Thursday, July 7, 2011

Scoring Better at Mount Hope Pond

Not that I really think every angler in New Jersey will run to my favorite pond. But that's a nice bass. Bloop, bloop, bloop...caboom! 3/8th-ounce Pop-R, first bass on anything other than Chompers worms, and one on a Culprit twister tail. Had some trouble photographing it in pre-dawn light, but found a camera setting that took a lot of light in, although it's a little fuzzy because of that slow shutter speed. 19 1/2-inches, slightly better than 4 1/2-pounds, this chunky bass leapt two feet over the water after being hooked, and fought a hard, dogged battle with two strong runs against my heavier seven-foot rod and 10-pound test.

Turned out to be a slow morning. Beginning at 5:00 a.m., we fished until almost 8:00, my son and me. The other bass measured 18 1/4-inches and weighed about 3 1/2-pounds. Both bass bigger than any others I've caught here, thanks to morning for the biggest, especially since it dynamited a topwater. We didn't have another hit from a bass, although a trout raced up to check out Matt's retrieved Chompers. We both saw it--swiftly up, swiftly back.

Mama bear raided a garbage can, and just as we came around a corner she hurtled across the beach as the Port-a-Potty guy drove up. We then saw her cub hurry down from a tree at least 150 feet from that can. At the other end another can had been raided.

We hiked Wildcat Mountain, found a den of copperheads, encountered three of them, one of these about three-and-a-half inches thick, really big. Also tried to catch a 4 1/2-foot black racer, saw a smaller racer in a bush that got away quick, water snake, and a tiny ring-necked snake. You would understand that my son wants to become a herpatologist, and he's well on the way to his goal with so many species of snakes he's caught and photographed.

Then we returned to Mount Hope Pond--and swam. Man that water is nice and clean.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Shepherd Lake Makes a Promise

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. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Musconetcong River Novices Score a Few

My son, Matt, and I first drove to Asbury as planned. Finding no water to fish in town, although we didn't stop and look around the bridge, I headed south on CR 632. Just below the Interstate 78 bridge we found access, but the river ran deep and regularly, not to wade. So I referred to my copy of Tom Gilmore's Fly Fishing the Big Apple. Mailbox 523 (pretty sure I have the number right) it was, just a couple miles back. The current, with a foot-and-a-half of water or more--to my thighs--moved powerfully. We fished a shady patch with close to three feet of water, then took the trail upstream--to a private club notice--then downstream to another notice, both short walks. So. Only one piece of water to fish here.

Shurts Road has a very nice hole right by the bridge. I lost my olive Woolly Buggy to a snag here, and tied on a Hare's Ear, at least I think that's what the nymph was (obviously my son and are almost complete fly fishing neophytes). We took a trail to its short end downstream. More relatively shallow fast water not worth a cast. I could see about 200 yards downstream and felt almost ready to commit us to wading. But that current came too tough.

Changewater was the best. A nice, fairly deep set of eddying pools below the bridge I knew worth some time. After awhile, my son inquired about moving on.

"Has to be trout here," I said. We would persist.

A few minutes later, I raised a rainbow to the surface, exclaiming aloud. I missed another hit, as all fell quiet. We soon headed upstream, first fishing around a bridge pillar with promising depth. Upstream a hundred yards or so, the far bank looked good, but we found wading limited to the opposite bank and couldn't make the cast. 

I wanted to try the pools once more. My son resigned himself to cleaning mud out of his sneakers. I had two very small fish on. these either baby browns or dace or some other species. Then suddenly I leaned into a nice little trout. The rainbow measured 11 inches.

"I want to try," Matt said, and clambered up the bank to get his rod.

We tried the Butler's Park bridge area, which looked OK. Matt wanted to try a dry fly. He selected a size 10 Cahilll. The sun set and I noticed no hatch. All day I saw not a single rise. But nonetheless, a brown about the size of my rainbow smashed his dry fly a few yards in front of him; he got a clear view, but missed the hit. It came back and hit again; he missed that. But he did manage to catch a couple of longear sunfish, and I suppose, with the help of this little story, these modest fish will never be forgotten.

We took CR 632 out to State Highway 57; the town of Anderson came up, which I had never heard of. We drove through Stephensburg, or Stephens something or other, which I didn't know existed. I've traveled fairly extensively in New Jersey, and yet felt special magic to see places for the first time. 

Darkness fell and Matt said he didn't know the difference between a brook and a stream.

"I don't know either," I said.

"I think a brook is colder water and a stream can be warm," he said.

"I agree."

Later he said, "That's why brook trout are named that way."

"Yeah," I said. "And you would never hear of a southern, slow moving, warm stream being called a brook." 

His perceptiveness deepened my mood. I shouldn't say perceptiveness, perhaps. Lingual curiosity, instead. I felt very calm and deep. And later I said, "Matt, you're very good with words."

"Thanks Dad."

"You could be a poet."

Monday, July 4, 2011

Far North Jersey Streams Let us Down, for Fishing Anyhow

That's a nice hole on the Pequannock River I tried before my son Matt and his friend Tom Slota enjoyed it otherwise. For me it was a brutal day, but that the boys had such a good time on the whole speaks well for my not letting it out much. I had looked forward to this day for four months, a day to try new waters for smallmouths especially, and all that happened as far as fishing goes was the bass of about a pound I lost in the Wanaque River just downstream from the Greenwood Lake dam.

Along East Shore Drive upstream from Monksville Reservoir the river is almost a gorge, but the water quality is bad, off-color, and obviously warms. We found no holes that might hold bass. Or for that matter the walleyes and muskies rumoured to be somewhere in that stretch between the two lakes. On the way back out along Greenwood Lake Turnpike my son got the shot of the bear. The views of Wanaque Reservoir are dazzling.

We tried several holes and stretches of the Ramapo River and didn't get a hit. That water was off-color too, presumably from rain earlier, but I'm not sure. The river looks like it would be loaded with smallmouths, but the response we got was nothing at all like what we would expect in our North Branch Raritan flowing right through our hometown. I fished the Ramapo in 2002, but just one hole since my son got soaked and cold. But even then--though the water was clear--I was astonished I didn't get a hit in such a deep refuge.

Next we made our way to the Pequannock after a stop at some park or other with an
interesting broken brick building and two trees growing up and out from inside it. I fished an inviting stretch with some depth and fast water, eddies, rocks and then a hole perhaps eight feet deep. Not a hit. By then five hours had passed, most of it driving, a stop at a diner at Mahwah and so on. Once my son had got in to swim he told me this is trout water and probably it is, very cold. But it was a little off-color too.

I got so devastated over the stark contrast between my grand dream of lots of bass in new waters and reality that I felt a little embarrased at myself and the obvious reaction I gave to a friend. But this was a one shot deal and of course it hits you when it goes very badly, at least as far as fishing success is concerned. If anyone has positive experience on these streams for bass (or walleyes and muskies) please leave comment because I'm still interested. I've fished many streams in New Jersey, have done ok on the Paulinskill for smallmouths and of course on the streams in my area, the Passaic near Paterson as well. I hiked with my son in Walkill Refuge last summer and he toted along his rod and caught smallmouths despite that river being off color. I have an itching to try the Musconetcong for smallmouths, but Tuesday we plan to fly fish it for trout, especially browns. I know one thing--none of all that driving! We're parking at Asbury and all the rest will be wading and walking and casting. Who knows, maybe a few trout too.