Friday, August 25, 2017

A Innocent Bass and an Unwelcoming Bass

Cedar Rapids

Barryville, New York. So we see my earlier hunch defeated, and I thank Patricia, and myself. Her 50th birthday, a marvelous day.

On the way through Port Jervis, I noticed right away that the sign for Port Jervis Diner is new. So I'm glad yet that I got the photo we keep framed in our living room, and had a laugh at the previous thought that what I captured was the last we would see of the Diner.

I've posted on Barryville a number of times in the past, at least two of these posts rank well on the internet. I'll leave a link to one of them, a mellow and at least to me in some respect, endearing story, if the photographs perhaps say even more. So many times we floated the river, innocently released from duress of troubled times, then enjoying our stay at Cedar Rapids Campground. A place I once praised--yes, a little ambiguously--as like the Wild West. The photograph of my son--aged five--and his friend Tommy--aged three--features the two of them not near enough a motorcycle to imply ownership, because my son's arm is around Tommy, not the bike, and yet near enough to tell a little of the story. This photograph once especially came home to me. As I implied in the post I related the other day, "As if She would Forgive Me," it's not just that Jesus said "Resist not evil."

Ever since my wife got involved many years ago now, we've eaten lunch on the grass in front of the Zane Grey Museum. If you Google Grey's name, you will find he wrote westerns. Better than that, merely. He wrote Riders of the Purple Sage.

Some two or three hundred yards downstream of the Zane Grey Museum is a bridge John A. Roebling designed, built by workers. I did not photograph it. I don't understand its design, an issue I raised with my wife, to no conclusion of course, as we're not experts on its design. It is interesting. I suppose an internet search of the Roebling Bridge over the Delaware River near Barryville might reveal a photo. One thing I was aware of. Photographic composition from where we had anchored downstream wouldn't have pleased me. Perhaps had I snapped a shot just after passing under the bridge, but I had hits--all missed--from three smallmouth bass as the river, running at fairly heavy volume due to this summer's rains, carried us down almost a hundred yards or so before I anchored us in quieter water.

Water was clear. No, not as clear as I have witnessed of these stretches. We did well. Nearly 20 smallmouth bass caught. I know this isn't quite a bragging figure, as I seem to have got hearsay at some time or other of a 50-bass Delaware day; whose catch I didn't learn about. I caught two fallfish, also. Both of the fallfish, if I recall rightly, struck a #9 Rapala floater. One about 15 inches. The other, 17 inches. We caught a number of good-size longear sunfish, also. These fish are perhaps more often named redbreast sunfish.

Bass quite near two pounds today, no. Largest about 13 1/2 inches. Unfortunately, I put the damper on my wife's appetite. This first bass, photographed below, showed such innocence in its eyes I said so and put it back. Yesterday, I noticed our Old Bay seasoning near the crock pot in our kitchen. Smallmouth bass seasoned with Old Bay my wife and I both enjoy as delicious. Towards the end of our six-and-a-half hours, I caught a bass with such a disdainful look in its eye, I would have taken it home. A bass fully 13 1/2 inches, a fish worthy of some addition to tomorrow's meal. (Of course we ate at Port Jervis Diner on the way back to Bedminster this evening.) After what I had said about the bass at the float's beginning, Trish insisted I put this unwelcoming bass back alive, and so I did.

First Bass Ascalona Campground Launch Area

Lobelia. I'm thinking of purchasing a better 17-55mm lens. Apparently detail is lost on this photograph.

