We rented a rowboat at Shepherd Lake, Ringwood State Park, Passaic County, NJ, began rowing off when Matt noticed we had no life preservers. I called out and one of the high school or college aged attendants at the boat house ran and got a couple. All around I'm sure they do a good job and we didn't resent them for water in the bottom of the boat either, but a few years ago when my son and I first fished here, we noticed other things overlooked that a private business never lets slip. A rowboat is very expensive here. $60.00 is about what you pay for a 16-foot boat with a 9.9-horsepower outboard at Dow's on Lake Hopatcong, and Stanhope Bait and Boat at Lake Musconetcong charges $15.00 to take out the same rowboat the state offers here. I'm always happy to go out on Shepherd, grateful for this opportunity, and hope it continues. My point is not to complain but point out that government simply is not in business when you get down to the issue; business is market driven by incentives that mean price is minimal and service optimal.
We stopped at the bait shop on CR 511. Last time my son and I fished here, he lost a big pickerel simply by dangling a shiner down about five feet over the boat's side. We got a dozen and they paid off. Matt's crappie is a nice one. He also caught two pickerel this way, the second not photographed a little larger. I also caught two pickerel more and less this size and hoped for an encounter with a really big one.
Beginning with plastic worms, Matt said he'd never caught a bass this way, and over the course of the four hours, which went quick--boathouse closes very early at 6:00--we tried to get a straight line between him and a bass. He did lose a bass in the last minutes.
I found bass associated with the outside and inside edges of roadway-shaped pad fields. A small cove sinks back from very deep water as much as 37 feet to bottom. I caught a 17 3/8-incher on a weightless Chompers worm, an inset hook protecting against vegetation snags, this bass a very hard fighter with a sizzling run on 15-pound test Power Pro braid, and on the next cast missed a hit from another nice bass. I can tell by the feel of the fish even if I don't hook up. After fruitless casting, we went through the pads and got in close. I couldn't yet tell how deep. I thought I got snagged on stems until I felt throbs and then a great bass lept straight though these silver dollar-sized pads as if to laugh at our faces.
It was badly hooked in a gill and I thought I had to take it home. I got the hook out with pliers without causing more damage, however. I admired a bass I knew was at least 18 inches, then hoisted it over the side to wash away copious blood before we would photograph the fish. It shook free and was gone. We waited there, no wind to blow us away from the spot, but the fish never bellied up. So I wonder if this bass will survive despite a bloody wound. Possibly the cut clotted and the fish is OK.
The fish finder marked depth at about six feet at the inside edge of the pads. It doesn't look this deep from a distance. When we fished here three years ago, water lay under us shockingly clear and bottom would have been completely visible here. I think the lake has since been bombed with weed killer, very unfortunate. Not as much vegetation is present, vegetation which filters water and keeps it clear. Shepherd Lake was a much more beautiful place three years ago when you could see far down to bottom. It was a lake you would desire to swim in, though they do keep the beach open.
We tried surface lures pretty close to the back, but then I could tell this was useless, especially with greatly increased turbidity. We had minutes to try at the edge of the cove again. I tied plastics back on. Matt lost his bass, and minutes later we rowed to the boathouse.