Monday, November 3, 2014

Fly Fished a Somerset County, NJ, Trout Stream

The hike to the pool was about three fourths of a mile. I had time to fish one other using my TFO 2wt. My inexperienced hope was that brown trout would run upstream to spawn and stack in this largest of the stream's pools, complete with some blockage, but when I looked closely, it was evident browns could move on upstream. I don't really know if they run upstream to spawn. They drive out of reservoirs into streams by that urge, but this little Highlands stream has no such connection. I ended up catching the little wild rainbow photographed. A bead head nymph did the trick.

Spotted a pileated woodpecker on the way out, that was nice.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Pickerel Cold Water Fishing

Pickerel are Active through Winter

          “What are you doing?” I said. Having parked my Ford Fairlane station wagon along the gravel roadway, I leisurely strolled to the edge of the Delaware and Raritan Canal where a familiar fisherman managed something in the water on a cord.

          “Trying to catch some damnable bait!” He said, lifting the square drop net. Four thin, rounded steel supports bended behind a loop in the middle of them for the tied cord. I knew the sand bar he had tossed the net upon attracted a lot of shiners. Silvery reflections wriggled. The bridge of Quaker Bridge Road was busy just beyond where the fisherman stood, plucking fish from the netting and into a bucket half full of water.

          This was October, 1978, and the bait chiefly used for pickerel. The canal has never been the same since it was dredged in the 1980’s, but pickerel can be caught in many lakes and ponds in our region fall and winter, open water or not, chiefly on shiners.

          When my son, Matt, was still a young boy, he wanted very much to catch a pickerel. Describe something interesting to a child, and then offer him the chance to not only see it, but catch it first hand, and he won’t let you be until he succeeds. I took him to the two Burnham Park Ponds in Morristown on a 68-degree January day and he caught several, one of them over 20 inches long.

          But many other opportunities exist, including Ryker Lake and Ramapo Lake from shore, and Lake Musconetcong, Lake Hopatcong, and Greenwood Lake from a boat, if perhaps on a mild day. All of these waters have residual vegetation where pickerel spend the late fall and winter from three to 15 feet deep. Areas like shallow River Styx and the State Park flats of Lake Hopatcong are full of pickerel. By boat, live shiners rigged on size 6 hooks and a 15-pound test fluorocarbon leader, attached to a snap tied onto low diameter 15-pound test braid, can simply be drifted over the stringy tops of vegetation under a light breeze. You don’t have to use braid, but it could mean boating a big one that dives for thick weeds. You do have to use a fluorocarbon leader to prevent pickerel’s rows of razor-sharp teeth cutting line.

          Pickerel are of course members of the pike family. Although they inhabit Florida, and survive quite well in waters that warm well over 85 degrees in summer, they typically feed more in cold water than bass. Along with yellow perch, they are the most popular pursuit for ice fishermen. They are also known popularly as a fish to catch during fall.

          Since not many anglers get out and fish open winter waters, pickerel don’t have the image of open water winter fish like trout, but mild days may offer anglers a chance to get outside. If you’re not resolved to keeping rods and reels packed away until spring, you could catch some fish. Pickerel can be caught even on cold days, but after a few days of sunshine in the 60’s, pickerel become especially active in smaller, shallow waters that warm significantly. Nevertheless, Lake Hopatcong’s River Styx and State Park flats will warm significantly more than the main lake points when such a weather system lingers. (Safe ice can cover the shallows when the main lake remains open—the reverse of this situation.)

          Part of what fishing can be all about is a variety of different sorts of outings. Home methods and approaches, like home waters, preoccupy fishermen, but a new lake or pond, approach or method, piques interest. I admit that I haven’t fished winter pickerel—besides ice fishing—since the Burnham Park Pond days. We went a number of times and always did well. But I have good memories ranging from the New Jersey Pinelands, to the canal in Mercer County, to Morris and Sussex counties, catching winter pickerel since my teenage years when I was keenly attracted to gaining experience of the wilds. I still am, and fished at Round Valley throughout last winter. When I used shiners hoping to hook a big lake trout, I thought of pickerel. 

           Pickerel exist in both the reservoir and the Round Valley Pond, although not nearly in such numbers as trout do in the reservoir, and probably don’t range as deep as a half-ounce sinker can be set from shore, either. But at any rate, if you haven’t caught winter pickerel and want to try a different approach to fishing, the whole of winter months lay ahead to try.