Friday, July 1, 2011

Lake Hopatcong Smallmouth Brace

My son, Matt, had trouble sleeping last night. He's still asleep now after returning from Lake Hopatcong. Just before he conked out, he told me he didn't fall asleep until 2:00 a.m. He was up at 3:45.  I have to say he did well on the lake considering.

To rent a boat from Dow's is to gain access to a great lake if you don't own a boat, so long as you have a NJ Boater's Safety Certificate. But without electric for positioning, and the irresistible temptation to stock the livewell with herring for hybrids and walleyes (last August we actually went without the live bait), the way we fish is different from the way we would fish while strictly going after bass, with allowance for pickerel. 

Along a shoreline I fished Senko-type worms both Wacky and with inset hook to penetrate weeds as deliberately as would surely bring results under better conditions. We did not see any clouds in the sky at all upon sunrise. The air temperature had dipped to about 50 degrees. Fishing very hard, I used the 9.9-horsepower gas outboard as best I could like an electric to position casts. Matt used his "secret weapon," Berkeley Worm Blower-adjusted nightcrawlers (they float) and didn't even catch sunfish. Not even a tap.

Finally by about 8:00 a.m. we got to a rocky point. Matt pulled up a one-pound largemouth from 10 feet directly under the boat. I fished the Senko hard, and put out herring. The shadow line extended out over 25 feet deep of water, and I had vague hopes for a walleye or hybrid in the shade. After a half hour Matt caught a 10-inch smallmouth on herring just about when the guy who had been fishing further west, over open water, motored near and offered us the remainder of his herring. 

"Sure!" I said. I had hesitated, as if I would depend more on plastics instead. But I had the stirrings of desire to do something with the herring for pickerel.

"Catch any?" I asked.

"Two smallmouth and walleye," he said.

"The walleye good sized?"

"Yes. I'll show you."

We pulled boats together, traded off the herring, and he opened his livewell. The walleye was huge. I have never seen one so large. Big and thick bodied, it weighed eight pounds at least, possibly 10.

"Did you get it deep using a slip bobber?"

"Eight to ten feet down over 26 feet of water, just a hook and a barrel swivel over the side of the boat."

Of course it couldn't have been too deep, since oxygen is depleted now.

I had a moment of decision. Would we move on? I knew we should go back along the rock faces and that shade. We did, and it felt right. It didn't take long before I was into a very good fish that took herring over about 25 feet of water. The smallmouth measured 17 1/2-inches, weighed about three pounds. I put herring back out and caught another exactly the same size the same way. (The first fish took my hook; it wasn't the same bass.) Then something good sized took my son's herring. He had it on a couple of seconds before it pulled the hook. 

While the herring took care of themselves on no more than a light wire, plain shank, size 6 hook, I fished that Senco hard and sensitively. I lost a good bass--at least two pounds--and had the peculiar experience of hooking, for a moment, what I think was a good-sized pickerel 15 feet deep, outside the shadow line (which had receded). The line clean cut, I saw no indication of a bad knot. But I made damn sure I then tied on a tiny barrel swivel and a 15 pound test fluorocarbon leader.

I did try the herring for pickerel later over weedbeds. I had one hit that took the herring clean off the hook in a split second. Another herring came off on the cast, and fluttered at the surface, taken by the slight chop, and several minutes later we saw the splash. 

I have to say I took a lot of pleasure in using herring today. I never succumbed to nightcrawlers. But the herring and the smallmouths made sense. Apparently these were suspended fish and tube jigs (or Senkos) would not be so effective. I wish I had inquired about that man's smallmouths, but I concluded that, yes, he got them suspended way out off the point. He had told me he caught the walleye at about 7:00. The entire time we observed him fishing he stayed out there. 

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