Saturday, May 28, 2016

Lake Hopatcong Fishing: The Difference a Day Makes

This outing with Brian Crunket escaped the typical apprehensions, which, though they rarely defeat any of my fishing endeavors, usually make me and anyone with me uneasy for awhile, at least until the skunk gets off the back. Not Thursday morning. First trolling pass--wham! Brian wrestled a hybrid on the rod, boating the fish a little shy of legal size. Second pass--slam!

He caught eight hybrids in no time, before I caught my first. All of these fish but one hit an X-Rap, the other a Shadow Rap running deeper. The bass shunned my favorite #9 Rapala floater, until finally a 15-incher socked it, and then the action died.

We trolled up lake and then westward, happening upon big fish marking on the graph. Brian said, "They're stacked."

Big hybrids on a school of herring about 29 feet deep over bottom 33 feet down. Out with the Binky's, we jigged until satisfied these fish wouldn't hit, deciding to go in and buy live herring later if we would fail to find a lot of fish trolling.

We rounded a big cove a couple of times, me losing what I'm sure was a trout, and Brian catching a pickerel. Finding shallows elsewhere our plugs barely made it through, weeds reaching up as if to grab them, I caught a pickerel, a crappie, we missed some hits, and then I caught my first rock bass from Hopatcong just after we left the area to troll on down along the shoreline.

The day had that element of letting all else go to just involve the lake and conversation, keeping words in the moment as benevolent time unfurled possibilities, a lot of fish coming and going, a lot of interesting structure to marvel at and get some interest from fish associated with these habitats. I had shot some interesting photos early on, and some of the fish shots I've filed have proven worthy as possibilities for magazines. Heat intensified, reaching at least 90 before we left just after 2:00, cooking us both without sunscreen, and rather than feeling oppressive, uncomfortable, or like an alien force that won't let a person be who needs stable room temperature to feel the environment is right, the weather's presence possessed quality improving on experience, rather than breaking it down as if too much and not good.

If it were zero degrees out and my clothes suited the weather, I might say the same, and I've been on the ice of Lake Hopatcong with temperatures around 20, on Lake Musconetcong at zero. The ability to normalize outdoors is a very healthy practice. The real world outside the box-like cells of four surrounding walls allows you to expand and grow, feeling well and fully human--if you will enter that world. It's too easy to physically be in reality and remain preoccupied with nonsense in the confines of your skull. Jailors are the most envious spirits among us, and each of us has multitudes of them to contend with.

This lake with the sort of grandeur you know isn't contained in space as big as a bay, sound, certainly not ocean, nor many lakes and reservoirs of other states, gives anyone who chances on learning its secrets a lot of time to keep learning more. I've fished the lake almost 10 years, and I've learned just enough--and that's not much compared to what I can yet--to have felt on this outing that I'm ready to take my wife out on the lake and express my fish-finding ability.   

We returned to our big hybrids with herring, finally finding the fish in about 33 feet of water over bottom 37 feet down. Not surprising they'd moved during the course of a couple hours. They just wouldn't hit. A breeze had picked up, but not enough wind to make drifting weighted herring any problem. The bait swam right in there among the predators, which wouldn't touch it.

So we returned to our sweet spot, and got two trolling passes in before floating masses of weeds broken at the stems made trolling an absolute mess. On the first pass, I caught another 15-inch hybrid and on the second, a 15 1/4-inch rainbow trout.

Hybrid Striped Bass
Pickerel always associate with weeds.
Crappie, one of the two species--black and white, respectively--I first learned about at age eight named calico bass.

Rainbow Trout
Dow's Boat Rentals
I never knew a mallard could sleep on one leg, and never noticed until I developed the photo.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Caught First Two Smallmouth Bass of the Year, and Some Other Fish

Caught my first two smallmouth bass of this year while fly casting for trout with a Muddler Minnow streamer. That's what I tied on at home, and with light fading, I wasn't going to change to a dry fly, even though I witnessed splash rises and perhaps could have caught more trout.

I arrived at one of the two rivers that run through Bedminster, looking for any sulfurs hatching, seeing none, and practicing pretty hard at my casting, but too many times the tippet and leader tangled, which just means I have to learn how to avoid that yet. This evening, I had no insight, none as yet, into how keep the monofilament straight, but the casting is getting a lot more assured quickly.

Just a wonderful close on the day, when after sunset I felt everything let go for a few seconds and while wading upriver, remembered riding my 10-speed bicycle six miles from Lawrence to Princeton, toting my fly rod as a 12-year-old. And I thought about that for a moment, which brought the experience now 43-years-old into immediate resolution.

Why did fly fishing Stony Brook make such a difference over fishing for suckers and bullheads in Little Shabakunk Creek down the street from where I lived? An answer came easily. It's not just about "nature." If it were, any place would be as good as any other. I believe we are motivated, genetically, to acquire new territory not just as an echo of paleolithic fishing, hunting, and berry-picking urges, but ultimately for personal reasons, and I believe the acquisition of aesthetic value in places--not just for nature sake but involving personal responses that include whatever a (unique) individual brings to new places--moved paleolithic people essentially just the same as today. I think the whole notion of motive primarily as "practical," which means food-getting, is a falsehood that has confused civilization for centuries.

All of my fish quickly released this evening, no photos show their pretty colors and bronze hues. Three trout came to my hand, and also a red-breasted sunfish, despite those denizens of the delusional philosopher Plato, from whom so many lies remain with us today. "Men of bronze" he named people who struggle as the workers of today. Let's just call smallmouths bronzebacks. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Next Round: Hybrid Stripers Hit with a Breeze on the Water

Will caught his first hybrid stripers, this month planned since last fall with special consideration for Matt and his friend. Will hooked up on the third pass over my favorite spot, the hybrid stripping line at a quick, steady rate before tossing the hook aside, but action remained pretty steady for the next hour-and-a-half or so: two hybrids for Will, three for me, and one for Matt, and although none of these fish quite compared to what Mike and I encountered just days ago, we had a thoroughly enjoyable time with space leftover for future possibility. Matt and I plan on hybrid stripers in Spruce Run Reservoir come June, and an outing during the summer may offer some guest room.

We experienced a couple of barren passes, and I decided to follow along the shoreline further up the lake, but although we marked a few fish, none hit. Just as well we brought some variety into the outing, as Matt and Will sustained conversation they wouldn't have.

And when we returned to the spot a half hour later, wind had died, and I felt sure this isn't good for trolling, trying to conceptualize just why this may be. I know rough surface activates the environment below and predators get bold just as baitfish may stir to scatter and swim about, since less plainly visible than in light passing through the surface directly. But just the same, with calm surface, the Rapalas get sensed easier than under noise from uneven surface.

Whatever the case, the situation didn't feel right, and most of the time, my hunches judge whatever's really there.

We made three more passes, Matt caught a little trout, and then we headed back to Dow's.