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 were 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. And constantly, Marty got hits.

"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 gunnel. 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 moved 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. I said, "Marty, I'm obsessive enough to stay right here another five hours. Joe never knows where to begin."

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 gunnels, 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 scant attention by vertical jigging, but we soaked our intentions in 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. As wildly edgy as he is by turns of success and misfortune in life, his focus of concentration is a talent in many respects, including by 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. pay out my feeling about that to 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 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 of course 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 letting Joe have his way. I would fish 15 feet down.

No one I know of has failed in life to the extent I have, proportionate to potential I have always known I poseess, especially since age 18. The relatively little I have complained has ripped right back at my own face, so while I may lack positive attitude in some respects, it's not petty, that'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 another, looking deeper, and finding a 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 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 is to be proud of with the writing efforts I produce on top of this--staying sane really is an issue, and while you never, ever give in to any sort of helplessness, never let nerve fail, I do have to be very careful sometimes and think carefully. Thinking always gets me through. Sometimes it seems impossible. Until it isn't.

Here's what it can be like.

Joe dropped sunglasses into Lake Hopatcong. I can't relate the story as he did off the cuff, because it's his story, and this post is another. He'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 Hebrew 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 meditation of the reader, so let's get to that story. To lose expensive 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. The event signifies how Joe manages to live by so many amazing falls and rises. Life comes back if you troll for it.

I won't go into detail as Joe riveted my attention. But getting those sunglasses back from a lake that big is amazing.

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. I was no longer tired at all. And I didn't feel I was being pulled precipitously close to the edge.

I would never say I don't live close to the edge. The hinge word there is precipitously. 

We had taken 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 differences to living a good life. (Makes sense if you think about it.) 

Upon return to Laurie's shop, I said to her, "The whole country's dead." She had told me how 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.

I changed the grave subject and the three of us laughed about Joe's sunglasses, all that still  vividly present in Laurie's mind, as Joe had come in that day 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 Marty, Joe said, "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 know social connections are already there before people meet. And I felt confident that Joe will be on the lake at least once more this fall, while I have only more outing ahead here this year, with my son.

It's confirmed. Marty has Joe's striper. And after more than a decade at the shop, the other striper will spend time at the McKenna's Pub before it may finally arrive on Joe's own wall. Just after I snapped a photo of him with the striper, he went in and placed the mount high over the customers.  

Joe's other mount now at McKenna's, of a smaller hybrid.

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