Friday, June 1, 2012

Surf Fishing Stripers, Blues, Fluke for the Family

Perhaps no better opportunity exists in New Jersey to introduce kids to big, beautiful gamefish than the spring and fall surf runs. Matt and I hooked for five years, his mother still joins us every Father's day. By then plenty of fluke should be in the surf too. Small bucktails or plastics work. But I love to feed them live-lined killies weighted with medium split shots using light tackle. We've caught dozens of stripers, plenty of blues as large as 8 1/2 pounds, and the crowning moments came in 2008 when hordes of 20 to 50-pound bass ran bunker against our favorite jetty at Long Branch. Right then I got taught the lesson: have rods rigged with snag hooks tied and ready. I managed to snag a bunker on a pencil popper, toss it up on the beach, and keep casting fruitlessly. With the bass suddenly gone, Matt groaned, reeled in his bottle popper, and kept smiling at what he had seen. I tied on a 7/0 steel hook, put it behind the flopping bunker's dorsal fin, walked to the end of the jetty, and lobbed the 16-inch fish out with my 11-foot surf rod. I knew a few bass possibly remained out of sight. The bunker lazily swam down under the clarity level. A few moments later I felt certain by how the line moved firmly that a bass had taken it. I tightened enough to feel if in fact it was a bass on--yes!

Since this would be my first big bass, I resolved I would take this one home, although my sentiments lie with the movement for catch and release. I let it take a long time--16-inch bunker. Used to live-lining extra large shiners at the most. Finally, I tightened up, and lay the hook into the fish with all I had. I couldn't budge this fish! Then it slowly began to take line off drag, continuing to gain momentum. Felt like a freight train.

The real surfsters I admire may smile at all this, but Matt and I never became seasoned in the surf anyhow. We live way out here in Bedminster. For me, having this striper on made all my personal pursuit something never to forget: a striper over 30 pounds. From the moment it took the live bunker from me, we bonded, and I didn't want that line to break! I reached to loosen the drag, but even as I was about to touch the dial, it was too late.

Since that incident, I have always paid attention to drag setting by having manually tested my reels and rods with scales, my son pulling and so on. For someone who has fished since he was eight, I played it too loose with technicalities, such as drag, but minding practical details because you really care about results is not a burden. It vitalizes you rather than wears you out, so long as you always think about what you're doing so you can minimize effort for maximum efficiency and results. 

I was obsessed about that lost striper on occasion for years--you can see I still am.

One of the things I want to do someday is become a better surf angler. But if you have a son or daughter, kids, don't hesitate to just bait with fresh clams and use a fish finder rig to have fun! Just don't let children cast a surf rod with heavy weights--it's possible to get hit in the back of the head by ounces of lead magnified by momentum. We enjoyed surf fishing so much that sometimes in the fall we arrived before any light touched sky but a crescent of blue at the horizon, as we set up quickly with flashlights (I night surf fish in the fall now with a headlamp), cold as 28 degrees. It was magical being there for an early rising tide.

That shot Matt took of me happened on the real first day of our striper fishing in May 2005 at Long Branch, New Jersey, President's Park. We did go in October the previous fall at Sandy Hook and caught skates and dogfish--I learned about peanut bunker and bluefish. Afterwards we ate lunch at a restaurant in Atlantic Highlands. But if you fish, you know a tentative outing from one that grabs hold of you as you head out and never lets you down all day. The experience you undergo has significance that lasts the rest of your life and you can have hundreds, thousands of days like this.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Shadow-Line Largemouth Bass: High Pressure, Sunny Day Technique

 With that much sun on the water, I feared getting skunked, but caught this first Colonial Park ponds bass my second occasion here. Way back in the photo below, you can see deep shadow. That far shoreline is off limits because of gold course. Looks very bassy--shadow, brush and limbs in the water, and it even seems to drop off quick, whereas most shorelines are very shallow sloping.

Anyhow, today was a shadow-line day. This is how I caught the bass: pitch the worm just outside shadow so it is visible to bass in sunlight.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

World Record Bluefish: North Carolina Outer Banks Piers: Gone, Still Standing

In 2005 and 2006 we fished off the Hatteras Pier, photographed 2010. So many coastal storms afflict North Carolina's Outer Banks; we have no idea which finally took out these long standing planks. But we're glad we stopped to have a look before we first arrived in Ocracoke that year. We were prepared to drive all the way to Avon, having taken the last ferry from Ocracoke at midnight and trying to sleep in the car in the lot, my son and I, as mosquitos came in when I had to lower windows when our breath got short and woke us up. Never knew before that it at least seems that you can use up oxygen sleeping in a car.

