Friday, September 2, 2011

Wawayanda Lake is a Sweet Spot

We got up to Wawayanda Lake after all, arriving
at about 2:30 and getting back to the rentals dock at about 6:00 as required. I bought a dozen-and-a-half live herring at Frank's Bait and Tackle along with a Bubble Box aerator since I had forgotten to pack mine. Since the boat trek west and southbound down lake to the deep water supposedly holding lakers covers distance, we rented an electric motor.

We passed through the deepest water, and circled the area spotting only a few trout on the graph recorder, rainbows or browns associated with fairly small herring schools about 20 feet deep. We took a great drift speed, very slow and right up the middle. And we put two lines on the bottom and two about 20 feet down to find ourselves quite bored by the time depths started coming up again into relative shallows. So I suggested we use herring on some pickerel and headed towards shore.

The south side drops very fast, and having done some scouting, we found a small point with a virtual cliff face for a drop off and a huge mass of herring near bottom in 48 to 40 feet of water. Only a few predators seemed associated. But we kept coming across more fish associated with a smaller, thinner herring school 17-20 feet down. One of those fish took Matt's bait, and I felt surprised at how large a fish; whether it was a bass or trout, it went at least three pounds, maybe more, throbbing the rod double over before pulling the hook.

Anyhow, today herring associated with drop offs much more than depths out in open water. It came as a surprise to find the herring bait that we dragged over bottom came up stone dead after our drift, as if no oxygen is present in 80 or 90 feet of water. But we did mark a smaller-sized fish at 66 feet.

Between the islands, some really nice drop-offs from six feet down to 26, for instance, exist just beyond massive weedbeds. Next time we come, if we do, we will surely explore these areas for bass. 

This was our first time on Wawayanda, and it's a nice lake, 230 aces I think the number is, with stocked salmon (Atlantic) present as well. But I prefer Shepherd Lake. Even though Shepherd is much smaller and less scenic, I like the clarity of its water without the tannic tinge, and mostly I'm very motivated after losing that big fish our first day on it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Appalachian Trail, White Lake, and Tilcon Lake Fill Out a Re-Routed Day

We suspected something like this. Although the state park campgounds all remain closed after Irene, as I expected, Camp Taylor, a private enterprise, is open. We did prepare to spend tonight there--possibly. The plan involved taking Blue Mountain Lake Road to Blue Mountain Lake, then to Long Pine Pond, and then Skyland Road (probably unpaved) right along the top of Kittatiny Ridge to Crater Lake. I know bass and pickerel exist at least in Blue Mountain Lake, at least the lower lake, since Matt Bruen, a blogger from Pennsylvania, has caught them ice fishing. Blue Mountain Lake Road was closed.

We drove on idly planning what to do next, and found the scene pictured above where recently we fished the Flatbrook at the lower bridges, where an old iron bridge exists no longer in use. I really hate to think of how long it may be before this road is repaired. (And the Empire State Building was built in 18 months!)

We turned, headed out on Millbrook Road (Mine Road closed beyond this point). At ridge top, we found the Appalachian Trail, parked, and hiked on up about half a mile. Here we found a tannic beaver pond with too little open water to provoke me to return for rods. But the opposite side had lots of broken schist that looked good for encountering and photographing timber rattlesnakes. We made our way around and down through underbrush and briars, coming upon a walking stick, the third insect of this kind I've found in my lifetime. 

Among the schist, we explored crevices and crannies extensively, finding nothing, although so many frogs crashed in along the edges of the pond that this just seemed further evidence of the absence of snakes feeding on them. It did seem ironic to me that we had found so many snakes on Wildcat Mountain, a mere hump compared to this ridge, and that the ridge here had such a hollow, absent feel to it, like the way flat pieces of splintered schist would sound like kilned clay (schist is igneous) when cracked against a boulder. But I love that sound of baked rock, although it doesn't suggest the lushness of living presence. It suggests art more than nature. 

Rolling down the ridge, I decided we would drive into Stillwater, a new place for us. County Road 521 took us to White Lake along the way. This once giant sink hole is as gin clear as Round Valley Reservoir by what we could judge from shore. It doesn't deepen as quickly. We tossed Senkos and that Baby Torpedo at the launch site (cartop only) after a hike to a hemlock grove. A 10-inch bass did scope out my Senko, then turned. Looks great. If I owned a canoe.

