Friday, September 20, 2013

South Branch Raritan River for End of Season Smallmouths

I fished the South Branch Tuesday and once last week, also Round Valley, and caught nothing but a redbreast sunfish using Senko-type and slower sinking Chompers worms. I didn't have time today to go downstream around that bend to explore, but did catch an average stream bass and another smaller near the edges of fast water to the right.

We may read about a new spot this year. Even with today's time limit, I can relate a new spot upstream that's deep, a bass lost to it. No further action would be a surprise because it looked good. I thought about two favorite rivers--North Branch besides--and the possibility for really taking some time on the North Branch, possibly getting further downstream from the Lamington River confluence than I've gone, leaving my Nikon SLR behind, taking the waterproof GoPro and a waterproof backpack. Not far below the bridge abutments, where wading the edge used to be no serious problem, Sandy downed a couple of trees and holes have been dug out by the current around the bases. These can be waded waste deep, but I would swim a section further downstream. When my son and I penetrated about a half mile down from Cowperthwaite Road and the old iron bridge over the Lamington, we managed to get by through some thick brambles, but it would be easier to get thoroughly wet, possibly necessary further down.

In my teens, I used to catch a lot of smallmouths in Stony Brook, Princeton, NJ. I had a deep passion for that stream. I'm older now and should move on. I want to try bluewater fishing off the Outer Banks, for example, and have tried the reef in the Keys, etc. etc. But a real longing to reawaken more of this passion goes back to when I was eight, and later knew it best as a teen, if I only manage to fulfill it for a matter of hours on a given day. When I fish the South Branch, I'm limited to about an hour. It's also further from home. But even little time makes a big difference. And it calls me back to try and put some more time in, even though I know I can't promise myself I'll do it next year with the demands of writing a novel.

I keep a detailed fishing log. Perhaps this evening, or soon, I'll revisit Stony Brook by the symbols, numbers, and notes marked many years ago and draw some comparisons. The bass were much more abundant, and over the past decade I've fished Stony half a dozen times or more and found the bass depleted. I don't know why. Fishing pressure doesn't seem to explain it. Legal size is 12 inches and no one seems to fish bass in Stony anyhow and never did, besides myself and my younger brother. Few fish bass in the South Branch, and all those who do seem to release them.

At any rate, all sorts of vistas sweep through my mind and grounding them with some facts from the log will help put them in organized perspectives. Rivers are places that mean a lot more than meets than eye, and why be limited to just catching fish? If so, plugging away at the old South Branch, usually catching one or two average stream bass about nine inches long within an hour, would seem futile. I love to wade and photograph the river, even though many of the photos are pretty bland, and I've done some snorkeling with my son on the North Branch, which is very relaxing and interesting. With the GoPro more snorkeling yet is imminently possible. There's something about experiencing small rivers that brings me home, yet a lot of what life is all about is not home, but novelty far afield and breaking free from such roots, establishing yourself by broader, more expensive adventures--and bigger fish! There's always a lot besides fish to experience on an expensive excursion. But I don't want to turn my back altogether on what I started as a boy, because the river seems to inform me that this business just isn't finished yet.

The most compelling question involves that I don't really know what this experience is. I do know it is something that cannot be answered by thinking alone. If whatever it is that pulls were only answerable by a question, then I could answer by framing the question in words and, through thinking, arrive upon a sufficient answer. Or could anyone? Many questions of philosophy go unanswered, or do so at least for most of a philosopher's lifetime. Einstein asked what would be the unified field theory, devoted much of his later years to arriving upon the answer, and failed. And in my case, this unexplained X about rivers, if it can be answered through a question, could only be met through a quest, physical and demanding--and only then perhaps the answer might dawn in the form of a thought. Interesting to consider that such a thought would be no more than a shadow of life lived out. Who hasn't been thoroughly active in hot afternoon sun and relaxed in the shade thereafter, feeling as if all the world's his possession?

It goes back before my ambition at age nine to become a zoologist. I told a Boy Scout parent last weekend that I'm just good enough a naturalist to kill myself if I'm stupid, commenting on red berries I think were edible wintergreen. But not even my passion for science and collecting and observing live specimens when this sort of thing was not punishable by law, which never became a career, explains it. I could read scientific accounts of rivers, which I'm not opposed to doing and have read some, which might help inform my quest. But I keep a sparing pace in the departments of naturalism and scientific explanations. My quest is more related to poetry, perhaps, if this is ironic for the physical demand I mentioned and described in a post on the North Branch earlier in the summer. But the idea doesn't move me to write poems so much as to get back out on the river.

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