Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Round Valley Reservoir Trout End of the Year

Matt and I first tried fishing shoreline trout at Round Valley in November 2005, catching a couple rainbows, 15 and 16 inches long, in January the next year. I then had no idea where this simple fishing would lead, if it would go anywhere but for me to take my son once and awhile during the cold season. I was working for New Jersey's largest credit union as a courier, driving daily a 150-mile route through North Jersey. The job got especially interesting in 2009, when I started driving the Southern Route as well, alternating daily between the two routes, each about the same mileage. I became aware of opportunities to fish especially on this route new to me on a regular basis, though it didn't take me any further down state than exit 109 on the Garden State Parkway. One of these spots was Round Valley Reservoir, and by 2011, I fished here almost every other day on my lunch hour during the cold season, for trout. The experience became something beautiful beyond description in a blog post. I've written a book that devotes nearly a hundred pages to what I encountered, 300 pages in total, which I don't plan to publish, but revise as a book that will be different, though most of the words about Round Valley will remain intact. As it is, it's a worthy testament between my son and me. I sent it to him by email just before he left for Boston University this recent September, and he placed it in his document files to read. Sometimes I feel as if I live on such a thin tether that it might break, and if something were to happen to me, my son has this book. I don't tell him the likes, In case you never see me alive again; it's just the way I feel. Beyond this admittance, I don't make it anyone else's business to feel this way about me. It's the sort of inner malaise a lot of writers have to contend with, because by seeking what amounts to originality in so many other words, they've lost some connection to the sorts of everyday assurances that comfort most.

Today Matt, Fred, and myself, we hung out in bitter wind-driven cold, and the feeling of ordinary familiarity was a matter of course. Like us, I suppose, Fred had packed quickly and made the short jaunt from home easily, expecting us to either be there or be there shortly. We were 20 minutes late, but that seemed to make no difference as conversation kicked in and never stopped. We pretty much came to catch up on one another's lives. But when, a little unexpectedly--trout fishing in the cold is usually very slow at best--one of Fred's three rod tips dipped seconds after his Power Bait reached bottom in about 20 feet of water, I soon felt a touch of the past excitement in the middle of finding myself checking bait and casting it back out. Some of that passion I knew each time I came here on lunch touched me.

Fred fished the orange Power Bait and marshmallow and mealworm combinations. Matt and I fished shiners, since we're especially interested in any lake trout that might be moving in close with the bitter cold. I had told Fred we would stop at The Sporting Life for shiners and that he was welcome to dip his hand in the bucket. I did that repeatedly, and once took refuge in my car with the heater on full, hands shocked and reddened. Matt and I didn't think to bring gloves, since the fishing here is all too convenient with cars parked nearby.

If any lakers loom along these near-shore inclines, none let us know today. Anyone who wants to try for them should take advantage of this week's cold. With temperatures near zero in the mornings, I bet lakers will be there for anyone who wants to use a bucket ladle instead of bare hands. The park kicks you out at 4 pm, and as we packed it in today, Fred discovered that rainbow trout photographed on one of his marshmallow and mealworm lines.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Real Season

Serious, sustained cold--even single digits--forecast after Christmas Eve, it looks like real ice fishing and soon.

My son's on the train from Boston. I'm also hoping I can round up a few friends.

Real ice fishing defined--I like it when the ice gets thick and we have a season.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Zebra Midge

Wearing only a wool shirt to cover my upper body, vest over that, I distinctly felt a shift from the treadmill-like day in and day out of working, to slowing way down and minding my zebra midge. I try not to mean this as any complaint, since the pay is even better than my former credit union job, given some 50-hour weeks, time-and-a-half overtime and Sundays. And these days are going really fast, which is how I seem to like it, since I look forward to retirement in, say, nine years. I'm supporting my son at Boston University, and my wife says that maybe four years from now we can consider an alternative, but I'm very sure any alternative will depend on my earning some serious money from writing, which is unlikely, though despite working six days a week, I manage to get a lot done, and most importantly, hew a close line with regards to my plans. I know what it's like to lose the feel for them, and I don't like it.

This is Peapack Brook where I fished with my two-weight TFO, starting out by trying a strike indicator for the first time, that flying off to whereabouts unknown on my first cast. So I had a hard look at the instructions and managed to get three casts before the indicator hit the rod on a bad cast and flew off. That one lost also. For the next half dozen casts, I lost attention on my line, since I kept looking around for that float. A package of four cost $5.50 plus tax at Shannon's Fly Shop in Califon a week ago.

Then I settled in. Forgot about the indicators, and kept a keen eye on my floating line.

As you can see by the photograph above, that's a likely-looking hole for some wild browns. As a matter of fact, Jorge Hildago caught one nine inches long on a salmon egg intended for a stocker in April here. I took him out for his first trout success, when he performed extraordinarily well at catching many stockers....and that brown. I can only imagine there are a few in those five or six feet of water, but I must have cast five dozen times for nothing, just getting into the feel of simplifying experience for a nice change.

I also wonder about stockers. The stream supports browns year round, so why not holdovers, also? Back in the year 2000, I caught stockers in this brook in July and August. I haven't tried any summer fishing here since then.

The water's cold. I noticed some ice along edges at the second hole I fished, deep, maybe six feet deep under the bridge. Back at the dam, I had thought of Oliver Round's catching some half dozen trout, browns and a tiger, I think he said, on a cold January day on the South Branch, using egg patterns. I figured I should have picked some up at Shannon's, tied one on, and then tied tippet to the hook's bend to drop a zebra midge behind the color. If my son and I go fly fishing next month, I think we're making a pit stop. For strike indictor's too, and I hope I can get them to stay put. Trout will take a tiny fly so lightly this time of year. You never notice a twitch.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

They're Out

Yeah. On two inches of ice, a 32-inch northern pike, and a 24-inch pickerel, from Budd Lake.

And I got word from my prime source, referencing interest on Ice Shanty. I got my news from NJ Fishing.com. http://www.njfishing.com/forums/showthread.php?t=101077

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Pond and Cove Ice Maybe

There may be some ice fishing on ponds, North Jersey, this weekend. Some well-experienced guys might try some lake coves, though I don't want to be one to encourage that, and I think the sort who may do it don't need any. It will be interesting if I get any word about the likes. I always like to hear.

Noticed a pond mostly frozen over while driving home from work late this afternoon. Thin ice, but on the way to that three-inch mark, perhaps, before it will melt back, if the long-range forecast is correct.

Last late fall was like this. I got out ice fishing with Mike Maxwell on Budd Lake, five inches thick, on December 21st. After that, we never got out, and there was very little ice for anyone else. Whatever this winter brings, I plan on getting out a little. Ice or not.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Fish Code Changes

Big changes proposed for the New Jersey fish code. I finally got around to finish reading my November 2017 New Jersey Federated Sportsmen's Clubs News, most interested in the changes proposed by the Division of Fish & Wildlife. Just giving you a heads up. It's too much information for me to want to go into much detail. Here's a link: www.nj.gov/dep/rules/proposals/20171002a.pdf

My camera came back by UPS yesterday. I've had the fly fishing I haven't yet done in mind anyway, and if you want to fish Round Valley this winter, Fred, I can't promise our schedules will meet, or if there's time to go, but I never forget the time I was unloading when you drove in. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

New Jersey Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs is Central

New Jersey Federated Sportsmen's Clubs News Managing Editor, Oliver Shapiro, catches a Boston mackerel aboard the Last Lady II this past summer.

