Friday, May 29, 2015

Take a Clue from River Bass Migrations

Matt where we spotted the big bass a couple of years later.

Take a Clue from River Bass Migrations
          Many years ago, my son and I walked a return loop along the North Branch Raritan, pausing at our favorite spot, sighting an immense smallmouth bass I estimated at 20 inches long. We stood high above the bass, which stationed at the edge of deep water closer to the opposite bank, and cast plastic worms, arms and rods motioning in synchronized rhythm with our offerings splashing down in front of the apparently indifferent fish. We felt eager to come back and try again with live shiners. Two days later, we arrived to find an older man fishing the same spot.
          He said, “There are huge smallmouth bass in this river.”
          “I know,” I said.
          “Just yesterday, I caught a 21-incher upstream in the Lamington.”
          “Really!? Right in the hole above the bridge?”
          The Cowperthwaite Road iron bridge over the Lamington River is about three tenths of a mile upstream of the river’s confluence with the North Branch. We stood about a hundred yards downstream of the joining flows. I never mentioned the bass we had attempted to catch, but I thought surely this man had caught the same fish. The chances of two bass that big so close to one another seemed very unlikely. If the man lied as a diversion, no evidence suggested so.
          Not long after these incidents, my son and I began snorkeling in the clean river along the Bedminster Hike and Bike Trail. We wanted to sight fish. Many face to face events with smallmouth bass unfolded over the next four years of occasional summer exploration; two incidents especially convinced us that bass migrate around rivers they inhabit. I discovered half-a-dozen smallmouth bass in a particular hole one afternoon, and found none in it the next day. Another day, Matt discovered upwards of two dozen bass, some of them a foot long, underneath a bank cut about two feet deep by sluicing current, an entire school of smallmouths racing out of this shelter, charging downstream like a herd of small buffalo.
          Since we had found a lair easy to check on, I investigated the undercut repeatedly. It did not hold a consistent number of bass, and usually none. After years of familiarizing ourselves with bass that don’t seem to be homebodies, we still didn’t believe our evidence that smallmouth bass migrate around small rivers is conclusive. Perhaps the half dozen bass that vacated the first hole in question simply fled my intrusion. And maybe the inconsistent number of fish in the undercut had to do with stream flooding, which would easily influence the number of bass in such a tight space.
          After eight years since we spotted the big bass, I simply went online after doing all this first-hand research on our own. Plenty of sites offer evidence that smallmouth do exactly as the big bass we spotted made us first suppose. In my imagination, I see my son and me standing on the concrete of the old bridge abutment, our arms moving in sync with plastic splashing in front of the bass. I see this as though from the fish’s perspective and think I may know one of a number of causes for migration. No bass could rationally infer that the sudden presence of plastic worms in front of it was caused by our arm motions, but with water clear and the fish’s eyesight sharp, the bass surely perceived this action. Who knows, the fish may have been moved to clear out, having perceived a subtle threat.
          Later, my son and I had stood at our favorite hole with a big bucket of shiners, prepared to catch the biggest smallmouth we had ever seen. But after I got news that evening from the old timer about the fish’s whereabouts, I distinctly felt duped—by a bass.
          Assuming that stream bass travel about, rather than reliably reside in holes favored by fishermen, what does this mean for our approach to fishing New Jersey Highlands streams? Perhaps nothing, since such behavior is beyond our predicting any of it accurately, although we may assume that just because we encounter a big bass in a particular hole or stretch, this doesn’t necessarily mean the fish will be there next time. For all we know, a hole may empty entirely of bass overnight, yet harbor dozens at a later time.
          This much I know: We like the comfort of knowing a good spot. It’s easy to prepare anticipations by imagining enjoyment in a familiar place, and all too easy to stay put too long when it really isn’t yielding much.    

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

South Branch Raritan River Flowing a Little Stained

Went to Neshanic chiefly to shoot photos, though of course I brought along my favorite St. Croix and Penn 430ssg. Wading across at the white bridge, river water felt like a bath, and trout stocked last week must have scrambled for any spring releases, though these are few if any down this far in the Sourlands.

The river's running pretty low but slightly stained. Always disgusts me when it's not clear, and I almost never catch bass when it's off color. This evening no exception, I didn't get a take, casting my favorite Senko-style worm, and just feeling freed for the exercise of placing casts directly where I wanted them to go, which would have resulted in at least a bass or two, I'm sure, if I could see the outlines of the holes through the water.

Light got real good for photography as sunset neared. I feared I needed my tripod, which I had left in my trunk. I almost decided to walk back and get it, then realized the light would be gone, as it disappeared minutes later. Shots are sharp anyhow. Two below I intentionally processed in soft clarity.

Left feeling exquisitely refreshed and reminded that the book I'm writing on fishing is worthwhile. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Wrapping up May Bass

Festive day at Round Valley Reservoir. I arrived at about 4:30 and don't recall ever seeing it so crowded, hard to get a parking space in the main launch area. I shot some photos and fished for about 45 minutes, catching this little 11-incher that looks even smaller through the wide angle that got some colors and patterns besides. With polarized lenses, I sighted maybe three little bass nine inches or so, so I focused on fishing a Senko-style worm about 15 feet deep and more where I hooked this bass.

This is probably the end of my Round Valley bass fishing from shore this year. I've done very little after Memorial Day, although Fred and I always get out in his boat for bass once over the summer. No big ones this year, but I hooked and lost a nice one. Since 2011, I've caught bass over three pounds every May but this year, so I'm happy I hooked the big one I should have caught, had I checked the line further up from where I knew it had got frayed.

Round Valley's been a wonder for me, some of the most enjoyable fishing I've ever done, though in it's own way. I've written elsewhere in this blog how I fall in love with a place, enjoy it to the full...and then let it go, abandon it, never treading on for the mere sake of dead tradition. I feel as if today might have been the matter of a parting gift between me and these May bass, feeling peculiarly satisfied when this one took the worm unexpectedly with so much ruckus and sun about, and if it was the last of this lovely gig, it's captured in a photo that will last online anyway.