Sunday, December 27, 2015

Round Valley Reservoir December Trout Shore Report

Went to check out the Round Valley scene and get away from it by hiking a ways before work today. Mild weather on a Sunday had a lot of people out. Lot 2 was loaded mostly with hikers, but plenty fished, although the only trout I heard about caught, Dave landed, a 16-inch rainbow. He's been catching plenty since I last saw him in November, but as expected, no lakers.

I think if that's going to happen, it's got to get real cold, and just won't this year. I've been fishing trout here a lot since 2011, and last year alone saw the odd phenomena of nothing but lakers caught in January until the freeze in early February. Most years, lakers from shore are scarce.

Lakers or not, I'm sure I'll fish a couple of times in January. I really wanted to connect my son to one of these fish, but a rainbow or brown--or just hanging out--will do.

I got some word on Round Valley Reservoir pumps in Mexico for repairs, and no pumping of South Branch Raritan water to raise the level until 2017. Whether or not this is any official plan, I don't know. The rumor apparently comes from an authoritative source. I went online to try to find the information, and for all I know, a more thorough search might yield the documented facts. What I heard sounds completely believable to me, but since I can't verify the truth, I can't know if it is, or let you know much better in this format.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Institute for Advanced Study Bulldozes part of Princeton Battlefield

The Institute for Advanced Study has begun to bulldoze six acres they own of the approximately 21-acre tract including Princeton Battlefield State Park. The Institute intends to build housing on hallowed ground where men fought and died for the founding of the American nation. I've followed this development for a few years; not closely, because I gave up on the news mentality at age 18, at least that mainline sensation of urgent importance I used to vitally feel. My brother-in-law used to be extremely involved in historic preservation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and he fought the Institute hard and dearly to keep the integrity of this land intact. Since he was up against one of the most famous architects in the country on the other side, Hillyer I believe is the name, he knew they have a lot of power for the nonce.

In the broader view of events, the Institute I felt proud of living near while growing up seems to value six acres of housing an awful lot, as if any question about its image locally, nationally and globally is less important. Albert Einstein had an office at the Institute, as great minds do today, but whatever the outcome--with bulldozers already at work--we all know that if the Revolutionary War hadn't happened, including the decisive victory here, the unleashing of human productivity as never before in history, which has been America, wouldn't have either.

Einstein hoped for international government, an idea foreign to most of us, and I wonder how he appreciated the Battlefield. Great minds come from many countries to Princeton, Orville and Wilbur Wright having made the convenience of their travels possible at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

I know Einstein loved Stony Brook nearby, because I came upon a written passage of his own that expressed the amazement he felt just walking about it's edges to turn over stones or what have you and encounter whatever he found. Especially the awakening of ideas that nature stimulates. 
My brother-in-law used to be involved in Revolutionary War reenactments. Shot's blurry, just like the thundering cannon at Princeton Battlefield seemed to shake the air. He and my sister-in-law cleared out of the area for Maine, leaving behind the Corporate World they came to find no longer tenable.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Like October in December on Lake Hopatcong

Dow's Boat Rentals boats remain available, and Laurie, Joe and Jimmy plan on continuing to rent them out so long as the weather holds. Of course we're hoping for ice, and it's a very rare winter when none makes this lake something else. But for now, it's a most unusually extended fall, with temperatures in the 50's, 60's and 70's, lots of walleye, hybrid stripers, perch and some muskies getting caught of recent.
It's all about the vertical jigging now; Laurie's recent report only mentions fatheads for perch in the bait department, not that herring wouldn't work. An eight-pound, four-ounce walleye got weighed in, along with a number of others up to six pounds. A 47-inch musky got caught on a little Rapala Ice Jig fished vertically as well.
It sounds like October in December, and I wanted dearly to get out on the lake two weeks ago, but not by myself in one of the rentals. My friend Mike never bought a fishing license this year, and since the season's about over, he wants to wait and fish the lake with me sometime next year.  

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Round Valley Reservoir with Fred and Mike for Trout

Third time out to Round Valley this fall, a major curtailment on my habit of
showing up two, three times a week from October through April, and then through May for bass. I can never get enough of this place, so last week I really struggled with my desire to go, finally settling on the work I had to get done instead. Was that a good decision? Definitely. Times exist when, if I don't throw anchor, sort of dive overboard, and get deep into writing especially--lots of chores scattered around it besides--I would otherwise lose my hold on plans and the best I can do with the means I have at staying reasonably happy. But I've experienced at Round Valley life so well fulfilled it's felt enough. Funny thing is, no matter how good you are accepting what you have, time always takes it away. That's the secret of ambition: you can be plenty happy as things are, it's just that life won't let it be. And while plenty of people at least seem stable compared to me, by virtue of my moods as changing as the weather, I am driven all the more to achieve, since every day is new one.

So I got down beyond the Ranger boat dock before Fred arrived, noticing Mike's Volvo as I drove in. He had set up on one of the points, and as I arranged three rods, Fred drove in. Since Fred talked about going around the bend, I agreed, since my favorite spot had a couple of anglers fishing it. Fred had seen a couple of lakers caught where we soon departed to, last winter.

First, I walked off and spoke to Mike for five or 10 minutes as Fred geared up. Part of the reason I was so intent on going last week involved upping the chances of seeing Mike. Well, he hasn't let up a bit. He's caught 30 so far this season, and gets out a lot, as always. He fished shiners today and had missed a hit. (When Fred and I left, he had missed another.)

