Friday, August 5, 2011

Novices Fly Fish the Flatbrook

The pictures are a little out of order since I cancelled a couple to select others. We began the day's adventure catching snakes on Wildcat Mountain. As I've noted before, my son wants to become a herpatologist. Snakes are fascinating and hard to find, but I can't believe the variety of species Matt's discovered over fairly recent years, beyond my wildest dreams as a boy when I was into this. He counted 14 copperheads yesterday, and caught three of the larger with his professional snake tongs. But the largest of these was much smaller than the mammoth we saw last time. He also caught a hognose snake, his first, and tried to get a watersnake on the Flatbrook. The hognose extremely agile, I had thought hognose slow. It flattened its head like a cobra, puffed up its body, and hissed like a cobra too.

We began fishing the Flatbrook at Shaffer's Bridge upstream. Many trout in one of the long stretches, but of course with the clear water and our novice fly fishing skills we got none to hit besides a three or four-inch brookie, and a few more about the same size in some pocket water. We spotted a couple dozen from about seven to 12 inches. We followed 615 down to Roy Bridge after following Flatbrook Road upstream from Shaffer's and trying another length. The deep pool below Roy looked promising, perhaps for a smallmouth. I had tied on a big, ugly size 4 nymph. And Matt did catch a tiny largemouth on his smaller nymph. That seemed ironic on the Flatbrook. Another pool downstream yielded nothing but the watersnake attempt.

We ended up visiting Buttermilk Falls and looking for more snakes in a fielded area with some flat boards to lift and find nothing but ants under them. We hoped for rat snakes and Matt felt surprised none had taken to the obvious cover where field mice surely abound. Further down we found a beautiful pool, but my big ugly nymph yielded nothing, nor Matt's smaller. I thought a smallmouth at least might hit. We saw nothing in the slightly tannic water, no minnows, smallmouth, panfish, trout, nothing. At Shaffer's Bridge the brook full of baitfish enticed, but finally we wound up at the bridge that leads out towards Route 80 and etc. Dusk fell as Matt reported a single splash rise and a hit.

That's a lobelia, cardinal flower, I photographed. Haven't seen this plant in several years. About 10 years ago some organization in Bernardsville actually grew them along the bank of the pond (protected by fencing) in town near the fire station beside Route 202. Believe it or not, trout holdover in that pond. Another organization stocks them for the kids. We catch them in August, at least we did every year we used to fish there. I once caught a 13-inch rainbow on a five-inch Senko intended for a bass. And the first time I fished the pond, caught a 14-inch rainbow on a 3/8th-ounce spinnerbait.

Very satisfying day. My only regret is that I never thought to suggest that Matt use his fisheye lens on the mountain ranges. In total, 149 miles of driving, and that number sticks out in my mind, because it's the figure of Jim Morrison's reported IQ. The leader of the rock band, the Doors, and poet in his own right, although unfortunately, he never developed his art to the degree he hoped. Ride the snake. 

I didn't expect to walk and wade the Flatbrook for a very long distance. I decided instead to sample pools along most of its length. Once I knew we weren't going to catch any trout in a pool full of them, I started thinking smallmouth anyway. But that photo below of my son in the deep dusk is a good one, and he took a hit as I might have yet expected, if only slightly.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Shepherd Lake under Sunshine and Heat

It wasn't as expected. I looked out over the lake with clear, cloudless sky and a breeze and felt the glory of our recent introduction to Shepherd Lake, to which I hoped to return, feeling reduced to the thinness of the air. I don't at all know what it is, but to be greeted with a sunny breeze for a summer morning's fishing is a very bad sign. We rowed off at 8:30 a.m. Not only does Shepherd Lake not open until 8:00, officially, the state personnel for Ringwood State Park do not open the gate until 8:15. I made this situation an issue with them.

"Well, we get here just about now," one of the two young women said.

"Then you should state in your literature and on that post that it opens at 8:15."

The other young woman gave me a sugary smile, and said, "Have a nice day."

Imagine if Dow's Boat Rentals, claiming to open at 5:00 a.m., opened at 5:15. It's unimaginable in the private sector. Nevertheless, I was having a good day; complaining to the staff didn't phase me at all. But as soon as we rowed off onto the lake I knew it was doom--not them, the fishing situation.

My son had been very interested in holdover trout, so I bought a dozen live herring in Wanaque. Too large. We gave the lake a long drift anyhow, and then I offered that he use them for pickerel. 

