Thursday, July 3, 2014

Smallmouth Bass Feeding Spree before Thunderstorm Lake Hopatcong

Shepherd Lake such a good time on Saturday, the after effect great, I looked forward to Hopatcong today as perhaps the climax of more than two weeks' vacation time. I felt this unlikely, since the combination of the best day in Manhattan I've experienced, on Friday with my family, with Shepherd Lake the next day and no work in between really made all this time off worthwhile, mostly work on my book on fishing. The chances of yet another great trip didn't feel quite in the making. Sometimes you feel you've reached the peak of a vacation period and don't ask that it be surpassed; you're wise enough to anticipate disappointment, but I guess I just feared that I asked for too much.

I awakened at 4:00 a.m. and marched right downstairs, then stood outside the door in rain. No lightning, hmmm. I booted up my laptop before I awakened my son, Matt, and found rain forecast to stop by 6:00, possibility of thunderstorms again by noon. Rain stopped by the time we left. We got to Dows Boat Rentals at 5:23, backed the car down, unloaded when I found my GoPro in the trunk. I forgot all about it for weeks. Concerned that circuits may have fried in the heat, I tried to boot up, nothing. At present, the red battery light is on as it charges and I believe heat didn't damage, hope not. We paid for the boat and herring, on the lake by about 5:40. It took 10 minutes to get to our spot. In the meantime, I put concern for the camera aside.

Action didn't happen right away. All the rods rigged, herring drew surface hits from yellow perch in minutes, but nothing else happened and I wondered if this day was going to let us down despite seemingly lingering good conditions for feeding. Perhaps the feed ended with clouds breaking up, atmospheric pressure on the rise.

Maybe a half hour passed when I boated a 10-inch smallmouth, this just the beginning. We like using live herring chiefly because of the possibility of walleye or hybrids, but we know we're really after smallmouth bass this time of year, though we have caught walleye and a hybrid during summer. We like the idea of getting a really big smallmouth to take a herring, although usually our biggest is about 3 1/2 pounds. Our bass today didn't reach this mark.

Before I touched a nightcrawler, I fished a weightless Senko very thoroughly, having caught plenty bass on this type of worm in the past here. We caught a lot of white perch today, more than former outings, about as many white perch as bluegills and pumpkinseeds, and only one yellow perch. I also caught a smallmouth nearly 17 1/2 inches on a nightcrawler, very exciting on my ultralight, and it made me think, as it stripped drag diving for bottom 22 feet straight down, that using live bait for this thrill fully proved the value.

Action really picked up as clouds thickened heavily and we heard distant thunder. We've never experienced before such a smallmouth feeding spree on Hopatcong, only hybrids feeding like this in October. I caught four, Matt seven, the three best 16 inches, to about 17 1/2. Besides the two small bass we each caught, our other two weighed about a pound-and-a-half. We also lost several bass about the same size. Things kind of got disheveled and crazy with two herring lines out apiece while we also fished nightcrawlers.

Then we had to make a run for cover. We stopped at Nolan's Point, marking good fish right at the top of a drop-off at 14 feet. I wanted to fish this range, but thunder cracked nearby. We waited out an isolated storm at Dows for half an hour or less and headed back to our original spot. Nothing happened but perch and pumpkinseeds. Now the bass had finished feeding. My upper back killed me, filling me with fear that it's going to ruin fishing, but I won't say it ruined this trip.

We went to Air Castle Isles and cast Senkos to rocks and docks. We've caught some nice-size largemouths up to 3 1/2 pounds this way, but today the only hit we got came from a rock bass. In total, we fished out six hours.

The ways to fish Hopatcong are limitless, but it's nice to have our pet herring and nightcrawlers. This isn't how I fish smallmouths in Round Valley Reservoir, for one example, but Round Valley doesn't suffer oxygen depletion as does Hopatcong, either. Smallmouths tend to suspend over rocky depths during summer, and meeting them halfway with herring is effective. It's also a way to fish that puts you in suspense: you always know your herring swim out there over and in depths with rocks where smallmouth bass and possibly walleye lurk. It's very gratifying to see a line jump and feel a fish on.

White Perch

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