Wednesday, July 11, 2018

What Life Asks of Us

Matt's last fish of the outing. This 27 1/2-inch carp got too close to his Senko. Earlier in the afternoon, a carp showed curiosity, trailing Matt's Senko. 

The theme of an outing always seems to arise unexpectedly, and yet it emerges in a way undeniably distinct; not as something limited to my head or my guest's, but shared between us, participated in by both of us, and finally completed as a fulfilled affirmation we might call happiness, but always happiness in a certain way, as compared to other times we might remember. But every outing includes something of the happiness of the other outings before, rarely so much at the beginning of them, but always as they finish.

You've got to make that finish. If you don't feel happy by the end, you quit before you got there.

Today we drove a total of at least two-and-a-half hours "out of our way" to fetch the Great Canadian canoe. and later bring it back from North Branch Raritan River. On the way up, Matt and I were not very conversant. We spoke, but I don't remember what about, and it was little. Ah, I do remember pointing out how bright the sky. Not a cloud to be seen. "This would be a tough day on Tilcon," I said.

As things seemed for the first couple of hours on the river, it was going to be a tough day here, too. Temperature at 92, I really didn't feel any bothersome heat, even without sunblock, but the light on water a little too off-color for my preference seemed to have the bass hunkered down. We floated nearly a mile, having fished three favorite stretches hard for not one hit, before I saw a great splash at the tail end of a very shallow stretch that got me wondering. Canoe easing into casting range, I swished my Senko into the zone, felt a strong take, took up slack and set the hook into a good fish that got my drag screeching before the hook pulled. Matt had cast short by comparison, and within a second, we saw his line racing upstream as he began to take up slack. And then the big smallmouth was on. By a miracle of sheer aggression, this fish I had hooked simply snatched Matt's offering hardly a moment after it got off. In about a foot of water. We nearly had to walk the canoe here. 

The 17-incher contorting in plain view, I said, "Loosen your drag." 

"It's alright."

No it wasn't. Three seconds later, Matt's line broke.

We began catching bass in very shallow stretches. I never noticed when some clouds moved in overhead, but by the end of the outing, the sun was partly obscured. The change in conditions high above might have helped. On one occasion, Matt simply pitched the Senko about five yards so it touched down right at the edge of a very shallow weedline. Another big smallmouth darted out, took the worm, and then Matt was onto a rare second chance with a 17-incher. The line never broke, but the hook pulled free.

We had begun noticing wildlife. A yearling deer with tail up, darting along the edge between water and rocks. A groundhog on a tree branch. Small beaver swimming against a bank. The baby watersnake I photographed in Matt's hand. (I held the canoe as waded to catch it.) I saw a bald eagle, and nearing the end of the three-mile water trek, we both felt awed by a great blue heron rookery, about two dozen of the pterodactyl-like birds suddenly in flight. That's when I knew for certain this trip had a lot to do with other species than the fish we sought. To get back into wilds as we did, away from homes and businesses, on river stretches virtually inaccessible by foot, and despite this distance from things ordinary, to yet not see any of the creatures inhabiting the ecosystem might be to miss out on an invitation, and in any case, today a small number of the animals living back there made themselves available to us, even though, of course, none cared to come our way but went the opposite. Irrelevant, though. Life reciprocates life. And especially the herons connected us to a larger world of seemingly effortless flight. 

I know water was relatively clear last summer when we paddled these miles, catching 17 bass, but I think the river level was higher, too. I don't remember walking the canoe nearly as much as we did today; a fairly arduous process or in any such event, to complain once would be like throwing a wrench into a machine needed to get us to where we would feel good about the whole day, and we managed not to feel like mere cogs as we worked our way to finish. If I recall rightly, and maybe Jorge can correct me, last September on the South Branch we floated a mile-and-a-half in about two hours--using an anchor frequently--without having to get out of the canoe once. We were on this other connecting river at least five-and-a-half hours today, and we passed up some pretty good water towards the end so as not to get off the river all that late, sun nearly setting as time had the event settling anyway.

We caught 11 bass. Six of those were Matt's, including three largemouths. I caught five smallmouths, and the 15 or 16-incher I lost just felt real good on the line, taking some of that as I played it awhile, drag ratcheting. We started by using the regular five-inch Senkos, but I got a bad feeling about this state of affairs and switched to slender six-inch Chompers, one of the worms I used shorter than that with the head cut off. Matt experimented a lot, as he had recently on Tilcon.

That was Matt's first carp. We had encountered some in two previous stretches, and he wished there was some way to access the second spot by foot with his friends to fish just this species. He hooked the big fish near a tree in the water, and I feared it was going to get lost in branches, yet he steered the hard fighter out on six-pound test--that drag seemed perfectly set--as I backed the canoe onto shore and we got out to complete the contest. How many pounds, I don't know, but over seven. 

Even had he caught one of those 17-inch smallmouths, or both, they wouldn't be the proud catch this carp remains.

Back to Mine Hill with the canoe, 40 minutes or so away, we conversed freely on philosophical topics. I had started the lengthy and spirited discussion with the confession of an extremely vital vision, last summer, of Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin streaking down from heaven fast as lightning to join me, the three of us sharing in some of the most divine laughter I've ever known. Matt said that such visions generate religion, and I said, "Yes! Poetry and religion come from that madness."

Matt said quietly, "It's not really madness."

Matt and Boston University is a contest and we have yet to know results, but I feel especially proud of his eagerness to measure well when it comes to discussing ideas that might have less to do with a job's demands, than with what life asks of us.


One of my bass, caught below Bedminster Airport fairly close to one of the stretches, the Trump ban on airspace now lifted here.

Matt moved his carp away from submerged branches.


  1. Really enjoyed this. It was like I was on the trip with you!

  2. Congratulation for the great post. Those who come to read your Information will find lots of helpful and informative tips. Puerto Vallarta Fishing

    1. If they find tips, they can certainly take them, but there's a whole world out there.

  3. I can confirm we only got out once to pull the canoe last September and just for a short bit before the bridge if I'm not mistaken. Great post, hard to believe the wildlife you described is here in nj!

    1. Think I vaguely remember that once. Much broader flow on the South Branch.

  4. I thought I recognized you. I ran into you two while fishing that day. I just did a float trip on the North Branch this morning and it was superb action. Tight lines.

    1. Were you wearing the cowboy hat, or was that your friend who wore it? Great that you found the post. Did you do a Google search or did you find it on FB? Just wondering how the post is ranking. Congrats on your float trip.

    2. Or maybe you read the blog regularly, funny that didn't occur to me first.

      Thinking of floating from 28 on downward to some point below, but probably not until next summer. Love how the river changes as its course gathers.

    3. Yea I had the big hat. Orange net. Im on so im familiar with you, and my bud Andy told me you just floated. Put two things together figured out I saw you. The other half of the north branch isn't as good as the stretch upsteam of rt 28. Sure the lower part has holes just as good as the upper but you gotta get through lots of flat spots like the 4 h fairgrounds. It took us 5 hours to float from the steel bridge to the confluence, if that helps your planning.

    4. Andy wrote about tossing carp to the raccoons. You mean the Iron Bridge at Cowperthwaite or the steel bridge at 28? Any case, I'm interested in experiencing the river. Did float, paddle upstream, rather, with a friend at the confluence area back in 2012, caught some.


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