Fred and I walked some 300 yards to set up where the shore steepens fairly dramatically. He mentioned he once caught a smallmouth here fishing from his boat, sometime back when the water level was more and less normal. Now it's down some 15 feet, revealing some amazing structure as one of the photos shows.

Three rods each, one of mine is the noodle rod I'll never use for steelhead again, since my son and I are into fly fishing for them, but I sure am glad I have it for Round Valley. Casts amaze me. So smooth it's as if the rod's made of butter; that light power, super-slow action catapults a rig forever. And I said to Fred I'll never forget the nine-pound, three-ounce steelhead I caught on a noodle rod, happened to be supplied by guide Eric Geary, and I certainly won't. What an amazing fight, and every bit as authentic as with a fly rod. It's just that when you move on, so you do. We could--logically--move on from 7-weight traditional fly casting to spey casting.

We sat on rocks and stood on gravel and talked about all sorts of things. Two hours went by swiftly. I broke the news that it was time to go, as we agreed on two hours. So much to get done. We may be back late in December. I have an 8 x 10 photo for Mike of him holding a nice laker I meant to bring today, but forgot. But first thing Mike did: he thanked me profusely for featuring him in my recent The Fisherman story.

"My buddy Joe calls and says, 'Mike! You're famous!"

Fred baits at the drop.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Lamington River Restorations Strike Groundwater

My photo files of the Lamington lack, though I have a number of 35mm prints I don't care to scan. This photo shot looking upstream from Cowperthwaite Road's green iron bridge, April 2011. I've also learned from Andy's Facebook site that Urbani Fisheries has surveyed the partially washed out dam in this photo for removal. The far edge of the dam is to the left in this photo.

My coworker, Joe, stopped to have an excited chat with me about the amazing restoration of a mile stretch of the Lamington River. Joe and I have been rangering on golf courses since April, and whenever we appropriately can, we've been talking fly fishing, especially for trout. You can tell by my blog that I don't have much experience at fly fishing, but I sure want a lot more. And though no one can have all he desires, he may achieve some. Once and awhile, I'd see Joe rove in the cart close to the river and take a peek. I spotted a 16-inch smallmouth bass from one of the cart bridges, and lots of enormous carp, but Joe's consistent spiel was despairing, as if he would never again fly fish New Jersey, only Colorado.

"I've never spotted a trout in this river," he said of the flow through two of the courses.

Today, what a reversal. "Do you know about the restoration they're doing back there!?" I've been working off the courses since September, so he wasn't sure I had any knowledge of it. "They dug a hole 10 feet deep and released a groundwater flow!"

"Yeah, I ran into Jim Holland at Shannon's in October. I suggested that they drill for spring water release into the river. Jim said they probably have a well permit and a springhouse might be a good idea, but he also mentioned they'll dig deep enough for possible groundwater releases," I said.

Holland writes the fly fishing column for The Black River Journal, a NJ Highlands publication, and is very well-known on the fly fishing scene hereabouts.

The famous Urbani Fisheries of Bozeman, Montana, along with other organizations, I think, carry out this amazing restoration effort. I read in one of the magazines a year ago or so about sensationally effective stream restorations in Montana, and although I knew a little about restorations of the Musconetcong River, I never dreamed I would be so privileged as to see some happen right here in Bedminster.

The Lamington stretch flows through guarded private property. Only a few can access the coming results directly, and yet this work serves as a fine example of what can be done, given the funds. A couple of years ago, I interviewed Brian Cowden, at the time in a top NJ Trout Unlimited position. We want to take out the 35-foot Warren Glen Dam on the Musconetcong, thus improve river quality greatly, but where will the millions needed come from?

Overall, the Lamington River is quickly improving as this work progresses. Cooler water here is no negative influence on the river below, and some trout may migrate in both directions. Since brown trout are expected to reproduce, some offspring will spread out up and down the river. This seems inevitable, given that a growing population will seek space. I was told by Joe Urbani that the state has already designated this one-mile length of the river Trout Production Water. Formerly, only the water above for some length had TP designation. Further up, the Black River, at least near the Cooper Mill in Chester, is not TP designated. The Black River becomes the Lamington River some distance below Hacklebarney State Park. It's named the Black because of a high degree of tannic acid giving the water the tone of black tea, which the river loses as tributaries feed the flow and tannic acid disperses in sediment and sort of gets filtered out by friction with the bank and river bottom.

The river used to be shallow and fishless for the most part through the courses, and now it looks completely natural with deep pools and riffles leading in where mayflies and the like will flourish, runs with seams and eddies aside of them that just beg for drifting flies. As witness to an amazing transformation, I say never think that because we are technological beings, we necessarily destroy the environment. The folks from Bozeman are living proof that technology can be used to greatly improve and enhance the environment.   

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hackettstown Hatchery Recently Stocked Salmon in New Jersey

Head of Lake Wawayanda at State Park boat rentals.

I was surprised to learn of landlocked salmon stockings recently this fall, since the stockings have been carried out during the spring. Lake Wawayanda got 1545, Lake Aeroflex 615, and Tilcon Lake 240 salmon between 12 and 14 inches, the sort of fish we might hope get allowed to grow larger. This is the result of a trade-off between the Hackettstown Hatchery and a Massachusetts state hatchery--1800 tiger muskellunge to Massachusetts for the salmon in return; not a bad deal, and in case you were wondering, yes, NJ Fish & Wildlife still has the Hackettstown Hatchery mostly for warmwater fish, in addition to the Pequest Hatchery.

