Saturday, April 16, 2011

Lamington River Fishing Dead as December

Soon after I had awakened late in the morning, viewed the weather--not raining yet--and spoke briefly with my son, I had a strong urge, an urge that persisted, to return to the Meadowlands for stripers. It felt properly nasty out, without threat of rain sufficiently heavy to make a trip a real mess. Considering my feeling, it occured to me that this is walleye weather, but apparently striper weather, too; conditions are a lot like last Saturday, or at least where we were in Baltimore, perhaps nicer here, when at least a couple were caught compared to my none on 87-degree Monday.

But I fought the urge, and compromised for a little trout fishing. I didn't want to oppose today's weather against my son who inevitably would have come along. Winds would gust to near 50 out on those open waters and lands, 45 degrees and whatever wind chill and some rain besides. Wait until tomorrow or Tuesday with pleasant, at least more pleasant for sure, weather.

Surprise hit me when I saw no cars parked at the CR 641 Lamington River bridge at the border of Bedminster and North Branch. It's Saturday. I don't want to take the time to phone the trout hotline, but last I knew, Lamington River was stocked on Friday, that would be yesterday. Nor did the river itself behave as if it had been stocked. I must have fished an hour. I worked four holes assiduously. One of them is among my favorites on any stream, with warm memories having persisted from it for a decade. Yes, the water was a shade high, no more than that, and clearer than it is through this stretch in the summer. Either carp between CR 641 and CR 665, or farming, stains the summer flow. No hits today.

With a winter jacket on, 45 degrees with sharp wind gusts, no one around at all, and very few cars crossing the bridge, it felt like a lone pursuit in December. Never before in all my life have I had a stream to myself--right near a bridge--on a Saturday in the thick of trout season.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Evening--No One Else Trout Fishing at AT&T

Every time during the spring that I drive past the parking area for North Branch Raritan at AT&T World Headquarters, Bedminster, NJ, I see at least some vehicles. This evening I came here with intent to fish and take some photos; not another vehicle present, I parked and jaunted down to streamside to fish in solitude. And mind you, the river was stocked with fresh brook trout two days ago, and on that day, Wednesday, the water ran high and muddy, so plenty of fish are around.

My problem was catching them. I have an odd relationship to stocked trout. I always expect to catch a lot, because on many occasions I have--as many as 64 on an outing on the Locatong and Wichecheochee Creeks--and I know of two people, one of them a brother, who have caught over a hundred in one day. But in reality I get skunked sometimes.

Today the water had cleared sufficiently, yet ran swift. A couple of casts with a salmon egg weighted only by a tiny snap swivel left me no doubt that I had to use a split shot. My first cast with a weighted egg yielded to a heavy pull from a trout. I set the hook and the fish tore two-pound test from the tiny spool. Heading upstream, it pulled the hook.

I stubbornly fished eggs another 20 minutes or so without another hit. Brookies will sometimes avoid salmon eggs. In general they do not hit them as readily as do rainbows, but they hit them much better than do browns. I snapped on a tiny Rapala Countdown. Not a hit after several minutes--I exhanged it for a tiny Phoebe spoon, and worked the river hard for another 20 minutes as light faded. I had a quick hit, the kind that you know pecked that metal so quick that no chance to set the hook existed. 

Surface Strikes: Bass Rolling into Spinnerbait Wake

Nearly at sunset, I arrived at Bedminster Pond, another local visit, the surface area about six acres situated in Green Acres park land. A bass made commotion in very shallow water in front of me as soon as I had set down my tackle container and camera bag, so I quickly tossed a 3/8th ounce spinnerbait with a large Colorado blade about 15 feet, and guided it so that the big blade made a wake, but this not the same as buzzing the blade through the surface. The bass came up behind it, engulfed the lead head, and rolled under as I set the hook. About a pound.

