Friday, April 25, 2014

Leffert's Lake Pickerel

Leffert's Lake is 69 acres, according to Manny Luftglass, Gone Fishin', situated just outside downtown Matawan, New Jersey. Any bass or pickerel that go over the spillway wind up in tidal water. You can fish along the bulkhead at Ravine Road, and enjoy the Green Acres, which includes two docks and casting vantage along weedlines. Water quality is fair. The depths were stained, yet plenty of shallow visibility existed today. Evidence is that aquatic vegetation thickens as the season progresses, but enough depth exists to define weedlines.

I had time enough for a very short stint, little more than half an hour. A 10-inch pickerel struck my willow leaf Mepp's inline spinner on the first cast, and it mattered little to me that I missed the fish. I moved on and caught another about the same size, which struck savagely, taking the whole treble into its mouth. Extracting this was touchy business, but the fish survived in good shape. I lost a good sized pickerel that struck from the outside edge of a mass of weeds, which apparently lunged upward from deeper water, since I began to raise the spinner to clear those weeds, retrieving perpendicularly more or less to them.

That pickerel I lost was the highlight, of course, but I'll never forget having cast in close to stick-ups, the rod tip flying free from the ferrule and slinging down the line, landing in those sticks, the Mepp's hung up. The water was a couple of feet deep, muck unknown. I could have sunk to my waist for all I really knew. I slung off my camera bag and tackle tote, just to prepare myself for thinking of what to do. Then by no thought, really, I pulled from down low near my knees. The Mepp's freed itself. The tip began coming my way, also released from being wedged. But the miracle was that the Mepp's got right through the middle of a complication of about half-a-dozen sticks without snagging, and I got my tip back. Had it snagged, I wouldn't have been able to get that tip, unless I figured something else out, if I found a long enough branch to fish it back, perhaps.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Trout Stocking Day at North Branch Raritan River

Lots of good memories here at the AT&T North Branch Raritan stretches, fishing with my son for trout, and even more for spending summer afternoons snorkeling and exploring the area otherwise. Matt's playing baseball now, and I'm just glad I got him out for Opening Day. I expect to fish the opener again next April with him, unless we're traveling, but I've lost interest in my 3 1/2-foot wizard switch spinning rod and salmon eggs.

This is how I go about life: letting interests die, rather than becoming traditional. We haven't surf fished in years now, besides Father's Day last year, and we didn't go for northern pike at Spruce Run Reservoir this year. When I was at the height of my enjoyment ice fishing Budd Lake for a few consecutive winters, I thought I would ice fish there every winter, but I pretty much let it go to fish Lake Musconetcong, Lake Hopatcong, and Round Valley Pond. I really look forward to fishing Lake Hopatcong, however, and doubt our annual excursions will fade any time soon. I got tired of our once-a-year Barryville excursions, float tripping the Delaware, but my wife loves this annual event and I've already made plans for my sister and brother-in-law to join us in August. The one interest I don't let die is writing, which isn't traditional, but developmental. I've also fished every year of my life since I was eight, but I keep changing it up. I'm much more interested in catching trout fly fishing now than on weightless salmon eggs. And I plan on fishing largemouth bass with my six weight.

Speaking of weightless salmon eggs, the river was much higher than expected. It's flowing clear, but with a lot of volume. I had no split shots and could have used at least a BB sized. Instead, I weighted my snap with four swivels. The wind blustery as can be, this complicated the drift even more. I managed to catch only one rainbow, lose another, and miss two hits in about an hour of fishing. This counts as among the slowest re-stocking days I've ever fished.

I got to the AT&T bridges at about 5:30. A couple of men had three trout each. They eventually filled their limits and got out shortly before I left. Very few other trout got caught. It was tough with the current and wind, but it seems not many were stocked.

It's been good. I can assure myself this. I fished the Green Brook and Middle Brook in '94, really getting back in the trout game for the first time since '83, fishing those two streams that flow out of the volcanic Watchung Ridge. And living in Chester, NJ, from '94-'99 with my wife, I fished the Black River, and it was a wonder. I didn't need a fly rod at all. At the time, I had a four-foot spinning rod. That broke. I found the lightest spinning rod I've ever known, 3 1/2 feet, with a tip I can bend back and crossover the rod stem. I also made my son a 3 1/2-foot spinning rod by cutting an ultra-light blank, wrapping on guides, filing and sanding a cork handle. It's beautiful and wonderfully functional. The rod is as green as a May day, the wrapping thread yellow and patterned originally, varnished thickly, and the cork handle is evenly shaped and smooth. I hope Matt always keeps it as a special memento.  

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Stream Brown Trout on Lures and Fatheads

Not too many brown trout stocked in New Jersey this year, but I thought I would include a piece published last year for Recorder Newspapers.

Brown Trout Provide Fishing into June

          Fishing for brown trout with spinning gear differs significantly from brook and rainbow trout. They don’t hit salmon eggs nearly as often and other options may work better than power bait. Browns are also more nocturnal than the other two, so fishing deep into dusk and before sunrise can be especially productive.