Don't be bamboozled by fly fishermen's spiel about stocked fish being abysmally inferior to wild and native, as if stocked fish swim as inappropriate in a natural environment as schizophrenics suffer disorientation. Once these salmon acclimate to one of these three lakes, their behavior is clean, swift, and dramatic. I've seen it happen a number of times. During July and August, salmon will attack herring at the surface, even with eighty degree water temperature, shooting up from 30-foot depths to crash mightily, take their kill and dive quickly back to water cool enough for them to survive. No brown trout will do that, no matter how wild, and I've never heard of rainbows doing it, either.

These salmon are fierce.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area Holiday Events Well Worth Participation

The National Park Service will host "First Weekend" events at Millbrook Village on Mine Road, easily accessed from Interstate 80 after traveling north along the river some six miles or more. A "Victorian Christmas Celebration will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, December 5th, complete with historic homes decorated in the Victorian style accompanied by costumed guides preparing holiday meals on woodstoves and over open hearths, while craftsmen show you how it was done.

I highly recommend it, since my wife and I visited Millbrook Village on Memorial Day last year (source of these photos), and the guides brought the place fully alive. I vaguely felt as we drove in as if, "Oh, no, another boring historical farce," the way that in my teens I did not like Waterloo Village in NJ, not even Williamsburg, VA, very much, but it's nothing fake. It's way better than visiting such places without people in roles who really know what they're about. If you're open to other times, other places--seek them out.

Also, "A Christmas Carol Service" will happen at Millbrook Village from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday, December 6th, light refreshments served. This of course is participatory, and since I sang in an Episcopal Choir for 13 years, I can relate to you that singing really does more than "lift the spirit." It's part of what being a healthy human being is all about. If singing were not natural, that would be another issue, but anyone can sing. And there's a reason for this.

You can find other Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area holiday events elsewhere online.

Happy Thanksgiving and thanks as always for visiting Litton's Fishing Lines!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Jockey Hollow Grand Parade Trail Hike

Angulated fence near Wick House

My wife and I hiked the Grand Parade Trail today in Jockey Hollow, actually part of Morristown National Historical Park. Many books are written on the crucial history lived out here, especially by the troops of George Washington, who suffered record cold during the winter encampment of 1779-1780, some of whom didn't make it. Washington himself was well-protected, I'm sure, though he was no stranger to the situation and profoundly concerned for his men.

I've read none of the books, unfortunately, though I would like to, and the Jockey Hollow Visitor Center has many for sale I have perused in some detail. My first experience hiking Jockey Hollow and Morristown happened back in 1973, when as a Boy Scout with Lawrenceville's Troop 28, we hiked a grueling 18 miles. I remember how tough it was, up and down hills.

Today, we hiked about three miles total, and though the day began for me with very sour feelings, waking at 1:15 in the afternoon after having stayed up to 4:00 a.m., once I got my camera out of the bag and photographed that classic wooden fence, all swiftly rose back in place for me, as the world suddenly made sense again.

For us, a real nice hike, and even though perhaps two tenths of a mile near the end of it made me feel very old, rather than youthful as I usually feel, I accepted the feeling as pretty accurate. After all, in five very short years--as years pass these days at my age--I'll be 60. So I may as well feel it on rare occasion. And then the sun angled upon us after we crested a hill and I felt vital, despite my left leg with nerves that fried from extreme sciatica, the leg feeling weakened as if the nerves simply can no longer support the muscular action fully. It's only after I've hiked a couple of miles that I feel this slight pain and unease. Done hiking, we opened the car trunk and chugged water, and upon arriving home, felt the world from a deeper sense of its peace, despite the association of Morristown with war.

Years ago, I took lunches in Jockey Hollow, while working for New Jersey's largest credit union. Doing this for about three straight years through all four seasons, developed a deep awareness of this land as hallowed ground, although I felt the affinity especially from November through winter. Land that is lush with flourishing summer life relates all too well the success of life in the present, but with the added sense of space late and very early in the year, we may know a deeper presence in the very absence of life. Usually, when we visit a place, we're only conscious of it in the context of the very thin strip of present time. But history is not just "past." Remains are in fact existential, and the present and future cannot, in fact, exist without the past. Past, present, future are what time is.
 Wick House. Here the Wick's lived...not really so long ago.
 Lots of fallen, cut trees on the Grand Parade Trail
 Kids are just as eager to meet new dogs, as dogs are.

 Approaching the Soldier's Huts from above. The four huts, of course, are model renditions. Since enough men camped here in the Hollow to fill a 400 by 300 yard space during the daily Grand Parade--a formality that kept organization intact--I wonder how many dozens of huts existed. 600 acres of forests were cut down entirely to build the huts and make firewood. 

Hut rendition interior.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

First Ice for the Best Bite

Typically we get about two months of ice thickening to at least a foot, sometimes twice this amount in northern, high elevations of the New Jersey. In 2008 we had no more than two weeks of marginally safe ice; to get no safe ice over winter’s course is very rare.

For any first timers at ice fishing, paying heed to safety is a life requirement. I never recommend any newcomer go out on ice fewer than five inches thick of clear, hard ice--not refrozen. No one really wants to go out on a deep lake for the first time, poking ahead of himself nervously with a splitting bar, and no adequate knowledge about whether or not the ice he stands on will give way to water that would kill him in 10 minutes. Get a guide to show you how until you feel comfortable and knowledgeable. Joining the Knee Deep Club of Lake Hopatcong may suffice to meet people.

