Saturday, December 22, 2012

Black is Best Ice Fishing

Here's a piece on what is typically the best sort of ice fishing opportunity I know of, written for my biweekly column with Recorder Newspapers just over a year ago. The only ice fishing I heard of last winter was two weekdays with ice barely more than two inches thick. Guys slithered out onto Budd Lake on their bellies, weilding hatchets to cut holes. This year, my prediction is that we will have safe ice sometime in January, when it will get colder rather than remaining like early spring all winter.

Black Ice is Best


          Another mild week after skim ice formed on ponds two consecutive cold mornings recently. Even that didn’t move my conviction that this is a mild winter. Typically we get about two months of ice thickening to at least a foot, sometimes twice this in northern, high elevations of the New Jersey. In 2008 we had no more than two weeks of marginally safe ice; to get no safe ice over winter’s course is very rare.

          For any first timers at ice fishing, paying heed to safety is a life requirement. I never recommend any newcomer go out on ice fewer than five inches thick—clear, hard ice, not refrozen. No one really wants to go out on a deep lake for the first time, poking ahead of himself nervously with a splitting bar, and no adequate knowledge about whether or not the ice he stands on will give way to water that would kill him in 10 minutes. Get a guide to show you how for as long as it takes until you feel comfortable and are knowledgable out there. It’s probably a foregone conclusion of your own that if you want to try this, you should find someone reliable to introduce you to it. Joining the Knee Deep Club of Lake Hopatcong may suffice.

          The larger lakes freeze unevenly. Well inside a cove—where pickerel and perch especially are caught—the ice may be quite safe. But walk towards the mouth of that cove, where winds have kept water open until it froze an inch the night before, and you’ll go through. Always, no matter how safe the ice, wear a pair of ice spikes available at many sporting goods shops. If you do go through, as unlikely as this is, the points can be jammed into ice so you can pull yourself out, then belly squirm away from the thin area.

          In my experience, there’s really no other outdoor pursuit like ice fishing. I have, many times, broken the thin ice of Barnegat Bay as I ploughed in bodily, wearing layered wetsuits for commercial clamming. Once I worked in the bay for five hours beginning at dawn with 10 degrees Fahrenheit and snow, ending at 17 degrees, 45 mph winds, and the wind 29 below, at least that’s the figure I heard on the radio. Clamming paid well during the 1980’s, and was more of an adventure than ice fishing. But ice fishing is serene, easier, yet plenty adventuresome. It allows you to get in touch with nature in quiet, leisurely ways, so long as not too many snowmobiles, quads, and power augers are nearby. Plenty of fish species are available in our region—pickerel, largemouth and smallmouth bass, muskies, northern pike, walleyes, trout species, channel catfish, hybrid stripers, and all manner of panfish including roving yellow perch in some waters.

          First ice is best ice—so long as it’s safe. The “black ice” we sometimes have before snow blocks sunlight reaching through clear water depths, often safely covering only two to 10 acre ponds that freeze first (and evenly) before that snow falls, is easy to cut with a splitting bar since it’s not thick as a vault door. But sunlight’s the secret to this fishing. Try to get out on a cloudless day, the kind of day that “isn’t good for fishing.” Fish water 10 feet deep or shallower, clear water among residual weeds preferably, bait tip-ups with live shiners, and try some chrome finished spoons using short jigging rods.

          Shiner scales serve their schooling behaviors. The flashes of reflected light confuse perceptions of predators. But when isolated on a hook beneath a tip-up device (these also available at many sporting goods stores), these light-reflecting shields do just the opposite, attracting gamefish like a beacon to zero in upon directly and hit. Silvery, chrome spoons like small Kastmasters do the same.

          I go for largemouth and pickerel when I have first ice opportunity, this ice which hasn’t been corrupted yet by melting and refreezing. These two species prowl relatively shallow water penetrated by needed light. So long as adequate fish holding depths are nearby (if any), and fairly thick residual vegetation is present if the pond or lake has any—hard cover like fallen trees in combination with weeds can be excellent—the irony is that fish will be skittish, off the feed, and even in the thickest of cover, but they will strike by aggressive reaction. I’ve experienced tip-up flags flying high, bass stripping off five or ten yards of line and dropping shiners, refusing to swallow. This happens no other time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Diabase, Basalt, Granite, Iron and Trout Fishing Round Valley Reservoir

Glorius afternoon, wild reservoir all to myself until I observed a distant, wetsuited wind surfer, and another angler came along and set up. No hits. Round Valley has over 2000 surface acres and the miles of shoreline implied are a lot for trout to range around. Bluebird skies like today's do wonders for mood, but tend to hinder trout from feeding. Months ahead of winter yet, I may catch some more before I start fishing bass again. I want to try shiners. Last winter, I witnessed a lake trout caught on a shiner. So far I've been using marshmallows and mealworms, which is the simplest approach. Sat and read Camus with coarse sand at my feet that appeared almost golden in the sunlight. 

Round Valley is known for diabase, stone related to basalt, and granite deposits exist also. Basalt has a lot of utility. It's broken into gravel, etc., and granite's ornamental value is evident in the colors you see in the wild, also. A lot of iron is present in rocks at Round Valley, the substance that to a large extent built New Jersey long before our period of hurricane recovery now. It's not all there for the getting. Just to experience the gravel and stones by touch through my boots and the rusty sight nourished my mood.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Carried Off by Sounds of the Road and Return to the Point of a Fish Hook

Weather felt right. Perhaps I just didn't have enough time to fish, 20 minutes. I looked 180 degrees to the right of this view photographed and remembered fishing for bass in May in a far corner of Round Valley.

The months since that time have been full of ideas and images for the three novels I've been working on. It feels like I've never had a bad day on the road for my job this entire six months, and I can think of only a few that weren't very pleasurable. Now I'm working on one novel to actually try and finish, rather than running around in a thousand directions at once.

I had plenty of time today to concentrate and get words on paper fished from the bottom depths, not only scattered to the winds and reflected light, or carried off by sounds of the road having become lingual phrases creatively transfigured by mental overdrive.

But I did take about a month's hiatus from actually typing this first novel I hope to finish, and finally realized I need a shot of ordinary reality to get started again. So if I get some time to fish Round Valley, catch trout, and possibly fish the canal for some of that ambulatory exercise I enjoy, expect posts to get more to the point of a fish hook.

Will there be ice in New Jersey this winter? If so, I plan to ice fish at least a couple of times. But my guess is that this winter will be another mild one. I was right last early December, but I was more certain then, too. Who knows.