Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Nothing without Feet on the Floorboards

I'll start at the ending. Near it. We headed to Nolan's Point around the corner and in front of Dow's Boat Rentals, where we would troll a final 200 yards or so, when it occurred to me my job drives me crazy. The two posts before this one take such abstract perspectives, especially the last post, that they're less revealing of life on the water than life inside a mind with some very difficult puzzles about the world to riddle at. This evaluation isn't to deride the effort, but to just let you know that when I got off work last night at 9:00 p.m., it wasn't to retire to my study and work my brain as life's platform until 3:00 a.m., but to briefly send a couple of messages, and then go to bed with my alarm set for 4:00 a.m. Mike got in my car at 4:47 and we headed north to Lake Hopatcong.

The first three hours were brutal. I wore a fleeced jacket; Mike had layers on, but we shivered to the bone. Strong breezes, temperatures that must not yet have reached the mid-50's, overcast skies, all this never turned us from steady efforts, even though the fish just were not hitting. I had caught a smallmouth bass, a largemouth, a big pumpkinseed I regret not photographing--colors multiple and beautifully patterned--and Mike two pickerel and a big crappie. No sign of the hybrid striped bass we hoped to catch. Further back in my mind I hoped for a walleye, as I always have while trolling, though so far this species has eluded all of us at this activity. We had fished more than half-a-dozen spots I've already familiarized myself with while trolling, and I had told Mike that when we got into this particular cove we were now leaving behind, we would hook up. I was certain. And that's where we caught most of our fish.

That certainty wasn't off the top of the head, but it was the only certainty of its kind today. Now trolling regions I never have before today, sunlight felt real good. Mike caught a trout. We motored further eastward into Henderson Bay and I enjoyed an area of the lake I've never visited. Trolling or otherwise. I caught a pickerel.

"It's a big lake," Mike said. I agreed. But because I read Bassmaster magazine during my teens, captivated by gigantic southern reservoirs, an internal interjection reminded me of how small New Jersey waters are. The bays I used to clam commercially are a lot larger than Hopatcong, also. Not to mention the ocean I used to take one of my boats out upon.

Hours later, we could have quit. Mike had caught another pickerel in Great Cove, right across from our landing point, which now we approached, having turned about through the Cove's belly, buffeted by big whitecaps, used to this after a couple of hours downwind. I felt like going back to my favorite cove for that variety of species and said so. Two miles distant--into the wind.

"I wouldn't mind, but what about gas?" Mike said.

"Oh, gas is fine," I said, at first disinclined to check on the tank. I second guessed that. "Let me check." I lifted an almost empty tank and told Mike.

"Yeah. We've covered a lot of lake. The motor's been running for hours."

We never turned it off all eight hours. I snapped on a Phoebe spoon and yet another kind of minnow plug and we trolled back across Great Cove. Joe Landolfi caught a brown trout over two pounds trolling a Phoebe out in the middle here with me several years ago. And now after a run with Mike up the shoreline opposite to Dow's docks, I suggested we go directly across the lake to the northern shore.

Mike might have preferred an easy exit from this attempt at these big hybrids. I knew that. But I also knew he really wouldn't mind a little extra effort. I had already said--speculating on returning to that favorite cove--that we rarely get a chance to do this, so why not give all? But for what? We were both all but certain we would not catch anything in the spot I now had in mind, despite its history. We could have bought live herring, but we knew that was useless. The cold front had not only turned fish off from feeding. It seemed to make them vanish. We had the fishfinder working all day and it marked about half-a-dozen fish--all day! Always when we fish Hopatcong, we mark plenty of fish here and there. Not today.

It was that change in plug brand. I hadn't experimented enough. Now I was ready to fish established trolling lanes, giving the effort my driven best. That included the passage to them directly into stiff wind with whitecaps soaking us with heavy spray. It was a push. But I ran plugs, settling the score of most of the trolling passes with a deep-diving Hot N Tot plug by the Storm brand, enabling me--trolled on a long length of braid line--to feel the lip of the lure scrape rocks 16 feet deep.

Just as expected, no fish hit. But the concentrated focus of my mind redeemed a whole lot of self-importance about worldly issues. This was an effort for the very slim--or nonexistent, in fact--chance of hooking a fish. And after some doubt in my mind about the value of such a pursuit, which so many people have for so many years felt is foolish, just a way to mindlessly pass the time, I came so fully clean that my sentiment in the August 28, 2016 post, about fishing on this lake with my wife and son, dissolved completely. As we approached Nolan's Point this afternoon, I was all there.

All the abstract theories and plots amount to nothing without feet on the floorboards.


Rainbow Trout
 The whitecaps had calmed as we crossed back to Nolan's Point.


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