Thursday, July 27, 2017


I wanted to slip this in before August 1st. Every first day of that month, I remember a bike ride back from McClure's Ponds--Brian's familiar with these former Princeton Day School Ponds. I was in the habit of doing the 16-mile loop, sometimes every day for days running. This, I think, was 1976. I was 15, when the large husky-Lab mix, think it was, followed me from the ponds all the way to Lawrence, running behind my bike the whole way. That's how much that dog bonded with me.

So, I get home. Mom, this dog came back with me. "All the way from Princeton!?"

"We have to find the owner. It's lost."

But the dog found me and that was kind of special. We found the owners within a day. They put a Lost Dog ad out or something.

So every August 1st.....

Anyway, it's also when summer's getting on. Happy to report this summer has slowed down for me, so it feels real. Some people I talk to. Where they actually live isn't real anymore. You can't separate home from season.

Imagine. A nation of homeless people. People become schizophrenic. Without reality. Lost dogs looking for their owner. Unable to comprehend they are their own.

Happy to report also my son and his friends go places.

And Laurie's report from Lake Hopatcong. Plenty of hybrid stripers on herring off the points. Six and seven pounders. Lou Marcucci makes the news a lot. He recently caught a seven-pound, five-ounce walleye, and his walleye is not the only catch. Bass get caught too. Of course they do. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

We Might Find Our Way Again

Had the privilege to fish a private lake with Brian Cronk and Sam Kaplan this morning. Sam's parents live in the lake community. I was running a little late, but not so behind our scheduled meeting time of 5:15 that I felt the need to phone, and when I got to the dock area, Sam's canoe was just about to get unloaded from Brian's truck. I bought my second canoe--a Great Canadian fiberglass no longer manufactured--in February from a man north of Paramus, thanks to Craig's List. For $350.00, I probably made an investment that will last the rest of my life. This morning was it's Maiden Voyage for me, and I feel honored in the everyday way of getting out and living to put it on the water with a friend and new acquaintance. I try to cut through stereotypes when I write these posts, presently reminded that this is not as easy to do, as it is to get out and around, involving myself not only with pursuits that amount to shape-shifting purpose, but letting crap go, cutting down the signposts that clog veins and arteries trying to tell my heart where my blood should flow, as if everything is a maze that needs authority at every turn. As a matter of fact, my circulation system works quite naturally.

It's just the thing of using a low dose of a statin drug. No worries there.

Best of all this morning, the social quality. We fished in separate canoes, and we did get separated at least for half of the three hours out there, word back and forth when close, sometimes hollered when distant. I let very light breeze carry my craft off a ways after something was said about the bite dying under sunlight, and then felt deeply reminded of my 13 years on Long Beach Island, clamming the bays for a living. Before I could remind myself that I've suffered the tendency to think I lived that adventure chiefly in solitude, not memory of being alone but of complete release from any preoccupation and boundaries, day after day for years, word back and forth with a friend when we happened to work in our shorts during summer and wetsuits when chillier in that brine. Perhaps there was never a better way to socialize, because the bays brought nature, language, and personal presence together as nothing else could. To work feet in bay bottom and fight choppy brine up to your shoulders while collecting clams, this brings you home to this planet in a most directly involved way. That friend went on to earn a Psy.D at Rutgers University. He made this possible only through earnings as a clammer.

The man who sold me this second canoe warned me it's tippy, but at 13 feet long with a wide beam, I found not only does it stay put on the water; it maneuvers very subtly. We began by paddling towards the back of about 77 acres. Brian caught a bass close to 2 1/2 pounds on his first cast, once Sam positioned us to start. And though both Sam and Brian used Senko-type plastics rigged straight on worm hooks, not Wacky, I tied on a Pop-R surface plug. The water was dead calm, the day very young, light dim, and it all invited the possibility of bass or pickerel welling up from underneath, an opportunity I never want to miss.

Later, Brian told me, "Every new guy we bring out here heads for those pads." They're really shallow. I had a good-size pickerel on that plug, which got off, a fish striking in no more than a foot-and-a-half of water. I missed three other fish--two of them certainly pickerel--that didn't really commit to taking that plug.

By the time I gave up on the Pop-R and Wacky-rigged a Senko, Brian had four bass and Sam three. One of Brian's was three-and-a-half pounds, caught when we were separated by a couple of hundred yards, so I got no photo. I watched them fish. Fast. At first, I thought they were speed-worming. No. "They hit on the descent," Brian said. They were letting the worm fall, then twitching prodigiously and even reeling several yards or more to let the offering drop back.

