Nine Pounds! The pickerel on the wall of the boat shop looked large as a musky. Struck a jitterbug over one of the weedbeds beyond. 8:15 a.m. and my son, Matt, and I rowed out, our first time on Shepherd Lake in Ringwood State Park. The 72-acre lake features 40-foot depths and alewives almost everywhere. Rich in Omega fat, the largemouth and pickerel get big on them. My first bass was a poppindocker nine-incher that hit my weightless Chompers about 18 feet deep. Already the sun struck us and the water like a heat demon, and the lake took the rays down calm as a pane of glass. We came to a deep weedbed and I placed a cast at a corner of its outside edge, again about 18 feet. The take was strong, it felt strong as a horse, and I set the hook into a pickerel I think could have been five pounds. Lost, I had that familiar feeling on a lake that this was my only shot of the day at a lunker.
This patch of weeds, much smaller than a football field, yielded one more take, apparently a good size bass, that resulted in me kicking myself for not bringing along our alternative reel spools loaded with 15-pound Power Pro. The fish simply dove into the thick and I could not horse it out with six-pound test. When a fish buries its head in weeds the direct tension of rod to lure via the line is loosened just enough that, along with the fish hanging the exposed trebles in the mess, it shakes free. I lost two other good fish this way today.
All told, my son caught a nice bluegill, the perch, some green sunfish, and a pickerel of about a pound on his nightcrawlers. He hooked something large, convinced it was a pickerel (about four pounds) since he felt the dead weight of it remain in place, just as one of my pickerel had behaved; this fish took his crawler only six feet under the boat over 20 feet of water just after a large fish had sounded the fish alarm--at six feet. But he never got sight since it dove under the boat. I caught two largemouths and two pickerel, the remaining three about a pound and a little over, easy to veer out of the weed garden, on my weightless Chompers with the worm hook. I tried Senkos, even Wacky with a weedless hook and lost a couple of small bass that way. But Chompers finesse held its magic, at least over me. Both of my pickerel I hooked in 20 feet of water. Some vegetation seems to grow in 30 feet of water. This is a clear, beautiful little lake.
I thank Manny Luftglass for his 100 Best Spots to Fish in New Jersey. It persuaded me to try this lake, and I have to say that the big pickerel I hooked is a promise upon return. Next time our approach will be much better educated. Plastics were not the only way to go today. Another guy fishing close to us nailed two bass about two pounds each on a big popper over 10 to 15 feet of water, a heavy, very extensive weedbed. That surprised me. It was 1:45 on a sunlit, 93 degree afternoon. The water temperature registered 81 degrees on my unit.
Some time afterwards my son went down to our river (North Branch Raritan) to fly fish with his big #10 dry. He had many sunfish hit, but his pride was the trout that took it in a great rush over a deep pool. He missed it. He was just happy it hit.
Somehow I lost--I have searched everywhere and rearranged everything in the process--my bag of 12-inch plastic worms. It figures. Tomorrow morning is the one time this summer I have to fish Mount Hope Pond at dawn. Twelve-inch worm for that lunker on my mind. And fate has denied me them. I was going to "try" them and I certainly would have, but I would have fished the Chompers more. Now that I have been frustrated, I will buy another bag, and next year I may go to Mount Hope and use only the 12 inch worm some dawn.
I did try a spinnerbait for about 10 minutes here at Shepherd Lake. The clarity of the water discouraged me and that the weeds were thick below a couple or few feet from the surface. It's interesting how the waters I fish influence the articles I write while I tend to think they are more general than they are. My recent piece in Pennsylvania Outdoor Journal is one I'm proud of, it's well done. But surely the water temperature 20 feet down at Shepherd is in the optimal range for pickerel (though I'm not certain), and I wasn't pumping and fluttering a spinnerbait for them, no the article I wrote is what it claims to be for waters about 10 feet deep and shallower, and from May to about July 1st. And I'm positive that Lake Wallenpaupack pickerel would be very active in such shallows between those dates. But today, despite cooler deep water perhaps, I was all for my Chompers. And I wonder if I'll catch my first pickerel at Mount Hope in the morning.