Saturday, April 29, 2017

As if She would Forgive Me

Up at 5:10 this morning to meet Noel Sell at 6:00, after getting up at 5:30 yesterday morning (27th) to fish with Mike, then going to my job to work hard eight hours, after posting. There was no way I would be late for Noel this morning. I arrived at 5:59. Took longer than expected. (Mike lives right around the corner and told me to call him anytime in lieu of his alarm.)

Warm out in the dark as I drove off with window down this morning.

We got on the big river and also unexpectedly, I felt disoriented. This wasn't exhaustion. There's never been a morning when I didn't wake up fresh to fish.

Many years ago, senior year of high school, I was at a party late. I didn't drink very much. Maybe equal to a six pack or two over five hours' time. Drinking age: 18. I enticed a girl away from the party to the swimming pool of some random residence. Repeatedly, she dove off the board, then I cannonballed off the board, and so on. She was top notch on the swim team. I didn't know how to dive. Suddenly, I remembered I had a State Federation Bass Tournament to fish. I looked at my waterproof watch. Exactly 3:00 a.m. This was in Lawrence Township, Mercer County. I had to be at Spruce Run Reservoir in three hours. Hunterdon County to the north.

So I let her go. I had worked on her all year and that was all. She refused to ever speak to me again. Bass? Instead of her?

Went home. Slept a little. Woke up OK. Drove an hour to Spruce Run Reservoir. Got there in plenty of time. But my assigned tournament partner smelled alcohol on my breath. The next eight hours did not go well....except for daydreaming about the girl. As if she would forgive me.

Ancillary to my thinking as I compose this essay, I've always remembered immediately approaching and driving my Ford Fairlane station wagon onto a bridge over the very river Noel and I fished this morning. This on the way to Spruce Run Reservoir that morning nearly 40 years ago. I must have remembered this moment a hundred times since then. And it's the only moment I have remembered of that drive, for as long as I can remember. Most of us sophisticated moderns do not believe in mysteries of the mind, but this to each our own demise. As Albert Einstein once emphasized, such mysteries are what life is all about. He said so most emphatically. That those who have no feeling for this are as good as dead. Why do I remember this moment? Over and over again. I don't know. But I fished with Noel this morning.

The obvious--sophisticated--response to my anecdote by route of explanation is to point out that I must have remembered the bridge because it spans a river. I fish. You can't know this, but that's not all it was. Depth psychologist Carl Jung called it numinosity, a word that Word underlines as misspelled. But Carl Jung was full of mystification, overly abstract ideation that obscures the depths as if they're too dangerous to see clearly. Most anyone will conjure glowing visions as if to make a cartoon caricature of the fact that word represents. The river as somewhere to fish was less of what I responded to in that moment.  

Here it is after midnight. During my eight-hour job shift in the Chef Studio today, I once surreptitiously whipped out my Handy Dandy Notebook (Blues Clues on TV was a temporary fascination for my young son he quickly outgrew.) I took the 3 x 5 out when I knew I was ahead of the work curve, and noted that tonight and tomorrow morning, I will finally get well rested again. Mostly tomorrow morning, since I'll be up to at least 3:00 a.m. working tonight. I don't punch "normal" hours as we say.

Noel fishes nearly every morning. I realized, when we had finished casting, that this is the first time I had applied my three-and-a-half foot spinning wand to a big river. I still didn't understand my disorientation, even so. To Noel, it seemed obvious. "I don't think I would do well on those little streams you fish."

I always need very specific relations to really understand my state. It was obvious to me I was on a big river and not used to fishing any of such size with my little rod, but not at all convincing as any cause to my understanding. Now that I'm not on that river, I understand my having been there in terms of spatial conception. Memory always helps sort things out for me. I sort of live after the fact. But then again, that's not the only way I live.

We caught one trout short of 12 in total, that numinous number of Christ's disciples. Noel and I both sang in the world-class Trinity Episcopal Church, Princeton, Choir of Men and Boys 40 years ago. Touring and recording was heady activity, but when you really get down to it, all of that is meaningless without the teachings it is supposed to represent. Noel catches his limit, cleans the trout, packages them, and gives them away exactly as Christ suggested, but never because Christ said so. At best, Christ suggested practices in essence universal to all of us.  

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.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Pequest River Trout: Wading for Connection

Second outing on the Pequest in all these years. Mike mentioned the river's flowing into the Delaware, shortly after Martin's Creek Power Plant briefly came into view not very distant. I told him I caught a striped bass at the mouth of the river, but that didn't count as a Pequest fish, even though the water it came from had Pequest freshness mixing in. That was late summer and the Pequest was very clear with its temperature strikingly cooler than the big river.

Now more than six years ago, I fly fished the Pequest Trout Conservation Area with my son in March, walking and wading far downstream and back. We used Zebra midges exclusively, confident in the choice by what I had read. Tiny. Size 22 I think they were. Where a pool began to pan out into a shallow tail, I watched a 14-inch rainbow lurch for the nymph and missed the very light take. Until today, that was all the fish action I'd had on the river, though I've had some familiarity with the river along U.S. 46 since my teens.

