Saturday, July 26, 2014

Franklin Parker Preserve Jersey Pinelands Wonderfully Good Time

Franklin Parker Preserve is a destination few choose, although Franklin Parker himself, great benefactor of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, hoped that many would visit and appreciate this great Pinelands wilderness similarly as he did. To emulate men like Parker is an exercise in fine perceptions and subtle contemplation, requiring in the end that you let go and experience completely on your own. Few come here because you have to slow pace and really awaken to your own senses in ways unlike the culture surrounding us makes constant appeals and demands. But unlike a friend I knew in high school who once commented that nature is nothingness, everywhere you look or listen, something unique and unprecedented is present to stimulate interest, if you will tune and involve your perceptions to attain personal appreciations. It helps to read a few books or magazines so you can go prepared to at least name some plants and possibly reptiles you'll encounter. If you can name birds, this helps too.

We had a hell of a drive down, at first. Shore traffic was a beast and I had to stop for gas at the Monmouth whatever on the Garden State Parkway. People everywhere were boorish and schleppy, and I left with a real bad feeling about the day ahead, expressing none of this to my wife and son. I told myself to stay calm and just keep driving in the direction of our destination, which seemed many hours away. It took us only three. We once got to LBI in four, so I felt the drive from Bedminster wasn't bad after all.

My mood lifted, but rain fell. Exit 63 had greeted us with very dark clouds. Fortunately, rain sort of drizzled heavily, and I could even use my Nikon, although I had to keep slipping it back in the bag. The temperature was real nice, about 75, and no bugs bothered us. We adjusted to the rain and it wasn't a hindrance at all.

We did find a fence lizard at our first stop. Many leopard frogs--hoped to see a pickerel frog--and toads. And we hiked trails we never had visited before. We left this section of the many acres of the Preserve with many tree swallows out just as rain ended, swooping on small insects also coming out in the newly open air.

The second area we drove to still remained under cloud cover. We found no pine snake at our favorite search area, although Matt pointed out about a dozen skins, which had to be fairly recent. No way they would have made it through the last winter. With the spring rains I'm sure they would have been utterly disintegrated. Matt and Patricia followed on down a sand roadway, and I had take a swim in my favorite swimming hole. When I got out, sun began to break. I met them as they returned in my direction, and then we headed off together back down the road, swatting deer flies. We found another fence lizard in the meantime, actually I came upon it, and got a rather distant shot with my 18-55mm lens. I could crop it closer but time is pressed tonight. And then Matt spotted a black snake on the sand, obviously out to bask. Either a black racer (Matt believes) or black rat snake. He attempted to catch it and failed, but before he dove for it, I got a good photo with my 70-200mm. He catches and releases reptiles just as quickly. We walked down the sand for at least a half mile. Distant water appeared to flow, but this could have been the breeze, I guess. A deep water-filled ditch prevented Matt from investigating. We turned and began the trek back, Matt spotting a great ant, fire orange and black banded, more than an inch long, the largest ant we have ever seen. I failed to get a photo. It was quick. But we saw it clearly enough to try and identify in a guide book later.

The snake was basking at the same spot again, not surprising. And again Matt dove and lunged back into the thicket after it. It seemed almost as swift as a racer. But the white under the chin suggested rat snake to me, although Matt insisted racers have it, too, and black rat snakes have some speckles.

The greatest quality of the trip was silence filled with activity. I felt, as I often do elsewhere, the world full of activity subtle enough not to be heard. So much of life inside our culture is just a racket. Here! Here! See me! Everything is trying to get your attention, so it's wonderful to go out into a world indifferent to you.

Matt involves himself in the wild, but he does so like an expert, since I taught him beginning at age two. He always carefully replaces what he moves.


 Matt lights a dark corner. Under this abandoned building foundation Matt went when he was 11, coming out with a 6 foot pine snake in his hands and under his control. Before he was 10 and caught his first, he knew these snakes have a savage bite. But he's never been bitten, except once by a racer. "It was nothing."
 Matt taught me a little about quicksand. Here he tests viscosity with a stick, all he needed to test the liquification of the sand beneath. A moment before, he dragged our black Labrador, Sadie, out of it.
 Fence lizard.

 Tree on the left is probably a white cedar. Can't imagine a common red cedar in a Pinelands swamp. White cedars are no longer so common, after the 19th century logging, but do exist in the Pines.

 Our favorite swimming hole. Don't know why the water is green, but we never have got sick.
 Wild cranberry.

 Black rat snake.
 Matt going into the brush after the rat snake after failed attempt at catching it.
Matt coming out of the pines not having found the snake.

Friday, July 25, 2014

More Fun with Big Jersey Bass

Only a couple of big swooshes from bankside with bass scooting deep gave any clue. Then the Chompers got taken on a long cast way out to a flat I happened to notice from back down along the bank before I approached the area, faint brown in contrast to green algae bloom. It was a big bass, probably about the size of the one photographed which hit further back right near shore. On the next cast, a 10-incher assaulted the worm as I quickly retrieved it back at surface for another cast. I usually allow little more than the initial drop, then try elsewhere.