New Jersey Federated Sportsmen's Clubs News
recently published, in November, an article of mine featuring popular New Jersey bass angler, Steve Vullo, who runs the Fishing with Attitude Facebook site. I had interviewed him and completed the story with point-by-point quotations, writing "It's Never too Late for Bass," not to be confused with a Litton's Lines post a couple of years ago or so with a similar title. I urge any of you who aren't New Jersey Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs members to join, if the $25.00 yearly fee isn't too much to invest. The News is published monthly, loaded with first rate 1200-word articles, a few shorter pieces, and regular columns. Every time I get my issue, read and view it, I feel transported, not so much to wild places in our state, but to a time and place embodied by the sportsman's dedication that spans many years past and future, embarked upon today. The News really transforms New Jersey, and yet this quality is not only really there for more people than me alone, it recalls the same spirit of participation I felt as a teenager, when I didn't know about the Fed. Back then I was fueled by Field and Stream and Outdoor Life magazines, and I assure you that if you read these classic publications, still going strong with no sign of stopping, you won't feel disappointed in the News. One of the regular columnists, Rick Methot, was an associate editor at Outdoor Life, and Milt Rosko, who seems to get published in every issue, has been published in Field and Stream. Here's the link: http://www.njsfsc.org/

I mustn't fail to also mention Vullo and I performed yet another interview. Expect to find "Steve Vullo on Big Prespawn Largemouths" in the February newsstand issue of The Fisherman. For such an "overbuilt" little state, New Jersey really is central as far as word gets out on fishing. The Fisherman, with its corporate office in Shirley, New York, began some 50 years ago as The New Jersey Fisherman, and then expanded to encompass the Mid-Atlantic.

My teens could have been described as a quiet rebellion, since I took fishing much more seriously than school or anything else, but I never thought of myself as that. I recognized the centrality of the outdoors to America. It was more like school rebelled against me.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Fishing December

Now is that time after fall fishing action, when I wait with anticipation for some ice fishing. As far as I know, Dow's Boat Rentals have shut down rentals until March or April, but I've little doubt some guys still get out in their own boats to jig walleye. Now might be an interesting time for Atlantic salmon recently stocked--with plenty holdovers--in lakes Wawayanda, Aeroflex, and Tilcon. Of course, streams and rivers hosting wild, native, and fall-stocked trout get some attention this month, and if you want to catch any other New Jersey species--it is possible. I shouldn't fail to mention Round Valley Reservoir and the ongoing shorebound trout fishing, nor the Delaware and Raritan Canal as an option for pickerel fairly active in cold water. I used to catch pickerel in the canal at Lawrence Township through the winter on crappie jigs.

It's also the time to have mailed my camera in for repairs, since I just don't have much fishing on my radar until ice sets in, though, as I noted in the last post, I might fly fish. If I were willing to put up the effort, I could round up Mike Maxwell, the two of us loading my squareback onto my Honda Civic, and riding over to the Delaware River once again after last year's late November to try for walleye there. Action was so dead, I don't even want to think earnestly of asking Mike to join me on another attempt, but it is true: walleye will hit in the winter river. My brother Rick and I caught plenty during the seventies, floating my 12-foot StarCraft with an Evinrude 10-horse from the fifties. December.

Smallmouth bass will too. I've caught them wading the Delaware in December.

I actually like fishing this time of year. I just don't have the balls this particular year. Maybe fly fishing.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Round Valley Reservoir Structural Work Plan Disclosed

On November 14, 2017, New Jersey Water Supply Authority held the public information session I reported on in a previous post. The link below will take you to a pdf packed with the essential information presented for ease of understanding. There are diagrams that explain the project procedures, and much more in a full array of disclosure.

I still have a bucket of shiners on my porch, leftover from the South Branch Raritan River trips about a month ago with Mike Maxwell and then with Steve Slota. I've sort of hoped to get over to the reservoir, fish both these shiners and mealworms and marshmallows, but it's beginning to look as if I won't get over there until January, and if cold weather is severe, I'll use shiners exclusively, for lake trout.

Today, I mailed my Nikon D7100 to Nikon Service. The flash needs repair. I won't have a camera for at least three weeks, I suppose, but may do some fly fishing within a couple of weeks or so anyhow.


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Matt's First Big Shark

Night on Ocracoke 10 years after Matt's First

Matt’s First Big Shark

The 13-inch croaker I caught would serve as bait, cut into large chunks. Trish winced as I tried to ignite a lantern with wind blowing 20 knots, no use. Surf wasn’t heavy. Wind drove at our backs as we faced the waves. In darkness exposing stars we could almost reach and pluck from the sky, I heaved two fish finder rigs and piped the rods in sand spikes. One for our six year-old-son, Matt, one for me. We sat ready.

A long afternoon and evening on Ocracoke Island had ended, and we called it fair play to rely on a flashlight for this stint at night fishing, another beam from Lowes forgotten at the rental house. Having caught plenty of small pompano and cooking them in a pit for charcoal dug in the sand, Trish and I enjoyed a couple of microbrews bought at a specialty store in Ocracoke Village, all of this activity legal and feeling just as it should anywhere.

We sat in fold out chairs. Matt and I positioned right behind our rods. The cut bait soaked for several minutes before Matt’s rod lurched from the spike. He leapt from his chair, grabbed the rod above the reel before it could crab-walk to the suds, and slammed the butt into the sand with total determination. “Damn!” I shouted. Both of Matt’s hands near the gathering guide, he held the rod near his chest, its bend like a palm suffering Hurricane Andrew. Sixteen-pound test mono raced over his knuckles, drag squealing like laughter, but he was dead serious. Trish shot a look at me. Help him, you fool!

Matt gave me the rod. “It’s too big,”

“It’s your fish,” Our eyes met squarely as I took the rod and reel with light, gray-toned mono from Japan I prided, but now seemed too light to stop this fish. To insist my son put up the struggle would have felt absurd. If I could stop whatever kept plowing out to sea, we might beach a great redfish, I believed all too wishfully. That’s what I desired and imagined might be on the other end, but this was an August night, not November when great schools of drum frequent surf. I knew in my shaking bones I was fighting a shark—probably a sand shark, possibly a tiger, blacktip, or even a bull shark. All of these species represent reasons we get out of the water before the sun goes down. I tightened the drag just slightly, keeping stress on the fish by a strong curve of the rod. It stopped shortly before the arbor knot would break. I anticipated a very long heave-ho, beginning to pump the rod and gaining on the fish.

“Matt, you hardly sat down before you hooked it!” Trish said. She looked at me, and I could just make out her face. “Do you really think you’ll get it in?”

“I’m getting it in.” I gave her a haggling look, surprised no second long run had ensued, losing very little of the line I gained.

“What is it?” Matt said.

“A shark of some sort.”

“I hooked a shark!”

“Big one.”

I got the fish just outside the breakers and could not budge it any closer. After a minute of stalemate, it began heading north along the beach.

“I’ll follow it up the beach and holler when I need the flashlight,” I said.

“How are you going to get a shark out of the water?” Trish said.

“That’s what we’ll need the flashlight for.” I tried to sound fully convincing. There’s good reason for beach gaffs applied to the dorsal fin area, or a thick rope with a slip knot looping around a tail. But I was going to—very carefully—just try and figure this out. I could have nodded my head as if in false agreement with myself. Sure I will.

The bruiser heading to Hatteras, I steadily paced to keep up. A long while later at even longer distance, I watched the fading light of our flashlight. Sickly yellow. Low battery. I watched a few minutes later the light go out.

