Saturday, July 23, 2011

Paulinskill River Suffers Extreme Heat

My twelve-year-old son, Matt, spent the week at Mohican Outdoor Center and all about northern Sussex with New Jersey Audubon Society. As I've informed my readers fairly recently, he plans on becoming a herpetologist. Already, he has handled many species of snakes, all of these in New Jersey north and south, although he has made a capture attempt in North Carolina and caught over a hundred lizards of a variety of species one week in the Florida Keys. 

He's also caught dozens upon dozens of frogs and toads of different varieties, as well as varieties of salamanders and lizards in New Jersey. He is not a collector and we don't believe in the practice. His digital SLR camera serves him well. Finally, he found his first timber rattlesnake, which he did not attempt to catch. He stumbled on it under a blueberry bush he intended to pick, the snake two feet in front of him. Coiled in strike position, tail rattlling, he backed off quick. Four feet in length, this was a hefty, thick bodied snake. I fully encourage his pursuits, but I do so cautiously because I know that innocent, endeavoring intentions sometimes startlingly meet with nemesis. No human endeavor whatsoever is exempt from this possibility, but by being aware--of possibility--we may prevent mishap, a lesson that many so-called realists may consider.

My wife and I having driven Matt to the compound a week ago stopped at the Paulinskill River, at the Firehouse near the Route 94 bridge in Blairstown. Under a tree where the fairly shallow flat deepened, I saw nearly a dozen small, nine to 10-inch rainbows; quick as lightning they dodged my presence. So I brought along our fly rods today, and light spinning rods and that tiny bucket with half a dozen killies for good measure--just in case we either encountered a bruiser smallmouth or deep hole.

We started at the Firehouse. Within a minute I had a small bass on, which jumped off, and soon after very much enjoyed the play of the one I photographed, which also took my Hare's Ear nymph, at least that's what I think it is. A few more minutes, another bass an inch or so longer. We never saw the trout, but I caught sunfish, a rock bass, a crappie, and lost several other bass and caught one more. We both tried for a 13-incher, never resorting to the killies. Had that been an 18-incher, I would have insisted my son take it even if he declined--then release it, of course. The larger bass was not without interest. But it was even more interested in the fruckus of my fly line than my nymph or the Muddler streamer I tried. I have a lot of skill to gain yet.

We drove eastward a couple miles, past the Paulina Dam and upstream. The heat had already begun to impress me as incredible, much hotter than the 97 degrees the other day on the South Branch. This at 2:00 in the afternoon. I don't know how hot, but definitely over a hundred. Never in all my years in New Jersey have we had such heat, summer after summer. We had a day that hit 106 last summer, many fairly close to this, and yesterday I got 104 for a full half on the road. I suppose it soared above last year's mark today. If temperatures keep climbing at the rate they have the past ten years, we're in for radical changes.

I've always loved heat. But by the time I was out another half hour above Paulina, I became fatigued, dizzy, and I actually wanted to drop and gulp the river water. My hair was soaked from perspiration! I must have lost a quart. And the river--supposedly full of wild browns--seemed at least 82 degrees. Bye, bye browns. And those rainbows I had seen must have high-tailed it for the nearest limestone spring.

I caught another bass. Matt persisted at trying to get a 12 incher to take, which would nose his nymph, then turn away. I'm sure he tried his speed-it-up trick to draw a strike, but that didn't work. The heat was too much. I wasn't clear on what I was doing anymore, so no way were we going to advance exploration. And with that water temperature, the trout were either dead, I suppose, or at spring vents. I've actually witnessed that on Mercer County's Stony Brook in summer.

So into the water we went! We swam and explored currents underwater for half an hour. The water did not feel cool in the least, but it refreshed me out of my heat exhaustion.  

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Salmon River New York Awaits Us Soon

This is what's little over two months ahead now. Seems like we had just got well into spring with May not long ago at all, but now I can feel the Salmon River already. It won't be long. Pulaski, New York, is my favorite town in October. It's best to avoid Columbus Day weekend--I think the run is located in better holes earlier anyhow--but this year that's all we can do. And it's enough whatever comes.