Behind an island, the lake possesses a cove-like quality. My worm finally rigged straight on a worm hook, maybe I was set for business. Brian caught another bass, about three pounds. I drifted off about 75 yards, hooking a nice bass that played just a bit before the hook pulled. And then two casts later, thought I was into a fair-size bass, which proved to be a pickerel, boated, of about 21 inches. So I felt relieved, but I was feeling the bug now. Ready for more. Fish were hitting and I felt it was all just beginning. Someone in a kayak struck up conversation by asking if I kept any fish here. No. And not anywhere else, besides some of the walleye and hybrid stripers, for the most part. And he told me he runs off guys who do keep them, so I complimented him on confronting them directly about this. After all, it's a private lake and these others come on uninvited. We spoke for a few minutes at an interested clip, talking about how fishing refreshes us for out jobs, Hopatcong and wild trout streams, etc. He told me he lives on the lake, goes to work at 9:00 a.m., fishes every morning and does real well. Then soon I got word from Brian that we would try an area around the island, and as I paddled behind Sam's canoe, I felt I was leaving the honey hole behind, probably an illusion of my success.

This lake suffers profound eutrophification; there's talk of dredging, but I agree with Sam that it's probably best to let be. As is there's a lot of fish. Water stays off color. Muddy bottoms of course. And once I learned depths would register no more than about seven feet, I knew I was never bothering to set up the fish finder. I settled right into the lake as is.

But now, in our new territory, the sun was out, and I knew what this meant. And indeed, it was all over. Near the docks, we did confront cover near shore with two or three feet or more of water at the edges of brush, and Sam caught one more fish here. A crappie on his worm. I've written many articles for magazines that boast of my catching bass--really good-size bass by Jersey standards--during blazing hot afternoons. But the truth is, the hope for this is shorelines with depth and cover, especially woody or brushy cover. Boulders help, too, even for largemouths, and almost always there's some weeds. I've done it for years, but I felt a little uneasy today, because this is the second instance this year of lockjaw bass under sunlight. It is true. My son got a bass barely over two pounds in crystal-clear Lake Aeroflex under direct sun, and there I got an early evening three-and-a-half-pound bass with sun on the water beyond the shade the bass swam under, but I have a tendency of asserting "truths" too directly. In a way that falsifies truth for lack of details to clarify the matters.

At least the articles make clear where I catch those mid-day bass.

Another morning out on the quest, well aware it's not only my own. Life is a lot more than scene reduced to caricature of experience. Scene and screen sound alike, and the more we escape both of those surfaces to live real life rather than dally and doll out false references to how it really is, the closer we may come to finding our way again.

I've never been asked if I'm an outdoorsman, though I've been told I'm the number 1 guy in this respect for someone I know. I probably had no problem with the "identity" as a teen, but I resist getting cubby-holed, because it's not a particular ritual--like "outdoor activities"--which matters, but overturning the soil of experience so something fresh and natural gets exposed. Doesn't mean I'm some sort of gardener, either. Lol. Life is more than being some one thing against all else.

So much for identity politics. Thanks to Brian and Sam! I look forward to more!

Monday, July 24, 2017

No Outing Fails to Surprise

Many outings fulfill their expectation and may leave a little wanting, but no outing fails to surprise. We caught nothing, and though for me this meant we broke even, Oliver really believed we would catch something. Big striped bass, flathead catfish, channel catfish exist in this river. Night requires time, patience, and perseverance to catch any, but on my first night attempt during August 2008, I caught a nine-pound flathead, which I thought must be a big channel cat before it came into view, and I lost a striper. Since then, I've tried two or three more times, neither myself nor my son and a friend caught anything but a smallmouth bass on a shiner, and a nine-inch striper on a Rapala at the mouth of the Pequest.

I don't believe it's a chuck-the-bait-out-there-and-wait appeal, even though all I did to catch the flathead was bait up with a dead eel, lob it out un-weighted (flow slow) just before sunset, and attend to baiting a live eel on the rod I intended to man. Within minutes, the flathead was on. The striper took some doing by drifting eels with current.

When Oliver and I left, he mentioned shallower currents and I knew he was onto the right idea. I knew current like this existed upstream a couple of hundred feet, but the way were situated with a party going on where he could venture, neither of us felt any gumption to try. He had anchored live sunfish with heavy pyramid sinkers. That might work, but we were aware it's hit or miss regarding the make-up of the river bottom, even with the long three-foot leaders. A number of times he found himself snagged before turning the reel crank to check on the bait.

Flatheads sometimes move into shallow, hard-bottomed riffles at night. In any case, working a stretch--and riffles at the head--makes sense. Involvement of any kind tends to yields results. But river night fishing for these big targets...I felt sure the first time I bought live eels for bait that this takes some time and figuring out. Every outing since has confirmed this feeling, and I wasn't fooled by the first, either.

