Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Whirling on the Water

Have meant to stop by Shannon's Fly Shop in Califon for a couple months. Placed a call last week, to be sure they had summer issues of The Drake, but my short essay on Salmon River steelhead fishing isn't appearing as yet. Sixty-three degrees posted as the water temperature at the bridge this morning, I asked about trout fishing. "There's a lot of fish in the river." People have been doing well. I was told it's been down to 50 there recent nights. I bought a couple of RS-2 size 20's. A Rainbow Warrior in stock wasn't the "neon bug" as I referred to Jesse's home-tied beauty. I'll await one just as good before I buy.

Finding a parking spot before I made the purchase, I noticed Rambo's Country Store, Choice Meats, and went in to have a peek at the selection. Since my job involves specialty meats, I felt the interest. Ever since I was three-years-old, when first I enjoyed lobster bisque, I've been interested in seafood. I was in the seafood business for 13 years as a commercial shellfisherman. I've never understood red meat as I do seafood, and I still don't. Nor will I ever understand red meat, not so as compared to this knowledge of seafood, which seems to have an uncanny inborn quality. My pitch to those who interviewed me for the job placed employment in seafood as best desired, and at least what they could offer me does involve some work in the seafood department. On up Califon's Main Street a short distance, a frame shop and impressive art works in the window arrangement. Of course, any of my regular readers has some understanding of me and art. This includes painting and drawing, though I've done little of either during the last two decades, and most of my drawing and painting I did as a 10-year-old not satisfied in the quality.

When Mike and I first fished Califon stretches in April, I wondered about smallmouth bass. Later, their presence in the river here was confirmed on Facebook. Today I parked above the dam in town, but found only one spot not marked private. Very shallow water not worth plying. I drove to Mike's favorite spot, found it shallower than seemed before at higher level, but worth casts. Something picked up my Senko-style worm that didn't feel like a sunfish. Here at this spot, I took some 20 minutes closely observing what I thought juvenile water striders at first. Bugs familiar to me, these tiny black whirling racers (not whirligig beetles). I've never before got on my knees and looked closely. I braced my shoulder by my left arm against the rock photographed bottom-most The insects seemed to propel about on the surface film by wings, but though I tried to make these "wings" out--my eyes are not 20/20 as during my youth--it seemed as though, no, it's amazingly in the legs and feet, if you want to call them feet.

At the municipal park, I wondered if driving to Neshanic a good idea, but today the thought of making that arduous hike upstream felt onerous, as did the upstream march to productive water above Three Bridges. Dart's Mill is easy. But the drive a long way south. I fished long enough to regain habitual ability to cast where I need a worm to go, but needed to get back to my car to check my messages, flip phone left in car. The usual Honda's in the shop. Shortly before 5:00 I placed a call for update.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Bass Tip: Weightless Worms, Sticks

Bass in the Sticks

By Bruce Edward Litton

          Inspired by Oliver Shapiro’s book Fishing New Jersey: A Guide for Freshwater Anglers, I came to 18-acre Mount Hope Pond in Morris County. After weeks of virtually always catching one or two largemouths better than 2 ½ pounds, I decided to cross over the little spillway to try the western side. There I passed a fellow angler, asking him how the fishing went.

          “Just a little sunfish,” he said.

          “If you get back in the sticks and pitch plastic worms, you can catch bass,” I said.

          “Only early and late,” he said. His face suggested a tense air of authority.

          “I always come at noon,” I said, “and get them every time.”

          “Ah,” he dismissed me, “I’ll get them in Florida and avoid the ticks.”

          This happened years ago, and yet represents a perennial attitude that ensures bass will always be around for the sport. I sometimes see, while out fishing, ecology and economy merge. The bass on the ecological end of the spectrum, the attitudes of anglers on the economic side. Who among anglers wants to make difficult efforts—you can even get bedridden as a result---unless the kind who enjoys the rewards of a challenge? He can always brush off the ticks abundant in nature, from protective clothing he buys.

          Here in New Jersey rewards can be quite substantial. Since that day mentioned, I’ve caught dozens of bass better than three pounds, quite a few over four, one five, and all of this action in particular from May 1st on through August by a deadly method. I will be specific about the approach in several ways, as if each is different, but all of the variances involve traditional-style plastic worms rigged weightless. Senko-type plastics, all the rage now, sink twice as fast and so in my opinion prove relatively ineffective.

