Saturday, October 7, 2017

What's Up

I'm doing more finger work than leg work (or hand & arm work if sitting in a boat), but at least I entertain thoughts about what's up.

Spoke to Joe Landolfi this afternoon. He wants to fish Monday, but has a big project offer that will earn him a lot of cash. Just so happens, a friend of his from Lake Hopatcong died and his wake is Monday. So Joe is seriously considering forgoing all that cash (I won't say), fishing there with me, then going to the wake.

If we do go, good luck to both of us with this summer weather. I'm writing as midnight approaches, and it's in the 70's outside. Otherwise, I want to fish alone on Monday. Musconetcong River Valley. Not the river proper, but if I can find a tributary with wild trout, I want to at least approach some with my two-weight fly rod.

Our state of New Jersey offers real Americana to appreciate. When I go on road trips--to the Musconetcong Valley, for example--I really feel it.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Line on Hybrid Stripers and Walleye

The Bottom Line on Hybrid Stripers and Walleye

By Bruce Edward Litton

          I never forget the first time my son and I tried weighting live herring along the bottom edge of a Lake Hopatcong drop-off in October 2007, but I don’t remember if we got clued in by secondhand information or the rig seemed obvious. A half-ounce egg sinker ahead of a small barrel swivel and a four-foot, six-pound test leader of monofilament tied to a size 6 hook. The only change we’ve made since involves the use of size 10 treble hooks. I owned a topographic map, selected a sharp drop, used a fish finder to determine the edge between the slope and flat deep bottom, anchored shallower and cast our rigs to that edge. Sure enough, we caught good-size walleye of about four pounds.

          We kept coming back for more each third week of October. We’ve caught walleye every fall, and after a couple of years, began catching hybrid stripers along with them. On several occasions, a lot more stripers than marble eyes. Lake Hopatcong is not the only New Jersey destination for either species by the same method. Hybrids grow perhaps just as large in Spruce Run Reservoir and may be as numerous. Manasquan Reservoir features them also. Average size is about three pounds, fish slightly less than two pounds abundant, four-pounders common. I’ve caught a few five pounds and a little better, but so far, I’ve been jinxed at catching one of the six, seven, or eight-pound fish that so many of us read about in fishing reports, see photographed or catch ourselves. I’ve hooked and lost a few in this range and they fight like nothing else in freshwater. They just don’t leap as smallmouth bass do.

          Walleye inhabit Swartswood and Greenwood lakes, Monksville and Canistear reservoirs in addition to Hopatcong where they average about four pounds, six-pounders commonly caught with a number over eight pounds caught each year. We don’t catch loads of walleye less than two pounds as we do the bass, and though walleye do gather together in pods, the explanation for the catch discrepancy involves their not schooling in large numbers. On one occasion early in October, I witnessed fellow Knee Deep Club member Marty Roberts catch the last of about a hundred hybrids on one outing. He stayed anchored in a single spot, his fish alarm sounding off like Christmas bells.

          Many ways exist to catch both of these species and most of them cross over. In almost a decade, I’ve successfully used different approaches, but I like the bottom line of drop-offs in October best. I sit back and let the world unwind. Nothing else has been so relaxing and productive for these species. One caveat. Not all of the fish will cruise right along that bottom edge. In general, we set from 20 feet down to 45 feet, but throughout the month of October, be aware that on either Lake Hopatcong or Spruce Run Reservoir, fall turnover and oxygenation of the deepest water is not likely complete until the end of the month. We have marked fish as deep as 33 feet on October first, and yet as late as the third weekend, have witnessed herring dead reeled up from 40-foot depths. Your live bait is the canary in the coal mine, so check on it to avoid wasting effort.

          We follow no hard and fast rules on where to set, besides always putting at least a couple of six lines total between two of us right on the deep break. A good idea for beginners is to mark that edge with inexpensive buoys. Most often, we rig four lines with live herring and cast to shallows for bass and panfish with a rod apiece while keeping an eye on the open bails of the herring sets. Other anglers set drags light, tightening them upon setting the hook, but especially with quick-running hybrids, this can make a mess. Walleye, on the other hand, take the bait slow, line poking off the spool. You really know when a hybrid hits. Grab the rod, engage the reel and set the hook so that treble hook doesn’t catch in the gut, a problem we’ve never caused.

          Trebles allow herring liveliness. A single-shank hook turns inward upon a herring’s eye when placed through the nostrils, so a treble is preferable. Slip a prong through that bony opening for the most secure and liveliest arrangement. The tiny treble rides on top of the herring’s head like a thorny crown. Since the little hook with those hazardous extra prongs often catches inside the fish’s mouth, use a hook disgorger or long-nosed pliers to remove it.

