Wednesday, October 17, 2018

What a Try for Trout

Plan was to wake up, pack up, go trout fishing. I didn't care to go at all, and instead of making myself do it, I respected our mutual endeavor and gave myself a break, rather than put the kibosh on what I always want to go well.

Sure enough, by early afternoon while I continued to struggle with an essay I will submit to a high-end fishing magazine, and felt frustrated over losing time to query yet another, I began to feel like going. Trish and I had plans to go over to the Lamington for a photo shoot as the sun would get low, but I had plenty of time to scoot over to the local AT&T stretch and dip some salmon eggs.

I got over there, reached to open the door, and realized I had left the salmon eggs in the fridge. "Goddamnit!" I drove home, fetched them, and soon worked the current under the exit bridge, polarizers revealing very nice depth, though I sighted no trout hugging bottom as I began a process of covering water swiftly. I knew there was no point of continuing to cast when I didn't feel this would yield anything, but not only do I trust my fish sense very tightly, I plainly saw no fish. I imagined there might be a few camouflaged, but I had my doubts. Finally, I settled on the fast water below the entry.

Standing in front of four foot depths, I realized I needed to add a couple of barrel swivels to my snap to get the egg near bottom. First, I took the safety pin holding swivels off my vest, clumsily emptying the prong of all eight or nine swivels onto the leaves at my feet, recovering only two of them, but I got them on the the process losing my leader and hook. So next, I got involved in the frustration of tying a new leader by the use of my bad eyes. Those size 14 hooks and ultra-thin two pound test are not easy for me now. After long minutes of intense frustration--all I wanted to do was come and have an easy go at this--I found that somehow I had broken off the hook I had tied to the fluorocarbon. So I tried again, and this time I completely screwed up on the loop knot, finding--after I tied a second loop on a leader that was about three feet long, not half that length as I had misjudged it--that I had indeed tied a successful loop in the first place, which was about a foot from the hook. So there I was with two loops, and when I tried to break the leader so it would measure about a foot long, I destroyed that first loop I had tied. Finally, I ended up with a leader attached to my snap about four inches long. Absurd. But it would have to do. I had had it. Battering off defeat, I thought very hard on making a new leader wallet, because there is no way I'm going to have trouble like this in the spring. It popped into mind that there's probably no reason to trouble over making my own wallet. I owned a wallet I made during my teens until I lost it a couple of years ago, but nowadays of course, I could just check on what's for sale online. I got a cast in, the swivels took the egg near bottom, and then when I made the second cast, the rig got caught in branches hanging pretty high over the current I hadn't noticed. I broke off and said the hell with it.

I haven't felt frustration as I did this afternoon since my teens. A burning kind of frustration. But I got my head together before I marched entirely off the premises with that resolve to buy a leader wallet. At least I know now I need one this spring. Yup. Had I driven all the way to the South Branch to have this sort of trouble, it would have sucked a lot worse. I got home and immediately ordered a 10-leaf leader wallet from Amazon. Then Trish, me, and Sadie went for that, successful, photo shoot.

After we got home the whole afternoon felt very invigorating.  

Monday, October 15, 2018

Relaxed Beside an Island, Ordinary Life Seems Absurd

Every fall, I manage to get out on Lake Hopatcong and fish the drop-offs, but even worse than last fall, the warmth had kept the lake from turning over and the trees from changing color. For longer than a week, I was aware of cooler weather forecast, and I hoped it would make a significant difference, because with temperatures in the 70's and 80's, I knew fish would be suspended over drop-offs at best. Mark Licht and I met at Dow's Boat Rentals just after 6:00 a.m., and instead of temperatures in the mid-30's as forecast, they hovered around 40, but of course that's a lot better than the 71-degree reading I noticed at first light on Wednesday.

Brian Cronk was supposed to come, but he phoned me Saturday night, telling me a friend of his had shot a bear and he had to help in the morning. Brian and I have tried to get out and fish together since early June. We're jinxed. Instead, I would meet his UPS driver. I found Mark to be great company. Brian and I have planned on fishing Lake Wawayanda for what seems an eternity now, me interested in going Old School and fishing live shiners for big pickerel common there, Brian wanting Atlantic salmon usually referred to as landlocked salmon here. It so happened that when Mark and I got off the lake, a man and his wife of foreign description were busy cleaning a good-size pickerel, so I went across the dock and joined them for a moment, admiring a limit catch of pickerel that seemed to range from 18 to maybe 22 inches. I know of one angler who claims he prefers eating pickerel to walleye, a radical dissent from the usual derision about these pike family members, just because of Y bones in their backs. In any case, and I've tried pickerel and they're good, this moment before Mark and I departed to go home seemed portentous to the fishing Brian and I will do yet, and it's good to be reminded that deep drop-offs in October are not the only possibility on Lake Hopatcong.