          In the sticks, I use a 3/0 worm hook buried in the plastic, but instead of using a fluorocarbon leader—which sinks—I suggest 15-pound test monofilament, which doesn’t. In any case, consider a microswivel too much weight to connect the leader to 15-pound test quality braid. Use that braid, because its low diameter allows efficient pitches and casts. (Line test any less isn’t enough to pull a big bass out of thick cover.) Tie leader and braid by uni-to-uni splice, and employ a rod of at least medium power, which I’ve always found sufficient. Five-and-a-half feet is ideal for tight situations, and such a spinning rod also favors accuracy, since the tip is closer to the wrist than longer rods that cast farther.

          The exception is lake or reservoir fishing from a boat. Since it’s a good idea to keep the boat at some distance from the target if the water is clear, a seven-foot rod may be a better idea, although accuracy counts anywhere you can get a sense for exactly where a bass might be.

          Two things to keep in mind, and then a third will be discussed. The amount of brush in the water, as well as fallen treetrunks, stumps, and overhangs varies from place to place. I fish five ponds of 12 to 25 acres with some variety of these characteristics and they all differ. I also fish Lake Hopatcong, which adds docks to the equation. Docks are not quite the same as natural wood structure, but close. The second factor just as important as wood in the water is the shadowline on sunny days. Unless you’re fishing a shoreline with the sun directly on it and no brush overhanging water close enough to create shadow, cast the worm into the sunlit water at shadow’s edge. Bass hiding in the shade see the worm in high definition and easily swim to take the slow-sinking, alluring offering.

          Thirdly, as early as May weeds have already grown pretty dense. In fact, some ponds notorious for weeding-in already have become forbidding. But for our purposes, consider clear water and weeds growing up from the bottom as deep as 12 feet combined with sticks. Baitfish and other forage use this nutrient-dense cover as habitat, and you can bet big female bass will inhabit the same.

          Combinations of sticks and weeds prove very good. They add relationships between shadow and light, and you can find a spot to rely on for as long as the sun’s out. At least some of the time. If action ceases after a few visits, maybe wait a couple of years and try again. Nature is a relationship. Put too much pressure on one part—it will give, but not in your direction. Respect the spot, leave it alone, and when you return later, it may once again respond to your wishes.

          Bass live as acutely sensitive creatures in other ways than feeling put upon by lure after lure coming their way and experiencing the disorientation of getting hooked. Water temperatures remain optimal into early June and even later in deep reservoirs; spinnerbaits and plugs can be effective all day, although subtle plastics certainly work too, and I use these more natural-seeming offerings most frequently. By sometime later in June, however, people who fish bass generally believe the game gets played early or late—otherwise forget it. My experience begs to differ, because the record shows results. Contrary to popular belief, I catch bass in the afternoons all the way through August, a month that can present tough bass fishing but not always. I mentioned sensitivity, why?

          The key is to understand the metabolism of cold-blooded creatures. Optimal water temps for bass in the middle 70’s mean they’re most physically active at these levels. But as water temperatures climb into the 80’s, while chases after fish forage do slow, bass burn the most calories. Rather than shoot around lakes like rockets, they slow down to conserve as many calories as possible. And yet something about them must be moving at fever pitch with metabolic rate at top speed.

          Think of all the forage in the water during summer. Much more than winter. Subaquatic insects, nematodes, amphibians, reptiles, leeches. Much of this forage is very easy prey, and bass simply flex jaws to suck in a passing leech, for one example. You can bet they do. All day. In sunlit heat or clouds and rain, summer bass have a real need for calories easily gained. With all this opportunity, you can also be sure that with this metabolic overdrive, their senses are more sensitive and alert than ever to whatever tidbit happens by.

         Pitch a bass a nice big but very slow-sinking, easy-to-get seven or eight-inch plastic worm, and the likelihood is very good the fish takes. To do it right, eschew twister-tails, don’t even buy worms with fluttery fluke-tails; just straight worms with no frills but garlic scent work for me. Summer bass hover about so hyper-alert there’s no need to attract them with a lot of nonsense; save the flash for other times. I use a thin-bodied worm, but the length suggests a nice addition for those needed calories.

         You don’t have to fish before breakfast or after dinner to catch bass from June onwards.