          We miss a few hits. Not many. Medium-power spinning is all that’s necessary, and we’ve caught nice walleye on ultra-lights. However, with six-pound test monofilament and an eight-pound hybrid on the terminal end, power the fish when you can, but never force it. Hybrids have convulsive power like no other freshwater fish, sure to explode in sudden bursts of muscular force that will snap line instantly if the drag is the slightest bit too tight. Some veterans would never go so light, but on the other hand, Marty Roberts, last I spoke to him about it, catches hybrids only with ultra-lights, so it is a matter of preference as much as a matter of fact that a big hybrid will test any gear. I have caught five-pounders on 10 and 12-pound test, and though I felt relief in having a margin of more control than with lighter line, the fights remained long and sustained. The point is—these fish aren’t leader shy. If you use a 12-pound test leader, no problem. Fluorocarbon is all but invisible anyway. Hybrids must have good eyesight, as walleye certainly do, and yet many get caught on chicken liver, so they rely on smell, too.

          Herring happen to be rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. If you are good with a razorblade or very sharp knife, slightly incise live herring along the back, never so much as to impede liveliness much, just enough to release a little scent. Muscle gets cut, so a little of the fish’s vitality and endurance will be compromised, and yet so long as the fish remains active on the hook, a compromised life is more of a target to a predator. Walleye floats made of Styrofoam—black is best—help keep crippled herring out of rocks and other bottom obstructions. They slide onto the leader like an egg sinker and the hybrids and walleye don’t mind. Or just slip a little junk Styrofoam on the line, although the typical whiteness may not be ideal.

          There’s nothing else like it. Whether the wind howls like Halloween banshees or the lake lays calm and flat, this method works all day, but get on the water before dawn for the best action early. When the wind blows 20, 30 knots and everyone else hunkers down behind shoreline ridges in the calm, we anchor right in the blow, don’t even bother to double anchor, and let the boat ride the swells. Wind’s where the best action awaits.

Once that Summer Weather began to Stick Around...and a Little More yet

Presently 46 degrees in Bedminster, nothing else so cool is forecast until the 12th. During the recent heat, Lake Hopatcong water temperature hit 80 degrees, according to J.B. Kasper's "Freshwater Report" in The Fisherman. Fortunately for fishing--though I love heat--nights and even afternoons cooled off a few or more days before Joe Landolfi and I would have fished the lake yesterday, but temperatures are forecast to rise back into the 80's before we get out--I hope--on the 9th.

Landolfi is a kite in a tornado, and I accept the likelihood, based on past experience, of his not making any outing we commit to, but most often, we get on the water. And every time he's taken another turn, he's sincerely wanted to stick to the plan. I assured him that I was fine with missing this one. We'll get out next Monday.

I had a great 10 hours or so writing two essays instead.

Interesting point Kasper made in that report. He claims rainbows started to come in close to shore at Round Valley more than two weeks ago. (I believe he gets that sort of information from Mike Roman of Round Valley Trout Association, who I firmly believe is reliable.) Any case, those rainbows high-tailed it back out deep, once that summer weather began to stick around.

Monday, October 2, 2017

That's Just Our Own Lunacy

The former AT&T World Headquarters entry (remains AT&T) at the stretch known as The Zoo, very crowded during spring trout season.

Joe couldn't make his way out of Union in time for me to meet him at 1:00 p.m., or anytime near that, so we canceled on Lake Hopatcong this afternoon and evening, planning on going next Monday. This afternoon, I felt pronounced warmth returned, and last I looked at the forecast, more weather above 80 degrees is coming. We've had three or four very chilly nights, so by now those hybrid stripers and walleye are beginning to shift into the fall feed, but unless more chilly nights ensure, fishing might be tough next week. It might have been tough today despite the auspice anyway.

Sun nearing horizon and my needing to stop at Quick Check, I went to the North Branch Raritan at AT&T with my camera and Sadie, though really, the need was less to go to Quick Check than to get a little of the rough and the finer of a nice day. Walking between Rt. 202/206 and the river, the field had especially cooled, and I thought of warmth as I stood on the porch just an hour before, recognizing it might be some of the last I feel of this summer. It's fall, but seasons really have their own ways. They never really obey lunar arrangements as if by boxed schedule. (That's just our own lunacy.)

No fishing rod, I felt the lack for a moment. Could have caught a few redbreast sunfish. Wow. But I had fun with these fish last year on my two weight. Took note of the fact that within two weeks, trout will be stocked here, and not crowds as April draws will come, but quite a number of fishermen will poke their boots among stones.

Water is low and clear. Felt a little odd, since it's been such a wet summer, but come to think of it, the rains have abated.

I clocked my old Civic (still runs smooth) up 202/206 to the Quick Check convenience store. That place feels cheap and sleazy, yet I usually don't regret patronizing. Driving home, I wondered what's in store, not really only for me, but also other people caught in dutiful worlds of wage work. I recognized it was the Quick Check influence, but I didn't regret the sour feeling, because it was rush hour, and as with any event, I open my mind, pay attention, and process a thought or two. To regret that is self-sabotage.

Ever since Cornelius Vanderbilt said, "The public be damned," referring to millions of Americans in misery at, or slightly below, or slightly above, the poverty line, the working class has struggled as if in the fetters of a penal system. I deserve it, of course, since I could have earned a B.A. degree but chose not to earn any. That's a trick statement, because it instantly makes you think wage work is something horrid, doesn't it?

