Saturday, June 17, 2017

What May Become of a Promise?

Matt at Lake Musconetcong 2009

I posted last after midnight following the 14th on Mountain Lake. Ever since, I've kept reviewing in my mind what I wrote about promises, and I know better than to think I can promise you a full answer in this post. All of my posts are off the cuff, written in haste. Not out of any disrespect for my readers or for blogging, but because I believe blogs--web logs--are appropriately this and not a writer's most developed work. The very thought of using a Google gadget to present my best work feels absurd. But I write as well as I possibly can within this medium, and the limit I place on my time with it, without obsessively going back to improve on posts. I mostly let them be as faithful accounts of responses to events and ideas.

That most recent post features a disturbingly abrupt sentence transition. From the immense promise of Lake Musconetcong fulfilled, to "That's broken." I wrote the post just this way honestly, in light of how all of those five years of fishing the lake, many times each year with my son, came upon me whole out on Mountain Lake, but instead of my entering their memory, I let them go. Just like putting down a book. Because I know--again from experience--what it is to enter an enormous state of memory, an involvement I've learned is usually best to forego. It is, if things that need to get done in the present will get finished.

So now I pose it to you. What's the better faith perhaps? To indulgently dive into every mental state that issues from the depths, even if they imply your loved ones, or to have the mastery to let them go, knowing you're not God, but if you believe in the value of what you've done, their fulfilled promise will persist in your life, regardless of turning to present events instead of indulging past memory. Every new event is born out of past events anyway.

A clue is offered by two very wise men of the deep past, Socrates and Plato. When Matt and I fished Lake Musconetcong, the experiences were fully about the earthly beauty he and I engaged together. Except for two things. The church bell chime we heard at 6:00 p.m. almost every time out. And an ice cream truck jingle with resonance up in the hills. Our minds lifted over the present, reminded that everything is eerily eternal. I like to believe that Matt, even as a young boy, had an inkling of this. We always talked about the church bells and the ice cream truck jingle. He expressed his own feelings about this music. When he was three, I explained to him how existence must be eternal, since something cannot come from nothing, and many times he reviewed this idea with me.

Socrates believed earthly beauty reminds us of Eternal Forms in a Realm Beyond. To me, the affairs with Forms in this Realm Beyond have always seemed like a cartoon magazine. I guess for some of us, that's heaven, but even as a boy, cartoons offered me very little interest compared to books about real things here on earth. Socrates and Plato did not get the metaphysical description quite right. Besides, Plato expressed attitudes about life here on earth that always appall me. Rather than bodily life as any "prison," I assure my readers--if there is a Beyond I will awake to upon my death, I will gladly visit. But what I really want is to return here on earth, reborn. I don't mind spending another life as someone else, because a human being is a human being. Besides, if this will possibly be the case at all, something of me will remain.

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 I'm experienced, though I've never come to Mountain Lake before. Otherwise, I've only seen it from atop Jenny Jump Mountain in Warren County, where it sits below, a natural lake of 122 acres stream fed, one of many other North Jersey Lakes I've fished and have not fished. I have faith in them all, and better than that, a little knowledge.

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 better than plumbing the mystery of darkness that becomes light, I catch some fish. Character and personality have a lot to do with receiving experience that might lead to catches while offering nothing in the meantime. 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, in his mind, going to prove nothing but wrong. And I told Mike, after he had quit fishing an hour before and felt ready to go home, "You have resolve." I meant this absolutely. He was done. But he stayed aboard.

"I'm an impulsive idiot," I said without a trace of inflicting the words on myself. In my own mind, I performed the magic of effortlessly making a word mean something else, even though I knew Mike would have to turn the irony,  My faith in the bass had never faded. My wife used to say of me, "God protects idiots and fools."

I too had said the lake must be bad, but I never really meant it all the way down, where I firmly understood our lack of success determined nothing. Look at these weedlines, look at these overhangs, that fallen tree trunk submerged there. Where are the bass? And Mike could tell you, every disparagement I uttered, as well as more negative words from him, was answered in counterpoint by me with fishing anecdotes; some I probably spent 20 minutes telling. I told him about Lake Musconetcong. There my son and I caught one bass during all of the sunny hot afternoons, that one nine inches long, but we caught dozens once the sun dipped under the horizon.

Immediate evidence kept telling us Mountain Lake is bad, and perhaps, if we were sophisticated moderns as we presumably should be, and we behaved with "proper" scientific and abysmally false attitude, we would accept the evidence, pass judgment, head to the ramp, and quit. 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? Presently we sat casting under sun and heat. I did have a lot more evidence beyond this lake than did Mike, who hasn't fished bass a whole lot. My son and I once caught about 20 at that Morris and Sussex County impoundment, Lake Musconetcong, 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 felt some relief from an earlier utterance about my preference for clear water, when I saw two-foot visibility, some aquatic vegetation appearing under the squareback canoe. Heading east along the shoreline, we judged visibility at about three-and-a-half feet. Not too bad, really. I had felt the initial let-down as no cancellation of my promise of nice bass, but it didn't feel good, so while 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.

We fished on.

Even if my promise had failed, though 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 reality as the sun had fallen behind the western ridge, thinking of years on Lake Musconetcong with my young son now soon leaving for Boston University, saying farewell to the immense promise Lake Musconetcong fulfilled for us, much less by size and weight of bass than by 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. But in spite of a sane attitude in dealing with the present, it's true. Lake Musconetcong as we lived it out is an eternal reality.

