Thursday, August 17, 2017


That's the goal. I just spoke with Mike Maxwell and Philippe Rochat on my way into the neighborhood after work, as they prepare for the Howie Behr Hybrid Tournament this weekend. Behr's Bait and Tackle projects that the winner will weigh-in two hybrids at a total of about 13 pounds.

I told them they have stiff competition. They know it. But they do have a secret weapon. Our rally curbside confident and strong, I know they must have a chance, because I've seen unexpected things happen, but some of the guys who fish Spruce Run Reservoir are practiced like professionals.

So my favorite number gets sent out worldwide as a prayer for Michael and his friend. I've been behind them along in their effort towards this tournament, and if Jim Morrison cares for a dedicated admirer, I know Michael is the one to give a nod after the album title. 

The Dog of Odysseus Before the Arrows

That week's vacation I mentioned in an earlier post is over as of this past Monday. It seemed to pass too quickly, until the charter trip sort of took me out to sea. And in fact. The next morning, my family boarded a Boeing 737 at 8:00 a.m. in Newark. Haven't flown with United in many decades. Landed at Bush International, Houston, and though we boarded again on Sunday at 7:44 p.m., it felt as though we had spent a week.

My nephew Michael got married to Melissa on Saturday. They had previously vacationed in New Orleans and visited a great plantation outside the city, Melissa so impressed with the estate that she researched possibilities in the Houston region. A gorgeous hall and property is the result. The music leading into the ceremony was of the highest genius. I have never before better heard Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata."

We had some time as a family on Saturday. This is our second visit to family on Patricia's side in little over a year, and we took a thorough tour of the Johnson Space Center in January. As it turned out, Trish and Matt took another ride and visit of the center this time, but I had gorged myself at dinner the night before and got sick. I am under 200 pounds for the first time since 1993, not on a diet; I just don't eat as much as used to, and my job has required extreme daily exertion. I felt like taking a big exception. Woke up ill in the morning Saturday, but went along with Trish and Matt, and then decided to let them tour without me. I drove back to the Inn and picked them up later.

During several drives, I noticed creeks we passed over. As I said, it seemed as if we were away a week, but as we drove back to Bush International, it felt as if I never quite experienced Texas. I didn't feel this way in January. For one thing, it was January but 85 degrees out. For another, I took the tour. The Space Center is Texas for sure. But what piqued interest in this special respect on that tour was catching sight from the tour bus of turtles basking on a log in a slough. This time around--had I felt better--I would have liked visiting a green space I viewed on a map. Some water associated. Once Trish concluded upon Johnson Space Center, I felt relief that I had not uttered my humble preference. I never did utter it. Trish and Matt would have felt disappointment in me, and I fully understand. I don't forget those turtles on a log.

Trish had spotted a lizard near a curb when we stopped for a red light. Had we simply visited this wild place I saw designated on a map, my camera would have served use for something similar, but here's the gist. At least I myself don't get much of a feel for a faraway place by limiting my activities to venues on the same general grid pattern nationwide. The old plantation and wedding was an exception. You don't find 400-acre estates quite like it in New Jersey. I also took leave from the reception afterwards and visited a large pond in the night, a little wary of any possible night-feeding alligator. They can run a lot faster than I can, if I'm not mistaken. Not certain they exist in Texas. Or if cottonmouths do. The snakes occur to me now. And I know coral snakes do exist there. I went back inside the hall and soon invited Trish outside. She wouldn't leave the porch, but it was nice sitting in relative quiet and talking, another of the guests we knew out there with us. Ted sighted a possum over the rail and along the building. We leaned against it and delighted in watching the creature just below, unafraid of us. I asked Trish to have a look. The fur on the head such a striking pattern of black and white. She wouldn't get off her chair. To her credit, she told me she would never go camping. When she did--through Cub Scouts--she loved it. We've gone a number of times since. But she remains essentially an urbanite. There's no conflict from me about this, since I have a lot of urbanity in my biography too. We never would have dated, had I not. We plan on moving to Manhattan in about 10 years. I'm not saying we will. I can't quite believe it. But Trish researches, and she's smart as most living there. If we do, I plan to come to Jersey to fish. Often. Wouldn't mind having a boat docked on the Hudson, either.

That January I mentioned, while staying in Webster, outside of Houston--Trish's brother and his family live in Friendswood--we watched news on TV at the Hilton Inn, as we did this past week, same Hilton. United States Supreme Court Justice Scalea died in Texas on a hunting trip. I happened to pick up a letter from the lamp table next to the bed, a letter from my outdoor writer friend Jim Stabile. An instant before news of Scalea's death broke, I was about to begin reading. The envelope contained a printout of an article Jim had published in Field & Stream or Outdoor Life--almost certain the former. I have it in my messy study. Away from home, weeks after I received the mailing, I made a point of packing the letter along with very little else, which is just peculiar, but all my life I've exercised peculiar habits. Drove my dear father nuts. Why not have simply opened the envelope here at home and have read what was inside? Some hunch informed me to wait. And some hunch informed me to take the letter with us to Texas and read it there.

My son Matt is politically on the ball. Follows all sorts of sources. He was concerned about Altright fanatics having a rally in Charlottesville, VA, weeks before the event, which broke news when we were in Texas this past week. We watched on TV back-and-forth between Charlottesville, VA, and Bedminster, NJ, not happy that the sitting President of the United States spoke such vague drivel in response to the violence, our hometown spelled out as the place from where the words came.

Litton's Fishing Lines comes to you from Bedminster, also, although some posts have come from Ocracoke, NC, and one from Exmore, VA. I hope the words are better adjusted to reality than what comes out of Trump's mouth. Nationalism, which does not amount to individuals valuing particular places for their true and independent substance, especially places amounting to country (land and water), places appreciated for particular values and events within them, which is what this post is about, nationalism is left without a nation. This country we name America is, in essence, beyond human conventions, such as nationality, because country is nature independent of and including man, but man, to apprehend nature, must do so by choice. Nationalists want fulfillment in the dream of a "nation," when fulfillment can only be realized existentially. I think of Ernest Hemingway in this respect. He would laugh at being called an existentialist, and if he were here with me now, I'd compliment him by remarking that he has one up on Martin Buber, because his idea of country is better grounded than the notion of the existential. There is no nation of any substance without individuals who actually value country. People, at least in their better moments, appreciate dirt for what it is, which is not only what we are made of--all plants grow in it and we eat them, for just one example of why we are "clay." People may value dirt not only for what they are, but for what they may grow to become; these individuals I regard as realists, because the ground at the feet supports the head up top, and the heart closer to the midriff might feel that awesome rough character in an expanse of dry dirt, not as a burden, but as an invitation to new beginning. The human potential implies beginning with barren expanse by binding what little the space does contain to an idea. (There is no space without some content.) And building gradually. I am always reminded of Winston Churchill. He understood the need to progress gradually. In a similar way, so did 17th Century English philosopher Francis Bacon, who inaugurated the modern age of science.

I emphasize individuals. Nationalists who make a gruesome show of not respecting other individuals' boundaries make a display of their unfit character as citizens of a nation. And a so-called President who refuses to name the offenders shows clear evidence that the Presidency is vacant. As an example of individual boundaries violated, a woman was killed by an Altright fanatic who drove his Charger into her during that rally. Obviously, I hold President Trump--and those who voted for him--responsible. This is not to confuse the issue. Of course the man who killed the woman--and injured many others--is the man to have been charged with second-degree murder. He acted independently, which, also, is not to say he didn't act within a larger context of possibility. Oh, sure, Trump named names later, regarding the drivel we heard from Bedminster. But then he began to say worse, as if these fanatics include among them some who are not fanatics. No one who would join ranks with the group which unleashed the violence shown on TV is not guilty. Guilt by association is a serious issue to anyone with a conscience, and all the more likely lethal for anyone without a conscience. How were these fanatics so emboldened in the first place? Trump could have named names before he got elected. He might not have got elected, had he done that. He clearly seems to demonstrate that he thinks this the case. Why did he sympathize with the likes of these fanatics in the first place? Stay tuned if you like specific personal stories that offer clues, as more about the situation may get published in this blog yet. But any of my readers knows I can't afford a full-time commitment. Not with a $12.875-per-hour job. Was the sacrifice of Iphigenia right, so the Trojan War could be fought? Judge consequences for yourself. A relative few of the victorious made it home, and more to the point: When Agamemnon did make it home, he was promptly murdered by his wife for the killing of his own daughter. Any decent American knows at least on some level within--human sacrifice is not just.

