Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ramapo State Forest Hike and Bass at Ramapo Lake

Set out for new range in the New Jersey Highlands, easy to access Ramapo State Forest in Passaic County by hopping on Interstate 287 tenths of a mile from home, then cruising 35 miles, parking in the lot about two tenths of a mile beyond the exit. About a half hour away. We've driven by that lot many times, but this was the first we took a trail to Ramapo Lake.

The hike easy, not without some climbing, couldn't have been much more than a half mile to the dam. We spent most of our time just beyond. I had cast to floating weeds along concrete very carefully. Water quality is good, tannic and pretty clear. I spoke to another fisherman who said it's best in the spring, although I sometimes think people who make this claim don't know how to slow down for summer bass. He cast a Rat-L-Trap. At any rate, he said he once witnessed a northern pike caught. If they're there, whoever put them in probably got a reproducing population going, but I don't know. The lake is large, 120 acres. Water's at least 15 feet deep near the dam. Pickerel rather abundant from what I gathered, black crappie and yellow perch get caught also.

I worked close to weed edges, attempting the method that works best for me at Sunrise Lake in Washington Township. Bass lie under floating vegetation. Cast right to the edge--casts have to be perfect or close to it--and the bass rushes out to take a weightless plastic worm. I couldn't buy a hit and finally gave up on this today. I sat on rocks and cast deep to slowly twitch the worm back. I got a hit on my first cast. The take happened about 10 feet down. The bass not big, nevertheless I felt very happy to throw the skunk off. I tried for another hour and got no more hits, but I learned in the process that a fair amount of vegetation grows off bottom pretty deep. It's a matter of pulling the worm with an inset snagless hook through without making a mess of the retrieve. Loads of schist glacier-broken along the lake and trails, plenty must be down on the bottom too. I had asked the fisherman I spoke too about smallmouths. He said he's never seen any.

Just made sure. I didn't really think so.

We got back on the trail, following a gravel roadway along the lake. Many opportunities for shore casting exist. And it's clearly evident these opportunities get taken routinely. The lot was all but full when we arrived before 2:00 p.m. We encountered nearly a dozen other fishermen and at least 150 people otherwise. Nevertheless, the size of the lake means it can take pressure. Little three-acre Sunrise Lake, for example, gets loads of pressure, and some bass get taken home, too, yet every time I've fished it, I've caught at least one bass, usually at least a few. Haven't been there for more than a year, but I fished it every year for many while it got hit hard.

We ate dinner in Montville afterwards and agreed that next summer might be a good time to revisit Apshawa Preserve and the old Butler Reservoir. Particularly since I lost a 2 1/2-pounder last summer, the idea felt very appropriate. There are other places to try we haven't been to, but for these Highlands outings, I tend to go the way my wife enjoys. I have places to go besides I'm interested in really getting to know better, and which have more fish than such large attractions as Ramapo and other high profile places that get a real load of recreational traffic. It is true that Ramapo Lake can take pressure, but that involves a relative comparison. Nevertheless, a great day enjoyed by all and we always engage in exploring places new to us.

On the way out of the forest, I had us stop and take in ruins from New Jersey's Iron Age, all of these forests once utterly decimated for the iron furnaces. I would really research New Jersey history deeply if I had more time. But not only that--getting out and actually hanging out with historical ruins informs consciousness in ways books or the web can't. You can't deny you feel the mystery, and this feeling persists and motivates you to learn more. More important, the experience is more than would seem, because while it seems only to be the feeling received at present, much more is involved and ultimately learned than realized while you're there, let alone from any incentive acted upon to read further later. You always forget some of what you experienced when at any given place, and yet not only can more be understood later, experiences taken together add up and inform a pool of knowledge much more than any concrete reckoning with things.

We drove into Pompton Lakes looking for a restaurant, and though we found none we wanted to invest our time in patronizing, the business district fascinated us deeply. Patricia said many of the buildings have stood since the early 20th century. What sort of commerce supported this town then? I don't know, but years before, most of the towns in the Highlands had the iron industry's support.


 Blueberries, unripe for the most part.
 Don't try eating these.


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