While Mike and I fished more quality weedlines yet, my only concern was the sharp drop-off that characterized the one I fished at present. I do catch plenty of big summer bass on sharp drops. And at one point on this occasion, I sighted a musky of about 32 inches come to the surface just yards in front of me. I tied on a big Rat-L-Trap and cast it repeatedly. At Tilcon Lake, for one example of a lake with drops, that's just about all you find. Sharp ones. When I examined the Lake Survey Map Guide depiction of Mountain Lake, I judged the southwestern corner best--shallow (eight to 12 feet) and weedy. I changed my mind after coming upon the northeastern corner. It was similar, but the quality felt more appealing with pocket water.

At first, I felt disgusted. Some guy in a bassboat had just chopped up a lot of weeds up with a high-power bow mount. He was skunked. We reported a few bass. We had come upon two quickly--almost nine inches and almost 12 inches--where a stream enters. It's 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. I cast there. Neither bass was any Mike and I would characterize as a nice one.

Beyond that northeastern corner, 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, it didn't. But now I deep and in need of clarity. Slowed way down. Once the darkness came over us, time itself slowed, as if without so much light racing by, time didn't have anywhere to go. Mike's Rapala racked on his hook keeper, he had set his rod aside, but I fished absorbed with little tricks of 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 instead for my box of topwater plugs. The music had only shaken its fist like the tail of a rattlesnake met on a trail and soon forgotten. Mike sat patiently, as he would just have to do, if he continued to refuse fishing. I had made a promise to him, but surface intention is one thing, deep-down desire another...I never had to form a promise to myself in words. 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 in 2011. I felt a twinge of guilt, because I caught that fish 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 instead."Bloop, bloop, bloop--BAM!"

Sometimes it hurts to have known better. He couldn't have reached the spot if he cast to it, even had I urged him to. I took that cast because I knew it was mine alone. But, in truth, I knew as I let that plug fly with all the power of a grown man's arms it couldn't possibly be mine alone.

I didn't touch the plug. I looked to the left of it and saw the quarter-ounce plug of the same model and color I was pretty sure is the one Matt gave me as part of a Christmas gift. This could perhaps seem too close an association to the other plug, but I've never felt his gift is tainted by Mount Hope's ambiguity. I tied fluorocarbon to the loop of a snap attached to it's loop.

These weedlines along the northern shoreline drop very sharply. 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, 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. No reach for his rod.

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 on the sonar graph, 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 fell underneath.

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, I saw nervous water. The resulting bass weighed about two-and-half pounds. About 16 1/2 inches long, 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."

I swung the canoe about at top speed, and muttered to Mike, "That was brilliant." I intended the words to be inclusive, because making that promise to him had made the difference. It never can be that a man goes it alone through an entire lifetime, so it must be that promises to others are absolutes. I had obeyed a deep-down desire of my own, when I felt that eastern corner might produce, but I didn't fail to think of my promise where things matter most: At the forefront of the mind where the murky waters of faith no longer fail to offer real hope. It's the hardest thing to go on and keep trying when you have no idea in that active part of the brain, but it sure feels good when finally you get a clue.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Little Variation between Plugs can Make All the Difference

Not long after David Jeon's amazing catch of a 22 1/2-inch smallmouth, I felt I better pack up and head to the river. First I planned on a solo trip last Thursday or Friday. Or I might have quickly amended plans and invited Mike, don't clearly remember at present though he's been in and out of this picture, and soon my son and I had plans for Saturday morning. Something came up in his life. So Sunday morning we'd go. He went to a party Saturday night, revised plan still in place--we would also canoe a stretch--but my gut told me, "He's not coming home." Sure enough, I woke up at 8:00 Sunday morning instead of 4:00, my wife telling me, "If your alarm had gone off, I was going to shut it off for you before you would have got up." 

This morning I got up at 8:10, snatching 20 minutes after the alarm first sounded, because weirdly I woke up first around 4:00. "That counts for a power nap," I told myself, preparing to load up and go, and it did. But when I got to the river, I took one cast with the little topwater plug I had tied on Saturday night for very early Sunday morning, and saw myself acting like a complete fool, because sun was already high and it felt near 90 degrees. Tied on an X-Rap and began an arduous quest upriver, having first fished thoroughly the set of connected pools near where I parked. I thought of trout, but this was no trout environment in the heat and that warming water.

I stubbornly kept to that X-Rap, knowing that in my book, it's a lure for cool water. I've witnessed Noel Sell catch smallmouths in the river in July on little jerkbaits, but in my fanciful way, I chalk his success up to the far corners of the world he finds these specially crafted lures at very high prices, knowing that there's surely more truth to the success of these subtly different plugs than fancy anyway. I've seen a little variation make all the difference in catches one too many times.

It really felt like I was out for hours. I had to see a Chinese tailor to refit my dress pants, an appointment I could not miss since we're down to the wire on my son's high school graduation. Had left my flip phone in my car. Don't bother with a "mobile device." Haven't worn a watch in many years. I barreled on to my favorite spot and realized I was only fooling myself about the pre and post-summer X-Rap. I had seen a buck smallmouth guarding a bed, but regardless, I declared that the situation called for my summer favorite. I tied on a Senko-style worm, and third cast, caught that nice 13-incher photographed. I tried to tease another with three more casts, then marched back, casting only once as I kept on trudging, telling myself if it's 11:00 when I get seated, I'm OK. Not sure I was OK.

It was 10:36.

Before I met with the tailor, I stood on the bathroom scale. For the first time since 1993, I'm under 200 pounds. The tailor laughed it off. So did I. Have lost too much weight. He can't refit the pants.

If you look sharp, you can see the engineer's cabin of a freight train. I've wanted to get a shot of a train coming onto this bridge for the past eight years, but need to situate further downstream to get a clean shot.

My steady companion.