After brief silence, I made out the voice of my son screaming. “Dad! Dad!” For a few seconds, I felt a solemn moment between me and the great fish. Then I placed my thumb on the spool and let the line break. I turned and sprinted to my son and wife.

“You all right!?” I said.

Trish was laughing. “He thought the shark pulled you in.”


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thoughts from a Short Walk

My family took a short Round Valley hike early this afternoon, taking a right-angle turn east at the end of the asphalt leading to the water from the camping launch area. That edge is just in the water now, whereas last fall, dry gravel and sand extended a number of yards to the water. Reservoir remains plenty low, but it will fill in four or five years. after the structural work on the dams is done, not that they're leaking, but out-of-date.

Matt and his Mom stayed close together on the walk, talking politics, while I took in the scenes, felt gravel under my boots, and exercised with my D7100 Nikon. They got way out ahead of me with Sadie the Black Labrador. Just as well, because I can't keep up with those two on the state of our nation. In terms of politics, that is. At least the current events reflected upon from various news sources.

What a difference since September. The last I walked this shoreline, I was in bad shape. Not overweight and weak in the musculature; my energies were wrecked and misdirected, though the themes my mind processed from those energies were consistent and interesting in a sort of horrifying way. It was brave of me to go there and fish, trying to catch bass after Fred Matero informed me of some then recent action, but I really wondered if it would take me years to recover from what I suffered. As events turned out, I was almost back to normal four days later, and three days after that day of recuperation off from work, I was firmly back to life without fear.

However Edgar Allan Poe really died, I can just imagine him getting his brain circuits crossed in ways that took him over the edge, never to return, but to the best of my knowledge, he wasn't an angler. We anglers always find a way.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Nothing Lost

Sometimes I just say, "It's enough," and hope that later on there's time for some more. My son, Matt, is back from Boston University, and I had planned on us getting in on the striper fishing "busting wide open," as The Fisherman puts it. I had planned and prepared for us getting a shot at it this morning at Long Branch. I've felt many times that I've done plenty, but as we had turned around and drove CR 514 into Highland Park, I couldn't remember ever having chickened out. Stunts plenty, but abandonments? I still can't remember a single cop-out, but by turning back, I knew my personal commitment to my job is more important than risking it.

I meant to leave promptly at 7 a.m. We left at 8:00, and I knew about rush hour traffic on I-287, but I hadn't remembered how bad it typically is. We got through the two slow stretches; it was the very slow traffic headed back towards Bedminster that gave me the heebie jeebies. Matt found a calculation on this mobile device that indicated return time should be normal, but I just couldn't shake anxiety. What if, despite likelihood, we couldn't get home on time for me to get to work? And fish with that uncertainty on my mind?

We turned around at Raritan Center. I have to be at work by 3:00. This is no casual job I have, which would allow me to just call out. Not without repercussions I do not want to bear.

Point Mountain Trout Conservation Area will work on Saturday. Doesn't depend on a clearly undependable superhighway. As far as stripers go, spending a couple of hours preparing tackle last night refreshed my relationship to these fish. I definitely want to try again sometime, though I really have no idea when this might be. Could be a decade from now, before I catch another. I don't have many decades left to fish, so mostly, I feel the fishing we've done is satisfactory, but if you know me, you understand an obsessive mind may not actually be crazy, but it sure drives a body, as Tom Sawyer would say, towards stunts outdoors, for which maybe most people spend entire lifetimes without ever catching a glimpse of appreciation for what the value means.

Nothing lost this morning.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Trout, Stripers, Pike

Just got word from Jesse Sullivan that my notion of using four-pound tippet at the Point Mountain TCA is sound. That is, if my son, Matt, and I go there on Tuesday morning. The surf is bursting with bass right now, and....

I know a fly fishing guide from Montana coming home to Bernardsville for the holidays also on Monday. (I expect to see my son that evening.) Alex Rundella wants to fish, though we won't use his driftboat on the Musconetcong River. Seems to me, it's a real good choice for fly fishing Passaic River pike, but I have to be at work by 3:00 on Tuesday, and the Passaic presents too many unknowns at short notice for now. This is not to say we couldn't do it. You know I pull stunts It's just to say that whether I pull a stunt or not, I always play by my gut feeling. My moral compass is not in my neocortex. It's properly in my stomach. My center of gravity.  

Alex can teach Matt and I plenty on the Musky, but maybe we can point out a thing or two about stripers, though I wouldn't be surprised if he knows something over there.

Jesse says go with an egg or sucker spawn pattern, with a wd-40 or rs2 trailing behind it...or Rainbow Warrior or Frenchie with a wd-40, rs2, or zebra midge behind it.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Musconetcong River Improvements Expected

Clean cold Musconetcong River at the Point Mountain Trout Conservation Area

Central Jersey Trout Unlimited plans on restoring a section of the Musconetcong River formerly owned by a private fishing club. I imagine the site is somewhere near Asbury. Information on where exactly isn't available, gathering by my search, but the river as a whole--some of it designated National Wild & Scenic--is my primary consideration. If I stumble upon the stretch by hearsay or footwork, who knows, I might fish it with my son someday.

The unnamed club attempted to improve trout habitat by some agency or other, installing such structures as stone weirs and dams, which, instead of increasing catches, diminished the river's ecology by widening the channel, thus flattening the river bottom by increased sedimentation. Who Central Jersey Trout Unlimited will partner with to improve conditions, I don't know, but I have confidence in their plan, since I've seen a little of what restoration outfits have done. Work that holds its own over the years.

On the other hand, I watch what I see planned now, comparing this to what I might expect in the future--not as any expert but by what I've seen in nature--if what anyone might dub the resilience factor isn't high. Back in 2000, I caught a number of holdover rainbow trout during July and August from a Peapack Brook hole about six feet deep. Just about bottomless, let's say. Rather, deep enough to qualify, perhaps, for subtle groundwater release. Those rainbows were doing well, no doubt. After Irene or some other storm, that hole filled in with stones the size of basketballs overnight. Obviously, anyone involved in stream restoration anticipates the likes, and the agency designs streamscaping so the workers build and structure pools, riffles, holes and the likes with resilience in mind.

Here's a link for more information: http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?f=001KePGi2SG3bVxQHfjYTiVr5wbIVWtWO13bcBFKi7_M0es-AEqq3ywwohlIlV7uUbIQMFrfOovv2OBqSZEaQ3l4N3JGhZtAm7iHEAJigEUYLzJKC5xdZw2bbVCOL_1lxYwF_kO8AVc-fePSGFUJf014LcOyaWtvBrmIjkXJ4LAaifjBLtlGEbDPt42RXoz2TZ74VacDhA65MeK5vFRCW0vJg==&c=-B5tGgyucqC_WDMr5OVS9NublkPpNPE_3DPmAdtgsv0WqDnVakC4iw==&ch=9gRu0BzyTx7UxR_Iw4vWyUIdra6OdVKonaw-iNvVTu5jxt4-CrdzSw==

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday River Stroll

Have not visited the KLG (Ken Lockwoood Gorge) since about this time last year, though it seems much more recent. Today's outing was real simple. Patricia reads a magazine of that name. I first got 11 needed hours of sleep after going to bed at 9:30, fixed coffee to accompany a bagel with whitefish spread over butter, and got my camera bag just before we walked out, soon connecting with CR 512 from U.S. 206, and some 10 or 15 minutes later stopped at the bookstore in Califon, closed on Sundays. Now we know. Trish found it on her mobile device as we drove off, so she knows when we might return.

