Saturday, May 21, 2011

Will Cormorants Kill Lake Musconetcong?

Sometime early last summer the Lake Musconetcong Planning Board approved the release of a very high dose of weed killer to the lake. My son and I had never been skunked on Lake Musconetcong for five years of frequent visits, but once the previously clear water turned turbid with decaying vegetation, and we got out to fish, I got one hit from a small bass, and the next time out a month later we got no hits at all. The water remained turbid. I also noticed a sudden increase of cormorants, diving birds that eat loads of fish every day. I had noticed just a few of these birds back in the good old days when aquatic vegetation was so thick they could not travel under water as they can now. Now dozens of cormorants are present and presumably consuming loads of bass and pickerel. The photo I took of a congregation only displays about a third of these birds.

For now anyway, the fishing's good. It's as if last summer the fish were in shock and have since adjusted. The water is clearer, but still not nearly so clear as it used to be. Steve Slota caught a 23 1/2- inch pickerel soon after we got on the water. He fished a shallow running crankbait, trolled as I rowed. The fish certainly weighed over three pounds, perhaps three and a half. I caught a 19-inch or so pickerel soon afterwards on a heavy spinnerbait designed for a quick retrieve. For awhile nothing happened but a pickerel attacking the same spinnerbait at boatside. I switched to a lighter, chartreuse spinnerbait and caught two more, about 17 inches and 19 inches and grew tired of casting the spinnerbait. 

Although I focused especially on pad fields--all of the fish we caught were associated with pads--the casting became all too random. I like each cast to really mean it, so I switched to a Senko, Wacky style. To my surprise, a hit came within minutes, next to pads. Another hit left me without my Senko. Apparently, when I set the hook, a big pickerel's teeth just ripped the worm right out of the O ring I use to keep it on the hook. Not long later I caught an 11-inch or so bass. I also experienced a great attack from a large pickerel as I retrieved the worm in--I often twitch a few times after initial drop then quickly start over. 

The pickerel didn't actually take the worm, and I became certain topwaters would work as sun had set. Steve switched to a Rebel Pop-R. He missed a couple of hits, so I put a Baby Torpedo on my second rod. Finishing one of his retrieves, a giant swirl erupted boatside. Rudely, I grabbed my other rod--by then fishing the Torpedo--and dropped my Senko over the side. I saw the pike-sized pickerel take it, and set the hook just hoping the fish had the point in position. Good thing I used the 15-pound fluorocarbon, which had deep nicks after Steve netted the 23-inch pickerel, over three pounds. 

But the best thrill of the evening by far was the bass Steve never got to the boat. It happens this way sometimes. Fishing is definitely not all about catching, and to insist that it is would be to deny the value of so much that happens besides actually boating or landing fish. It struck his Pop-R, and I immediately reached for the net, knowing this was a good fish. When it came fully two feet out of the water, I saw the gaping mouth and automatically registered: 18 inches. I don't think it was any fewer. Bass twice the weight of an 18-incher exist in Musconetcong, but they are very rare. For some reason, my son and I catch 23 and 23 1/2-inch pickerel all the time, but have caught only one 18-inch largemouth. Fifteen-inch largemouth are average, and we've caught plenty in the 16-inch range, a few over 17. But as yet we just haven't boated a real lunker, although a five or six-pounder once leapt over my son's topwater without taking it. For that matter, we wonder why we haven't caught a pickerel better than 24 1/4 inches.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Round Valley Reservoir Responds: 18 1/2 Inch Largemouth, Great Weather

Taking that tip from the fishermen at Manny Luftglass'es demonstration a few days ago, I decided to fish the reservoir today--if rain wasn't too heavy. Approaching the recreation area east to west on Route 22, rain came down in sheets, but I knew showers fell locally all day. Sure enough, I soon saw breaks in the clouds. Rain tapered off, and before I made the turn to access the launch area and Ranger Cove, dry pavement passed under my tires.

As I made my way down the far shoreline--the reservoir is down five or six feet--light rain punctuated calm surface, not enough wetness to have to wear raingear. I fished a five-inch Senko, rigged Wacky because the heavy plastic casts a mile and sinks fast. Fishing in ten feet or so of water, the faster sink rate at least meant that I could cover more water. And especially with a low pressure system, I imagine bass would be more easily provoked.

