Friday, May 26, 2017

Bass Tip for Shoreline Shallows: Catch Summer Largemouths all Day

Trees hanging over a shoreline with steeply dropping depths are ideal for shadowline fishing.

Shadowline Bass

By Bruce Litton

Breaking the rules feels good when results justify. Here in the Northeast, by sometime in June most of us who catch largemouths start talking about early and late, but this isn’t the only time of day to fish after the post-spawn period we’re in the midst of now. Sunrise and sunset only marks the time when we may think we need to be on the water to catch bass once weather really heats up, but May is the month to begin tweaking tactics, anticipating when bass slow in summer. They don’t stop eating.

Like a lot of things, it’s a half-truth that summer bass can’t be caught during the day. Once the May and early June post-spawn adjustment period starts settling into the first summer dog days, bass slow their pace, but their metabolic processes race. The higher the water temperature, the more calories burned, so it may seem odd they don’t swim about at top speed, and yet their sensory alertness is on the increase now, which doesn’t necessarily mean bass get motivated to lunge and strike a plug or spinnerbait, but does mean they eat a lot. What they eat should concern us.

Rather than burn more calories by going on the chase after fish forage, once water temperatures move beyond the high end of optimal—somewhere in the 70’s—bass begin to take whatever easy meal drops their way. Maybe a tadpole, a grasshopper or leech. Bass even feed on nematodes and subaquatic insect larva. Why not easily flex those vacuum jaws? Alert to the copious critters in warm water, contrary to popular wisdom, bass feed all day during summer, and I’ve caught plenty at high noon with temperatures in the middle 90’s by fishing the edge between shadow and sunlight.

For years I’ve begun my approach to summer the first week in May, pitchin’ and castin’ weightless plastic worms. I look for sticks, brush, timber in the water often where branches surround me, too. On the banks of ponds and small lakes from 12 to 40 acres. Bank fishing lets me take stealthy approaches to bass lairs, although I’ve enjoyed plenty of success at the shadowline in lakes as large as 2685 acres from a boat. Since May means bass guard beds, I try to ignore the bucks I notice, and look for deeper water. I like a sunny afternoon best because it creates that edge I mentioned.

Inches beyond the line between sunlit water and shade, this target zone I call the shadowline is more important than sticks—not all lakes and ponds feature wood in the water—but if shaded brush combines with emerging weeds, all the better. Depth may be three to 12 feet. Females—the bigger bass—spawn quickly and let the bucks—worthy of being left alone—guard the newly arrived bass in shallows. Females hang further out, as if they can’t quite forget their young. From now on through July, you’ll find plenty in these semi-shallows, and even though August can get especially tough in the middle of the day, many afternoon catches happen in these spots.

I suggest forgetting the use of Senkos for the shadowline method. They sink twice as fast as slim traditional-type worms. If you target cover, use a 2/0 worm hook and bury the point in a seven to eight-inch worm. Rig an 18-inch, 15-pound test monofilament leader and tie it to 15-pound test quality braid by a uni-to-uni splice. Otherwise, scale down to a size 2 plain shank if you fish spots without cover. Even a micro swivel is too much weight, and fluorocarbon sinks while mono doesn’t. Twister-tail worms I find too “noisy.” Bass may respond best to a quiet, slow approach.

Pitch or cast that worm to the sunlit side of the shadowline; a bass in the shade sees in high definition a tantalizingly slow-sinking treat accessible by an easy swim. You can catch plenty if you don’t care to fish before breakfast or after dinner. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Balance Sheet

I felt tempted to fish bass today in the rain, but stuck to catching up on things, writing an article on fishing the Florida Keys the biggest task. It's written for people on a budget, and its genius is my wife, Patricia's. She hatched the idea of vacationing in the Keys independently, researched the possibility, and came up with a plan we could afford. We went twice. The second venture involved 10 or 11 days. Those were the Glory Days. 2007 and 2012, when I worked for a credit union. In my current job, I can't hope for as much vacation time as 2012 required, not for a long time perhaps. I've worked there almost a year, and I don't yet know what hopes for more vacation than a week out of a year I might eventually have. I haven't felt incentive to look into the issue.

Having planned on fishing Lake Hopatcong again today, I anticipated my friend's desire to fish a sunny day, suggesting we try in late September. I wouldn't have thought of this without the rain. So the big springtime thrust of fishing experiences comes to a close, yesterday a success especially because it proved not to be too much. Now I know I can fish weekends, even though I have to report to my job both Saturday and Sunday all summer, but I won't overdo this, as there's too much I have to get done.

