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

Friday, April 4, 2014

Salmon Eggs Over Power Bait and Worms for Trout

Salmon eggs tempt reluctant trout when fished well and persistently, and more often, perhaps, are taken eagerly, but some anglers prefer to weight bait with medium sized split shot and fish on the bottom. Something like fatalistic desire to sink into the abyss characterizes this method, but it works in holes with slow current so long as the bait is a worm, Power Bait, or fathead minnow. Power Bait floats. It has high visibility and plenty of fishermen walk out with limit catches. But salmon eggs don’t float, are tiny, and tend to fall into crannies and through cracks on the bottom when tossed out with a heavy weight. In nearly all cases of bottom fishing salmon eggs, trout will ignore the offering.

          Salmon eggs are all about the drift and this is the great advantage. How the current takes an egg to the trout in large measure determines whether or not the fish will strike. The aim is to drift an egg as naturally as possible close to bottom without ever resigning the bait and yourself to the gravel, rocks, or silt. In most stream situations, a weightless presentation is necessary. Only a size 20 snap is used to connect leader to line. In deep holes with a fairly strong current, a BB split shot is needed. I separate snaps from swivels with nail clippers and keep the swivel pieces. Many situations call for no more weight in addition to the snap than a swivel piece looped onto the snap. I keep snaps and swivel pieces on separate safety pins on my vest.

          Drifting salmon eggs is difficult to learn, but anglers who master the technique easily catch and release 30 or 40 trout on Opening Day. For such results, low diameter two pound test line is a must to cast a single salmon egg effectively. Size 14 hooks with inset eye loops are snell tied on 12 to 18-inch leader lengths of two pound test line tied by surgeon’s loop. Two leaders of different lengths can be placed on one snap. The rod should be delicate and very short in length. Efinger Sporting Goods carries four and a half foot rods, and it may be possible to find even shorter online. Mine is three-and- half-feet, super spry, and the Daiwa S-500T spinning reel is tiny.

          Most of New Jersey's trout fishing happens in the Highlands. Hunterdon County has a number of trout streams that empty into the Delaware River, which my family has loved since the mid-1970’s: Alexaukin Creek, Wickecheocke Creek, Lockatong Creek, Frenchtown Brook, and a couple of streams in the Milford area. Also, the South Brank Raritan, Spruce Run, Capoolong Creek and many others exist in Hunterdon. The Musconetcong River is shared with Warren County, and the Pohatcong Creek, Pequest River, and Paulinskill River, also in Warren, are great fishing. In Morris County, the North Branch Raritan River, Rockaway River, Black River, Lamington River, Peapack Brook, India Brook, Hibernia Brook, and a length of the Musconetcong River and other streams are all stocked. Sussex County’s favorite is the Big Flatbrook, but the Little Flatbrook, upper Paulinskill River, Glenwood Creek, Dry Run, and Lubber’s Run are also possibilities. In Passaic County, the Pompton River, Ramapo River, and Pequannock River all offer the chance at a big trout. Some of these streams have wild trout and will not be stocked this year due to the furunculosis infection at the Pequest Hatchery. Lists can be found online. They’re great places to approach with a fly rod and practice catch and release.

           When we experience muddy waters, Lake Aeroflex, Lake Hopatcong, Lake Ocquittunk, and Lake Musconetcong in Sussex won’t muddy. Nor will Round Valley Reservoir in Hunterdon or Merrill Creek Reservoir in Warren. Trout are available from shore at all of these lakes, although the holdover and trophy lakes aren’t stocked this year, and the acreage ratio of available water to public access at Lake Hopatcong is little. Lake Ocquittunk is a six-acre pond protected from muddy run off in Stokes State Forest, so it’s protected from too large a crowd perhaps as well. Power Bait is a top choice in lakes and ponds, but Kastmasters, Binskies, and Rapala Countdowns are more exercising and may be more fun. Streamers can be effective fly fished, also.

            Tomorrow is Opening Day, and it won’t be so chilly. I remember snow and ice on Opening Days past, but the ice was only the kind you shake out of the rod guides as trout tested numb fingers. takes you to a comprehensive article on salmon egg fishing.