Any of us who voted Trump in knows the only voting alternative was not for Hillary Clinton. I decided not to vote for her, because the status quo has done me personal damage. I voted for Jill Stein. I was not vehemently opposed to Clinton. I had no reason to feel vehemence. I know she is knowledgeable, responsible, stable, Presidential, and had I judged New Jersey as in any threat of going to Trump, I would have voted for her. I don't know the Green Party's policies. I was childlike about my vote. Green is the color of the sunlit realm, land-bound, during summertime. This sunlit realm I sometimes mention is not a moniker of my origination. I borrow it from Ayn Rand. From her novel Atlas Shrugged. My silence with respect to explicitly condemning Trump in Litton's Fishing Lines until now regards a complicated inner situation. (I borrow this two-word phrase from 20th century depth psychologist Carl Jung.) My private journals are another matter, as have been some private communications going back to when Trump entered the race for 2016.

We arrived back in Bedminster just after 1:00 a.m. on Monday morning. When I opened my study door, I met a wave of familiar odor. Dead fish. For once in two or three years, I have killies. (Fundulus heteroclitus, the Atlantic killiefish.) To be exact, four. Three years it is, I recall. Father's Day 2014, last I had them, while I yet worked for Affinity Federal Credit Union. Then I enjoyed weekends off, and vacation days amounting to about five weeks each year rather than one week. But this purchase on Sunday more than a week ago shows I'm still in the habit of buying killies, using them in the surf for fluke, taking the remainder home, and setting any that survive in the sights of smallmouth bass while fishing the South Branch of the Raritan River. I would certainly use them in the North Branch Raritan as well, but I do not recall ever having done so, and don't particularly care to research the information in my handwritten log just now. Unfortunately, these remaining four of at least three dozen will surely perish before my son and I get out in my Great Canadian canoe next week. As yet, once again my aerator hums, and bubbles emit scintillating sound in my study. Nothing lost, because these fish accompanied a fulfilling possibility. More than that. These fish essentially are that possibility. Even though all will die before it could happen. Most likely. They help redeem the future, because exercising the habit makes such fishing possible yet, though I really did mean to put them to this good use soon. I didn't set them free. Anyone can infer: I could have simply dumped them in the ocean where I had surf fished. Not anyone can judge that action would amount to no freedom whatsoever. This species does not exist in the ocean. So I could have stopped the car bayside somewhere. Nope. Instead, it was a shot in the dark. I sure had hopes of aggressive smallmouths killing them.

How can true affection--these four fish are my truly beloved pets--coexist with that kind of ruthlessness implied? Perhaps this relationship of extremity is no more than the whisper of a hint you can't hear. Homer's Iliad may reveal less of the reality to you than the work he composed in later and wiser years. The Odyssey gives a clue I hold dear. The dog of Odysseus upon his return home. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Last Lady II Charter: Beautiful Day

Long awaited charter trip with New Jersey Federated Sportsmen's News writers aboard the Lucky Lady II this morning and early afternoon. We sailed out of Neptune through the Shark River, out the inlet and northward to fish rocks between about 72 and 86 feet deep. Seas remained pretty calm, and I think generally we had no problem keeping contact with bottom using three-ounce bucktails and bank sinkers, although Oliver Shapiro remarked to me, when drift speed did pick up near the end of our fishing, that he was dropping six ounces.

I have a bad habit, not by any means awful, of carrying in too much stuff. I even had a third cooler just large enough to carry three Brooklyn Lagers with ice packs. I drank only one of them, offering the others, but they came back home with me. That beer hit the spot...after drinking five or six coffees and feeling as jittery as a silverside. My nerves stayed settled for the rest of the fishing. I also brought three rods and never set up my Trevala jigging rod with the Penn Squall 60 I had bracketed on to the reel seat, as if I would do battle with a mahi or yellowfin tuna. But the little St. Croix I use for bass did handle a Deadly Dick deftly, and though no Boston mackerel hit the metal, those fish were around; at least eight of them got caught inadvertently when jigs and/or bait/or teasers got reeled towards the rail. I feel it's always better to at least employ an idea, than it is to think an idea and have no means to implement the notion.

So I never really felt bad about that third rod and reel. Just a little burdened hauling all my stuff off the boat and back to my car. I guess it's as if a piece of equipment on standby is always loaded with potential, so long as know-how accompanies it. (I was a little uncertain about remembering how to operate that big reel.)

John Toth caught the leading fish, a 23-inch fluke. Plenty of other fluke got caught, including maybe nine or 10 keepers among the dozen of us fishing. I guess as many keeper seabass went home, also, including mine of about 15 inches. A few cocktail bluefish cut through the upper water column to intersect baits, as I mentioned of the mackerel, and more southern sea robins--brown coloration--got caught than the typical florid northern species. I caught a couple of squirrel hakes about 10 inches long. Brown slimy fish tossed back.

It's a funny thing about fluke 16, 17 inches long. I caught three that size, and seeing these fish appear in the greenish water as I reeled them closer to the rail was sort of an act of now-you-see-it, now-you-don't. My truest evaluation bestowed value on these fish. You could say: Well, after all, they went back to grow big. But that's not all the feeling amounted to. I don't fish because governmental agency monitors population and size statistics amounting to a fishery. I fish because I'm part of the system of life and desire to participate. I've always felt convinced aesthetics are really prior to economics (food). Just offhand I think of the early Christians who died for an idea. I'd say that's because it was beautiful to them.

And there's the flipside. The awful reduction of a living creature to a non-value--because not meeting governmental size limit to take home.

Finally, on our final drift, the very last fish--I think--besides one more of Oliver's many mackerel. I felt a chomp on the end of my sensitive Power Pro braid line I knew was a nice fish and almost certainly a fluke, since I'm experienced at the likes from many keepers of about 18 inches. I gave that fish some slack by extending my rod by use of my right arm, and after two seconds or so, set the hook...into undoubtedly a nice one.

I always think of a tambourine. The way a fluke shakes its head. An unmistakable clicking bounce. Truly unmistakable if you get fully in touch. The seabass sent tight vibes up the line too, but not quite the same.

Twenty-two inches. My family ate a fine dinner.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Summer Hybrid Bass Attempt

Mike Maxwell and his friend Phillipe got on hybrid stripers in Spruce Run Reservoir little more than a week ago, dropped herring among them, and began hooking up. I happened on the two of them with Phillipe's trailered boat in front of Mike's house as I came home from work, and my hopes for this Lake Hopatcong trip with my family rose. But you know how it is, if you fish hybrids in the summer. Not the same as May or October, not when it comes down to catch expectancy. I know guys like Zach Merchant on Spruce Run, and Ed Mackin on Lake Hopatcong, score frequently. Guys with thorough knowledge of fish movements in these waters, highly skilled with sophisticated techniques. They put in the time and the effort necessary to achieve results that would graph a little exponentially during the slow summer season.

Laurie at Dow's Boat Rentals told me the hybrids have been moving along the shelf from Bonaparte Point to Sharp's Rock across the lake from her Nolan's Point station. Someone or other had action inside Davis Cove the other day, hybrids actually boiling the surface, a situation reminiscent of springtime, although I've never seen hybrids go on the jump during the earlier season. We started there and worked our way to Sharp's, having fished the Pickerel Point area thoroughly, something having grabbed one of Matt's herring. I should have made sure my fish finder was charged; apparently, it got inadvertently turned on, and so we had some but very limited use of it. My mistake was to forget to disengage the power terminals from the battery stored with the unit.

The day had already worn on well, when by a sort of inevitable motivation I decided we go try the ledge, where at least I caught a smallmouth a year ago, and also a six-pound walleye last October. We drifted this small range of that edge across the lake from where hybrids have been moving recently--out beyond the drop-off, on that drop, and in a ways--for more than an hour, Matt catching a nice-size yellow perch we took home for part of our dinner afterwards, that on a live herring, but also a pumpkinseed on chicken liver, both of these fish from the shallower side of the ledge; all the while we made sure not to weight baits too deeply, as the lake stratifies without oxygen deeper than about 25 feet. The water temperature at the surface, however, ranged between 74 and 76.

