Saturday, April 30, 2011

Streams Coming Down: First Smallmouth Bass of the Year, Plenty Trout Caught

Though aerated, my minnow bucket took direct sun rays today (as did my face, burned). We enjoyed my son's Little League celebration all day while all of my leftover shiners died, but one. So I took this single sacrifice and cast it with a split shot into the hole up against the bridge abutment in the photo, at the Verizon building, the Route 202/206 spot. Result: the smallmouth bass in the photo. A fat fish. My first smallmouth of the year, but not the lunker trout I hoped would hit the big shiner.

I fished salmon eggs for perhaps 10 minutes and moved on to AT&T, the entrance roadway goes over the bridge photographed (below). I fished fairly hard, especially after I finally took a couple of hits. But having one on, which stripped some drag and put up a tussle, stands for all of the action I got besides more hits, out just long enough to feel I really tried.

Water level continues to fall. No stain taints the North Branch, although the water is not very clear. Plenty of trout got caught today, as evidenced by men carrying off stringers of rainbows across the ball fields upstream of AT&T. where we enjoyed the Little League party.

Tommorow is the big Manasquan Reservoir trip. My expectations aren't great, but that's just the way I feel, although with as much sun as this afternoon, it may be tough indeed. I just won't get up at 5:00 a.m. to make it for the 7:00 a.m. rental opening. Usually I truly awake eagerly--as early as 3:30 a.m.--for a fishing trip (and never for my job). But I am really beat today.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Largemouth Beginning to Spawn

--Which means I tend to let them be. But all of the bass I caught this evening, but one, were fat and seemingly full of spawn. At lunchtime, I had stopped at a pond in Denville where I happened to see a guy getting photographed with a bass he'd just caught. I walked the edge. Males guarded nests. This is a tannic acid pond--how in Denville I don't know--and not stained by the rains, just as Pinelands waterways are protected by flat terrain and sand, almost entirely spring fed from the acquifier. However, my neighborhood pond was stained. So I couldn't see nests if any exist. But the bass all struck in shallow water, from right in close to the bank to a few yards out (this is a shallow pond anyhow, but the issue is relative).

I caught 10. A two-pounder, seven that all weighed at least a pound and a half, and two a couple or a few ounces over a pound. My favorite #9 Rapala floater had them roaring at the top after my twitches. I began with a "Midnight Special" Strike King spinnerbait, all 7/16th ounces of it, and knew right away this was a mistake. I could barely keep it off the bottom. So after my fifth cast, I shook it hard with the rod to clear vegetation--and snapped the six pound test. Loop, loop, loop... plop, it fell beneath the surface some 10 feet out, the bottom too muddy to try and go in and get it. I walked back home, knowing that what the situation really called for was my #9. Got it, and returned to fish the semi-stained water--it isn't muddy.

That corner with the cattails had thousands of white flower petals clogging it, most of the shoreline between it and the culvert corner did, too. So I fished the longer shorelines, open and fomenting with fish. I had fun. But I must confess that although all of these fish were very well over a pound, and such size is rare for a New Jersey pond, although it happens all the time in this one, I had a big bass in mind the whole time, and it never became present. My son has caught three here over four pounds, including a five pounder. I once caught a 3 3/4-pounder. But compared to the numbers of fish between a pound and two pounds that we catch, it's evident that very few large bass exist. Contrasting this, I fished a couple smaller ponds in my teens, one that had many three and a half pounders, and another that seemed to have almost as many four to five-pounders as smaller bass--not loads of fish, but when we caught one, it was about 50/50 that it would weigh over four pounds. The in's and out's of this and so much more that's out there would seemingly keep teams of biologists active for many years to figure out. This is why we call fishing a contemplative recreation.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Get the Kids Out

Flashback--two months ago this past weekend. I find the photo important because it shows a whole group of kids, not of one family, involved in fishing, and ice fishing at that! They eagerly await the moment that followed, when a pickerel came throught the hole.

Now more than ever kids need to get outdoors, because it used to always be taken for granted, and now it's a problem that they don't get enough natural exposure. All sorts of articles and books imply this issue, but a popular and deeply researched account is The Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv. I stumbled upon it in a bookstore on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, in 2006. Reading it, I knew the book was a wonder, but I seriously doubted it would become popular. Now it's a bestseller. Louv appeared on Good Morning America and in countless other public forums. I had taken my son, aged two, swimming in the North Branch Raritan River. Much of what Louv has to say I was no stranger to, but the book would be deeply informing for anyone who hasn't read it.

On the local scene, I'm reminded of a fly fishing course led by New Jersey outdoors educator and writer, Chris Lido, that was scheduled to take place this past fall on a weekly basis for Bedminster School middle school aged kids. Before I knew about it, my wife had my son signed on.