Having come in on Hoffman's Crossing Road, I drove past the spot where we parked last time, in April 2016, and where I parked again in November when I fly fished with my son. "Are you supposed to drive here!?" Instead of turning my head Trish's way, I continued to look straight ahead as I prepared to take it slow over a patch of ice covering the entire one-lane width. To my left, a steeply rising bank. To my right, pretty much immediately to my right, the bank steeply descended to South Branch Raritan River. "Yes," I said. The last thing I wanted to do was begin to slide down the slippery slope of explanation.

This is the first I've seen the old train crossing. There's parking here. A chain across the roadway immediately beyond.

We walked a half mile or so one way. I shot 67 photos, but best of all, I accompanied my wife on a walk that was, as I mentioned, a really simple outing, but rather than thin-feeling, substantive. Sadie got in the water a couple of times, air temperature about 34. I watched a couple of guys fly fish. Certainly, the river must harbor plenty of trout. I saw magic happen in a slow stretch during October a couple of years ago. More spring-stockers than large fall fish. Rising for tiny midges. Until the darkening of Magic Hour, there seemed no fish in that stretch, except a couple of obvious, large trout.

On the way home, I pointed out that this was CR 512 we traveled, the same route that leads from Far Hills into Peapack-Gladstone. Once again, as I had during another fairly recent outing, I asked Trish if she had any wherewithal about our location in relation to home and other places. Very little, but this time, her interest piqued. "I want to know this is 512." I wondered if she would actually ride out to Califon Bookstore, though something in me refused to press the issue, as if too delicate to do anything about but let grow on its own, as at least this unexpected turn of concern is something of a positive result from that last query about whereabouts I mentioned. Trish knows the local roads. And when we lived in North Plainfield, she figured out how to drive to U.S. 202 in Morristown to her workplace by convenient back roads; she can certainly make her way to that bookstore, if she wants.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

New Jersey Timber Rattlesnakes' Protector Honored

Photo by Matt Litton

Nothing else seems to remind me better of the value of the unique New Jersey wilderness, hedged about by dense human development, than timber rattlesnakes. A close second for me is the pine snake.

My son, Matt, has encountered and photographed both, but this post is less about the two of us, than it is about an honoree of the 12th Annual Women and Wildlife Awards hosted by Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey. Kris Schantz, a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish and Wildlife, biologist, was awarded the Inspiration Award, the DEP says, for her passion in developing greater understanding of the timber rattlesnake, while improving its protection. Among other professional interests as a biologist focused on creatures with ambiguous reputations, Shantz leads the Venomous Snake Response Team, which also serves the public by removing venomous snakes from where they may be a threat to society.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

First Skim Ice Soon

I got the news from Joe at Dow's Boat Rentals. Eighteen degrees coming Saturday morning. They were in a celebratory spirit at the shop, and I'm with them hoping for good business, because good business at Dow's means ice fishing this winter.

It also means my friends have a livelihood, and that's most important.

So this is the first of my sort of cryptic posts on the ice scene, following from the precedent I set late last fall, Mike Maxwell and I getting out on Budd Lake first day of winter, I think it was, and some guys out I think two weeks prior on ponds.

I felt cold again this morning, and I didn't like it. I felt summer gone and the onerous task of a winter, the chill of which tends to put me in depressed moods, some of these really difficult to get through, or at least they were so; I'm always trying to beat them in some way or other without relying on substances beyond cigarettes, and one of my maneuvers is to go out and face the cold while standing on what it halts.

My last break--a full half hour--was after noontime, and I stepped out into brisk air, and for just a moment, felt elated in the same way I feel when walking out onto a freshly frozen lake or pond with snow not yet covering. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Long after the Cowards have Gone Home

Matt Burke and I go back to Ben Franklin Elementary School in Lawrence Township, Mercer County. The second time we've fished together, this morning we departed for Lake Hopatcong under unlikely circumstances, since I had intended to show Mike Maxwell the fall fishing for more than a year now, but he couldn't make it. I felt a driven urge to get out on the lake once more this year, faced with the unlikelihood of finding a friend willing to go during the workweek, wasting no time at contacting Matt and getting a quick reply, all this within about 48 hours before departure from Bedminster at 4:50 a.m. He drove here from West Trenton more than an hour distant.

We unloaded at Dow's Boat Rentals almost an hour before the store would open. I had a moment alone, sitting on a big polyethylene crate, when I assessed my situation in the cold and dark. I felt perfectly comfortable and very naively judged no need to take more layers of clothing from my car. It's embarrassing, but for all of my 54 years outdoors, I still make mistakes like this. Sometimes I think I am carried off by deeper levels of prescience within me, as if a very brisk test of the elements today would be worth the experience, as if something in me knew this.

As always, Joe and Jimmy opened the shop early for me. Forty-five minutes early. Half hour. Around that early. I had meant to apologize for making their dog bark (possibly waking them), but had forgotten, so maybe we waited a half hour, but it didn't seem we waited nearly that long. Joe told us fishing was excellent over the weekend. Walleye, pickerel, largemouth bass, crappies, hybrid stripers. Fools we mortals be, at least my hopes rose, though Matt seemed soberly circumspect. Later I told Matt that excellent fishing doesn't usually persist. What goes up...comes down. And fishing has a way of peaking out very quickly, and then coming down hard. Nature is bipolar like this in every aspect. I knew all about this likelihood of fishing flopped, but when Joe enumerated the recent catches, I didn't think of the way things are. In any event, we headed out, and I guess it felt right to enjoy an illusion to get started.

I wanted to start where Jorge caught his walleye recently, so that's where I pushed the outboard out of gear and turned on the fish finder, finding that it refused to offer any more information than a water temperature of 55. "If I can't get this thing to work, we can't fish here. We'll have to fish that spot in close over there." That spot is a nice drop, but I was really set on this mid-lake shelf with 10-foot depths on the shallow side, 45 deep, and felt alarmed at my relatively new technology reduced to a circuits askew, but suddenly, after I fiddled blindly, it worked. Until then, no clear idea where any of this all-important drop-off was would have helped, and more specifically, I needed to find the right-angle bend I especially like that leads towards the drop by the island I know thoroughly.

There were fish right there under the boat all over the place. I recognized immediately--the bottom was flat, 43 feet deep--that we must be yards from the drop-off's bottom edge. Schools of herring like mid-summer cumulus clouds, and dozens of fish filling out the largest icons on the graph (big hybrid stripers) and on those schools of forage defied my expectations. "Drop that buoy over the side," I said. It would mark these fish for reference as we would drift in the breeze. And as we drifted while I frantically baited hooks, the buoy quickly seemed insignificant, since fish kept marking. I felt as if Lou Martinez might have had it right after all in an article he wrote for New Jersey Federated Sportsmen News, which I read earlier this year, speaking of 80-day hybrid striper catches. I've seen it happen once, though the bass were only two and three pounds--until after we left and got a cell phone call from across the lake. Four- and five-pounders came over Marty Robert's gunwale, until Joe Landolfi and I got back to that school he found, and they had dispersed. Marty might have caught a hundred total, but it was probably half that amount.

Now just getting those hooks baited felt absurdly involved. How waste a minute of this action? It wasn't happening yet. For all I could really tell, the bass were just cruising with the herring and not eating any. You don't catch fish the way you can pop quarters into a soda machine. We drifted live herring and shiners weighted by 3/4-ounce slip sinkers at the depths the fish showed on the graph, and after a minute without takers, I felt my pie in the sky crumble like the liver cat food between my fingers I would soon use as chum to try to get these bass interested.

