Saturday, September 13, 2014

Millstone River for Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike

Millstone River for smallmouth bass, northern pike

          The Millstone River originates in western Monmouth County, flows through a section of Middlesex County into Mercer County and Princeton, and enters Carnegie Lake near the mid-point. The water spilling over the lake’s dam and flowing north and east is the Millstone River, although Stony Brook is a sizeable small river where it enters the lake’s head. The Millstone begins and ends as a Piedmont Plain, mostly mud bottomed river, but Stony Brook is the state’s southernmost predominantly freestone stream. Three miles further south, the Shipietaukin Creek runs over gravelly slates and broken rock for a mile or two of its longer length, yet most of Stony Brook flows through the hilly region of Mercer, and the swift water flowing over rocks at least used to hold excellent smallmouth bass populations.

          Virtually none of these bass make their way into Carnegie Lake (good for largemouths). But the Millstone has smallmouths despite lack of many rocks and gravel. The bass both run upstream from the Raritan River and make their way from Beden’s Brook—another Mercer County freestone stream—which flows into the Millstone at Rocky Hill. Northern pike and pickerel are more common than smallmouths, as are largemouths, but one spot in particular may hold a number of smallmouths willing to hit on a given afternoon.

          This is the first time I’ve divulged a very specific location in more than three years’ column writing. I hope I’m not burning anyone else’s favorite spot and don’t believe I am, since I’ve passed over the Wilhousky Street Bridge every other day for the past five years. In all this time, I’ve never seen anyone fishing the Weston Causeway Dam race in clear view as I pass over.

          My son, Matt, was seven when we parked near the Manville bridge in Somerset County to fish the area of the dam. This was August 2006, and for a couple of months Matt had been excited about fishing this piece of the Millstone for muskies. I had read and discussed with him a peculiar article I liked in The Fisherman magazine which recommends this spot for just that species, and while it isn’t impossible—muskies are stocked in the Delaware and Raritan Canal and find their way into the Raritan River and then into the Millstone—northern pike are much more likely caught, since thousands have been stocked in the Millstone by the state over the years. Oddly though, I've heard of no one actually catching pike in the Millstone. By comparison, Passaic River pike thrive, but I don't know why there's a discrepancy. I have heard of a pike caught in the Raritan River, obviously having washed down, and a pike caught in the canal, possibly because of a floodwater transfer from the Millstone. One other unlikely catch is walleye. The same article featured a photograph of a walleye apparently caught in the Millstone at Wilhousky. They’re not stocked in the canal or the river. They make their way into the Raritan from the Delaware, by way of the canal. State Department of Environmental Protection Division of Fish and Game personnel reportedly tallied electroshock recovery samples from the Millstone last year, and these included one large walleye.

          Of course, Matt and I caught no muskies or walleyes. We caught no northern pike or largemouth bass either, but I was pleasantly surprised to experience catching three smallmouth bass, which slammed our small spinnerbaits as the blades pulsed through the fast water below the dam. Two bass were very good size, weighing more than a pound-and-a-half. Obviously, a little fast water combined with rock-like concrete is a smallmouth bass magnet. I suppose any walleye in the area would frequent the fast water also. Walleye have been caught on occasion in the canal for decades—always at any one of the nine locks in fast water. You may have to fish all nine locks at least nine times each to hook a walleye, but these are the places where they take residence. Smallmouths at Wilhousky are an easier catch.

          They won’t be for long, since the Weston Causeway Dam is slated for removal soon, probably next summer. This is why I can tell you about this spot in good conscience. It deserves some honor.

          Dams are removed for good reason, since rivers liberated improve ecologically and fisheries increase. Once the two Millstone dams go, shad and herring may swim as far upstream as Carnegie Lake dam. More smallmouth bass will rise from the Raritan too, since at present the Weston Causeway Dam stops bass from swimming further, although some fishermen surely release bass on the upstream side.

          I guess an interesting project for the Millstone would be the introduction of tons of rock and gravel on the stream bed, but I’m only dreaming. Besides, it’s got current sluices, eddies, and especially downed trees and brush making excellent pike, pickerel, and largemouth habitat. It’s a river for kayakers and canoers, and will be safer without temptation to go over a dam and get submerged in the circular current below.        

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

More Bass Action at the Local Pond

Out walking the dog on Sunday evening, I watched a man fishing the pond for bass, struck up some conversation about fewer bass seeming present than recent years, a view he never assented to. He fan cast a floater/diver plug through open water, hadn't had a hit, and I saw him leave with no action behind him.

I kept targeting the sparse algae edges in close this evening with a Senko-type worm. You can see some in the photo. Since this pond is very shallow, it would make better sense to use a slow-sinking traditional worm, but I prefer the five inch Senko-type's casting range, and have always done well for the past five or six years I've been fishing this type of worm. Often I hook-up on the flutter-retrieve, worm rigged Wacky with hook in the middle. An inset hook is pretty pointless. The only aquatic vegetation here is algae and that attaches to weedless rigs also.

I walked beyond the edge of the culvert after fishing about 10 minutes and spooked a bass that was in close to the bank, under an algae clump. What a rush to have encountered some serious life. A snapping turtle had left a trail of bubbles, but encountering a fair-size bass, judging by the wake, felt like purpose could have a real end to it.

I started touching my casts down beside and in between algae clumps as perfectly as I could guide them. Nothing was happening after almost five minutes of eliminating possibilities, but finally I got a tick, thought it could be a sunfish. I tightened and the line lurched forward with a great deal of weight on the other end. I gave slack, hoping the bass wouldn't drop, tightened up prepared this time, and set the hook.

Two-pounder. Average bass here. I set up my Gorillapod for a remote controlled photo. Since I'm new to taking this sort of shot, it didn't surprise me I encountered complications, even though I had practiced before I went out. Instead of risking the bass's life, I released it without getting a photo. Then I discovered the problem had been that I aimed the remote in the wrong direction.