I phoned Ringwood State Park about Shepherd Lake, and for whatever actual reasons, no boats went out today. So my son and I went to Franklin Parker Preserve near Chatsworth in the New Jersey Pinelands to look for pine snakes, timber rattlesnakes, and fence lizards and brown skinks. As always we encountered plenty of American toads, pickerel frogs, and small bullfrogs and the like. It seemed that this time we'd find no reptiles, but finally I found fence lizards among some piled timber, and we got plenty photos, my son using his 70-300 mm zoom. Photography is very engaging, but truthfully the best of an outing is experienced through the naked senses. You have to leave all of your preoccupations behind and engage directly with the environment using your senses and mind.
I had the happy idea before we left that we might have time to go to Brown's Mills, and I brought along one of my Hagstrom maps. From the age of 15 I have on occasion heard stories about the lake there.
I lived in Lawrence Township near Trenton and Princeton and this area of the Pinelands lay a long way off. I've heard of big largemouths, and a 32-inch pickerel caught there. The place has been mythical in my mind ever since, but I've never come until today. The Pinelands in general appeal to me, because, besides in Colliers Mills and a few other places, I've never found those great pickerel supposedly easing back somewhere among these forests.
I think now that Chatsworth Lake probably has plenty of pickerel in it. Last we were down, I figured the tannic acid level was too high even for them. But Mirror Lake at Brown's Mills is just as dark. That largemouth I caught on the Baby Torpedo was a lot blacker than the camera flash makes it look.
For most of the half hour we fished I used a Senko-type worm. When I tried retrieving it steadily right near the surface, I drew interest from a pickerel about 12 inches. A few minutes later something larger rushed it. Matt had given up on his Hedden Torpedo, and told me I had one more cast to take before he wanted to leave. So I exchanged my rod with the Senko, took his, and put the topwater down perfectly near the pads where the fish--presumably a pickerel--had come at the worm, letting the chrome plug sit still. A swirl came before I twitched the lure, and I was into the bass.
"You are a determined man," my son said. He had told me a few minutes before that we would catch nothing, but that I sure showed intent on beating this lake.
From the beach area we drove around more of this long, narrow lake, and investigated further opportunities. Most of the roadway prohibits parking. But there are a few places where visitors can feel invited. You can walk the banks and fish fairly freely. This is South Jersey where public freedom still reigns. It is not only like being in another state compared to northern New Jersey--it's like being in another country where people in a given town do not suffer paranoid mental illness about the rare outsider coming along to enjoy the waters, and do not cordon off enjoyable waterways with municipal ordinances out of an Us versus Them complex of fear and jealousy.
I felt very refreshed stepping out onto the beach to cross the sand with fishing rod among locals. It's always a good feeling to join in with a new community. Smiles and respect exchanged as it should be in a nation that is healthy and not in need of a psychiatrist.