Mike Maxwell and I departed Bedminster at 4:35, arriving three minutes ahead of schedule at Dow's Boat Rentals, 5:17. By then, plenty of light in the sky brought me back to earlier times, before I bought portable running lights, and a half hour later, no visible sunrise afforded a photo op. Temperature slid a little, and though no wind made life miserable, for at least two hours, more like three, we felt pretty cold, even though we wore winter coats.
We trolled. Mike caught a yellow perch to start things off, and then a trout. I felt like out hiking, traveling such a distance way down the lake, almost into the State Park flats, turning as shallows started to hang our Rapalas with weeds. The slowness of action made me feel as if a lot of effort had gone into a leisurely boat ride. I thought of the 30 bucks I blew on a planer board. If you want my honest advice, for flatline trolling, keep it simple. That's the advice Fred Matero gave me, but I bought this piece of plastic and haven't used it yet, if I ever do. I also spent another 30 bucks on silver-plated Sutton spoons. At least they're collector's pieces, but they may prove of no more value to me than this, and I can sell them on Ebay someday if I want. By all the evidence I've gathered, these top-notch trolling spoons that reflect light like no others, no longer get made. I rigged one with a tungsten bullet weight, quarter ounce. The concentrated density of tungsten is less complication ahead of the spoon to possibly turn a fish away. I tied a small barrel swivel five feet ahead of the wafer-thin spoon, so with the weight, the spoon does ride about four or five feet down.
But we caught all our fish on Rapalas, except for a pickerel I caught on a Phoebe, small fish of about 17 inches. I caught one of the small trout the state stocks in Lake Hopatcong to feed cormorants. Oh, I forgot, the true intention is to serve fishing license holders. I guess the only way around the inevitable fate for such a large percentage of stocked trout statewide is to stock only breeders, except of course in streams where cormorants don't do their damage. Stock fewer, but fish cormorants can't swallow.
We headed towards Byram Bay when I got fed up.
"Mike, it's so slow, what do you say we buy some nightcrawlers. I know places where rock bottom has no weeds, and there's got to be some smallmouths around."
When we began, water temperature registered 56 degrees. Fifty six degrees. It's almost June. At that temperature, not even smallmouth bass spawn. When we left, 59.
I figured no hybrid bass wanted to play in water so cold, which is why I trolled a Phoebe on a second rod in a holder, figuring, well, at least trout will. Water is about as cold as was a month ago, 53 on April 17th.
Judged that wrong. I decided to make a final trolling pass of a favorite spot, before getting the crawlers. My five-pounder struck. And for the next two hours, it felt like non-stop action. What a difference some fish make. The second fish I had on much bigger than the five-pounder, you have to understand how hybrids fight with extremely energetic punches--one of those bursts of convulsive power snapped 12-pound test fluorocarbon, and not at the knot. I kicked myself 52 times, well, how many times I don't really know, but I knew with a distinct burning sensation that the loss was my own fault. I had set the drag just slightly too tight, not by a wide margin of error at all. I use thin-diameter Power Pro braid and a fluorocarbon leader of about four feet.
And then another struck and the drag screeched before the hook pulled. I fought yet another a long time, and just as Mike lowered the net, it turned broadside for both of us to judge as about the same size as the bass I caught, and the hook came out.
And then I said to Mike, "I never feel bad after a fight like that when the loss isn't my fault."
After this I caught one a couple of ounces over 3 1/2 pounds, and missed a couple of hits or they missed me. Mike had a hunch about his Rapala. It stumped him because we both used #9 silver floaters. He had caught the perch and trout on just that plug he used now.
"Bruce, could this broken hook have to do with it?"
"I doubt it, but here." I un-snapped my Rapala and handed it to him, taking his.
Minutes later, I said, "This plug is screwed." I checked the tie-on, wasn't that, but it did not run right. I snapped on a perch-pattern Rapala.
Finally Mike caught a hybrid just shy of keeper size.
Dow's Boat Rentals