Well, rather than stay on that edge, I had Bonaparte Point prominently in mind, because just west of this spot I have marked a lot of hybrids in the past. So we got at least 20 minutes fishing that area and the point thoroughly before the sun touched down and we motored back. By that time, Patricia was well into reading a John Grisham novel, having read Mary Astor's Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936 by Edward Sorel cover to cover, all during this afternoon on the water.

Cliff's Homemade Ice Cream is a busy place, and listed among the top 33 American ice cream joints by the Huffington Post.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Lush Closure on Famous Bedminster Pond

Showers and thunderstorms in the forecast for today, I put rain gear in the trunk, along with essentials, and got to bed before I would be too tired this morning. Matt and I had purchased nonresident NY fishing licenses for the day, and after I awoke and after Trish filled me in--heavy rain and flooding--that's what I rued. They're only $10.00 for a day, so the state of New York really does offer a they have to, as sales slipped when license fees increased too much...and I dismissed the issue as a friendly contribution to the state's fisheries on our part. What the hell, the DECALS site must state somewhere the fee is nonrefundable.

I already had the hunch. A good reason to have waited on purchasing and printing licenses at the last possible minute, but the way my family operates on the fly, we might have forgotten. And then we would have had to drive to whatever that town's named way up in the hills...and have hoped the resort there still sells licenses. Now that Trish and Matt own mobile devices, this would have made making connections easier, but I won't go into that.

The hunch. I forget specifically. Something moved me to have a good look at the framed photo in our living room--Trish and Matt underneath a big sign for Port Jervis Diner, where we always eat after our Barryville river floats--and that made me feel sure, as I've felt for the past three years...sure that moment framed for generations to come is of our last moments at Port Jervis Diner, and Barryville is a thing of our past as well.

I mentioned my feeling to Trish yesterday. I was wrong, of course, she said. But it's just how events unfold. I can always feel this. That is, if I happen to be in touch, which I'm not always--I thought the drive to the shore yesterday would be a breeze--but I seem to usually know in advance an outcome. It's just that a hunch is never knowledge. You never know an outcome until you have it.

Helps to be prepared. They say so in Boy Scouts. And if Baden-Powell came up with the notion, it's probably a very good one to heed.

I'm happy Trish did not take disappointment deeply. She loves Barryville trips. "Can we go tomorrow and Hopatchcong (she affectionately mispronounces the lake's name) on Wednesday?"

"The river may be more than muddy. Flooded." Besides, I indicated, there in Barryville, it's not so near its sources as to possibly crest after rain stops.

(We've caught smallmouths in the muddied river, but not the really flooded.) Judging the downpours and the current level of the North Branch Raritan as any rough gauge to judge the greater river, that Wild & Scenic stretch is flooded. So now she says she'll get a Wednesday off near her birthday. She wants to be on the river up there. And at the Diner thereafter. Hopatcong will patch us up in the meantime.

What a luscious wet day. I wanted to fish at least a little, after going to the Bookworm as a family in Bernardsville, directly across Claremont Road from Saint Bernard's Episcopal Church, the roadway crossing over a possible trout stream (I examined the brook and it might be), the name of the road having suggested to me the famous Claremont stretch of the South Branch Raritan River, which I've fly fished and blogged about. Saint Bernard struggled with philosopher Peter Abelard, against the philosopher's analytical approach to knowledge, and emphasized Lectio Divina, or the apprehension of "The Living Word." In other words, direct and unabridged presence of spirit; a power which is no small matter. Bernard cooled his lust by ice baths, and frankly, I'm reminded of Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, imploring, in the song "Whole Lot of Love," the subject's need of cooling. Wild juxtaposition this may seem, it's really no joke. To take too much of this presence is to fall as heavily as tungsten, much less lead.

After wonderful experience at the bookstore, we ate at the Bernardsville Café, the portabella pillia or whatever that is I ate, delicious. I had bought a biography of Leonardo Da Vinci's younger years. Recently, I told a friend Leonardo was just a farm boy who went to the city, interested in becoming an artist. Da Vinci means "from the Vinci," and the Vinci is no place of distinction at all...except now that Leonardo came from the fields. True to my ruthless self-criticisms, I positively lust for the author of this book to correct my blithe, fairy tale assumptions about this genius. As if this monumental figure were every bit as naïve as my rural teenage moods, my singing "Sarah Smile" by Hall & Oates to abandoned pre-dawn twilight while pedaling miles in perfect go fishing, of course. He came to the city as an artistic greenhorn at age 20. By what foolishness--I guess--that I've gathered.

And I had to buy To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway. Haven't read that one. And the harsh realism--minus the story's content involving criminality--seems appropriate to me now. The job I hold. Read the first three pages there in Bernardsville. Not least is the biography about The American Visionary, John Quincy Adams, "a sadly underrated character." This I must read, I told myself, and placed the book back on the shelf with the absolute precision of prayer. I never over extend my means. I know the book. I know the spirit. And the latter awaits me.

I wanted to fish a little, but, rod in hand, I came upon police presence at the neighborhood pond quite contrary to my innocent desire, and I did not want to make company with any questionable scene, so I turned back, gathered my wallet and car keys, drove to the famous Bedminster Pond with little light left to get some photographs....and that's all I expected. The open water you see in the photo opening these lines I write is an illusion. Its actual space hardly extends 15 feet from shore and there the water is too shallow to hold fish. Inches. Wall to wall weed cover. (Almost, that is.) A sort of living likeness to some Jurassic Swamp now fundamentally providing for Exxon's profit.

Very nice over there. You've got to love a swampy pond. Especially if you live in a society driven by fossil fuel and presided over by some logical outcome or other of Middle East involvement. After all, the dancing step of Fred Astaire, while he sang "That's Entertainment," depended upon spoils to have had the mainstream reach Hollywood still enjoys today. I walked in lush humid wetness, got in my car, parked at home, and walked back over to our pond. No one present. I fished. And 20 minutes later, finished. Quite dark. No bass lunged for my spinnerbait, despite this exquisite spring-like spell of precipitation's closure. 

Beach Day

Sometimes a foregone assumption is no better than a kite on a calm day. It's supposed to fly, but just doesn't. I figured we would roll straight down the Parkway to Island Beach State Park smooth as one of those fast European hydroplanes, but about a half mile from the entry from Route 440, traffic began to slow.

Somewhere down the line--heavy traffic all the way--a sign informed us Island Beach State Park was full. No admittance. "I think Chris Christy's vacation advertised Island Beach," Trish said. No doubt, the coverage IBSP got from that escapade spelled out the Park loud and clear. Whatever the case, it was Sunday, and though I expected few incoming visitors and many leaving the beaches at weekend's finish, we could have slipped Bob Marley's "Exodus" into the player for appropriate celebration.

So we drove through the thick of Seaside to catch sights of commercial grabs, while we discussed Matt's possible employment next summer, which of course, he's in charge of. The young man defended his position against his skeptical mother very well. And northward though Ortley Beach and Lavalette we drove highway 35 into Point Pleasant, where I wanted us to at least walk along Manasquan Inlet, and possibly fluke fish. I spoke to a guy in the know, and it was evident action might pick up in a couple of hours with incoming tide. An assumption further evidenced by talking to yet another savvy guy on down towards the rocks. No use fishing.

We rode out of Pt. Pleasant back towards IBSP. Who knows. It probably opened in the meantime, I thought. Soon some electronic sign or other--my wife saw it, not me--informed us the Park was open. We stopped at Surf Taco for food to carry onto the beach.

I leapt into the surf--not Matt with a recovering ankle--and strode and swam well out there with the breakers, riding a few. The brine felt warmish and full of life. That's not to say I saw any fish. The quality of stuff, sense, and feeling intermixed offered that uncanny promise anyone can receive who opens himself to it. But instead of total self-immersion, I felt a little removed--just a little--and knew there was no hope of getting as fully into this ocean as I always felt during my 13 years living by the beach. No real disappointment. I accepted as much as I could take, feeling thrilled to be 56 and as alive as an adolescent. Nothing foolish about that.

Trish doesn't swim and I don't recall her ever going out into the surf beyond the edge.

I read a few pages of Anders Halverson, An Entirely Synthetic Fish, about stockers. Rainbow trout ultimately from California's McCloud River. And then I told Matt it would be a miracle if I caught a fluke, proceeding to catch a striped bass instead on the first cast, a less likely catch than a fluke in August New Jersey surf. Hit a killiefish bought at the Hook House in Tom's River on the way in. That's the first true striped bass I've caught on my five-and-a-half foot medium power St. Croix and six-pound test monofilament. I had simply tied on a plain shank size 6 hook and crimped a split shot up the line a bit.

