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, he got hits.

"Bruce, fishing has a lot to do with attitude," he said. "It needs to be positive." Marty 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 out, although by the time the 9.9 Suzuki got us there, action had slowed, and it was time to go.

Earlier, we gave a point scant attention by vertical jigging, but we soaked another range of water by drifting herring. The wind allowed us to pass horizontal to shore. Joe was absolutely determined to teach me how to drift herring. As wildly ranging as he is by turns of success and misfortune, his focus of concentration is a talent in many respects, including making sure he gets across by finely detailed explanations. 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. It's dark down there. Could lateral lines sense from that distance, given vibrations from surface chop also present sending plenty information down for fish to pick up, washing out a little blip from a herring? I don't know. But fish marked at 15 feet. Were they hybrids?

And 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. That walleye may suspend also, even with the lake turned over, isn't out of the question. 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 they probably do rise. I don't know.

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

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

I retied, committed to letting Joe have his way.

No one I know of has failed in life to the extent I have, proportionate to potential achievement I have always known, especially since age 18. The relatively little I have complained has just ripped right back in my own face, so while I may lack positive attitude to severe degree in some respect, it's not petty, but something very deep resulting from a life-long refusal to be indoctrinated to going styles, educational or otherwise. I like to carefully turn the table to what I perceive as the truth, looking deeper. Most of the time the better way has not been immediately apparent and communicable in the present. Such is the hardship of writers who seek something more than fashion.

Not that I think any of us fishermen are girly-guys in Yoga pants. 

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, a 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 say you have to be very careful sometimes, think carefully. Thinking is always what gets me through. Most of the time it's easy. Sometimes it seems impossible. Until it isn't.

Joe dropped sunglasses into Lake Hopatcong. I can't relate the story as well he did, and I know I'm the writer. Joe can't write for beans, but he tells stories better than anyone I know. He might not to you, but that's because you're not in a boat with him for hours after fishing years together. A great Hebrew prophet, who knew he didn't have to be a prophet to say it, mentioned that all true living is in meeting. In other words, if you can't share stories, you're missing out in a dire way. I can't relate Joe's telling as well, because this isn't the form for that, it wouldn't come off as well as he told it to me, even if I wrote what he said verbatim. Print loses all the stage of gesture and expression. To lose expensive sunglasses to a 2680-acre lake, then to catch them the next year while trolling for muskies is redemptive. It signifies how Joe manages to live by so many amazing falls and rises. Life comes back if you troll for it.

On that first, long drift pass as we talked, a hybrid nailed my herring over about 30 feet of water, the bait set 15 feet deep. Joe's stories revived me completely, no longer tired. And I didn't feel I was being pulled precipitously close to the edge any longer. 

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.

Upon return to Dow's, I said, "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.

But the three of us laughed about Joe's sunglasses, still  vividly present in Laurie's mind.

My post would end well on that note, but I must explain Joe's hybrid mounts, one of them now going up on the wall of a local bar where Joe knows people. But 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 will spend time at the bar before it may finally arrive on Joe's own wall. We made that one last stop at Joe's favorite McKenna's Pub. Just after I snapped a photo of him with the striper, he placed the mount high over the customers.  

Joe's other mount, of a smaller hybrid.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Round Valley Reservoir Rainbow Trout in close to Shorelines

Rainbows have been in for almost two weeks at Round Valley. I saw a few caught today and Tuesday, nice 16-inchers. I put out a line both days and got no hits. But I had the dock space today, enjoyed the view greatly--being there is so much better than viewing photos--and read Bay Country by Tom Horton about the Chesapeake, the chapter on eels most fascinating yet. I learned a lot about eels as a nine-year-old, and caught many too. Tried to harvest them commercially in Little Egg Harbor years ago, but stuck to hard clams instead. 

Eels and clams go together, though.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Snake Road Shawnee National Forest

My son, Matt, and I flew to St. Louis, Missouri Friday, drove to Carbendale, Illinois for lodging, and drove further to Shawnee National Forest Saturday and Sunday. Snake Road divides La Rue Swamp on one side, and Pine Bluff on the other, a unique ecological situation about 4.5 square miles in area. Each day, Matt and I walked the 2 1/2 mile or so length of gravel roadway and back, making forays into the swamp and up in the bluff, turning over stones and logs in search of snakes, lizards, frogs, and salamanders, finding many.

The Illinois Basin is the remnant of a Devonian inland sea--sort of a huge extension of the Gulf of Mexico, but the continents were not the same about 480 million years ago. They migrate about Earth's face by a process named plate tectonics. Pine Bluff is limestone, sedimentary deposits primarily from coral and shells, and you can stand back and imagine time layering 150 feet deep because it's right there before your eyes to take in and feel directly. The western cottonmouth photographed above we encountered on the roadway itself, but we found a couple of them in crevices high up on the bluff. Cottonmouths, which spend the summer in the swamp, cross the road, climb up into the bluff, and hibernate deep in crevices. They don't have this sort of opportunity elsewhere, but they don't hesitate to take it here. And thanks to the inland sea from almost 500 million years ago, no other place in the nation exists where western cottonmouths are so well adapted and abundant. This guy or gal I photographed on the road seemed about as eager to check us out as we were interested in he or she. We found two that had just left the swamp to cross the road for the bluff no sooner had the temperature peaked on Sunday with bright sun--which wasn't quite 60 degrees. It was chilly. But I haven't felt so liberated by losing myself thoroughly--finding myself again, really--in vistas by standing and seeing very long and deep into the bluff's greenery and feeling the space between me and the distant heights as if life permeated everything in the sunlight, haven't felt free this way for many years. The temperature in the 50's didn't feel forbidding at all.

This global village we live in and think is so important is like a small clearing in an immensely free forest.

About 35 species of snakes exist in Shawnee National Forest along snake road. My son has the list, but I'll spare naming each. 15 additional species of amphibians and reptiles are present (including the giant alligator snapping turtle). The frog photographed is a Blanchard's cricket, the red eft had the brownest back of any I've seen. We came upon two rough green snakes, a smooth Earth snake, western ribbon snake, and a tiny copperhead in addition to the western cottonmouths.
I once came upon a copperhead the same size as we found here on a sidewalk at Avaya Communication here in Basking Ridge, New Jersey where my wife works. It was 60 degrees out, the snake slow. I took out my credit card to push it out of the way and it slithered into ground cover along the building. Afraid the next guy would just step on it, I had no fear at all that it would snap at me.

LaRue Swamp

 The limestone bluffs of Pine Hill rise 150 feet above LaRue Swamp

Smooth earth snake

Western ribbon snake