Kittyhawk Pier, familiar to me from age 8 and fished my last in 1996 at 35, seemed to me as if it would always be there. A one time world record bluefish was caught from that pier, and I guess nothing more symbolized the Outer Banks to me because that trip with my dad in 1969 was so successful. I still remember the old sportsman running the facilities when we were fished that day. He seemed the kindest old man I'd ever met, and in a way the most informed too. He said maybe a dozen words to us, but children are like this. Reasoning very little, they can see an entire sea of wisdom in a man they encounter for a minute, and have this memory last the rest of their lives as if it is present every time recalled. Well, at least I did.

That sportsman, if I recall rightly and I seem to, was the man who caught that record blue. But that's not what impressed me. And he was absolutely soft spoken about that, "I caught it," was all he said, quietly, completely matter-of-fact, when I asked about it looking at the photograph.

I was surprised when I learned in 2005 that no plans existed to rebuild Kitty Hawk Pier. Of course not, economically. But something in me has always resisted accepting the fact, and by my account of the story, I think you can understand.

The novelist Franz Kafka asserted against apparent reason that we live in a spiritual world. Sometimes he seems right. At least the old man on the pier still seems to be there and by all appearances some modern motel or other is in its place now.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Catching and Beach Cooking Ocracoke Outer Banks Pompano

Heard Ocracoke mentioned on Jersey Radio today during a discussion of beach fees. The woman who called in exemplified Ocracoke's beaches as free, and that you can drive an SUV (on some of them).

North Carolina's Outer Banks have some of the greatest fishing in the world, but during summer surf action can be quite diminished from what it is in spring and especially fall. So afternoons back in 2005, we used light spinning rods to catch plenty of pompano, such as in the photo above. We dug a charcoal pit and cooked them right out of the water on the beach. Fires and charcoal are another liberty south of New Jersey. Pompano are some of the tastiest fish you might ever eat. They seem to melt on the palate like butter, actually have that mellow texture and taste tone.

The larger pompano hit sand fleas you can catch in the wash. We caught our fish on 16th-ounce jigs with shrimp or pieces of squid at low tide in very shallow water.

It was a humble rite. But I'll never forget.

As a young boy, I found a picture of a pompano in the Fishing Golden Guide for children. Somehow I was instantly fascinated, and on trips to the Outer Banks tried to catch one on sand fleas. My father didn't fish, besides taking me to fish the Kittyhawk Pier when I was eight, so I figured this out on my own, greatly mysterious: little boy facing the Atlantic where he had only read that pompano exist and how to catch them. Hooking something on a sand flea one summer added to the mystery, the fish turning at the surface and appearing just as the pompano looked in the book. So I believed that's what it was, with some reserve, since only for a split second I saw the fish, about a foot long.

In a way it seemed so ordinary actually catching pompano in 2005 compared to my boyhood dreams, but without any further disillusionment in not being certain. They really are there, and the truth is not too many catch them or enjoy a charcoal fueled cooking on the beach. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

North and South Branch Raritan Rivers are Hot for Smallmouths

North and South Branch Raritan Rivers are Hot for Smallmouths

         Two summers ago on our annual Delaware River float trip out of Barryville, New York, I felt appalled by green algae covering every rock, a result of low water and extreme heat. I had never witnessed this before. The North and South Branch Raritans are presently in fine shape; rocks should remain their brownish colors without hosting a green mess to foul lures and fish alike. I haven’t seen such a green reaction in these two rivers.

          Situated in Somerset and Hunterdon County, New Jersey, these rivers provide some of the best smallmouth fishing in the state. Many consider the South Branch below Clinton to be the finest smallmouth river besides the Delaware. Public evidence backs this claim. Two summers ago a 6.6- pound smallmouth reported by The Fisherman magazine got caught in the South Branch on a live crayfish. Had this bass been weighed in at Efinger Sporting Goods prior to 1990, it would have been the new state record. Big bass inhabit the North Branch from Bedminster and below as well, as evidenced by a 21-inch smallmouth my son and I witnessed caught five years ago. We have ourselves caught smallmouths as large as 19 inches on the North Branch, but in both rivers average size is closer to 10 inches. A 12-incher is a good fish and will fight harder than either a largemouth or trout of the same size.

