Thursday, October 13, 2016

Rite of Passage Leaves Open Possibility of Return: Nine Years on Lake Hopatcong

The plan was to fish Lake Hopatcong on Saturday, the 22nd, since that third October weekend, in our experience, is the best of the fall fishing. My job won't allow it, and work comes first, of course. So I struggled with what we had to do--go fishing mid-week on this religious holiday when my son would be out of school, and even this got iffy, since job scheduling remained in question for a day. Whether or not Matt and I will ever fish Hopatcong again in the fall is yet to be seen, since he goes to university next year. We've done this--almost always that third weekend--since 2007. Almost always, either he catches a walleye or I do. Rarely have we caught more than one, but we've caught many more hybrid striped bass.

The five-pound, 13-ounce walleye, 25 3/4 inches, photographed above, is our catch. Strictly speaking, I caught it, but first I said, "There's a fish on that line. You want it?"

"You take it. I caught the catfish."

I guess I should have just given him the rod after I spoke of the life on the line. And as the sure death of the live herring used for bait ensued. After we got home, I told Matt once more I should have let him have that walleye. He insisted no again. So I said, "Well now we have to get back out there in the fall sometime, because the only fitting way for you to end these outings would have been your catching that walleye."

"We'll get back out there in the fall."

We made the catch at about 2:00 p.m. near the end of the outing.

Always, we've arrived at Dow's Boat Rentals about 15 minutes before the shop opens, unloaded our stuff, and with portable running lights--at least since about 2012--got on the water well before sun-up. We used to hang out until enough twilight made boating without running lights quasi-legal. At least once, we had to walk the docks very carefully, the wood coated with thin ice. This morning, temperatures in the 40's felt pleasant by comparison to cold and stiff wind past times. Never seemed to really warm as expected, though.

I wrote a post I named "Forget Chicken Livers, Hybrids Hit Herring," expressing my personal sentiment for the lively fish for bait over slimy innards, but I recently read an article by Lou Martinez about the secret that's kept this lake buzzing with catches for at least several years now, and underwent conversion. So I bought 25 cans of liver cat food and two containers of chicken livers. The cat food for chum, the livers to put on hooks. Along with us, a Tupperware container came to mix water with cat food by use of a spoon to create a soupy mix of embarrassing goo. Why does anyone lower his standards? I guess always it's for more stuff, rather than quality, but I remain convinced this method may have some merit, because I won't argue with that stuff--amounting to phenomenal numbers of hybrid striped bass caught by fishermen who go this way. Years ago--Matt told me this morning he remembers--we fished for channel catfish in the Delaware River with chicken livers, and though we caught no catfish, we did catch little 13-inch striped bass. As I remember that outing, drifting chicken livers in current had a certain delicacy about it, so maybe I just need to catch on, I don't know, but this morning not only did we draw a total blank on hybrids, we watched another boat doing as we did--flinging cat food with a spoon--and I had to laugh, mostly at myself. I then felt very tired and curled very comfortably on the bottom of the boat for a power nap, lines out and waiting, sort of expecting the men in that boat nearby to start hooking up. It never happened. And after an hour or two of waiting on this "best" spot on the lake, we motored off to try others.

We caught fish. Catfish, sunfish, perch, a rock bass earlier on. All on herring and nightcrawlers, besides one bluegill that pecked away on a piece of chicken liver I tried shallow. Later, back at Dow's, I was told very few hybrids, and small, had been caught.

We began the morning on our favorite spot. Not only did none of our herring lines register, very few panfish telegraphed any interest in our nightcrawlers fished on the shallow end. No largemouth or smallmouth bass as we typically catch the third October week. We've caught bass on both nightcrawlers and plastic worms. They'll hit other lures. I just like using live worms on Hopatcong in October. That's how I began with my son years ago and it's stuck. Like this spot we always go to first in October with only one exception I remember.

We returned there about noon, and soon I inferred that oxygen is not re-established in the depths. Water temperature 60-62 degrees, it's too warm. Herring died in the depths, asphyxiated, and I realized that when I had the boat positioned close to shallows for the panfish, our casts didn't get the bait all the way to the bottom line of the drop-off at about 35 feet down. Not until I moved the boat further out, and then herring came up dead. Experience has taught me main lake depths oxygenate sooner than more protected areas, so we motored out to a drop-off a couple of hundred yards from shore. That's where the big walleye struck, in about 28 feet of water, though herring remained alive about 37 feet down.

Lots of fog as we motored across Lake Hopatcong before dawn, just a trace of blue.

Matt's rock bass hit a live herring weighted on bottom about 25 feet down.

Lunker bullhead pulled from 37 feet of water on live herring.

Typical yellow perch.


  1. Hey, very nice write up. Thanks for sharing. The walleye picks always attract me like catfish to liver.

    1. Josh, I could tell you're hooked on walleye from the beginning. They're special. Just took it out of the oven.

  2. Great pics Bruce. Vivid shots with ultimate clarity.

    Jorge H

    1. Thanks Jorge. Hope you've been able to get out with your son recently.


Comments Encouraged and Answered