It was a hardscrabble morning. With my insouciant attitude regarding the usual state of affairs on this lake, which involves taking my time and methodically and thoroughly fishing drop-offs to catch two or three, maybe four, really good-sized fish, I felt as if we should be catching what was right under us, but it just wasn't happening. I managed to get lines tangled, and though I managed to get them retied in sane amounts of time, it almost felt as if we were cheated, but I recognized my own gullibility and slowly worked myself back to things as they normally are out here, submitting to the strenuous act of keeping four baited lines on bottom with bails opened, including frequent checks to make sure live bait was still on the hook, line wasn't tangled around a barrel swivel, or that live bait had become dead bait. Above all else, my enjoyment of this madness came home, if you might want to think of a big cold lake as a home, and I shared what I could of it with Matt. Chaos had struck in the beginning, as if it really would be chaos with five- and seven-pound striped bass coming over the gunwales, and now that I imparted order, life felt good. Such is the godlike episode of a cold day fishing as November falls towards winter. But really, any of these days are filled with human folly throughout, and it's only stories that make them seem otherwise.

Before any greatness would be fulfilled, Matt had to catch that four-and-three-quarter-pound walleye photographed. (Weighed at Dow's later.) This broke the tension, and without that fish, the day wouldn't have felt half as good. And it wasn't easy feeling good. Submitting to strenuous acts of fishing maneuvers was absolutely needed in the face of submitting to temperatures in the 30's with a brisk breeze...as I found my winter coat baggy. I've lost 65 pounds since I fit in this coat! Underneath, only a Woolrich plaid. No base layer underneath. Not even cotton. Matt's mid-body stayed warm, he told me, though his hands and feet got cold. Other way 'round for me. "You were shaking," he said after we got off the water later. And through the last hour or two, my speech was broken, too, but spirited anyway. We caught a catfish, a bunch of yellow perch, and one of those perch I reeled in got attacked by a muskellunge about 40 inches long. It never got the forage between its jaws, but swooped in my full view below the gunwale.

It's a funny thing about some madmen. They're affected by whatever seizes them, but their attitude remains productive. "Never give up," they say. And they succeed, not in spite of their folly, but because they exercise it long after the cowards go home.

1980's Penn reel I used today and with Jorge.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Good Reason to Suffer Rigormortis at Work

It wasn't that bad, but could have been. Never give in to getting tired, not if you need to get things done.

Steve pulled into the lot in front of my family's condo 10 minutes early, still pretty much dark. I had just finished a cigarette. Smoking I used to hide from everyone. I've mentioned the awful habit in one other post, and right now on the table supporting this laptop is a well-crafted nicotine vapor tool. My wife never has agreed to my smoking, and effectively confronted me about it recently. My well-reasoned fear involves the habitual comfort. Take that away, given my work stresses, and how can I function up to par? Deal with withdrawal on top of how hard it is now? I've quit many times before. I know what it's like.

At least with the vapor, I can cut back on the tar. I'll need a real cigarette on occasion. They not only really can be a pleasure, they are medicinal to a degree....at least to people addicted. They help put me in a meditative mood for a moment. Just enough time to get an idea I need, for example. What medicine won't kill you in the long run? Just listen to the ads on TV.

If, statistically, intellectuals don't smoke more than other groups of people, there certainly is some glamorization of smoking among us. One of my Great Courses professors said that he smokes and doesn't believe cigarettes are anything nearly as dangerous as the popular culture fears. My innocent son, who decried cigarettes as a young boy as if they are the embodiment of evil, has read many books since. And one afternoon this spring I found him smoking a cigarette outside our condo in a pleasant natural setting. I never gave him any hell for it.

I see a lot of anglers smoke, too. There's something natural about smoking. Ask a native American.

We got live shiners at The Sporting Life on U.S. 22 in Whitehouse, then cut over to U.S. 202, going westward to Flemington, and then over to Neshanic Station. The same spot Mike and I fished recently. Walking in, frost was distinctly white. (Walking out little more than an hour later, we didn't notice any.)

South Branch Raritan River water felt warm, but it was losing degrees quickly. Towards the end of our fishing, I said that if it were a warm morning--like yesterday's at 55--we would have caught more bass. Maybe. I caught a 12-incher on my first or second cast about eight feet deep. Smallmouth. Steve had one hit.  

Friday, November 3, 2017

Not Fade Away

Before I slip out the door at sunrise to fish with Steve Slota, some short follow-up on grand affirmations and the troubling turning point--Not. It would be, if I weren't in the habit of making every problem an advantage.

When I was six, my father bought me Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. He was very well on the way to his world-class career as a musician, and in love with the Beatles. As a matter of fact, he held a rock concert--all Beatles music--at Christ Church Cathedral Indianapolis, Indiana. A conservative columnist for the city's big newspaper accused him of being communist for this act. In short, that's how I got to Jersey. Why my original family came here.

Rock music--communist. Laugh out loud.

My favorite song on that album, "A Day in the Life," features John Lennon crooning, "I'd love to turn....you....on....." Yesterday, I wrote about grand affirmations achieved outdoors as actually having the power to do this. In subtle ways.

Well, maybe sometimes not so subtle, but whether or not is hard to tell, more often than not. Anyone who has felt a contact high knows that the esoteric meaning of this phrase--getting a rush from someone else who is high on a drug--is far from the limit of the phenomenon, because we all know--at least any of us who has any empathy--that one individual's emotion affects others' in the room or beside the pond or whatever.

So when you come back from the Big World--the world Outside--after it has taken you into its womb and given you a new birth, all in an afternoon, you're larger than life at least for a little while. You walk back in through the door of our American civilization and transform it. Give it a breath of reality, which it always needs as much as any of us needs natural air to breathe.

Air's natural anywhere, but does, in fact, go stale behind closed doors.

Don't think I'm fading. That's what clam treader Barry Franzoni used to say of any of us clammers if we quit for the day too soon. My son's gone away, but I'm still here.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Turning Point

Saturday's post didn't get to the gist of the recent Lake Hopatcong outing, but maybe my distraction is revealing in a positive way. Since 2007, my son, Matt, and I have fished the lake every fall, usually during the third week of October. That third week of October 2012, we flew to Missouri and then drove into southern Illinois to Shawnee State Forest, Snake Road, in search of new snake species we had never before seen and photographed. A very successful trip. But later that fall, November 17th, we got out on the lake.

Without thinking of Matt away at Boston University, no fishing the lake for us this fall of 2017, I started to think of inviting Jorge, back when we float tripped a length of the South Branch September 9th. He had expressed some interest in fishing Hopatcong sometime with his sons. I felt a deep desire to pass the torch that morning, but it never occurred to me until this evening to recognize this pivotal turn of events from one father with a son grown, to another with sons more and less the age of eight, the age of Matt when I first took him out of Dow's Boat Rentals.

Before the obvious occurred to me, that my feeling out of sorts with fishing has to do with the loss of my chief fishing partner, I was thinking maybe I can yet regenerate the connection with the lake before the year is out. I have one more trip scheduled before I might ice fish a couple of times this winter. But the post I wrote August 2016, "On the Big Pond with my Wife and Son," haunts me. What I called grand affirmations involve high level contemplative encounters through participatory activity outdoors. Fishing, in other words. Fishing became religion for me. For years. And then that day in August, as we rode back into Dow's just after sunset, I felt loss. It had been a wholesome good day on the lake, but as we chugged back, I felt as if I were leaving all of it behind.

