Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lost Lunkers

Besides Hedden Park Lake on Tuesday, I did fish the Delaware and Raritan Canal for 45 minutes on Wednesday. I had hoped to fish it again on Friday. Wednesday the water remained stained, not so muddy as to preclude the use of anything but spinners, but off-color enough that I used a spinnerbait. Having well remembered the last I fished here and lost a good bass by casting a Senko into shadows on the opposite side, I tried to make perfect casts (some made the mark) right up against the far bank, then retrieve through shadow. 

Only once did this work. That small pickerel I caught and photographed got the hook. But it was certainly motivation enough to very much want to try again and perhaps catch a good fish.

Last night I wrote at fairly long length in one of my private, handwritten journals, reflecting a lot on fishing. I thought of a big walleye I lost on Lake Hopatcong two years ago in October, and realized that this is the most meaningful walleye I've hooked. Moreover, I think the most meaningful experience I've had encountering walleyes was a big one that took a big live chub I saved until last for my younger brother on the Delaware River in 1978 (back when I owned a boat and outboard, and even paid for it all at age 17). That fish was lost, too, and very big, having hit a chubb about six or seven-inches long I had collected myself with a bunch of other baitfish. That bass I lost at the canal a month or two ago means more than the pickerel I caught the other day. So many examples could be cited.

It always hurts. No double standard exists here. It's never that you want to lose a fish because that will mean more to you. So this is one of the mysteries of memory, motivation, and value. But you would know, of course, that if you had any intention at all of losing a fish to make it more memorable, you would guarantee that the memory be spoiled. Fishing done properly involves a total attempt at catch. It's just that inevitably losses altogether against our intentions happen. When it happens we feel the loss. I felt the loss of that walleye two years ago at times intensely for about six months. But I had no complaint. It was a curiously pleasurable pain. And it made me want to go walleye fishing October 2010 more than ever.

I wanted to know how big the walleye was. I will never know, and this mystery was produced by the situation of loss--of something. I can't even be certain it was a walleye. Had I caught the fish, the memory would be bright, conscious, and certain. Not unhappy, happy in fact. But less of a deep pleasure. 

I think it's a good argument for doing what really challenges with all your intention to succeed. If it's challenging you will experience some failure. It seem that the most happy people don't try very hard in life, and may seem they know that's their secret. But it could be that those who are happy often enough, so that they aren't actually lost to a morass, yet nevertheless take quite a few losses, lead more meaningful and ultimately pleasurable lives. Their happiness is deeper.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Largemouth Bass Techniques Taking a Fall Turn

I got almost an hour of bass fishing in at Hedden Park Lake in Dover around lunch time. Although the air temperature had risen into the low 80's, the breeze felt so devoid of humidity it felt like fall. The water had cleared significantly since last I came here in June. The pond looked more like an impoundment fed by the native brook trout stream, Jackson Creek. Surprised to find submerged weed beds (four or five feet at the deepest), I fished these first with a Chompers weightless worm, and then a five-inch Senko. I fished the cove pictured, and down along that shoreline on the right. Then I went to the tip of the penninsula to the left.

I hadn't seen a bass. Not even a sunfish. When I first started casting into clear, vacant water, I had the impression of fishing late in the fall when fish activity has slowed way down. When I came here in June, I approached that cove to see dozens of bass cruising near the surface over fairly stained water. Today I felt afraid I would see no fish at all. But reeling my Senko in very fast, a nine-inch largemouth charged it from the weedbed reaching some yards out from the end of this penninsula I mention. I pitched it back out as the bass turned, and it took, but I missed the hit, not allowing the take so long that I might gut hook the fish.

I had already thought of trying a surface lure. Besides my worms, that's all I had with me besides some U-Head jigs. I rued the absence of a #9 Rapala floater especially now that speed had stimulated a bass. During the fall I typically catch bass on jerkbaits and spinnerbaits, rather than plastics. I simply forgot to regard the change of season and prepare before I came here. To retrieve a Rapala with hard, jerking motions of the rod tip seemed exactly what the situation called for. So I put on my favorite chrome Baby Torpedo and tried a quick retrieve through slight breeze chop. On the second cast I enacted the same retrieve, stopped (I almost always break topwater retrieves irregularly), twitched enough to really turn the propeller, and took a hit right out in all that sunlight over weeds, but missed that too. More casts yielded nothing.

