Friday, July 6, 2012

Lunker Smallmouth Bass, Brown Trout or Atlantic Salmon, in View but Off Limits

The Salmon River's flow level is adjusted by hydroelectric dam release. When we arrived yesterday, the river flowed low and invitingly. Late last night the level rose and today remained higher. We began fishing at the Black Hole this morning at about 8:30, 60 feet deep with beautiful shallower currents, ledges, and eddies. Turbidity turned me off, but I did get a few hits from something on a Mepp's #1. I figured maybe the risen water level had stirred up the river to reduce clarity, but felt relieved to later find clearer water upstream.

We made a whole day outside except for lunch at a sub shop. We caught a dozen bass on plugs and shiners, fly fished for hours, Matt catching a couple of rock bass on a big, brown Wooly Bugger, while a couple of fallfish fell for my large stonefly beadhead. Snorkeling at Altmar in the fly fishing section afforded us views of great fish we couldn't attempt since it's closed from May until September 14th  We spotted in this section about half a dozen smallmouth bass around four pounds, one five- pounder, and either a brown trout or Atlantic salmon of about eight pounds. I also noticed a number of rainbow trout six to nine-inches long spawned from thousands of steelhead.

We got around. More than half a dozen spots got our attention. Compared to yesterday, today felt different. With limited time to fish, I felt driven to make every cast count last evening and the two good bass we caught rewarded the effort. Today never fell into sync as strictly a fishing effort. Taking time out to swim and snorkel, to practice fly casting, and to just slow down and enjoy being outside took precedence over trying to score. It made a difference in my life to slow down and just let my physical senses reign for many hours.

Matt sighted a smallmouth of about five pounds with just enough daylight left to see, last evening, and I spotted it today, which explains the shiners. This bass was not at all eager to take the Strike King worm as others had been. We trie for this bass today by scheme, making sure to have half a dozen large shiners for sunset. But it didn't cooperate.

More elusive than five-pound smallmouth bass in the Salmon River this time of year perhaps, Atlantic salmon are a thrilling possibility. I came upon no one targeting them singularly, but what a reward one of these most valued gamefish would be!

Smallmouth Bass Salmon River

We fished by 5:30 p.m., quitting at 9:15. I got word in Pulaski before we got our sneakers wet that smallmouth bass fishing on the Salmon River is relatively slow. The stories I have heard over the past few years amazed me, but I had a feeling we wouldn't have 100 bass-a-day action.

We got two good-size bass and a few others over 12 and 14 inches. I caught eight, Matt three, but he had butterfingers, having taken as many hits as I did.

He caught a bass on his first cast with a Storm Hot 'n Tot crankbait. Plenty of light yet on the water, the silver sides reflected great flashes, and my silver Rat-L-Trap did much the same. I had one hit on the plug, having waded upstream along the stretch a couple hundred yards before I switched to a five-inch Senko-type (Strike King) worm rigged wacky. I chose crayfish brown and stuck to this. I missed a couple of light takes that later I felt sure were rock bass, since I caught a couple of these over the course of the outing.

Matt and I returned to the deeper, slower pool at the bottom length of the stretch, surprised how far shadow had advanced.

"It's amazing how you forget time when fishing," I said.

It amazes me even more now as 1:00 a.m. approaches at the Steelhead Lodge near Pulaski. I had a nice bass on in no time many hours ago now that seems minutes, and for awhile had taken a hit on every cast.

"How are you doing that!?" Matt said.

"When we got here, we saw no bass at all in that sunlit water. They were under rocks and now they're out in the open. Each cast I make to a completely different range--all the way across, then straight up to my right. Bass may dart 15 or 20 feet to grab the worm, so when I get a hit there, the next cast I aim to a different place with the intent to come back around later. The hits are coming within two seconds of the worm hitting water."

Matt walked around and upstream of where I fished and nailed our best bass.

We drove to three more areas, and caught more bass at the last of these. At the Trestle Pool we found a recently dead Atlantic Salmon of about eight pounds. Joe here at Steelhead Lodge informs me that bass fishermen connect with Atlantic Salmon fishing plugs for bass from time to time.

After dinner we went back out to try for big brown trout. We had gone into Pulaski first thing to try to buy Muddler Minnows. Only small ones available, we bought big, bushy streamers with foam heads instead of with bead weights. We soaked them with floatant. The idea involved stripping them right across the surface of our deep hole of choice.

On Matt's third cast--I was still rigging up, but happened to be watching--something gargantuan erupted upon his streamer. It worked. But Matt didn't hook the fish. We fished over an hour savoring the night and the mystery of the strike. Matt caught a fallfish.

I had the notion to abandon ourselves to the night, to fish at least a few more pools for several hours and forget about blogging. At least I did feel this and I hope that Matt does as he grows into his most vital years. It just didn't really grab me, but for the nearly four hours that we fished in daylight, I never took a half-willed step.

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.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Fly Fishing Smallmouth Bass North Branch Raritan River

 Fly fished smallmouth bass for less than an hour on North Branch Raritan at AT&T World Headquarters, catching a couple. Pursuing smallmouth seems to be a fine way to practice, as I'm still a novice fly fisherman. I found getting the stonefly nymph right against an undercut bank very difficult, but made one cast that got the beadhead about two inches from getting caught on the brush, and several other casts or more got it close.

The river's in beautiful shape: clear, cool water that seemed every bit as fine as the Paulinskill Friday, but no trout spotted.

Walking out, I saw a young fly fisherman casting beautifully between the bridges.

If I put music to go with this post, the song would be "Green Eyed Lady," by Sugarloaf. But the eyes look more aquamarine blue than they did while on the stream. Ocean's lady.