It didn't take long before he hooked a very nice fish--it tore drag before the hook tore free--10 feet directly under the boat over 19 feet of water about five yards from a weedline. But fishing remained very slow for the next four hours. I worked that favorite Chompers worm through the weeds, along the weeds, and out away from the weeds and never got a hit. I fished over the weeds with a Dying Flutter and a PopR on top hopelessly. I had gone for the net confidently when Matt hooked that big one, as if he'd really score--as it should be--and forever after the day was a drag, but peppered with hope. 
Matt caught a pickerel on the herring, I lost a nice crappie on herring at boatside and missed a hit on a nightcrawler I had let dangle under the boat, apparently a bass, no sunfish for certain. Speaking of which--Matt fished nightcrawlers, I think two to be exact. He never got a hit from a sunfish or perch. That's a radical difference from last time when he hooked them left and right.

It was tough. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Where are the Carp?

We arrived at Route 665 bridge over Lamington River shortly after 10:00 a.m. Viewing the stretch from the bridge, immediate evidence suggested it had been siltrated since we last saw it. Sure enough, the other side too. We spotted quite a few bass, and water clarity was very good, but we never wetted a line. Having seen not a single carp, I drove us downstream along Burnt Mills Road where I had spotted carp in the past. Again, some bass, no carp along about a hundred yards of bank trail. I had hoped for an easy, short trip, then I would get a lot of writing done this afternoon and evening. But we headed home, five minutes away, to get a Hagstrom map and head for the South Branch Raritan. Somewhere on this river the state record 47 pound carp was caught. I also took some heavier tackle along with 10 pound instead of six pound test.

Plenty of parking is available just above the North-South Branch confluence. The water under, upstream, and downstream of the bridge over the last stretch of North Branch is deep enough for carp, but we spotted no fish whatsoever. Beckoning just downstream at the confluence and the mouth of the South Branch is a beautiful, deep hole. This is clearly evident by the color tone of the water. But the edge of river downstream is deep muck, and no trails lead out through the thick vegetation from the parking area or other side. I wasn't about to try to bushwack through the briars, stinging nettle, and thistles, etc. etc. I told my son perhaps a big pike is guarding that confluence and mused about some day launching a canoe or small boat.

We drove upstream of the confluence along the South Branch to the first bridge, parked, and scouted this stretch. We had fished it about five years ago and memory returned--I had seen no carp, and we saw none today, nor did we come upon any very deep water upstream. We could walk until we found deep water, I considered, but I was still in "easy trip" mode. We drove on upstream, another bridge near Neshanic Valley Golf Course without access, and then very familiar territory at Neshanic Station where I catch bass and trout, and never have seen a carp.

Meanwhile I had told Matt about carp in Spruce Run--those are the fish we see jumping in April.

"Oh yeah!"

But I want to catch them in a stream, and my hunch is that Spruce Run would be hit or miss. I know an eight foot deep hole in Stony Brook, Princeton Township, which always has held carp, and in fact my nephew caught a five pounder and four rainbow trout on corn there last August. We used to swim in this hole, and if it doesn't have a spring at the bottom of it, nevertheless its depths are cold. So we would perhaps first try a stretch where I hooked a 20 pounder using a bunker-snag treble very many years ago. That's a lot bigger than five pounds. If it has no carp these days, as carp that were abundant not long ago in the Lamington seem gone altogether now, we would go to the eight foot hole.

So, earlier plans frustrated, I began to really look forward to fishing carp this evening. Now that blazing heat in brilliant sun is a dull warmth under thickening clouds, and you guessed what's on the radar bearing down on Princeton.

I do hope we get out for the carp this year. We meant to last year.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Carp, Little Shabakunk, Trout, Bass, and Looking Ahead

My son wants to catch a carp. We try Monday in the Lamington River with Eagle Claw mulberry carp bait. Hope this works.

I've been reading Discovering and Exploring New Jersey's Fishing Streams and the Delaware River by a number of NJ and PA writers. Right now I'm very psyched to try the Delaware for walleyes this coming winter. I've caught both walleyes and smallmouths in the Delaware in December years ago. But why I haven't really tried in recent years I'm not sure and it gets to me right now. My son and I have tried twice in the past seven years, but both times weren't very sincere efforts. I remember on the outing seven years ago I was much more interested in teaching my son to build and tend a fire.

Right now I'm looking forward so steadfastly I don't think I care to throw myself in reverse and write on the Little Shabakunk as I had claimed I would. Perhaps I will sometime, and it may be boring, may be interesting, can't quite tell yet. But what is a telling point is that our carp venture Monday morning resonates with the fishing I did as a young boy. I caught only one carp in "the creek," Little Shabakunk. But suckers were abundant in the spring, bullheads in summer. The kinds of fish that kids value almost as much as bass and trout, or rather, they do value these fish, and trout and bass are like grail pursuits, were for me, since my first bass didn't come until I was 11 and had fished for three years. An eleven inch bass was like a bar of gold, made me ecstatic.

My son's been catching trout and bass from the age of three--but has never hooked a carp. I'm not sure what the dynamic is here... I'll pay close attention Monday.