Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Lake Hopatcong Smallmouth Bass and Walleye: Beating a Blue Sky

Like last year, our July Lake Hopatcong trip threatened to skunk us for the first couple of hours. Not a cloud in the sky, we had arrived at Dow's Boat Rentals at 5:10 (they opened 5 or 10 minutes before 5:30) in jackets. As if we ventured  within an alternative space amidst this heat wave, it was a little chilly before sunrise with classic cold front conditions, although when we left the lake after noon, cumulus and patchy clouds had arrived and the temperature had moved close to 90.

We began not at the sharp drop-off, but further in where a recent great catch was reported to have come. We stayed maybe 15 minutes and marking nothing on the graph, the drop no better. So on we hustled. Marking no fish, I quickly moved us to where I felt some confidence.

It didn't take long for this 18-inch smallmouth to take a herring in about 20 feet of water, but suspense in the meantime we felt, not wanting to get skunked. I think the bass swam fairly close to bottom, although the herring was not weighted. Oxygen is depleted now somewhere below 22 feet. I tested the depths by putting herring down and reeling them up almost dead (they revived).

Matt worked nightcrawlers from 16 feet (deep weedline edge) down into about 22 feet of water, and I joined him, inflating nightcrawlers with the Worm Blower, weighting them with a chunky tin split shot. I slipped into a nice flow of concentration, enjoying the pursuit even for pumpkinseeds like the one photographed, when I felt a lugging pull and set the hook without even thinking. I then knew I had either a walleye or channel catfish on, giving my ultra-light a fair test. This fish did not want anything to do with the net, streaking away on runs three times before Matt said, "I got it!" Looked beautiful in the water, I thought it would measure 26 inches and think this is because of the hard, weighty stubbornness on the flimsy St. Croix.

It's my first walleye on a nightcrawler, 24 inches, 4 pounds, 9 ounces. Made sense with the mile high sky to float a nightcrawler and tease it along very slowly. This walleye couldn't resist.

We fished a drop-off a long while where Matt caught his bass and a number of bluegills, green sunfish, and pumpkinseeds. He had caught a rock bass back at Pickerel Point. Matt became tired of the sun and heat.

"Mom's going to be angry we brought no sun block," he said.

I sort of wished I had brought some for him, but I never use the stuff unless my bare back is exposed for hours. I managed to enjoin him to drift (virtually no wind, a real good drift speed) the ledge, firing up the outboard a number of times to keep our split shot weighted herring right along the top of the drop in 16-22 feet of water. I hooked and fought another nice walleye only to lose this fish, but a hook-up never counts for nothing.

By Hopatcong standards, it wasn't a day packed with action as they can be on the lake, nor an average day with a fair number of nice fish caught. But we've never been skunked on Hopatcong, and today's fish were good size. Even the bluegills.

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