Saturday, June 23, 2012

How to Find Fish and Catch Them

Since I didn't fish today, my thoughts may not be so anchored as usually are. That pickerel almost looks bigger than the boat, but 12 feet is fine on Lake Musconetcong. We have always rowed, and I love rowing. That day about a year ago with Steve Slota we had a rain shower and I was prepared with rain gear. If I had gone today, what the hell, if it rained I'd let it soak, since temperatures lingered somewhere in the 90's. I phoned Steve an hour or so ago, and we plan to fish Lake Musconetcong Tuesday evening. But since I bought the Minn Kota 55, I want to use it, and it will make getting around a breeze.

I was thinking of how I explained fishing weightless plastic worms recently, that the secret isn't technique, and assuming that you know where to find bass on a given body of water, it isn't location either, or presentation or anything, basically, but being yourself attuned to nature, and it's really more than that: it's being nature. What isn't natural? Our pride? Because that's what all the nonsense about how we are separate from nature comes down to: our man-made products and character. But that answer to why we are outside nature would satisfy only the presumption of the smug.

While being human necessarily implies responsibility, things and events humanly produced involve choice and are not a given feature of nature--the faculty of choice, reason, nevertheless has a certain nature. Although reason is exercised volitionally, it's not an unnatural or supernatural reality. It's an attribute of nature like anything else. Reason and consciousness have identity, are part of existence, nature. Our synthetic creations--all rearrangements of nature by human creative process.

To fish a worm, other lure, or bait well--and I'm not saying I always do, but I usually do at least fairly well--you mustn't limit yourself to your mental faculty. I take my first cast as casually as my next breath, but on cue my mood shifts, and I fish with heightened awareness. A lot of us do. You are more than a part of ordinary brain function. Your skin only seems to be the absolute border between you and the environment. The air you breathe is really inseparable from your life, and it isn't only connected to the whole earth atmosphere, it is the whole earth atmosphere.

If you let awareness exceed mere mental faculty, awareness may inform you where to put the next cast, and when to make the next twitch. But this is where I differ from Buddhists and the like. (I have studied all that fairly extensively, but always have held my own position against it while being sympathetic.) Environmental cues transmitted through awareness may inform you. The ego is the point of awareness (you), but no conscious human state whatsoever is without ego and some degree of reason. Even the insane or presumably insane retain at least a vestige of reason. Otherwise, they would not be conscious at all.

To those Buddhists who insist that they go beyond ego, what irony. The ego protesting that he goes beyond ego! You can just hear Curt Cobain in the background mocking their confusion as he shouts: A denial! about a dozen times until he fades into a subtler...ego state.

And if life exists beyond death as I've always believed it does and think this is a natural human belief, its divinity is neither contrary to nature nor other than nature.  

But think about this as relates to fishing: what's the point of thinking where to cast next, except when very specific targets of structure are involved? Even within a likely area of structure, unless fish hang outs are visible to reach directly on target, there's usually a lot of random play involved. So any point in thinking about where exactly to cast within a likely range is really an exercise of groping for something blind to you--or possibly something you are subtly informed of, which is the whole point of this blog post. 

You don't need to drive yourself nuts trying to suppress thought (don't) in trying to become aware instead, trying to identify a hint from the environment, etc. But play at it. If you fish persistently enough and don't get stuck in the attitude of he-man against resisting bass or big, expensive, Western Technological bassboat against difficult and alien nature, you will become more and more aware quite naturally. You will find incentive in the search for fish because the process intimately interests you. And plenty of us out there do this, if few of us think of how to put it to words.

And that's good for all and everything. If nature is alien, uh, who is alien? And how did "the" alien as an abstract consideration--or cult--how did alienation originate as we understand it today? Shakespeare used the word distraction in his Hamlet Soliloquy to designate insanity. So by his standards--Jesus, we're living in a madhouse!

It's good to get out. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Oak Ridge Reservoir Smallmouth Bass from Shore

 I recognized the voice of the man behind the desk at the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation office in Newfoundland, New Jersey, as the same I had spoken to on the phone weeks before. We would have to begin our outing on Oak Ridge Reservoir after 8:00 a.m., since permits must be purchased in person. Before I went inside, I examined posted information. I had labored to load all the accompanying items associated with our inflatable boat this morning after organizing it all last night. When I read that no inflatables, canoes, or kayaks are allowed, I simply felt incentive towards that nice, aluminum boat I have in mind, and didn't disturb my own peace with gripes. I went inside and asked why inflatables aren't allowed nicely, for information's sake, having imagined that perhaps an aesthetic was implied--inflatables really are awkward looking things, but then again canoes aren't.

"People drown," the man said.

The Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation is a non-profit organization associated with the city of Newark. So it isn't exactly a state agency. If the state were to so restrict what people can choose to do, it would go against the basic principle of our nation, freedom, and I don't say this naively: However much we seem to have forgotten as a people what our nation is about, freedom is its basic principle, which we all know deep within. But NWCDC is a non-profit organization at liberty to restrict practices, such as using inflatables, that certainly are dangerous in certain windy conditions.

"How is the fishing from shore at Oak Ridge?" I said.

"You can fish near the boat launch, and near the highway."

"Are there trails?"


"We're going to fish for smallmouths with tube jigs, are there areas with good drop-offs?"

"Oh, yeah. Near the dam."

There was a pause as he prepared paperwork.

"I need to buy an aluminum," I said off-hand. Silence, and I felt the mild grating feeling of having spoken inappropriately. But suddenly the man took a slip of paper from another drawer.

"Here. You can buy a 12 foot for 250 bucks."

The feeling went away. Yeah, that's how it is at its best: You say something apparently inappropriate and it brings a secret in the situation right out for you. 

I purchased the $30.00/yr family fishing permit. No doubt, I wasn't going to turn around and go home. And it seemed just possible that we could catch some good bass. Above all, I felt, we would check this place out. Some day, we may fish in a nice boat.

At the launch, we first walked straight down to check it out. Nice. No other vehicle was parked. We saw no one anywhere and never did the entire time we scouted the 482 surface acres. 

We had one rod with a Hedden Torpedo, and I tied another Torpedo to another. Having commenced fishing, my second cast landed next to some large rocks I could see through the clear water in the distance. The next second, froth and splashes erupted around it. The smallmouth bass photographed leapt twice.

I know how this theme goes: a nice bass hits right off and you would think you'd have hot action. So I knew, well, that's probably the best bass of the day. And no more hits came from the launch area. We drove for the dam region, not to fish on the dam, which is restricted, but near it. On our Lake Survey Map Guide, it's clear that this is the sharpest, deepest drop-off of the reservoir, down to 40 plus foot depths. Surely, some nice bass associate with the prominent rocks of these depths, and make movements into the shallow edges.

Matt's first cast with the Torpedo yielded a terrific strike in the shallows, having casted long and paralell to the bank. Missed it! I casted mine a few times, then a 12 foot crankbait a few more, then tied on a Senko-type worm. Finally, I had a take, set the hook in seconds, and was into a really good bass, much bigger than the one I had caught earlier. The hook simply came free, and that was that, so typical. It didn't bother me like the bass I had actually seen in full form at Lakehurst. I continued to cast, had a small bass on, and finally got the Worm Blower out for Matt. He caught a sunny. We fished tubes on quarter ounce heads that got the plastic steeped in scent down quick into those depths. I fished thoroughly, bouncing rock with the lead to click out the lure's presence, but had no comers.

I wondered aloud to my son about the boat offer.

"It would need a trailer.'

I don't like a slow mood when it drags, and this situation near the dam was dragging. So we tried to find an area to fish near the highway, nothing, and went to Canistear Reservoir to find parking at the launch only for vehicles with trailers, and nowhere else to go. We went to Echo Lake and walked to the launch just as someone was coming in. A great algae bloom looked really ugly. The water was discolored, brown and filmy. He filled us in on muskies, has caught quite a few here, and big, as large as 47 inches. We fished our topwaters a while. I didn't bother tying on fluoro leaders because I just wasn't jaunty. I tend to push my work on occasion beyond limits of normal wakefulness during the day, and knew it would be a trying drive home. On the way out, we spoke with the musky fisherman again. I mentioned my intention to buy a boat eventually.

"Get no less than a 16 footer. The way the wind whips up on these reservoirs, you can really get in trouble with anything smaller."

He convinced me right there. I've been thinking of a 14 foot aluminum with added speed by being limited to 10 hsp on Round Valley Reservoir, and a little quicker with the electric. But while all my life I have taken risks, and typically foregone comfort for other advantages--like speed in a smaller boat for just one small example--I feel so welcomed by this musky fisherman's advice that I feel as if I've come to a place in my life where buying the 16 foot, stable, reliable boat is a symbol for settling down a little, which isn't a bad thing to do at age 51 perhaps. I won't get across Round Valley so quick, but I can try to accept the luxury of taking my time.

Isn't this ironic? Here I am, 51 years old, having just confessed I've never really settled down, and having confessed my anxiety about loss of speed in the same sentences.

