Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Opposite Man

Lake Hopatcong has big crappies, too

So now that ice fishing is done, unless we get a cold snap producing marginally safe ice for a little while, I look ahead. This afternoon I turned over and ran my auger powerhead about two dozen times, each pull of the chord resulting in engine running for about a few seconds, to burn off the Husquevarna left inside. I never get all of it out of the bulb pump, but that dries out pretty quickly, and the plastic is preserved against rot. All the tip-ups, etc., are put away, and at one moment, I remembered last year like yesterday.

This year's fishing will be like past years', as far as numbers of fish and size go, but the actual number of outings may decline somewhat, since I don't get writing done I don't do. Supermarket food prepping demands more of my time than years I worked for the credit union and country club. Oh, gee, I forgot. Mental work isn't serious in America. The serious stuff is what you can blow out your ass. (If that comparison were the truth, instead of tongue-in-cheek, we would all go down on the farm very fast.) I'm inspired to write this post after viewing a video on the Fishing with Attitude site I will link you to. Steve Vullo is really good at what he does. If I knew the fishing industry as Steve does, I would be working at a much higher position in the supermarket chain than food prepping! His video offers simple approaches to understanding the product dimension, but then, why is it I don't pursue this further? There's no way, if I took Steve's advice, I would get as good at it as he is, but this is much less due to what I lack, than interest in other things. (I suppose I wouldn't want to be a district manager.)

Back when Matt and I began fishing Lake Hopatcong in 2007, I assessed my fishing abilities in a much wider respect than for the nonce, and I knew that not only do people exist on that lake, fishing it several times a week at the least; much the same is true about the New Jersey scene in general, not to mention the national, and the international. There are people who globetrot, fishing dozens of countries. I like to read about them in fly fishing, sporting, and saltwater fishing magazines.

I would fish more if I could, and I earnestly work at increasing my ability to catch fish, but I resigned myself more than 10 years ago to the fact that there are others who do better than me, and with a little wistful uncertainty, it's true, I resigned myself to never comparing to the performance many others achieve. But fishing is less about performance than contemplation for me anyway. I would have believed this not true during my teens, but looking back on those years, I wonder if that really was the fact, despite how hard I worked at doing it real well, fishing 250 days each year. Catching a lot of fish, too, but overestimating my abilities, I think, even though, for a teenager, and putting in the time, I was good. Part of the reason I look back and think it was more about contemplation than I reflected upon, evaluated, and recognized, is because what I best remember about those years now is not my driven obsession with making catches, accumulating numbers, and comparing them to past performance, not to mention joining a Bass Anglers Sportsmen's Society chapter at age 16 and winning tournaments, taking trophies from men older than twice my age. That was a ballsy move on my part, which raised the eyebrows of a few upon my admittance to the club. I was a tall young man who looked three or four years older than I really was, sitting in a strip bar after a club meeting among a few of us, talking bass fishing obsessively, turning back a beer bottle as a dancer methodically moved her ass four feet before me. (Perhaps she could tell I wasn't legally there!) That wasn't the only visit to places not so forbidden during the seventies, and New Jersey not the only state to host our tournaments.

"Boy! You're hell on equipment!" My outdoor mentor once boasted. A man who never would have taught me, had he not thought me accomplished, at age 14, no less. Obviously, I never forgot this incident. I laughed, but his blustery show cut to a truth central to who I am. I remember my mentor and so much of everything else but best value the memory of pedaling home from fishing on my 10-speed Schwinn, thinking hard on the unanswerable question of why I fished. I've never answered that question. Aristotle's recognition of means leading to the end of happiness is way too simple an idea to serve as answer, I mean, of course that is true, but the meaning of my question involves a whole lot more. Many years after I contemplated this idea for about two years' time, I read about philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein asking the same question and just as lost on it about his passion for tennis. I took a very professionally involved IQ test years ago--the process involved three one or two hour visits, three times over three weeks--because I am so bad with piecemeal information and things like fishing equipment that this messy state of affairs caused concern, in hopes that there might be a way for me to improve. No one thought I was stupid...just stupid in a certain way, and the woman who had the hunch wanted it confirmed, as if the knowledge might help solve the problem, which it has not, except that the knowledge gained does help sooth my nerves about it all....and once and awhile, translating technical shortcuts in words does help. Besides, I value my fishing equipment. My study upstairs just looks like a wreck. The IQ test revealed a verbal score way up in the gifted range; a performance score I would rather not talk about! America is "all about" (as we say) performance. I'm good with words, where stuff seems to matter more. So does that mean I capitulate, give up, throw in the towel, because shit is a better product than what I write? I told my son on the phone from Boston University the other day, while trying to figure out how to get the printer to print, that if he could explain the technical moves in words, I can do them. He couldn't, so as yet I'm stuck with this problem, not that I haven't tried to figure it out, but I haven't succeeded, of course. Finally, I had my wife do it, not that dependency feels all that great, but to refuse to ask for help is worse. Written language use--in conversation too--is technical, but the way I continue to learn syntactical moves isn't very conventional. It's more like sculpting, perhaps. I see my way to solutions, and then name the rule I've exercised, if I bother to name it at all, usually I don't. Most writers, like me, rarely do. If the move is unusual, then a rule of thumb might pop up on the mental screen. In general, writers who are successful know what they're doing and don't reflect back on the explicit principles as they work. Do I make mistakes? The process is messy for perhaps all writers, but my mother gave me a book about 40 years ago, The Careful Writer. What you read, I hope, is a polished product.

