Saturday, May 16, 2015

Raritan River Clean-Up Efforts Symbolic for Our Time

The Central Jersey Stream is collaborating with the Raritan & Millstone River Commission to clean up the Raritan River from Dukes Parkway Park in Manville to about a mile downstream. They're in need of volunteers for the May 31st event.
No one else can inspire people to the meaning of this sort of effort as does Andy, who posts dozens of photos of his trash-scouting and clean-up efforts on the Save the Raritan River Facebook site and elsewhere. He knows the entire Raritan watershed, upper and lower, and can tell you where a car needs to be removed from the Raritan River and give you exact counts of tires in the water at locations up and down the rivers, if he hasn't pulled them already while enlisting others for help.
About a year ago, I was captivated by his posts about golf balls in the Lamington River and North Branch Raritan below the confluence in Bedminster. He's even got a shot of a brook trout with a golf ball in its internal ventral region. I guess the ball got swept by current and the trout took a reaction swipe, but how a 13 or 14-inch trout could force a golf ball down its throat I really don't know or why it would be inclined to do that, but there it is and posted on the internet.
He photographs discarded mattresses, spring beds, and big time trash of all sorts, creating for himself a symbolic presence in New Jersey that future generations are likely to well remember, because the environmental movement is not going away. We're gathering ground and Andy proves the point. We want clean, healthy rivers and our efforts will accrue over time, resulting in better yet.
Andy's efforts don't stop at removal of discarded fixtures of an industrial civilization breathing the last of its carbon emissions as the new age of an environmentally informed public begins to replace the mania for billowing expansion. He has photographs of an apparent sea-run brook trout caught in the Raritan River. He's actively involved in the efforts to understand the shad and herring runs on the Raritan and tributaries. He canoes and fishes. And he posts more information on the web about organizational efforts for the benefit of the Raritan, its ecosystem, and the people who flourish or can thrive through recreational activities on the rivers than anyone else out there.
Visit Save the Raritan River to read and see for yourself ( And if getting soaked on a Saturday seems like a baptism to new life you'll enjoy, RSVP on the Central Jersey Stream Team's site ( After all, it's all about resurrection. Once upon a time the Raritan flowed pristine. Baptism and resurrection are strong words for something natural, but why not, since the Raritan will never again be the river original to the landscape before Europe took over.

Nowhere else on the planet--and everywhere the planet's in big trouble--does the environmental movement symbolize more, perhaps, than where it concerns a river right at the Northeast Corridor's dead center. This is where industry developed big time. So get out with Andy and the Stream Team and make history.  


Friday, May 15, 2015

Round Valley Reservoir Recent Bass

Third outing fishing the reservoir since last wrote on it. A week ago, driving home from Bernardsville, I remembered a bass had frayed line against rock and I had to retie. Why didn't I just do it when I got home? I micromanage my time and it doesn't always work out. A pound-and-a-half bass broke off on Saturday. I retied, had a solid pick-up I knew from a really good bass, and set the hook into a three or four-pounder. Line broke. Yeah, the line had frayed further up than I had noticed. I caught one bass and left after 20 minutes, the weekend commotion too much, but I felt very psyched for next time.

Which was the next evening after work. I caught five largemouths, all small, the best not even a pound. Today I caught only a small largemouth just under a pound. All these bass from the reservoir, I fished the pond last weekend and this evening as well. There I lost one bass less than a pound on a jump. Besides that, no action, and I'm a little nonplussed as to why. Haven't seen any bucks on beds, either. I think last year I caught none at all, whereas previous years I did pretty well for the larger females. I hope the ice fishing pressure isn't a matter of fishermen hauling bass home. Mostly, I hear about pickerel through the ice and big ones. I've never caught a pickerel in the pond, but they're there.

Looking forward to Lake Hopatcong with Fred on Monday. And then on Tuesday Joe has a secret bass pond to introduce me. You'll know story and results if you read about it, but you won't know where. :)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Bass at Hoffman Park Pond and Other Travels

Checking for directions to Mulhockaway Creek on Google Maps, I noticed Hoffman Park and a pond marked. I swung around Spruce Run Reservoir on Van Syckle Road to explore Mulhockaway a little, taking photos, soaking my hiking boots, having forgotten my wading boots. I had my two-weight fly rod in the car, but didn't see anything happen to prompt me to try.

