Saturday, April 4, 2015

Where are the Trout?

Three consecutive Opening Days at Locatong Creek felt deeply satisfying, but I find I move on in life before something or other begins to feel old. This way, I keep youth alive despite having outwardly clocked 54 years. Until Thursday, I figured we would forgo Opening Day this year. My family had plans to eat at the Ship Inn in Milford and hike to the Ice Cave, an abandoned iron mine just north of Phillipsburg. We got a family invitation for Easter, plans changed, and desire stirred to fish little Hakiokake Creek. I had an amazing experience fishing here Opening Day 1975.

In Milford, two creeks meet. The larger is designated Hakiokake. I'm not sure of the smaller creek's name, the creek photographed above where friends and I enjoyed trout fishing 1975 and times since. My son and I got out of the car. He walked upstream, I went downstream. Neither of us sighted any trout nor any Fish & Wildlife notices up. I may get around to checking online the stocking schedule to see if two creeks in Milford and Holland Township are listed.

We stopped at the public park beside the slightly larger creek. Here perhaps half a dozen people fished at about 11:00 a.m. I got word of 20 trout caught just upstream at a bridge, but I didn't care to fish. For me, it was a matter of revisiting my 1975 experience or else passing on fishing today. Matt's an aloof 16 and hadn't any outward insistence on trying.

We drove off, Wickecheochee Creek in mind to visit on a roundabout way home. I realized I had left my fishing license at home with stuff I need to sort. Matt's forgetful mind is like mine, so naturally he forgot his license too, now new to being licensed. No fishing for us today, but we would have a look at the Creek near Stockton I so admire.

We got as far as the green bridge, driving west from Route 29. Someone intending to fish pulled in behind. Here it is Opening Day, no one around, Fish & Wildlife notices up. I dropped three salmon eggs from atop the bridge while wearing polarized sunglasses, water below not perfectly clear, but clear enough to watch the eggs descend about five feet to no takers. I could only guess that if any trout had been stocked, they're very few. A few years back the situation here felt much the same. The few who fished reported nothing.

Meanwhile, my son had walked downstream. I watched with apprehensive eagerness as he attempted to cross the fairly wide Creek by hopping rocks. He got wet almost to his knees. And he persisted, looking in the water closely as he continued to walk. Suddenly he raised both hands to signal the size of a very big fish and waved me down.

Some must have been stocked. He guessed the trout to have been about 20 inches, darting upstream and out of sight through very shallow riffles. Surprising.

We rode on a mile or two to the Covered Bridge. We sighted one angler fishing. I noticed a few more Fish & Wildlife designations along the way. It's as if everyone has given up on trout fishing the Wickeocheochee, certainly not because it's an unsightly place.

Some years ago, I took Matt to Locatong Creek and very few trout seemed to have been stocked. Quite a number of people tried; very few reported any catches.

Where are the trout? If Fish & Wildlife designates a creek to be stocked, it should be. Where are the voices? I'm typing mine. Fish & Wildlife holds a public meeting concerning trout stocking in February at Pequest Hatchery.

Creeks offer fine trout fishing. I think some of the very finest, since close, intimate settings allow particularity of experience big name streams, lakes and ponds can't provide.

The word from Fish & Wildlife is that nearly 600,000 trout will be stocked this spring.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Topwater Bass Small North Jersey Lake

Don't remember what I laughed about, not the bass.
Here's a piece ahead of time about fishing a small lake in North Jersey. Information may be helpful for any number of destinations.

If you own no larger than a small boat and trailer, you may enjoy good largemouth fishing on any of fairly shallow eutrophic lakes. The primitive gravel ramp we employed provides convenient launching for a kayak, canoe, inflatable, portable, or cartop boat, and I’ve heard of the successful trailer launch of a 14-foot V-hull. My son, Matt, and I discovered that our 12-foot inflatable Intex Excursion really is a very comfortable and efficient craft. It inflates quickly with a 12-volt air pump used for tent mattresses. We’ve launched it on Merrill Creek Reservoir and Split Rock Reservoir, two undesirable outings we don’t care to repeat. I was reluctant to use the boat again! Rolling over Merrill Creek waves and hauling the heavy boat and marine battery a long distance at Split Rock wasn’t pleasant. But so long as water surface rests relatively calm, the boat feels like a comfort chair, casting from it easy and unimpaired. We power the boat with a 55-pound thrust Minn Kota electric motor. Perhaps needless to say, gas outboards are not allowed on most small lakes.

          My portable Humminbird graph recorder showed 10-foot depths not far beyond the ramp, and we found that most of the water on the near side of the island is about this deep. We didn’t fish the back of the lake, but I imagined shallower flats. The lake’s acres brim with water of good quality, but it’s not as clear as Lake Musconetcong used to be, for example.

          Aquatic vegetation abundant, it's not as thick as I had expected. The lake mostly open water, the challenge is to fish edges and pockets of weeds very carefully. Senko-type worms and slower sinking traditional plastic worms rigged weightless with an inset hook would be effective, particularly in the middle of the day when topwater plugs usually get ignored by bass. My son and I favor surface fishing whenever we can catch fish, and that’s when light intensity increases or decreases, sun fading from the time of our arrival, and the bass sight-advantaged over prey.

          For the first 20 minutes or so, we became anxious. Then I hooked my first bass, and we sank into the pleasant reverie of being on the water with the skunk off. There’s nothing like a good-looking lake letting us down to spoil our estimate of the Highlands region of which we're familiar. That sort of event turns the world upside down. Another bass struck minutes later, both fish only about a pound apiece, but making the lake feel promising.

          Quickly released, they have the potential to grow quite large in a lake like this. Matt pointed out a school of forage fish with small predator fish of some kind bursting into them. The forage seemed like herring, but surely shiners of some variety caught our attention. We watched dazzling reflections on silvery scales caught in vanishing sunlight as the fish leapt. The presence of these brilliant, tiny pulses of energy relative to the focus of our concentration on them, they seemed more significant than the physical size of the fish. Whenever I see baitfish in addition to bluegills and other sunfish, I think the lake has good potential for lunkers just as important to let go.

          We didn’t take any hits from big fish, but we caught several more one-pound bass before dusk deepened. All struck topwater plugs. Particularly aware of my casting as I repeatedly plunked my Hedden Torpedo on the proverbial dime, the practice will last until next time. This involved more than hitting the target. I fished with persistent, yet relaxed, energy. Allowing the mind to feel out what seems to be the best possibility of a lair will, over time, put you on more fish. How do animals in the wild find prey? More is involved than assessing facts. Animals other than humans have no concept of facts anyhow, but they possess acute senses that lead them where they need to go.

          Do we still have senses like other animals buried beneath our everyday minds? Not only do we in the form of intuition; to awaken such productive guesswork also heightens aesthetic appreciations, and can lead to unexpected solutions of any sort of problem in life. That’s why we call fishing re-creation. Above all, a good evening on the water clears the mind so you can face tougher challenges in life refreshed.