Saturday, October 13, 2012

Lake Hopatcong Hybrid Stripers and the Sunglasses Story

Eventful day on Lake Hopatcong. I haven't seen Joe Landolfi since November last year because we had no ice, but I can tell we will be fishing at least once a year for many to come. I remember the two outings last year as if they happened this fall. 

Today we fished a hump out away from the shoreline, and I recognized Marty Roberts immediately, called over to him, and the fun began. He had just begun to nail small hybrids of about two to three pounds. Anchored, he insisted on putting live herring directly down in 29 feet of water. No more, no less. Who could argue? He seemed to have a magic touch. Joe and I agreed it was uncanny; we both felt this. That depth wasn't exactly the breakline between flat bottom and the sharp rise to shore, but the graph alarm rang constantly like Christmas chimes. And constantly, Marty retrieved presents.

"Bruce, fishing has a lot to do with attitude," Marty said. "It needs to be positive." He sat back, legs stretched over the port side gunwale. I felt his leveling with me--right there and then--would be one of the best rewards of the day.

Joe and I caught a couple of hybrids, missed a couple of hits, and against Marty's advice, we prepared to move on for what Joe hoped would be six- to eight-pound fish.

"You should stay right here," Marty said.

I laughed and shrewdly pointed at restless Joe, "Marty, I'm obsessive enough to stay right here another five hours. Joe never knows where to begin." And he's never patient enough to stay.

Joe's the veteran. He's been on Hopatcong for decades and for a time was a large presence on the lake; he still knows an astonishing number of people out and about. 

Marty phoned later to report four- and five-pound hybrids coming over his gunwales, and we did return, this at the end of our five or more hours in total out on the lake, although by the time the 9.9 Suzuki got us there, action had slowed. It was about time to go anyway.

Earlier along our haphazard way, we gave a point of land scant attention by vertical jigging, but we soaked our intentions through another range of water by drifting herring, wind allowing us to pass horizontal to shore. Joe was absolutely determined to teach me how to drift that bait. Wildly edgy by turns of success and misfortune in life, a talented cabinet maker who ran his own business, hiring employees and enjoying a net gain of a quarter million one year, and then losing everything but black depression, I've seen him turn his life around time and again, a man who never loses his appreciation for living altogether, devastating depressions never convincing him going on isn't worthwhile--he never gives up--and this is what I like best about him, the liveliness he always contributes to an outing. His focus of concentration is a talent in many respects, including making sure he gets across to other people by finely detailed explanations when they matter. But I'm as stubbornly skeptical as any you may find. I couldn't buy his idea that hybrids on the bottom--and walleye--would swim up from 32-foot depth to a herring passing over 17 feet up. I still don't. trade my feeling about that with his. It's dark down there. Could lateral lines sense a target from that distance, given that vibrations from surface chop send even more information downward for fish to pick up, washing out a little blip from a herring? I don't know. Maybe those lateral lines and those little fishy brains are advanced enough to tell the difference. Anyway, fish marked on the sonar at 15 feet as we passed over. Were they hybrids?

As far as I know, walleye at this time of year don't suspend. They are in their element among rocks on bottom. But herring do suspend. Walleye may suspend also; even with the lake turned over, this isn't out of the question, just beyond presumptions I feel strongly about. It makes sense that herring avoid schooling right down among rocks where walleye typically lie, but walleye eat just about nothing but herring in Hopatcong, so maybe they do rise when oxygen in the depths this time of year allows them more suitable habitat than open water. I don't know. But there's even more to consider. Most of the rocks--mostly schist, if I'm correct--of Lake Hopatcong situate shallower than 20 feet. It's not that more walleye are at bottom 20 feet or shallower this time of year, but that they don't have the incentive of stone in the deeper water. 

So.....who knows.

That stubbornness I mentioned got the better of me as we continued to drift. I let my weighted rig down to bottom on the sly and got snagged. (A bottom bouncer rig avoids this, but I used an egg sinker.)

"I have to fail first before I learn anything," I said.

I retied, committed now to adjusting my way to Joe's.

No one I know of has failed in life to the extent I have, proportionate to potential I have always known I possess. The relatively little I have complained about this has ripped right back at my own face, so while I may lack positive attitude in some respects, to recall Marty's observation of me, it's not petty, it's ultimately something very deep resulting from a life-long refusal to get altogether indoctrinated to going styles, educational or otherwise. I like to carefully turn the table on what is perceived as the truth, by a truth I have originated, if finding replacement for something I see doesn't work.