I drove through Pattenburg, picking up on the Mulhockaway further upstream, but residences forbade any further exploring. I turned around on CR 614 at the border of Alexandria Township, where what appears to be Hickory Tavern stands, but the architecture is of the very early 20th century, not early 18th century from which the history along the King's Highway originates, that
 astonishingly early, though the Dutch were in New Jersey earlier at least near the Water Gap.

The Hoffman Park Pond is about eight acres, maybe more, and fishes slow. I caught two bass, biggest about 13 inches, saw only a couple of bucks busy with beds, missed a couple of hits at long range. A Senko-type worm casts forever, so far that when a bass takes at such range, setting the hook is a problem. I cast to cover I could reach from across relatively narrow water. Only a few spots drew my interest and they had bass. Interesting to have found new water, but I won't return. There's too many places otherwise to visit.

I had two more things in mind: Spruce Run Reservoir and the Black River, the former for bass, latter photography. Before I swung back on I-78 at exit 11, I photographed Bethlehem Baptist Church, abandoned 1909, founded 1837. Historical registry and the markers are really helpful. I also saw Van Syckle Tavern, where someone or other was hanged in 1773. This is at the end of Van Syckle Road and nothing about it is available by Google, apparently--but it's there! What's more, it's on the registry. Well, now a little is available by googling.

Having realized I never thought of the fact that the Black River is way the hell over in another corner of the Highlands near Chester, I had time, but I would return to Bedminster and go up U.S. 206. I wasn't sure I wanted to, had enjoyed plenty of an afternoon. And sure enough, once I got on 206, I remembered that 5:30 p.m. is not a good time to be traveling. Forget it. I'll go to the Black River another day, and this next time, visit Electric Brook and photograph the falls near Long Valley, just on up the road from the river, rather than attempt anything foolish like I tried today.

So, all in all, I really should have doubled back on the reservoir. I've found a few good spots there where bass can be caught from shore. I had one of them in mind, and the water's back up. The reservoir's not full, but water level is a lot higher than it was early April.

Bethlehem Baptist Church: Trees with big trunks grow from where the congregation used to sit. (Notice limb to the left, tree trunk is a foot and a half thick.)
Corporate presence isolated in our Highlands.
Hickory Tavern Site. This building cannot be it. 20th century, I think, and besides, it's wood. Photograph is a little oversaturated as if to suggest a mild dose of psilocybin at work, just a fancy to combine with a perhaps overly prosaic attitude to history encountered in some people. We can keep it quaint and also have in fun in Shop to actually see it differently.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ken Lockwood Gorge gets 50 Adjacent Acres

The Ken Lockwood Gorge has 50 more acres of adjacent public space between Hoffman's Crossing Road and the South Branch Raritan River, thanks to New Jersey Conservation Foundation, which made the purchase from former Four Seasons Outdoor Center, made possible through a partnership with the state's Green Acres program, Hunterdon County, Raritan Headwaters Association, Hunterdon Land Trust, New Jersey Water Supply Authority and the Leavens Foundation.
NJ Environment News ( reports that parking and public access will be improved and that the land serves as a healthy stream buffer.
Andy shared news of another 800 trout just stocked in the Gorge, prodding me to go try for some action, since the AT&T stretch of the North Branch running through town is letting me down. I visited the Gorge once in the fall, once in winter...this amazing winter we just had and I'll never forget...just to walk, maneuver among rocks and ice, crouch and shoot photos, really needing to spend much more time than minutes I had on lunch breaks. Next time I show up, I'll have my tripod, too. And I really need my wading shoes or waders to get good shots here. 
So much emphasis needs to be placed on the river as a source of drinking water, since this is a universal social need. Another emphasis is on scenic value, and certainly the Gorge has this abundantly. But more senses can be involved than sight. We're too much of a society of spectators, taking superficial views standing upright and failing to get through the thin veneer, the veil of illuminated vistas between a place and where we're coming from. After all, the Pearly Gates are scenic, but only the gateway through. From what I hear, some are turned away, but that's up to them according to the priests. 
As a photographer, you might think I'm all about scenes. I'm more about getting down. Most of my best shots aren't taken standing upright. And I get my feet wet. Best of all, I put aside my camera--if I have time--and just muck around a place, letting my senses get loose, absorbing whatever draws them close like a sponge. Once and awhile a photo suggests itself that couldn't have become apparent had I not forgotten the camera, ah! But there it is over on that rock or hanging from neck.
Look for little things. Better yet, yet little things beckon to you without looking so hard, feel them out. After all, every scene is really composed of lots and lots of details.  

