Saturday, May 31, 2014

Butler Reservoir Pickerel and Bass West Milford New Jersey

Butler reservoir may be worth the hike

          Set more than a mile back in Apshawa Preserve, 40-acre Butler Reservoir in West Milford Township is accessible by hiking the moderately strenuous White Trail to the area near the dam. The Preserve is a joint project of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the County of Passaic, well worth a visit by those who like to combine fishing with hiking. The view from atop the mountain summit over Butler Reservoir and a wide regional vista is worth a long, relaxing break. Particularly with the cool breezes of early fall, this could be nice. After a quick descent, an area of about 150 yards of shoreline is all my son and I fished on our recent family outing, and we found the fishing is good for largemouth bass and pickerel. Supposedly, smallmouth bass exist, but I’ve never caught one in water stained by tannic acid, although some rock structure exists in Butler Reservoir, which is necessary for bronzebacks. Fifteen-foot depths near the spillway also support this information’s possible veracity. Otherwise, this is a shallow impoundment: lily pads and other aquatic vegetation are abundant.

          My son began fishing a buzzbait and I shot off half-a-dozen casts with a spinnerbait that felt like it wasn’t moving close and slow enough to vegetation, so I snapped on a Rebel Pop-R. After 10 minutes I felt the rhythm of working the topwater plug next to and in pockets of weeds, but my wife called me over to the spillway. Our black Labrador apparently threated to leap over, but she was just intensely curious with her claws dug in and neck over the edge. No way would she have jumped.

          With deeper water to try, I tied a Chompers worm to 15-pound fluorocarbon and barrel swivel connecting 15-pound test Power Pro. We came prepared for heavy vegetation and pickerel. Fluorocarbon resists abrasive rows of razor teeth. Retrieving the worm back at quick speed for the next cast drew interest from a couple of small pickerel, but I felt interested in at least a fair-size fish.

          I fished the rock dam structure of some sort out in deeper water very closely, not really expectant but making sure. Then I observed that at the far edge of the spillway a slot existed between the bank and a micro weed edge about five feet long and very thin, forming a pocket with weeds in the back of it, leaving open an entry way to the shallow spillway bottom where water flows, finally to drop over the edge. In that pocket, I wholly anticipated the possibility of a bass. Most of the casts any of us make prove less certain. On occasion, we can anticipate a fish without seeing it. My cast propelled the worm about 60 feet in a straight line and it landed perfectly in the pocket’s middle. The line slack, I felt a subtle tick through my St. Croix medium power graphite rod and through line loose and limp, transmitted like a sort of weak electrical click. I let the bass take line for five seconds, then set the hook hard and all three of us marveled at the aerial show the bass gave almost immediately, a good bass about 2 ½ pounds that I finally prepared to grasp at the lower jaw, eager to hold up for my wife—when I saw the hook pull free. I got the fish nearly to my feet. 

          Soon I unhooked and released a small bass. Throughout this time, intermittently, I looked for other places to stand and cast around the reservoir and noted there quite a few. You can hike all the way around to enjoy perhaps several hours or more of steady fishing. A lot of this could be done with soft-bodied plastic rats and frogs. These draw ferocious strikes from bass and pickerel when the time is right. The worms obviously work with an inset hook, but pickerel less likely take them, although we’ve caught more than a few over the years slow-fishing worms as if for bass.

          Butler Reservoir is an out of the way place not far from plenty that isn’t, such as the Town Tavern Country Restaurant where we ate afterwards, and is wild enough for surprises. As Matt led us towards the parking lot, he watched the trail in front of him when Sadie, our Labrador, stopped walking and Matt suddenly looked up. A big bear 20 or 30 feet away looked directly into his eyes as if to say, “What are you doing?” She had two cubs. Matt said, “Woh…,” while backing up. The bears turned and wandered away.

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