We came in hopes of a big one. First, we had to find a hole. At least it would seem the likelihood of finding a big trout depended on this, and today didn't change this assumption. This river flows shallow for the most part, and just about everywhere it is very difficult to wade with softball and basketball-size rounded rocks. We did stop well upstream where the river is considerably shorter in width, finding the river bed composition muddy by comparison, the flow much less choppy, much less broken to pieces by rocks. No holes found, we drove miles downward, and where we first stopped, did find deep water. It's really the only deep water we found today, and we covered a lot of ground.

Instead of plumbing the bottom of that pool, most of the trout took position to the rear where the pool panned out into shallows. We caught a number of trout, but the action kept halting and we would take another position, get hit, and then again nothing more. We got a tip from someone who fished downstream less than a hundred yards, tried the area he abandoned, caught a few, and then drove on in search of better. It wasn't a day for parking, locking up while making sure all valuables are concealed--though certainly everyone we met on the river today was worth the time exchanged--and walking and wading at length, though the very best of my stream trout memories are of these more difficult efforts. The best of all climbed the 1200-foot vertical elevation of Dunnfield Creek from its exit region into the Delaware River, to its source meadow atop Kittatiny Ridge. But on the other hand, it is hard to judge--on second thought--if this wonder of a solitary outing, some of it bushwhacking through thick forest understory growing between rocks in rattlesnake country where, had I got bit, no hope of getting out alive those many miles distant existed without cutting the wound open wide with my knife in an attempt to drain off some of the poison; it wasn't as simple as always keeping to the stream bed, sometimes impenetrably obscured, and yet it's  hard to judge if that hike really was as good as wading Stony Brook in Princeton Township at age 10 with friends and catching no trout at all. Those early days were all light and goodness. Dunnfield Creek possessed the very darkness of the Garden of Eden. That meadow high on the ridge virtually no one has ever seen.

Today pushed the envelope of possibility to the limit of where it could go, given an afternoon off from work circumscribed by hopes of a big one from some stocked hole, my black Labrador necessarily along with us, given that my wife expects this of me. Perhaps most of all, we needed to do some driving to get a wide perspective on the river, flanking it along stretches neither of us had seen.

We caught 15 trout between the two of us. They were difficulty gained. The best quality for me the wading, even though I backed off from attempting a couple of eddying pockets between sluices of current that looked just a little too shallow to hold much promise anyway. Not only were the rocks slickened by erosion; they hosted some algae slime, not offering difference by too wide a margin from gaining traction on ice. I waded assiduously, and did my best to keep my errant impulses in check, an effort trying me life-long, and I suppose my crazy urges will persist to the end. By the time we left, the control felt vital, complex, and very healthy, nerves in my feet fusing with synapses in my brain, assuring me that abstract levels I entertain have meaning physically linked to survival.

There was a moment Mike witnessed. Both of my boots slipped and for a moment it appeared I would plunge. My foot knew where to lodge.

I know them as adder's tongues, but nowadays they're mostly recognized as trout lilies.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Bergen County, New Jersey, Striped Bass

We weren't the only skunked at DeKorte Park today, but another guy we spoke to caught an 18-incher, and two other guys caught two bass, one of them eight pounds. For the Meadowlands Flats, where the largest I've heard of caught was 12 pounds, that's a nice fish. The flats are so shallow that full exposure at low tide reveals mud and scattered Atlantic white cedar stumps. Creek channels hold the only water. They're the key to the fishing here. Outflows here and there along the Saw Mill Trail create strong currents where bass hold. All of the bass we've caught so far got hooked right in the current. Some of the pipes between upper and lower flats are small. Others larger. And the heaviest flow is a sluiceway bridged by a wooden walkway. On the upstream side, the water is very deep.

Fred met me and Matt at 7:00 a.m. and we arrived at the Flats after about an hour of easy driving, no traffic entanglements, easy going conversation on the way. Fred immediately judged dead high tide, no movement at the pipe in the first corner, and as we readied to carry our rods and tackle in, noticed something big chasing a herring or gizzard shad. I know it was forage something like that, because it leapt clear out of the water. A foot long. And the bass after that fish was big. We saw boils. No other big gamefish here in these former garbage dumps.

Fred was rigged up and cast for the fish to no avail. As I tied paddletails onto the four rods of my son and me, I said, "Is the water moving?"

"Yeah. The stuff on the surface by the pipe just moved, right when I looked up," Fred said.

Once that water starts coming down, it seems to fall very fast; all because of these drain-ways. We fished all the spots to the final breach below the sluiceway, fished these spots hard, but the best of it for me was sitting on basalt at the sluiceway and just letting stress get carried off by the breeze as I cast and cast, sun on my face, and the temperature a little chilly but not brisk.

My son fiddled with his damned mobile device. I never protested outwardly, but I hate those things and have never owned one. I'll keep my flip-phone as long as I can and use it little. The last thing I want in life is to give up my mind informed by my senses--such as those fairly long moments as I sat by the sluiceway--for a mind mediated by a bunch of bullshit.

I never can find the best information I need online anyway. I use public libraries and independent bookstores.

Fred got a hit. I got a hit. That's our striper action to report.