Snapper blues provided some fun, too. They really made cut bait of killies.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Night Romps

Very early yesterday morning, from 1:00 a.m. until after two, my son and I tried topwaters for bass at that secret pond where he and his friend keep catching them over five pounds. He caught a 13 or 14-incher; I caught three 11 and 12 inches. These cool night temperatures. At least temps hung somewhere in the 70's when we fished, though night fishing bass seems better suited to mugginess. Wind wrangled treetops, but the way the two-acre pond is situated sort of like the bottom of a bowl, the surface remained calm. It was nice and Matt wants to get me out there again.

And then late yesterday afternoon and well into the night, as a family we spent five-and-a-half hours at Morristown Memorial Hospital's ER. I had checked my BP at work and got 210/139. I felt alarmed. I know that's enough to cause a stroke. Maybe. Doctors have told me so. Eight years ago, I went to the ER where they recorded my BP at 260 over something or other. I had to stay a night or two. I don't quite remember how long I stayed, but they ran extensive testing, concluded my BP had been about 200 or higher for about six months...and one of the doctors openly wondered at the fact that I didn't suffer a stroke. (Well, we outdoor people know nature keeps us healthy.) So I left work early yesterday, not the way I wanted to end this work week and begin today for a week's vacation. Writing this post helps set me straight for this well deserved time away from the job, and come to terms with the fact that I needed to head to the hospital, not stay the rest of my shift. Had I instead told my regular physician--who I hope to see Wednesday, will phone him tomorrow--that I got that BP reading and stayed at work instead of going to the ER to get stabilized, he would have rightly thought me a fool.

I never really thought twice.

Of course, the plan was to finish my shift at 9:00. But anyone who sticks to a plan, instead of creating a new plan when needed, ends with nothing. If a new plan is needed, but the original is followed, the original will fail. That's true for business and fishing alike. Gratefully, our vacation plans remain in place as we intended, besides this plan to see my doctor on Wednesday.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Rooting for another Summer Highlight

Day off. Downpour at 5:00 p.m. Believe plans are dashed. This much isn't: some time to read.

Considered a major effort today. Photographing Black River, Pequest River, Paulinskill River. (Pitching a magazine article for next year which will feature lots of photography.) That would be a lot of driving of course--and lots of time composing shots. If I could get around need of doing this, I would rather read, told myself. Except for a ride up to Chester. Set up tripod along Black River. So I opened just a few folders on my laptop late last night. I have photography of these rivers in spades!

So, Black River. But it's raining hard, and me & my family go see Dunkirk around 7 p.m.

Additionally, Matt & I plan on night fishing very early Saturday morning, 1 or 2 a.m. He and a friend fished a pond we keep secret the other day, just for five or 10 minutes, and Jason caught a bass over five pounds on a buzzbait.

Rain's stopped. Maybe I'll head up to Chester some morning soon to come. Getting on towards show time now.

Plan on a ride over to the Sporting Life on Route 22, Whitehouse. Need to stock up on bottom fishing supplies, since I'm going on a charter on the 10th. Want to swing by the golf club and visit Lenny on my way back.

It's a good summer. I'm not fishing all the time, but don't have to. Ride to Riegelsville & back just to buy eels about two weeks ago--a high point. I certainly would head up to Chester, if I wasn't constrained by the movie plan. And reading. There's time if I leave right now.

This much I know. Life is always ready to surprise, if someone just goes out to meet what might await, and likely does await. Outings never disappoint me. And like me, anyone else doesn't even have to expect much. He might be surprised if he just slips the right c.d. into the player while driving. At first, I thought it would be just an inconvenience to drive all the way to Pennsylvania and back for eels.

A summer highlight. No inconvenience that. So I hope you're braving the pull that tends to keep you reigned in to relative boredom and "ease," getting out and enjoying life when you can. Reading too, for that matter. I told a friend the other day who complained--so typical--of "no time." Time is relative. People who use that excuse aren't making efforts to get up and go, which aren't too hard to do.

Got a week off coming up. Should be interesting.

Thursday, July 27, 2017


I wanted to slip this in before August 1st. Every first day of that month, I remember a bike ride back from McClure's Ponds--Brian's familiar with these former Princeton Day School Ponds. I was in the habit of doing the 16-mile loop, sometimes every day for days running. This, I think, was 1976. I was 15, when the large husky-Lab mix, think it was, followed me from the ponds all the way to Lawrence, running behind my bike the whole way. That's how much that dog bonded with me.

So, I get home. Mom, this dog came back with me. "All the way from Princeton!?"

"We have to find the owner. It's lost."

But the dog found me and that was kind of special. We found the owners within a day. They put a Lost Dog ad out or something.

So every August 1st.....

Anyway, it's also when summer's getting on. Happy to report this summer has slowed down for me, so it feels real. Some people I talk to. Where they actually live isn't real anymore. You can't separate home from season.

Imagine. A nation of homeless people. People become schizophrenic. Without reality. Lost dogs looking for their owner. Unable to comprehend they are their own.

Happy to report also my son and his friends go places.

And Laurie's report from Lake Hopatcong. Plenty of hybrid stripers on herring off the points. Six and seven pounders. Lou Marcucci makes the news a lot. He recently caught a seven-pound, five-ounce walleye, and his walleye is not the only catch. Bass get caught too. Of course they do. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

We Might Find Our Way Again

Had the privilege to fish a private lake with Brian Cronk and Sam Kaplan this morning. Sam's parents live in the lake community. I was running a little late, but not so behind our scheduled meeting time of 5:15 that I felt the need to phone, and when I got to the dock area, Sam's canoe was just about to get unloaded from Brian's truck. I bought my second canoe--a Great Canadian fiberglass no longer manufactured--in February from a man north of Paramus, thanks to Craig's List. For $350.00, I probably made an investment that will last the rest of my life. This morning was it's Maiden Voyage for me, and I feel honored in the everyday way of getting out and living to put it on the water with a friend and new acquaintance. I try to cut through stereotypes when I write these posts, presently reminded that this is not as easy to do, as it is to get out and around, involving myself not only with pursuits that amount to shape-shifting purpose, but letting crap go, cutting down the signposts that clog veins and arteries trying to tell my heart where my blood should flow, as if everything is a maze that needs authority at every turn. As a matter of fact, my circulation system works quite naturally.

It's just the thing of using a low dose of a statin drug. No worries there.

Best of all this morning, the social quality. We fished in separate canoes, and we did get separated at least for half of the three hours out there, word back and forth when close, sometimes hollered when distant. I let very light breeze carry my craft off a ways after something was said about the bite dying under sunlight, and then felt deeply reminded of my 13 years on Long Beach Island, clamming the bays for a living. Before I could remind myself that I've suffered the tendency to think I lived that adventure chiefly in solitude, not memory of being alone but of complete release from any preoccupation and boundaries, day after day for years, word back and forth with a friend when we happened to work in our shorts during summer and wetsuits when chillier in that brine. Perhaps there was never a better way to socialize, because the bays brought nature, language, and personal presence together as nothing else could. To work feet in bay bottom and fight choppy brine up to your shoulders while collecting clams, this brings you home to this planet in a most directly involved way. That friend went on to earn a Psy.D at Rutgers University. He made this possible only through earnings as a clammer.

The man who sold me this second canoe warned me it's tippy, but at 13 feet long with a wide beam, I found not only does it stay put on the water; it maneuvers very subtly. We began by paddling towards the back of about 77 acres. Brian caught a bass close to 2 1/2 pounds on his first cast, once Sam positioned us to start. And though both Sam and Brian used Senko-type plastics rigged straight on worm hooks, not Wacky, I tied on a Pop-R surface plug. The water was dead calm, the day very young, light dim, and it all invited the possibility of bass or pickerel welling up from underneath, an opportunity I never want to miss.

Later, Brian told me, "Every new guy we bring out here heads for those pads." They're really shallow. I had a good-size pickerel on that plug, which got off, a fish striking in no more than a foot-and-a-half of water. I missed three other fish--two of them certainly pickerel--that didn't really commit to taking that plug.

By the time I gave up on the Pop-R and Wacky-rigged a Senko, Brian had four bass and Sam three. One of Brian's was three-and-a-half pounds, caught when we were separated by a couple of hundred yards, so I got no photo. I watched them fish. Fast. At first, I thought they were speed-worming. No. "They hit on the descent," Brian said. They were letting the worm fall, then twitching prodigiously and even reeling several yards or more to let the offering drop back.