          Smallmouths may be much more abundant in a given stretch than fishing results indicate. Last summer my son and I explored a few stretches of the North Branch within walking distance of home simply by wading, just out on an excursion for what specifically I don’t recall. I carried my digital camera to take pictures rather than fish, and my son carefully explored a 10-yard length of shallow undercut bank which, to my angler’s eye, seemed insignificant. The current running along overhanging brush had no more than a foot’s depth, the riffles leading in flowed even shallower, and the stretch below deepened to a foot-and-a-half at maximum. Suddenly, we became amazed at about two dozen smallmouths ranging from five to 12 inches darting away downstream as Matt scattered them out. A dozen of them would have been sporting on a fly rod.

          Summer stream smallmouths take nymph and crayfish fly patterns, as well as streamers and poppers, often unhesitatingly and in plain view. These bass feed on larval insects as well as emergers. They also feed on terrestrial insects that fall into the rivers, crayfish—especially small molting crayfish—as well as shiners, dace, killiefish, and immature fish of other species.

          The range of lures and bait to possibly choose is wide and beyond this article’s scope. But for light spinning with no more than six-pound test line, my current favorite is four-inch Senko-style plastic worms rigged Wacky, hooked through the middle so that both ends flutter on retrieve. Senkos are heavy enough to cast long distances and reach bass unaware of your approach. Big smallmouths are usually shy and reluctant to hit; Senkos give you this advantage of stealth.

          Otherwise, on occasion I like to haul a big bucket carrying a dozen large shiners into one of my favorite holes at sunset. I tie a size 6 plain shank hook directly to the line, no weight, no snap swivel, and hook a minnow through both lips. These holes deepen to at least six feet deep, but the shiner will swim at the surface. I cast directly onto the hole; the first cast is most important. Sometimes the biggest bass in the hole, which may be 16, 17, 19 inches, and could be larger, is aroused and on the feed at the end of the day, rushing to blast the shiner with full force of muscle and weight before another bass gets to it. That’s a thrill to experience!

          When using live bait or soft plastic lures, don’t let the bass take line for long to set the hook in the hard mouth tissues rather than gut hooking it and jeopardizing life. Most will measure under legal size, and if you’re like me, you release them all. They’re worth more in the water.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Big Flatbrook Fly Fishing Brown Trout on Wooly Bugger Streamer

I'll tell you a few interesting things pertaining to fly fishing at the end of the story. Not pointers--my son and I don't have much experience with fly rods. But I figuered something out that pertained yesterday.

Came home from work to find my Pressure Sensitive, Ronnie Laws, c.d. had arrived. Looked forward to hearing "Always There" on the ride, a tenor sax jazz piece I loved at 17 and whenever I've heard it since. Noticed that besides having an element of rock, the piece even seems to hint at disco, although that was the first time I noticed--it's jazz. Title's perfect because the sax flies along on that hyper-sane level where memory seems to be forever present. The places where we have been, and since, while there we were part of the place, and the places remain with us and us with them. Always There. That's the title. 

It's like what I noticed earlier in the day Friday and posted about. The glacial stones did not seem to mark the passage of time, but the lingering of it, a presence greater than diurnal. Some readers may be familiar with the name Salvador Dali, the 20th century painter who made a great show of himself: "The only difference between me and a madman is I'm not mad." "Persistence of Memory" is his best known painting. But the way it affects me by all those melting clocks is not hard, bracing, and uplifting as is this jazz piece by Ronnie Laws. The title of Dali's piece and especially the images of melted objects suggests experience all too limited to the mind's breakdown in delerium, however advantaged by deeply altered fluid reminiscence. Dali needed delirious states for his creative process, but "Always There" is like the physical reality Albert Einstein described, and that in some sense the past remains, in fact, within existence. It's as if Laws brings the past forward into the direct and immediate present. That's been my response anyway.

We got to Newton--it's a straight, long ride on U.S. Highway 206--and into a very severe thunderstorm. We saw one of those sign holders that make you feel indignant that a company is willing to make someone suffer such boredom and humiliation to physically hold a placard by the road, rather than employ him at something productive. At least those who wear red gorilla costumes and the like may actually have fun annoying the hell out of at least some of us who see them doing tricks roadside day after day where we have to drive by. But this guy was in shorts and a shirt and lightning had just struck 100 feet away. Rain was so torrential that my wife felt uncomfortable, and we had stopped to wait it out in a lot along with other vehicles doing the same, viewing this guy across the street. Of course there was no way to appropriately invite this guy into our Honda Civic with my wife not really knowing what he might do. She's extremely sensitive about the likes, and besides, the point is, he was doing his job. But what a job description, huh? 