The larger lakes freeze unevenly. Well inside a cove—where pickerel and perch especially get caught—the ice may be quite safe. But walk towards the mouth of that cove, where winds have kept water open until it froze an inch the night before, and into the water you go. Always, no matter how safe the ice, wear a pair of ice spikes available at many sporting goods shops. If you do go through, as unlikely as this is, the points can be jammed into ice so you can pull yourself out, then belly squirm away from the thin area.

In my experience, there’s really no other outdoor pursuit like ice fishing. I have, many times, broken the thin ice of Barnegat Bay as I ploughed in bodily, wearing layered wetsuits for commercial clamming. Once I worked in the bay for five hours beginning at dawn with 10 degrees Fahrenheit and snow, ending at 17 degrees, 45 mph winds, and the wind chill 29 below, that’s the figure I heard on the radio. Clamming was more of an adventure than ice fishing. But ice fishing is serene yet plenty adventuresome. It allows you to get in touch with nature in quiet, leisurely ways, so long as not too many snowmobiles, quads, and power augers are nearby. Plenty of fish species get caught in our region—pickerel, largemouth and smallmouth bass, muskies, northern pike, walleyes, trout species, channel catfish, hybrid stripers, and all manner of panfish including roving yellow perch in some waters.

First ice is best ice. The “black ice” we sometimes have before snow blocks sunlight reaching through clear water depths, often safely covering two to 10-acre ponds that freeze first (and evenly). It’s easy to cut with a splitting bar since it’s not thick as a vault door. Sunlight’s the secret to this fishing. Try to get out on a cloudless day, the kind of day that “isn’t good for fishing.” Fish water 10 feet deep or shallower, clear water among residual weeds preferably, bait tip-ups with live shiners, and try some chrome finished spoons using short jigging rods.

Shiner scales serve the schooling behavior of these fish, since the flashes of reflected light confuse perceptions of predators. But when isolated on a hook beneath a tip-up device (available at many sporting goods stores), these light-reflecting shields do just the opposite, attracting gamefish like a beacon to zero in upon and hit. Silvery, chrome spoons like small Kastmasters do the same.

I go for largemouth and pickerel when I have first ice opportunity, ice which hasn’t been corrupted yet by melting and refreezing. These two species prowl relatively shallow water penetrated by light. With adequate fish holding depths nearby (if any), and fairly thick residual vegetation present if the pond or lake has any (hard cover like fallen trees in combination with weeds can be excellent) fish may be skittish, off the feed, and in the thickest of cover, but will strike by aggressive reaction, just as they do under summer cold fronts. I’ve experienced tip-up flags flying high, bass stripping off five or ten yards of line and dropping shiners, refusing to swallow. After first ice, when a bass takes a shiner under a tip-off, it will strip the spool if you don’t get to it in time.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Round Valley Reservoir Rainbows Hitting as Low Pressure Comes

As often is the case, I'm a little reluctant to pack up and go, owing to so much work I can get done. But of course, the work doesn't actually exist unless it goes as planned, and since I'm ahead of plans two days running, once I got out the door, I felt that little rush of excitement that leaves all else behind to hit the road. I got to Round Valley at about 2:30, checking out the main launch area and abandoning it, since no one else was around fishing, and I wanted to hang out. Besides, Lot 2 is my favorite.

There I met Dave, who has a favorite spot elsewhere, but tried today in the vicinity I wanted to fish, setting up just as I got there. I rigged up my 11-foot steelhead noodle rod--never to be used for steelhead again, since we fly fish them now--and lugged a cast that soared out seemingly twice as far as I can reach with my 6-foot Ugly Stick. (After I left, I figured next time I'll add a half-ounce slip sinker to the line in addition to a 3/4 ounce and see how far that goes.)

I got that cast out, and visited Dave before rigging up the other two rods. As we spoke, a trout splashed about three feet in front of us. Shortly after I had my second rig set, I heard the bell on his rod jingle and a moment later he was fast to the rainbow he let me photograph. That south breeze really had power come sort of across into Ranger Cove, and it kicked up mud. Dave got his marshmallow and mealworm in close at mud's edge. Nothing like my long, light power noodle reach. I set other rigs close in also.

But Dave emerged the victor by far. We had to leave Lot 2 at 4:00. (Actually, we drove off at 4:08.) Park closes all too early, and I guess that's a good thing so staff doesn't get over worked. Who wants to tend regulations all day. The main launch area stays open 24 hours. That's where we went after Dave landed his third rainbow, these fish ranging between 14 and 16 inches.

We hung out for another 20, 25 minutes before Dave left and I lingered into dusk, my brother Rick phoning, the two of us talking fishing another 20 minutes, finishing with his invitation for my family to come over Thanksgiving. I won't even know if I have to work my job that day until Tuesday. So perhaps another year passes without us getting over to my brother's in Brick.