"The motor is quiet!" Mark spoke above the hum as we motored away from Dow's. He has a large center-console, but wanted to try from one of Laurie Murphy's boats. He told me fishing for him is about the big picture, not just the narrow limitation, as he described it, of keeping eyesight glued to the linear form casts create. He takes the environment in, and I said it's the same for me. Readers of this blog know I take great liberties, perhaps less so at description of environments I fish, than of rendering accounts of complex ideational moods these places inspire in me. I haven't written any posts recently true to what I've called grand affirmation, not since the Tilcon Lake posts, keeping instead to more conventional accounts of the fishing, but perhaps by the time I finish writing this one, I will have written material that Lenny Matera and Fred Matero--each other's best friend with nearly identical last names--say they can't understand.

Mark and I began fishing a mid-lake drop, finding suspended fish stacked over 38 feet of water, but instead of fishing them right off the bat, I put a marker buoy in the water, and then with the words of Jimmy Welsh at the shop in mind, "I've been catching them 20 feet deep," we anchored in 14 feet of water to the side of that buoy set near the drop-off's deep end. Jimmy had also said, "Striper fishing sucks," mentioning smallmouth bass this deep instead. Well, maybe a walleye would take a live herring.

We set our baits 14 to 25 feet deep, and soon Mark hooked the first walleye he's ever caught. Sun had barely reached the horizon. Later Jimmy would weigh this fish at four pounds, seven ounces. Five minutes later I caught a two-and-three-quarter-pound walleye. And then besides my catching a one-pound (or so) walleye an hour later, nothing else hit and so we went after those fish near the buoy.

There must have been hundreds of stripers under the boat and around the boat. We tried to catch them for a solid two or three hours. The lake almost dead calm, we had no trouble putting herring and also chicken livers on their noses. We jigged. I rode a Binsky bladebait through the school repeatedly. Not one hit. Later, I would discuss this with Laurie, and she said it happens all the time, "And then, like last week, someone will catch 40 or 50 of them." Seems like you can always depend on largemouth bass. Just put a proper lure in a bass's lair, and you'll catch some, as Mark and I did on this trip, but these hybrid stripers seem downright weird regarding feeding habits.

We had to give up, or else we wouldn't use our dozen nightcrawlers. And this is when the trip got to feeling especially good, or at least it did for me. With the electric, I pushed the boat at a pretty good clip up to an island where my son and I have fished for more than a decade. We used ultralights to catch all sorts of panfish and bass. Mark also used a heavier rod and Senko to catch a bass and lose a pickerel at the boat. I set three lines out deep for walleye, and eventually, Mark caught a walleye a little bigger than the larger of my two.

But best of all, whatever you want to call it--psychological resistance, habitual responses, suppression, all the big words for a simple problem--the tension, which doing a hard job day after day builds as a defense to doing anything amiss, gave way. I had first uttered some words to Mark I forget now, but a moment's reflection on them was pleasing to me for their spontaneity and grace. So much is written against language, among spiritual circles of the Eastern variety, as if talk is a hindrance to Zen and what not, but nothing could be further from the truth on this outing. Once I had spoken a few times, words devoid of mannerism and more intelligent than anything typical, the bottom dropped out under my tendency to suppress natural flow to get the job done, and I was free. For at least an hour before we left as 1:00 pm approached, I lived purely in the moment, completely accepting the mess we made of the boat and the sort of helter-skelter character of dipping many lines. And upon reflecting on it for a moment, ordinary life seemed so absurd and a waste of energy and life, as if the whole problem with society is that we don't let go.

Most of the fish we marked were at 17 feet, but sometimes the graph was almost full of fish icons across the screen. Some fish did mark as deep as 31 feet, so the lake is turning over, but not any deeper than that as of yesterday.
All these years fishing herring, this had never happened, but it happened a second time after I shot this photo.

Mid-October normally features peak fall colors. So far, there's barely any change from summertime.