Most who set out to write literature are very particular about publishing as soon as possible. Well, I did beat most of them by getting published--on fishing--at age 16. But I spent years as a self-employed shellfisherman--to go away and write--writing and studying day and night--it didn't take much time out of any day to get business done--having no thought to publish--not there and then--and then, what, 20 more years so far in wage work, well, at least I got back to writing for magazines and newspapers on fishing. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cross Creek Lake Largemouth Bass and More on Photography and Writing

In 2005 I fished Cross Creek Lake, western Pennsylvania, with a fishing and photography friend going way back to high school days. I caught five bass, losng one that could have been very good sized, five pounds or so. We fished from a rental with a five horse. Back at the launch as noontime neared, I spoke to two guys pulling in, steering a nice bass boat.

"Catch any?" I said.

"Some sun. How about you?"


"Five what?"

"Bass of course."

"That's not a bad catch today," one of the guys said. You can see in the photo it was a super cold front day. We weren't on the water before dawn, either.

"This lake probably has more five-pound bass than any other in western Pennsylvania,' I was informed.

The secret? I wrote an article for The Fisherman soon thereafter on "Natural Wormin"" Not using live nightcrawlers, but fishing plastic worms weightless in the way that entices bass to take. The best I can sum it up: you have to get yourself into a place that is part of the natural environment. Only then can you intuitively sense doing just the right twitch at the right time.

As far as I know, to speak of getting one-with-nature in the bassin' community is taboo because it's all about machismo man-against-nature, the ego confronting the challenge, not becoming what it is and therefore making the right moves--at least sometimes--naturally.

The friend I fished with, his professional work in photography reveals complex artistry; more in a natural way is going on than the composition principles I am limited to as a photo hobbyist, though I try to enact skills as I continue to improve on results. We met in photography class at Lawrence High School, taught by a neighbor of mine--he paid me to mow his lawn--who first taught at Freehold High School, also New Jersey, before coming to Lawrence. One of his electronics students was Bruce Springsteen. But I remember him for the photography he taught and the neighbor he was. Conversation quieted on Cross Creek Lake, each of us focused more on fishing, but over the full course of that weekend with him, we covered a lot of ground.

A lot of things inspire my photography. I fell in love with taking photos at age nine. As soon as my second article got published on fishing when I was 16, I spent saved cash to buy a 35mm Pentax. Taking fishing photos has always been fun, and it's not easy, either. I still look up to a lot of other angling photographers, but have always framed other subjects besides. I think or like to think my favorite is portraits or whole-body-in-action photos of people. I have a fantasy of going to Manhattan with my long range zoom and actually sneaking around. You don't publish such candid work, not if the subject can be identified. You store it on file and maybe it's of value in 50 years' time. Mostly, I manage to get pictures of people in contexts where I have the OK, yet events unfold naturally.

Naturally, people seem to be my greatest inspiration because I have always been interested in character. I was not a bookworm as a teen, but a magazine addict who read newspapers daily, through I read some books, but avoided novels because I felt the abstraction took me out of real life. Science, and more specifically zoology, had been my passion from age four. Nevertheless, Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, assigned reading at the same high school, interested me. Very soon thereafter, I somehow got hold of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. I was absolutely hooked and from thereon devoured literature. I kept on fishing, too.

So that's an account of Cross Creek Lake with a friend from way back in high school, where it all sort of started for us. It also started there for Jon Stewart, former host of the Daily Show, a classmate of ours. To mention his success is to take things deep inside the establishment we fishermen like to take leave of, but not only has Jon given all that up to pursue his love of animals far and away from the social insider's rap, we fisherman take what we become outside to freshen and redeem the same old, same old inside where most of us work.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

South Branch Raritan River Smallmouth Bass Success

Setting out up the trail in 96-degree heat, I recalled my venture about a year ago at 97 degrees. I love the thrill of surprise, but today it felt very comfortable marching straight up that trail to where I had already found bass. The article about that first happening on this stretch of river last year I named "Demise..." and the second trip to the spot yielded little better. I always try to redeem loss in my life, and today caught six smallmouths in less than an hour, yet still have a three-pound-plus bass in mind.

Tonight I have the image of one of the smallmouths in mind, nearly 12 inches, not the largest, but the most visible. It had fought like no more than a ten-incher, and when it came into view, I felt surprised. The bass undulated on the hook in the light from between tree canopies in a very deeply suggestive way. I thought no further of this than of its being beautiful and for a moment felt transported into the scene myself.  

