Saturday, July 18, 2015

Chester, New Jersey, History, Hacklebarney State Park Hike


When my wife and I lived in Chester in one of the apartments above Pegasus Antiques, we used to go hiking in Hacklebarney State Park, down into the Black River Gorge. On a few occasions, I came here myself, hiking the two mile or so round trip with my super-ultra light spinning rod to fish for recently stocked trout. Yesterday we hiked down into the gorge for the first time in about 17 years, taking our son along who is nearly that old now.

We had spent some time in Chester first, visiting our former landlord who still owns the shop. While he told us about the demise of the town--he's the last antique shop, when during the 90's as many as 28 thrived--I picked out a photograph from the 19th century or early 20th of a young chorister to take home. Since my father is Director Emeritus of the American Boychoir, and I sang for 13 years under his and others' direction (Leonard Bernstein included) with Trinity Episcopal Church, Princeton, and other organizations, this little piece of history I found in Ken's shop is a fine keepsake.

Stepping back outside some time later, I caught myself and made sure to go check out the public memorial in front of his shop. A memorial for all American wars graces a black and white film photo I had taken years ago, but can't read what in the picture. Of course. I remembered. But since that time, a new memorial is placed to the left, with a life-sized statue of a soldier, and a black marble plaque honoring Iraq, 2002, included.

"Chester is dead," Ken had said. For me, this is very sad. We lived right in the middle of a thriving shop keepers town, across the street from the Public House restaurant and bar that goes back how long--I should know. I waited tables at historic Larison's Turkey Farm. Weeks after I left, Turkey Central, to my mind in honor of Benjamin Franklin, closed its doors.

The American Boychoir School is in trouble also, funds drying up. The choir invites boy singers from any and all religions--or none--and although my father began life as a Methodist, he converted to Episcopalianism, the high church denomination originating in England when King Henry the 8th separated from Rome, and the tradition with the best sacred choral anthems, the culture of sacred choral and organ music my father leads especially in America. The refinement of anthems and choral/orchestral works like those of George Frederick Handel, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart may seem alien to the American mainstream, and yet they are more central to Western Civilization than popular culture ever will be. Western Civilization, however, may be as dead as Chester. Nevertheless, a few of us draw inspiration from great music, and our lives may be happier than the sort of schizophrenia celebrated as cool.

I will never forget performing Ian Hamilton's Epitaph for this World and Time, world premier, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Manhattan, 1970. We poured out the seven vials.

 Trout Brook has wild trout
 Trout Brook

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

We Caught a Bunch of Average Smallmouths

Fished a favorite North Jersey stream with my son, and we caught a bunch of average-sized stream smallmouths, nothing big, though I sighted a bass of about three pounds. This time we brought along our black Labrador, Sadie, and instead of tying her to a tree, Matt found a cinder block to lug about as we moved up a long stretch. She enjoyed plenty of swimming, and of course, always does if opportune.

Just a very nice afternoon of getting far away from routines. Besides stopping once for trail mix, we hit a Dairy Queen knock-off, and the vanilla soft ice cream tasted a lot better than I anticipated it would.

Got home about seven. Had left at about one. We did try some new areas of the stream, but they didn't produce. Nevertheless, it's interesting exploring. I brought a map along I never used, nor did I rely on Matt's mobile, and I own no GPS. The back roads, hamlets, towns, hills, and gullies all surprise when new to me, but never present a problem as if I can't find a way back to the familiar.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Hooked a Salmon in New Jersey and Caught Bass

Oliver arrived a little before me and spoke to two guys coming off in a jonboat who caught nothing but sunfish, fishing all day from early morning. We got on the water at about 5:15, fishing from Oliver's double kayak, Oliver insisting on fly fishing while I brought along my 5 1/2-foot St. Croix spinning, as well as a 6 wt. fly rod. I trolled a weighted Clouser minnow for a short while. Then I concentrated on bass fishing, allowing a weightless Chompers worm to slip down among towering weeds as deep as 25 feet.

The results: six bass, the largest 17 inches, others 16, 15, and nine or 10 inches, all quickly released. Oliver caught sunfish on a dry fly, including a couple of them really panfish-sized. One of those actually hit a small streamer. But he hooked something mysterious on the dry fly--bass-sized--though none of us got a sighting other than commotion on top.

Mid-lake, flying ants speckled the surface, and we spotted something pretty big sipping them. Brown trout exist in the lake, very few. The surface must have been 77 degrees, and yet who knows. Would a straggler brown surface to sip a few dozen and dive back down?

Certainly the salmon shoot up from cold depths and crash herring on top. We saw this action long before sunset. Water clear, they see the herring and zero in. Besides, lateral lines can sense those herring better than sight, at least on calm days. At sunset and thereafter, we eased about mid-lake for an opportune moment for Oliver to fly cast a streamer, and for me to heave my heavy Kastmaster a mile.

We saw some crashes. I kept throwing my Kastmaster where a single salmon had surfaced and splashed minutes before, and hooked one. The Kastmaster has a single, large hook more suited for bluefish. I fought one for 10 or 15 seconds before it got off that hook.

Yeah, hooking a salmon in New Jersey makes me feel young again. You look out on the lake from shore--you'll never hook one! But all that space is fair game. The herring cruise and the salmon shoot like silver terror anywhere and everywhere so long as it's deep below, which is a lot of water, but not too much.

Sometimes when they crash on top it really is a sight to see with water splashing around like kids in a pool forcing it in each other's faces.