Saturday, February 4, 2017

Looked Back, Encouraged to Go Ahead

So nice to feel hard crunchy ground under foot. That's not the same as ice under boots, but every time I feel it, it makes me think of a frozen lake. Ice fishing may be out for the rest of this winter around here, but at least when I go outside now, I can feel winter more as it should be.

I looked forward to March the other day, and while working in the Home Chef Studio today, looked back on the past 10 years, feeling encouraged through every evaluation. I meant to take a peek at my fishing log, since I remembered catching two keeper stripers in the Long Branch surf on clams, and feeling as if this was several years ago. Then I realized I didn't post on that. It must have been 2010! Let me have a look...

June 5th, 2010. I caught them--one, two--right off the bat, fishing alone, and phoned for my brother Rick. My sister-in-law answered. He was out. Almost seven years ago! Got to get back and do the likes again! Actually, I did soak clams at least once since I began this blog. Caught several three-foot dogfish. My son and I used to do it for years, and we caught a lot of stripers. But he caught the only one over 28" besides these two.

Do my posts seem to say this past year was a bad one? I doubt it. A little uncertain, sure. I entitled a recent piece "Fortune or Misfortune?" Obviously, there's some rumination going on. There is a concluding statement in the words, however. In our time, literature has lost it's bearing, except for the very recent political uprising. (One might doubt the immortal quality of it!) I refer to Sven Birkhert's authority on the matter and disagree with him, or almost, since in his essay he never concluded with any certainty that the primary is impossible to access beneath the layers of electronic preoccupations.

The primary facts of life will never abandon me. It is quite true: much else has abandoned me to them. And to that I can say, "Thank you very much!"

The happiness of Aristotle is my own.

Perhaps "Fortune or Misfortune?" did not make this so clear.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Dead Hopes for these Days Down Here

Even hopes for safe ice on ponds died down here, although low temperature tomorrow morning is forecast at 13 degrees in Budd Lake, 18 degrees Bedminster, so even further north colder temperatures yet may result in some fishing. I looked ahead to February 17th, and according to the forecast, there's no hope. After mid-February, the chance of an enduring arctic air mass lessens pretty dramatically, as I remember years in the past.

When I bought my power auger five years ago, my wife told me I'll never use it. Winters are getting warmer and there won't be any ice fishing. Nonsense.

And to extrapolate from a hunch is foolish. Just because I've felt pretty certain for about three weeks now that ice fishing is pretty much out this season, to turn such a specific psychic fact into an assumption about seasons to come has nothing to do with the hunch itself. Hunches are always about just what they are about and nothing more. However, if I were to speculate, that's different. And hunches easily may suggest speculative ideation, but if regarding the likes I don't gather evidence to support assumptions, they're just based on fear. As if to say, Gee whiz, I didn't get out ice fishing much this winter....Maybe I never will again.

This isn't to say the climate's not changing. Abundant evidence exists for this. But no more ice fishing in New Jersey? I doubt this will become the case for awhile yet.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Water Column Approach Springtime Largemouth Bass Can't Escape

Bottom Grindin’, Middle Movin’, and Top Teasin’

By Bruce Edward Litton

          By early March, lakes and reservoirs of the Northeast region typically ice-out, largemouth bass lethargically responsive to a variety of lure techniques. Two years ago it didn’t happen until days before trout Opening Day in the New Jersey Highlands, early in April. This year, water has remained open most of the winter, but when ice cover helps compose winter as I like it, shallow, stained ponds open long before lakes and reservoirs, especially ponds with a feeder creek that pumps in runoff to break up ice. Late winter/early spring fishing begins at bottom.

          Gravel or hard bottoms of 8-20 feet invite the use of an old standby, the Johnson Beetle Spin, and I could be wrong, but I would almost bet a lot of us have never heard of this spinnerbait with a detaching arm. The Beetle Spin’s insecurity adds special effectiveness for a method I called “tick spinning” during my teens, because the second hand of my watch rotated around the dial almost as slowly as the crank of my reel completed a turn. The cupped Colorado blade just waggles along without spinning. Instead of holding a fixed place, the arm subtly moves about as the jig head crawls over gravel or along hard bottom, not so much imitating a crawfish or any other sort of creature, but creating a very effective presentation that the slow metabolism of a bass responds to regardless of close imitation to anything living down in the cold darkness.

           In a toss-up between much more popular tube jigs and the throwback Beetle Spin, I would put my money on the less popular lure bass see a lot less, because the cricketing metal seems just the ticket to getting the attention of metabolically deficient bass, whether or not the bass’s familiarity with tube jigs has anything at all to do with getting more strikes from the Beetle Spin.

          Another old standby, in-line spinners achieve performance perfection through the mid-column early in the season for a number of reasons. The most obvious, perhaps, involves lack of vegetation to foul treble hooks. A willowleaf spinnerbait will better suit timber, but residual weeds hold baitfish and bass where a spinnerbait isn’t necessary. That logic is a clue. When a simpler approach suits, it may prove more effective than any added nonsense. A Mepp’s Aglia Long upwards of size 3 or a C.P. Swing 6 pulsing over any sparse tendrils of vegetation remaining near bottom is deadly, since the sleek appearance of an in-line spinner plays to the low key of early season music. Never use Colorado or Indiana blades, if you heed this principle of simple logic, because they emit too much vibration in cold water, so the standard Mepp’s or Blue Fox should be refused.