Often when I focus on tasks here at home, a mood comes over me as a reminder that it's less what anyone does that matters, and more who he or she is in this world. The essence of my contemplating the circular aspect of Lake Hopatcong Sunday, related in the post I finished very early yesterday morning. To confuse particular achievements as who you really are, as if the value responses they confer--even if only your own--add up to your own value, is to forget reality no one can create, and which, in terms of achievement, only demands of anyone that he or she be aware and embrace what is sensed. An affirmation which discloses the self as much as it reveals the world, obviously because both are inextricable.

I remember a book from the 70's. Think the 70's, not 60's. Culture of Narcissism. And look at America today. Or the global culture. At least in the 70's people admitted this disorder.

Often I write an article, feel proud of it. In fact, it's well done. I have skill with words I've achieved. And then, it all disintegrates in my mind; comes to me like this: a farce. Right words, right order--doesn't matter. Because taken as a whole, any article I write is a particular assertion and so undercut as false by this deeper reality that doesn't need any sort of explication.

So what is the issue here? Words. And sense. Both are facts. It's not as if the verbal mind hasn't--in fact--needs. As my words come undone, the problem might not be any inherent falsehood regarding their assertion, but a lack of balance in my life in need of sense to compensate for struggles to achieve. I work to make money. Both as a writer and a supermarket worker. My family needs income. But I do this in a larger societal context, and I also do this in a larger biographical context. I'm well aware it seems as if I attempted too much as a young man, so I can find some agreement with the conservative line that we get what we deserve in life.

It's easy to see that agreement, but the struggle itself is a wrestling match with the Devil. Just what is it that I have got and deserve? This is the question that value judgment common among conservatives never ventures to answer. I haven't answered this question myself, either. I try. I doubt a conservative mind would have this courage.

This I know. There is rationality and a real world. Even a little of this in that supermarket where I work. What I earn is up to me. Correct? Obviously, I need to get ahead. And then I can rebalance with sense, as I put it.

So the years ahead, these will be interesting in this respect, to see what becomes of me. But it never will be about me, as much as about this world of reason and sense I touched upon. On Lake Hopatcong with my son Sunday morning.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Matter of Tuning In

Endurance tests this spring have brought me to some pretty scary edges, but today passed without becoming a trial. Here it is 1:43 a.m. as I begin writing, and I awoke at 4:15. a.m. I got Matt up 15 minutes later. As events turned out, I misjudged our point of departure from Bedminster; too much blue gathering in the sky made me think Dow's Boat Rentals would probably open a lot earlier than last I had read advertised. When we got there at 5:30, we found this was the case, but I felt no qualm, and we still got across the lake just as the sun broke over the trees to the east. We fished nearly four-and-a-half hours. Once home, I napped for an hour before going to work for a long shift.

Our first trolling pass through the belly of our favorite cove yielded nothing, and I feared a repetition of the barren fishing Mike and I experienced at the beginning of the month. I turned the boat about to pass in the opposite direction, gained about 50 yards and felt a nip (which shot me into electrical alertness), then a yank (the Rapala X-Rap then continued to run freely), and then a slam like someone who can bench press 450 arm wrestling me. The hybrid stripped 15-pound test braid from the reel before suddenly coming free, at which instant--the boat hadn't come to a halt--the rod in the holder braced to the transom bent low, line peeling from the spool. I caught this bass, photographed above.

Two nights ago I came upon a couple of Finesse Sinking Rapalas while shopping. Curiosity piqued, and I bought them. Last year, Brian Cronk had one X-Rap with him, on which he caught eight hybrids before I got a tap on a Rapala #9 Floater. On an X-Rap I caught a hybrid the same size as my first, and then a couple of passes yielded nothing, so I switched to the Finesse, quickly caught two more bass about the same size, and told my son he better switch.

We caught five altogether. Matt also caught a yellow perch way back in a distant cove we expected to find thriving with life, but it was as dead as December. Or worse. I guess the sudden chill chased the bass, crappie, pickerel into the thick of vegetation with no inclination to take chase. We caught some hybrids there last year, too, but found none of them today.

