Friday, June 8, 2012

Delaware River Summer Smallmouths, Walleye, Striped Bass

I did manage to fish the Delaware and Raritan canal for half an hour this afternoon, and couldn't tell if I got a hit, or caught bottom for a second when I lifted the Senko. A few sunfish took it otherwise. Water was stained, but not so badly as to be unfishable with a worm.
It was nice to simply work a Senko, fully intending to connect, working it well, but having no desperate need to catch anything, although my intent increased as time ran out.
Enjoy a piece on the Delaware I wrote last year. Below:

Thanks to Interstate 78, the Delaware River in Warren County is little more than a half hour away from much of the Somerset and Hunterdon County region of New Jersey. Smallmouth bass, walleyes, muskies, and channel catfish are within reach from the bank and wading within city limits of Phillipsburg, and The Fisherman magazine occasionally reports striped bass over 20 pounds caught late at night on live eels, particularly after 3:00 a.m. If you try for stripers, don't weight the eels, let them swim with the current. If you hook a bass, turn off the lantern before the bass nears landing! I lost a bass that took off with such power when it caught lantern light in its eyes, that the hooks tore. If you want to get away to quieter stretches, River Road from Carpentersville south to the Hunterdon County line at the mouth of the Musconetcong River has many access points along its length.

          Smallmouth bass are the Delaware’s main attraction from the confluence of the East and West branches in Hancock, NY, to the tidal zone in Trenton. My family recently enjoyed an annual float trip from Sparrowbush, NY, to Matamoras, PA, and despite off-color water last year, we caught plenty of bass on Rat-L-Trap plugs. These lures prove effective if water is stained perhaps because of the rattle, although that seems unproven, but nevertheless, they are great for walleyes as well. I managed to get a typical walleye—about 18 inches—alongside our raft and was about to use the net when it threw the hooks of a chrome Rat-L-Trap. 

          The trick is to retrieve the plug near bottom without snagging. Rat-L-Traps sink at a rate of about a foot per second. Since you won’t always know how deep the water, let the lure sink as you count until line slackens when it reaches bottom. For subsequent casts into the same area, repeat the count minus two or three.

          Diving crankbaits are great for smallmouths and walleyes so long as you feel the diving lip trip on rocks every so often. Retrieve speed can be modified so the lure does not dig directly into bottom (you would feel it!) and get snagged, yet the plug strikes raised rocks. Crankbaits come in varieties that run three to six, six to 10, even 12 to 15 feet deep, but the deepest diving strain with resistance on the line and are meant to be retrieved on heavier baitcasting tackle.

          The best way to explore the depths—some holes in the Warren County stretches are as deep as 35 feet—is with jigs from an eighth to 3/8ths-ounce tipped with Berkeley Gulp! synthetic bait or live nightcrawlers. Jigs will get lost to snags, but buy them in quantity wherever you can get a good price, and you won’t feel the loss as you would when snapping line on an expensive plug. Soft plastic Mister Twisters, etc., work well on jigs and make less of a mess than synthetic leeches, but synthetic bait does put a powerful fish attracting odor in the water. In dark depths this may be an advantage.

          But smallmouths in particular like shallow water too. Pockets of calm water associated with fast moving currents, eddies behind boulders, edges of shoreline where calm and fast water meet, are structures with increased oxygen in warm late summer water. My personal favorite for such spots is the #9 Rapala floating minnow plug, but all sorts of minnow imitations work, as well as small spinnerbaits, in-line spinners like Mepps and C.P. Swings, and topwater plugs early and late in the day. Spinners work best by a straight, moderate, steady retrieve close to bottom if some depth is encountered. Minnow plugs come alive by erratic rod tip twitches but remain virtually lifeless without the wrist creating minor art with the lure.

          When the annual tail end of the summer river season nears, the food chain based on insect life breaks down. Until late September, fly fishermen catch plenty smallmouths on nymph imitations otherwise suited to trout; the bass feed on larval as well as hatched and terrestrial insects, small, molting crayfish, and a smorgasbord of immature fish species. Streamers, poppers, even dry flies sometimes work. Shad fry will soon descend downriver on their seasonal trek to the Atlantic, and smallmouths school and herd this Omega acid rich forage for their greatest health boost of the year. Walleyes gorge on them as well. They do not fatten for winter, but enjoy peak activity and growth with optimal or near optimal water temperatures and increased oxygen levels, especially if the river runs somewhat higher than normal.

          I’ve never seen it happen, but reputable writers have reported that sometimes the bass attack shad fry on the surface in sudden blitzes the way hybrid stripers go after alewives in Spruce Run Reservoir or Lake Hopatcong in June. A half-ounce chrome Rat-L-Trap casts forever with a medium power spinning rod and six-pound test line, and resembles a small shad very closely. If you spend a late September or October afternoon scouting the river scenes along River Road and catch sight of this action, don’t be without a few of these plugs!


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