Monday, May 11, 2015

Spinnerbaiting Pickerel for Optimal Springtime Catches

Here's one published in The Fisherman long ago.
Spinnerbaiting for Savage Strikes—Pickerel!

Now is the time to provoke New Jersey’s most pugnacious native predator to the hardest hits they muster. With water temperatures remaining in the upper limits of optimal into June, pickerel feed throughout the day to feed the need of a metabolism functioning at its best to promote growth and longevity. Nothing beats a combination of growing aquatic vegetation and a spinnerbait to imitate the forage taking warm water residence in the greenery.

Direct sunlight with a breeze on the water is best. A surface chop scatters light in clear water and sets the shallows in motion. The blade of a spinnerbait has slightly more light reflecting action when sun rays are chaotic. Imagine calm, clear, weedy water 10 feet deep and compare this to the same with a rough surface. The former simply absorbs direct light and has none of the action of the wind imparting life to an aquatic environment. A water column stirred by a breeze influence seems to slightly excite baitfish, and pickerel are interested to say the least.

Blade choice makes a difference. Larger blades with smaller lead heads mean a shallower running spinnerbait, and a Colorado blade of the same surface area as a willowleaf runs shallower by displacing more water. Double bladed spinnerbaits always seem to have a Colorado coupled with a willowleaf, or if two willowleafs, they are different sizes. Tandem or triple blades of the same type and size cancel each other.

I find a large, silvery Colorado blade is most effective close to the surface. My magic depth is three feet over tops of weeds five to eight feet deep, or next to a weedline or pad conglomeration. For working six to 10 feet deep—over a weedy flat 14 feet deep perhaps, or along the outside edge of a weedline—a willow leaf blade, or tandem Colorado/willowleaf, may be more effective since the action imitates quieter environmental action well below surface chop.

What a pickerel hears and senses by the lateral line is different according to what blade or blades are used. Often the largest pickerel are deepest and have a subtler feeding response, a seasoned discrimination, so quieter willow leaf blades may tease a strike, and with less water displacement the spinnerbait runs deeper. Always find pickerel related to weeds—but milfoil combined with pads is better, and fallen brush or timber added is best.

Conventional skirts, plastic grubs, frogs, or even small plastic worms can make a difference too, as well as color. Lots of opportunity exists for experimentation as well as playing favorites, which at least I tend to do.

I like twister tail grubs especially. When I stop a retrieve beside pads, not only the slow blade action on the drop may attract a strike—so does that fluttering tail. A twister tail is fully activated when a spinnerbait falls. A hit on the drop will not be so fierce as when a pickerel lunges at a full 20 mph upon a moderate retrieve, and turns almost as suddenly, but this method of luring reluctant fish out of shadowy recesses is very effective.

Especially these less willing fish may follow a spinnerbait to the boat. Rather than get frantic trying to coax a strike by a figure 8 pattern, have a second rod rigged with a Senko (and a 15-pound test fluorocarbon leader) rigged Wacky to simply drop in front of the stalker, which typically will hang motionless in full sight. Yes! Very often a quick lunge results.

New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania—pick almost anywhere in our region to catch these speedsters. The Pine Barrens are world renowned for pickerel. Jersey Highland lakes such as Lake Hopatcong, Lake Musconetcong, the Swartswoods, Split Rock Reservoir, Shepherd Lake, and Greenwood Lake are loaded with them averaging two pounds. Eastern New York is just as good. A number of lakes in Harriman State Park, Pepacton Reservoir, New Croton Reservoir are some destinations, including waters on Long Island. Delaware has some attractions: Becks Pond and Lums Pond are good ones. Eutrophic lakes are best, some of these are actually impoundments with fishing that rivals any place else. A herring forage base can result in a lake holding some enormous pickerel, such as the nine-pounder from Shepherd Lake. But Lake Musconetcong, for example, is much too shallow for herring, yet abundant silver shiners produce very good sized fish on average, although perhaps none over seven pounds have been caught.

If you think topwater plugging pickerel is the ultimate, you may be right, although pickerel don’t always explode at the surface. Try spinnerbaiting this time of year when water hasn’t slowed them down yet, and you might feel how hard they can jolt a quick paced lure.