Monday, October 21, 2013

Lake Hopatcong Walleyes, Hybrid Stripers, Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, Crappies

The portable running lights' suction cups were useless, so I held the white stern light, Matt the green and red bow light, as we chugged across Lake Hopatcong in one of Dow's 9.9-horsepower, 16-foot boats in the dark. The moon was full or just a sliver off, getting low on the northwestern horizon. Wind raced past our ears--cold--and stung our faces with spray. Matt was grateful I insisted on his jacket.

"It might be cold on the lake," I had said

"It's not cold out," Matt said as we prepared to leave Bedminster.

I bet it was at least 10 degrees colder at that nearly 1000-foot elevation. Bedminster is 81 feet where we live. Matt averted wind and spray by huddling in the bow space.

All rigged before we arrived, I baited six rods with herring in very low light. Matt caught the first fish, a crappie, and as I unhooked it, he said, "Dad, your rod just bent double." My head pivoted towards the stern, port side, as I reached for the rod in the corner with my right hand. I grabbed it, tightened up, set the hook, and was happy the fish was still there. First walleye, 20 1/2 inches.

I had set the herring fairly shallow, maybe 20 feet down. My hands stung by the cold air, the water inside the live well assured minor pain, water warm to the touch, I suppose about 60 degrees, but my hands quickly chilled in the wind. My graph recorder with thermometer is on the blink.

I keep bails open on the rods with herring set by steel egg sinkers, but line must have caught somehow to bend that rod. Soon we were into hybrids, all of these fish hitting in what would have been about 33 feet of water if the lake weren't down four feet. Matt caught four total, two of them close to three pounds and two about two pounds, all of them putting up the struggle they're famous for.

If we were the fish, and the fish fought on the winning end, it would be a struggle a lot harder for us, no matter how the fish judged our prowess. We lost none yesterday, but missed some hits. Some hybrids got the bait, but no fish got free during a fight. You can tell it's a hybrid by the quick speed of line from the spool after the fish takes a herring. If you hook one on a Binsky or Gotcha, you can tell by the jolting runs.

I was into the 26-inch, five-pound, 15-ounce walleye about a half hour after sunrise, line having slowly rolled off the spool. It swam right towards the boat and I told Matt, "Small fish."

Just then it bolted for bottom and I changed my mind. I pumped the fish to surface, and said, "Big walleye!" "Yeah, small fish," Matt said, and netted it.

My largest hybrid was 20 inches. The Berkeley electronic scale indexed 3 pounds, 10 ounces, and I think I had Matt hold it for the photo. At any rate, that hybrid he's holding looks better than three pounds. Another was 18 inches, two close to this length. I nailed largemouth bass, catching a total of eight about the size photographed. The smallmouth was 16 1/2 inches.

Matt usually likes to use nightcrawlers, and I had my eight-foot Tica with 20-pound test Power Pro, a steel leader, and steel Mustad hook to put a yellow perch hooked near the dorsal down under the boat 15 feet or so with drag set light for a possible musky. Hell of a way to catch one, if any hit, but why not. Turned out Matt used no nightcrawlers, but I used nearly all three dozen. All the bass I played on one of our two ultra-light St. Croix rods I built from components such as rod blanks; cork I filed, shaped, and sanded; guides I wrapped and varnished; reel seats. The smallmouth was a dream come true. Not only did it fight super hard on that rod, it was just about within the size class of smallmouths we have caught consistently the past three years including this summer, although some of these other bass have been 18 and 18 1/2 inches.

"Look at that smallmouth!" I was blown away, seeing it in the clear water. I just didn't really expect we'd score another nice one yesterday.

Matt was mostly content to curl up and sleep in the bow and I didn't hold it against him. Who knows how late he was up. I always tell him to go to bed early before Hopatcong. Nevertheless, he enjoyed the trip and I don't mean that ironically. I kept busy fishing the whole eight hours, sometimes taking a break to just breathe fresh air and take in stunning lake views, absorb the distance all around, feel the breeze and wind (variable) that didn't warm a whole lot (I never took off my jacket). The weather felt seasonal enough to change pain and shivering into that pleasant zest of fall.

Before we had left the marina to cross in the dark, I bought a Binsky from Laurie. I wasn't sure it was going to satisfy, but once I began working it--vertically, diagonally--I knew I had found the lure to replace for me the Gotchas and Rapala Ice Jigs. That vibrant motion must really attract fish. At any rate, no walleyes or hybrids today, but I caught two crappies and a pumpkinseed, these fish in about 30 to 35 feet of water at Pickerel Point and off Chestnut Point. I wanted to fish the lure longer, compelled, but after a couple of hours in brilliant sunlight that seemed to turn the walleyes and hybrids off by 8:30, I knew we had to go or I would get behind on things at home.

As it turned out, I got to sleep at 11:00 p.m. after non-stop busyness, and got through today's workday without getting tired.

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