Saturday, April 14, 2018

Van Syckel's Road Largemouths and Pike Recalled

We bought extra-large shiners at Zach Merchant's Round Valley Bait and Tackle when it opened for the very first time at 6:00 a.m. this morning, arriving at Van Syckel's Road and the mouth of Spruce Run Creek, where it becomes reservoir, well before sunup, beginning our northern pike fishing along the jetty. I haven't done this in what seems a very long time, though only five years ago my son and I came on a cold April evening and tried. Since 2005, we had come at least once a year, catching a number of pike as large as nine pounds, some largemouths as long as 20 1/8 inches, and crappies weighing as much as 2 1/4 pounds. There was a real life to the fishing here, thanks to my son who motivated me to get started, though the fishing took care of itself after that.

When Jorge Hildago and I began fishing this morning, I couldn't catch the feeling, but by the end of three hours on the water, I recognized where I had left off with this form of live-lining shiners and my expecting attention on the fishes' end of the line, feeling returning to me as our outing's end neared, though no fish hit my offerings. But that expectation of eventually hooking up transforms what would be an empty throw-the-bait-out-there and sort-of-reel-it-painfully-slow-back sling-along into a meditative habit that actually had sustained interested focus for years. Dependable on the first try every early spring. Usually we fished a couple of hours or so at most, sometimes longer, always with a line that mattered, despite how meaningless this kind of activity can seem without the vital feel you can really only know from within, although outward graces one may observe of an angler can offer a clue.

It does depend on catching some fish.  And perhaps this begs a question. Could anyone catch fish forever and not get bored with the activity? I was definitely interested in hooking up this morning, but I fished nearly every day during my teens, and then gave up the pursuit. Not entirely, but enough to quit keeping my handwritten fishing log for nine years. And when I began keeping it again, I didn't fish nearly as many days to keep note of over the course of any given year. Above all, it took my four-year-old son's intervention to really get me interested again.

Jorge got his first bass before sunup. I didn't give up when intense light began playing on the water, temperature rising above 70, but I had my doubts anything else would hit. We've never fished pike early in the morning before today. It was always an afternoon and evening affair, and usually, we caught the fish from the time the sun went behind the hill, to dark. But Jorge switched to a Senko plastic worm and caught another bass. So hats off to him. This is his fourth try at Spruce and his first fish here.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Columbia Lake

Fred Matero emailed me the link I'll post. Columbia Lake will wash out in a few months or so, probably sooner than I can get up there with my squareback canoe, the dam across the Paulinskill River destroyed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Average River Level, Cold, Catching Trout

Familiar scenes from about a month ago, when Matt and I fly fished minus the trout. This afternoon Mike and I found the favored hole crowded, so we drove on downstream to the second favorite, meeting a couple of older gentlemen leaving a spot just below, reporting few fish in the river, despite the state having stocked spots of these stretches yesterday. Words exchanged pleasing, instead of pocked by rough resentment and obscenity, none out of the ordinary in the healthy respect, they did get us on to the put and take stocking mentality I typically avoid. Trout always swim these stretches near Califon, and though Matt and I caught none in March, big trout stocked last fall are still there.

I caught a little nine-incher I tossed back, and since no more hits came on my salmon eggs and the drifts seemed too fast, I crimped on a BB split shot to navigate that strong current by tighter control, the river not flowing high, a little below average, actually, according to the graph Mike accessed on the way over, but this spot is a sluiceway concentrating flow on a pretty sharp slope of the bottom. The BB shot made no difference besides better performance.

We hadn't stayed long before driving back upstream, finding the favorite spot abandoned. After his first cast, Mike had one on. I drifted an egg twice with the shot still on the line, finding, as expected, drift not right in slower current, but thinking maybe with the added casting range I could provoke a hit anyhow, though a moment later I sat on the bench provided by someone or other, cutting the line and retying. Split shot without the flanges to undo the lead crimped on line are one-use only.

Mike got a trout to the pebbles, after losing that first fish, and released it. Within a minute or two, he caught another, then a third. The deeper and slower water immediately above, where we did so well last year, wasn't producing, but I feel sure a big trout or two hangs there among the rocks.

I repositioned where the trout lay and started catching, Mike going upstream to fish that wider water and getting in too deep, over one of his hip boots. "It's cold!" Within seconds, his foot and leg were numb. That was all for him.

Filling out my limit of six in little time, missing too many hits as I often do, getting involved at trying to improve the ratio of hits to fish on in my favor, I got into the familiar springtime feel of connection with life in the form of trout, which struggle on the line--as if resistance might not be desirable though anyone who fishes would disagree. My appreciations for life include painstaking effort while caught on a hook of sorts. Anyone fascinated by a worthy goal is more than willing to struggle for it, doing his or her best to stay vitally connected to the end sought.

I knew my wife would be pleased with what have proven to be orange-fleshed fish for dinner, and I caught a couple more, giving the wider water a thorough try for a possible big trout, drifting the eggs by two differences of weight added to the line: a couple of barrel swivels snapped on, and then just one. I got one solid strike and that was all. A fly fisherman arrived and the swishing and whipping of his line, the loud cricketing of his reel, made me ironically compare sleek microlight spinning to fly fishing. The latter a noisy and somewhat awkward affair.

Which way to go home. Right or left? With a vague notion of seeing more trout territory on the way, I wheeled left, and we wound up following along the river well north, stopping at the bridge dividing public water from Shannon's private club stretch. I got out and tried the seams, runs, eddies, and depressions, getting no hits, though we caught a few here last spring.

We rode over that bridge, me telling Mike about big trout Jim Holland, owner of Shannon's Fly shop and columnist for The Black River Journal, posts on Facebook all year. We rounded a curve, and sighting the Musky Fish Hatchery truck in action, slowed. I recognized the guy on the road there as Jim himself, pausing the car as we greeted each other, shaking hands through the opened passenger window.

"I've got to let this guy through," I said, an SUV waiting in the opposite lane I occupied halfway, "Good to see you, Jim!"

What a service Shannon's does for this river. I can't get over it. It would cost me a big chunk of my yearly wage to join the club, but the numerous big trout that get stocked in the private stretch don't all stay there, and besides, according to Mike, Shannon's stocks public spots all year, me having interpreted this as meaning spring and fall, in addition to the winter stocking I know they provide.

We drove on past public stretches in Long Valley, where I know a very significant percentage of the trout are wild browns. I'm told wild fish occupy the Califon regions, too, and I don't see why not. I just haven't witnessed any as yet.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Best or Worst

I guess you could say I got out on Opening Day, just not by such involvement as to post a photo true-to-color, though actually this wide-open contrast looks kind of cool here.

I just drove into AT&T, pulled over on the bridge, prepared my camera, got out, and shot. Then I drove on to my job and an eight-and-a-half-hour shift, feeling a little disappointed that The Zoo hadn't lived up to its name, having hoped for a thick crowd, sort of needing a shoulder-to-shoulder Opening Day shot for my book, but if I really need that photo, I can drive to Saxton Falls next year on April 6th. And hope for the best there.

Or the worst, you might say.

Headed to Califon on Wednesday! Looking forward to getting out. And Then Spruce Run Reservoir with Jorge on Saturday at dawn. Pike.