Of course, I hoped it was just that particular day amiss. Looking back, I know it wasn't. Posts last year, some of them, reveal just a little of my job stresses. Since then, I've managed to get a strong grip on this, as yet, relatively new job in a Chef Studio. I began as a total greenhorn. But things have changed. My son is not only gone but grown up. To show a boy the world is not the same as to celebrate it with a young man. We certainly will fish again, but whether or not the innocence of these former glory days can ever return for me, this is less the concern than my telling you, my readers, that the likes remain possible for others who find it in fishing.

It's not only important to whomever may achieve such happiness. Grand affirmations include the surrounding world. They ultimately bring hope to others in subtle ways. I used to write a lot about going out, and then coming back refreshed--re-created as we say recreation--to function all the better at work and with family and friends. It makes a positive difference in a big way, even if all anyone else knows of it is very subtle.

So my knowing this, don't think for a moment I will abandon the quest. Things have definitely changed. But I will get out. And I can't predict what developments might yet await.


Monday, October 30, 2017

Type and Voice

I get on my high horse and write a post like the previous. Feels great, as if the air I breathe has an exquisite chemistry not available here below. I may not be the best at high styles, and I only imply any doubt because no one else has ever read my journals, and I like to make things seem mysterious sometimes, but if I'm not the best, and I certainly don't think I am, the point is, anyway, that I step down and write to you on levels even more frank and ordinary than this right now. Any writer can seem a real ass, because he takes language and tries to fix it in place by pen or some form of type, as if to lay down some kind of law, when everybody knows words are native by speech alone.

There I was riding on my Black Charger the other day, or so it seemed, and now that I try to make a little fun of it rather unsuccessfully, you might ask what's real and what isn't. Hemingway's conclusion to Islands in the Stream. I lived alone in Surf City, New Jersey. November 1982. Refusing to watch TV, only to read and write, besides treading clams, I did watch once. The movie version of that Hemingway novel. An ending absolutely unforgettable. The actor's deep voice as if Hemingway's own:

"It is all true."

Saturday, October 28, 2017

An American Fishery

To think of life as if it were a plotted novel is unrealistic, given the reality we each traverse--wild, chaotic, a plethora of unknown influences from which we turn to stories in a hopeless attempt to impart order on an existence which just is. If any of us were to strip from mind anything and everything comprising sense and meaning, we would confront an irreducible primary impossible to designate, and yet by an inexplicable miracle, absorb the fact that existence is. And if we were not to then proceed, naming this and that thing, we would certainly go quite insane. First principle: existence exists, which implies particularity, since nothing stands out--exists--except in a certain way. Already, we're interpreting reality and beginning to make up a story.

Problem is, things happen to us, regardless of how we attempt to have life our own way. I haven't yet written a successful novel, though I have one perhaps in the making, but given time and security to finish a plot that works, a novelist--I suppose--is afforded a luxury life can't offer, and his readers in turn: a self-contained story that works just so, even though the best novels allow interpretative takes upon the work of literature which may be potentially infinite, as philosopher Jean Paul Sarte, for example, noted.

Art in any form can fuel the mind with power to produce purpose and order in life, a function that works subconsciously more than at the conscious level. Not one of us is without personal preferences for art, because without formal images giving meaning to our desires, they could have no identity and direction. This "hopeless" life we each live gains an edge on chaos, though order attained will always slip under our feet as if something elusive cheats an entitled dessert. I still learn lessons about limitation. I can't control my life to degrees I often desire, but I am sometimes happily surprised.

Last night, I got home from work exhausted, and with what proved to be more than two hours of preparation yet for the day with Jorge on Lake Hopatcong. The alarm would be set for 4:45. I mentioned my destination offhand to my wife. Lake Hopatcong with a friend. She looked at me with surprise and told me she was going to Manhattan. Manhattan! Why didn't she tell me. My jealousy put her off a little.

"You don't communicate."

Well, she hadn't, either. I turned quickly to loading my car with what I had as yet prepared, and felt my energy gather just as quickly. It would be a good day on the lake.

Jorge had told me where he worked in April, but I confess a forgetful mind. For some reason more subconscious than known, I wanted to ask him again. He works in Manhattan. I've written in a previous post about my wife's plans--hopes more than plans, I think--for she and I to move to Manhattan when I retire. A studio apartment. I always think that if I were to earn the money, almost impossible, I would buy a boat, dock it on the Hudson, and besides pleasure cruises--fish, of course. Good striped bass, bluefish, some fluke pretty nearby. Great way to hang out with friends. Not to lose the main idea, of course not. The culture. Plays, Comedy acts. Museums. These seem to be Trish's big three. I think more of philosophical, literary, and photography organizations. I might not be the best mind to entertain, but maybe I can hold my own. Manhattan is a big city with powerful minds more than matching it. They make it work on all levels but the natural.

Lake Hopatcong was the typical fishery today, regarding what we caught: two walleye, five or six crappies, a perch, bluegills, a bullhead catfish, and a white perch. Kind of slow fishing, but involving enough action to pique interest and form some indelible memories. Jorge had never seen a walleye. The first we caught, mine, was small at little over a pound and quickly released. His was about three pounds, also released. His biggest crappie was a nice fish, regarding this smaller species. Catches accompany celebration because we manage to haul something to ourselves which matters. Always a struggle to some degree. Fishing is addictive not because it results in boons that grace the table, though it can and in very special ways--walleye is hard to find on the market, and you'll never find crappie, to the best of my knowledge. Fishing is addictive because there's no escaping the fact on a deep level that fish have food value. What we do is as ancient as the formation of our own species. Built-in.

After we came back in to Dow's Boat Rentals, Jorge clarified an issue about renting boats. For five dollars, he can waive the Boater's Safety certificate. So he may bring his sons out fishing, now that he has some first-hand lake familiarity, knows some spots. We anchored on four total. We were unloading the boat when he invited me for a coffee, if I knew somewhere to go after packing it all in.

"Sure. Jefferson Diner is a great place."

He treated me to lunch--a sandwich platter for him and a dozen steamed clams for me--and we hung out for more than an hour, conversing nonstop. Then we parted. He for Union County, me for Somerset County. On the drive down I-287, it occurred to me lunch was a little like Manhattan. Another level. A higher level. But a level impossible without the ground at our feet or the water under a hull. "Nothing without Feet on the Floorboards," as I named a post from early May this year. In another essay, I wrote about how outdoor experience replenishes life to meet opportunities later for higher levels with interest and zest.

There might be plenty to praise about a life lived at high levels, but there's no getting there for anyone--it's a privilege--without earning it, although this sort of effort always implies people holding up the structure like a foundation. I dislike people above who don't recognize the importance of people below, and I have in mind particularly a philosopher from the 19th century I will denounce in the next paragraph. I've always been a heady individual, but nothing else has compensated as valuably as getting back into fishing with my son more than a decade ago. It hasn't been easy for me as a wage earner to learn what low paid work is all about, since I come from a highly professional family, but it's just my preference that I wouldn't trade the knowledge I've gained for the B.A. I never completed.

Friedrich Nietzsche, that philosopher from the late 19th century, seemed to possess little more respect for the likes of me than to call us slaves. We live so the best can be happy, according to Nietzsche, not to pursue our own happiness. I don't presently think of a more un-American thinker than this German.