More trolling passes in our favorite cove mid-morning resulted in nothing but further practice. So we edged out a little deeper, anchored, and cast live herring weighted with split shots, imagining that the hybrids could have dropped back a little deeper. By comparison to anchoring and fishing bait slowly, trolling is a very active engagement. Today I felt a little high. My fourth year at it, I'm not about to draw comparisons to lake veterans, but it's like anything else requiring active skill. You know when you're doing it right--more or less--and that ups your feeling. But as I let herring swim on their own and nudged them along from time to time, my consciousness sank to a much deeper level, broadening not only within my mind, but through my senses. It was all about what I saw and heard. It was about a few conversational points with my son, too. I took in a very wide scope, pleased that from just this spot I could see how many square miles of lake I'm not sure, but the visage isn't square at all; it's circular, and I felt a peculiar paradox of large open area that seemed at the same time contained like any of the many ponds I fish. I contemplated this whole scene. Perhaps it seemed small because I could see the whole of it, given that the lake turns to the left, continues to the northeast, and continues to the southwest, but there are distinct landmarks that produce the illusion of the self-contained bowl of water you can see from this cove. I became aware that for once in how many months I can't even recall, some of my sanity returned.

Without circles, there isn't any of that. But there are vicious circles too. I work long shifts six days a week with loud music playing constantly. Even the songs I like: I'm 56 years old. Steely Dan is pretty long ago. Maybe one in 10. One in 20? Is a "good" song. When I began working there, I wasn't sure I would be able to take it. It's not that I don't appreciate music. Just the opposite. Well, you survive. But it is has objective effects.

This morning was a reminder that a real and rational world exists. It's just the matter of tuning in.

As we left Dow's Boat Rentals, sunlight illumined most of the elevation across the lake, though we crossed the lake with the sun just below the trees behind us.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Trolling for those Odd Fish We Call Hybrids

Pain above my left knee, the rest of me isn't hurting from the heat and sun, but we sure got fried on Spruce Run Reservoir today. Our primary intent was to run Mike's used three-and-a-half-horsepower Nissan on my squareback canoe, and it pushed the boat pretty well, but Mike got soaked in the bow, so I cut below half throttle or else accumulated a lot of water inside the shell.

Headed for one of the back coves. I cut the engine to fix tangled lines. It started on the first pull, but died after running 50 feet. It quickly became evident this might be a problem, so I pointed us back towards the ramp, developing a big broken blister on right index finger. We got back after short starts and stops the entire way. And just in case, we had my Minn Kota 55 transom mount. Got that from the car as Mike pulled off the outboard, and then we were back on the water.

Heading for that same back cove, my favorite as well as Mike's, I hooked something on a big Rat-L-Trap trolled probably not even 10 feet deep in 50 feet of water. Looked like a little hybrid bass at first but proved to be a rainbow trout. A recruit from Spruce Run Creek, we imagined, since that stream enters this comparatively huge range of water closer to where I caught this fish than Mulhockaway Creek. No trout get stocked in the reservoir. Mike snapped the photo and I tossed the fish back.

About trout. I never forget the glory days. I never was part--besides winning a B.A.S.S. chapter bass tournament here in 1978--but I gazed on the trout on the wall of Dan's Sport Shop on Route 31 in front of the reservoir with great admiration, never to forget these mounts and the shop that must have gone out-of-business 20 years ago or longer. In The New Jersey Fisherman I read about 15-pound brown trout caught in the area of Spruce Run Creek's entry during the fall, and stories of 10-pound browns--likewise--running up from the reservoir well upstream in little Mulhockaway Creek. The state stocked Spruce Run Reservoir with trout, but already by 1977, northern pike had achieved a mighty presence, as Herb Hepler's state record 30 pound, 2 ounce pike got caught that year. I'll never forget these stories.

Just stories. What good are stories, compared to facts you can squander by use of an Excel spreadsheet? But everyone knows--at heart--why stories are good. It's more important to ask: why facts. Because when you really get down to it, facts are completely meaningless--without stories.

