Saturday, September 20, 2014

Lake Hopatcong: Too much Summer, not enough Fall

Fall is certainly here with a lot of leaves beginning to change and chilly mornings. And this morning began without much wind, while nothing seemed to vow against the auspices of a good catch. Knee Deep hosted a walleye tournament, and a BASS club had another, but Hopatcong is a big lake and seems to accommodate all. I caught a little largemouth on a Senko in five or six feet of water within minutes of beginning with a Torpedo, and not very long thereafter Fred caught this big brown bullhead (not channel catfish!) on a jig tipped with a plastic crayfish. I thought he would hoist a small walleye; the catfish hit about 25 feet down.

Meanwhile, we had our herring out. We watched one of the Bassmasters catch a couple of small largemouths down the way from us. I had a tugging desire to give up on the bait fishing and pick away at docks. But Fred put it better than I could.

"I can fish bass like that any time I want. We're after other species we don't get much of a chance to catch."

And I've caught both walleye and hybrid stripers jigging, but once I got over my initial anxiety that Fred might be impatient with live lining herring, I touched base with my usual familiarity fishing this way. I only get a few chances each year to do it. And it moves me to a watchfulness of intent--with this, deep relaxation--that only soaking clams or bunker surf fishing, or fishing live shrimp in the Florida Keys approximates. Live lining herring--or weighting them, besides--allows you to fish a Senko or a nightcrawler while you keep watch, or just keep your eyes on the lines in a way that the rhythm of casting, over and over again, breaks the concentration, the meditative focus on something so simple that it can have the effect of opening your senses and mind to a much wider aperture than daily demands allow. I tend to prefer nightcrawlers to plastics because I can fish them in much the same way. All you have to do is attend the lines quite as if something will happen.

And on Hopatcong, something usually does. Besides the nightcrawlers--we caught crappie, a white perch, bluegills, pumpkinseeds, green sunfish--nothing touched the herring all eight hours. This was a first for me. It's as if it's still too much summer, not enough fall. My son and I have always done much better in July. And we've caught crappie on herring. Fred found them 25 feet deep today. We caught four all told, and just about big enough to swallow a herring. We ended up weighting herring on bottom with slip-egg sinkers, and this didn't kill them 25 feet down. Oxygen is getting deep now.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Rainbow Trout are About to Show up in Shore Catches

Greeting incoming rainbows, possibly browns. Once the surface temperature of Round Valley Reservoir dips to 70, they move in close to shore. I suppose that's about where the temperature has fallen over the past week-and-a-half. You would think browns would come in before rainbows, since they're warmer water fish, but I've never seen browns until October. Some of the rainbows, moved by frustrated spawning urges--they don't spawn here, nor browns, though lake trout do--cruise in pods right against shore when wave action stirs sediment and likely offers some tidbits to feed on.

I walked onto the ramp dock and cast a marshmallow & mealworm on three feet of leader, tied off by a small barrel swivel, enough to weight the line a little at a 3/4th-ounce steel egg sinker. The marshmallow floats the hook and the mealworm. Then I kept the bail open and stripped line to set the rod on a stone. Nothing happened. A typical fall, winter, or early spring Round Valley trout stint. Once and awhile something does happen, and I've caught rainbows as large as about 5 1/2 pounds.

I kept watch over the rod--easy to have the line stripped to the spool and rod lost--as I enjoyed photographing scenes and reading otherwise. Most of us fish three lines, and pretty soon I'll be fishing two. I don't like to get more involved than this.

That's all for smallmouths on the South Branch Raritan this year for me, I think. I didn't fish the river much this summer, disappointed in high water levels, for one thing. The Neshanic River flowing into the large river is reduced to a trickle and has been this way awhile, but a lot of water has been let loose from Spruce Run Reservoir over the weeks. I didn't see the South Branch today, but every time I saw it, it flowed fast.

Beautiful day at the reservoir. A couple of people were out paddleboarding, but that's about the last of this anyone will see for a long while.