Behind an island, the lake possesses a cove-like quality. My worm finally rigged straight on a worm hook, maybe I was set for business. Brian caught another bass, about three pounds. I drifted off about 75 yards, hooking a nice bass that played just a bit before the hook pulled. And then two casts later, thought I was into a fair-size bass, which proved to be a pickerel, boated, of about 21 inches. So I felt relieved, but I was feeling the bug now. Ready for more. Fish were hitting and I felt it was all just beginning. Someone in a kayak struck up conversation by asking if I kept any fish here. No. And not anywhere else, besides some of the walleye and hybrid stripers, for the most part. And he told me he runs off guys who do keep them, so I complimented him on confronting them directly about this. After all, it's a private lake and these others come on uninvited. We spoke for a few minutes at an interested clip, talking about how fishing refreshes us for out jobs, Hopatcong and wild trout streams, etc. He told me he lives on the lake, goes to work at 9:00 a.m., fishes every morning and does real well. Then soon I got word from Brian that we would try an area around the island, and as I paddled behind Sam's canoe, I felt I was leaving the honey hole behind, probably an illusion of my success.

This lake suffers profound eutrophification; there's talk of dredging, but I agree with Sam that it's probably best to let be. As is there's a lot of fish. Water stays off color. Muddy bottoms of course. And once I learned depths would register no more than about seven feet, I knew I was never bothering to set up the fish finder. I settled right into the lake as is.

But now, in our new territory, the sun was out, and I knew what this meant. And indeed, it was all over. Near the docks, we did confront cover near shore with two or three feet or more of water at the edges of brush, and Sam caught one more fish here. A crappie on his worm. I've written many articles for magazines that boast of my catching bass--really good-size bass by Jersey standards--during blazing hot afternoons. But the truth is, the hope for this is shorelines with depth and cover, especially woody or brushy cover. Boulders help, too, even for largemouths, and almost always there's some weeds. I've done it for years, but I felt a little uneasy today, because this is the second instance this year of lockjaw bass under sunlight. It is true. My son got a bass barely over two pounds in crystal-clear Lake Aeroflex under direct sun, and there I got an early evening three-and-a-half-pound bass with sun on the water beyond the shade the bass swam under, but I have a tendency of asserting "truths" too directly. In a way that falsifies truth for lack of details to clarify the matters.

At least the articles make clear where I catch those mid-day bass.

Another morning out on the quest, well aware it's not only my own. Life is a lot more than scene reduced to caricature of experience. Scene and screen sound alike, and the more we escape both of those surfaces to live real life rather than dally and doll out false references to how it really is, the closer we may come to finding our way again.

I've never been asked if I'm an outdoorsman, though I've been told I'm the number 1 guy in this respect for someone I know. I probably had no problem with the "identity" as a teen, but I resist getting cubby-holed, because it's not a particular ritual--like "outdoor activities"--which matters, but overturning the soil of experience so something fresh and natural gets exposed. Doesn't mean I'm some sort of gardener, either. Lol. Life is more than being some one thing against all else.

So much for identity politics. Thanks to Brian and Sam! I look forward to more!

Monday, July 24, 2017

No Outing Fails to Surprise

Many outings fulfill their expectation and may leave a little wanting, but no outing fails to surprise. We caught nothing, and though for me this meant we broke even, Oliver really believed we would catch something. Big striped bass, flathead catfish, channel catfish exist in this river. Night requires time, patience, and perseverance to catch any, but on my first night attempt during August 2008, I caught a nine-pound flathead, which I thought must be a big channel cat before it came into view, and I lost a striper. Since then, I've tried two or three more times, neither myself nor my son and a friend caught anything but a smallmouth bass on a shiner, and a nine-inch striper on a Rapala at the mouth of the Pequest.

I don't believe it's a chuck-the-bait-out-there-and-wait appeal, even though all I did to catch the flathead was bait up with a dead eel, lob it out un-weighted (flow slow) just before sunset, and attend to baiting a live eel on the rod I intended to man. Within minutes, the flathead was on. The striper took some doing by drifting eels with current.

When Oliver and I left, he mentioned shallower currents and I knew he was onto the right idea. I knew current like this existed upstream a couple of hundred feet, but the way were situated with a party going on where he could venture, neither of us felt any gumption to try. He had anchored live sunfish with heavy pyramid sinkers. That might work, but we were aware it's hit or miss regarding the make-up of the river bottom, even with the long three-foot leaders. A number of times he found himself snagged before turning the reel crank to check on the bait.

Flatheads sometimes move into shallow, hard-bottomed riffles at night. In any case, working a stretch--and riffles at the head--makes sense. Involvement of any kind tends to yields results. But river night fishing for these big targets...I felt sure the first time I bought live eels for bait that this takes some time and figuring out. Every outing since has confirmed this feeling, and I wasn't fooled by the first, either.

I wanted to get out under night sky, fish, and above all enjoy good company...possibly gaining just a little more insight into the workings of this endeavor for elusive stripers north of tidal water. All expectations felt fulfilled. It's not that I'll ever become a regular at this, either. I'm just satisfied to meet the mysteries on rare occasion.

On the way there, we drove across the Pohatcong. Oliver had his mobile device pinned on the spot. Suddenly, I braked before a huge tree on the road. Rain had fallen, but at least in Bedminster, no wind accompanied.

"We're not far," Oliver said.

"Let's park and walk."

"Better back up and park on the side."


I put it in reverse and as I began to maneuver, Oliver said, "Is there another way?"

"Not that I know."

He was working that mobile device. "There is." Soon it talked to us. I typically find the likes amusing more than annoying. It showed us the way. We rode up and down two mountains. About five miles, I guess. I never would have needed a mobile device. I've never been in a situation when I needed one and have no desire to upgrade from my flip phone. Time it took us to drive around the tree....was probably more than walking would have entailed. Just an amused thought I had.

Mysteries. No stunning meteor on this night. But I haven't heard a screech owl in years.

Surprises. Dead wood tree on the road. Two dead-wood fallen branches on the road, separate places. And weirdly, as we fished near the time we quit at 2:30 a.m.--same time three fishermen across the river quit (they had fish on)--a large tree fell in the woods nearby. Not a trace of wind. I could tell by the sound of the trunk breaking it was dead and rotted. I reasoned and told Oliver that just maybe there had been wind earlier...which loosened that tree. Not much more likely than it falling after what we had witnessed. Another surprise for me is valuable for fishing knowledge. Still on I-78, headed for Exit 3, Oliver asked me if this rain would raise the river level, and so increase our chances. He didn't mean raise it dramatically. I said no. But coming towards Carpenterville, he remarked on us getting close to the river as the road began to descend fairly sharply. Some seconds later, I realized that even with the relatively light rain--sustained and for a little while pretty heavy--a lot of water was coming downhill, and said that, yeah, that level might be coming up a bit. As we set up a little while later, Oliver wedged a surf spike between rocks at river's edge. Just an hour later, he remarked on the level having come up a couple of inches. When we began packing to leave, I noticed three or four inches of water had climbed up that spike. For fishing, yes, a rise in water level not dramatic can be very good.

That screech owl. "We hear them in our backyard," Oliver said. That impressed me, but took a little of the faraway quality of the bird's call away. Some light haloing over horizon to the north made me long for my tripod...and reminded me I need to learn manual camera functions. More than any other attraction, the big fish that repeatedly broke surface mid-river interested me. One of them slashed water close, and I saw the break--immense and exciting. Oliver believed them carp. But he did remind me that carp typically break water around spawning time in spring. I drifted eels right down their ally.

There the current takes a great eddy formation. As far as I could cast--and with my eight-foot Tica I cast a 15-inch eel very far--the eels drifted upstream. The situation reminds me of tarpon fishing behind Big Pine Key. We drifted blue crabs directly on tarpon that turned over at the surface, never taking a crab.

I got into play. The little insight I gleaned involved  a definite idea less than further confirmation of the efficacy involved in letting all go to guide an eel the right way. The humble idea of conscious attunement was enough for me last night. I got snagged three or four times, and the first two or three mishaps resulted in lost eels and hooks....which didn't sit right with me. I knew it possible to open bail, let the eel find its way out and then to continue the drift, because I discovered this that first night in 2008. The last time I got snagged, the eel did just that and redeemed all former losses.