Back in that cove I won't offer directions to, I longed to stop the boat, toss anchor, and bass fish. Eric Evans of iBass360 and I have caught a lot of bass--smallmouth and largemouth--among the shallow rocks I contemplated today. But today was about trolling for these odd fish we call hybrids. A cross between the ocean-going but anadromous striped bass and the freshwater while bass, the two species so closely related they result in hybrid striped bass when crossed in hatcheries. Annually, little ones maybe six or seven inches long get stocked by the state in the reservoir with the expectation that they will grow to legal 16-inch size and larger. A few of them reach 10 pounds or more, though they average about two pounds, yet many over six pounds get caught. My family has eaten both striped bass and hybrids my son and I have caught, and back in March, I purchased a whole white bass from Shop Rite to serve for dinner. This way we would complete the triad. (I know white bass exist in Texas, but not in New Jersey.) It's just that after I began cooking late that night, my wife fell asleep and didn't care to join us, so Matt and I had a feast.

That strip of sand is the popular swimming beach. Sand trucked in.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Democracy, Individual Freedom, and Hitting the Holes

I digress. Get off the program. (Do you remember when "Get with the program" suggested we all stick to the beaten path?) I went back through some old posts before I opened this tab. Clear, well-defined writing that never loses sight of the definite subject in plain view for anyone to comprehend, and I assure you I'm proud of these posts. If not for ordinary reality well represented, anything extraordinary is doomed to failure. Every working man knows this, which is probably why so many are angry these days. I believe I made just this point in another way recently. The post, "Nothing without Feet on the Floorboards."

I got so caught up in other ideas writing last night's post, I forgot to make the point that since I have an ambition to write a book-length essay on fishing, I need to practice. I need to ferret out every advantage I can, because getting such a book published is very difficult. So Litton's Fishing Lines is experimental. From the beginning, it's about writing as much as it's about fishing, which is why I chose the word lines in the title. Writers form sentences in lines. Poets form phrases in lines. I spare my blog readers. I don't begin to experiment as much as I do in my handwritten journals.

I mentioned democracy last night. That's not only about people who fish stocked trout, but also people I work with as a wage earner myself. At age 15, I shot straight up in bed one night, suffering a terrible nightmare. I dreamed that because of my association with my fishing mentor, who to me was just an older friend, but he was a mentor, in fact, because of this association with a fry cook, I would find myself stuck in the working class as an older man. I told myself it just couldn't be. I was the son of a world-renowned musician, solidly middle class, advantaged in so many ways. I persuaded myself enough that it was just a dream to go back to sleep, but I knew better than to think that's all it might be.

A God-fearing young lad would have made damn sure to get that college degree. But as I wrote in the first paragraph, I get off the program. I don't blame my former mentor one iota. I went off the grid to discover the source of all that makes the grid and anything else. And I don't find my job a nightmare. At least, not any longer. But making it livable in a positive way involves sticking tenaciously to the program. To those tasks I not only must do; they are the reason I go to that workplace. I made my mind up about doing tasks before I applied there.

I knew, this afternoon: I have to advance a point about my belief in democracy. I try to dig deeper than any ideological rallying behind a collective nationalism. National freedom from foreign imposition is important to me, just as the political freedom to get involved in decisions that affect society locally or nationally is also, but I believe most in individual freedom. I think not only of my own potential and the difficult effort to articulate a complex vision of life. I think of the rest of us in a confused age of distraction also and never give up the hope that so much resigned cynicism will pass away as new possibilities for everyone become manifest.

I've made this clear. I want to write books. I'll add that I want to get paid, too. I've had dreams of far-off fishing destinations for many years. But as I've told Fred Matero, what would life amount to, if not for hitting the holes? The local waters familiar to both of us.

Coming Books

I may change the Coming Books notice, since I've my doubts they'll become available so soon. The book about the salmon egg method I began three weeks before Opening Day, but of course with all this fishing and my job, haven't got much done. As related in the recent Spruce Run Creek post, I had read some of my first published fishing articles, and this book--which I conceived more than a decade ago--confronted me as something I must do.

Walking Sadie minutes ago, I realized my first article published in The New Jersey Fisherman was the perfect choice of subject--early season largemouth bass--because I met my fishing mentor two years prior at just that sort of fishing. He was no writing mentor. More like the opposite--a fair trade, since he not only taught me a great deal about fishing; he got me motivated to fish even more than I had been fishing.

I paid a Devil's Bargain. Ernest Hemingway and Jim Harrison were just about the only great literary writers also anglers. Today's literary community seems especially detached from the outdoor writing community, and my welding of both pursuits is an unlikely proposition. When I began fishing as an eight-year-old, at first with a friend and his father, that's when I learned about literary classics. My mother eagerly introduced me to Izaak Walton, 17th century author of The Compleat Angler, the most bestselling book of all time besides the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. She introduced me to Walton's book as a classic perhaps on that day I first went fishing. The qualification went straight to my brain. I fished Little Shabakunk Creek regularly that year, and I remember--yet aged eight--walking in on my parents to tell them about how I took fishing seriously, and yet without confusing the objective order of greater and lesser values.

