hold baitfish and bass where a spinnerbait isn’t necessary. That logic is a clue. When a simpler approach suits, it may prove more effective than any added nonsense. A Mepp’s Aglia Long upwards of size 3 or a C.P. Swing 6 pulsing over any sparse tendrils of vegetation remaining near bottom is deadly, since the sleek appearance of an in-line spinner plays to the low key of early season music. Never use Colorado or Indiana blades, if you heed this principle of simple logic, because they emit too much vibration in cold water, so the standard Mepp’s or Blue Fox should be refused.

          Perhaps it’s just my personal philosophy. I don’t doubt plenty of bass get caught by use of Colorado and Indiana blades this time of year. And yet, over the course of time, probability proves necessary quantification in relation to applied facts more or less appropriate to actual situations. And even yet, I question my slow approaches further, because I’ve read about largemouths caught on crankbaits burned at top speed with water temperatures in the upper 40’s. One caveat—lots of sunlight is present when this happens, according to the claim. That shook up my presumptions.

         Nevertheless, attraction is not always about how loud and flashy a lure. A bass can feel all sorts of vibrations in the water. If there’s chop on top, bass below are quite aware of what they’re going through. As I understand the early season, environmental changes sensed by bass lateral lines need quiet and subtlety—in most cases—to accord with their slow responses conditioned by low metabolic energy. Slow and subtle presentation attracts bass to check out the source and possibly to strike, when a louder or bigger lure gets ignored. Long spinner blades hum along instead of sending more impact to those lateral line senses, attracting just enough attention with water temperatures in the low to mid 40’s or higher.

          During a warming trend, at least some bass venture towards the shallows, and a slow to moderately retrieved spinner covers water, finds them and provokes strikes. Don’t pound the banks and docks, shoreline brush or stickups; plumb the middle zones between the depths and shallows. Some lakes and reservoirs have submerged ditches or depressions leading off main creek channels with structural breaks where bass hold feeling not quite ready to advance shallower. Rip rap and stone faces get warmed by morning and early afternoon sun, allowing bass short moves to relative shallows from depths close beneath, spinners effective at intercepting them.

          But how is bass fishing complete without surface catches? Shallow water action seems to comprise most of what bass fishing is about, and as a rule, when water temperatures reach and surpass 50, bass invade the shallow flats, docks and other shallow spots. Fifty degrees, however, is no absolute rule. Bass get caught on the surface in water as cold as 47. There’s a specific way to do this, and I bet no bass has ever hit a hula popper chugged along in water this cold.

          Steady sunlight throughout a mild or warm day allows water to warm just as evening approaches, to 47 or so. A northeast pond corner or lake cove with proximity to deeper staging points means sunlight will have warmed the area the most, since sun sets in the southeast. Even if the temperature difference is slight, it’s in your favor. Surface, however, must be dead calm and there’s a reason for this, as you may infer.

          The Rebel Minnow is a floating jerkbait unlike most others, although perhaps some other companies make lures that fish about the same. The plastic 2 ½-inch Minnow is small enough not to serve much of a mouthful, and large enough to attract bass nearby. It sits on the surface at an angle, rear submerged, only head and shoulders breaking surface tension. By twitching only enough to raise that rear, and then allowing that rear to sink back, enough rippling in the water gets sent in all directions. Something like food is there for the taking. No jerking or popping will work. It’s not a matter of trying to send more vibration bass’s way, but as few vibrations as possible short of none. Remember, bass can feel all sorts of motion, including other fish on patrol. With water just warming enough that a few bass poke into the shallows, something seemingly alive—just barely—on the surface can tease interest out of competitive impulses.

            Wait as long as a full minute between twitches, which isn’t easy, but the only way I know to work in water this cold. It’s an exercise in exploring patience you’ve completely forgotten since idle hours and minutes of adolescence, and if a bass comes up and sips as subtly as a trout taking a dry fly, an event has unfolded you may never forget.