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.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Snags Growing Out Below Full Reservoir Level

Reservoir water level fell below the 1982 record low on November 4, 2016. Level had been dropping since 2014, falling sharply during the severe 2016 drought. Level is still pretty low, and trees grow where water covered. Wood thickens quickly. Some of the trunks are about three inches wide

Went over to crowded Round Valley with my family this evening, carefully augmenting my collection of photos and doing a little bass fishing, though I caught none. Matt's fishing license got mangled and he failed to get a duplicate printed, since he seems to be shut out of opportunity to do that by whatever algorithm. He has to figure out how to get a replacement tomorrow, or else he doesn't fish freshwater in New Jersey for the rest of the year.

The simple and rational thing to do is print a few copies in the first place, put the extras where you know they are, and then forget about them. If you need one later, take it.

Like so much else, I told him so. Some people spend their entire lives forming sensible habits. (But at least they eventually do.)

Polar Cub planned, when we came upon the place on U.S. 22, we felt astonished to see cars awaiting to enter backed up on the highway, though we weren't deterred. Had another hot fudge Sunday. Also had one of those at Home Plate near Merrill Creek on Father's Day.