Turns out I had the fire-tail four-inch twister worms I hoped I had in my bag. I broke one down to slightly under three inches and loaded it onto a quarter-ounce U-Head jig. A fast, jigging retrieve did bring fast follows from two small bass, but the closest I got to a hit was one of them taking in only the fire-tail. With little time left, I put the Torpedo back on and tried the calm in the cove. I tried a retrieve so slow that the propeller spun without causing commotion. A tiny bass hit. But I drew no more attention. 

I did pay attention, because in calm water this subtlety of that spinning propeller is something worth remembering. When I observe anglers fishing topwaters, I typically see very lazy, unconscious fishing in progress. Topwaters allow all sorts of opportunities for technique, but technique should never be something mechanical and merely repetitive. You have to make an inanimate object seem like something alive. You need to make it an extension of your own life, a natural life, not a dull servility.  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

When Largemouth Bass Lurked in Currituck Sound, Collington Bay, and Southern Shores' Canals

I guess I had read Bassmaster magazine for at least a year before I learned about largemouths--super abundant--in Currituck Sound, North Carolina. The Outer Banks were my family's special vacation place; we had been coming since 1969. I fished from Kittyhawk Pier (now gone after a storm), eight years old, catching 22 white perch on the rare occasion of masses of them schooling in the ocean. They are anadromadous as are related striped bass. I fished the surf, caught a skate and lost a large pompano that took a sand flea. By the time I learned about the bass in freshwater Currituck, I was much improved at fishing, skilled at catching bass in New Jersey and amazed they existed in Currituck. I had expected to do nothing but serious saltwater angling the summer of 1976.

Instead, I hiked from our rental house near the beach outback towards the sound. I discovered bass in the canals behind properties on the sound side. They swirled for baitfish trapped at the end of one of the canals. Big boils erupted, impressing my memory forever. Two or three years later I caught a 39 inch gar--think it was a shortnose--on a #9 floating Rapala. One of my bass weighed about three and a half pounds. I also waded in the very shallow sound, catching a few bass on spinnerbaits. I don't remember how I found out, but Collington Bay behind Kill Devil Hills harbored loads of largemouths, and we caught them as large as three and a half pounds mostly on Ringworms, a 70's idea of trapping air to produce bubbles by plastic ring chambers around the worm's plastic body. We also caught crabs on those Ringworms; this far south of Currituck the water is brackish.

In 1978--I was 17--me and two friends (both of them approached 16) drove to the Outer Banks in my Ford Fairlane station wagon, which I had bought saving money from writing fishing articles for magazines and the Trenton Times, also mowing lawns. I was a member of B.A.S.S. chapter Mercer County Bass, and borrowed a 7.5 horsepower outboard from another member to use on my 12 foot cartop aluminum. At the time I owned an electric outboard. We fished Collington. My friend Jason Roberts lost a bass of at least four pounds. Later someone we met at the campground and I traveled north of Kitty Hawk way up highway 158 to launch into Currituck. We rode all the way across and viewed Corolla Lighthouse up close. We could have landed and wandered around a place that then was completely isolated except for an unimproved, one lane sand spit. We caught bass on spinnerbaits around duck blinds. Everywhere milfoil supported the ecology.

I guess it was 1984 when I learned somehow the milfoil had died and the bass vanished with it. A girlfriend and I spent 10 days camping down the Banks from north of Kitty Hawk to Ocracoke. We took a motel room in Ocracoke. I felt a vast loss when we camped at Collington, the water muddy and no bass anywhere. I don't know how many millions of bass existed in this ecosystem, but 50 bass a day catches were common and the acreage out there is enormous. Currituck reminds me of Lake Musconetong, another great fishery all but destroyed. Both of these waters are very shallow and once hosted enormous amounts of aquatic vegetation; anywhere you went was bass water, habitat everywhere.

