Friday, July 5, 2013

Lake Hopatcong Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, Bluegills, Pumpkinseeds, White Perch 1950's Style

We arrived at Dow's 4:35 a.m., backing down the drive, unloading all the gear including a 65-pound battery for the electric. We sat, my son sound asleep before I had the gear set aside, and the older gentleman, Jimmy, came around getting things in order in the dark for a 4th of July weekend. Dow's now opens at 5:30, but Jimmy got us going earlier with a 9.9 (as usual) and what bait we needed. When Joe pulled up in a boat from pre-dawn herring forays, Jimmy had already begun to prepare our departure as I moved our copious belongings into the boat.

"Business is a third of what it used to be and it's not coming back. The kids aren't fishing. It's a thing of the past now," I was told. I've been aware for years that kids don't fish like they used to. They don't do anything outdoors like they used to. In my old neighborhood, I visited the Woods about six years ago where I spent much of my childhood. There used to be well defined trails not made by adults. Absolutely all the trails I found grown over and no new paths.

Despite my knowing about the likes of all this already, it wasn't an easy ride in the pre-dawn twilight out to Pickerel Point. Honestly, I felt like a fool part of the way because I invest so much value in a pursuit that seems to have no future. It occurred to me that the animal rights persuasion doesn't need to get any laws passed against fishing. In another 30 years or so, no one will do it anyway.

Really? I bet fishermen will persevere. I had a rough start on the morning.

The clouds overhead passing swiftly without too much wind on Lake Hopatcong meant fishing should be good, but we experienced a slow start. Matt caught some big bluegills and pumpkinseeds on nightcrawlers and I caught the small walleye photographed on a live herring. I cast a Wacky rigged Senko-type worm into the relative shallows and worked it back patiently quite a number of times around Pickerel Point, while letting herring do their thing. I'll always remember when I heard the unmistakable pops of hybrid bass busting bait (herring) at the surface. I quickly looked in that direction and saw the splashes. Then it was over. We were preparing to move our herring out there when a jet ski ploughed right over where I saw the fish.

We went to a new spot and once again set up shop. Just like at Pickerel Point, Matt found large sunfish under the boat in about 16 or 17 feet of water instead of 20. Maybe it was 20, the drop is very sharp. I was getting 14, 15 feet on the graph recorder at the back of the boat towards the rock outcroppings. He caught a 16-inch smallmouth on a free-lined herring. This fish hit in about 15 feet of water. He lost something else on a herring as I did, also. I got my Senko snagged and let it be for awhile and would later lose half of my four piece Ugly Stick, while forcing a line break because the boat swang too close to rocks. When he line broke, the two upper sections disappeared into the lake faster than I could see.

The big excitement of the morning--Matt's 18 1/2 inch smallmouth. This fish made the day an event we'll never forget. He used a chewed-up piece of nightcrawler for the sunfish and white perch when the bass moved in. The fight on his ultra-light thrilled. That bass did not want to come to the net. "Let it go. Take your time," I said. It ran off line at least half-a-dozen times and once jumped.

Scarcity inspires alternatives, and out of nightcrawlers, I had us try cut pieces of dead herring. The white perch seemed especially to like them, but so did the sunfish, and can you believe I caught my smallmouth bass on a piece of cut bait herring?

We could have fished more conventionally by today's rules. Perhaps the way we fished today is more like an outing from of the 1950's, an era of bait fisherman compared to the corporate lure revolution of the early 1970's. One salient difference between then and now, however, is that we released all of our catch besides the walleye (Lobster of the Lake) and a white perch hooked badly. Outings previous years we've stayed on the lake eight or nine hours and fished plastic worms around the docks the way bass pros do. That way, we caught largemouths over three pounds. With the electric, there's no reason we can't do this with a rented 9.9. It's not as convenient as a bow mount, but I get about. We did almost hit the rocks and I lost a rod, but so what.

Today's a holiday weekend and boat traffic became oppressive. It's the first time we've fished the lake, besides in October and November, when lots of people have off from work. I felt happy to leave after six hours and Matt was ready to go too.

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