As you can see, I tried using my remote today. I almost passed this up, but I'm glad I didn't. I placed the bass in the water while I set up along with my Gorillapod, just enough for the bass to breathe, still hooked. I got three shots and then something went wrong. I have to investigate if it's the remote's battery or not. I was happy I got something for the effort.

Walking out along schist cliffs, footing secure, I had actually leapt onto a big rock without a flat top to stand atop securely. I found that I was more sure footed than I would have thought. In my teens, I was a practiced dancer at this sort of thing. Now I balanced on the rock's two ridges and cast. Coming out among trees on the narrow trail, I felt I had had so much fun with the quick action and camera procedure. Actually, now I was having the most fun. It hits you as a rush right when everything is about complete.

I decided to try one more spot. One more cast. I got in position with an overhanging bush to my right. Water was at least three feet deep where I wanted to pitch the worm, exactly where the bush sort of forms an angle between the edge coming into shore, and the edge facing out horizontal to the bank. I wanted the worm to enter softly. The pitch was perfect. I nailed a dime.

Almost immediately, a big bass swooshed on the worm. I lowered the rod tip, tightened, and set. This was a bigger bass than I photographed, but it was on for only a second. Once again like last time, line broke. All that fun socked me in the reverse emotional direction. I guess since this was the second break-off in three outings here, it especially stung. I checked the six-pound test. Clean break. But it was no pickerel. My drag's well set. That was that and that was all.

I have a reel loaded with 15-pound Power Pro braid, and that's on my agenda for next time, along with 15-pound fluorocarbon leader. I like using light line test, but if the likes of this were to happen again, I would feel very foolish.

And I would deserve it. How's this for compromise? Cover is pronounced here, but not so thick as to necessitate braid. Nevertheless, I'm yielding.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Exploring New Jersey Highlands Bass Ponds

Checked out a North Jersey pond new to me, about seven acres, tannic, with limited access, but some good shoreline cover. Managed to catch the bass photographed, under a pound. I was hoping this pond would turn out to be yet another loaded with big bass, but I asked too much. I'm sure some big ones lurk, but with what little cover I can cast, don't plan on a return trip.

I fished about half a dozen spots, all of them but one really tight.

I guess if you want to know your region, at least in terms of bass fishing, it's important to get out and eliminate territory. I thought about this as I fished Ramapo Lake on Saturday. Then it seemed as if I've already found such good places to fish, I could stop wandering so much and focus in on really getting to know these few places. For one of them, I would need a kayak or canoe and dolly. So far I've only fished from shore. Lake Hopatcong goes without saying as does Lake Musconetcong, although the persistent weed killing reduces the latter fishery fast. The increased numbers of cormorants alone reduces fish populations. Without the thick weed mass, cormorants increase by the hundreds, since they can swim underwater and get fish, which they just can't do with thick aquatic vegetation. Of course, anoxyic conditions due to water chestnuts are another story.

I'll continue to explore new places. The way I really feel about it, if I had more time, I would hike, photograph scenes, and fish bass, trout, and other species all over the Highlands and Ridge, just because it's there and I want to know. But you make progress slowly, and in the end, a lot is still out there you never saw.

Fishing Round Valley Rocks for Bass: Found a Good Spot

Rock bass and more rock bass with Fred's annual Round Valley Reservoir invitation on his boat. We found a rock pathway, piles of rock, leading from very deep to shallow, and it seemed the perfect pathway for big smallmouths to move into evening shallows from 30 or 35 feet down. Maybe some other time. From five feet down to nearly 30 feet, rock bass hit anything presented, including Fred's Senko. We must have caught 30 or 40, persistently hoping to connect with a good bass in the process. I admit I found the rock bass fun.

I did catch a smallmouth bass about the size of the largemouth photographed above, and it was interesting to compare the way it fought with quick, angled turns and sidewise runs, in comparison to the rock bass, which just wiggled a few times and then came straight in. You watch as a tight line to either smallmouth or largemouth bass rises for the surface and the bass possibly takes a leap if you let it, smallmouths more likely to do this. Rock bass never elevate anticipation by such a move. I was using Berkeley Gulp! leeches on eighth-ounce jigs and rock bass took how many dollars worth I don't know.

They're expensive; I decided pretty much too expensive last night. Plastics stay on the hook, but these synthetic leeches are almost as delicate as live bait, only cost more. So I slipped on a seven-inch twister worm and kept right on catching rock bass. I even caught one on a 3/8th-ounce Pop-R surface plug, along with another small largemouth and tiny smallmouth bass. The smallmouth hit that plug with all out fury. I thought it was a fair-size bass at first. Some reeds in the shallows and other fertile vegetation attracted these few small bass. Fred lost one also, and we missed some other hits. Mostly from rock bass. Perhaps some sunfish came up and pecked at the white bucktail on the Pop-R's rear treble.

We stayed out well into dark and tried boulder dikes with surface plugs. The first was just too windblown. The dike to Ranger Cove from the launch area was protected but only panfish pecked our plugs.

