Saturday, May 31, 2014

Butler Reservoir Pickerel and Bass West Milford New Jersey

Butler reservoir may be worth the hike

          Set more than a mile back in Apshawa Preserve, 40-acre Butler Reservoir in West Milford Township is accessible by hiking the moderately strenuous White Trail to the area near the dam. The Preserve is a joint project of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the County of Passaic, well worth a visit by those who like to combine fishing with hiking. The view from atop the mountain summit over Butler Reservoir and a wide regional vista is worth a long, relaxing break. Particularly with the cool breezes of early fall, this could be nice. After a quick descent, an area of about 150 yards of shoreline is all my son and I fished on our recent family outing, and we found the fishing is good for largemouth bass and pickerel. Supposedly, smallmouth bass exist, but I’ve never caught one in water stained by tannic acid, although some rock structure exists in Butler Reservoir, which is necessary for bronzebacks. Fifteen-foot depths near the spillway also support this information’s possible veracity. Otherwise, this is a shallow impoundment: lily pads and other aquatic vegetation are abundant.

          My son began fishing a buzzbait and I shot off half-a-dozen casts with a spinnerbait that felt like it wasn’t moving close and slow enough to vegetation, so I snapped on a Rebel Pop-R. After 10 minutes I felt the rhythm of working the topwater plug next to and in pockets of weeds, but my wife called me over to the spillway. Our black Labrador apparently threated to leap over, but she was just intensely curious with her claws dug in and neck over the edge. No way would she have jumped.

          With deeper water to try, I tied a Chompers worm to 15-pound fluorocarbon and barrel swivel connecting 15-pound test Power Pro. We came prepared for heavy vegetation and pickerel. Fluorocarbon resists abrasive rows of razor teeth. Retrieving the worm back at quick speed for the next cast drew interest from a couple of small pickerel, but I felt interested in at least a fair-size fish.

          I fished the rock dam structure of some sort out in deeper water very closely, not really expectant but making sure. Then I observed that at the far edge of the spillway a slot existed between the bank and a micro weed edge about five feet long and very thin, forming a pocket with weeds in the back of it, leaving open an entry way to the shallow spillway bottom where water flows, finally to drop over the edge. In that pocket, I wholly anticipated the possibility of a bass. Most of the casts any of us make prove less certain. On occasion, we can anticipate a fish without seeing it. My cast propelled the worm about 60 feet in a straight line and it landed perfectly in the pocket’s middle. The line slack, I felt a subtle tick through my St. Croix medium power graphite rod and through line loose and limp, transmitted like a sort of weak electrical click. I let the bass take line for five seconds, then set the hook hard and all three of us marveled at the aerial show the bass gave almost immediately, a good bass about 2 ½ pounds that I finally prepared to grasp at the lower jaw, eager to hold up for my wife—when I saw the hook pull free. I got the fish nearly to my feet. 

          Soon I unhooked and released a small bass. Throughout this time, intermittently, I looked for other places to stand and cast around the reservoir and noted there quite a few. You can hike all the way around to enjoy perhaps several hours or more of steady fishing. A lot of this could be done with soft-bodied plastic rats and frogs. These draw ferocious strikes from bass and pickerel when the time is right. The worms obviously work with an inset hook, but pickerel less likely take them, although we’ve caught more than a few over the years slow-fishing worms as if for bass.

          Butler Reservoir is an out of the way place not far from plenty that isn’t, such as the Town Tavern Country Restaurant where we ate afterwards, and is wild enough for surprises. As Matt led us towards the parking lot, he watched the trail in front of him when Sadie, our Labrador, stopped walking and Matt suddenly looked up. A big bear 20 or 30 feet away looked directly into his eyes as if to say, “What are you doing?” She had two cubs. Matt said, “Woh…,” while backing up. The bears turned and wandered away.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Shadow Pitching Plastic Worms for Bass

With 61 degrees and bluebird skies, I didn't expect to catch any, but soon connected with a bass more than 14 inches, the 7 1/2-inch Culprit watermelon traditional worm (but slender) pitched just beyond line of shadow. The idea is to place the worm in sunlit water just beyond shade. Bass in the relative safety and ambush point of darkness see the worm in the light, rush out and take.

After photographing and releasing this first bass, I tossed the worm to the side, again placing it just beyond shade. The line jumped and swiftly moved out, I let it tighten, set the hook and was into a good fish. I tape measured the bass at 17 inches.

All told, I fished about a half hour. I missed another hit coaxed the same way. I hadn't much time, but today I felt that had I progressed through the sticks, making spot-on pitches and short casts; I could have caught another or two.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Newark Watershed Reservoirs Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, Muskies, Trout

Newark watershed reservoirs great gamefish havens



          Four reservoirs in Passaic County, New Jersey—Oak Ridge, Echo Lake, Clinton, and Canistear—comprise the Newark Watershed Conservation & Development Corporation’s fishing opportunity. All are available under special regulations, such as permits that must be purchased in person at one of the two offices, and limitations on boats. Canoes, kayaks, sailboats, and inflatables are not permitted; all other boats must be 10 feet long or more; no gasoline outboards are allowed, but electric outboards are allowed. All the information you need on the nuts and bolts of access to these beautiful highlands waters is available online.

