Fred Matero has talked about Merrill Creek Reservoir all of these years we've fished from his boat Round Valley Reservoir, and neither of us have fished this other reservoir in at least three. First time I came here, with my son and a friend of his in 2009, I caught a four-pound largemouth and another bass smaller from shore. Maybe most impressive about that introduction lingering in memory isn't the bass, but the beauty of the surroundings. Or really, my boy and his friend getting their feet wet. And they really did.
We got on the water at 7:30, sun having risen not long, shadows deep on the east side, and headed straight across through the middle of about 650 acres, because Fred had caught eight bass last he came here on the spot he had in mind, including a smallmouth nearly three pounds and a largemouth nearly four. He spoke of timber and rocks, and there is some timber (and weeds associated), but what caught my attention is its isolation along this shoreline--a real bass magnet. I felt that when conditions are right, there must be quite a few around. Well, eight bass for Fred wasn't bad. He told me he caught them in the middle of a September afternoon under bright sun.
As you can see in the photo, he did have a fish on. A smallmouth bass that lost the hook boatside. Senko rigged Wacky, about 12 feet down among submerged tree branches.
I later watched him miss two hits on two consecutive casts with the Senko cast to an isolated weedline eastward--surely the same bass--and then I watched five minutes later a largemouth of at least two pounds leap and throw that Senko. Fred was fishing further along the same weedline by about 20 yards.
That's all the action we had. Merrill Creek Reservoir is a New Jersey marvel of environmental value, but the bass see a lot of lures so they're less eager to strike. I suppose quite a number inhabit the various sets of habitat, but bass are hard to catch in New Jersey where nearly a dozen boats prowl on so small an acreage on a weekday. Some of the bass that get caught and released suffer mortality, but the figures I've read put the percentage at about five. That is a pretty high figure over the course of a year, though.
Witness the fallen timber. Before we got in the midst of the trees, I told Fred I had forgotten to study my Lake Survey Map Guides of the reservoir and bring it along. I told him surely bass are deep--about 30-35 feet on rocks--in this sunlight, especially smallmouths. Water is very clear, not as clear as Round Valley and Tilcon, but very. On Tilcon recently, my son and I caught largemouths with plastic worms weighted by bullet sinkers 30 feet down. But once we got in among timber here on larger acreage, I felt satisfied fishing a 3/8th-ounce skirted jig with a weed guard 35 feet deep, amazed at such depths with timber looming overhead. We fished long and fairly thoroughly, and I say only fairly so, because there's acres of water like this, excellent habitat, weeds mixed in where relatively shallow as deep as at least 15 feet.
Later, at the boat ramp, a bassboat owner from Pennsylvania docked right behind us, remarking that he had seen the guys we also saw out in the reservoir's middle catch two smallmouths back to back. I inquired, and he said there's a hump that rises to 30 feet. Surely plenty rocky, and altogether confirming of my earlier thought about smallmouths deep down under today's sunlight.
After nearly six hours of fishing, total, I had relaxed pretty deeply. Later, when we returned to Bernardsville, Fred remarked about getting work off his mind, and I readily agreed, although for me, it isn't my job I have to shake so much, since I've pretty much put it in place where I think about it only while on it, but so much writing I have to get done. I also told him I haven't quite felt like this since driving home from the Outer Banks last summer, thoroughly immersed in flow of experience, though nothing does it like a full vacation. And driving. I love jet travel. But that doesn't compare with driving long distance and total lack of concern about where I'm getting to. But what really makes the difference are the stops along the way. I slow down. I just set the goal and then do my best to utterly forget it.
It was my amazement in that timber environment. A long-duration epiphany that took me out of myself. As we eased off towards the ramp, Fred said, "It makes a difference with no gas outboards allowed. It's so much quieter."
Absolutely. It makes a total difference for environmental quality.
Moment of exalted loss after two-pound-plus bass leapt free.