When Steve and I crossed Lake Hopatcong nearly an hour before sunrise, temperatures had fallen somewhere in the 20's, but we felt comfortable with layered clothing. The ride to my favorite drop-off took about 10 minutes with 10 horsepower; we saw no other boats and lakeside houses gave us a feeling of being abandoned, quiet like a place forgotten. I anchored from stern; early on, the lake lay almost calm, and no water splashed over the transom.
By the books, oh, you never anchor from stern, but I always do when I can have better control, quick to pull if the wind comes up. We set herring 20-33 feet deep and began to wait, casting nightcrawlers among shallow boulders. We caught a couple of big yellow perch about a foot long; Steve caught many smaller; I gave up on the nightcrawlers after catching a couple of small largemouths less than a pound apiece.
With no clouds in the sky, I soon began to feel we might get skunked on what we came for. Usually, hits come within five or 10 minutes. Cold temperatures posed no problem as such, and with the lake's depth and expanse, water registered 58 degrees. We waited more than an hour before Steve caught the smallest walleye I've seen at Hopatcong, about a foot long. After 9:00 a.m., he caught a walleye of about 20 inches.
By 10:30 or so, Steve pulled the anchor set at the bow with increased wind, and we motored off. I gave my spot a silent and solemn farewell, knowing the slow hours we spent there had been full and worthwhile; knowing I might not see it again this year, and certainly not with my son, as we have fished it every third October weekend since 2007.
We anchored on another sharp drop-off, this one with depths of about 45 feet at bottom, rather than 35, finding some refuge from variable wind, a few clouds in the sky. Almost immediately, I caught a small, foot-long walleye. Wind kept whipping around from different directions, and the anchor lifted; we drifted slowly, marking fish on the finder.
"Steve, let the sinker hit bottom, then reel the rig up about 10 feet."
Seconds later, his rod doubled over, and I thought he had a seven or eight-pound fish. The walleye weighed about two-and-a-half, but a nice chunky fish.
We fished intensively. For a good two hours or more I controlled drifts with my electric motor all about this drop-off and sort of pocket of deep water, marking fish on occasion, keeping a herring apiece suspended just off bottom and higher up, while I jigged a Binsky for all I was worth, but just did not connect again.
I had the long drop-off of Chestnut Point in mind, but when we finally turned back to Dow's Boat Rental after seven-and-a-half hours total, we found, as I knew all along, that it was a mess with a prevailing current of head-on wind, rather than an east-west or west-east flow that would carry us along the drop. Clouds had thickened and snow sputtered onto our faces. I wondered how cold the afternoon, and I guess temperatures never rose out of the low 40's.
We passed a boat that had sort of messed around near our second spot, along with several others in the vicinity, no word of any fish caught. Hopatcong has always yielded for me, though once my son and I came in mid-November with water temperature at 45. We jigged hard for five hours, catching nothing, though it's quite possible to catch walleye in water that cold.
The important thing is to get into it, as we used to say in the 70's. Fish are there, and if you feel out of touch with them, then it's a lot less likely you'll connect.
Catching a Few Rays
White perch take the herring deep on occasion, and so do yellow, but we never catch white perch shallow.