I snelled leaders Friday night, and got up before 6:00 a.m. this morning to fish our local North Branch Raritan at AT&T World Headquarters. My object had been to hook that big brook trout I had seen. But having arrived in the pre-dawn light with rain falling, I felt my attempt really aimed at anything. By the time I got my first strike on a shiner, my hands had begun to chill. The second trout to take a shiner hit it forcefully, and I hooked up almost instantly. The brook trout dove into submerged branches--I know the water was very cold because I reached under to remove the bare hook.
Whether or not the chill had much effect on the fish--it didn't seem to. These are trout, not warmwater bass. Besides the strikes at the three leftover shiners from pike fishing, I caught two rainbows and a brook trout on salmon eggs, missing many other hits, and struggling with two trout that got off the hook before I could land them. I didn't fish long. Soon I got back in bed and went to sleep.
After noon my son and I drove to Stanhope Bait & Boat to buy those shiners for our mystery bass. The great wooden blue bass that adorns the shop had glazed in the rain. Ghost Lake, in Warren County, on Shades of Death Road, had taken not the slightest stain from all the recent rain. It's a small clear water impoundment. I think I read somewhere it's 18 acres, but I would say half that. And throughout the two hours or so that we fished it, I saw a single fish, a sunfish, in the shallows. That's how cold the water was, like March. At first we fished the shallows, two to five feet deep, where we had done so well on a May day about four or five years ago. Surely one of those pre-spawn lunkers would lurk there. Nada. Not even a nine-incher.
Matt found the bass--and crappies. While I plodded along at covering those shallows, he went around and through the woods to the spillway. Soon I heard him hollering and grabbed the camera and ran, expecting he'd hooked a big one. I found him on his phone with an Aunt, having already thrown back the 12-incher.
"I'll get the stuff," I told him.
I hurried back to haul everything over. Here we stayed and fished the rest of our visit. Matt caught two more smallish bass and a good-size crappie. I caught two bass, just under, and just over, a pound, and a crappie. In the meantime a group of five guys had come to fish with plugs, and you knew they had no chance of getting a hit. Perhaps jigs fished very slowly would have worked, or a Johnson Beetle Spin fished directly on bottom, but no, that bottom is too silty. Matt caught his last two bass by dead sticking the shiner for over a minute in ten feet of water. And nothing acts like a live shiner on the bottom wriggling slightly in ways no one can impart to a lure.
We drove to Delaware Lake, that great lunker bass lake that gets the regulations that Merril Creek Reservoir does not for some reason. Just outside of Columbia, also in Warren County, I thought the lake did look promising, although Matt did not. I think it's 36 acres. The water had taken some stain. But aquatic weeds are underway with growth. We live-lined shiners along the impoundment wall near the spillway and back a way, nothing but the pleasure of variance and method. Matt just wanted to go home and catch some sleep.