Without further action, I moved on down the eastern bank where I could make my way past briars. Again I made a wake with the lure, and a bass sloshed the spinnerbait at the surface, again a pound. I made my way further down, and through my second cast the lure arced over some shrubbery as I told myself, "If it (a lunker) hits now, what am I going to do?" As I had just sized up the situation, it erupted without warning under the wake. I held my rod high over the bush and got around it to continue to struggle with the bass. I just about had it to shore when the hook pulled. The bass, about 17 inches, just lay there in shallow water that barely covered its wide flank. The thought actually occured to me for an instant, "Is it fair to grab this fish? Haven't I lost it rather than landed it?" To step in for it meant covering my boot in water and muck. I did, seizing the bass behind the gills, which almost instantly paralyzed it temporarily. A beautiful fat female, full of eggs, I quickly returned the fish thinking of its contributing to the spawn.

Further down, a big bulge came up behind the spinnerbait, and followed it for nearly five feet like a pickerel, swirled behind it like a pickerel, too. I made another cast beyond where the bass had turned--nothing. So I quickly tied on a Rebel Pop-R. Having tried a number of retrieves through the same area, I casted further. A smaller bass took it hard, but I set the hook too soon. The idea is to let the bass turn with a topwater first, then set the hook. The fish needs no more than a pause, but otherwise a surface lure can be swiped right out of the open jaws of a bass, as it was from the last fish of this evening. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Catching Bass at a Culvert w/ Spinnerbait: Chilly Rain Drops Water Temperature

I had thought mud would flow from the stream culvert into my little local pond, but surprise caught me anyway when I saw it. Had it been warm, muddy water, my first cast might have yielded a bass. My fifth or sixth cast I placed beyond the edge of clear water you can see in the photograph. I buzzed the little spinnerbait and a good fish took it off the surface, dove and gave strong resistance, then pulled off. Soon I walked around the concrete and began casting down the edge and in that area of clarity near the mud. I missed five hits--another surface bust, and four very light takes. Besides those two topside turns, the bass behaved quite as if reluctant in suddenly chilled water, not reduced so much from chilly air as from cold rain.

Not out for long, I fished along the edge of shoreline where the mud flowed to the dam behind the division of cattails I mentioned in an earlier blog. Two hits, both stirring the surface--water very shallow here--but not fully engulfing the small lure. Then I placed it right between the cattails and worked it back near the bank to have it savaged after half a dozen cranks. Good fight. This bass close to two pounds, its coloration had faded in the muddy water.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Meadowlands Stripers Elsewhere With 85 degrees Perfect Falling Tide

In recent decades the Hackensack River has become known for stripers. DeKorte Park, home of the Meadowlands Environmental Commission offices, containing several large tidal flats connected to the river, and surrounded by hills, all of which are black-hearted garbage dumps beneath the exterior grasses, is known to some for stripers as well. The largest I've heard of yet is an 11-pounder, and 25 and 26-inchers are spoken of with real respect. In the main river, a 30-pounder has been reported caught, but most of those fish are smaller than what lurks in the Hudson, and Raritan Bay.

The water I fished this evening flowed with normal clarity, nothing about it suggested severe pollution. The Meadowlands, once the largest active garbage dumping grounds on earth--only 35, 40 years ago--is now a wildlife refuge that exists as a testament to nature's resilience. This will never be pristine wilderness again. Dig anywhere and you will hit trash. But the birds and fish that flourish here are as real as those in the earth's most remote regions.

I felt the conditions were perfect. Eighty-five-degree heat warmed shallow flats, tide flowed fast out from them, through a deep sluiceway from one large acreage into another. Surely stripers would stack up in the eddies of warmer water. Not a hit. So I wonder if stripers moved on through that sluiceway into those shallows out of reach. I fished deliberately, trying different depths and retrieves with swim shads; I don't think any stripers were present. And I tried smaller outflows, too. I spoke to a regular who told me that someone caught two--on swim shads--Saturday. One, two, after an hour, and then no more for an hour. That suggested to me what I had thought happens out there--stripers move about in pods.

This was my first try in the Meadowlands. I walked away from that large sluice with a bitter regret, but I'll be back. Sometimes conditions seem perfect and anticipation soars high. But such has happened many times, and I knew very well I might be denied.