If my wife and I move to Manhattan, and today was auspicious in this way I mentioned of art affecting the subconscious mind and helping to organize life, I will not forget this post, nor will I reject the life I've lived as a wage earner, as if I should instead resent it in a rabid way similar to so much of Nietzsche's ranting.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Magic Hour

This evening resonated with the previous, as cloud cover continued eastward and sun came out, although by the time I had noticed after waking from a long nap yesterday, I knew it was too late to capture light reflected from the AT&T entry bridge over the North Branch Raritan River. Sun just about on the horizon. Today, I got home from work after getting up just after 5:00 a.m. for a long shift, and saw I might have time to make it. As a matter of fact, I had about three minutes, got four or five careful shots, and then cast a little worm imitation on my two-weight TFO fly rod.

 The river is low and very clear. Not a very prospective goal for anyone who wants to do better than spook fish. But the fact that I couldn't see any trout was at least a little in my favor. Shadows growing underwater. I tried a few spots, crouched low, giving each a couple of dozen casts or more, figuring that the longer I stayed there still and quiet, the more chance any trout would lose inhibition. Or come back to a holding position. Some of this water is about four feet deep. There has to be at least a few trout in this stocked stretch known as the Zoo. The moniker gives away its popularity as a fishing hole for people captivated by the passion. Places like this usually get stocked heaviest.

While I fished, I noticed the reflection of colored limbs in front of me. I've posted one of the results of my observation. The moment of grasping that I had other shots to compose--at least of this spectacle--was the inchoate movement towards what my Magic Hour became. When I set the rod aside, I felt freed. No. That's not to say I prefer photography to fishing. I tend to think preferences are more self-delusion than truthful. Anyone will discover he or she has a whole panoply of values, if he or she lets go of fixating on just a few.

For a half of my time total, the latter half, I felt exhilarated, well aware that I not only had felt exhausted after little sleep last night and 10 hours on the job; I was exhausted, but it felt real good to have gone into overdrive by exerting will to go and tread about the river in the first place, getting low and gritty now, becoming fully present by impromptu positioning of my tripod-mounted camera among lethal rocks in the near-dark. I experimented with the High Dynamic Range function of my Nikon D7100, and various aperture and manual settings for a number of subjects. I even got into one more hairy position that required careful effort negotiating a slope, only to find it too dark to read the Mode Dial of my camera. And too dark for this camera to focus from the best I could reasonably do.

Results I did get are interesting. I don't offer more for you to see because I'm still in a conservative phase, keeping my shots as if they'll get published. Keeping most of them as if a few of many might.

Beside that chilling river running through town, I had become aware of feeling for a moment the way I used to feel on New York's Salmon River in November. And then I knew that if not for the sudden cooler weather, I wouldn't have enjoyed this evening to today's degree. I felt as if I met fall for the first time this year, and it's almost November. The morning glories in my family's garden bloomed floridly. I noticed upon coming back home. The clouds and some light rain--and surely the cooler temperatures--kept them from closing before noon. Soon a hard freeze will kill them; this is as should be, and yet I wistfully want to see them blooming in November. Abnormally as this may happen, it will be amazing if this event comes true.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Roy Bridge

Took a personal day from work and rode up to the Valley & Ridge with my wife, stopping at Buck Hill Brewery and Restaurant near Blairstown for lunch, taking the road out of Blairstown to Millbrook Village--where we spoke to a number of people in early American costume--and driving onward to Buttermilk Falls where I engaged photography I found peculiarly difficult, though a few pictures might be good. Would be best to shoot here after rain for more waterfall effect. As you may infer from my photo of the Big Flatbrook, water is low everywhere. Except for the South Branch below Spruce Run Reservoir getting pumped out.

I found a spot to fish with my six-weight unexpectedly. I had thought it was immediately off NPS 615, but I found it off that road leading way back to the Falls. Water was so clear that four- or five-foot depths were laid bare to light and any trout must have hidden under whatever rocks. The Big Flatbrook stocked with 1710 trout on Thursday the 12th, there surely are a few in this hole, but a thorough casting practice yielded none, and we drove on to my favorite spot at Roy Bridge.

Here the situation was different. The run with six-foot depth underneath did not flow well enough to support my confidence, but I saw a riser in the riffle leading in. That fish began to make some commotion, and by the time I got into casting position, I side-armed a cast (with Wooly Bugger attached) that worked beautifully, emphasis on cast to suggest this sort of success, getting that olive Bugger directly in front of a trout with its back exposed, the water about two or three inches deep. I soon saw that's about all it is for now. Four or five inches in front of that trout, the Bugger couldn't be ignored, and the trout seemed to strike, but I reared back on nothing, and the Bugger got snagged high up in a tree. Before I could snap it off, prepared to go back to our Civic and retie, the trout darted by me--rainbow about 14 inches--and on down into that run I mentioned.

I tried the run again thoroughly, then moved up to the area of Roy Bridge itself. I cast to a few intermittent risers, though nothing seemed to be hatching--I'm no expert at hatches--but I did not go back to the car for my vest and dry flies. The water had virtually no flow, dead calm, and I guess the subconscious inference of just letting a dry fly be on a stationary surface dissuaded me from trying, though now I think a little more involvement--or had I more time to get involved--could have at least piqued interest. I did see just a few bugs over the water of about size 10.

Instead, I was stripping a weightless, olive-shaded streamer with a little red on its nose, and though the water is deep here, I figured that as a few trout were coming up, weightless would work. If it would work. It didn't. My time was limited. But I certainly got some casting in, and above all, witnessed trout present.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

First Frost

How it Used to Look Mid-October

First frost. Three a.m. this morning, I stepped out barefoot, walked across the lot free of neighbors who might ogle at my folly, and touched ice outdoors for the first time since early in the year. Car tops stitched with tiny frozen patterns. I sat on a curb facing northeast and the sky overhead invited me in as it hasn't in a long time. Simple and spontaneous as looking up and getting admitted free of charge. Inside on the couch, I had been reading Gray's Sporting Journal, a bulwark of sanity against a world that forgets where it is, and forgets that the most basic requirement for living here, besides water and breath, is capturing food and sheltering oneself in the pursuit.

Someone has to do it. Most of us think farmers.

But here's a twist. Gray's is devoted to the word as much as it is to the sport. The name of the magazine doesn't leave out the word journal. Anyone can believe farmers are enough for everyone's dietary need, but only fools believe language should be limited to reflect such systematization as agriculture. Word--for human beings--is as important as food. And funny thing, isn't it, that romancing farm life might lose something--no, not always, necessarily...think of Wendel Berry, perhaps--to sentimentality, compared to reflections of the wild.

Don't mistake romance as escape writing, if you follow what I mean. I think some of the best is gritty with arduously labored detail coming from strenuous first-hand experience. Realism and romance unite in writing difficult to read, requiring time and absorption. Difficult outdoor experience demands the same.

After posting last night, I went into edit function and added what, at first, I felt would be most important to the text, which, when first composing, I completely forgot: green foliage. I subsequently riffed on climate change, but here's more.

I've felt disgusted at right-wing denial of global warming, for years. I thought this a denial of science. Now I think the right, or the denial-laden of any ideological disease, are not religious enough. We used to hear so much huff and puff about The Bible. Now I consider that if the same sort as believe in "God's word" also believe (suddenly we don't hear much of the likes) Global Warming is a false idea, then they don't know how to read The Bible, perhaps.

What was God always doing to the Jews, when they went astray? Biting them in the ass, so to speak, and in response, at least in some of the stories, if I recall rightly, the Jews firmed up. Who wouldn't when getting chomped on at the rear?