I left Round Valley in the dark, and though I hooked nothing, sure had some encounters with trout, and more important, one of the guys who go for them. There's a lot of cold season at the Valley. It really runs from late September until May, and it's fitting that most of the year is the cold season at the reservoir with depths that never warm above 40 degrees or so. We fish the Valley because the place abandons us, and so we have a little freedom.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Stripers are In: that's the Word

Since I've completed work on an essay with a December 5th deadline--it needs to sit before final revision--I decided to make a run for the shore, arriving at Seaside Park shortly before sunset. By all the word I've heard, I hit it right this time. Bass are in. It's just that of the eight others I saw fishing--nothing at all. And all I caught was a 12-inch fluke that hit a fairly large Krocodile spoon, not the teaser. Nowadays they seem to be called Gator spoons. Way back in 2007, I caught a small striper on the same spoon I used this evening. Also used a Kastmaster and paddletail. Surf fairly rough, my needlefish remains wrapped in its packaging. I fished a nice, sort of tongue-shaped bar that extends outward, both pockets that broke the line of the breakers, as well as casting as I walked along in my Simms. Years back were good to my son and I, using fresh clams and bunker, but we never quite broke the 30-inch mark, though I once lost a bass that weighed at least 30 pounds. We never became more than committed visitors, living an hour or more away, but we must have surf fished half a dozen times a year.

Betty & Nicks said a lot of bass came off the beach today, including a 36-pounder. I decided today that if I have the money, I'm buying an SUV in retirement, and I'm going to LBI in November when bass are in and spend a whole week roaming beaches and the like.

I fished into dark. A nice time, and the waves have a way of calling you deeper into the elements. But once I got off the beach, I was happy with familiar civilization and snapped a shot of Park Pavilion to signify the value.

The camera that got fully submerged for at least two seconds in the Salmon River works! I tried it before leaving, was able to reset the time, so I put the file card in, snapped a shot, and there it was...there these shots are, too. Matt told me to put the camera and lens in dry rice, so in Pulaski I bought rice and a container to fit all of it. My high end Tokina lens is being repaired back to factory spec for $229.80, and that's a deal, considering the cost of a new Tokina. I'm loyal to my equipment, although I want to someday move on to a full-frame camera and appropriate lenses. All that is very costly, but I just don't know that I won't be able to afford it. Perhaps I will be able.

 Last I was here, beach was open on down to Seaside Park Pier, I think, though I've been here since Sandy...
Park Pavilion

Friday, November 13, 2015

Boat Launch Reconstruction at Delaware Water Gap: Opportunity for Winter Walleye and Smallmouths

Work began on the boat launch ramp at the Delaware Water Gap, officially designated as Kittatinny Point, earlier this month. The ramp had been badly damaged by floods in 2004 and 2006, testament to the river's amazing power. Construction is slated to be finished in early December, so all you walleye anglers who want a winter opportunity, the river at the Gap reaches 55-foot depths, although the fish won't likely be so deep, particularly on any mild afternoons with sun slightly warming shallows. I like the area around the Interstate 80 bridge with some deep runs that aren't so deep the fish get lost under you, but shallower edges without too much current can come alive after warming. I've fished among the pillars by wading, caught lots of bass, and have for years desired to come here in a boat during November. This is good-looking water and always respect the seams between faster and slower.

Around sunset is the time to be prepared, and jerkbaits like the suspending Rapala Husky Jerk can be effective. Smithwick makes suspending jerkbaits that get down eight feet, also; for a minnow plug without the typical diving lip, these are an opportunity to try. Smallmouth bass hit throughout the winter too, and while deadsticking a tube jig by letting it sit on bottom may work, since the soft-plastic tentacles move in the current, if you want to feel assured, go with jigs tipped with live shiners, or even a size 6, plain shank hook and heavy split shot on the line. Walleye will certainly take live shiners also, though the place to fish them is especially in holes with slower current. I've caught smallmouths in the river during December, and not very deep, but my bass were average river fish, and I've heard plenty stories that relate bigger fish in the cold. Look for those holes, but don't spend all day fishing the deepest.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Light Fly Rods for Steelhead

"Where do you want to start?" Matt said.

"The tailout," I said. He understood. Three years ago during summer, I caught a big smallmouth in the spot.

We clamored out of the Honda in the dark, and sort of miserably slipped on waders in the chill. Using a four-door sedan for purposes better suited to an SUV can be a mess, but we would get through the day without losing anything.

I was surprised the spot wasn't crowded out. Together we waited 20 minutes or so until enough light made it legal to fish. Matt got into position just slightly upstream of where I knew to loop my cast. The size 8 Estaz egg produced the first steelhead of the morning up and down the Salmon River in our view, not a very big one, but certainly a challenge on my limber six-weight fly rod. I was eager to have Matt net the fish.

We wandered off downstream, walking to stop here and there to fish nearly a mile of the river, before we turned back after nearly four hours for a hearty lunch. The walk back took about 20 minutes. During the interim, I had briefly hooked a larger steelhead, and missed two hits. The fishing we favored all morning happened in about two feet of water at the furthest distance we reached from where we began. Matt had a spectacular fight before he lost one that raced downstream, briefly breaking water as it got loose. He was using a five-weight rod and five-weight line.

Perhaps we just can't land any of the really serious fish weighing more than 15 pounds, maybe not even the typical 10-pounder, but I like the feel of my light rod better than the heavier I used yesterday.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Matt's Salmon River Steelhead

From what we gathered in communications with the Douglaston Salmon Run river walker, Matt's steelhead was the one and only this morning. Matt's weighs (the shot shows him releasing it) about seven pounds. I lost one at the net longer in length that looked skinnier. Both chromers.

Copious online reading before we came up informed me, but actual fishing comes down to trial and error and habit, and of course as a spin fisherman, I have a habit of holding the rod high as if it's no problem. After this venture with my son, I may hold the rod to the side more often. I told myself to hold the rod aside, having learned that's what you do with noodle rods four years ago, and reminded of the same for fly fishing numerously in my reading, but Nate caught me holding the rod high, and apparently it was too late before I could have adjusted position. I guess that's why I lost the steelhead. I had one other hit on a chartreuse streamer near the end of our seven hours, a pretty strong strike.

