Tuesday, August 30, 2016

North Jersey Bass, Salmon with the Sun Watching Overhead

The new job's going well, exercising my back and other muscles; we're getting out despite tight time, and today fully confirmed I'm back to normal. Let's just hope things stay this way. Now it's a little hard to believe that during my 40's and early 50's I was 55 pounds heavier than I am now. I couldn't lose it by exercise, not that I didn't try at all, but I hated working out in the gym, except weight lifting brought back just a touch of nostalgia for high school afternoons when I lifted regularly. Before going off to fish. Instead of running a treadmill, I listened to Gary Null on WNYE and WBAI at noon while on the job as a driver for many years. I took his advice on what to eat and what not to eat; what to drink and what not to drink--and lost the weight. Now that my new job is physically demanding to mild degree, I've gone from very uncomfortable pain in my upper back to barely feeling any in about a month. I feel more in step with time moving along at ground level, and I'm fitting outings into my schedule, which I feared I wouldn't be able to fulfil.

Someday, I want to have every minute my own: writing, shooting photography, fishing, hiking, boating, urban outings, travel. But that's not to waste time dreaming about. If I live to retirement age, its a given anyway, though I'd like to achieve enough earnings from writing and photography before I'm that old. It's just that--I'm pretty old. It's not so long off now. If I don't make those royalties, that's not the most important thing anyhow. The man I consider New Jersey's greatest outdoor writer, Jim Stabile--who was my favorite reading when I was 16--told me last year: "It's not about you. It's about the reader." The debate over whether writers should write for money or not has gone on for millennia and will never end, because writing isn't on the clock. I think anyone who wouldn't accept a check gratefully doesn't understand appreciation implies trade, which necessitates the medium of exchange, just as I also think an artist--writer or otherwise--who doesn't well practice the business end of his endeavor fails at the best antidote to states of mind that might make him a little crazy. But I never forget Jim's words, and also memoirist, novelist, and poet Sheldon Vanauken's, who wrote me, "Books are letters to friends."

Initial plans had Matt and I fishing on Friday, but the head chef had to change the work schedule, so I got this one day off this week instead of two. I got up this morning late and set directly to loading the car, needing Matt's help to car-top the squareback canoe, which weighs about 100 pounds. For a moment there, I felt loading and unloading four times altogether might be so much physical work as to cross the line on what's worthwhile, but the busy work felt invigorating as it should, and rolling the canoe fully loaded--70 pound marine battery, 55-pound-thrust Minn-Kota on the transom, etc.--about an eighth of a mile to the lake never became very difficult, just testy with the dolly pretty weak near the center, weight shifting.

We got out there, and I realized I had left behind my box of jigs. After I took account of the cloudless sky, that is. No doubt, bass could be deep. Sun already burned my face. I swished another cast, the weightless Chomper's worm touching down where I had my doubts any bass would lurk, but after 20 minutes total, I caught a two-pounder. Or a little better. Maybe 45 minutes later, Matt caught his only fish, a bass, though later--near sunset--an Atlantic salmon would crash the surface where he lifted his Binsky bladebait after retrieve, missing the hooks by less than an inch. (My wife took my word yesterday as a promise that we would have super-fresh salmon for a late dinner tonight....)

And sometime after Matt's bass and no more hits from anything but very small fish--like sunfish--it finally came back to me, especially with moderate wind a problem, that allowing weightless worms to sink as deep as 15 feet or more among weeds just wasn't getting to where most of the bass might be, so I reached for my tackle bag, hoping to find a few jigs. None. But I found a pack of quarter-ounce bullet weights and rigged up Texas style, feeling a little giddy, thinking I haven't done this since I can remember. Second cast. That's all it took. I was into another near two pounds hooked 25, maybe 30 feet down at the end of a rocky point.

If you fish, you know how that goes. As if you've found--the pattern. Another word for Holy Grail. As if bass after bass will now come over the gunnel.

But Matt hooked a nice one 15 minutes later.

