Friday, September 23, 2016

Merrill Creek Reservoir Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass Outing

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.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Allamuchy Pond Largemouth Bass

This year seems to have absorbed my ambition to explore new places in the New Jersey Highlands as deeply as desired, not because I ticked off as many numbers of sites as my imagination had inspired early in the year, but because I feel satisfied with enough and more to come. I'm busy otherwise and manage life well, so to get out as often as I do feels like I'm filling a big canvas. Today, I fished Allamuchy Pond my first time, along with Mike Maxwell, who's never visited this place until today. I did perhaps come here once with my wife in 1996 to hike the trail surrounding the pond, but nothing about the views reminded me of that venture. It's as if we went somewhere else entirely, and just maybe I had Deer Lake confused with this body of water.

Before we trolled hybrids in May this year, Mike fished trout constantly, mostly along the South Branch Raritan, and I kept in constant touch. Lake Hopatcong served as the background for a lot of talk between us, and Mike got me thinking more about guiding people fishing. I know he did, because I brought this subject up today as the two of us talked nonstop, telling him that's what I should do, and he immediately told me that's what he tried to convince me of months ago. But of course, with family responsibilities, it's not as simple as offering services and off we go, which he understands, though the ought is obvious, regardless of how things are. I'd like to do it, but it will be awhile yet if I ever do. Mike's not the only one who's suggested this. It's good advice from another friend also.

Sqaureback canoe launched, we immediately rode outward to see how deep, and I got 26 feet on the graph, flat bottom, before swerving the canoe in toward shore, expecting a weedline as Fred Matero has told me rounds the shoreline. Allamuchy Pond is 50 acres and we pretty much fished all the way around twice, so after one round, we knew this first edge we came upon to fish is the pond's steepest drop, quickly slanting to 20 feet. I caught a bass a little over a pound on my fourth or fifth cast with a spinnerbait, rolling it pretty slow in about eight feet of water. In the middle of the afternoon when we arrived, after effects of the heaviest rain in a long time remained as breezy conditions, and with relatively cool air circulating into the water, I knew spinnerbait time has come. Water temperature is 72 today. (Bass take chase after forage in water meeting the optimal range for their activity.) Water clarity allows about three feet of view, a greenish tint with some micro algae mixed in. Not bad clarity, and some bass fishermen prefer water stained, though I like it as crystal clear as possible (give me the Florida Keys reef). Clear water may mean wary bass, but it's cleaner.

Most of the nine bass total we caught hit my Chompers worm and Mike's Rapala floater in about four feet of water--a weedy flat towards the dam. None of these weighed more than a pound, nor did any of the other bass, besides a single nice fish of not much over two pounds that hit the black spinnerbait along a weedy shoreline of much less slope near the pond's back.