Had just enough time to go upstream to the spot where I caught a two-pounder this time last year, also on a Strike King, Senko-type worm. I approached quietly, winged in a long cast, and waited, the water at least four feet deep, nothing happening. Anxious that rocks would hang up the worm, I moved it slowly and felt a tick, gave slack, then tightened up and set the hook.
"This is a real nice bass," I told myself. I couldn't move the fish; the drag gave. Within a second I knew I had a better bass on than the two-pounder from last year. The drag gave several times, although the bass never jumped. It looked smaller in the clear water than I knew once I had it at my feet. Nineteen-and-a-quarter inches and chunkier than appears in the photo, this fish was fully four pounds. Happy to release it, I wondered, while walking back to my car, if it will be there next summer.
A week ago I caught a two-pound smallmouth on Round Valley Reservoir and told Fred that it would probably be my biggest smallmouth of the year. We had tried Pepacton Reservoir; my son had caught the two big ones on Hopatcong, and we got washed out of another likely smallmouth trip. When I spoke to Fred, I hadn't placed much hope in the South Branch, but I've been fishing it pretty persistently over the past four years.
Two days ago the South Branch was running too high and somewhat stained. I did manage to catch an average stream bass on a Strike King worm, but that was the only hit I got. Today, stream level was just right, nice and clear, and even chilly after last night's upper 40's or low 50's. Maybe I'll get a chance to try elsewhere on the river next week.
So after four years fishing this river for smallmouths, I finally catch a real nice bass. It takes that long, at least it's taken me this long, to begin to know a few spots, just little niches that hold nice fish. The river makes an impression on me as a wild place not visited much by people, except at the bridges and other road access, and for the most part, bass live without angling contact. It takes some effort to walk through brambles where water is too deep to wade, and wade for many hundreds of yards without finding fishable water, and when you do find places where bass reside, you know better than to tell anyone.