Friday, May 8, 2015

Ramapo Lake Bass, Pickerel, Crappies...Northern Pike?

          An online trail description suggested visitors arrive early at Ramapo State Forest. We drove in as a car left, one space open for us at 1:00 p.m., and hiked into the forest, passing many dozens of people on the trails and at the lake when we got to the dam less than a half hour later. My wife mentioned Central Park. I’ve never before—besides in Manhattan—seen a park so crowded. Immediate access from Interstate 287 explains this in part. From Bedminster, it’s half an hour away at 36 miles.

          This is an interesting place. One group of younger people we met inquired about the turn of the 20th century mansion. We hadn’t seen it, but we saw older ruins, rock walls suggestive of New Jersey’s 18th and 19th century iron industry. History in addition to fairly easy, yet hilly, hiking trails offers something special.

          So does Ramapo Lake. At 120 acres, it’s more impressive than I expected, with clear-toned, tannic water of very good quality little more than half a mile from the lot. Since free-floating masses of vegetation—not algae—characterize the area at the dam, I tried a method I perfected at Lewis Morris County Park’s Sunrise Lake years ago. The important detail is to cast a weightless plastic worm inches from a weed edge. At least at Sunrise Lake, a bass stationed in the shade underneath would rush out, take the worm, and turn back. I let line tighten and set the hook.

          You need a fairly good sized worm for casting range. I use seven-and-a-half to eight inches. Either a plain shank size 1 or 3/0 snagless inset hook arrangement works, depending on whether you anticipate weeds and snags or not. You mount the worm’s head near the tie loop, and bury the inset hook in the plastic so the point is just underneath the skin. Years ago, when I first started using this type, I feared necessity to set the hook with the force of a tractor trailer jack, but it’s easy. You do need to let line tense just enough so the bass doesn’t feel resistance before you pull back hard, but especially with a Lazor Sharp or comparable brand, it’s not a problem getting the hook into the jaw. Since clouds sealed out light when I began fishing Ramapo, a dark green worm blended in. I switched to bright blue when the sun came out to stay.

          That’s about the time I decided to give up on floating weeds, weed pockets, and weedlines. I sat down on a large rock by the water and casually cast straight out into 10 feet of water, let the worm sink and settle, and then while remaining comfortably seated very slowly jiggled it towards me until I felt a tug. I gave the fish slack. Nothing happened, so I tightened the line to feel yet another tug just like the first. This must be a crappie. I allowed a little slack, and then tightened again to set the hook.

          It turned out to be a smallish largemouth, and I was happy I caught something. I sat on that rock—while my wife, Patricia, read and son, Matt, explored here and there and also read—and fished for about another hour for nothing more. But I spoke to one of nearly a dozen other fishermen I met in passing. He claims to have once seen a good sized northern pike caught. Whoever planted any possible pike to begin with, the lake is certainly large and deep enough for a reproducing population. Judging by the height of the dam, water is nearly 15 feet deep. I heard from a number of other sources that pickerel are fairly abundant especially in the shallows at the back of the lake. Black crappies also result in catches.

          This same fisherman I first spoke to said the lake’s best in the spring before aquatic vegetation is prominent, but summer weeds are not so thick you can’t find plenty of open water. Seven to 10-foot depths had some weeds on the bottom, which isn’t a bad thing. I carefully pulled the snagless worm through. Summer fishing typically requires you to slow down.

          If you have an afternoon and evening to fish Ramapo, August is a great time to do it. Trails extend all the way around the lake, and many openings between brush offer opportunities for bass and pickerel. Especially in low and/or changing light with calm surface, topwater plugs may be best by imparting life to them. Try a popping variety, prop plug like the Hedden Torpedo, or surface walker like the Zara Spook. Possibly snagless frogs and rats would be even better right in and on top of vegetation.    