If they were there. I fished a couple or three hundred yards of shoreline without a hit, turned and quickly made my way back, dismayed. All I had seen of life hugged very close to the shore edge--a pod of smaller alewives--but they didn't seem to be evading anything imminently present at all. I fished that small point that drops off very fast, especially to the sides with a pocket effect. But towards the corner my senses picked up.

I am a firm believer in intuition because it works for me. But by telling you, you can only relate or not. Because intuition is an inner experience--I think everyone has it sometimes, but most don't trust it because of the subtle mystery, not plain, graspable fact of the outward senses. 

As I approached the corner where the basalt boulders meet the sand shoreline across the dike, I felt my sense of possibility elevate. And rather than make a long cast directly into the corner, I simply pitched the worm about 10 feet right out in front, having observed how the depth drops sharply. Sure enough, line moved off swiftly. I tightened up, set the hook, and fought a very good-size bass stripping drag twice, strong runs. 

When I had looked down into the water before I tossed the worm, I saw nothing there. But the pitch clearly seemed the right action to take, and an 18 1/2-inch bass, maybe an ounce or two over three- and-a-half pounds, proved the point.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mount Hope Pond Description and Bass

Mount Hope Pond, 18 acres north of Dover and Route 80, has 12 to 15-foot depths throughout most of its acreage. The shorelines drops off fast, and even in the back of the pond the water drops to eight feet pretty quick. You can bet the bass don't wander aimlessly through the middle; I certainly approached the situation as if they ambush prey around the woodsy shore, and I came up with strong evidence that this is the case.

From the dike, facing the open pond, the shoreline doesn't look like much, but a trail parallels, and paths lead down to water edge where a lot of overhanging brush and stick ups make for excellent bass habitat with immediate access to deep water. I simply walked the trail a way and took every side path. Some briars difficult to manage, I had to maneuver my rod around branches and brush, but this just added to engagement.

I had hoped to take advantage of all the recent rain by fishing a pond that would not muddy (it didn't), and be conditioned just right for mid-afternoon bass under heavy cloud cover. But about a half hour before I arrived, the sun came out. And it remained present the entire time I fished. No matter. Three bass in forty five minutes fishing water new to me isn't bad. The first measured 17 inches, the second about nine inches, and the last 16 1/2 inches. 

I like the 7 1/2-inch Chompers worms. But today I could have used an inset hook, which I didn't have in my shoulder bag. I lost four worms to snags, which prompted me to check my bag of Chompers for a count--20. I may go online and purchase more, although I hate to pay for shipping, and prefer to support local merchants. Anyhow, I have no doubt that in the shallow, close quarters I fished today, literally pitching the worm while I remained back from water edge on the trail, a Senko-type fat worm would splash too loudly and definitely sink too fast.

This would be great early morning and evening summer topwater fishing from a rowboat or canoe, if a launch area existed. But as it is, I don't think a better approach exists than weightless plastics. I noticed a healthy presence of sunfish. Perhaps that lunker I have in mind feeds on them.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fishing on the Rise in New Jersey

The extent of fishing, as a social enterprise, in the state of New Jersey alone is enough to fill volumns. I had a peek at an article this evening by Manny Luftglass in one of last year's On the Water issues on the Bogan dynasty. I believe 31 Captains go by that name, mostly in the Brielle/Point Pleasant area. Bogan is a name I've known of since the 70's. Saltwater is huge in our state. But freshwater has always been popular, and fathomed by its share of experts. Today it's bigger than ever, thanks to an extremely proactive New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife over the past 20 years.

Manny had been scheduled to give a talk May 3rd at Clarence Dillon Public Library, an event I would not miss. It was cancelled. I was informed that he would speak at Manville Public Library May 17th, and I marked my calendar. Author of NJ fishing bestseller The Top 100 Fishing Spots in New Jersey, and 20 other books, nearly all of them about fishing, as he spoke I clearly recognized him to be a master. Our state offers not only waters to fish, but is home to great sources in the authors of books and articles about fishing these waters, as well as about the great efforts in the industy, the Bogans, for example.