"Now we're gonna get 'em," he said. His grin belied a mischievous quality unlike his sober intellectual self. His hit 25, 30 feet down also, at the bottom of a drop to the left of the point I thoroughly plumbed. Net in the water, the bass suddenly dove straight for bottom, drag crackling, and pulled free.

"How big would you say it was?" Matt asked.

"Close to 18."

We never quite got 'em. We took an interlude, trolling for salmon and marking very, very few and small. Finally, we visited a spot that's only failed me once. We fished outside the little area that always responds, with those weighted worms. and nothing happened. Finally, I told Matt we should retie and go weightless. I moved us in a little closer. The worm the way I'm used to it alighted right where I knew--beyond any doubt, right?--it belonged. Immediately, I felt a heavy take and knew this bass had to be big. Or at least three pounds big. More like three-and-a-half, and that's about the size it proved to be. Could have been 18 1/2 inches and an ounce or two more, but I didn't measure her. About eight feet of water, vividly clear with an emerald tone beneath the surface of blue reflection. Sunlit as can be.

"I should have told you to cast there," I said.

"No, I was still taking the sinker off," Matt said.

It was a long six hours or so. The sun accompanied us. Or at least me. I never found the words to express the feeling to my son, a feeling yet tentative, as if all that sky-blue had weight in a balance to judge me yes or no: is this still worthwhile, this sort of thing? A few times, Matt had his mobile device out, and I asked him if he were on that farce of reality, Facebook, though I didn't denigrate the tool for him. Just asked simply.

"No, I'm communicating with friends," he said, and I don't even recall whatever the medium he uses to do that, though he told me, a little ashamed. I quickly thought of how absurd it seems to chat with friends while out here, but said nothing, and further felt the doubt--not oppressive, just iffy--about whether his being out here in "nothingness," as a high school friend of mine once called wild places, is really worth the time.

Now we were after those salmon again, but tolled on far back, where I figured 20 feet of water at most covered any fish, to try bass out of the wind. Instead, I found an interesting drop, and realized we entered the vicinity of the lake's deepest depths. Coming back up a little, the sonar registering a hump, I saw herring on the graph--and lots of salmon on them. We made a number of passes, marking more fish yet from 28 feet up to as shallow as 14, though only a very few small ones in water that thin. And I just knew. None of these fish were going to shoot up to grab a Phoebe spoon as one had in July. So we tied on Binsky bladebaits and began jigging where a few marked directly under the boat. Soon, the graph revealed many dozens of salmon swimming under us, a few of them leaving the trace of the unit's largest fish icon. I had told Matt that by now, some of these salmon are at least 22 inches. Well, maybe 26. Who knows.

Unexpectedly, five or six did bust the surface. I tried to remember. Was it August when I've seen them crash surface herring in recent years? Or only July? I'd have to check my handwritten log. Water temperature at 82 on the surface, I'd like to know what it is 20, 30 feet down. Not so cold bass don't like it.

Matt got his best thrill when the salmon slashed at his Binsky by the boat, and that's all the attention we got. I sure took off on some more trolling passes with the Phoebes flickering under the surface just after that incident. And then we returned to dozens of salmon directly under us that wouldn't hit. I tried jigging a Phoebe, too.

On the way towards the gravel where we would pull the canoe, scuffing the polyethelene a little, we cast weightless worms to another predicable spot, and I caught a bass of less than a pound-a-half. Then we tried a shallow little cove just beyond, a pickerel rushing the worm as I quickly retrieved for the next cast I never made. I tied on a topwater plug. Sun had set a half hour ago. The lake had calmed, though a very slight breeze persisted in the main. This brought back Lake Musconetcong memories,  where we only fished topwater during summers. We spoke about this, some of the best fishing we've done, and my feelings warmed.

On the way home we talked like we haven't talked in a long time. Hours before, I had brought math up, but he's occupied with summer school work and had nothing to say, as if we could have conversed on stuff he probably finds as difficult to verbalize as the sorts of things my mind processed through long silences out there. Now we talked--fishing. Took us 35, 40 minutes to get home, and though we did not talk non-stop, we both voiced values we share.

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