Saturday, June 18, 2011

Other Side of Mt. Hope Pond

For the first time, I crossed the rocks at the spillway, trudged across the trucked-in sand of the beach, and took the trail to the other side. A shallow flat in the corner surprised me. Although it isn't very extensive, it reached to where I met water's edge, and noticed a bass stalking its drop-off. I simply tossed my Chompers a few feet ahead of it, and it rushed and took the worm whole as if on command. Bass can appear very, very stupid at times. About a pound.

Next, I casted to my left, and then again, in very close this time. From right against the bank, literally right there, but in overhanging brush, a wake rose and I felt the take, the drop, I twitched slightly twice, the bass took the worm again, I set the hook--you see the photo, two and a half pounds.

So, I wondered, what will the far side yield? It proved a lot more bassy than the side along the road. In fact, it looks like smallmouth water with its clarity and large, submerged boulders. Plenty of overhanging brush, sunken logs, and leaning trees must mean bass frequent here. But today, those two first bass, right away, were all the far side gave up--I fished it all the way down and across to where I usually fish.

This made me wonder if the "other side" of Mt. Hope Pond story is that most of the bass spend most of the time down on the bottom of the drop off, out of sight, and essentially out of the fisherman's way (unless ice fishing). I made plenty of casts, had more time to, into water as deep as 12 feet. But it's one thing to cast a worm into so many square yards of shallows, and quite another into so many of dark depths. In the first case, any bass nearby is alerted by the splash alone, and in the second, less is noticeable. The slow sinking finesse of a Chompers becomes ineffective, although I never switched to my wacky Senco. (At least on a rainy summer day, better yet, fall, crankbaits could be effective.)

I did see a single bass, about 13 inches, in the middle of the far side, and dropped my Chompers to it--it lipped in the middle of the worm for a split second, expelled it, then slowly swam off. With that I lost some faith in my (very last) Chompers, although I ordered more from Bass Pro tonight. I switched to a Culprit twister tail, 7 1/2 inches. That worked in one of my regular spots. Again, the bass rushed the worm with a wake from directly against the bank, out of some brush. This was a malformed bass, not only with its misshapen body, but a tail with a good portion lost somehow. Nice size, two pounds, maybe an ounce or two more. 

Again, I have little doubt six pound bass, one or two, more around five pounds, swim in Mt. Hope. But I might catch 50 three pounders to one over five for all I know. I bet they are wary and elusive as can be, all but completely staying deep and out of sight, not at all hanging in brush right against the bank as these two good bass did today. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hedden Park and Pohatcong Creek Make a Full Day

I hadn't fly fished since '99, and the trout photographed here is the second I've caught on a fly rod. I've caught some bass and panfish, but have tried for trout very little with a fly rod. Now I've inaugerated what I think will prove to be a real effort.

Before I go into details about my fly sojourn, Hedden Park Pond, in Dover, NJ, Morris County, is fed by two crystal clear mountain streams. I wouldn't be surprised if they are trout production waters, although I haven't looked into this. But the pond is a filled in, muddy, a turbid three acres or so that leaves you to wonder about how the water quality decimates all of a sudden. More water exists to the left of what I photographed, beyond that cove, but most is so shallow and barren--a foot deep or less--that it isn't bass water at all. Nonetheless, plenty of bass exist in the pond. I caught nine in little over an hour, although they were nine to little over 10 inches long, with one of them a foot.

The bass moved about on the cruise, as they often do in ponds on sunny, summer days. Casting accuracy proved to be the key to catching them. To get a worm a foot or less in front of a bass often resulted in a quick rush and take. I had my Senko on the line as I walked up, but seeing a dozen or so bass at the surface, I quickly changed to my Chompers with its slow descent. Had I not spent most of my time scouting all the way around the pond, I would have caught many more. But the largest I spotted was 13, 14 inches tops. I noticed a pair of two-inch bass. These were yearlings! Just that, unless they have extremely fast growth, born this spring, which all other indications do not support. 

Just another regular New Jersey pond with small bass. I suppose a three-pounder exists in there somewhere. But I can't mess around with little pop'n dockers and expect to catch that lunker I'm pursuing. It was a lot of fun, and brought back memories of catching cruisers in my youth. But a pond like Mt. Hope almost certainly has six-pound bass in it.

Pohatcong Creek, writes Tom Gilmore in his very informative book, Flyfisher's Guide to the Big Apple: Great Waters within 150 Miles of New York City, has one of the best sulfur hatches around, with wild browns picking them off with abandon, so I came prepared. I found Ravine Road near Bloomsbury, Warren County, with ease, drove down about three fourths of a mile, parked, and waded in sneakers and shorts. To my dismay at first, the water ran off color due to recent rains. Immediately I felt sure those sulfurs would not hatch this evening, and I tied on an olive Woolly Bugger streamer with a weighted head. Sure enough, the only rise I saw in nearly an-hour-and-a-half, came splashing.