Now supposedly, Jesus made redemption universal, so the wrathful antics of a jealous God are done and over with. This might imply sweet nectar from the front side of the human form, but it is a most naïve belief, unless it's understood that this redemption is an ongoing and historical process. Anyone who has worked a tough job in any economy of the past 2000 years knows damn well that The Kingdom of God did not supplant the human condition upon Jesus's crucifixion. The symbolic event of the life of Jesus Christ--and I do not deny its importance, on the contrary--is potential, not actuality. And on that point of Christ's importance, a simple consideration might do. Think of his life. If you don't know about it, you can Google information, if you want to. Anyone of that repressive society (at least more so than ours is repressive) of Christ's time, and who would have lived as Jesus lived for three years before he gut busted, anyone who would have done that would have been a monumental genius.

That said. What about God. Does "He" still compensate in the negative for our excesses. Read the Lessons of History. (The title adorns more than one book.) History never gets over itself. Always pride comes before a fall. Our scientific and technological achievement is the greatest pride mankind has ever known.

As I put it last night. Kudos to all who have done it and still do. Pride is the crowning virtue. Most Christians might not agree this is true, but my opinion differs. Pride and power. And power implies responsibility. So now that it is payback time, we must pick up the mess. Make something that works differently, just as the Scientific Revolution 400 years ago was a proposal to work and produce differently.

Monday, October 16, 2017

October River Smallmouths

Behr's Bait on U.S. 22, Lebanon. Note on the door: "Out getting bait."

So we rode eastward to The Sporting Life. Closed Mondays. On the way to Sportsman's Rendevous in Flemington, Mike told me this place is going out of business....but he had phoned them a week ago and got an answer. We found the store open with virtually nothing left on shelves and in racks or anywhere else. We took two dozen shiners, just about all they had left, and I bought some lures I might need this coming spring and summer, the lures at 50% off. 

"Sorry you're going out of business," I told the man who I think is the owner.

"Just how it goes," he said. He was cheerful in the way a retiree who's lived well might let the past go.

"You were always our old reliable when Behr's was closed," I said. 

And some of those runs from Behr's way out to Flemington involved an extra 45 minutes at the least tagged onto a trip to Round Valley Reservoir, which is right around the corner from Behr's, but 20 minutes from Flemington, far to the west of Bedminster, also.

I hate to think of what might happen with The Sportsman's Rendevous gone, but at least The Sporting Life--a new store--should usually back for up Behr's. In any event, today, I would hope, is unique, except the fact is: climate change is only ramping up towards a very uncertain future. The landscape looked like South Carolina appeared on November 6th just three years ago. True, it is only October 16th, but never before in New Jersey has an October 16th appeared so green. As Cushetunk Mountains appeared on the approach to Behr's, I felt that sort of awe mixed with horror; an inchoate suspicion colored my response as if we might be in for more than a simple adjustment to warmer temperatures. Those mountains are green. Some of the trees are an off green, but far and away, they are green, no orange and red at all, and very little, only slight, yellow. 

After we left the Flemington store with the bucket half full of water and bait, I hooked a right, instead of a left, and wound up way off course for Neshanic...thinking instead of Round Valley. But we got to our spot after driving forever, and passing Stanton General Store where Mike used to buy breakfast as a cable installer. 

"That place has the best blueberry muffins. We used to get them fresh out of the oven, cut in half and buttered."

Valuable to know, whether or not I'll ever be in the vicinity of this place in the morning. And, if so, have time to stop. In itself, the character of Highlands culture and society is interesting to learn about, because it's the backyard of any Central Jersey citizen with enough gumption to explore and patronize what's there. Or in other words, what can make for a life. And whatever our future as a society, I believe we can manage to maintain forms of the good life; we will, that is, if we survive as a civilization, and I certainly see no reason not to believe we will. The issue is simple in the following way: what did we do, beginning with the Scientific Revolution 400 years ago and subsequent technology? We discovered much of nature's order, to challenge nature's dominance over us. OK. Very well, kudos to success all around, but now nature will challenge us in turn. Rise to it. It's just a classic situation of hubris resulting in a firm bite on the ass. As human beings, we can get over the likes. We have intelligence and will, which, for example, a deer brought down by a wolf and chewed on the posterior (to begin with) doesn't have to save itself. For the time being, as we rapidly sink into the witch's cauldron of the Anthropocene, businesses like Stanton General Store are available to anyone on a pretty low budget. Don't I know that. County roads, state highways, U.S. highways, towns, have establishments of unique individual character interrelating as a sort of spread-out collage of possibilities. I'm not saying blueberry muffins are much to live for, but all told, when you think about opportunities in the Big Picture frame, little things do matter. There's no picture without details.

I promised Mike on Messenger we would catch fish. I promised him more than that, but I'll get to that point in moment. I caught a 13-inch or better smallmouth on the first cast, Mike losing another on his first cast. Then the hole--it gets about 10 feet deep--sort of gave us the glass eye. Here the river's running pretty high, since apparently Spruce Run Reservoir is delivering water, and the river is running somewhat off color; this state of affairs tends to put the bass off bait and lures, in my experience. We used those shiners weighted by split shots to get them down, but no matter what we cast, action just wasn't going to amount to a fervid day in memory years from now.

I went downstream some 25 yards, got snagged, snapped off, retied and re-baited. I went back down, this time warming like a fanned coal to a wide, slow eddy in casting range. The split shot must have just touched down when the bass took the bait. I felt the loping pull, swung back like a batter to a ball, and said, "Woah." Mike must have heard me by the reception of an ear reaching a moment's perfection, I asked for his audience, but having turned to watch, he might have pictured a comedy. Moments before my big hookup, I had chided myself for forgetting my chest wader belt, but I never thought--did I--that maybe I was forgetting something else. No doubt about it, this bass I had on was somewhere around three to four pounds. If not larger. It's a big bass and still in there! And during the two seconds it lugged on the line, I became aware the drag was too tight. It's going to run. Of course it would. As I began to reach for the drag knob, it began that run, snapping my six-pound test monofilament almost immediately. I always know better than to fish with a drag set too tight.

I told Mike we would catch some serious fish. He knows how much I chastised myself.

Mike caught a smallmouth. I wanted to wade way down to a special spot I know about near the long stretch's tailout, and so I departed. By the time I got there, fishing as I waded, the shiner was almost dead, but I curved a beautiful sling of a cast, owing to the heavy split shot, slicing surface by that weight right on my target, spotting at least a dime with this exchange, who knows, maybe better.

I don't know how deep it is there. I've tried counting the sink, but never with any precision to report back, not to you or to my own mind. I was up to my waist and a good 20 yards from underneath the overhanging tree. I imagine it's five feet. Maybe it's six. Big bass like to hang there in summer.

The split shot clicked stone, I hopped it and the bait, paused, and then I felt the pick up, allowing the fish--that fish making sure that shiner was dead--some slack. And then I tightened the line and set the hook. I soon lipped a nice bass of about two pounds. One of those rare humpbacked smallmouths that weigh more per inch than the usual fish of sleek form. Fifteen or sixteen of those inches from nose to tail.

We ran out of time after an hour total, packed it in to my Honda, and drove a short distance to a stocked destination, not that trout can't swim upstream to where we fished in the first place, but surely more trout exist near where they got released on Monday. First cast, I lost a largemouth on a shiner, and further attempts--using large and smaller split shots, and also no weight at all--yielded no interest until my last cast, when I caught a small smallmouth. Before that final take of the day, Mike hooked a nice trout on a salmon egg, but although he had his drag set loose, the leader snapped in the middle. Two-pound test.

Maybe the line was nicked. Always more happens out there that I don't know, than what I do know. But sometimes it seems easier to forget what I know, than to take my mind off what I can't fully fathom.