          Fathead minnows work especially well. Available at Efinger Sporting Goods, Dover Sport Shop, Stanhope Bait and Boat and other venues, fatheads are small minnows that almost always work. An ultra-light rod and reel, four-pound test, and perhaps a BB split shot a foot above a size 10 hook are all you need. Generally pools, deep holes, and slow stretches hold brown trout, but faster water often does too, and fatheads can be drifted with or without weight, depending on depth and current.

          Other options have advantages over wading long lengths of stream while you carry a minnow bucket. Shoulder baitfish canisters are available at some shops, but in any event, plugs like the one and two-inch Rapala Countdowns, in-line spinners, Berkeley synthetic minnows, and a whole range of plastic twister tails and grubs used on tiny jig heads or plain hooks can make angling simpler and lead to plenty of catches.

          Rapala Countdowns sink. Their namesake means you can count about a second per foot of descent, which can help when fishing deep water to get the lure near bottom. Steady retrieve is more effective in fast, broken water where plenty of current action is a given. Jerking the rod tip may make a difference in slow stretches. Plugs and spinners give you the advantage of covering more water quickly. If a stream is running high and somewhat off color, spinners may be the best choice since the blades produce vibrations trout sense. Mepps spinners have a modified Colorado blade that produces more vibrations than typical willow leaf blades perhaps more suitable to clear water.

          The best way to fish a synthetic minnow may be to use a split shot a foot above a size 10 plain shank hook on four-pound test, the same simple rig used with fatheads or salted minnows. I think this synthesis of bait and lure is an improvement over salted minnows, which I’ll never use again. They stay on the hook better and have more life-like action. Retrieving with subtle rod tip jerks, lifting the bait off bottom to let it settle again, and drifting it through current produces.

          Another recent discovery on the trout scene is that trout—especially browns—respond well to the sorts of soft plastic grub lures combined with a jig head usually used for bass. It’s a matter of scaling down to jig heads as light as 1/32nd or 1/64th-ounce or just using a BB split shot ahead of a size 10 hook. Tiny Trout Magnets have been on the market for years, and the simple straight plastic tail may be all that’s needed. I used to catch native brook trout on Dunnfield Creek with small shad darts. But trout are selective. If they’ve seen a lot of one variety, they may hit another. Trout can also pose a problem by their sensitivity to color, so experimenting may at the least seem to bring results.

          For a number of years, I would wake on a May Saturday before dawn, fix myself a quick coffee as I organized gear, and arrive on the North Branch Raritan with a chorus of birds loud like a party, very little light in the air. I began with a one-inch Rapala Countdown to get immediate results. After catching the third brown trout in a single stretch, the action would stop. Then I offered a fathead. Again, an immediate hit, and I would catch three more and walk out with a full limit string, sometimes just as the next guy arrived before the sun had risen. I would go home and clean the trout, refrigerate them, and go back to bed. When I had awakened with the rest of my family about two hours later, I always fixed a big trout breakfast for all.

         Why did the browns come to refuse the Countdown, then immediately take a fathead? Whatever the reasons science can discern, trout are selective. None think. But they do perceive very keenly. Perhaps I could have switched to a soft plastic in a subdued color pattern so as not to be too conspicuous in low light and have done as well.     

Monday, April 21, 2014

Striped Bass at Dekorte Park, New Jersey Meadowlands

The New Jersey Meadowlands' Dekorte Park has brackish flats connected to the Hackensack River about a mile from where we fished channels perhaps three or four feet deep as tide fell. The outflows churn water out from flats above walkway dikes, and stripers move in pods to position along and in the currents. Fred nailed his striper just aside from the current on a four-inch swimshad. I noticed his retrieve speed was a little quicker than mine. I switched my three-inch to a four-inch swimshad. In the meantime, Fred had another on he lost. I experimented with retrieve speed and cast placement. Sometimes I let the shad vibrate in the current without reeling. It was that strong. But all to no avail for me.

Then apparently the pod moved out and on. We tried another outflow and a couple of others after that. Tide moving out quick, it became easier to hang up on white cedar trunks that never decay after many dozens of years.

We discussed my past success here, along with my son's lost striper, and inferred that the stripers seem to hit best with some depth remaining, closer to the top of the tide. The water needs to be flowing out, but perhaps fishing is best in the first two or possibly three hours of waning tide. It's easy to imagine that a number of striper pods are on the prowl and when one moves off from an outflow, another might come.

They apparently follow the channels from the river. As we left shortly after sunset, a bittern passing overhead with full, kite-like wings, mud flats were left exposed towards the Dekorte Center. My son and I have seen the flats fully exposed at low tide, besides these channels that seem to direct fish traffic. Cedar stumps emerge black and profoundly aged, as if the 19th century rises from the dead.

I lost three swimshads to stumps. I feel no loss, but be prepared to lose some of any lures you might bring. However, by fishing the first couple of hours of waning tide, and swimming your lure over the stump tops, you're less likely to hang up.

Stripers should be around through May. Dekorte Park is catch and release, and that's good for two reasons. One, this was one of the world's largest garbage dumps just decades ago. Black leachate still emits from the surrounding hills. Those aren't natural. They are garbage filled over with dirt and small trees planted atop. And secondly, it's good to know the fish get put back to go on with their lives.