I wanted to get out under night sky, fish, and above all enjoy good company...possibly gaining just a little more insight into the workings of this endeavor for elusive stripers north of tidal water. All expectations felt fulfilled. It's not that I'll ever become a regular at this, either. I'm just satisfied to meet the mysteries on rare occasion.

On the way there, we drove across the Pohatcong. Oliver had his mobile device pinned on the spot. Suddenly, I braked before a huge tree on the road. Rain had fallen, but at least in Bedminster, no wind accompanied.

"We're not far," Oliver said.

"Let's park and walk."

"Better back up and park on the side."


I put it in reverse and as I began to maneuver, Oliver said, "Is there another way?"

"Not that I know."

He was working that mobile device. "There is." Soon it talked to us. I typically find the likes amusing more than annoying. It showed us the way. We rode up and down two mountains. About five miles, I guess. I never would have needed a mobile device. I've never been in a situation when I needed one and have no desire to upgrade from my flip phone. Time it took us to drive around the tree....was probably more than walking would have entailed. Just an amused thought I had.

Mysteries. No stunning meteor on this night. But I haven't heard a screech owl in years.

Surprises. Dead wood tree on the road. Two dead-wood fallen branches on the road, separate places. And weirdly, as we fished near the time we quit at 2:30 a.m.--same time three fishermen across the river quit (they had fish on)--a large tree fell in the woods nearby. Not a trace of wind. I could tell by the sound of the trunk breaking it was dead and rotted. I reasoned and told Oliver that just maybe there had been wind earlier...which loosened that tree. Not much more likely than it falling after what we had witnessed. Another surprise for me is valuable for fishing knowledge. Still on I-78, headed for Exit 3, Oliver asked me if this rain would raise the river level, and so increase our chances. He didn't mean raise it dramatically. I said no. But coming towards Carpenterville, he remarked on us getting close to the river as the road began to descend fairly sharply. Some seconds later, I realized that even with the relatively light rain--sustained and for a little while pretty heavy--a lot of water was coming downhill, and said that, yeah, that level might be coming up a bit. As we set up a little while later, Oliver wedged a surf spike between rocks at river's edge. Just an hour later, he remarked on the level having come up a couple of inches. When we began packing to leave, I noticed three or four inches of water had climbed up that spike. For fishing, yes, a rise in water level not dramatic can be very good.

That screech owl. "We hear them in our backyard," Oliver said. That impressed me, but took a little of the faraway quality of the bird's call away. Some light haloing over horizon to the north made me long for my tripod...and reminded me I need to learn manual camera functions. More than any other attraction, the big fish that repeatedly broke surface mid-river interested me. One of them slashed water close, and I saw the break--immense and exciting. Oliver believed them carp. But he did remind me that carp typically break water around spawning time in spring. I drifted eels right down their ally.

There the current takes a great eddy formation. As far as I could cast--and with my eight-foot Tica I cast a 15-inch eel very far--the eels drifted upstream. The situation reminds me of tarpon fishing behind Big Pine Key. We drifted blue crabs directly on tarpon that turned over at the surface, never taking a crab.

I got into play. The little insight I gleaned involved  a definite idea less than further confirmation of the efficacy involved in letting all go to guide an eel the right way. The humble idea of conscious attunement was enough for me last night. I got snagged three or four times, and the first two or three mishaps resulted in lost eels and hooks....which didn't sit right with me. I knew it possible to open bail, let the eel find its way out and then to continue the drift, because I discovered this that first night in 2008. The last time I got snagged, the eel did just that and redeemed all former losses.

Above all, when drifting an eel, I do not impart much action. I figure the less a striper is alerted to any guidance extraneous to the river itself, the more likely it takes. So naturally, the more I'm attuned to the river, rather than distracted with myself, the more I am like the environment any striper out there occupies. There was often silence between Oliver and I, but more between myself and my activity. We spoke freely without any hindrance. At my best, I felt sleek and active while measurably doing very little. It was about 85 degrees out--at least 80--and upon setting up I had taken off my Woolrich wool shirt, which I used to help subdue wriggling eels to get them hooked. I felt all the more there in the wild with no shirt bagging my skin.

Most of my hooked eels wriggled and scurried. Once and awhile, I enticed them to do more of this. I was curious about where they swam in the water column, but not concerned that they cruise at bottom where they try to get under rocks or whether they swam freely. After all, if stripers were breaking water on occasion, it didn't seem best the eels swim deep. Somewhere out there in the vicinity we fished, the river is 35 feet deep. I've always felt this is probably excessive for stripers, but where I placed most of my casts last night, I hooked and fought a striper almost 10 years ago. A very different style of resistance to a rod than any kind of catfish. When Oliver tried a shallow-swimming surf plug, I thought it an interesting idea.