Saturday, July 16, 2011

Turbid Lake Musconetcong Yields Just a Couple

Close to sunset Thursday, Steve Slota, his son Tom, and myself rowed out on Lake Musconetcong. Steve rowed. Although his shoulder had problems, my back seemed worse. As it worked out, his shoulder hurt casting and holding his rod, and not at all rowing. I have two herniated disks in my lower back, and sometimes one of them simply pops out at no provocation. This is why I fished only once all week besides Sunday evening. Sitting in the boat was OK.

Lake Musconetcong is not what it used to be, and if you like to blast about under heavy horsepower, I suppose it's for the better. I know. It literally used to cover completely over with thick vegetation for many acres and this appalled a lot of people. To some eyes--not mine--the lake looks better now with open water. But walk up to the lake's edge and look into that water and it's very ugly compared to the clarity it had before. Loads of vegetation-dispersing chemicals destroyed that implied balance, but will perhaps save the lake from water chestnuts in the end.

All that vegetation was fish habitat. The chestnuts never created the anoxic conditions they do if unchecked. Pickerel patrolled every edge of weeds around every open pocket, and bass maneuvered freely between stems under cover of pads and carpets of thriving vegetation, a plethora of healthy natural life. You could smell how good and healthy it was, really. Above all, the water was both fertile (obviously) and clear--excellent for the silver shiners these gamefish depend on for forage. Now with the cormorant population increased ten fold it may only be a matter of time before this lake becomes dirty and unproductive. A testament to a modern quick fix. They always seem to result in destruction. Will clarity return?

I truly loved this lake and I threw a spinnerbait for casting practice Thursday, depressed. I have to say my casting was pinpoint accurate to no avail at all until the wind died. I snapped on my favorite topwater--Heddon Baby Torpedo--and in minutes was amazed at a good bass leaping, about 2 1/2 pounds. I caught one other on a Rapala Skitterpop of about 15 inches. It was too dark for Steve to get a good photo. We weren't skunked but didn't do nearly as well as my son and I used to.

So here we have Lake Musconetcong. From a remove it may look more pleasing than it used to, and I would not disagree that it appeared strange with thousands of yards of total vegetation coverage with red stems rising above the surface. But I liked it, why not? Now it's an illusion, a mere appearance superficial and deceiving, since the actual water quality is bad. It's a facade like so much else in modern life. 


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Some Thoughts Before We Try Lake Musconetcong Again

Sometimes Lake Musconetcong was worse than that--or better if you prefer. For years a strange, weed collecting boat prowled the back of the lake on occasion, and it dug through the thick, forming canals worth casting topwaters into and along the weedline edges.

I felt deeply appalled last summer both times I fished Lake Musconetcong. Now that they've bombed the lake with weed-killing chemicals to control water chestnuts, the lake is a turbid mess and the fishing very slow. For five years we had fished the lake at least a half dozen times each summer, and I didn't come back for a third last year. Water once vital and so clear you could make out a dime on the bottom (if it didn't sink in the muck, true) had died, turbid with vegetation particles. All those years we had never been skunked and usually did very well. Both times out last summer we got skunked. And to make matters worse, I noticed on that second outing that the cormorant population had increased about ten fold--now that they could swim under water without the weeds. Cormorants eat loads and loads of fish.

In May Steve Slota and I did fairly well. The water clarity is not right, but better. But the fish seem to be there and willing. I am skeptical. I feel as if Lake Musconetcong's soul has been destroyed. And the fish will largely vanish in turn. It's an unpopular position I take. People are happy they can waterski. For all the so-called improvement. I wonder if the water quality will ever be as pure as it was again.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Evening of North Branch Raritan River Smallmouths

My favorite North Branch Raritan hole was so slow I wondered if someone had fished it out, but most of the bass are nine to 11 inches, under keeper size, so that's not likely. I think smallmouths migrate, but not en masse, and this hole has always been active. I did lose a few, missed a couple other hits, and caught one tiny seven incher here. Part of what fishing is all about is feeling the incentive of frustration, which is like a hard shot of bourbon to jolt you into readiness. I used killies leftover from fluke fishing more than a week ago, and always try to set the hook sooner than later to avoid gut hooking, which results in quite a few missed hits.

Further downstream I caught the average stream bass I photographed and four more, most of these the size of that in the photograph I took before it got too dark. I had come to the river near sunset and made each cast really count since I had little time. The largest was about 10 1/2 inches and among other bass I lost, a good one of about 12 inches shook off almost at my feet as I waded. 

I usually use Senkos and Culprit twister tail worms during summer, and the bass hit them as readily as live bait, except for the really big smallmouths. I recall catching only one stream smallmouth over 15 1/ 2 inches on a lure, and I've caught a lot. (I don't include the Delaware River for these stats.) Many 14 to 15 inchers have come on lures, but although I've had at least one other big one take a Mister Twister in plain view, in my experience the big lordly bass take a shiner or killie, but disregard plastics, plugs, or spinners. If I used lures exclusively I'm sure I would have caught more large bass on them. However, I love to see a big, hulking smallmouth absolutely blast a shiner or killie on the surface, feel that line go, tighten, and feel its weight as I bury the hook. Then I set the bass free. I've never gut hooked a big one in a stream.

I saw a great horned owl in flight over the river after sunset. Hiking back--mostly by wading--I walked thigh deep along an undercut bank. Nearly dark, I could see nothing in the water. I stepped on something that felt like a good sized snapping turtle. I felt it move under my foot as a shot of cold fear rose in me, but not to any effect of panic. I just stepped ahead of it and didn't look back.