And the musical resonance of words often guides my selections. One of my readers told me some of the Litton's Fishing Lines passages impress him as music, and he should know. He's a professional musician. It would have been nice if I told him this is intended, but I simply never thought to say so. None of this means I'm the greatest genius of the English language going around here--I might say American language, anyway--it just means that Litton's Fishing Lines is a double entendre.

So there you go, some attitude.

There's hope I'll score some big numbers, and catch some big fish, this year. Plans galore swim in my head, but I won't go into these, because that's way too involved. I'll only say I plan on fly fishing with my son and Mike Maxwell early in March. We have the choice of fishing where a fair amount got stocked recently, and where holdovers are pretty, but probably fewer in number.

Here's the link to Vullo's spiel. I think he's good at it: https://www.facebook.com/FishingWitAttitude/videos/1780371935591085/

Monday, February 19, 2018

Meadowlands Flats for Striped Bass

Here's a story published in New Jersey Federated Sportsmen's News last year. Most of us won't go fishing places I happen to write about, but I'm a firm believer in familiarity breeding better than contempt. I know most Americans are secret romantics at heart, who appreciate faraway unknown places. They like keeping secrets, such as that one about their heart's desire, and yet, we're all in this together, and while each of us is every bit as separate from anyone else as united, moving by his or her own motives and not others', platforms such as this blog serve both purposes. Hundreds of visitors come on every week, and while this shows we're doing the same thing and reading some of the same posts, each visitor, for the most part, has no knowledge of any other visitor, except for any change noticed in share numbers or the total visitation figure displayed aside the first post before he or she might scroll down.

I believe it's important to remember that no matter how much we know, and how familiar we become with our surrounding world, we will never get even close to knowing everything, and as familiar as anyone might become with the Meadowland's flats, for example, every new moment means a new place, it's only "what it is" by name.

So I may as well write, since without a name, there's nowhere to go

Matt Litton Photo

Meadowlands Flats for Striped Bass

By Bruce Edward Litton

          The Meadowlands are more than an immense landfill. They now not only thrive with striped bass and forage species fed upon. With the dumps inactive since about 1980, most parts of this ancient marsh may offer anglers glimpses of its enduring character as an environment worth time spent to catch a few of these bass. DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst is one of these places. The wild grass-covered hills actually hide heaps of trash, but tons of stuff potentially reminding anyone of most 20th century decades has taken its last rites never to be seen again.

          From late March into June, a few fishermen score big on school stripers as large as 11 pounds or more. Flats serve an excellent early season starting point. Mostly very shallow, they warm fast. During a March or April heat wave, falling tide pulls out warmed water from upper flats above a set of flats below. Stripers congregate in the currents produced by pipes emptying the upper flats into lower.

          Artificially constructed from original marsh, the flats make for a simple fishing approach. Cordoned off from one another by lengthy dikes with trails and fishing access all along them, a great deal of acreage is simplified by these pipe spillways and one large sluiceway with flow under a bridge. These spots are striper magnets. Without them, it seems very doubtful bass would bother swimming up here from the Hackensack River. At low tide, most of the lower flat that gets fished is exposed mud with huge Atlantic white cedar stumps from the 19th century accenting the age-old character of the marshland at large. Channels leading to the spillways and sluice become perfectly evident, holding the only water remaining.

            Each one of the eight pipe flows can hold bass, but everyone seems to agree that the outflow closest to the Meadowlands Environmental Center building is hot. I’ve also witnessed white perch caught here. Simply exit the parking lot towards the first flat visible to the right of the building facing you. That corner with the outflow looks humble but can be loaded with bass. An angler who has fished these waters for years spoke to me of once catching a dozen keeper-size stripers on a blistering cold day in March when tide approached its lowest. The first corner was “nothing but a shallow creek, and I pulled one bass after the other out of it!” The outflow at the far corner of the dike proceeding from the first corner is good, also.