Joe does the same for me sometimes. 

We both lay back in the bottom of the boat to relax, Joe launching into one of his many fascinating stories from life. He told me about half-a-dozen. Just before he began his best, the Sunglasses Story, I quipped that I was a little tired, and actually I was afraid the week's lack of virtually any sleep, busy at writing projects, was going to make me nuts if I didn't watch out. I drive about 1100 miles a week for my job, and while I don't complain about it--a lot to be proud of with writing efforts I produce on top of this--staying sane really is an issue, and while I never, ever give in to any sort of helplessness, never let nerve fail, I do have to be very careful sometimes, think and act to balance what could be a lot more trouble otherwise. Thinking always gets me through to normal life again. Sometimes it seems impossible. Until once again it isn't. And all the while, no one else notices anything amiss.

Here's what it can be like in another way:

Joe dropped sunglasses into Lake Hopatcong. He swung the boat in their direction to try and retrieve them, but the water was rough and he couldn't see them as they most have suspended just under the surface. There's a reason I don't say they sank, and I will get to this. Joe's told me he can't write for beans, but he tells stories better than anyone I know. Hours in a boat after fishing years together can get interesting. A great Jewish prophet, who knew he didn't have to be a prophet to say this, said that all true living is in meeting. In other words, if you can't share stories, you're missing out in a dire way. Print doesn't offer a stage for gesture and expression, but it does allow deeper comprehension, if you will engage it, so let's get to that story. To lose Gucci sunglasses to a 2680-acre lake, then to catch them inadvertently the next year while trolling for muskies, alludes to another theme' of age-old prophets: redemption. Something fouled the thrumming of the foot-long lure, the rod taking on a little bend, but not bouncing to the vibrant resistance of a fish, as if otherwise a perch or crappie got inadvertently snagged. Hopatcong's water mass flows, but very slowly. The sunglasses hadn't traveled very far in the direction of the Musconetcong River below the dam, but they neither floated nor sank to bottom. The plug--the lure--ran at about 10 feet down, where Gucci suspended in-between surface and bottom like a fish. The event signifies how Joe manages to live by so many amazing falls and rises. Life comes back if you troll for it.

Getting those sunglasses back from a lake that big. Joe beats odds.

On that first, long drift pass for those hybrids I was skeptical about, as we talked, a hybrid nailed my herring over about 30 feet of water. Joe's stories had revived me completely, no longer tired at all. I didn't feel pulled precipitously close to the edge. 

Hours earlier, we took one of Laurie Murphy's boats out from Dow's Boat Rentals. I wish more of us would get over to her venue, rent, and buy bait and tackle. It's a real place and a real lake. Reality makes all the difference to living a good life. Places off the screen. Upon return to Laurie's shop, I said to her, "The whole country's dead."

She said, "Business is down to about 10 percent of what it used to be."

It was no occasion to be a chump and speak any words of hope. "The issue, rather than money, is fundamental. People's motivation is lacking," I said. Then I changed the subject and the three of us laughed about Joe's sunglasses, the story still  vividly present in Laurie's mind, as Joe had come in that day of return happy as a high flying kite.

My post would end well on that note, but I must explain Joe's hybrid mounts, one of them now up on the wall of a local bar where Joe knows people. Joe didn't know Marty. For once, I knew someone on Hopatcong Joe doesn't. Just before we parted company with my acquaintance, Joe said to him, "I have two hybrid mounts on Laurie's wall, an eight-pounder and a six or seven."

"Oh, yeah!" Marty said. "Laurie gave me a mounted hybrid from the shop!"

"Oh, no!" I said. "I bet Marty has your striper!" I was laughing all the harder because I sense social connections already there before people meet. And I felt confident Joe will be on the lake at least once more this fall, while I have only more outing here ahead here this year, with my son.

It's confirmed. Marty has Joe's striper. He took the other mount off the wall of the shop, and placed it on the back seat of my Honda Civic. I never asked why, respecting instead his personal privacy, because the one thing I knew for certain--his fish, his mount. After more than a decade, admired by countless customers, it will spend time at McKenna's Pub near the lake, a favorite of Joe's, before it may finally arrive upon a wall of Joe's own. Just after I snapped a photo of him with the striper, he went in and placed the mount high over people at the bar.  





Marty tells me I need positive attitude.






Joe and his stories.



Small hybrid I caught while drifting.





Joe's other mount now at McKenna's.


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