It had taken us a long while to find the piled rocks, wide as a roadway and the same in linear form. Until then, we fished blindly, except that we knew of some rocks down there, fishing mostly 25 to 30 foot depths with jigs. That's how I caught my two-pound plus smallmouth bass last year in about 18 feet of water. Fred knows of some rock piles elsewhere, and two years ago we caught a lot more smallmouths on one or two of these, although they were smallish bass, except for the two-pounder Fred lost.

Round Valley has deep water everywhere; the trick is finding rocks and boulders especially combined with weeds. With a lot of sun on the water, bass may be 35 feet deep. Much deeper than that, and the water is really cold and the bass less likely to be there. I did know someone who caught a smallmouth 90 feet deep on a live herring intended for a lake trout, however. So go figure.

After stopping at a gas station on U.S. 22 and turning around to access I-78, I heard loads of katydids, those tree-loving insects green in color that make a chorus of rasps. If I remember rightly, they always came out around August 1st. But I noticed them this early last year too. It was a real good trip, especially the night fishing and ramping up brought back a lot of memories. I frequent Round Valley often, but cover of darkness gave me the perspective I don't often enjoy here.  

 Rock bass on Senko

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ramapo State Forest Hike and Bass at Ramapo Lake

Set out for new range in the New Jersey Highlands, easy to access Ramapo State Forest in Passaic County by hopping on Interstate 287 tenths of a mile from home, then cruising 35 miles, parking in the lot about two tenths of a mile beyond the exit. About a half hour away. We've driven by that lot many times, but this was the first we took a trail to Ramapo Lake.

The hike easy, not without some climbing, couldn't have been much more than a half mile to the dam. We spent most of our time just beyond. I had cast to floating weeds along concrete very carefully. Water quality is good, tannic and pretty clear. I spoke to another fisherman who said it's best in the spring, although I sometimes think people who make this claim don't know how to slow down for summer bass. He cast a Rat-L-Trap. At any rate, he said he once witnessed a northern pike caught. If they're there, whoever put them in probably got a reproducing population going, but I don't know. The lake is large, 120 acres. Water's at least 15 feet deep near the dam. Pickerel rather abundant from what I gathered, black crappie and yellow perch get caught also.

I worked close to weed edges, attempting the method that works best for me at Sunrise Lake in Washington Township. Bass lie under floating vegetation. Cast right to the edge--casts have to be perfect or close to it--and the bass rushes out to take a weightless plastic worm. I couldn't buy a hit and finally gave up on this today. I sat on rocks and cast deep to slowly twitch the worm back. I got a hit on my first cast. The take happened about 10 feet down. The bass not big, nevertheless I felt very happy to throw the skunk off. I tried for another hour and got no more hits, but I learned in the process that a fair amount of vegetation grows off bottom pretty deep. It's a matter of pulling the worm with an inset snagless hook through without making a mess of the retrieve. Loads of schist glacier-broken along the lake and trails, plenty must be down on the bottom too. I had asked the fisherman I spoke too about smallmouths. He said he's never seen any.

Just made sure. I didn't really think so.

We got back on the trail, following a gravel roadway along the lake. Many opportunities for shore casting exist. And it's clearly evident these opportunities get taken routinely. The lot was all but full when we arrived before 2:00 p.m. We encountered nearly a dozen other fishermen and at least 150 people otherwise. Nevertheless, the size of the lake means it can take pressure. Little three-acre Sunrise Lake, for example, gets loads of pressure, and some bass get taken home, too, yet every time I've fished it, I've caught at least one bass, usually at least a few. Haven't been there for more than a year, but I fished it every year for many while it got hit hard.

We ate dinner in Montville afterwards and agreed that next summer might be a good time to revisit Apshawa Preserve and the old Butler Reservoir. Particularly since I lost a 2 1/2-pounder last summer, the idea felt very appropriate. There are other places to try we haven't been to, but for these Highlands outings, I tend to go the way my wife enjoys. I have places to go besides I'm interested in really getting to know better, and which have more fish than such large attractions as Ramapo and other high profile places that get a real load of recreational traffic. It is true that Ramapo Lake can take pressure, but that involves a relative comparison. Nevertheless, a great day enjoyed by all and we always engage in exploring places new to us.

On the way out of the forest, I had us stop and take in ruins from New Jersey's Iron Age, all of these forests once utterly decimated for the iron furnaces. I would really research New Jersey history deeply if I had more time. But not only that--getting out and actually hanging out with historical ruins informs consciousness in ways books or the web can't. You can't deny you feel the mystery, and this feeling persists and motivates you to learn more. More important, the experience is more than would seem, because while it seems only to be the feeling received at present, much more is involved and ultimately learned than realized while you're there, let alone from any incentive acted upon to read further later. You always forget some of what you experienced when at any given place, and yet not only can more be understood later, experiences taken together add up and inform a pool of knowledge much more than any concrete reckoning with things.

We drove into Pompton Lakes looking for a restaurant, and though we found none we wanted to invest our time in patronizing, the business district fascinated us deeply. Patricia said many of the buildings have stood since the early 20th century. What sort of commerce supported this town then? I don't know, but years before, most of the towns in the Highlands had the iron industry's support.


 Blueberries, unripe for the most part.
 Don't try eating these.