Thursday, June 15, 2017

Nice Bass at Mountain Lake

I promised Mike we would catch some nice bass. I can make a promise like that because of experience. I've never come to Mountain Lake before. I've seen it from atop Jenny Jump Mountain in Warren County, where it sits below, a natural lake of 122 acres spring and stream fed, one of many other North Jersey Lakes I've fished and have not fished--all of which I have faith in.

That faith is something I don't seem to ultimately understand, something deeper than character and personality and underlying things themselves as if belonging to the will of events. These lakes just serve as my altars. But character and personality have a lot to do with receiving it--and going out to get it. Before the real action finally happened, Mike could have thought I was one cocky chump, because making a promise like that--for what the past seven hours had amounted to--was going to prove nothing but wrong. And I told Mike, he had quit fishing an hour ago and felt ready to go home, "You have resolve." I meant this absolutely. He was done.

"I'm an impulsive idiot," I said without a trace of self-inflicted irony. My faith in the bass had never faded. And though impulse led to catch, so many other times it's gone awry, as impulse is difficult to judge.

(And what's that poking into my mind now? What my wife used to say of me. "God protects idiots and fools.")

Even so, I too said the lake must be bad, but I never really meant it, and can't really say for certainty Mike did, either; we just had a trying time waiting on the fish. Look at these weedlines, look at these overhangs, that fallen treetrunk submerged. Where are the bass? And Mike could tell you, every disparagement I uttered was answered in counterpoint by fishing anecdotes, some I probably spent 20 minutes telling. I told him about Lake Musconetcong because I did not really believe Mountain Lake is bad...the evidence kept telling us it is bad, and perhaps, if we were sophisticated moderns as we presumably should be, and behaved with "proper" scientific and abysmally false attitude, we would accept the evidence, pass judgment, and lose faith. No. There's always more to discover. If I were a real scientist, why would I conclude upon any evidence, instead of looking for a new twist? At Lake Musconetcong, I told Mike, we caught one bass during all of the sunny hot afternoons we fished there, and that one nine inches. Presently we sat casting under sun and heat. But my son and I caught as many as 20 at that Morris and Sussex County impoundment during the hour-and-a-half around sunset.

Mike and I began in the relatively shallow southwestern corner, where I felt certain this was going to be tough fishing. Water clarity seemed a lot worse than really was. Soon I gave some relief to an earlier utterance about my preference for clear water, when I saw two-foot visibility, some aquatic vegetation under the squareback canoe. Heading east along the shoreline, we judged visibility at about three-and-a-half feet. Not bad, really. I had felt the initial let-down as no affront to my promise, but it didn't feel good, so working eastward, to see a little bass in thick weeds swipe at a damselfly got me going. I switched to a five-inch slow-sinking traditional worm sort of harnessed to a worm hook, abandoning a Senko, cast to another bass doing the same, and caught a seven-incher.

Even if my promise had failed, as the photo shows the first of bass fulfilling it, promises are made to be broken, and before we got into the serious action, I brooded on the likes of this as the sun had fallen behind the western ridge, thinking of years on Lake Musconetcong with my young son now soon to leave for Boston University, saying farewell to the immense promise Lake Musconetcong fulfilled for us, much less by size and weight than the bond of love between father and son that must in some way be eternal. That's gone. The promise is broken. And instead of feeling any crush of defeat, I simply accepted the truth. Life takes new turns. But there's more to the past than anyone alive can know. A man or woman--not a child--can know there is more through depths of nostalgia he or she finds bottomless. No matter how far the spirit may travel backward in time, there is no endpoint to the quality of resolution. Anyone who makes this journey either turns back to the present--or goes helplessly mad.

Fishing more quality weedlines, my only concern was the sharp drop-off. I catch plenty of big summer bass on sharp drops. At one point, I sighted a musky of about 32 inches come to the surface just yards in front of me. I cast a big Rat-L-Trap repeatedly, just in case. At Tilcon Lake, for one example of drops, just about all you find are drops. Sharp drops. When I examined the Lake Survey Map Guide depiction of Mountain Lake, I judged the southwestern corner best--shallow (I was looking at eight to 12 feet) weeds. More and less flat. I changed my mind after coming upon the northeastern corner--similar, but the quality felt more appealing with pocket water.

At first, I was disgusted. Some guy in a bassboat--friendly--had just chopped a lot of weeds up with a high-power bow mount. He was skunked. We reported a few. We had come upon two quick bass--almost nine inches and almost 12 inches--where a stream enters. Very shallow.  Two feet at most. Some rocks. Gravel. I noticed water temperature fell from 82 to 80. Right where the stream enters, who knows how cool. But I cast there.

The northern shoreline felt vaguely like a goal reached. Here darkness. Sun behind ridge; when I shot a photo of excellent overhang for my files, I thought shutter speed--pretty slow--might blur resolution. Actually, did not. But now I was myself in deep. Slowed way down. Once this darkness came over us, time itself slowed, as if without so much racing light, it didn't have to go anywhere. Mike's Rapala racked on his hook keeper, he had set his rod aside, but I fished absorbed with little tricks of my focused performance. I heard strange rumblings from across the lake and beyond in the woods. Finally I understood the clamor was rock music.

It felt like I fished in that shadow three hours. The ramp perhaps three hundred yards distant, I reached for my box of topwater plugs. At first, I reached for the 3/8th ounce Rebel Pop-R on which I caught my bass of nearly five pounds at Mount Hope Pond, 2011. Twinge of guilt. On one of my son's rods--Matt with me an hour before sunrise in the dark--instead of handing him that rod and telling him where to cast--I cast. That first cast: "Bloop, bloop, bloop--BAM!"

I passed on that plug. Ambiguous memory embedded on it--even though I felt big plug, big bass--I felt disinclined to touch it. I looked left and saw the quarter-ounce Rebel Pop-R I was pretty sure is the one Matt gave me as part of a birthday or Christmas gift. This could seem too close an association to the other plug, but I've never felt his gift is tainted by my Mount Hope indiscretion. I chose it.

These weedlines along northern shoreline are associated with steep drop. We didn't fish them long. Against what I knew was Mike's wish, I clocked the electric onto its highest speed, and we headed back to the eastern cove. That's what it is--structurally--more than corner, really.

Soon I saw nervous water. "That's a nice fish," I said.

"Um, huh," Mike said. Directly on point. Yeah, that's what it is.

How big, I couldn't tell for sure, but I thought three pounds. It was just a fleeting ripple, but I could tell something nice. Depth was marking eight feet, and I had to get the canoe in close to the pockets and weedy mess a weedless frog would better suit, where I guess five or six feet of water situated underneath. When fishing otherwise, I cast weightless plastic worms with much better accuracy than I cast plugs.

Third cast, the bass that made the ripple took that Rebel hard. "Mike, it's a big one, get the net." I didn't measure her, but I think she was about 19 inches. The Rebel sucked almost to the gullet, I had to use a hemostat to get it out cleanly.

Again, nervous water. This bass weighed about two-and-half pounds. About 16 1/2 inches and fat. Further eastward, I caught a 15-incher, and then as we progressed further, carefully working those weeds, I said, "I think that was the 10-minute window." We fished another 10 minutes and then I said, "Let's go home."

The day's promise--and it was that--fulfilled in 10 minutes' time after hours that seemed to almost fill years. I compared what had just had happened to fishing redfish on South Carolina inshore flats near Charleston. Sight fishing my son and I enjoyed. Sighting nervous water and casting to it. But in local terms, today's fishing was more like Lake Musconetcong's--all topwater--than Tilcon Lake's.


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