Speaking of which, last year we got slammed with the biggest Nor'easter of the year just days before arrival. (And do you recall last summer's drought?) River levels just began to become fishable again the hour we checked in. That whole long weekend the river remained very turbid, but not opaquely muddy. We caught plenty salmon. What amazed me is that we caught them mouth hooked--somehow they sensed our 10mm beads.

How many tons of lead weigh on the river bed? In the valley you can't buy lead shot, but plenty comes from elsewhere with the waves of anglers converging on the river. I know of no other form of fishing more demanding in terms of terminal tackle. I must go through a hundred split shot, and last year my pliers warped in the process, but I took it all as part of the exercise. I willlingly squeezed new lead and tied new hooks, and I did for my son too, who also went through a bag of shot. He's old enough to do it himself, but I wanted to help him in every way with catchng salmon. I have to say though that it's important he take up this sort of thing without complaint, and I don't mean to be complaining now, but sort of mimicing the repettitive rhythm of cast, drift, cast, drift, cast, drift--snag, which salmon fishing is largely all about. To get in the habit of complaining about practical necessities--I know because I've suffered the problem--is to miss out on what life's all about. We're born with hands and feet to use mostly in ways that unless we take satisfaction in them, we condemn ourselves to pain as necessarily as the acts themselves. Perhaps no worse idea occured to the mind of man than duty. It takes all the pleasure out of the hands. I think even fly fishermen have the same need on the Salmon River; they do if they get the egg fly down near bottom where salmon wait.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Who Says Summer Bass Only Early and Late?

Point of the trip concluded desirably. I wanted to prove that I could still catch bass at Mount Hope Pond mid-day. Now well into July the bass are supposed to hit early and late, and today was a blazer both in terms of heat and sun.

"That was a nice pitch," I told myself. Actually, I had botched two pitches immediately previous--accuracy is essential in the thickets. I felt the take seconds later. Setting the hook became a problem with branches in my way I compensated for by cranking very fast. Surprised it worked, I witnessed the bass in mid-air, and allowed two short runs. A skinny 18-incher, it weighed about an ounce or two over three pounds.

I've never seen Mount Hope off color before today, and I've fished it after rain. It's spring fed. So how it took some stain I don't know. Perhaps rain drove especially hard recently, carrying what would have to be a lot of mud for all that water. I hate to see clear, inviting water get soured, and I doubt this was to my advantage even with all the sunlight. I missed one other hit besides, and this bass too hid in shade, under a suspended tree trunk. Unlike other sunlit afternoons, I got no takes from sunfish.

A rewarding hour. I'll be back to keep proving the point if I can.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

South Branch Raritan River Smallmouth Demise

Noontime drenched me--with sweat. South Branch Raritan ran slightly turbid, what I call normal clarity, just very slightly on the dingy side, but for this river at Three Bridges it was off color from last night's rain, which was supposed to result in cooler weather today. I had 97 at Three Bridges. The holes around the Route 613 bridge are very inviting, my second time scoping them, but all I could raise was a little smallmouth I didn't care to photograph.

This put me off ease since I fished the entire large area hard for not another hit, but a well defined trail led me well upstream to good-looking water. Again I used my killies. With an aerator they last forever so why not keep them. Feeding them tiny bits of turkey supplements, the very few that die get devoured. 

I kept them in a tiny bucket for my use today. With a small to medium lead shot to help my cast, I winged a larger one almost clear across, near an undercut bank. As soon as the bass took I knew I was going to let it have it longer than I usually do. I wanted this fish. A really good smallmouth, at least two pounds, took me by surprise. My rod bowed and the drag gave as it bulled into a run. Just as quickly, the hook pulled. I was afraid this one would have been gut hooked.

The ecstacy and the agony is largely what it's all about. I don't lose good fish for nothing. I feared I wouldn't hook another today, but I got the 10-incher I photographed. Most importantly I know some water I didn't know before. Or perhaps more importantly I hooked a good smallmouth bass. I think I side with the water since the bass is still in the river.

That's a 10 point velvet antlered buck I approached carefully to try and get a better shot. I've been charged before, but today I felt certain that by showing him who's boss, he would not challenge me. As soon as it began to move--away-- it was too late for a picture that would convince you. For several minutes it had stood there and stared at me. I didn't even know its presence until it stomped its hoof and snorted.