          Perhaps it’s just my personal philosophy. I don’t doubt plenty of bass get caught by use of Colorado and Indiana blades this time of year. And yet, over the course of time, probability proves necessary quantification in relation to applied facts more or less appropriate to actual situations. And even yet, I question my slow approaches further, because I’ve read about largemouths caught on crankbaits burned at top speed with water temperatures in the upper 40’s. One caveat—lots of sunlight is present when this happens, according to the claim. That shook up my presumptions.

         Nevertheless, attraction is not always about how loud and flashy a lure. A bass can feel all sorts of vibrations in the water. If there’s chop on top, bass below are quite aware of what they’re going through. As I understand the early season, environmental changes sensed by bass lateral lines need quiet and subtlety—in most cases—to accord with their slow responses conditioned by low metabolic energy. Slow and subtle presentation attracts bass to check out the source and possibly to strike, when a louder or bigger lure gets ignored. Long spinner blades hum along instead of sending more impact to those lateral line senses, attracting just enough attention with water temperatures in the low to mid 40’s or higher.

          During a warming trend, at least some bass venture towards the shallows, and a slow to moderately retrieved spinner covers water, finds them and provokes strikes. Don’t pound the banks and docks, shoreline brush or stickups; plumb the middle zones between the depths and shallows. Some lakes and reservoirs have submerged ditches or depressions leading off main creek channels with structural breaks where bass hold feeling not quite ready to advance shallower. Rip rap and stone faces get warmed by morning and early afternoon sun, allowing bass short moves to relative shallows from depths close beneath, spinners effective at intercepting them.

          But how is bass fishing complete without surface catches? Shallow water action seems to comprise most of what bass fishing is about, and as a rule, when water temperatures reach and surpass 50, bass invade the shallow flats, docks and other shallow spots. Fifty degrees, however, is no absolute rule. Bass get caught on the surface in water as cold as 47. There’s a specific way to do this, and I bet no bass has ever hit a hula popper chugged along in water this cold.

          Steady sunlight throughout a mild or warm day allows water to warm just as evening approaches, to 47 or so. A northeast pond corner or lake cove with proximity to deeper staging points means sunlight will have warmed the area the most, since sun sets in the southeast. Even if the temperature difference is slight, it’s in your favor. Surface, however, must be dead calm and there’s a reason for this, as you may infer.

          The Rebel Minnow is a floating jerkbait unlike most others, although perhaps some other companies make lures that fish about the same. The plastic 2 ½-inch Minnow is small enough not to serve much of a mouthful, and large enough to attract bass nearby. It sits on the surface at an angle, rear submerged, only head and shoulders breaking surface tension. By twitching only enough to raise that rear, and then allowing that rear to sink back, enough rippling in the water gets sent in all directions. Something like food is there for the taking. No jerking or popping will work. It’s not a matter of trying to send more vibration bass’s way, but as few vibrations as possible short of none. Remember, bass can feel all sorts of motion, including other fish on patrol. With water just warming enough that a few bass poke into the shallows, something seemingly alive—just barely—on the surface can tease interest out of competitive impulses.

            Wait as long as a full minute between twitches, which isn’t easy, but the only way I know to work in water this cold. It’s an exercise in exploring patience you’ve completely forgotten since idle hours and minutes of adolescence, and if a bass comes up and sips as subtly as a trout taking a dry fly, an event has unfolded you may never forget.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Hunches, Contrary Hope, and Implied Evidence of Inevitability

When I posted on December 16th about imminent ice fishing, I was right about this for the short term, getting out with Mike Maxwell to ice fish Budd Lake on the 21st, but I just did not have a hunch for the season ahead, as posts going back to 2011 have shown at least correlation between my hunches and what has turned out as fact. The obvious reason for my lack of awareness this year is too much job pressure, and yet, despite the dullness an indoor arrangement may drive against a mind, as if a knife edge is subjected repeatedly to hard rough walls without proper sharpening, I did feel a hunch develop and get confirmed by Laurie Murphy of Dows Boat Rentals at Lake Hopatcong a couple of weeks ago: forget it for the rest of this season. We may be mistaken, but we'll see. My hopes for an enduring arctic air mass dwindle as my daffodil pokes grow higher. I begin now to anticipate March and moderating temperatures, hoping to fly fish nymphs on a coming occasion, although I still harbor an ambition to do just this some future January in the cold and snow.

Those three days of teen temperatures overnight I recently mentioned I think in two posts begin tomorrow, so all the best to anyone who gets out and ice fishes a pond. If you happen to do this and read this post, by all means, leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you.

Laurie Murphy read my open letter to the Boat Commission Chair, and she thereafter told me the lake community is trying to work this out, instead of the Draconian measure of anchoring restrictions getting imposed on us. Please, let's hope this issue gets resolved rationally.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Lucky 13

Around February 2nd, we have three consecutive nights forecast in the teens, no more than mid-30's during the day. This here in Bedminster. Far north Jersey will surely get colder and people who like to ice fish ponds may get out. Twenties in the meantime. Otherwise, more 20's and 30's during the day for the 15-day forecast don't look very promising for a secure ice season and the likes of the Knee Deep Ice Fishing Contests, but mid-February can still change radically for the better with a deep-seated arctic air mass. Climate change means more bipolar shifts of weather.

It's just that my hunch isn't the only one this year that says forget it. Laurie Murphy at Dow's Boat Rentals isn't optimistic for ice fishing this year, either, and she lives on Lake Hopatcong. All the best to anyone who will get out on a pond. I know how satisfying this can be.

So this winter, Lucky 13 is sort of hovering between the possibility of Round Valley Reservoir trout fishing, or wading the South Branch, fly casting nymphs. I might get out on February 8th.