We fished three stretches thoroughly, but could not escape leaves. If not for the mass of them--I mean they were thick and cast after cast got interrupted by having to pull a yellow leaf off the hook--I think we would have caught more fish. The leaves cut into our time and grace. We began with a calm, warm air mass of about 60 degrees just after 6:00 a.m. Leaves were bad enough, but once the wind picked up, they got to be the mess I've described.

Since I've had severe herniation in my lower back for years, my spine is somewhat scholiotic, twisted, with the result that sometimes my upper back pains me badly. No problem on Lake Hopatcong recently, nor while casting spinnerbaits the week or so before my son got out. But I had to take several breaks today, finally saying the hell with giving into the pain and just exerting myself past the difficulty, which resulting in--less pain. I fished the last two hours with wilful determination that made me feel great afterwards. We had fished hard all morning, but it took me hours before I fully got into it; not that I wasn't trying; I just hadn't stirred the manic power in me yet.

When my son hooked up about 7:30, I got my camera, the $600.00 camera with the $525.00 lens, my favorite lens, and got in the water--with Korkers on of course--to get the shots, and my very last shot--about two seconds before I heard Nate whoop, saw him lift the steelhead in the net, and a split-second later fell flat on my face in the river--is the best. I'm saving it for possible magazine use after we get more experience yet. The file card never got wet, and I got the last picture my camera and possibly my Tokina lens will ever take. Sort of like a mother who dies giving birth. I took emergency measures to try to save the equipment, and, finding the electronics unresponsive, said, "If I broke my leg, that would be worse." Nate got some good shots of Matt and his fish, and later my son said, "If you told me a year ago I would catch a steelhead on a fly rod, I wouldn't have believed you."

You just play the cards in your hand, however expensive. Once the camera and lens got submerged, it was done. As I edit this last paragraph now, a tech has told me an upgrade is less expensive than repair. The camera will be replaced and soon; the lens either fixed within three weeks or replaced by the same model. Most of all, my son succeeded, and he's since talked about fly fishing the river that runs through town, the North Branch Raritan. And we'll be back for steelhead next fall.  

I wanted Nate to fish when I took a break with my aching back.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Arrival at the Salmon River and a Little Fishing

We made Route 13, Pulaski, NY, in four hours, 15 minutes from Bedminster, NJ, stopped at Whitakers, bought our licenses, flies--including a couple of wild marabou streamers with blue and pink, about four inches long, just in case--and some leaders. Clouds overhead had the staff wanting to be out. It's been very slow with a lot of sunlight and I guess just not enough flow to get all that many steelhead in the river, although I was told some are moving up in pods of two or three. The weather is very unusual with temperatures in the 70's today, and for all we know, maybe 80 tomorrow with more clouds and thunderstorms and showers besides. The river's flowing at 350 cfs and that's the only figure I've seen in a week or so, unless I missed something. That weather forecasted tomorrow is the break in this week's pattern. Sunday it's supposed to be 53 at most. The last my son and I fished steelhead in 2011, we had 33 degrees on November 7th to start in the dark, with the most mysterious boat passage in the McKensie driftboat I've ever experienced, before first light, and then--with snow off and on--temperatures reached a high of 38. That was steelhead weather and we caught five, losing two or three.

We had time for more than an hour of fishing into dusk today right here behind the Steelhead Lodge. I found a nice, dark run at least three feet deep, and I guess since I had some practice at the Ken Lockwood Gorge recently, I was in really good form, way better than I had been there. I fished a pink Estaz egg, size 8, and after a dozen or so drifts through this run, got life on the other end, a double tap, pronounced, unmistakably a hit, but the hookset only initiated the next cast. Sometimes the steelhead take the fly a little deeper than other times, and when they do, that's when you get a solid hookup. After a dozen more casts with the Estaz, I switched to a size 10 brown stonefly nymph. I figured the fish had seen enough of the egg form. Nothing more happened. I fished a few other runs not so promising.

So did Matt. But he had no hits, yet a lot of gumption in moving about the river in his Korkers, trying to find a steelhead. We fish with Nate Adam tomorrow and I hope we do well, despite the ominous news that the fishing just isn't good. And Sunday? Well, if we catch any Sunday, that's really the icing on the cake, since we'll have found those fish on our own.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Lake Hopatcong Walleye and Largemouths

The 3 1/2-dozen herring we bought had some larger among them, including one a full five inches long, but Joe Welsh, who runs the large wholesale bait operation out of Dow's Boat Rentals, gets what Lake Hopatcong offers, and like a recent year in the fall, the lake is producing small herring about 2 1/2 inches long. How does this affect fishing? The simple answer is that a large, five-inch herring produces more vibrations in the water to alert fish at longer distances to its presence in the dark depths. But what difference it really makes, I don't know. If herring were small last year--it was either last year or the previous--we still did real well, and we did well the previous year, too.

My son got a fairly nice walleye. This was yesterday morning, motoring off from Dow's with our portable running lights on. Twenty-one-and-a-quarter-inches, three pounds, five ounces. We took this one home for his mother to cook. She really likes it when we bring a fish home. That's never a largemouth bass, and hasn't been a smallmouth from the Delaware River in six or seven years or more.

