Thursday, July 26, 2012

Big Small River, Stream Smallmouth Bass and Little Swartswood Lake Nesting Eagles

Some things aren't meant to be. And then misfortune, even by a second twist, works to the party's favor as it did for my son and I.
At Little Swartswood Lake near Newton, New Jersey, we found nearly a full third of the 152 surface acres off limits to boaters for the sake of a nesting pair of eagles. This troubled me little--plenty of weedy depths remained to fish--but I'll get to my thoughts about it in a moment. For the time being, I troubled myself with inflating our inflatable boat, which is a pain. And I found that mice or racoons had taken large bites out of the vynyl, or by whatever means, there were holes. That's when my son and I agreed we should just look for a 12-foot boat. We really need a 16-foot, but a 12-foot will replace this chore of inflation even if I can repair the boat. I'm probably looking five years down the pike before I can buy a lake sufficient craft with an outboard.

I knew exactly where to go with the bucket of large shiners I bought for my son to fish pickerel, a dozen-and-a-half. But I want to type my thoughts about the eagle situation before I relate more. I'm never one to blithely accept people's actions as given, as if the choices people make are just facts of nature like sticks and stones, no judgement and evaluations involved. And plenty of people are like me: they see something done and they examine, question, and evaluate for themselves. 

I agree that wildlife should be protected. Birds, for example, are living creatures like us. This is why, viewing the statistics on loon, other waterfowl, and eagle deaths attributed to lead poisoning, I think it's a good idea to use tin split shot. They die needlessly from lead when tin is a suitable use. I know steelhead trout shun the shine of tin shot, but the Boss Tin company, for one example, produces a tin/bismuth mixture that has a duller finish than new lead shot. 

I'm only posing the question, because I don't know the answer: Why close a third of Little Swartswood Lake to boating (which is limited to electric outboards) for a nesting pair of eagles? It seems to me that less space could have been secured. But here's the rub. Do you remember those environmental films in the late 1960's and 1970's that always referred to man in ominous tones and posed him as the cause of nature's demise as if he were evil? I thought of that, and it only seemed to me as if environmentalists had won a little victory here...over man. That it had more to do with excluding people than actually protecting this pair of eagles. But I don't really know.

Enough on that issue. We drove to the Paulinskill River. Matt had the first cast and a smallmouth bass tangled with it as I cast mid-stream.

Now I know shiners can be more exciting than topwater plugs--beyond a doubt. A big smallmouth bass exploding the surface with great splashes and spray four distinct times, once leaping clear out of the water on a quiet, clear stream is something I beheld singularly in a way to last in memory. A shiner on a light wire hook knows how to dodge a predator. 

But I caught this bass so easily having just arrived that it was sort of la de da. I admired the bass, but not only had it come easy, I still felt the loss of our Little Swartswood endeavor, which I had planned since about January. That little lake has a personal history for me. In 1992, a friend who became best man at our wedding lived on Little Swartswood. I rowed the boat he owned to enjoy outstanding topwater action, freshwater quality I hadn't experienced in over 10 years. Months before, I happened upon a mail order ad for wooden Dalton Special topwater plugs. I had the intuition to buy and did. What for, I had no idea. But the Dalton Special was a favorite of my fishing mentor many years before when I fished freshwater constantly. I used the Dalton Specials that day on Little Swartswood. I also ice fished a couple of times with my friend's son. 

We caught a few more bass in this particular stretch of the Paulinskill, and then Matt discovered more very nice bass well downstream. This is when things got screwy. He had missed three, he told me, about three pounds each, setting the hook too soon. I fetched the bucket and camera and hiked. A bass of about a pound broke his line. I found it frayed and retied his hook.

"Is your drag set right?" I asked too casually.

"I think so." He pulled on the line.

I took the rod, pulled, loosened a little, gave it back. As he turned, the words sort of escaped whatever had me confused below the level of my awareness, consciously I just felt relaxed.

"Loosen it if you have to."

But why on earth would I think that--the truth is, I hardly really thought it, a loose idea. Why wouldn't I have just grabbed the line and pulled it from the rod tip to be certain? A friend of mine used to say, "Excuse me, I was temporarily insane."

Matt's first cast I thought came short of where it should go. His second cast landed exactly where I told him to aim. A smallish bass struck at the shiner several times, then a great whoosh and the very thick tail end of the big bass rose high above surface for a split second and slipped under.

"That's a nice bass." I said. 

Hooked, it came into view--this bass much larger than the one I'm photographed with--then turned hard and sharp exactly as I know big smallmouths do. There is no escaping the likes, only preparation for the eventuality. The line snapped loudly.

We had caught and released 17 bass and I fished the last shiner, the baitfish now debilitated and barely alive. Another nice bass of nearly three pounds took it, and rather than set right there and then as I should have, I hesitated. Just that instant, the bass ejected the shiner. I then followed the bass in the clear water. I got a cast off and the bass rushed the shiner. My next thought: Why is my line limp? The shiner, debilitated, simply got knocked off the hook.

That ended our foray. Yes, I tried plastics for ten minutes, taking a couple of hits, and interest from a foot-long fish that stopped short. But I didn't want to play that game. Earlier on, before Matt hooked and played that nice bass, he had seen another become fully visible, a lunker risen into view from the depths of the same hole. He has no doubt this bass was larger than the one he hooked. He knows what a five pound bass looks like, and he claims that's what it was.

The moral of the story is: getting jinxed is no superstition. I was too complacent about my first bass and mixed up within and that set not the mood, really, but the attitude in so far as attitude or approach is more than what is in conscous control. How we consciously go about fishing is only a relatively small part of our total attitude or approach, our actual moves in what we do. And that approach, consciousness and unconsciousness together, is what determines how we will perform except for what chance elements get involved. A good argument for solid habits, really, but sometimes in my experience, I've got taken for a ride, and there's humor in that.

We left the Paulinskill in very high spirits. It had been a much more intense outing than we expected of Little Swartswood, and we learned much more about this river. We had achieved some resolve about a boat, and just as we got home and had unloaded, we got hit with a severe thunderstorm that stretched all the way up and beyond the state line. We would have been blown off the lake anyway when the whole point was to fish topwater plugs around sunset.

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