Did anyone in the comfortable building with no threat of their lives getting snuffed out by a lightning strike for minimum wage even think of asking this guy to come inside where the conditions were more humane? He had no rain gear on at all. No, I doubt anyone cared to even notice. Is this American capitalism? No. They say it is to keep up appearances. It isn't Maedeval feudalism, perhaps it's the death of capitalism in American feudalism, which may be much, much worse in the end than it was in Europe. 

Can a just form of capitalism be achieved? A system for all social classes? I think so. But most people seem so drugged by the hypnopaedia of the hucksters trying to rob not just wallets but people's very lives that most have no idea what kind of economy and political system we have, nor do they care. The evil seems too great for them to wrap their minds around, and those who are foisting this evil on the world know that they have a chance to get away with it. Republican or Democrat, neither seems to be the party of capitalism, neither progressive, and will we be resilient through the grass roots or be enslaved like this guy offering his wet body to the next lightning bolt to keep his absurd job? 

If a minimum wage job seems worth dying for because no one will provide a half hour's decent reprieve, then the intent seems, conscious or not, to take life. The guy stood out there like some gruesome modern art display. You say it's his fault because he didn't say, "The hell with it," and quit? Maybe he was steadfast to keep the little edge on the market he has, and someone should have given him a half hour in a dry place to return when the storm ended. People hold their jobs these days, or they're on the streets. Oh, it's not slavery. He's paid! Wink, wink.

We turned from Route 560 onto Flatbrook Road, tried a few stretches in light rain with a Muddler Minnow and stonefly nymph. We had a look at a spot down an improved road, and wound up at Roy Bridge, parking in the lot below and fishing this area intensively with bead head nymphs, sure trout were present, getting no takes. A couple of fly fishermen had been fishing the hole above and we let them be. After about 45 minutes--we had gone below and I had seen a splash from above--I felt the day seem to resolve itself, felt we would leave in a few minutes. Matt snagged a nymph on a downed tree in the stream, in the middle of deep water where I had snapped off my large brown Wooly Bugger with a bright purple tail and bead head after getting two or three casts. He said he was going to swim and get both flies, but freed his fly a moment later. I said he could have my Bugger if he got it.

I was surprised the water rose over his head. As I had mentioned, by then I felt finished. A trout had kept rising the whole time we spent there. I tied on an Adams and aroused no interest from the fish as my interest sort of drooped away. I looked at the Adams on water surface and instead of seeing something that had potential in those drab, brownish patterns of color and shade tied just so, it looked almost infinitely useless, felt as if I could fish that fly here in the pool eternally--with some trout in the pool--and nothing would ever happen. 

The sheer stupidity of purposelessness touched me and we were going to be out of there in minutes. Occurs to me now it's the sort of situation that so-called capitalists are now so desperately trying to evade, as to hire as if they have forgotten they have human brains, to hire without productive design, such as making that young man stand with lightning strikes yards from his soaked body and placard with hideous, running ink, a colored series of gashes that looked like Van Gogh actually had gone mad. If you view a Van Gogh painting, you will notice that every stroke is mastered by firm intention.

I walked around deep water, and having forgotten the pool already, asked Matt, "Are you sure those were bass you saw?"

"I thought so."

I pitched a cast with the Adams in a little run, a small brown immediately rose for it but didn't take. Tried a nymph, nothing, but with renewed initiative, headed upstream to the large pool at the bridge. Three guys banged brown trout on Rapalas. Below the bridge you can use spinning tackle. Matt had that Bugger. Best I could do was tie on my largest stonefly nymph and strip it like a streamer. Nothing. Maybe a tap.

But fairly soon I went back to the car and asked Matt if I could borrow his big brown Wooly Bugger. I knew he had done his fishing and just wanted to dry off. That purple tail especially excited me. A reflection strip would have been better. But I stripped the streamer through that fast, deep run Matt swam across and after maybe half a dozen tries and one tap, set the hook on a firm strike and landed a brown nearly 12 inches long.

An experienced fly fisherman would have caught a lot more a lot sooner, but that was my last cast and we left, myself satisfied that I had figured a little out at least. Water was slightly stained. Those invisible, subtly drifting nymphs were useless or close to it at least for these recently stocked browns.