My father comes from strong West Virginia mountain people. I never met my grandfather on his side, but my great-great grandfather came from somewhere deep in the farming wilderness before seeking the modern adventure. I can't say Dad's not anything like a farmer, but he is a world-class musician. So growing up, I understood our lives depended on music, since that's how Dad got paid. But of course, more than that; to grow up steeped in sacred and classical music was to develop a great understanding of art's value. Not only music. My mother was a chemist for Esso, now Exxon, but she minored in English. So when I laid claim to fishing that day, we all understood I did not place the value above genius.

Caught in the Devil's Bargain of having invested my life in the outdoors, while all the while struggling to create art, I think of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock." She implied that we're all caught in the Devil's Bargain, and the way out is to get back to the Garden. So this problem I have is very ironic, in light of Joni's prescription. The Bargain I made took me all the way back. From fishing 250 days a year in my teens, to clamming commercially, which paid so well I often didn't have to labor much. Most of what that adventure was about wasn't beach bumming or even studying, though I studied a great deal. It was about going as deep into nature as I possibly could.

Maybe Joni was sly. Maybe she dreamt of a future when some fisherman would catch us all in the Devil's Bargain. But I've never believed in "back to nature." I always understood; I was trying to conquer nature itself. "Nature, to be conquered, must be obeyed." I studied Francis Bacon in not every detail, but seriously. Bacon was one of the very greatest. The father of the modern age. He challenged Aristotle and won the battle that led to modern science. As the result of this science, we have entered a new geological epoch. The Anthropocene. Nature is conquered enough already for us to have begun reshaping the planet. What is yet to be seen is beyond imagination.

A book on fishing salmon eggs may seem beneath what I can really do, and it is. But everything is interrelated as one effort affirms another, and I can't help but feel I believe in people who come out and fish trout in the spring. Democracy gets a lot of lip service. Why it's so threatened now can only be the result of false belief in it, if we assume the standard of belief is equal to practice. So what I am doing with this book is more than just explaining how to catch trout with salmon eggs. Centuries of scholars have pondered what it was Walton really did. I am not Walton, but what I'm doing with my book on salmon egg fishing is more than just explanation. Nevertheless, I'm free to say more in America than Walton felt free to say in his 17th century England.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Follow Up

When I publish a post like this with a title that will rank a thousand pages back, and I don't post it on Facebook, it's for myself and my regular readers. That last post raised an angry stir from one quarter. Mike and I laughed it off, though we both hope we can repair ill feeling coming from elsewhere. A trusted friend from more than a decade ago told me that if my writing--she was sure I would eventually incite controversy--polarizes, so long as I am on the right side with my friends, it pays off, because controversy stirs interest and profit.

I won't go into details. I just want to comment on one word that does bug me about that post, though I won't go into edit function and change it. Significant.

Honestly. One hundred percent honestly. I am very proud of the writing I have got published. That's significant. And I've worked damn hard and continue to work damn hard to get these articles published. All of the magazines I write for are significant. Of course they are. Anyone who would doubt this, when these magazines sell, is a fool. But I am a complicated individual. I just emailed my father two nights ago, relating how my mother told me in 1999, when we were coin shopping for our collections, "Don't do any psychological tests on your son." Matt was with us, six months old. She wasn't joking. I wrote Dad, "My journals test me. Anyone who will read them will be tested for sure."

When I wrote about getting published significantly last night, I didn't see the brush against condescension myself, nor feel it at all: it's a matter of context. To forget what that word means is to invite no less than insanity. To gain the broader issue of the post is to realize: maybe the reason I didn't see or feel condescension--is because it simply is not there. No one in his right mind would believe Ernest Hemingway's best work was published in Field & Stream, not that I have been published in this magazine; I have not, but if I'm not mistaken, Hemingway was so. Gathering from what I've read, both Hemingway and Zane Grey remained very proud of their fishing articles. I would guess so. Partly because I know: no matter how I finish in life--or after I am dead--I will always be proud of my fishing articles. And I will always remember where I first got published. On fishing early season largemouth bass.