Friday, June 22, 2012

Oak Ridge Reservoir Smallmouth Bass from Shore

 I recognized the voice of the man behind the desk at the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation office in Newfoundland, New Jersey, as the same I had spoken to on the phone weeks before. We would have to begin our outing on Oak Ridge Reservoir after 8:00 a.m., since permits must be purchased in person. Before I went inside, I examined posted information. I had labored to load all the accompanying items associated with our inflatable boat this morning after organizing it all last night. When I read that no inflatables, canoes, or kayaks are allowed, I simply felt incentive towards that nice, aluminum boat I have in mind, and didn't disturb my own peace with gripes. I went inside and asked why inflatables aren't allowed nicely, for information's sake, having imagined that perhaps an aesthetic was implied--inflatables really are awkward looking things, but then again canoes aren't.

"People drown," the man said.

The Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation is a non-profit organization associated with the city of Newark. So it isn't exactly a state agency. If the state were to so restrict what people can choose to do, it would go against the basic principle of our nation, freedom, and I don't say this naively: However much we seem to have forgotten as a people what our nation is about, freedom is its basic principle, which we all know deep within. But NWCDC is a non-profit organization at liberty to restrict practices, such as using inflatables, that certainly are dangerous in certain windy conditions.

"How is the fishing from shore at Oak Ridge?" I said.

"You can fish near the boat launch, and near the highway."

"Are there trails?"


"We're going to fish for smallmouths with tube jigs, are there areas with good drop-offs?"

"Oh, yeah. Near the dam."

There was a pause as he prepared paperwork.

"I need to buy an aluminum," I said off-hand. Silence, and I felt the mild grating feeling of having spoken inappropriately. But suddenly the man took a slip of paper from another drawer.

"Here. You can buy a 12 foot for 250 bucks."

The feeling went away. Yeah, that's how it is at its best: You say something apparently inappropriate and it brings a secret in the situation right out for you. 

I purchased the $30.00/yr family fishing permit. No doubt, I wasn't going to turn around and go home. And it seemed just possible that we could catch some good bass. Above all, I felt, we would check this place out. Some day, we may fish in a nice boat.

At the launch, we first walked straight down to check it out. Nice. No other vehicle was parked. We saw no one anywhere and never did the entire time we scouted the 482 surface acres. 

We had one rod with a Hedden Torpedo, and I tied another Torpedo to another. Having commenced fishing, my second cast landed next to some large rocks I could see through the clear water in the distance. The next second, froth and splashes erupted around it. The smallmouth bass photographed leapt twice.

I know how this theme goes: a nice bass hits right off and you would think you'd have hot action. So I knew, well, that's probably the best bass of the day. And no more hits came from the launch area. We drove for the dam region, not to fish on the dam, which is restricted, but near it. On our Lake Survey Map Guide, it's clear that this is the sharpest, deepest drop-off of the reservoir, down to 40 plus foot depths. Surely, some nice bass associate with the prominent rocks of these depths, and make movements into the shallow edges.

Matt's first cast with the Torpedo yielded a terrific strike in the shallows, having casted long and paralell to the bank. Missed it! I casted mine a few times, then a 12 foot crankbait a few more, then tied on a Senko-type worm. Finally, I had a take, set the hook in seconds, and was into a really good bass, much bigger than the one I had caught earlier. The hook simply came free, and that was that, so typical. It didn't bother me like the bass I had actually seen in full form at Lakehurst. I continued to cast, had a small bass on, and finally got the Worm Blower out for Matt. He caught a sunny. We fished tubes on quarter ounce heads that got the plastic steeped in scent down quick into those depths. I fished thoroughly, bouncing rock with the lead to click out the lure's presence, but had no comers.

I wondered aloud to my son about the boat offer.

"It would need a trailer.'

I don't like a slow mood when it drags, and this situation near the dam was dragging. So we tried to find an area to fish near the highway, nothing, and went to Canistear Reservoir to find parking at the launch only for vehicles with trailers, and nowhere else to go. We went to Echo Lake and walked to the launch just as someone was coming in. A great algae bloom looked really ugly. The water was discolored, brown and filmy. He filled us in on muskies, has caught quite a few here, and big, as large as 47 inches. We fished our topwaters a while. I didn't bother tying on fluoro leaders because I just wasn't jaunty. I tend to push my work on occasion beyond limits of normal wakefulness during the day, and knew it would be a trying drive home. On the way out, we spoke with the musky fisherman again. I mentioned my intention to buy a boat eventually.

"Get no less than a 16 footer. The way the wind whips up on these reservoirs, you can really get in trouble with anything smaller."

He convinced me right there. I've been thinking of a 14 foot aluminum with added speed by being limited to 10 hsp on Round Valley Reservoir, and a little quicker with the electric. But while all my life I have taken risks, and typically foregone comfort for other advantages--like speed in a smaller boat for just one small example--I feel so welcomed by this musky fisherman's advice that I feel as if I've come to a place in my life where buying the 16 foot, stable, reliable boat is a symbol for settling down a little, which isn't a bad thing to do at age 51 perhaps. I won't get across Round Valley so quick, but I can try to accept the luxury of taking my time.

Isn't this ironic? Here I am, 51 years old, having just confessed I've never really settled down, and having confessed my anxiety about loss of speed in the same sentences.

Most who set out to write literature are very particular about publishing as soon as possible. Well, I did beat most of them by getting published--on fishing--at age 16. But I spent years as a self-employed shellfisherman--to go away and write--writing and studying day and night--it didn't take much time out of any day to get business done--having no thought to publish--not there and then--and then, what, 20 more years so far in wage work, well, at least I got back to writing for magazines and newspapers on fishing. 

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