One of Many

Reber Rafts

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Sight Casting Largemouth Bass

Sight Casting Largemouth Bass

By Bruce Edward Litton

          I spent my teens especially fishing a series of six ponds, four of them owned by Princeton Day School. I knew Headmaster Doug McClure from church, and he gave me permission without my asking. Good water quality and rich vegetation never overwhelmed any of the ponds to put them on the list of notorious weed-choked spots. They offered excellent largemouth bass fishing year round.
          Best remembered, the shallow flats of these four to six-acre havens staged great sight fishing during hot summer afternoons when temperatures frequently reached the middle 90’s. I peddled back home eight miles on my 10-speed Schwinn to eat a late lunch, my stomach growling, after watching damselflies dip low, seemingly to make contact with vegetation at the ponds’ surface. Just once, I experienced a clear view of a damselfly disappear into the wide-opened maw of a leaping bass.
          Recent years have afforded me opportunity to fish the same way I caught so many bass all those years ago. A calm late morning or afternoon, a shallow flat of clear water, damselflies and largemouths. Wherever you find clear shallows and these dragonfly-like insects, you may find bass on the cruise, looking upward as they swim out in the open or along edges and in pockets of weeds, obvious to the eye and vulnerable to weightless plastic worms.
          So much is drummed into us about early and late in the day for summer largemouths, but they feed casually all day for whatever serves an easy meal. On the cruise, bass often mix with sunfish, some of them small enough to eat, but the sunfish show no fear. Rather than exhibiting any interest in giving chase, bass conserve calories burning at a high rate of metabolism in very warm water, but they will leap for a damselfly when close enough. And they avidly take plastic worms well-presented.
          In recent years, I’ve used seven-inch, thin-bodied traditional-style plastic worms successfully for sight fishing, but during my teens, never strayed from four-inch worms, my favorite brand the Ringworm, which I haven’t seen on the market since. Ringworms the first to appear with the soft plastic separators built into the body to trap air and emit bubbles on descent, many of us now have familiarized with Keitech plastics of the same sort of design, only with paddle tails to allow function as swimbaits.
           Before you try cast-and-retrieve methods while sight fishing largemouths, as you would be tempted with a paddletail, consider that bass may—very likely—only want what’s delivered right in front of them. Whatever sort of worm you choose—four inches is close to the size of the sorts of tidbits they forage on during the day—go light with gear, usually no more than a medium-power spinning rod and six-pound test monofilament. Unless you fish thick vegetation with lunkers about, that’s all you need. Otherwise, use 15-pound test low diameter braid and always a lengthy fluorocarbon leader of the same measure. Fluorocarbon is less visible in the water than monofilament. Tie the two by uni-to-uni splice. A barrel swivel would just complicate matters.
          I haven’t tried another approach that might work. For those of you who like ultra-light spinning, tidbit-size plastics like two or three-inch grubs on size 2 or 4 plain shank hooks and line as light as four-pound test for casting efficiency would be interesting. Some ponds featuring weeds not so dense also don’t host many big bass. A lot of fun with fish up to a pound or so might await anglers who explore the lightest of possible approaches, or for another possibility, a fly rod and nymph patterns. Just don’t use the sinking beadhead variety. Since I’ve tried tiny Gudebrod Blabbermouth topwater plugs and a few other brands without much success, I can’t recommend poppers, but about this I only speak to the limit of my experience.
          During those eternal summers of my youth, I often awoke at 4:00 a.m. to peddle half of my journey to Princeton in total darkness, arriving at what we called the First Pond to ditch my bike and begin fishing well before sunup. That’s when I did very well with those tiny topwater plugs using a light-power rod. And as the sun climbed, I switched to the little worms and began behaving more like a great blue heron than a young lad, perhaps. Some of the bass good size by my youthful standard, very few of them approached two pounds, but on occasion a three-pounder would appear in water not much more than foot deep. I never caught any of them, besides hooking up once. On that miraculous occasion, a whole pod of at least half-a-dozen bass from 2 ½ to 3 ½ pounds appeared together cruising all at once, and I never forget. Bass appearing visibly to your pursuit make an impression, and why not settle on small ones, if that’s what you see?
          Not all of the bass cruise flats. The pod of big ones seemed to simply rise out of the Fourth Pond’s deepest water and invade a sunlit shoreline edge, along with many other bass besides, I caught cruising shorelines. Why bigger never appeared, I don’t know. By other methods, under different conditions, I caught bass in McClure’s Ponds that approached five pounds. But we all know big bass seem wise. The great exception to their hiddenness—in recent years—involved a cruiser I estimated at 21 inches, slowly wallowing along a Mount Hope Pond shoreline. My stalking days came back in an instant, and though I got the worm in position for a take, the bass swam on by as if not noticing, and then descended to the deep.
          Precision casting is a must. Getting a worm ahead of a bass in motion by about two feet is the rule, but as you develop experience, you get better at sensing just where the sweet spot may be and lightly presenting that worm exactly where it needs to go. You could spend a lifetime perfecting pinpoint pitching and casting. These bass are not like redfish on a South Carolina marsh flat, which bolt like bulldogs for a fly cast six or seven feet in front of them, stripped ahead of them to provoke pursuits. As a rule, a sighted largemouth during an afternoon of blazing heat will not change its course for a worm. You have to try to make the worm as it descends meet the bass right there at eye level. And then all the bass does—if it does anything, not always—is flex that vacuum mouth.
          There’s tension in this game. Anticipation. Not every bass complies, and success is not as easy as may seem. To an outsider, it may seem folly to spend time pitching and casting to fish so plainly vulnerable, but anyone who gets involved in a few hours of this deeply relaxing and riveting recreation comes away feeling fulfilled of a challenge.  

