Saturday, September 20, 2014

Lake Hopatcong: Too much Summer, not enough Fall

Fall is certainly here with a lot of leaves beginning to change and chilly mornings. And this morning began without much wind, while nothing seemed to vow against the auspices of a good catch. Knee Deep hosted a walleye tournament, and a BASS club had another, but Hopatcong is a big lake and seems to accommodate all. I caught a little largemouth on a Senko in five or six feet of water within minutes of beginning with a Torpedo, and not very long thereafter Fred caught this big brown bullhead (not channel catfish!) on a jig tipped with a plastic crayfish. I thought he would hoist a small walleye; the catfish hit about 25 feet down.

Meanwhile, we had our herring out. We watched one of the Bassmasters catch a couple of small largemouths down the way from us. I had a tugging desire to give up on the bait fishing and pick away at docks. But Fred put it better than I could.

"I can fish bass like that any time I want. We're after other species we don't get much of a chance to catch."

And I've caught both walleye and hybrid stripers jigging, but once I got over my initial anxiety that Fred might be impatient with live lining herring, I touched base with my usual familiarity fishing this way. I only get a few chances each year to do it. And it moves me to a watchfulness of intent--with this, deep relaxation--that only soaking clams or bunker surf fishing, or fishing live shrimp in the Florida Keys approximates. Live lining herring--or weighting them, besides--allows you to fish a Senko or a nightcrawler while you keep watch, or just keep your eyes on the lines in a way that the rhythm of casting, over and over again, breaks the concentration, the meditative focus on something so simple that it can have the effect of opening your senses and mind to a much wider aperture than daily demands allow. I tend to prefer nightcrawlers to plastics because I can fish them in much the same way. All you have to do is attend the lines quite as if something will happen.

And on Hopatcong, something usually does. Besides the nightcrawlers--we caught crappie, a white perch, bluegills, pumpkinseeds, green sunfish--nothing touched the herring all eight hours. This was a first for me. It's as if it's still too much summer, not enough fall. My son and I have always done much better in July. And we've caught crappie on herring. Fred found them 25 feet deep today. We caught four all told, and just about big enough to swallow a herring. We ended up weighting herring on bottom with slip-egg sinkers, and this didn't kill them 25 feet down. Oxygen is getting deep now.


  1. The herring tasted bad? Your detail on fishing surprises me. This time the depth at which the fish were caught. You notice this.

    1. Herring are 5 inch baitfish, but they would taste good (& Fred & I spoke about this yesterday). I was schooled intensely from age 13 by Fishing Facts magazine (& all the other outdoor magazines): the genius behind this magazine I found best was Buck Perry, pioneer of structure fishing, high school physics teacher turned fishing educator. I also notice, for example, that placing the first cast exactly where it needs to go is important, because fish have a lateral line (body organ) (at least almost all species do, not herring) and can actually sort of feel fishing line moving in the water at a distance, which might move them to wariness. I notice all sorts of details besides. You don't have to fish. But the more specific factors you have in your inventory of knowledge and habitual actions, the more the fishing might reward you, not just in numbers and size of fish caught, but your own personal awareness and pride of the process you achieve.


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