Above all, when drifting an eel, I do not impart much action. I figure the less a striper is alerted to any guidance extraneous to the river itself, the more likely it takes. So naturally, the more I'm attuned to the river, rather than distracted with myself, the more I am like the environment any striper out there occupies. There was often silence between Oliver and I, but more between myself and my activity. We spoke freely without any hindrance. At my best, I felt sleek and active while measurably doing very little. It was about 85 degrees out--at least 80--and upon setting up I had taken off my Woolrich wool shirt, which I used to help subdue wriggling eels to get them hooked. I felt all the more there in the wild with no shirt bagging my skin.

Most of my hooked eels wriggled and scurried. Once and awhile, I enticed them to do more of this. I was curious about where they swam in the water column, but not concerned that they cruise at bottom where they try to get under rocks or whether they swam freely. After all, if stripers were breaking water on occasion, it didn't seem best the eels swim deep. Somewhere out there in the vicinity we fished, the river is 35 feet deep. I've always felt this is probably excessive for stripers, but where I placed most of my casts last night, I hooked and fought a striper almost 10 years ago. A very different style of resistance to a rod than any kind of catfish. When Oliver tried a shallow-swimming surf plug, I thought it an interesting idea.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

How did the Ayn Rand Institute get my Mailing Address?

I-78 Exit 7. Highway 173 begins to uncoil. "I Keep Holding on," Ambrosia, completes as Warren Glenn Road unfurls on my left after a mile. Motion feels smooth as the low register of a French horn, and I wouldn't be surprised if one of the band members plays the instrument. They had performed with Leonard Bernstein at least once. I reach into my stacks stuffed in the driver's door and come up with my Outlaws c.d., load it, and select track 5."Green Grass and High Tides."

Through Finesville, into Riegelsville, I listened to what Tom Breen, during the 1980's, named our Clammer's Anthem. Tom and I had shared a house in Brant Beach or Ship Bottom during spring 1987. I lived in so many houses and apartments and rooms on Long Beach Island, Cedar Bonnet Island through which the Causeway channels, and Manahawkin on the mainland side of the bay during my 13-year adventure, I can no longer place each rental. Breen had enrolled at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, but absconded for the free-spirited and self-employed Long Beach Island and bay life. He wasn't the only Navy man among us. My 1983 and 1984 Surf City housemate, George Cunningham, served in the Navy for a number of years as a scuba diver. He came to Long Beach Island for some of the same reasons as had Breen. George summed his motive in one word. Freedom. 

George read literary classics. His favorite wasn't a classic I would have read at St. John's College, situated across the street from the Naval Academy in Annapolis and dubbed "the American Oxford," where I enrolled during the spring 1982 semester. Kon-Tiki by Peter Mathieson is the true story of crossing the Pacific by raft in 1947. I happened to read The Snow Leopard by the same author--about a soul-searching Himalayan quest--during my March and April 1984 Appalachian Trail hike from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Hot Springs, North Carolina. 

But about The Outlaws. The Outlaws achieve, to my appreciation, a very interesting evaluation. "Green Grass and High Tides" suggests an author I take very seriously. During my second stay in Surf City, this time with George and comprising almost a year of my Island adventure's early period--I came in 1980--I had my most inspired encounters with Friedrich Nietzsche, who I began reading in 1981. The Superman idea is part of the philosophy, but Nietzsche actually names the possibility the Overman. It entails mankind beneath Nietzsche's hero and serving him, a notion that always struck me as absurdly un-American. But the Outlaws' refrain line about kings and queens bowing and playing for the implied hero of "Green Grass and High Tides," I feel amused by this.

Early in 1986, a brochure from the Ayn Rand Institute based in California mysteriously arrived in the mailbox at my front door. I had never sent them any of my contact information; I'm very sure of this. The brochure loudly proclaimed that Nietzsche's Superman idea is NOT....well, whatever were the words, not a good idea. Because, the brochure stated, it's socialist. I've lost the brochure along the way of my travels. Whether or not Nietzsche was socialist, for me it's that simple issue: Imagine you, my reader, in service to me. What more need be said? Nietzsche's notion is ridiculous.

If you read Nietzsche, though, perhaps the only way you would ever imagine him as socialist targets that sense of him as effete despite his work--for the most part--roaring, as if in epic paean style to greatness and vitality. I never did imagine him socialist. And the ARI's loud proclamation seemed absurd.

But there is more to say, coming from another philosopher, for whom that Institute I've named stands. Ayn Rand claimed that man adjusts his background to himself, a notion which, without more detail deduced from the broad grasp it implies, might be almost as ridden with error as Nietzsche's idea. If I simply adjust my background to myself, this seems to include you, adjusted to me. But if my background cannot possibly be your background--this makes sense--then we're fair and equal. But Rand never makes such a distinction to clear up any possible confusion. Typically, she makes broad, sweeping statements. Like a bipolar woman on a manic trip.

By the time I post this story, it will have been yesterday when I was on my way to Riegelsville, Pennsylvania, where, two years ago, my wife and I ate at the Riegelsville Inn. (I shot the photo of the Inn, above, before crossing the bridge to return home.) My destination Mueller's General Store. Eels awaited. So I hoped. I had phoned a second time the day before and was assured.

There I parked, slung out my camera, got a photo. Bagged the camera, went in. "American Woman," the original version by the Guess Who, began to grind. Song I loved as an 11-year-old and still have a liking for. I thought of Rand, also a novelist, whom I took seriously in my early and mid-20's. Conflicts with her presence in my life have continued since, though for the most part, now this is evened out, and the song was a recollection rather than any stormy confrontation.

But frankly, I don't know how that brochure from ARI got to my front door. Maybe I am mistaken. Maybe I mailed for information or subscribed to the Intellectual Activist. But I distinctly remember feeling completely baffled at the time it arrived in the mail. The Guess Who shouts at American Woman, telling her not to come hanging around the door of the assumed man in the song. He don't want to see her shadow no more.

I bought nine eels. Nine to about 16 inches long. Drove home, listening to some of the rest of the Outlaws. I heard my second favorite song, "Hurry Sundown," and though I know the musical and lyrical quality doesn't measure against my upbringing--my father is Director Emeritus of the American Boychoir School--I still like the song and have my personal reasons.

"How do you like my pets?" I said to my wife as I opened the cooler, took hold of an eel, and held it for her to see as it coiled and uncoiled. Laughter.

Oliver Round and I fish a dark bank of the Delaware miles from mainstream civilization until about 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Striped bass, I hope. And for Oliver's sake--flathead catfish. Last I heard from him, he's catching some bluegills to keep alive and use for bait. Flatheads have got very big in the river. I guess 20 or 30 pounds--at least--is possible. I caught a nine-pounder in 2008.

They are not scavengers. Live bait is--almost--the only way. Mine did take an eel that had died. I baited an extra rod and just lobbed the eel out there, where it settled to bottom about 15 or 20 feet down. This was at the beginning of the game that evening, before sunset. I also hooked and lost a striper.

Don't sparkle striper eyes with a lantern or fire. We had a lantern burning after midnight, and when the striper got close to the bank--and that light--it took off on a run so powerful I could hardly believe it. Pulled the hook free.

Mueller's General Store

Common Roadside Attractions. Chicory (blue) and Queen Ann's Lace.

An old Riegelsville, New Jersey, station. Riegelsville, Pennsylvania, is directly across the river.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Lehigh River Smallmouth Bass, Crappie, Musky

I didn't know Pennsylvania's Lehigh River flows to the south of Interstate 78. Cramped for time, I snatched directions off the web and set out on an equally distracted ride west, finding myself in the middle of some neighborhood at least 10 miles west of Easton, not any sort of river or stream nearby. Not surprised--because I know web directions and GPS units alike shouldn't be trusted--I headed to U.S. Highway 22 for Easton. I use a flip phone and have no interest in upgrading. Nor did I bother with a map and I didn't need any. I own no GPS. I figured I could have continued north on 512 to cross the river, but it didn't feel right to turn north, instead of south back to U.S. 22. Committed to 10 eastward miles, a highway halfway to Easton tempted me to go north, though I wasn't really sure if this effort would result in what I wanted, but if the Lehigh flowed northward of 78, surely this fast paced four-lane highway 33 would cross it. I passed Stockertown (felt humor over the name) and wound up beyond the Wind Gap 12 miles north of where I began. Big mountains with only wind getting between. So I turned back to highway 22, drove on into Easton, and within some minutes, rode along the Lehigh River.

