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.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Backwoods Bedminster Bass Pond Silted In

This evening I read one of my posts from early October, 2011, thoughts I gathered while fishing the North Branch Raritan River for smallmouths, this actually posted on my dormant blog, Fishing in New Jersey. At the end of it, I made the point that the best a government can do is protect a man's right to get up and go out alone, an opinion I still hold of course, that a just government's primary role is to protect the individual rights of the citizens of the nation it represents. I had been mulling over whether or not to post anything tonight and instead of deciding one way or the other, I remembered that this post from October 6th, 2011, was a good one, and typed in "North Branch Raritan River Release," which brought it up on Google. That last sentence hooked me. I had gone out alone earlier today, fought briars, dense vegetation, and deadfalls hiking back in woods I had never visited, trying to find a pond I was told about six or seven years ago or more.

I wasn't sure how I would really feel. I'm not 16 anymore. I fight brambles in other places, so why not. But this place had limited parking. At least I had believed it did, discovered otherwise when I got there. I had to get there by bicycle. I hid my 4 piece Ugly Stik in a backpack in its original container--some of the total sticking out the top--so I would not look like a fool pedaling a bike with a fishing pole. I slung my camera bag too and certainly appeared interesting I'm sure in rush hour traffic on 202-206. I hid my bike in the woods and followed deer trails. I had to maneuver around a lot, but I finally came to a dam. First I heard the water and figured that's what it was. But when I made my way up top, I found that the guy who told me about this place--loaded with bass, which made sense since it's below private Sunset Lake (loaded with bass) on the same stream--was no liar, but had a very long memory. There's been no bass here for many years. The entire pond is silted in. Cattails everywhere, some big, lotus-like aquatic plants but no pond at all, although the dam betrays that at one time long ago, this was a pond back in the woods.

I hiked out, still feeling good. I had found that once I was in the woods, the boyish feeling of being alone on the trail of something--possibly--enlivened me and restored an acuteness of my senses. There are places back in the woods in New Jersey that do have bass. Some of them are many miles back. And it's not aversion at inconvenience and pain at pricker bushes if you have a mind and body that can respond to this land we share. What is America? Most think of the people and of course the American people comprise the nation, but America is also the land on which we live. It might be nice to get off the sidewalks on occasion.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hybrid Stripers and Walleyes on Live Herring

Three Herring Approaches for Fall Hybrid Stripers and Walleye

By Bruce Litton


          The bite persists until ice arrives, thereafter by other methods, and using herring is a rival approach to vertical jigging that pays off better sometimes. Bundle up if it’s cold and bring a coffee filled thermos and sandwiches to burn calories. The elements can take it out of you, so fish hard.

          Last year I discovered steel bottom walker rigs that get around snags and click audibly, if clicks make any difference to fish, possibly not at all. Drifted deep along drop off edges, herring on size eight treble hooks tied to 40 inch, eight pound test fluorocarbon leader swim over rocks as the heavy gauge wire extension trips on catch surfaces, the steel weight avoiding wedging. The treble hook increases the chance of swifter set and prevents a single shank hook turning in upon the head of the herring. Hook herring through the nose. If you buy a walker with a swing arm, it prevents line twist and tangle.

          Fishing a walker is simple and certainly riles up walleye that live among submerged stone palaces, as well as hybrids that frequent the bottom also. Keep your hand on the reel seat and index finger on the line, bail open, to give a little line before setting the hook. Some use several rods in holders with drag set just tight enough for the fish to hook itself, but more hits may be missed this way. Watch the graph and if a lot of fish are marked suspended, try the second method I have to offer. But fish right on bottom usually can’t be seen on the graph, and they are down there.

          I fished last year with Lake Hopatcong veteran Joe Landolfi, who showed me how to drift herring in the mid-range column. Until then, I had always fished right on bottom, typically along the break between flat depth and the rising rocks of a point or other drop-off. Summer hybrid fishing means weightless live-lining, but now I know using a ¾ ounce steel egg sinker, and the small treble, is effective for suspended fish, plenty of them. Simple, easy for me to have overlooked, herring usually school mid-range in the water colume. Even walleye may rise up and get them.

          This is a great way to kick back, tell stories, and enjoy the weather compared to the rigors of vertical jigging. Setting rods horizontally so that guides lock them in place against gunnel edge allows you to hang back, let the wind blow, and relax. Set the drag just tight enough for a strike set.

          Catching the right wind angle is necessary. Some points may come right up on you as wind drives you directly towards them, but if you have an electric motor, so long as wind isn’t too heavy, you can vertical jig instead.

          Or you can anchor and try the third approach. Last year we came upon Marty Roberts fishing the deep edge of a drop-off, anchored. He had a school of two to three pound hybrids right under his boat, and dropped herring on lines weighted by large split shots 29 feet down, cranked twice, and awaited strikes that came left and right—he fished two rods, standing or seated between them. Double anchoring doesn’t help, according to Marty; he likes a little swing to cover some space. But if the wind blows like an arctic invasion, double up.

          When anchored and fishing directly under the boat, chumming is effective. Keep and freeze any herring that die for this purpose, mash, and mesh them, tying off a bag with thin diameter cord. You can buy mesh online and at hobby stores. Placed a few feet under the boat, a snapping turtle won’t get it this time of year. But the boat rocking in the chop will release tiny herring pieces and oils, striper attractants.

          For all three methods, that break between flat depth and drop-offs is the primary edge of concern this time of year, all the way down at the deep end of a drop-off. But it’s no absolute that all fish travel the line, nor do those suspended necessarily hang over it. They might not even be on or over a drop off, but off structure by 50 or a hundred feet or so, suspended at sporadic depths over 45 or 50 foot depths, or whatever. But they are not all over the place or just anywhere. Marty swore that if he placed bait at any depth other than 28 to 29 feet, he’d get nothing. And when the anchor drifted a little, he didn’t catch any. What I never understood was why the school stayed in place so long. But a lot of things mystify me. It’s an absolute, though, that fishing’s a pursuit, and when you do find fish, you should feel good about it.