Thursday, April 27, 2017

Zen and the Art of the Zoo: AT&T N. Branch Raritan Stretch Trout

Looks like I'm flying the Jersey Bird, but that had no conscious intent.

Mike and I got out for just a bit this morning at the Zoo and caught 15 rainbows. As we passed the U.S. Highway 202/206 Bridge, we noticed a trout fisherman getting out of his car, and I cringed because I wanted us to be first on the river, at least up above a little where it would matter for us. Not a minute later, I was pulling over onto an empty shoulder swath. Nice.

When I first awoke, the birds sang their brightest, just like May mornings I remember walking back there alone in remaining darkness for a limit of brown trout and walking out with them as the next guy walked in. Then I would clean the fish at home a few minutes later and begin cooking them as my wife and son got out of bed. 

By the time I responded to the third clock alarm signal this morning, the birds had quieted a bit, but plenty darkness remained. We began fishing in gloam as I missed a trout on the first cast, caught one on the second.

Back upstream towards the AT&T exit bridge I caught one after another, and I'm sure I would have caught at least five or six more, had I enough Mike's Garlic pink salmon eggs. We feared the river would remain high since the recent rain, but it came down even more than I had expected overnight, running pretty full but not fast, plenty clear. I came prepared with those bright eggs and they worked better in the low light despite water clarity. Just didn't come prepared enough, as I went through the jar 3/4 full, fast.

A fly fisherman a little upstream of that spot I quickly favored watched me toss a trout up on the bank. I had forgotten my stringer. "Was that a brown trout?"

"Rainbow. If it were a brown trout, it would have been a wild fish put back in the river. Some of those come down from Peapack Brook. Not many."

Browns haven't been stocked for years now.

His facial expression of assent in return felt friendly, but especially by catching trout after trout, losing at least half as many more during the fight---since hook-setting is tenuous---I felt the ambiguity of my situation. Fly fishing has an attitude hard to separate yourself from, if you do it. I know, since I do it, too.

Soon, Mike had felt enough frustration, satisfied he didn't get skunked, and decided to hang out with me and watch whatever it is I do that engages trout non-stop. "It looks like you're doing what I do," he said, amused.

"It's wherewithal," I said. I cast, hooked another.

Most of it is unconscious. But that only means without conscious vigilance, catch rate would register near zero, because effective unconscious response depends completely on conscious mindfulness improving habit and filling that reservoir. Teeming life inside me gives back rationally every time I'm on the water. And every minute of my life besides. Even when I'm a little dazed after going nonstop for a long time. Now, for example.

Mike noticed the fly fisherman looking every time my drag screeched. He muttered, "That guy's gonna go home and hang himself."

I wouldn't use a strike indicator. But maybe I should. My Brother Rick says I should. I just like keeping it simple, though it is true: you have to keep sharp on the line without a float indicating your nymph got hit. Never saw that happen today, but I freely recognize I caught all of my trout on bait.

Before I began writing this post, I checked my inbox. I had remarked to a friend about the salmon egg method. I found he had got back to me: "Anything works on stocked trout."

Well, yeah. Mike didn't get skunked this morning. But using the same bait, he obviously could tell you there's a difference in catches, and he's trying to figure out what that is. He might say he finds it weirdly elusive. The master of this method used to tell me it's all about drift. The salmon egg naturally rolling with the current. It's about much more than this.

I said to Mike, "Joe would laugh at me." Because Joe would have caught at least twice as many than me this morning. I'm good at it, but not the master he is.

At Califon, Mike had said, "How can one difference in hook measure, the color of the salmon egg, and two broken swivels for weight instead of a BB split shot make this much difference?"

"They make a difference, but it's a whole complex," I said. The way he looked back at me made me think of depth psychologist Carl Jung and his theory of psychological complexes. Psychological complexes may have nothing to do with the method, but I only say that because I haven't troubled to think about this. But the unconscious mind absolutely does have to do with success. Above all, that mind's transformation as awareness. Intuition. The better you learn to pick up on clues any fishing situation presents, just as any situation in life requires intelligence, the better attuned your whole being becomes at catching fish or productivity.

I guess people always thought Jon Stewart's "Moment of Zen" was just a joke. It never was only that. Jon graduated from Lawrence High School a year after I did, and his best friend was a good friend of mine, obsessed with Zen. We used to fish all the time. Dave would understand what I'm getting at. 

Phosphate run-off from recent rain. Lot of lawn fertilizing going on, but this river has good water quality in general. And by the way, Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I just now realize, died just some hours ago.


  1. I take it you used the ol' trusty method? What method was Mike using? Sounds like you had a blast. Be well. JH

    1. We both were, of course. By mid-May, at least the rainbows in the river for awhile will have become acclimated enough to the wild that they'll rise to hatches, spurning salmon eggs. Fly fishermen can come into their own, doing better for these fish than anyone with salmon eggs, but not for the recently stocked trout.

    2. Had to go into edit function and clean some of this post's mess. Not that it was a wreck at all, but I did regress to some old bad habits some of my journals feature. Up at 5:30 this morning. I was dazed after fishing...tried to Power Nap. Couldn't sleep. Off to work. And--success. If I had one of my old corporate office jobs, I don't see how I could have drawn on reserve energy, requiring hard physical activity and non-stop conversation while doing much of it.

    3. Didn't sleep until going on 1 a.m. last night...going strong for sure...

  2. Hang in there Bruce. I enjoyed the post and thought it was well written, For us plebeians with no literary background it makes complete sense.

    Get some rest. JH

    1. Whipped out my handy dandy notebook from my back pocket during my shift and surreptitiously noted that tonight and tomorrow morning I will finally do just that. Get well rested.


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