I must have driven three or four miles before finding a pullover. Here the river flowed slowly, as it had this entire length. Not promising. I walked the edge with my black Lab, shot a couple of photos for good measure, rounded up Sadie, and drove on. A mile or two later, I found Riverside Park and some riffling water. Down by the river, we began to head upstream as here and there I fished a paddletail swimbait, focusing especially on edges between swift current and slow water, also plumbing relative depths of eddying current, but the flow in either case was not very deep.

As we walked and waded the river's edge, alternately using a trail up on the bank when things got tricky, I wondered about the sound of roaring water upstream. All this time, I didn't feel well. In fact, very shortly after I began fishing, the second or third cast, I wondered if I was going to quit. But I had told myself before we set out--by writing in a notebook I keep in my car--that those of us who achieve glory in life invariably get tested by the opposite. I concluded: "That man who does not submit is a fool." (Who does not submit to the tests he cannot escape, except by suicide...but what would happen then?) Now only minutes later, I had forgotten about the words I had written. I was left to the mercy of my habits, and since I guess for the most part they're good habits, I bore down to gather my strength and went onward.

A big dam eventually came into view. Aha. That sound of roaring water. We got up on the bank and found a paved trail leading that way. After at least a half mile's walk in total, I cut off the pavement onto a trail leading down to the river and saw good-looking water for fishing, having--I felt--arrived upon destiny, feeling that uplift of mood telling me life will be worthwhile--normal--after all.

My third or fourth cast, I hooked a small bass that got off, and almost at my feet as the cast completed, a long narrow shadow came up behind the paddletail in the shadow-enclosed water. Sure this fish was a little musky, I got a better view as I pitched the lure back it's way, and when I saw it strike, I was even more certain the fish was a little muskellunge of about 16 inches. I missed that strike, but kept working the swimbait by its indifferent nose, until after a minute or two, it leisurely descended out of sight. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stocks the river with muskies a little smaller, which attain great lengths of 50 inches or more. They're not common, but in the river.

I snagged and broke a paddletail off, repeatedly cast and retrieved another higher in the water column to no avail, so again I let the lure drop, risking its loss by working slow and deep. Something added weight to the line and I reared back, felt sluggish weight, and then I felt a fish throbbing and--suddenly--brisk, line-straining resistance. Those tell-tale bulldog jabs. (A smallmouth bass lets you know it exists.) This one wasn't big at 12 1/2 inches. The drag on my reel had yielded, but such is the nature of an average bronzeback. I measured the fish be sure: I had paid $26.50 for the day's licensing, and my wife likes smallmouth bass for dinner. When Old Bay seasoning is added liberally. And by the way, the fish was absolutely delicious!

Maybe a half or more later, I caught the crappie. Best I can judge, most of this species--black crappie, I think--are above the dam in the implied slow water above that dam I estimated at 13 feet high. I never had a look. I released this fish, unsure if it was quite keeper size, not knowing the rule on this type. I fished somewhat into dusk, losing a total of four of my paddletails to submerged rocks, the entire remainder of my package of the smaller size, and I refused to tie on one of the larger I prefer for stripers in the New Jersey Meadowlands. They're more expensive, but especially, more useful to me for that Meadowlands reason. I cast an X-Rap and thoroughly enjoyed keeping level control of the plug while imparting frantic rhythms. Nothing ever hit it. That water must be eight feet deep or so out there below the falls. An X-Rap won't get down more than four. Above all else, I had become much more of my own self again, which daily drains at labor on the job steal from me six days a week. I had become free. Freedom is never a given. It is betterment that must be fought for. And though my half-mile effort up the river really wasn't much, it was infinitely better than had I given up.

Life in our society today with its cramped and uncertain economy, its loss of purpose and values, is a sickening and fearful demise that seems to test us all. America is the freest, noblest nation which has ever existed, and I just heard these words paraphrased by my friend Santiago from Paraguay, while I sat and enjoyed a beer with him minutes before I continued writing this post. We are the pinnacle of glory. At our best. When I saw white water flowing over that dam from a distance, I didn't feel elated, but I did feel a hint of relief. I recognized possibility, though I did not yet feel it. The catch wasn't much, compared to other outings. And yet, until the hook grabbed on that third or fourth cast, I felt as if the river would remain naked to me like an unclean vagabond. The destiny I felt upon arriving upon the spot at the dam, I felt this would be limited to getting some good photographs. But we never know until we have completed a full effort.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


Well into summer, Laurie at Dow's Boat Rentals reports Knee Deep Club's hybrid striped bass derby saw an eight-pound, four-ounce winning fish and many others over seven pounds. Don't say they can't get caught during summertime. Last week, a rainbow trout nearly two pounds got caught. That's unusual with lake stratification, cold water down where no oxygen remains present, but it does happen. I don't know of any trout caught in August, though. Otherwise, a number of walleye as large as over seven pounds have come to the scale recently. Laurie also says a number of largemouths as large as five pounds, three ounces have recently come in, as well as that numerous smallmouths have been caught.

Closer to home, my son, Matt, caught a six-pound largemouth around graduation time while fishing with a friend, Jason, who caught another slightly better than five pounds. That wasn't on Hopatcong but a local pond. They caught eight smaller, also, but neither have fished since I took Matt to Aeroflex, what with partying, going to the shore...and their jobs.

Fred Matero caught a pool-winning fluke on a fairly recent Jersey venture, but I don't recall exactly how big. Nice one, though, and congrats!

Lenny Matera, from what I can assume, has not caught a fish all year. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Andy Still Wins Rutgers Sustainable Raritan Award

(Photo care of Andy Still.)

If you want to see hardcore environmental action at work, I urge you to go to Save the Raritan River on Facebook. Like the page. There you will see scads of photos featuring what Andy Still and the Central Jersey Stream Team do. Tons of junk they remove from the Raritan River System.

I volunteered once last year, gathering tires and shooting photos of the event I hope I can yet get published to give the efforts some more profile. It's only because I get no time off on weekends and only day off mid-week besides, that I haven't volunteered this year. It might look like a lot of strained labor--and it is true; they work hard--but everyone has a good time together.

Andy Still puts in his time on the river and online. He is a 2017 recipient of the Sustainable Raritan Award, given by Rutgers Sustainable Raritan River Initiative.

I've never seen anything like it before, and doubt I ever will again. Andy and the CJST have worked at cleaning up the river week after week for years now. The amount of good one man, unfunded, can do is staggering. What other word describes the way anyone might feel who sees post after post of dozens of tires, here and there a refrigerator, engine manifold, mattress, and two cars removed with the help of Somerset County Parks, etc. come out of the river system. This world seems to be about collective agencies and massive funds, but history shows individuals always make the critical differences.

Andy Still in Action

That is heftly pay off for Andy's friend Ken (Photo care of Andy Still)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Yesterday was a good day off from the job, and the point of the previous post is relevant but seems to downplay ambition. I later felt as if I had denied its need. Of course, a day off spent relaxed can make me feel that way, but speaking for myself, life isn't easy and I hope I bring this life to a better self-establishment before I "retire." (I plan to keep on writing.) That's not likely, and if I don't earn enough royalties to finally let go of wage jobs, retirement will get me out of them anyway.

Many years ago at Hampshire College where all of us, students and faculty alike, labored under the motto "To know is not enough," attributed to ancient Athenian philosopher Aristotle, I received stellar evaluations for my first semester's work. Then I went to the shore for the summer, into my sixth year licensed as a commercial clammer, and felt a very deep affirmation for that work in the wild bays, the freedom of that self-employed lifestyle, and the depth of insight this life engendered. I went back for the fall semester and found myself completely at odds with the college program. In December, I took a leave of absence, booked an apartment in Beach Haven, struggled to decide whether or not to return to college...and after a month of back-and-forth, withdrew my enrollment. I did earn an Associate degree--Liberal Arts--at Raritan Valley Community College, 2006.

I had gone on clamming until 1993. When I returned to mainstream America, I had no degree, no regular employment to claim on a resume. Pretty much no more than a social security number. I asked myself what I had for any woman to feel any interest in dating me. One of my many notebooks bears the answer. "Language." She would have to be intellectual, of course. She would have to be this in any case. Actually, I found I had more than words, as my wife, Patricia, was attracted to my family's musical endeavor. My father is now Director Emeritus of the American Boychoir School.

