Saturday, June 21, 2014

Island Beach State Park Beach Day and Multiple Fishing Approaches

We stopped at the Hook House in Tom's River to buy killies. "Any bass in the surf?" I said.

"Yeah! Late arrivals are coming northward."

"With the season late, it doesn't surprise me."

"Yeah, that's exactly what it is."

Betty & Nicks had no fresh clams, so I took two fresh bunker to the register and said I might be back. The clerk gave me a 50-cent discount. Jersey Joe's is apparently out of business, and since Grumpy's had "fresh" clams in plastic bags that smelled bad, we returned to Betty & Nicks, where I bought a container of shucked clams, preferring to use my Spanish war knife but out of luck this time.

We got on the beach right at high tide and the surf looked real good, the breakers nothing brusque and forbidding, so before I did anything else, I eagerly rigged up fish finder rigs, one for clam, another with wire for the bunker and possible bluefish. It was nice casting. Surf casting is one of the pleasures I never want to abandon entirely. We haven't done much in recent years. Bass fishing was good in 2005, '06, and '07 spring and fall. Since about then, it's slid.

This was a general beach trip, but I stayed glued to the rods. I also got out my medium-power St. Croix freshwater rod and tried killies weighted by split shot. This simple technique is extremely effective at Long Branch, but I've caught no fluke here yet. I rigged my eight-foot Tica with a fish finder and three-ounce pyramid, cast a big killie way out and let it play. It played for many hours, yielding only a skate as sunset neared. At least I got a little uncertain action. I wondered, could this be a fluke? Better than nothing, though. There is a difference. Usually you feel the fluke head shake even in the surf, although you do more so in deeper water from a boat.

We stayed for hours and as dead low neared, Matt and Charlotte became amazed at the numbers of sand fleas in the wash. Does anyone know if sand fleas have always been in Jersey? Is this another example of southern species migrating northward? Please comment if you know more than me.

I used my friend Oliver's big 10-weight. fly rod twice. At first, the wind screwed me up in a most disheartening way. Matt and I have to learn to use the big rod so we don't really piss off the charter captain for our redfish trip in November. My back--now my upper back--gave me a lot of trouble. As I walked back to our set-up, my back feeling twisted, I felt as if a lot of hard fishing, which I love to do, may be coming to a close. Will I have to sit and spin cast in South Carolina in November? I can sit in a boat and cast fine. Standing sometimes gets compromised. Nevertheless, I had a lot of difficulty early this spring, yet have managed a lot better than I feared.

With tide low, I got the fly rod again and waded out, the freshness of water catching light from behind me took me away from local sense and dipped me for some 15 or 20 minutes in that flow we anglers all know, a sense that intimates so much more than our sketchy approximations of the time we have.

My casting began to improve, not much, but just enough to assure me that with practice it may be possible to pass the captain's requirements. I didn't expect fish and didn't care. I knew it wasn't impossible to hook up when tide was still pretty high. Matt spotted a 30-inch striper while swimming. I fished like I meant it.

And why no stripers hit when obviously some were in the surf, who knows. I doubt it was because we weren't using fresh clams. I didn't even think of that. But I got out and cast with many different sorts of rods, fishing the surf the way we used to succeed, except this was the first time I've fly cast here.

 Clouser Minnow
 Charlotte with a sand flea.
 Charlotte shows me a sand flea with eggs.
 Matt, Patricia, and Sadie
 Matt, Charlotte, light 64 degree surf.
Sadie as evening came on and at least a skate hit.
Not only can you cook on the beach, you can build fires. Maybe we haul wood in next time, but we need a beach cart with wheels.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Fly Fishing is Summer Smallmouth Bass Alternative to Trout

Fly fishing smallmouth bass is summer alternative

          A few years ago I stopped at the Paulinskill River to have a look, having left my son with New Jersey Audubon’s Ridge Walkers program based at Mohican Outdoor Center north of Blairstown. To my surprise, I spotted at least a dozen July trout in a bottom depression under a tree and made a note to bring my fly rod next time. Next I stumbled into smallmouth bass. They eagerly charged my size 10 beadhead stonefly nymph.

          We should give trout in warm water leeway. Brown trout may survive in water as warm as 82 degrees, but if hooked, they will not survive the fight. Lactic acid spikes when a trout takes the stress of a battle, and in water too warm it's lethal. Sixty eight degrees is the widely accepted temperature above which conscientious anglers don’t fish trout. Smallmouth bass may be an alternative for fly fishermen—alternative at least as an introduction. Once you become aware that smallmouths are worthy in their own right, you realize summer smallmouths are perfectly fitting for the fly rod.

          When anglers think of fly fishing for bass—largemouth or smallmouth—they usually imagine the larger popping bugs that don’t attract so many sunfish. Popping bugs and deer hair bugs will work in the many small rivers in our area—the Paulinskill, Pequest, Musconetcong, North and South Branch Raritan, Raritan, lower Lamington, and Passaic—but I once caught a smallmouth bass on a size 14 Adams intended for brown trout in May. Can you consistently catch smallmouths on dry flies? You might catch a lot of sunfish also, but I’m sure you could some bass.

          Other choices might be better at least to begin with. Beadhead streamers like Wooly Buggers prove especially effective because the bead is weight allowing tantalizing dipping action by stripped retrieves. You can get a beadhead streamer or nymph down into deep holes where big stream bass may lie out of sight. It’s fun to experiment. Bass slam nymphs as small as size 12. At times they may even prefer such small offerings, but you can cast big, ugly nymphs and perhaps do better. A four-pound test tippet is sufficient, and a four or five-weight floating fly line is standard. On rare occasions you may encounter a hole 10 feet deep or more, deeper than your leader and tippet, but the floating line may advantage the offering by allowing it to drift just off bottom before the fly line begins to sink.

