Wednesday, July 17, 2013

North Branch Raritan River Smallmouth Bass Difficultly Gained

Left at 6:00 pm and soon began the long hike and wading to our favorite North Branch Raritan spot. Like last year, the hole was all but completely dead, and this after over a 10-year history of my son and I catching smallmouth and some largemouth bass since he was three, although I was alone this evening. Slogging through water with soft bottom to get there especially onerous, I don't remember it being so tough or else I'm suddenly aging, which I usually don't feel at all. I guess that's all the more reason to get away from the usual ease and take these stress tests.

I had four killies left from fishing Island Beach a month ago. I fished two of them in our favorite hole and lost a small bass, one of the killies still fishable later. Becoming drenched in perspiration fast, the temperature hovered over 90. Felt a little surprised at how the river felt like bath water. I cast a Senko so I could reach spots clear across the river and missed two hits. Then I went downstream.

The stretch further from the parked car is my new favorite, perhaps. So once upon a time the stretch up above, which apparently gets some pressure, got the favor and now the stretch where it's difficult to wade close to the bank and not get deeper than the cell phone in the pocket is the preferred. But I've never caught a bass here better than 13 inches, and have caught a couple of bass over three pounds, and some others close to two pounds above. One of those bass nearly 19 inches long, we sighted another there of at least 20 inches.

Most stream bass measure about nine inches, and five of the six total I caught today were about that, one of them a little over 12 inches and close to a pound, a hard fighting fish. Three of them on the killies and three on seven and eight-inch Chompers worms. One of the bass I caught hit the Chompers on the surface as I retrieved to make another cast.

Apparently Sandy took several trees down in this stretch lengthwise along the bank, further down than I photographed below. When a tree or other large obstruction is in the water, flood currents dig around it and deepen the water, so I couldn't get all the way down the stretch and into the back I used to like to fish, not without getting my camera and lure bags wet. I had already placed my cell phone, keys, and wallet in my camera bag. My lure bag took a bad rip. It's ancient, susceptible, and needs replacement. I was careful not to lose a lot of money's worth of lures.

So much for my dream of actually hiking and wading all the way down to Route 28 and back, a total of about five miles. Not sure I could even do that without swimming at times. A kayak would work, by dragging it through some riffles. My son and I did get about half a mile further downstream once. Even then we had to do some tricky bank climbing to get around impassable water, impassable without swimming, that is.

I had some nice moments just before sunset when the air felt like it had cooled significantly. I had got as far downstream as I could with my two bags, unless I was going to deposit them on the high bank and risk thigh chafing on the wade and hike back. I thought of what efforts the outdoors sometime demand, and yet you can feel good in spite of the difficulty--even because of it. You struggle, and then when you relax with ease the response is pleasure and everything around you is nice, beautiful, and right.


  1. Try taking a roll-top drypack along to keep the essentials dry, and hit the deeper water without fear. I use a fishing kayak and wade whenever the situation presents itself. Love the smallie reports. Keep them coming.

    1. I may, but I doubt I'm ever doing all five miles. Do you fish the North & South Branch, Paulinskill? Hopatcong or other lakes? We're going to try to get out on Split Rock and have reservations booked at Pepacton Reservoir.

    2. I've done the S. Branch, looking for more info on the N. Branch productive sections. My local water is Splitrock, but its a zoo during the weekends in summer. I've done the Big D, Upper section and through the Gap. I've paddled/fished most of the lakes in northern NJ, a growing list of water in the ADKs, the N. Branch of the Susky in Pa. and a few PA lakes, as well as locations in Conn.

    3. We tried Split Rock for a couple of hours a week or two ago--one little smallmouth. Also posted on Delaware River near Barryville Sunday. I like the Big D a lot, have since I was 17. There's a lot of lakes in North Jersey & each year I add to my list. The little rivers are great, but we got skunked on Ramapo and Wanaque trying for smallmouths. Most of the North Branch from Lamington confluence down has productive water, and have even caught smallmouth at the AT&T stretches. I hear they're all the way up in Natirar. Do you strictly fish smallmouths?


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