          It seems to pump straight into deep open water, but if you let a swimbait sink or work a jerkbait down too deep, getting snagged will change your mind about that. Beginning a retrieve when a swimbait hits water is best by keeping the rod tip high and turning that crank. Another angler told me a big bass hit his floating Rapala out among stumps, a bass so big it never stopped running before eight-pound test mono parted.

           From that far corner, a 10-minute walk—half a mile or so—takes you to the walk bridge over a sluice. Here the mouth of the upper flat has the deepest water of all the acreage, about 35 feet. A big hole unlike any other spot. As tide falls, water moves through this sluice with great force because of the uneven water levels between flats. That water is deep under the bridge and typically too fast to fish. But immediately past the bridge portal edges and eddies develop. A great deal of possibility exists for working a lure through these current variations. The water is not as deep emptying onto the lower flat, and bass sometimes pack these flows. The depths here compared to other spots especially call for weighted swimbaits.

          Especially early on, nothing seems to beat a paddletail swimbait in all the spots. I once ran out of paddletails (stumps voracious) and settled for straight tailed swimbaits, only to experience the bite stop dead. Even with fairly cold water a moderate retrieve proves most effective. Bass associated with these currents satisfy an interest in feeding, so assume they’re active and willing to react. By retrieving a paddletail along a current edge, either steadily or by pulls and twitches, it’s not important and not advisable to keep close contact with bottom. The one exception is the bridge sluiceway, where I let a swimbait poke along bottom sometimes.

          I’ve done best with white and pearl 3/8ths to ¾ ounce. A medium-power rod suffices, but an eight-foot spinning rod ideal for casting lures in the fall surf gets better casting distance with thin diameter quality braid line. And the heftier rod is good insurance against the disaster of a big striper on a rod suitable for largemouths. Currents at the sluice reach way out onto the flat, so you’ll feel the advantage of long casts.

          As water warms, lure choices increase. Jerkbaits and even topwaters become appealing as erratic action approximates increased activity. Fish current edges and eddies especially, but always check strong current. We’ve caught bass in direct current early in the season also. Experimenting with retrieves might result in hitting a nerve regular action just doesn’t excite. Nature is less regular and lawful than schoolbooks may lead us to believe. The willing takers sometimes seem to deviate from any norm. One striper may react first, and then others may sort of fall into line, so stay aware of retrieve cadence so you can run a rhythm by bass again, if it works once. It may be impossible to tell if a bass reacts because of feeding impulse, or because lure action provokes aggression, even if other bass start doing the same, but if it feels as if you’re provoking aggression, you’re getting the better of bass, so take note. While everything that swims has a constant intent to survive, most everything swimming doesn’t survive long, so irony gets the best of some intentions. Bass not only sense motions signaling something in the water seemingly trying to escape that fate all creatures meet in the end. They fall to us by trying to smash something odd to them as if they have the power…but you’ve just hooked up!

          Not always does an early warm spell with a falling evening tide provoke a bite. Early in April one year, I experienced what I thought a perfect combination of sun, 87-degree temperature and falling late afternoon/evening tide. I almost succumbed to believing in an inevitable big score, but putting hope in check saved face. I had one hit. Although the best bet early on involves warm water ebb, our best fishing in April has occurred under overcast skies with light rain during mid-afternoon ebb. And catches happen in those blustery cold conditions as well.

            Remember. Anyone who wants to experience the Meadowlands by striper fishing has time ahead yet. Once water warms in May, early and late in the day becomes the rule that may be broken during overcast or rainy weather. By June, if it gets too hot, think of alternatives, because this is a cool-water fishery with just a touch of warmth to it.



Sunday, February 18, 2018

Laurie's Report on the End

Laurie more and less implicitly confirms my recent posts, although there was enough ice to get out on Hopatcong on Saturday, and I wonder if anyone fished Tilcon. To get the chisel head of a splitting bar through with two strokes is definitely ice not to step out upon. We call that kind of ice rotted. I wonder how deeply striated that ice had got by Saturday.


The 2018 ice fishing season for Lake Hopatcong has sadly come to an end…although there is still about 4 to 5 inches of ice covering most parts of the lake, shorelines have opened up and you can put the spud bar thru in 2 shots. Warmer temps and rain forecasted for the upcoming week should really finish it off. A handful of guys did fish on Saturday after the freezing temps the night before with several pickerel and perch caught in the shallower water and some nice walleye jigged up out of deeper water off Chestnut Point. Bring on Spring !!! Have a great week...