It often happens that getting out socially pays off in unexpected ways. A father and young son discussed their recent fishing at Ranger Cove, Round Valley Reservoir, doing well with largemouth. I've fished Round Valley Pond twice in the past week, and felt compelled to try the reservoir. I think that on Friday when I visit Round Valley again, I'll fish Ranger Cove.

Monday, May 16, 2011

For Largemouth Bass a Structure: Corner w/Weed Cropping, Seven Foot Drop, Round Valley Pond, Observe Micro Weather

For my lunchbreak, I returned to Round Valley, the pond and reservoir both quite different in appearance, since clouds hemmed in the valley, completely obscuring tops of hills. I walked directly to the far corner of the pond. Getting no hits, rain began falling lightly, then harder. I quickly marched for my car since I had no raingear, or plastic trash bag to protect the camera bag. But rain altogether quit as I walked next to the first corner, so I decided to give this spot a try.

With the 7 1/2-inch Chompers, I could cast fairly far, even without any weight. Making out the weeds beneath the surface well enough, I wanted to get the worm right in the corner pocket where weeds seemed to disappear about 25 yards out. I suppose the water is rather deep, perhaps eight feet, although I know for a fact--I've studied the map--the depths are much greater and sharper on the other side where I caught the two-pounder last week.

With all the umph I could muster, I got the worm right into the pocket. The pick up felt like a sunfish, but once I set the hook I knew I had a bass. Perhaps an ounce over a pound. Then I cast to the left of the pocket, nothing. The next cast I put the worm directly on the corner pocket, and came up with another bass, this one perhaps two ounces under a pound.

More casts yielded nothing, and I went to the far side, and hiked way down to fish a large bush that extended out into at least four feet of water. Nothing. It was as if, with the cloud cover, the bass had moved onto flats and perhaps they had. I felt the desire stirring to pursue them and discover where they were, although I hadn't done poorly in the other corner for what time I had.

Hiking out of the woods, I startled a pileated woodpecker feeding on insects in a fallen trunk, one of the large, red crested woodpeckers that are not a common sight. That was a good way to end my little venture. I guess it's been four years now since I last saw a pileated.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Green Grass and High Tides

Taking Route 36 from the Parkway towards Sandy Hook, the sun surprised us, brightening a drab day into a florid display of May greenery. The relief moved me deeply because I had forgotten to pack rain gear and jackets. When we parked at the first beach area, the wind drove the chill like nails into our skin, but by the time we had covered half the distance out to the tongue penninsula the temperature improved enough to make things tolearable, especially with all that sun.

I decided to begin with a bunker chunk, just my gut feeling--which wasn't promising anything at all. For some reason the tide rose much higher than normal, and at 3:45 remained a long way from high tide crest. The fishing situatiion didn't feel right, and sure enough half a dozen drifts with the bunker chunk produced no hits. Then I went in and had my sub sandwich.

I knew the uselessness of encouraging my son to wade out and fish. Although I had dreamed for months of his hooking big bluefish on this day, hey, he'll have plenty of opportunity to hook king salmon in October, and steelhead in November. Today's unfortunate turn of event didn't put me out, and I kept fishing, just in case blues would show up. In the meantime, my brother-in-law did show up. He casted an Ava 27 and worked it through the water column at varying depths, while several other metal throwers showed up and fished persistently. No one would take so much as a hit.

But I did, on my bunker chunk. Thinking I had hooked a small blue, it turned out I had caught a large sea robin, at least 2 1/2 pounds, maybe three. As good as they are supposed to be on the table, I chucked this fish back. I tried sea robin once and didn't like it. A thunderstorm rumbled just to the north. The tide kept rising and threatened to flood the last bastion for our stuff. I had chilled fairly severely by having persistently waded up to my thighs in shorts and bare feet, while wearing only a short sleeve T-shirt. 

So we left a small contingent of metal throwers who seemed to me deeply caught up in the activity of working those lures, the essence of which was possibility, and I think today remained so. But they had chest waders on, and it's not that my son and  I don't have pairs of our own. Well, what do you know? It's only mid-May as yet.