Sometime early last summer the Lake Musconetcong Planning Board approved the release of a very high dose of weed killer to the lake. My son and I had never been skunked on Lake Musconetcong for five years of frequent visits, but once the previously clear water turned turbid with decaying vegetation, and we got out to fish, I got one hit from a small bass, and the next time out a month later we got no hits at all. The water remained turbid. I also noticed a sudden increase of cormorants, diving birds that eat loads of fish every day. I had noticed just a few of these birds back in the good old days when aquatic vegetation was so thick they could not travel under water as they can now. Now dozens of cormorants are present and presumably consuming loads of bass and pickerel. The photo I took of a congregation only displays about a third of these birds.
For now anyway, the fishing's good. It's as if last summer the fish were in shock and have since adjusted. The water is clearer, but still not nearly so clear as it used to be. Steve Slota caught a 23 1/2- inch pickerel soon after we got on the water. He fished a shallow running crankbait, trolled as I rowed. The fish certainly weighed over three pounds, perhaps three and a half. I caught a 19-inch or so pickerel soon afterwards on a heavy spinnerbait designed for a quick retrieve. For awhile nothing happened but a pickerel attacking the same spinnerbait at boatside. I switched to a lighter, chartreuse spinnerbait and caught two more, about 17 inches and 19 inches and grew tired of casting the spinnerbait.
Although I focused especially on pad fields--all of the fish we caught were associated with pads--the casting became all too random. I like each cast to really mean it, so I switched to a Senko, Wacky style. To my surprise, a hit came within minutes, next to pads. Another hit left me without my Senko. Apparently, when I set the hook, a big pickerel's teeth just ripped the worm right out of the O ring I use to keep it on the hook. Not long later I caught an 11-inch or so bass. I also experienced a great attack from a large pickerel as I retrieved the worm in--I often twitch a few times after initial drop then quickly start over.
The pickerel didn't actually take the worm, and I became certain topwaters would work as sun had set. Steve switched to a Rebel Pop-R. He missed a couple of hits, so I put a Baby Torpedo on my second rod. Finishing one of his retrieves, a giant swirl erupted boatside. Rudely, I grabbed my other rod--by then fishing the Torpedo--and dropped my Senko over the side. I saw the pike-sized pickerel take it, and set the hook just hoping the fish had the point in position. Good thing I used the 15-pound fluorocarbon, which had deep nicks after Steve netted the 23-inch pickerel, over three pounds.
But the best thrill of the evening by far was the bass Steve never got to the boat. It happens this way sometimes. Fishing is definitely not all about catching, and to insist that it is would be to deny the value of so much that happens besides actually boating or landing fish. It struck his Pop-R, and I immediately reached for the net, knowing this was a good fish. When it came fully two feet out of the water, I saw the gaping mouth and automatically registered: 18 inches. I don't think it was any fewer. Bass twice the weight of an 18-incher exist in Musconetcong, but they are very rare. For some reason, my son and I catch 23 and 23 1/2-inch pickerel all the time, but have caught only one 18-inch largemouth. Fifteen-inch largemouth are average, and we've caught plenty in the 16-inch range, a few over 17. But as yet we just haven't boated a real lunker, although a five or six-pounder once leapt over my son's topwater without taking it. For that matter, we wonder why we haven't caught a pickerel better than 24 1/4 inches.