Saturday, September 19, 2015

31-Inch Carp takes Senko on South Branch Raritan

Tuesday might have been the day I had in mind. Temperatures dipped into the 40's, just as they had the morning of September 6th, 2013, when the water felt chilly on my bare legs, and I caught what, at the time, proved to be my largest smallmouth bass at four pounds. Yesterday I was after a repeat performance of some sort, if possible, and yet here it is nearing October with sustained summer weather. The South Branch flowed clear, though a little high, presumably from Round Valley Reservoir water releases, and felt fairly warm to the touch.

Nevertheless, I was going to name this post, "Hooked a Nice one on the South Branch," because I worked my way into a stretch above the secret lair of the big smallmouth--where little four-inch bass teased at my Senko-style worm--and lobbed a cast right into the shallows near the drop in mid-day sun (we fish when we can). Glare on the water didn't allow my sight to see anything, and I never bother with my polarized lenses. I twitched twice and got pounded, set, and the fish peeled line off the spool, zig-zagging twice at the high speed of a smallmouth, before the hook pulled. Certainly three pounds, possibly bigger.

The largemouth slammed the worm while retrieved back for another cast, and soon I got into smallmouths. I caught three, the largest about 11-inches and the others about 10. I thought I sighted a big one in the shadowy depths, not completely sure it wasn't a carp. I pitched in front of me to catch the last of those smallmouths, and then plumbed the depths, allowing the worm to drift near bottom.

Sure enough, the line commenced the tightening of a take, always a sort of formal occasion when a fisherman's pride comes fore. I set into immense weight that just began rolling line off the spool with the sort of force you know there's no possibility of stopping, and I loosened drag a little to be certain that line wouldn't snap. I quickly became aware that whatever I hooked--surely I had snagged a carp somehow, but by a take--possessed great weight, not in the vicinity of six pounds, but eight at least, and if a smallmouth bass, out of the question, a state record. So had I hooked one of the legendary pike in the river that reduce the smallmouth and trout populations just a little? Or so the story goes.

In any event, I was convinced I had a big carp, and it took me up and down that stretch a hundred feet at a time, as I walked back and forth to keep slack from developing with too much line out. True enough, a real big smallmouth may not fight with the characteristic zest of smaller, but even a big one may jump, and besides two boils, nothing broke the surface. Regardless, this fish fought like a tank.

After about 20 minutes, I had the fish in among those invasive plants I forget the name of, used in ornamental ponds. What an innocent-looking carp. A couple of times, I said, "I'm not going to hurt you," as if by plea for the fish to quit its lunges and let me get the measurement and photography done.

Thirty-one inches, and I imagine about 11 or 12 pounds. The world record largemouth measured 32 inches and weighed 22 pounds, four ounces. I doubt this carp was much less than half that. If we call it 10, that's good enough, but this fish weighed no less.

Hooked square in the mouth, six-pound test mono did the job on this fish, and twisted so badly thereafter I'll have to strip off some yardage to be safe.