Thursday, September 27, 2012

River Walleyes and Smallmouth Bass: Some of Us Play the Field that Einstein Tried to Explain

Catch Walleyes and Smallmouth Bass Now and on through Winter

Stream fishing is a spring and summer--especially summer--affair for me mostly; I love abundant summer life in, on, and about me, although I like the Delaware River best in November and December. The little I've fished it in these months has indelibly marked memory, ensuring that when I buy a boat, I will be there. The compelling desire to go out on a river in raw, wet, December weather would seem strange to land lubbers, but more than reminding me of cold Maine seas and my fascination with lobsters and lobstering, and the comforts that lobstermen generate within themselves under natural adversities--a church organist friend of my father works as lobsterman on the side and I'm sure he has stories--more than any stories I would hear, I feel the Delaware calling me back to experience what necessitates a response from deep within. Otherwise, I would turn and go home like any ordinary person who prides himself on not being nuts.
I haven't fished since Cape Henlopen and may not this weekend, since I'm working on my novel. I was up until 3:00 a.m. last night working, and never got tired on the road today. I drive for a living, awake before 8:00 each morning, always eager to go and often on little sleep since my writing projects are many, but driving as a job is not at all the same as driving to and from an outing or to pick up my son from football practice or Scouts or to drive to the theater or NYC. I wrote a post about Maddened Dinosaurs on a Highway and it's hyperbole, but not by much. So you have to fight the roars or you're a loser, and if I were that, I would be soon dead. It's a great stimulus to overcome all that resistance, breakthrough into real freedom, rock 'n roll. After all, who wants to drive a vehicle for a living, really? 

So here's my favorite line (featured in Litton's Lines) from Leonardo DaVinci: "If you can't do what you want, want what you do." As some say, "You gotta love it!" That's the same as what DaVinci wrote in simpler form. 
My piece begins with heavy snow, written for Recorder Newspapers just before the October storm last year. I added reference to another genius who wouldn't make it on a sport's page. Some of us play the field that Einstein tried to explain.

          With heavy snow on the way as I write, most anglers store away their rods and reels until Trout Opening Day next year. But at the very least, enjoy some news of cold weather local action, because fishing is good year round. If you won’t dare ice fish, you can read interesting accounts. But ice fishing is not the only form of fishing in our region through the winter, although the Delaware River usually freezes significantly in January and February, barring any attempt at walleyes and smallmouth bass. The Pequest River in Warren County, for example, usually remains completely open and relatively warmed by abundant limestone springs for trout anglers. So do many smaller wild trout streams.

          In my own experience, thoughts turn especially to the Delaware and Raritan Canal, and the Delaware River, in November. The River is a completely different fishing situation now than I had described at the end of August. The summer smorgasbord of forage is gone, and so are the shad fry gorged on as they passed through early in the fall enroute to the Atlantic.

          But plenty of resident forage species support walleyes and smallmouth bass through the winter when they don’t need to feed as furiously or frequently—but still do with persistent necessity. No fish species hibernates, nor do fish fatten up for the winter by feeding heavily earlier in the fall. That increased activity was a function of optimal temperature ranges for activity and metabolic economy, as well as forage preference. The simple fact about late fall and winter fishing is that fish continue to feed, just not as often, so an angler's approach is not so excited but has merit that easier times do not lend. The more appreciation an angler develops for seasons, the more he can understand human history as well. After all, the young genius, Arthur Rimbaud, referred to his poetic moods as seasons. Many fish can be caught in the cold and in large sizes—seasoned anglers know that the ratio of large smallmouth bass to smaller increases during the winter on the Delaware, for example.

          True, with greatly reduced, cold blooded metabolism, catch statistics fall—but no one but an angler himself decides if the fishing is good. Since I catch fish all year, I find fishing good in every month on the calendar. Goodness is a constant that trumps time itself. My advice is to move away from making goodness contingent on conditions.

           Fishing is especially productive for walleyes now, but I have caught smallmouth bass while wading the Delaware (carefully) in December. A small number of anglers catch them now through the winter so long as ice isn’t prohibitive. The surest approach is jigs tipped with live shiners, although 1/8th to 1/4-ounce tube jigs are effective especially for bass. When water temperatures fall into the mid 40’s or colder, allowing a tube jig to rest on rocky bottom for as long as a minute at a time can draw a smallmouth to take. The thin plastic tentacles move subtly in slow, deep current eddies where bass may be tempted. It’s slow going, but good exercise for mental concentration.

          Generally, walleyes also inhabit such deep pools, but tolerate more current flow. In December, I have caught them in steady, but not rapid, flow over rocky bottom. An amazing sight, a number of walleyes followed jigs tipped with shiners right to the side of the boat from 10-foot depth. Having finished a retrieve, I would whisk the bait up for the next cast with a walleye racing behind. Bass will never do this in cold water, not to my knowledge, but walleyes have a metabolism better suited to cold temperatures.

          If possible, get out on a mild, sunny day. In the late afternoon, try putting jigs and shiners aside and fish floater/diver plugs like Redfins, Rebels, or Rapalas—a great choice is the Rapala Husky Jerk because it suspends in the water rather than floats. On retrieve, it dives to about three or four feet. The retrieve should be stopped on occasion so that the plug pauses at that depth—just enough to provoke a hit sometimes. Fish these plugs along shallow current edges between steady flow and slack water where walleyes get frisky when water warms slightly. So long as deep, rocky water is nearby, walleyes will likely be too.

          Accept cold weather as a worthy challenge, and the whole angling dynamic compensates for the reduced pleasantries enjoyed in warm weather. You cannot find the pleasure of succeeding in a tough environment during the summer as you can from now through winter. This pleasure is a relatively rare treat which few people care to exercise the rigors of achieving. I think ultimately the point is to feel serene and at home on this earth, at least in our region where it does get cold. But the next best thing, if you opt to stay indoors, is to read about it and enjoy!



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