At first my maneuvers managed all extremely clumsy, nothing subtle about them. And I kept getting hung up on bottom. But soon I started to get the fly where I wanted it to go, and I can honestly say I never snapped the fly line, something I learned about back when I was about 10 and first tried fly casting. The rainbow, close to a foot long, leftover from April, might have been that splash riser. But I also watched a seven-inch brown attack the streamer about the rod's length from me, and lost another good fish in the same spot, a run of deeper water, maybe three feet, with some undercut bank across from me. I felt sure the trout did not hide under it with the dingy water and evening. Within 15 minutes of leaving, I felt good, real good. 

I've always loved to wade. And this form of casting is marvelously involved. Much of what fishing is, is casting, whether fly casting, spinning (sometimes needing meticulous accuracy, at Hedden today, for example), or baitcasting. Ice fishing and trolling don't involve casting. But they get involved in other ways. The variety is open ended.

Round Valley Reservoir Still an Option

Driving into the ramp area, I met with "boat launch only" signs, and a college-aged girl who stepped out of an unmarked van.

"I came to fish from shore," I said.

"That's OK," she said. "Can I see your license?"

So I drove down near the primitive launch to try off the dock. A good weedline exists there. From the dock, I noticed someone walking along the dike. I wondered. Maybe I had read signs wrong. So I hiked over at fast pace. Sure enough, it's the Ranger Cove area, just beyond the dike, that is off limits after Memorial Day. The area just beyond the Cove is pay as you go until Labor Day.

I tried my favorite corner of the Pond. Nothing. But the far corner resulted in two taps on my Senko, which I had cast to near the opposite bank, then worked slowly down into deep water. I tightened up, the line not moving away, and set hard, not feeling much resistance as I instantly reeled very fast knowing this ran towards me. I felt weight, drag gave--a good fish--how big I couldn't quite tell. Then it was gone, the hook never having secured.

Rain began falling steadily. I went to other side of the dike, down those treacherous rocks and fished the reservoir corner. I got in three casts and marched out to my car. Just after I had got in, rain fell very hard. I had no time to catch more bass, but both sides of that dike hold them. On the reservoir side smallmouth likely frequent the boulders.

Sun came out later. But as I worked at home, I heard rain patter outside shortly after sundown. I tied on a triple-doozy Strike King buzzbait (triple bladed) and walked to my local pond. Three fourths of the way around--I had decided to give it the old once over--I released my ninth bass, six of them about a-pound-and-a-half, two near a pound, and one two-pounder when rain stopped, and so did the fish stop hitting. I missed the strike from only one more, and lost another during the fight, but my total remained at nine having completed fishing all the way around, casting in close, working the buzzbait along the bank, although I did try some casts over the rather shallow open water without hits. 

Where is the pond lunker? I haven't caught a single bass over two pounds in the pond this year.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Inshore Topwater Bluefishing: Manasquan River Blues & Fluke

Topwater action is like nothing we've seen before.These homespun, unpainted plugs with single hooks for easy removal are slayers. They don't even quite float and don't need to. Worked by quick, popping retrieves, a blue takes chase and may slash half a dozen times, perhaps finally hooked.

The weather held up fine. My brother Rick keeps his 18 1/2-foot bay boat, perfect condition with 90- hsp Mercury, in a Manasquan River slip five or ten minutes from home. The operation's simplicity means he can cruise out for 20 minutes of action if that's all he wants, so long as the blues are unhooked over the side so he doesn't have to clean up.

Today we had virtual slack tide for about an hour. My nephew, Kyle, caught a blue two of about two-and-a-half pounds, some other hits missed. Bluefish are wild hitters that seem more interested in knocking surface plugs into the air. We switched to 5/8-ounce jigs with twisters and fished the same water, three to seven feet deep mostly, with a hole as deep as 13. Fluking was slow, but we boated more than half a dozen. Fairly light wind pushed a slow drift, so slow that I just had to cast and retrieve out & around the boat, and did score a fluke this way, losing another. No keepers for any of us.

Near a sharp point protruding out from an island we had fast action for several minutes, blues slashing our surface lures, my son, Matt, catching one in all the excitement. I had watched this structure from a distance for awhile, and wondered if its depth, pretty shallow, rendered it insignificant. But Rick had said blues spread out on the very shallow flats (three feet) as tide rises. During May they gorged on worms! (Yet hit topwaters.) 

I think my brother--I certainly did--thought we were going to be into them for awhile at the point at least, but they were gone as soon as they came. The three blues we caught put up great fights on five-and-a-half foot, medium-power spinning rods. My blue weighed about two-and-a-half pounds, and of course the fight far exceeded that of any of the largemouth I've caught this year. 

Rick & Kyle have had amazing action every time out with two to four-pound blues for the past month or so, slow today by comparison. Topwater action like Lake Musconetcong never knew.