Saturday, June 6, 2015

Shepherd Lake Hosts Largemouths, Pickerel, and Trout

Shepherd lake's water very clear that summer, last summer we found it off-color. I hope clarity has returned.

          Almost a year ago in July, my son and I arrived 15 minutes early at the closed gate to Ringwood State Park’s Shepherd Lake, waiting until 8:00 a.m. for park staff. At the boathouse, before I could state intentions to rent a rowboat, Matt and I viewed the nine-pound mounted pickerel on the wall above the counter, caught on a topwater plug in this 72-acre Passaic County lake, hooked over extensive weedy flats that ranged as deep as 17 feet or more with great water clarity. Maximum depth is 35 feet, but plenty of acreage 25 and 30 feet deep keeps some state-stocked trout alive through summer. Although I don’t recommend this destination for drifting live herring as I would the Round Valley or Merrill Creek reservoirs, you can’t rent a boat at either but can here —rowboat or electric, the latter requiring the NJ State Police Boating Safety Certificate.

          Largemouth bass are as prevalent as pickerel and also grow large on a diet that includes Omega 3-rich alewife herring abundant in the depths. Fishing the outer edge of weedlines is the best bet to hook a good fish. We caught small, 17-inch pickerel on Chompers plastic worms with weedless inset hooks in 17 feet of water, so you can be sure the big ones tend to be as deep where the weedbeds end.

          No sooner had we rowed from the dock that first outing and reached the nearest weedbed, I cast the weightless Chompers to the outer edge and hooked a pickerel of about five pounds. The hook pulled.

          Especially with the sun at high angle, the fish tend to be deep or otherwise in the thick cover of aquatic vegetation making lure presentations difficult. We did manage to catch a couple of bass simply by allowing wind to drift us over weeds while we cast fast-sinking Senko-style worms at random. Rigged Wacky (hook in middle) with wire-clip weedless hooks, we let the worms tumble down amidst the growth to bottom.

          Early in the afternoon, we were astonished to watch two anglers in another boat proceed to catch two very good sized bass on topwater plugs back in thick weeds. It made perfect sense. Cloud cover slowly set in. Eventually, light showers spritzed our T-shirts and shorts. I had read Will Ryan’s “Scientific Angler” column in Field and Stream not long before to learn that bass have an evolutionary advantage over forage prey by improved eyesight. (Mr. Ryan is a researcher who keeps tabs on university studies pertaining to fishing.) Whenever light fluctuates, bass can see forage fish better than forage fish can see them. This accounts partially for why early and late in the day is best for bass fishing. Topwater plugs are choice at times of changing light because bass have the habit of hovering beneath forage fish and looking upward to profile them in changing light, seeking to ambush. A plug making a surface ruckus is most effective. If sunlight goes through a process of gradual afternoon change, try one.

          Since my son likes to use live bait, I buy a bucketful of shiners and buy a dozen or two nightcrawlers. When we anchored to carefully plumb the bottom edges of weeds with plastic worms, simply dangling a shiner overboard worked. The worm fishing is Zen-like concentration at its best, the focus accentuating the take of a pickerel or bass as something you never forget.

          To get startled by the lunges of pickerel packed is a lot of fun. Just bring a couple of extra rods, tie a 15-pound test fluorocarbon leader to a barrel swivel, and run the main line through a quarter or half-ounce egg sinker before tying to the swivel. Make sure to hook a shiner behind the dorsal fin. We found that by dangling the shiner only five or six feet under the boat over an additional 12 feet of water below, pickerel savaged the bait. We didn’t bother to keep bail open. The rod would bend and dip below the lake surface as we grabbed hold. Matt lost one we think was about four pounds.



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