Finding employment wasn't difficult. I built up a resume and by 2001 landed a good job in Operations with New Jersey's largest credit union. They eliminated my position in 2015, and since then, I've found work, but not corporate work as was my former job and I yet hope to find. It won't be a job involving long driving distance every day. Such jobs have vanished not only from the credit union I worked for.

I have to pay for the freedom I enjoyed in the past. Clamming paid well. But of course, it couldn't last, not in an honorable way fitting a man with the family background I have and the need of social connection a writer depends on. My dad was trenchantly emphatic. He wanted me out of clamming long before I left the Island. It's why I've worked wage jobs ever since. But better than pay for that freedom as if it were a sin, maybe it can yet inspire my best written work. And any of you who read this blog regularly, you know I express connection to the wilds and account for them not as something other than the real world, but as essential to what the real world is. I was deep into the wilds before I went to the shore, but those early years and the shore ensure days like yesterday relieve me of job hardship.  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

River Respite

Last Thursday or Friday, I saw the local river--North Branch Raritan--flooded almost to the edge of its banks. Last year's drought is long gone. Today it flows clear and neither low nor high. I went over with my black Lab Sadie and my camera bag. I had thought last night of bringing my 2-weight fly rod, but I didn't wake up until 2:30, having stayed up last night until 6:00 a.m., writing. So this would be a shorter jaunt and that it was. I wore the Simms wading boots I love, got in the water and carefully negotiated my steps among stones, finding here and there an image to capture with the Nikon, which certainly should not take a dunking. I still managed to get over to the condo association pool for laps.

I recently visited posts from last year, particularly those about the river. I enjoyed catching little sunfish on that 2-weight. I caught a trout on June 21st over here at the AT&T stretch, the popular Zoo abandoned. Once the stocking trucks stop coming, the only other visitors I see, they pass through on the Hike & Bike Trail. Most of all, photography compelled me. And it did today, though I'm keeping the shots for my files. I hope to get a book of Raritan River System photography published 10 or 15 years from now.

I'm a dreamer, but I know something of how hard it is to convince people with the means to publish such a actually do that. I believe the most important thing about dreams is the happiness they bestow in the present. You find they're not "dreams" (unreal), but life experiences without the clutter and hard edges of simple obvious stuff. To merely use experience valuable as an end in itself as means towards something "great" like a book's publication, is to miss the point of living.

My photo files aren't there just to serve my ambition. Once and awhile I enjoy viewing them.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Delaware River Smallmouth Bass: Summer Approaches

Summer Smallmouth Bass on the Delaware River

By Bruce Edward Litton

          During summers the past decade, I’ve taken my family float tripping on the Delaware River. Me, my son, his uncles, and also friends never failing to catch plenty of smallmouth bass. Warm water means smallmouths gorge on a smorgasbord of forage, including crayfish (especially molting), hellgrammites, other insect larvae, hatched insects, terrestrial insects, leeches, nematodes, other worms and a whole host of forage fish. Unlike summer largemouths, smallies fiercely hit lures or bait throughout the day, but if you’re keen on a big one over three pounds, the hour around sunrise and sunset makes a difference for wise old fish.

          A wide variety of river habitat holds Delaware smallmouths in quite abundant numbers, the average size about a pound, fish over two pounds fairly frequent, a bass over three pounds an unusual event, although until the state record seven-pound, two-ounce smallmouth came from Round Valley Reservoir, the record held at six-pounds, four-ounces from the Delaware. On occasion I hear stories of six-pound smallmouths getting caught. While plenty of bass come from shore or by wading, float tripping involves classic river outings. Primitive camping is allowed some places along the river, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area permits available. If you don’t own a canoe or kayak, rental agencies exist, and arrangements for inflatable rafts work also, just be sure to bring a 10-pound mushroom anchor to make fishing more efficient.

          Floating for smallmouths involves pace. Anchoring allows thorough coverage of a promising spot, and catching as many as half a dozen bass before action fades happens frequently. Newcomers to floating should keep river mileage to a minimum and get a feel for how long they like to linger on spots. We’ve rafted as many as seven miles in about eight hours, taking a leisurely lunch onshore. A southerly wind, however, challenges headway especially for rafters but even canoeists. Typically, we take our time doing about half that distance I mentioned.

          The closest the river comes to real wilderness in New Jersey locates Sussex and Warren counties as perhaps the best smallmouth bass fishing, but Hunterdon and Mercer counties offer very good fishing for bronzebacks all the way down to Trenton. Introduced to the river’s fishing just north of Trenton during my middle teens, as soon as I earned my driver’s license, I started fishing with friends north of the Water Gap, but I fished successfully around Titusville, Lambertville, Bull’s Island and Byram in Mercer and Hunterdon also. In recent years, the Phillipsburg and Belvidere areas have proven their worth.

          Everywhere myriad river structures hold bass, but during the summer months, the best spots situate between the heads of strong rapids and deep holes or slow stretches well below the fast water. Current seams and eddies with depths of six to 10 feet complicated by boulders—smooth and jagged—give bass staging points to ambush forage awash in flow. Crankbaits such as the Storm Hot ‘n Tot, Flatmaster Tournament Series EBS, Bandit Mid-Range and Deep Diver among dozens of other choices all produce in a variety of colors, although for sunny days, I prefer chrome finish to provoke reaction strikes. Cast upstream and especially fish directly downward along seam edges, where bass anticipate forage coming to them.

          Very effective for the same sorts of spots and deep holes, jigs allow a subtler approach, and after I catch an eager bass or two on a crankbait, I like to grab a second rod and fish very close to the subsurface eddies and seams boulders create. These less obvious meanderings of current hold picky bass loyal to little lairs, and during the middle of the afternoon, the biggest bass may be least likely to lurch away from staging spots to charge a crankbait. Get a jig right on the nose and you may catch a reluctant taker. Berkeley Gulp! Leeches prove extremely effective as trailers for eighth to quarter-ounce leadheads.

          Thousands of boulders and rocks have space underneath them to protect bass either wary or eager to ambush. We’ve caught jet-black smallmouths from slow stretches two feet deep; from riffles and mid-size rapids; from seams and eddies and from the hidden mystery of deep holes. Each of these camouflaged fish shot out from darkness to take the lure. Slow stretches with just enough current flow to make the water surface look appealing often hold quite a few bass you can’t see because they hug the rocks or hide beneath.

          Many of the transitions between stretches you may float will be shallow. I’ve never lost the thrill of innocent surprise catching bass as we pass boulders left and right with barely enough water in the eddies behind to cover bass’s backs, and it seems as if every summer we catch a few of these fish with no thought to anchor. Rapala floaters will catch bass in shallows—whether of riffles, eddies behind rocks or of slow stretches---but as we rough and tumble quickly downstream towards slower water, we just toss eighth-ounce jigs about. And sometimes we don’t have to cast. We just pitch the lead behind a rock as we pass and pull the bass aboard. (These fish have always weighed a pound or less.)

          In contrast to sun-heated shallows, the best deep holes on the river drop off from steep shale ledges. Some of these underwater cliffs develop concave shapes from current erosion, and bass position in the shade. Casting a jig right against the rock face and allowing it to fall to bottom may result in a hit on the drop, so keep the line taut enough to feel the tick if it happens, but not so tight that the descent angles the jig back towards you. If the distance cast were the same as the depth below, a tight line would mean the jig coming to rest on bottom directly under the rod. You want to fish against the wall all the way down, which requires an open bail and index finger control.

          Like jigs, Senko-style worms catch so many bass, it’s possible to fish nothing else all day. Light colors with sun, dark when overcast, fat-bodied Senkos five inches long cast far and get gobbled. Almost all of the river structures serve them. Some of the holes reach great depths and quarter-ounce or heavier jigs can plumb the very bottom, but Senkos sink fast unweighted and will prove effective as deep as about 15 feet. Casting far upstream of a deep belly and allowing current to carry the worm into the hole is a deadly imitation of forage at the mercy of the river’s sweep. Line control in such situations is not a straight affair, but by keeping six-pound test monofilament loosely taut, you’ll know when a bass takes. Just make sure to reel line and use the rod tip to judge a tight hookset.

         Longer six to seven-foot, medium power rods cast further than shorter rods of the same strength, though with some loss of accuracy. For crankbaits, a fast action tip is needed, which also helps with feel when fishing jigs and to work topwater plugs during the memorable magic hours early and late.