Thursday, September 22, 2011

Smallmouth Bass Escape on North Branch Raritan at Stahl Natural Area

Having shiners leftover from fishing the Delaware this past Sunday, I came home after a marvelous, 84 degree day to find three of the nine remaining dead. I decided on the spot that although I'm pressured tonight, I better go have my fun. I didn't make myself do it. I fully wanted to go try the stretch behind the Stahl Natural Area, North Branch Raritan, here in Bedminster.

In little over an hour's time I hardly began to explore what's back there. In the meantime, two more shiners rolled over, leaving me with two dead, four alive, and I knew well enough to keep the dead. I quickly caught a small bass, eight inches, in the first stretch I encountered, a fairly fast, fairly shallow run. The next shiner I prepared wriggled off the hook into the water before I could cast once. I've always been a fool like that--knowing that the shiner was not on the hook as well as it could be, yet not immediately acting to make correction. Curiosity gets the best of me. I actually wondered if the shiner would shake free, and instead of making sure it didn't, allowed it to happen.

That left me with two alive, two dead. So I put on a dead, not very stiff, shiner. The retrieve seemed so wacky in the clear water, water so cool (60's) and clean I was in love with it, really, as I waded above my knees, the fist-sized, rounded stones under my feet so clean with golden variations of brown coloration they seem to have been--to my memory of it now--like eggs pregnant with aeons of time, as if the millions of years of their existence were about to open with life. Quite an adventure just fell open for me after a day of work, the way music--great music--arises transcendentally, unexpectedly, from silence. A bass swirled upon that dead shiner, then dropped it. I never got it to hit again, and saved the live shiners for a better stretch.

Not far downstream I found a faster, shallower run that still looked like a possibility, and missed another bass on the first cast. Again, nothing more. I climbed the bank and followed a trail to the stretch I could see on down. This stretch, it turned out, is too lengthy for me to have even seen the end of it. Bass water. No doubt. But that live shiner provoked no interest anywhere for what time had passed over into mild frustration.

It's happened before, the habitat undeniably good. I figured the bass here were spread out, although I might come upon one. I had been fishing from up on the bank, and found water shallow enough to climb down and wade. I casted clear up against the opposite bank near a tree with roots exposed--possibly undercut. Immediately a bass took the shiner. When I set the hook, I pulled the hook and shiner out of its maw, then reeled very quickly to cast back. But the bass rushed after for at least ten yards, engulfed that shiner, and turned. I set the hook, felt the weight a second. The fish was gone.

I baited with my last shiner, cast it to the same spot, and took another immediate hit, missed it. Once again, the bass rushed--this time I caught a nine and a half inch smallmouth, with minnow still intact on the hook. Again, a hit, a miss, a rush--a 10 inch bass, shiner still usuable, but I knew I could not keep it on the hook any longer possibly, and when I casted, it flew off. The head was all but torn off, and the flesh I put the hook through soft.

So why not? I had no #9, or smaller, Rapala with me. Would my chrome Baby Torpedo topwater work? I doubted it almost completely. I tried awhile, but it just wasn't as subtle as a shiner, and in about 63 degree water the bass--despite their lightning swift rushes after top speed retrieved bait, and swirls at the surface--would not care to careen into a surface plug.

On a summer evening things might have been different.  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Delaware River Fishing at Poxono Island, and Kittatiny Ridge

Wasn't as expected--we expected the cold and fog, but not high water. The Delaware flowed at least three feet above normal, although water was fairly clear. So we began fishing by struggling against the uncertainty of a possibly ruined outing. I just got myself into the rhythms of working a large topwater plug--Dying Flutter--while my son Matt seemed to do pretty well with a large Pop-R. We come here to try for muskies, since the first time we came, I spotted one over 15 pounds. What reassured us is that just like four years ago when we made the river at dawn, huge carp leapt several or more per minute in this acreage around Poxono Island, and bass broke water on occasion going after shad fry. The only difference was that four years ago shad fry were visible at the surface everywhere. 

I walked up along the bank avoiding thick mud, casting along the bank nearly hiking to the boat launch. I did manage to entice a pickerel to hit that big topwater, the pickerel no larger than the 11 incher I caught at the Delaware and Raritan Canal the other day. Then we marched back to our stuff, and began casting smaller topwaters on lighter rods for bass. I tried hard for at least a half hour, maybe 45 minutes. I could not get as far downstream as I wanted to because of the high water. This range of shoreline where current cuts close, yet leaves a drop-off edge beyond which is still water, seemed as dead as mid-winter, when it has never failed to produce bass in the past. Finally I gave in to using a shiner. Matt had already lost a bass on a nightcrawler, and had begun complaining of cold hands and feet. So I had precious minutes to fish--two shiners it turned out to be. The smallmouth photographed is an average Delaware bass of close to 12 inches.

As expected, as soon as we left the river course, the sky revealed a cloudless, blue sunshine. I don't understand how so much steam accumulates above the river overnight, but on cold September mornings--it even happens in August sometimes to lesser degree--the sky above is such a thick cloud cover you would expect it to pour. It's amazing to think about. The mountains at the Gap were all but shrouded completely.

We drove to Mohican Outdoor Center and kept Matt's snake tongs hidden in the car. We were not there to make a spectacle of ourselves. If we encountered a snake, we would photograph it best we could. At 12 years old, Matt may be on the way to the career in herpetology he anticipates, although of course everyone else concerned cannot be quite as certain as he is. I hope he does it--so long as the world travels he wishes to enjoy encompass a great deal else as well, and knowing Matt, they will.

We did see yet another walking stick, which reminds me: "Words dissemble, words be quick, words resemble walking sticks./Plant them, they will grow, watch them waver so." James Douglas Morrison (Jim Morrison).

Catfish Pond is an innappropriate name for this beautiful, very clear, spring fed glacial lake of about 25 acres. I would doubt catfish exist in it. But bass do, and I'm sure pickerel. We didn't fish today. Some other time. But we walked all about the property. I even took a photograph from the interior of the Interpretive Center. To have an unstaffed place with books on a shelf for anyone (so long as signed in at the Vistior Center) to come in and peruse is wonderful in our current American society regarded as a security state, with historically high levels of distrust, perhaps. I need to get "Timberline!" A Nature Guide! Why this sort of information instead of market stats draws my interest like a sponge involves the innocence of its context as opposed to the guilt of the other. I am not against the free market, but we do not live in a true free market society.