I did go to college. Eight colleges and universities. (Not one of them Vanderbilt University.) To say I have no college education simply isn't true. I have no degree. No degree beyond an Associate degree in Liberal Arts. The fascination for what began with Plato's school The Academy is no less compulsive than flies on shit, so instead of pretending I can one-up worldwide academia by ignoring it, I pay the closest attentions my time allows. Rather than growing less convinced that true education happens independently of institutions, the more I learn about all sorts of social institutions (all of them directly or indirectly connected to the central institution, academia), the more this conviction grows. You might think corporate power is central, since it buys colleges and universities, but the self-made business tycoon with no college education is more of a 19th century phenomena than one of the present, Steve Jobs aside, and besides, the thinking that made the phenomena of big business possible isn't without academic affiliation--as all important intellectual contributions become academic as soon as possible--though in essence, all original thought is native, not academic.

Not for a moment does this conviction of mine about education independent of academia discount the fact that any student studying at a college or university properly learns by use of his or her own independent mind, which means, in essence and in fact, independently of that institution. By what I observed during my years away at school, the best of these students read on their own, as well as what was assigned.

That claim will incite the pointed rage of a million loyalists, who assert there is no independence from social institutions like colleges. You can never placate them. They are embittered and sold out. Of course colleges and universities influenced me and continue to, as they have influenced and continue to influence you. Anyone who reads this blog. But any mind chooses. And I challenge myself, as I challenge my readers. Which is the primary consideration? This earth, given and independent of our mental actions and yet demanding of our independent reason, or the secondary institutions we erect upon it?

Don't mind me, the amateur philosopher. Once and awhile I depart from the usual romancing of rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs, and ocean, and wrangle not with "monster" fish, but ideas I could be wrong about, since context, point and counterpoint, weighing the ideas against facts I might not have considered, etc. etc., all of this in a vacuum of conversation, not one or more other people engaging me, involves not only what is real but grasp or lack of grasp of what is real. It is true that the earth is not an institution, for example. But before Thales of Miletus some 2600 years ago, no man understood the concept of objectivity anyhow. With that fact in consideration, what does it mean to possess native insight? Does what we learn through our family rearing, at least at the most inward levels of family rearing, count as native? But the family is an institution.

Round and round it goes, and I could write foolishly all night, though any of us might agree that there is a planet. And there are also academic institutions. And the two are not the same. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Hacklebarney State Park

Trish's idea, we rode into Chester and had breakfast at the Chester Diner, listening to NPR on the way, appreciating the very high level of journalistic report on Hugh Hefner's great influence on our culture. Also Trish's idea, a Hacklebarney State Park hike. She had mentioned both last night and I capitulated instantly, feeling only slight grudge for the fact that we hiked Hacklebarney only two years ago. I tend to strike new ground.

With little time before I will go to work, we walked to the, I believe they are, Trout Brook Falls. On the way out, I checked the map, and though I couldn't conclude for certain on the evidence that this is Trout Brook, not Rinehart's Brook, most likely it is Trout Brook. (By what I've gathered, there are wild trout in this stream, but you would have to work hard to find one.)

On the way home, we came up against standstill traffic. Alstede Farms and Cider Mill Farm are drawing huge crowds, which is why Hacklebarney was very crowded, also. I turned around, and took Hacklebarney Road back from where we came, following it out and making turns, knowing I was somewhere in the vicinity of Willowwood Arboretum, and somewhere in the larger context of Long Valley and Califon. We never found Willowwood, but did come upon CR 512 pretty soon, a road I know. I had answered a question from Trish with, "I don't know where I am," and while she fumbled with her mobile device unsuccessfully, she got nervous, so I guess I made a mistake in saying that, but I can't seem to help but elevate drama when I can. On Fairmount Avenue, a road I vaguely recognized though it still didn't make me sure of our whereabouts, eventually the image of the crossing of 512 at a church came to mind. With that church and crossing shortly behind us, I said so, but my words came across anticlimactically as I feared they would, since I spoke them after the fact. She made the point that we were lost, oh, but that I "knew" that intersection was coming up.

Hardly lost. I reminded her that back in my teens, my friends and I used to smoke joints and I would drive my Ford Fairlane station wagon up into North Jersey at night completely at random, the three or four of us finding our way back to Mercer County every time. We called this repeated-but-always-unique adventure the Space Cruise.

Trish and I connected with Route 206 in Bedminster Township 19 minutes after we had turned around.

On this last stretch homeward, I turned NPR on and then off. Johnathan Swartz played "Hey Jude," and we've heard that number as many times as John Lennon tripped on LSD. Back at home, I felt very good about the morning, felt affirmation for life to come yet, felt good about moving to Manhattan in retirement--if Trish's plan comes true--and there on that peculiar island joining mostly informal organizations and making friends with writers, photographers, artists. (And if we have some money, a boat will be docked on the Hudson.) And despite my attitude towards the Beatles (and Johnathan Swartz) minutes before, after all, songs do get so jaded they no longer make sense, despite this ooze of overfamiliarity, when I booted up this computer, it occurred to me that taking a sad song and making it better is about as central a tenet as any great philosophical mind can impart.