          Another possible way to fish them is shore casting, although this is very limited. Having driven all the way to Newfoundland, N.J., to clear the legal hurdles, my son and I were informed that inflatables are not allowed. Since that’s all we had besides our feet and legs, we purchased the $30.00 family permit anyhow and set out to find smallmouth bass at Oak Ridge Reservoir from shore. We also visited Canistear Reservoir and Echo Lake Reservoir. All of these places have beautiful woodland settings with mountains in the backgrounds. The water flowing beyond the dams eventually reaches the Passaic River and flows right through Newark. Route 23 will take you to the Passaic River and the Verona urban sprawl, but approaching the calm surface of Oak Ridge Reservoir at the empty boat launch lot with the same highway’s traffic in earshot, we felt a world away from the city.

          My second cast resulted in a crashing surface strike. Once again my favorite Hedden Torpedo had scored. A nice smallmouth leapt two feet and then ploughed under for cover beneath the rock shelves I had seen and cast to—faintly visible under still surface. I turned the rod down to my side, pulling to the right, and the bass shot to the left and leapt once again after a 10 yard streak. It proved to be a well-hooked 17-incher. A plug is especially vulnerable to having the hooks loosened by wild, rapid head shaking bass giving an aerial display.

          The pattern was familiar to me: catch a nice fish right off the bat and the rest of the day is shot. The temptation is to get hopes high as if you’ll have a great day when realistically chances are you won’t catch so many, perhaps no more at all. That proved to be the case. Nevertheless, the little we found we could really fish from shore was compensated for by great views, as well as the chance to park and scout what we could of Canistear and Echo Lake. My son, Matt, had a great hit at the dam of Oak Ridge, and earlier in the morning or in the evening things might have been different with more bass caught.

          If you have a boat, these 300 to 500 acre reservoirs have excellent rocky shoreline structure for smallmouth bass, as well as deep drop-offs, coves, and underwater humps. Check out New Jersey Lake Survey Maps online or in book form and see. Canistear is an excellent walleye reservoir. Echo Lake is known as one of the state’s best musky fisheries. I spoke to someone who had fished Echo Lake a number of times this past spring, and although he caught no muskies, he wasn’t trying for them either. He was too busy catching smallmouth bass as large as four pounds from shoreline rocks on tube jigs. A member of the Knee Deep Club associated with Lake Hopatcong once told me that Oak Ridge Reservoir is the best smallmouth bass fishing in the state. That’s what motivated us to visit. I knew enough not to get carried away by catching a nice one so fast, but the bass are out there if you can get to them.

          However, limited numbers of anglers does not necessarily mean there are more bass than other waters in the state of comparable size. Most anglers, or at least most anglers who catch the most bass, release their catch—but bass that get caught become conditioned to avoid getting caught again. This is why fishing pressure is largely about the lures fish see and get hooked by rather than about the numbers that get eaten.

          Maximum depths are over 40 feet in all four reservoirs but Echo Lake, which has depths over 30 feet. Trout are stocked in Clinton Reservoir and some of these fish holdover, although it is not a trout fishery comparable to Merrill Creek and Round Valley reservoirs. But for smallmouth bass, muskies, and walleyes, these are some of the finest waters in the state.   

Monday, May 26, 2014

Blue Mountain Lake Largemouth Bass Delaware Watergap Recreation Area

Patricia and I first visited Millbrook Village, spending time inside the residence, church, general store, and at the blacksmith's shop. It made us think about how hard it must have been to settle in the wilderness, first living in a cabin as farming was tended, and then finally enabled to build a modest house for generations thereafter to live in. And then in the 1970's, along comes our dear old government, forcing them out under eminent domain. For absolutely nothing. The Tocks Island Dam was never built and should never have been considered. A waste of time and human life. All that work to settle in this little village--taken away by the delusions of politicians, believing they were going to dam the Delaware.

We hiked the trail up along Van Campen's Brook. I fished a size 12 nymph on my 6-foot TFO two weight in not many more than a few runs and little pools, losing a five-inch trout with some red on it, so probably a brookie for color to have been that distinct. I had expected a little brown and maybe that's what it was, I couldn't tell for certain. Sadie the Labrador kept crashing into the water and after trying the little I did, I drew the line against my urge to catch some trout and hiked on further with my wife.

My son and I fished Blue Mountain Lake with shiners last year and got skunked, so I felt wary of letting my hopes get the better of me, but I wanted to fish it again. We sighted a five-pounder, and several about three to three-and-a-half last year. The water's clear. So I went to a spot sloping into deep water, fishing deep thoroughly to no avail. I winged my Senko-type worm shallow near the bank many yards ahead of me, had a take, set the hook, and missed it. Then I missed another hit and imagined this was a small buck guarding a bed. I lost interest. Then, as often happens, I felt my inner state come to peace and resolution. I was looking up the bank. How can you see a "pocket" when all the eye really registers is calm water of a sort of grayish reflection in the shade? Water I couldn't see through to anything from this distance where my intuition told me exactly to place the next cast. I hadn't stood over the spot on this day or last year. Nevertheless, as I cast the worm, feeling the most meaningful assurance I had felt for the past half hour of fishing, when it hit the target it felt like destiny. The worm slipped under, began sinking, the line twitched, I set the hook, and was into a really good bass. I thought it was larger than it really was--a 17-incher apparently spawned out--because it fought hard.

I called for my wife to photograph me with it, released it, and we departed the lake.