Such were the 1970's and this is Today

12:52 p.m. I had slid my "Dark Side of the Moon" c.d. into the player, switched the device to track 9, and prepared to log into Litton's Fishing Lines. I'm off to my job at 1:15, so I'll actually post later, as I've this and that to do yet. I don't know whether it's David Gilmour or Roger Waters who takes the vocal lead for "Eclipse," but I have been aware for many years of what to me seems the perfectly beautiful sardonic quality of that voice especially on this track. The final lyrical statement has a vibrant edge subtle as cosmic distance.

I don't perfectly recall if Thales first attempted to predict a solar eclipse some 200 years before Aristotle, but the ancients--or most of them, as science began to emerge with Thales--felt superstitious about eclipses and other celestial events. Opposite to the skies, I think of Christopher Columbus on the water, and much less of his men who spoke of mutiny against their Captain mid-ocean. I've wondered at Columbus's ability to lead those men, however, as anyone might think of Albert Einstein's statement, "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." Obviously, Columbus held violence at bay. His ship was a rather small space to suffer an eruption of that. So as a matter of course in this respect, I don't fail to think of his men altogether.

The men seem to have hallucinated. That's an account I recall reading many years ago. Sea monsters. The men afraid out at sea so long. They got across thanks not only to Columbus's refusal to yield, but his working the problem out with men who wanted to end the voyage.

Quite a day today. I got the news. That phrase recalls on earlier post in 2012 on Burnham Park Pond, associated with General Knox of the American Revolution. I then cited the Steely Dan song of the title "I got the News" as a nexus between fairly distant history and me wrangling with the present,  but lets go south a little with respect to the Morristown region and focus on Spruce Run Reservoir and some results of the Howie Behr Hybrid tournament. It's not that I want to hide from you what I'm up to, but that 2012 was five years ago. Yes, it was quite the year for taking in nature's substance as if that myriad complexity divided into all sorts of goodies are "really good drugs," as my brother-in-law Iain--a first-rate amateur historian on the American Revolution--used to say. (I can't even begin to tell you outright how good these "drugs" really are.)

I got the news from Mike Maxwell sometime around noon, on my return from my physician--still working out this high blood pressure problem--and also from the bookstore, where I bought too many books--each of them Class A--for my wife's coming birthday, too many to bore you by naming.

Mike says 120 boats played the game. Twenty hybrids hit the scales. Think about that. Saturday & Sunday. All night, too. That is slow fishing. Winning weight was 12.46 pounds. Two hybrid limit. Mike told me the winners might have used live sunfish. I've never heard of that approach before.

