Saturday, April 5, 2014

Opening Day Rainbow Trout, Taking in Hunterdon Hills

 Awaiting 8:00 a.m.

We almost turned around and went home. I've fished a lot of Opening Days since 1971, but none with water as muddy and high as this morning. There may have been an absolute washout one of the Opening Days I would have fished; I don't remember for certain, but I knew better than to judge the conditions unfishable this morning, and faced putting on my resistant neoprene waders. The first five minutes or so of fishing yielded nothing to anyone, so when my son, Matt, suddenly played a trout, I felt a little surprised. The bright pink eggs paid off. We filled a single limit of rainbows in an hour, and then drove downstream along Federal Twist Road. By then wind tunneled down Locatong Creek's valley.

These Hunterdon Hills, Kingwood to Raven Rock descending hundreds of feet, are really much more than the cursory eye of daily doings perceives. Way back in 1978 I once ascended the Locatong from its mouth at the canal a full two miles and back, all the way to Strimple's Mill, catching smallmouth bass on Twister grubs rigged on a plain hook without weight. That August day I came upon no one else, and I remember seeing only one house just before the mill rises in view over the stream. Relating this story to my son here at home wouldn't mean much, and of course I never had, but as we parked at a bridge upstream of the mill, I enjoyed deep pleasure in the telling.

We stood on this bridge you see below and I shot more photos. The stream flowed forbiddingly, the current moving more like a freight train than a black bull you back away from, and where the trout would lie exactly in all that water seemed worthless to try. But we got our rods and I nailed a rainbow on my first cast, the water deep enough to reach against the wind holding fish or at least one was there. I had to mend line against the current and the wind, saw the line twitch, set, and engaged play. Nevertheless, that wind was too much and we were out of there in minutes. It billowed through from right under the bridge. We added some weight to our snaps today.

And then I showed Matt Strimple's Mill, a little surprised the place is still there, and it even looked as if it's been in use recently with some saw dust underneath. Broken windows, rotted sidings, an open view of the inside--all this suggested that it's been abandoned for years, all except the saw dust that surely would have been swept away by recent big storms. How long it's been since I've seen the place I can't remember, but I spoke about the black & white photo print hanging in our study of my brother Rick, fishing those same shallows near the bridge, Strimple's Mill in the background. He was 10, so 36 years ago and some days or weeks.

I experienced a realization that would have appalled me in younger years. I posed the simple question: why have we been coming up here for the past 39 years? Not every year, but often enough. There used to be a residence we called Tobacco Road on Federal Twist, a total wreck of a place with junk and rusted cars in the front yard, yet inhabited. My family on my father's side originally comes from the mountains of West Virginia, hillbillies, some who were ambitious and decided to take on the big world, moving to the city of Charleston. My parents grew up in Charleston, my father a paid organist at 17, playing for the Charleston Senators minor league baseball club at the stadium. Musically gifted, he became a world class performer. He once told me he was sure his ancestors in the West Virginia mountains played various musical instruments. This eased my feelings, because it used to bother me that I come from such unsophisticated roots.

And there we were, riding down the hills towards the Delaware River, and it all seemed to make sense. I took in the scenes deeply, deciding to take CR 523 through Sergeantsville on the ride home, viewing Stockton and this smaller town with a military-sounding name as if we are still back in the Middle Ages, and that our technology is yet primitive compared to what we will achieve. Think 5000 years from now, let alone six or seven hundred since before the European Renaissance. But it felt good to return to modern conveniences, once home, and know that I would be on the computer. It still bothers me a bit, those farmstead origins. But ultimately, it's no different for anyone else. We all come from cave men and bush wanderers.

Strimple's Mill Beside the Locatong

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