Thursday, April 13, 2017

Spruce Run Creek Trout Fishing and the Deeper Current

Until February 2016, I hardly knew Spruce Run Creek, besides its grand entry into Spruce Run Reservoir, a spot I knew about for big brown trout during the fall seasons of the 1970's, but never got there until 2005, fishing for northern pike, trout no longer stocked in the reservoir to hold over and grow into trophies or otherwise avoid the intent of anglers. I used to pass the creek on my way north to the Delaware Water Gap from Mercer County during my teens, but have no memory of taking any notice until my young family moved into the region going on two decades ago. That February, on my way to a kayak shop to view the merchandise, I stopped at the creek at Schoolhouse Road and did a photo shoot.

This spring was going to be a sleeper, my getting out to fish trout infrequently and only with my two-weight fly rod, but instead, at the deep level I have a lot to thank Mike Maxwell for. (The Trout Assassin.) I met Mike very shortly after my family moved to Bedminster from nearby Chester in 1999. He was 20, and I believe that was either fall 1999 or spring 2000, at the U.S. Highway 202 Bridge over the North Branch Raritan. I happened on him fishing trout, as I readied to fish also, and conversation struck up as naturally as the setting. I was 38 or 39. About the age Mike is now. I learned very soon that he lives just around the corner in my neighborhood. We were the only two fishing that afternoon.

On another occasion at the same spot during the fall, I fished alone and filled a pocket with a limit catch of brook trout hardly a millimeter more than legal size, took them home, boiled them rather than fried them, and the meat was as tasty as lobster but more tender and the broth better than that of Mercenaria mercenaria. The Latin means money, but you can guess about the designation. This is a whole other can of worms, this story, yet appropriate to this afternoon. Money has everything to do with my fishing salmon eggs this spring, because without the need of mine to earn a little more money, I would have stuck to my fly rod.

We used those salmon eggs today and did rather well. As I was telling you, last spring, I caught a five-pound rainbow trout on my 6-weight fly rod, and I was headed upstream from thereon where no one can find me, flicking flies. But meanwhile, The Trout Assassin was fishing like he never has before in his life, me happening upon him as he smoked trout on his grill, or sat out on the porch in the sun as I drove into the neighborhood, the two of us catching up on each other's news as I stopped the car with the window down. Salmon eggs. And I remember thinking, "Well, this is what I've wanted to see for the last 20 years." Mike really committing to this purpose, or this folly as most people think, fishing.

Since January 2015, I've changed jobs three times. The previous job involved fly fishing. Had I stayed with it, that's of course what I would have done this spring, but working at a supermarket chef studio, I earn better pay as needed. Mind you, supermarket. The conventional sort. Food. Sales involved that might compare in a very broad way to stocked trout and the most effective, rather than most refined, way to catch them. Mike's Salmon Eggs, the most popular brand, are a long-time convention, though eclipsed in recent decades by crass Power Bait. Power Bait is some sticky mess that floats. All but useless for fishing the subtle nuances of currents. And though salmon eggs themselves are conventional, the method I've used from the age of 14 isn't. On the market today, you won't find an ultra-light spinning rod less than four-feet, four-inches long. Mine is three-and-a-half feet. Much better of a wisp than any you can buy today. I cast a weightless salmon egg a centimeter in diameter on a tiny size 14 hook. And I fished a three-and-a-half foot rod when I was 14, too. Built it from a rod blank and other components.

It's a very effective method and too much to describe in this post, but certainly easier ways to catch trout exist, though you won't catch as many as you can by really going light--and doing it well. If you want the easiest rainbow trout from a creek, go ahead and find a hole with a very slowly current where 150 trout have been dumped, weight your line with a big sinker, and let Power Bait float in front of the noses of those trout. Letting a salmon egg drop into view of those trout would be more effective anyway, but on this tackle I describe, fishing is more like the grace of an orchestral conductor and his baton, than like the stage engineer cranking the curtain up.

During those teenage years of mine, I wrote and got published a lot in outdoor magazines, but why--all these years since--I never reread any of these articles editors eagerly took is a deep mystery to me. Part of this mystery is easy to understand, however. I have a thick folder containing about three fourths of the total published, and I never wrote an article, not during those years, that a magazine or newspaper did not publish. This folder never got out of my wherewithal, though how a fourth of my articles got lost, I don't know. In fact, the article most crucial to me now--on this salmon egg method--came back my way contained in the entire magazine issue from an old high school friend about 10 years ago. He sent his copy to me by snail mail. I quit writing the articles at 18, convinced I would become a great novelist and looking down on outdoor writing as beneath lofty artistic ambition. (Self-contempt is unavoidably problematic, but this is a whole other bucket of fish.) I wrote those articles. And all these years since, or since sometime after I had distanced myself from them, I imagined I wrote them badly, compared to the great writer I had become while filling enough handwritten journals to comprise about 500 books.

So I never read a word of them. Easy to guess that's all it is. I thought they must have been badly done. I never read a word all those years. Until very recently, delighted to find they're good. Really good.

And the article my friend mailed me is central to why I am back out casting salmon eggs with Mike. Bait as light as a beadhead nymph.

Mike and I fished the North Branch Raritan Zoo for about an hour after Spruce Run Creek. Not many here today.


  1. I remember that article well. Of course, growing up as a younger brother I always assumed that is howeverybody did it.

    1. Kasper's mentor, an older man by the name of Ray, invented the type of rod. The article was first to break the news in print. By the late 1980's, I vaguely recall, the rods appeared on the commercial market.....


Comments Encouraged and Answered