Saturday, August 31, 2013

Trout to be Stocked in October

Local Rivers to be Stocked with Trout in October

By Bruce Litton

          Fall trout stocking by the state is not met with the springtime crowds, and although fewer streams get fewer trout, they’re larger. Last year, 20,000 14 to 16-inch rainbow and brook trout, and 1000 18 to 22-inches, were stocked in 17 streams and 15 ponds and lakes statewide over a two week period beginning the second week in October. In our region, the North and South Branch Raritan, Raritan, Musconetcong, Pequest, Paulinskill, Black, Wanaque, Ramapo, and Rockaway rivers, and Pohatcong Creek and Big Flat Brook are the scenic flows to be enhanced with fish, which by wintertime will be quite adjusted and wild. According to the NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife Fall 2012 Stocking Schedule, the ponds and lakes to be stocked are from Middlesex County southward. This does include Farrington Lake near New Brunswick. There are no stream closings on stocking days, but plenty of trout escape the relatively few eager fishermen who await the hatchery trucks. It's still August, and as yet I haven't found information for the fall ahead.

          Fall and winter fly fishing in the Highlands and Ridge is not the popular pursuit that catches the eye of passing motorists in the springtime when parked cars line up near stream access, but those who enjoy it may feel rewarded with solitude in out of the way places. The Big Flatbrook, for example, flows for 16.5 miles of remote Sussex County with great views of Kittatiny Ridge rising above. The Paulinskill River features gorges--as does the Black River in Hacklebarney State Park--not as dramatic as the South Branch Raritan River’s Ken Lockwood Gorge, but other gorges may offer solitude when the popular Califon destination is packed with anglers.

          Fly fishermen anticipate mild weekend days in January and February to fish Hare’s Ear and stonefly nymphs, zebra and brown midges, and wide panoply of possible bead-head weighted fly patterns. With a winter as mild as the previous two, it may be possible to fish a late afternoon midge hatch with tiny dry flies.

         In any case—even with bait—winter fishing is tough and you need to keep interest alive by fishing with serious persistence. Angling, for all its contemplative value, is a game with a single objective—to catch fish. And like any game, when you score, you feel satisfaction as confidence is aroused and then the anxiety associated with a desire to win, so you move on with the next approach and try to involve the whole outing. Every outing is unique, and what I find so cool about fishing is that it’s never like returning to the same field format of other sports, even when the same river is revisited. After all, it was the philosopher Heraclitus who said you never step into the same river twice, and while you may not step onto the same football field twice either, the field format is the same everywhere.

          So fishing is inexact by comparison to other sports, the variables as wild as nature itself, which means evaluations of how good the fishing is are different according to opportunity and season, and the weather and water conditions met with must be considered. In our region, the number of trout stocked is about uniform on the streams mentioned. You don’t have to be fancy and use a fly rod, and October will probably be your best bet to catch a few on live fathead minnows, or even salmon eggs and two-pound test line for an exciting struggle given the size of these fish. I tempted a 16-inch rainbow in November from under the route 202-206 North Branch Raritan bridge using a baby nightcrawler on two-pound test, and once tried nickel-sized sacks of salmon eggs I brought home from salmon and steelhead fishing near Lake Ontario. They did work, but I’m not sure any better than single eggs on size 14 hooks.

          Use no weight besides a snap for salmon eggs (on two-pound test leaders) unless depth and power of current require split shot to get the bait near bottom. But fish the deep holes and weight fathead minnows as lightly as possible.

          I usually don’t bring home fish since I usually judge them to be more valuable in the water, but I bring memories back every time out. These are not necessarily sentimental post card depictions with sweet feelings in the mist, but substance acquired directly from nature in the way experience strengthens sense, the way game choices I make exercise my mind, and the way successes confirm efficacy in specific, subtle ways. Don’t think for a moment fishing is a bore sitting on a bucket. Give it the best.       


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Round Valley Reservoir Smallmouth Bass on Jigs and Topwater Plugs

Felt like we had Round Valley Reservoir all to ourselves. The far back cove behind Ranger's looked so good with equal patches of vegetation down to 20 feet or so and sandy bottom with branches and stuff that I felt perplexed at no hits on our plastics. We motored down reservoir to the right a mile or so and began fishing jigs 15 to 23 feet down. At 15-18 feet or so we had some minor problems with vegetation, but the bottom was pretty hard with some stuff on it. I got snagged three times. Another time I came up with the smallmouth photographed. The jigs with synthetic leeches yielded both of us some rock bass and Fred missed hits. Mostly, the outing involved catching up on how life had been since Fred told me back in April he was headed out west. He had an amazing 3700-mile drive full of hiking adventures and fishing the Yellowstone River after landing in Phoenix with his wife. I've always meant to get out west and have a few times in relatively superficial ways. Plenty of time is left ahead for ranging further and deeper. I've been dallying a lot on the East Coast and have a curiosity for comparisons of commercial fishing Maine to Florida, having been in the commercial business for 13 years. But the likes of this can get too bound to seeing things in a certain way, like how I was getting interested in Highlands New Jersey as if it comprises enough of the world--before we left for Ocracoke this summer. I should reach out westward just as I had meant to as a 20-year-old.

The sun slipped behind the western Cushetunk Mountains and all was so peaceful we could hear a pileated woodpecker loudly clear across the water on the eastern side. When real darkness began to fall, I tied on a Hedden Torpedo with just enough light to guide my clinch knot. On the first cast, the plug got blasted right over the vegetation about 12 to 14 feet deep. I reacted to try and set the hook immediately--you have to let a bass take for a split second. The next cast got two hits. Fred tied a popper onto his second rod. No more hits came. Then, when Fred was finished with the jig, he guided the boat very slowly with the electric up the shoreline, popping his plug. This was the right idea. It yielded a smallmouth for me and I lost another over the weeds and, I suppose, rocks. I was in the forward position, so I was advantaged. I noticed that when action stopped. We also came in very close to try right up against the bank as if bass may have moved in to rush baitfish.

It was dark. Clouds we had watched had moved in. Lightning flickered so Fred pulled the starter cord. It always makes me nervous to have deep clouds over me when a thunderstorm is forecast because lightning has to begin somewhere. In the distance, it already had. And a thunderhead can spawn a new beginning as a surprise. But I just figured that if lightning began to strike in our quarter, there wasn't anything we could do but continue to head for the ramp, so I relaxed. I've had some close calls--lightening strikes within feet of me--and so has Fred. When we had the boat trailered, it began to rain very lightly, but we sparked up more conversation having forgotten about the storm that apparently forgot itself--no rain here 20 minutes away--and forgot the tension hooking some fish, all the persistence and hope to catch more. But I think Fred's idea of fishing topwater plugs in among the rocks of the dike near the ramp at night is a good one. It's a good one at least to try.