Reaching Stillwater (the Texaco sign from the 50's or what have you is neat), I had already decided to drive back through Andover and take the right at County Road 604 to try the old Tilcon site, also new to us. Good-sized lake, must be 80 acres at least, very deep. And seemingly tough to fish. We fought giant mosquitos for 45 minutes for a little bass's tug at my Senko. But I'm positive very big bass exist here. Plenty sunfish do, always a good sign. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Half Hour at Mirror Lake Years in Waiting

I phoned Ringwood State Park about Shepherd Lake, and for whatever actual reasons, no boats went out today. So my son and I went to Franklin Parker Preserve near Chatsworth in the New Jersey Pinelands to look for pine snakes, timber rattlesnakes, and fence lizards and brown skinks. As always we encountered plenty of American toads, pickerel frogs, and small bullfrogs and the like. It seemed that this time we'd find no reptiles, but finally I found fence lizards among some piled timber, and we got plenty photos, my son using his 70-300 mm zoom. Photography is very engaging, but truthfully the best of an outing is experienced through the naked senses. You have to leave all of your preoccupations behind and engage directly with the environment using your senses and mind.

I had the happy idea before we left that we might have time to go to Brown's Mills, and I brought along one of my Hagstrom maps. From the age of 15 I have on occasion heard stories about the lake there.

I lived in Lawrence Township near Trenton and Princeton and this area of the Pinelands lay a long way off. I've heard of big largemouths, and a 32-inch pickerel caught there. The place has been mythical in my mind ever since, but I've never come until today. The Pinelands in general appeal to me, because, besides in Colliers Mills and a few other places, I've never found those great pickerel supposedly easing back somewhere among these forests.

I think now that Chatsworth Lake probably has plenty of pickerel in it. Last we were down, I figured the tannic acid level was too high even for them. But Mirror Lake at Brown's Mills is just as dark. That largemouth I caught on the Baby Torpedo was a lot blacker than the camera flash makes it look.

For most of the half hour we fished I used a Senko-type worm. When I tried retrieving it steadily right near the surface, I drew interest from a pickerel about 12 inches. A few minutes later something larger rushed it. Matt had given up on his Hedden Torpedo, and told me I had one more cast to take before he wanted to leave. So I exchanged my rod with the Senko, took his, and put the topwater down perfectly near the pads where the fish--presumably a pickerel--had come at the worm, letting the chrome plug sit still. A swirl came before I twitched the lure, and I was into the bass.

"You are a determined man," my son said. He had told me a few minutes before that we would catch nothing, but that I sure showed intent on beating this lake.

From the beach area we drove around more of this long, narrow lake, and investigated further opportunities. Most of the roadway prohibits parking. But there are a few places where visitors can feel invited. You can walk the banks and fish fairly freely. This is South Jersey where public freedom still reigns. It is not only like being in another state compared to northern New Jersey--it's like being in another country where people in a given town do not suffer paranoid mental illness about the rare outsider coming along to enjoy the waters, and do not cordon off enjoyable waterways with municipal ordinances out of an Us versus Them complex of fear and jealousy.

I felt very refreshed stepping out onto the beach to cross the sand with fishing rod among locals. It's always a good feeling to join in with a new community. Smiles and respect exchanged as it should be in a nation that is healthy and not in need of a psychiatrist.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Thinking Lake Trout: Lakers Elude Us Yet

My son, Matt, and I have dreamed of catching lake trout for four or five years now. Not that they are any better than the good-size walleyes we catch in October; it's their inaccessibility to us, the greener grass on the other side, that compels our desires. Several years ago we sought them in a canoe on Green Lake in Maine near Acadia National Park. I asked at the launch how deep we might expect them. Sixty feet or deeper, and sure enough we located fish just off the bottom at 63 feet and deeper using my portable graph recorder. Back paddling against a breeze, my son got his one-ounce Kastmaster right down among them, but no strikes. Very exciting, the prospect of actually succeeding this way satisfying. But we otherwise contented ourselves with smallmouth bass on fast-sinking Senkos among rocks and 10-foot depths.

Two years ago we fished a spot from shore at Merrill Creek Reservoir where lakers are rumoured to visit on occasion and take Power Bait, which floats on a light wire hook. We set our baits out in about 70 feet of water and never got a tap, nor inspiration to try again. But boatless as we are, we do have another option: renting a boat at Lake Wawayanda. I phoned today, but Irene cleanup remains underway at least through tomorrow. Since we have other plans Thursday, which may also be frustrated for the same reason, I think Wawayanda will wait until either next summer--or for ice fishing.

In the meantime, I keep working to save enough for a small boat, 14 foot with 9.9 horsepower. Round Valley is only 20 minutes away. It's ironic that at age 50 I can't afford such a boat; during my 20's I owned nine boats including one with an inboard Volvo Penta 320 or 350, and a 17 1/2-foot fiberglass runabout with a 75 Mercury I bought brand new.

I consider that I've been fortunate all along, and very productive. True, fortune comes and goes. But judging the whole of my life, survival against difficult odds has been very rewarding, although mostly appreciated alone. The writing life I've chosen is sovereign and difficult to communicate. In order to communicate, the other must be a willing partner in the process. A life not always visible even to those closest to the mysterious man behind the pen, nor does productivity always translate immediately into financial gain.