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Climate Change in the Raritan Headwaters: Columbia University Students Speak

South Branch Raritan, Long Valley, Saturday
This evening, 10 students from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs spoke at Bedminster's Clarence Dillon Public Library on climate change in the Raritan headwaters. They serve as a consulting team for Raritan Headwaters Association Four months of studies identified climate change adaptation strategies for the watershed, citing flood, drought and pollution as climate change threats and proposing three strategies in response.
Wetlands restoration projects foreseen will involve areas from small scale to five acres at a cost of about $2000.00 per acre, the money raised by grants and donations. A few months' time during the warm seasons will be put to use, although about five years of raising the funds are projected. Wetlands store about a million gallons of water per acre. It's easy to imagine that these natural sponges help absorb the impact of flooding. Through calculations too complicated to have been elaborated upon during the talk--although further information will be made publically available--about $3500.00 per acre will be saved. Wetlands also serve groundwater recharge--important for ameliorating droughts. They filter pollutants which especially invade the rivers and tributaries when roadways and lawns are washed relatively clean by storm waters.
Enhancing the riparian buffer zone--the sectors along streams and rivers from banks to 200 feet back--is the second strategy, with hopes to restore 24 acres in five years, again drawing funds from grants and donations at a cost of $530.00 per acre. Twenty Four acres may not seem like many, given the vastness of 470 square miles of the Upper Raritan Watershed, but environmental efforts begin small and gather adherents in a process that gains persuasive power over time. Healthy riparian buffers slow storm water that results in flooded streams, decreasing property damage as well as filtering pollutants.

Storm water management is the third strategy. Rain gardens designed of plants that especially imbibe rainwater filter out lawn fertilizers and other pollutants, an idea that asks for community response. Another method, rainwater harvesting, involves aesthetically pleasing wooden 55 gallon barrels, the water collected used for watering gardens and lawns. It's estimated that 60% of America's water use goes to lawns, a fact I'm sure California doesn't like. Permeable pavement allows water to trickle through and recharge aquifers, rather than running against curbs and into storm drains. And it's inexpensive at about 50 cents a square foot, worth $5.00 a square foot in savings.

One of the students said that although specific data for the watershed per se is scare, "You can look back on our data and see why we're thinking what we're thinking." Grant money will be needed for these efforts to grain traction, and the academic community is of course well connected. Nevertheless, regarding specific facts on the ground, much will surely be learned in the process to help future efforts. I think of how often I hear in the news references to wetlands. The same student commented that almost no data on wetlands exists prior to 1995, which astonished me, yet didn't really surprise. At one and the same time, this situation comments on how ignorant we've been such a short time ago, and yet how quickly the importance of "swamps" has been recognized not only by experts, but has been absorbed by the public.

At present, we still exist in a state of climate change denial, and yet over the past year--despite two super-cold winters--I've felt a shift through which recognition of the fact is gaining more acceptance at an accelerating rate, and I don't think this is just my personal illusion, though I have no statistics off the cuff to support the notion.

Bill Kibler, Raritan Headwaters Association director of policy, summed the work with Columbia in a way that speaks very broadly, "Today is not the end of the conversation for us, it's the beginning of the conversation."      

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Bass hit at Round Valley Reservoir

About a month ago Round Valley Reservoir thawed, now bass are hitting. This reservoir takes much longer to warm than shallower waters. After work, I drove over for an hour, catching four largemouths, the two biggest over a pound, others not quite. Released them quick, since they're not in season. The first took a Chompers and the rest a faster sinking Senko-type. With polarized lenses on I witnessed a bass provoked by the fluttering Wacky style retrieve. Missed that hit, but watching the jaws flex, mouth wide open, was enough. The others responded to subtle motion.

So the warmwater season is well underway. What a difference. I haven't met anyone who praises the winter we had, but honestly, it amazed me. A hard, difficult challenge that never burdened my getting out. I ice fished, walked the dog at 0 degrees, waded Peapack Brook shooting photos at 13 degrees and the like otherwise. I just hope hot weather feels alright soon. Never has been a summer when it didn't, but winter remains near in memory as yet.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Skunked on the North Branch Raritan

Eighty five degrees this afternoon, I thought the trout would rise this evening. This time I made sure to tie that Adams on ahead of the event. I'm driven by the memory of catching browns on dries a couple of years ago. I have never before seen so many rises happening at once as one May evening when I took a bike ride on the Bedminster Hike & Bike Trail--no fly rod in hand.

Besides some small flying bugs--midge-size--nothing hatched, and maybe that's because the water quality could be better; I don't know. I fished the tail-out of the fast water I photographed, where I did see a splash rise. The only rise I saw in the half hour I fished. I let that Adams drift over where the trout came up more than a dozen times.

Then I fished the slow water where surely plenty rainbows continue to lurk since being stocked Wednesday.

Maybe later in the month. Or maybe browns are better risers. I don't know. What do you think?