Sunday, October 20, 2019

State's Algae Agenda a Bad Blow

Rick told me his hat is good for keeping rain off him. My camera proves to be weather-resistant, too.

My brother Rick and I looked forward to this trip for a long while. My brother-in-law Jim planned on coming, but changed plans.

Early on, our set lines yielded only a bullhead for Rick, as I let him have the first take. Line moved off slowly, and so I thought it could be a walleye. As always, we marked plenty of fish on the sonar graph, but like most times--every fall since 2007--these fish we see electronically don't hit. We put live bait and jigs right in among them and they don't hit. Rick watched his jig on the sonar screen, right next to fish. I've been party to few exceptions, but one of them, in 2012, resulted in a catch of about 75 hybrid striped bass for Marty Roberts, all of them released. I don't know why walleye are predictable and the stripers are not. We invariably catch at least one walleye, but never more than four. Also, we catch the walleye relatively blindly. It's not fish on the screen we target. We either set lines along drop-offs by casting away from an anchored boat, or catch them by methodically casting jigs or otherwise drifting the boat with the breeze while jigging along the drop regardless of fish showing up on the graph, the sonar used to keep in line with the drop-off, some of these deep-water spots well out away from shore. (Most of the stripers I've caught have come this way, too.)

The sun having come up just barely over the horizon, we moved to a reliable spot behind an island. Often, a walleye is in the boat before sunrise, but today I hoped I would see line slowly curl off the spool where trees blocked sunlight. It happened, but the fish amounted to three white perch about eight or nine inches long, and a yellow perch. Unfortunately, Dow's Boat Rentals has only small two- or two-and-a-half-inch herring right now. That's all Joe's getting in his nets. I like big four- or five-inch herring, and I think the larger gamefish do, too. We decided to put all the set rods out of the way in the front of the boat and jig instead, so I pulled anchor and began a process of using the electric motor to position, keeping pretty much to the drop-off, venturing back out into the main lake. We missed a few hits. They could have been perch or crappie, but walleye hit subtly, too.

We felt more intensity fishing this way, the method relying on mental concentration, but I grew tired of it and decided to set lines again in the main lake. By then, the sky was completely overcast. I will be honest in spite of myself, because I can seem as silly as a psychic with my ability to home in on fish by hunches, but I felt it was high time to hook up, and setting lines was the ticket. I guess it took 15 minutes. I saw line peeling from the spool quickly, and excitedly said, "Hybrid!" I grabbed the rod and set the hook. That little walleye took line faster than any other we've caught. Later, while driving home, I felt I should have handed the rod to Rick, but I hadn't reflected. In a peculiar sense, it was as if the fish was mine for finding it, but more to the point, it was a little walleye, and I still have hopes that Rick will catch larger.

It's so hard to find time.

Soon thereafter, the anchor came loose, the breeze carrying the boat, set lines dragging, and though we repositioned along the drop, at the top of it, I never felt right about the spot. Why's that? I didn't know. We cast jigs and a Binsky while waiting endlessly on the set lines, rain falling steadily, our rain jackets and rain pants on, and I caught a pickerel on a Binsky. A pickerel from deep water, odd for this species always associated with weeds. Mostly, my bad feeling for this spot involved an uncertainty of just how deep where, but that's usually the case, if maybe a little better informed. Two p.m. neared, when we would leave, and I decided we would give a spot further along the drop 15 minutes, but nothing happened.

I introduced Rick to Laurie on our way out. I told her I hope they don't shut down. Earlier, I had introduced Rick to Joe, who told us algae blooms like this past summer's happen every summer when rain washes too much nitrate into the lakes. He's known them since he was a boy, and I find as particularly pointed evidence that they're no big deal Joe's having worked all summer on the lake through the advisory, pulling nets bare-handed, getting his arms soaked every night, never developing a rash. The state has authority. Everyone certainly knows that. But that's not to say the state is always right. Authority is often, if not usually, wrong. We the people have a voice in the state, and in this case of Lake Hopatcong's demise, I think that voice by and large went very wrong. To this day, Dow's business is down--because people are afraid of the lake. Pathetic.

Joe told us Dow's may shut down next year. That's up to us. (Will we be patrons?) I reminded him that during the last ice season, business was great. He enthusiastically agreed that was true when I was there in February, then said, "But we can't count on it anymore. If we could, that alone would carry the business. Four or five weeks won't do." It's a double whammy. The overblown reaction to algae, and the very real threat of climate change already here and getting much worse quickly. At least for the time being, ice fishing still exists on Lake Hopatcong, but not as it used to.

If Dow's goes, that's it for herring bait in New Jersey. Joe is--far and away--the lead supplier. Who else in today's age will step in and fill the market demand? I've said it before, without word, we anglers have no political voice, and our endeavors on the water would swiftly be outlawed, the voice of animal "rights" theorists at universities like Princeton, for one example, motivating activists to move in directly and take over. Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, Peter Singer, is an intellectual founder of the animal rights movement. The movement doesn't win because we have verbal defenses. But deeds are important, too, and to see herring disappear from bait shops would be a sad farewell. A vital nerve lost.

The dock was dry when we left it for the open lake.