"It's led by Chris Lido," she told me.

"Lido! He writes for the Fisherman..." She wasn't surprised.

I went into action and strongly encouraged my son to get friends signed on. For awhile I think we were short two kids--the program would not go without the quota. But then we had the quota full--I thought--until the deadline hit, and we were short one boy, just one. I knew one of our recruits had bailed.

But the point is, good intentions are out there. Bedminster just happens not to be much of a town for anglers anyhow, despite the river running through it--the North Branch. Manny Luftglass would have held a presentation at Clarence Dillon Public Library this coming May 3rd--if people signed up besides myself and my son.

However, this is not a losing battle. The losing battle would be if every kid stayed indoors. How would we function in reality if we became that out of touch with it? We wouldn't. Society would implode.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Refreshed After Work But Big Bass Skit Rather than Play even as Dread Algae Develops

Minutes before sunset, I jaunted down to the northeast corner of Bedminster Pond, enlivened with each step after a tough day at work. Birds filled the trees with fluid levity. On my way to Clarence Dillon Public Library again, my worries about the clarity of the water felt relieved since the stain from recent rain only clouded what I saw. The amount of algae on the surface surprised me, some of this visible in the photograph. Because of it, this will be my last visit to this pond until possibly in the fall. During the summer the vegetation is thick and chokes the life from all but uncomfortable efforts to coax response, such as weedless surface presentations worked endlessly for scattered bass that perhaps inevitably don't hit. 

The bass population isn't very good here anyhow. I wonder how they spawn with such thick muck in the shallows with carp present. For all I know, the stories about these big, ugly, cumbersome fish sucking down bass eggs are true. But I imagine a few bass here may manage to grow big. I've heard stories, but don't quite believe the sizes, five and six pounds. Maximum depths range only about six feet, and if as muddy as the shallows, that's not so good.

Once again I set down my tackle tote, and cast my black and chartreuse spinnerbait. This time a wake shot away from nearby the lure, leaving a big boil behind it. That, I knew, was not a good sign. I resigned myself to probably getting skunked, and worked my way down the east side. The third time a wake went in the opposite direction, I quickly tied on a twister tailed plastic worm from the under compartment of the tote. That only drew sunfish to yank. I reached for my tote and opened it for a surface lure. Oh. I brought the wrong compartment, full of minnow plugs and crankbaits, and smoky clear plastic to see through at that. So I tied the spinnerbait back on, and the first cast drew a strike from a bass of about a pound, right on the surface as I buzzed the lure making a wake. Missed it.

One always wonders why on one 70-degree evening the bass hit at every opportunity, and then after a 75-degree afternoon and plenty of sun, they avoid. The temperature had suddenly dropped 10 degrees from what it was when I got home at 5:00. Clouds moved in. But I never leap to conclusions about the whys and whereofs. I notice what I can, and try not to make things up about what I observe. However, I don't suppose the darker water had to do with it, since that big Colorado blade certainly makes the lure's presence known. I could be dead wrong.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Stripers Hit in Raritan Bay, Blues Will Soon

Nick Honachevsky's column, "Beach Talk," reported in The Fisherman this past week that stripers hit the sands in double digits for anglers fishing the Raritan Bay beaches. Most of these fish are smaller schoolies, but with a ratio of 20 or 30 to six to eight keepers over 28 inches the week previous. It's fairly easy to do, but no guarantee exists that you will be on fish, and lugging heavy equipment around, baiting with clams, and so on, prohibits much searching for fish. But you can inquire of others or spy on them to judge if bass are hitting when you arrive, and move on if you please. Just find an open spot somewhere between Union Beach and Keansburg, cast off the beach, place the surf rod in a sand spike, and wait for the rod to bend--or be pulled out of the spike. A simple fish finder rig--about 30 inches of 25-pound test fluorocarbon snelled to a 6/0 circle hook, with a three-ounce pyramid sinker on a slider above a snap gets you started.

I'm going after work sometime next week, but targeting bluefish because the confidence I have in my spot near the mouth of the Shrewsbury is high enough to make me really want to travel the distance--and struggle with 10-pound marauders which, pound for pound, fight harder than stripers. By now I'm sure some bluefish have made it into Raritan Bay on their annual migration, late this year due to chilly temperatures.

The reports are exciting. But you never know until you try. And to catch fish consistently--you have to have some sort of ratio of failure in the background. The essence of fishing is not hooking up with every try. That would be as stupid and unromantic as a brain in vat. Fishing is the search, exactly what is meant by "fishing" for something. I'll go with high expectations next week. But you can bet it's possible I'll return with a report similar to my first Meadowlands foray.