           I’ve had more fun sight fishing bass than getting lost after sunset, although I’ve caught some in the relative dark, a time when a popping bug is at its best. University research has shown that bass are sight advantaged to see prey that can’t see them as well when light intensity changes. It isn’t only that early and late in the day during summer are cooler weather periods. In fact, that’s not really what the action is all about. Bass scoot along the bottom with eyes looking up—usually to snatch baitfish. But a popping bug is perfect for this situation and the strikes can be ferocious. If you are fishing a stretch with strong current flow that forms a V pattern at the tail end, never fail to drift a popper right into the suction. After sunset, sometimes the largest bass in the stretch will position there to feed on whatever comes its way. The water may be a foot deep, but at dusk a bass is bold.

          Intense sunlight, however, does not affect stream smallmouths as much as it does largemouth in lakes, or smallmouths in lakes for that matter, such as the bass in Lake Hopatcong hugging the oxygen line at this time of year, lying deeper in lakes with oxygen at 30 foot depths or more. You can spot smallmouths in clear shallow stretches about three or four feet deep and cast directly to them, placing the offering several feet ahead of the direction the bass is facing or swimming. It’s as if the fish is completely unaware of your presence, although chances are it perceives you in peripheral vision not alarmed until the hook set. Bass have an aloof lordliness compared to skittish trout.

          Fly fishing is for anyone who wants to try. So much is written about the art it’s as if the intent is to discourage, because it’s easier to do than the persuasion makes it seem. Point your index finger against the cork and let your wrist move the line where it must go, and you may find the real challenge is landing a big bass.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

New Jersey Highlands Wild Brown Fly Fishing

Oliver and I escaped the busy thrall of the towns and cities for some excellent wild brown trout fishing this evening. This Highlands stream was so chilly that wading in shorts and wading boots, my feet and legs below the knees began to numb, even though temperatures reached the mid 90's today and really hadn't cooled off much. We found some surprisingly deep and wide water, but spots like these are rare and the trout important to release.

Oliver's much more experienced at this sort of fishing than I. He used a #22 dry fly to catch six browns, including two of about nine inches. My little six-incher fought hard on my new six-foot, two- weight. TFO rod. I felt impressed with this fish. This isn't really so different than catching 17-inch largemouths, since it's all relative and using an appropriate rod, leader, and tippet allows small fish to give a good account of themselves. I used 7X leader and tippet. This trout I caught and a couple of others I lost hit a #16 bead head nymph.

Mostly we fished a hole apart, Oliver going upstream to the next, and then I went to the next above him, but the most productive pool was large enough for us both to fish, only the trout seemed to want only the dry fly. Something hatched in minimal numbers, and Oliver said they looked like gray drakes. I think that's what he said. He first said something about caddis, maybe the gray drake is a form of caddis. Whatever the case, we did notice a few rising trout, just a few.

So long as water temperature remains below about 68 degrees, trout can be safely caught and released. I don't know at what temperature the line is crossed for each species, regarding lactic acid buildup during the fight and death after release when water is too warm. I got it from Chris Lido of The Fisherman magazine that 68 degrees is the line at which you should stop fishing trout if you plan on releasing them--which you should in wild and native trout streams, although eating a native brook trout in a lifetime is a very special treat. Browns tolerate the warmest water, rainbows second to warmest, brook trout coldest, so what the temperatures really are each species can tolerate a fight on a fly rod, I don't know, but I wouldn't fish any in water 68 degrees or warmer.

Some of our streams remain much colder than 68 through the entire summer. I remember diving headfirst into a deep Dunnfield Creek plunge pool on a 90-degree day in August. The water was so cold the shock overwhelmed me and I forcefully got right out. Spring emissions are about 55 degrees year round, and the Dunnfield is mostly fresh spring water, apparently.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Pepacton Reservoir Memories

I found these shots in a folder, stimulating memory instantly, me inferring the striking comparison between Pepacton Reservoir near Roscoe NY, and Lake Hopatcong NJ where we will fish in two weeks, so long as all goes well. The lake is our favorite home water and we truly love the place, but look how wild this much larger body of water. No homes along the shores; it's all wilderness, the water as clear as Round Valley Reservoir and full of trout and smallmouth bass even though we did poorly for the bass, this our first time fishing and only one day. We got a tip later about where we may try next time. The shelves we found--drop offs stacked with undercut slate--looked delicious, but they just either did not hold bass or those hiding would not hit.

No electric motors allowed, we rented a rowboat kept with many dozens of others on the reservoir shore, chain-locked to trees. Driving along the reservoir, you can see these boats back along edges of certain deep coves. I don't think Pepacton has any shallow. From those shelves I mentioned, we rigged with lead core line and a thin, ribbony spoon to row-troll a half mile to a promising shoreline where another angler fished in the nearing distance. We saw him hook up with a large frucus on the surface. He had cast a spinnerbait, and the bass he lost a second later seemed to be about three pounds. Before we got that far across, we passed the rower photographed above, greeted each other, and inquired about catch. He had a small brown trout of about 2 1/2 pounds on what they call razorbellies--herring.

The lead core was kindly lent us by the camp proprietor in Roscoe. Camping on the bank of the Beaverkill, I awoke well before first light the morning we departed for Pepacton. I didn't expect preparing breakfast would be so satisfying. The simplicity of cooking over fire proved to be one of summer's highlights. Once the bacon and eggs cooked sufficiently, only then I woke Matt. I must have slept real well because I felt great for the 45 minutes or so, temperature in the upper 40's, before we departed for the half hour drive to the reservoir.

This channel catfish was so white with spots it resembled a trout.