The walleye took a small herring set 33 feet deep. Meanwhile, Matt played around the rocks on the shallow side of the drop-off with his nightcrawlers, catching lots of yellow perch. I decided to give largemouths a try, after I had told Matt repeatedly I could give him a larger split shot to reach those rocks on pinpoint target with the bait right against them. Well, I ended up rigging an ultralight and sailing a cast directly on the bull's eye. All these years fishing with my son, I have it figured out, though, frankly, he's never noticed nearly as much. A nice bass of over a pound took the crawler. My son was pleased.

Next cast, I lost another bass. And the next cast produced a nice one of about 3 1/2 pounds I haven't featured photographed, which impressed my son I hope in an educative way. And the next cast resulted in a bass not much less than a pound!

"Now cast those rocks," I said.

I left Matt to the nightcrawler fishing. He continued to catch yellow perch.

We soon moved to Chestnut Point and I caught a large crappie on herring in minutes. We kept finding herring on the graph with large fish associated with them, but although Matt caught a couple of nice crappies on the Binsky, we couldn't get these marked fish to hit. I mean, fish suspended at 23 feet over 45 feet of water--we had weighted herring right at that level and they wouldn't take. Some of the fish--and large ones--suspended at 14 feet over 27. And we fished bottom closely with the Binskys. Walleye will hug bottom and not show on the fish finder.

We did the same near Sharps Rock, and finally found where most of the NJ meetup took place, on the hump out from where the yacht club used to be. We saw a couple of small hybrids caught on chicken liver. We fished our Binkys and suspended herring to no definite result.

Mostly, a beautiful day on the water, and perhaps the last of these annual outings with my son, who will go to a great university soon. We performed OK, but after I was told at Dow's that so and so only jigged and in less time than we had been out, catching two walleye, two hybrids, one of the hybrids six pounds, I said to Matt, when the others weren't in earshot, "Can you imagine, if we caught a six pound hybrid, jigging? Jigging takes real perseverance and patience; we're still amateurs at it."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Season is Never too Late for Bass

The Season is Never too Late for Bass

          I never put away rods and reels for winter, and years ago the species I pursued in any open water available included largemouth bass. Although in recent years I’ve caught some in March, my youthful eagerness to fish bass on windy, subfreezing December afternoons passed, but not the memories. As a teen, I was especially proud of making catches under conditions invigorating at best.

          Since I’ve kept this article in mind for several weeks before writing it, I considered that maybe I will apply in late November what I’ll recommend. We used to call what happened to me recently getting psyched. I hooked bass on a spinnerbait; they were striking short in water getting critically cold, sort of nibbling at the leadhead skirt, barely getting hooked. I worked my way down along the pond’s spillway while casting, stared into the deepest water, and took a few more tentative casts, letting the lure reach bottom to reel it back slowly. That’s when I looked forward to the possibility of dunking shiners.

          However, live shiners are not the only way to catch bass when water temperature falls below 50 degrees. I’ve caught largemouth bass in December on jigs fished on bottom in a pond’s deepest water. I’ve also caught January bass through the ice on jigs. But for now, let’s concern ourselves with open water.

          When water temperatures fall into the 40’s, bass usually go deep.  This isn’t because deep water is warmer. They lose the chase for bluegills and other forage in the shallows. Until water temperature drops to 39.2 degrees, the warmest is at the surface, coldest on bottom. However the science of physics accounts for the reversal, if the coldest possible water didn’t rise, ice would form on the bottom of a pond, lake, or stream. Nevertheless, although bass are cold blooded and prefer temperatures closer to 70 degrees, the chief reason they descend into the belly of a pond sometime in November is relative inactivity.

          Contrary to popular opinion, bass have not fattened for winter during the classic “fall feed.” Bass have no cause for putting on fat to protect against cold because they have no body warmth to protect. Their cold blooded metabolism simply adjusts to water temperature. During the 19th century, it was widely believed bass hibernate during winter! Fishermen believed they burrowed in submerged brush and under rocks to remain dormant until spring. Bass don’t feed as often during winter; their bodies process calories at a much slower rate. But they will strike in reaction to lures on occasion, though they are much less likely to pursue a lure retrieved quickly.

          Ponds and lakes with lots of shallows, lots of bass, and a relatively limited area of deep water may be easy to fish in the late fall and winter. Bass congregate in the deep area and are vulnerable. Most ponds and lakes are more and less shallow throughout, or have lots of deep water. In the case of ponds or small lakes with lots of 10 foot depth, bass roam randomly and fin in place if no cover is available. It may then be that fishermen need structure more than bass. The prospect of going out in a boat or standing on shore and casting randomly in the freezing cold is futile. I’ve found that at least some of the bass in a given pond relate to the bottom edges of drop-offs from shorelines into the deepest water available, if that pond isn’t deeper than about 15 feet. Extreme depth is less likely to hold largemouths. In a shallower body of water, residual weedbeds, submerged brush, or other cover, if available, will hold bass.  

          Bobber fishing is a bore compared to live-lining shiners. For one thing, suspended under a bobber, you can never get a shiner deep enough. Let a shiner swim for bottom without any weight added to the line but a small barrel swivel to connect a leader. But more important, with a bobber you lose out on the subtle action of a bass taking the bait from you. Fishing is all about contact. That’s why a bobber suddenly going under is such an uncanny thrill. But the slightest tick you may feel from free-swimming shiner taken so the line transmits subtle tension to a sensitive graphite rod raises goose pimples quicker than the action of a bobber ever can. And then you see the line slowly moving away, tightening, as you allow the bass to swim off another yard and lower the rod tip, let that line tighten straight, and set the hook.