I call that a big success. That many boats. Personally, I don't feel I missed out, having to work instead. I've enjoyed a couple of informal tournaments with iBass360 in recent years, but my days of competing honestly at fishing seem over. At ages 16, 17, 18, I competed with energy that never flagged until the very last tournament shortly before I left for Lynchburg College. A party the night before, I wasn't hungover in a painful way, because I was in the habit of drinking heavily. I think I could still smell the alcohol on my breath when the event was over after eight hours. Well before that day on the Salem Canal in Cumberland County, I had made up my mind. Becoming a tournament pro wasn't for me. Becoming a novelist was. But I had fished tournaments successfully, placing high in Mercer County Bassmasters rankings each of those years....and taking first place for the tournament on Spruce Run Reservoir when I was 17. I never forget the formality of being presented the trophy for that win. It was a real honor.

I still see myself fishing a  deep-diving crankbait. I rarely used the brand, but Bomber was the big one on my mind from yet earlier years of first getting acquainted through Field & Stream and Outdoor Life magazines at age 13. Until I was 12, I deeply involved myself with science, even though my miracle year at age 9--interest in zoology--was already over by a few years. Nine years old, I tried to originate ethological theory. There was nowhere to go with my interest. I was 10-years-old when I released it--remember this distinctly--feeling a twinge of guilt, but knowing I had to be part of society. Even so, science and I hung on until I was 12...and beyond. During my senior year in high school, I took Advanced Biology. My final project involved observing bass reproduce, and earned the highest mark in my class for that course. I never let science go, of course not.

While fishing tournaments, I cast over and over, never feeling repetition, because every move counted. My wins were always few and smallish bass when virtually none other got caught, but in fact manic energy tabbed these bass. I can't speak for other winners in the club in this respect, but I had a high-energy strategy that intended to grow, and until Aldous Huxley and Ernest Hemingway led me out a secret passageway, I thought I might make it to high-paying scales. Some people think such diverse interests in one man's life--even a young man's--represent a conflict of interest, and though I can't understate the degrees of conflict I have suffered since boyhood--it was Hemingway who claimed a writer needs an unhappy childhood--I don't fall into the victim trap as if anything is wrong with a life as it in fact is. To think of a perfectly harmonious, peaceful life does recall numerous times I have loved just that. But after awhile, that gets boring. So I never have forgotten MCB's tournament on the Susquehanna Flats, a two day event, we club members staying at a motel, card game into the night. The winner boated a few bass up to four pounds, and at the scales the man gave me a long look. I felt both honored and slightly put off. He was about 35, somewhat of a tough guy. I was built. I lifted weights after school and it showed. My shoulders were broad and muscular. Biceps developed, as was my chest. The abdominal six pack wasn't very pronounced, because I didn't like sit-ups, though I did them. Just not as much as the weights. By late summer after senior year, I probably had some flab from all the beer. But I was nerdish, rather than tough. Honored at Susquehanna Flats in Maryland, because the man's gaze singled me out as worthy to show up. A little intimidated, because he seemed to give away that he was pissed at me as a young upstart. I'm no fool. I know that, potentially, there is grave danger in a look like that.

I wasn't even drinking age. But I behaved as if I was from the moment I joined the club. Such were the 1970's.

The most recent two posts were about Mike and Philippe. They had a great time. Their confidence hasn't flagged. Now with this third post on the Howie Behr, I indulge. Another past tournament on Spruce Run Reservoir I fished at age 18 drew members of the Bass Angler's Sportsmen's Society statewide. I didn't place in that one. I wrote about that in my post, "As if She would Forgive Me," and will leave behind a link to that post, but I don't need her forgiveness. Or if I do on some level I don't really know well enough about, that's a matter of all in due time. Maybe it's really the other way around. I suppose she needs mine. And if so, I need more of those harmonious perfections yet, knowing that none of it will count, without truly understanding a difficult issue. Maybe, when I wrote that post, I was wise enough to know just this I've stated months later, then playing out yet another tricky day by my craft and wiles.

I don't usually like the loud banging around of The Who about that.

Steely Dan I have much better respects for. An English major counts. I know this the hard way, which is not at all to say I don't have a great college education. The degree is not all an education amounts to. Anyone who thinks a degree is all a college or university education amounts to is a fool. But I don't say a degree doesn't count, obviously not. So what Steely Dan hears may be true. But I would feel honored if they would still be proud to know me. "I got the News," after all.