Back on the Banks this past summer I wondered if any bass still exist at all, or if perhaps milfoil has returned. I haven't searched the web. (If anyone knows, please share.) In 1996 I did try Collington Bay. The water was heavily stained, no milfoil and no bass. It looked sick. And it seemed unnecessary for it to be sick, although I haven't learned of the cause of this great ecology's demise.

Acadia Memories: Fishing for Bass & Trout but that's not All


Since I won't be fishing this weekend with water still high, too little desire to try Round Valley Reservoir, and no ambition to attempt fishing anywhere else, I'll write about the fishing we did in and near Acadia, Maine, in 2008. We rented a cottage for a week about three miles out of Bar Harbor on a property called Eden Village. Exterior was quaint, interior had a woodsy feel with wood paneled walls and wood flooring. To the left of the front door going in, a one or two-acre pond turned out to be absolutely loaded with largemouth bass.

Appropriately allowed to use only barbless hooks and return all we caught, the biggest bass had names as the owners' pets. The very largest was a 20-inch five-pounder. I think its name was Bill; we never caught it. But my son, Matt, caught Gill, a 17-incher with a gill wound. I caught one 16 inches, my son some more that size and over 100 total that week. He could never get enough. I caught little over a dozen, leaving the rest to my son.

I felt much more interested in Long Pond, although I had hoped to find some stripers and pollock in the ocean and bay. I never found so much as a tackle shop. I couldn't believe the lack of a recreational fishing market up. I asked at a gun shop about live bait, told that no one cared to pinch pennies from that racket. I cast plugs from rocky shores--nothing. And we tried under a bridge at Frenchman's Bay with cut bait that I arranged somehow--definitely not from bass in that pond at Eden Village!--for whatever might hit. Nothing. 

Long Pond's great for smallmouth bass. A glacial lake of over 2000 acres, I suppose, landlocked salmon and trout drew the sole attraction years ago. Smallmouth bass have been making it into lakes and ponds almost everywhere on Mt. Desert Island, although introducing them is strictly forbidden for good reason, since it's a good idea to keep the trout populations pure and without competition. I was amazed at how thin the sediment deposits on rocks visible through very clear water which has filled these glacial basins for many centuries.

Mount Desert Island is one of the more authentic places I've been. Even Bar Harbor, as much as it is a catering operation, has a clean, happy feeling to it, along with very high quality restaurants, galleries, whale watching operations and of course the sandbar of Bar Harbor itself, a natural phenomena not to be missed, which at low tide allows you to cross to what is otherwise an island. All sorts of marine creatures become exposed including sea cucumbers, very large starfish (12 inches across or more) and all the mussels you can fit in your pockets to take back to your place and steam (but I don't know if this is legal!). The only thing that seems missing from the local brine is fish, but I'm sure it was just first timer's inexperience. 

I also caught a pickerel in Long Pond, although uncommon as is aquatic vegetation, which pickerel need. Mostly I used Senko-type plastics and the 17-inch pickerel jolted one of these by the Strike King brand. Before I could even name what hit it, I set the hook knowing, no less--a pickerel--and needing to set hook fast to avoid a cut off.

Smallmouths crashed into these far casting, fast sinking worms with cold fierceness. Our largest weighed over three pounds, all of our fishing done in a canoe. My graph recorder helped, and Matt had loads of fun locating smallmouths in deeper water with it, then lowering nightcrawlers directly down; so much fun that I did some of this myself. We would launch at the north end and paddle down lake a couple of miles or more and back. Twice we did this: me, my son, and my wife Patricia.

Doing plenty of internet research, I became aware of Green Lake perhaps 40 miles west of MDI, this was the one lake we could count on for accessing lake trout, which we did sort of access. Matt got a one-ounce Kastmaster down among them at 63 feet; we had loads of markings on the graph recorder, although not one hit. It felt very exciting being this close to lake trout in a canoe--20-pounders common. We back paddled against the breeze so that Matt's presentations dropped effectively enough in among those fish.

The smallmouths we caught on Green Lake added thrills along steep shorelines and giant boulders, but none of them were so much fun as trying for the lakers.