         An event like that can make a subfreezing afternoon bass fishing worthwhile even to an adult.     

Monday, October 26, 2015

Witness to Trout Rising in Ken Lockwood Gorge

I didn't know the back way to Ken Lockwood Gorge, South Branch Raritan River, but once I realized it's just County Road 512 through Pottersville, over the Lamington River and straight on out to Califon and Shannon's Fly Shop, I found it very easy and convenient. Bedminster isn't exactly centrally located in relation to the Highlands, but right at the foot of the hills, it's in a real good position for access. The shore's a cinch to get to, also, just takes a little while.

Today I went into the Gorge at the north end, and found a hole right away that surely holds trout, though none hit my black Wooly Bugger. Soon, I took advantage of sunlight about to vanish, and I wonder now if I really should be shooting with a remote at high apertures. Donned in waders, I set my tripod up midstream, and managed to dig it in tight enough to prevent current from shaking. I got a big smile from a woman with a tripod and a full frame camera. It's treacherous to take expensive camera equipment into the river, but to get shots you can't get otherwise, carefully take chances. Yes, I had Korkers on.

On down the river, I found a stretch I liked and got hung up, so I waded quietly and freed the streamer, finding myself in better casting position. It didn't take long to sight a 15-inch rainbow. Sometime later, that rainbow rushed the Bugger, but didn't strike. I also sighted a small rainbow stocked in the spring. Naturally, I felt inclined to linger, and overtones suggesting that I stay into the magic hour seemed to promise some action.

I never got a strike on the streamer, but I noticed some tiny, off-white mayflies, and then a dimple. I tied on a size 20 or 22 blue-winged olive, and somehow fouled my leader above the tippet, and proceeded to have a bad time with a new blood knot on uneven line diameter, the damned trout dimpling repeatedly. But I got it done, and then found the fly tended not to stay afloat, nor could I ever see where it alighted on the surface. You can tell I'm a novice at fly fishing, but regardless of skill, things got real interesting fast.

An even smaller rainbow, no more than nine inches, rose repeatedly a few feet in front of me. And then about half a dozen were rising, sips and few splash rises. I whipped that little fly mid-air for all I was worth to dry it off in hopes it would float! But whether or not it did--I could never see it, though once I did drop it in front of me and it floated--none of the trout took, though for about 10 minutes as dusk gathered, they fed with abandon.

Musconetcong River Gorge Nature Trail and Dinner at The Ship Inn, Milford, New Jersey

For three years or so, I've meant to hike in the Musconetcong River Gorge. We had little time after I got off work, and then after my son got off his job an hour later this afternoon, but we rounded out more than a mile of walking and a 200-foot vertical ascent on the way back, most of that at the end of the walk, which we paced steadily, allowing us to breathe deeply, rhythmically, and really know we made effort. That's a feeling I would never want to pass through life without. I reminded my wife, Trish, of her ambition to hike Mt. Tammany at the Delaware Watergap.

"Tammany is a 1200-foot vertical ascent in about a mile flat. That's climbing like we just did for another thousand feet, and in some places, a lot steeper," I said.

My son and I have done it many times, and made more ambitious ascents elsewhere. It's good to be reminded. And Trish was not dissuaded, though I didn't mean to say she couldn't do it--just sort of try to strike a balance on the issue. And on the contrary of any suggestion that she can't, she pointed out that she would have summited in 1993, had "a real hiker" taken her.

You know what it's like when your eye narrows at the corner.

"You brought no water along and didn't give me proper boots," she said.

It was 92 degrees out that afternoon...I knew with a sinking feeling she has a real point.

The Gorge descends further down to the river itself, although I don't know of trails, and we didn't have time to investigate. But the factory or mill down by the river as you approach the park on County Road 519 is really cool-looking, at least to us, and I'd like to see if I can get some photos some day.

The 30-foot Warren Glen Dam just below the CR 519 bridge is an obstruction which, once political will breaks it, will open the river to a flourishing ecology and more holdover and wild trout, although the immediate sections here aren't stocked. Surely some holdovers work there way down.

We planned to meet Matt's Grandpa in Milford at the Ship Inn. As it turned out, we had plenty time to cross the Delaware River and check out Upper Black Eddy, and then park and linger around the Inn for a few photos while waiting. The ride down CR 519 had been like nothing.

As it turned out, after five or 10 minutes, my Dad had been waiting inside, sipping a Coke. The Ship Inn has a black-painted, patterned interior tin roof, and a rustic ambiance nice to settle into for a couple of hours of conversation. The beer on tap is brewed on the premises. Mine was full-bodied, yet mellow, a nice example of New Jersey's first brew pub, modeled on the English idea, although my beer wasn't room temperature and just as well. I had been eager for that beer. The burger was good too, and the desert some of the richest chocolate I've tasted in a long while.

Gotta watch that weight!

But here's a link to yet another excellent restaurant in Milford reviewed:

 Last big toad we'll see this year (we saw a little one further along).
 Antiques to the left and the sort of slide-out of a ridge beyond.
 Nice antique shop.
 Way back in 1978--I was 17--I drove up an hour from Lawrence to fish the Hakiokake Creek, beginning on the other side of the bridge I stood on to snap this photo, and I continued upward to fish the pool to the right in the photo and beyond into the brush and trees, long before the Ship Inn became established, but long after the Victorian era of its origin. I caught 30-some rainbow trout that spring day, and never encountered another angler.
The Ship Inn