Smallmouth bass love the killies and the killies stay on the hook better than shiners, as well as survive much, much better. I brought barely more than half a dozen in a tiny bucket and marched back out with three leftover! Even though I knew exactly where to cast and how long to stay in a spot, I had enough time leftover to walk further upstream than I have before and catch the sixth bass.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Historic Speedwell Lake, Stephen Vail, Whippany River, the Industrial Revolution and The Question of our Times

First time I fished Speedwell Lake, border of Morristown on Route 202. I've checked this place out a number of times, and have visited the Speedwell Iron Works a number of times, deeply admiring the painted portrait of Stephen Vail, the owner, also the entrepreneurial spirit behind the development of the telegraph. He maintained a vast network of business and social connections involved in contributions including mechanical inventions, communications, the transportation industry, and mass production. Speedwell was prominent in the American Industrial Revolution.

Frankly, for all that, I've always felt gloomy dismay about the turbid water quality of Speedwell Lake. I know from reputable sources that pickerel and bass are present. Of course, I really didn't expect so much as a hit today, not because of weather conditions, but scarcity of fish. Nonetheless, I diligently fished a quarter ounce spinnerbait among aquatic vegetation, just enjoying being out and guiding that lure, despite some mild disgust at the water quality.

It sure doesn't honor such an historical site, or does it? Well, that's the very question of our times.

Make no mistake, however. I will always reverently admire the Stephen Vail portrait.

But this is the Whippany River! If you've been reading my posts regularly, you may recall our Patriot's Path hike. The same trail goes along the lake, but my point is--this is the Whippany River dammed, and just upstream a few miles, it's a wonderful trout steam. Further up, it's pure spring water with native brook trout in Mendham.

I wonder how such a gorgeous stream becomes such a mess.

Anyhow, below the dam it's good trout water for the artificial trout season.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Native Brook Trout Wisconsin Glacial Gift of Innocence Crosses Borders of Time: Dunnfield Creek, Van Campens Brook, Others

Here's a piece on brook trout. I wrote "Light Tackle Speciality: Native Brookies," about five years ago for The Fisherman, though the words that follow aren't that article. Since then, a state biologist wrote--I could tell before I read a word--an excellent piece on these fish for the same magazine. I still haven't read a word of it, the issue got out of hand, but it's around here somewhere and I still mean to read that piece.

No, it's not just because she's a biologist that I could tell.

I don't know for certain if Rip in the name Rip Van Winckle means Rest in Peace though it seems obvious it does, and it happens on very rare occasion that someone all but dies to everyone he knew, yet makes the unexpected comeback. If I recall the Rip Van Winkle story rightly, they left him for dead.

People thought that in today's world, so highly dependent on credentials, there's no way to succeed without the supposed requisitions, and they walked away burying their memories of what we were together. Beginning my return with one special person other than myself, it was as if others frequented my presence as that of a ghost, but they didn't run. They slowly began to understand that their expectations for my life reduced to wage work obscurity and clueless disconnection, compared to the successful professional lives they had achieved, were not so objective after all.

I exchanged academic success in high school for fishing, about 250 days each of those years. Some would chalk it up to attention deficit. I did not pay attention in class and scorned textbooks, which is why I wound up at St. John's College, Annapolis, reading classics, no textbooks in the curriculum. But nevertheless, my first college semester, at Lynchburg College, VA, proved I could pay attention if I worked at it. A 3.8 average for 21 credits got me into St. John's, along with a great entrance essay on the philosophical question of natural law.

I didn't want to study in high school. So I did not. And to cut to the quick for the brevity of a blog post, fishing, hiking, camping, backpacking, birding, all this and more was just the start. I never graduated with a B.A. or B.S., though I enrolled at a total of eight schools. I set up my own commercial clamming endeavor on Long Beach Island and studied and wrote like mad, getting so far away from the people I began life with, maintaining a relative few friendships, that people who had known me, family especially, thought I had gone nuts.

They wrote me off as a loss and moved on. Little did they know that I was quite cognizant, had simply let go of the conventional social habits, and so for years could not quite communicate--though I wrote communicatively in journals--as if I had found a separate reality.

Well, what is America? First and foremost, it's the land, and it's the water. "In wilderness is the preservation of the world," Henry David Thoreau. Long Beach Island may not technically be a wilderness out there in the bays, but close enough, even though now fertilizers have all but destroyed the ecosystems. The same for Delaware Watergap National Recreation Area with the purity of Dunnfield Creek and 70,000 wild acres.

Somehow or other I got the figure according to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish and Wildlife that 123 native brook trout streams grace New Jersey. That figure stuck in my head and I've web searched it since to no avail at all. I'm particular about such figures--just not enough to have remembered exactly where I got it. But a lot of statistics exist. Supposedly, about 50% of native range populations still exist in our Highlands and Ridge regions--and even a small native population in Burlington County. The Pinelands aquifer is as cold as any, I suppose, and in this isolated case the steam flows pure enough. The Pinelands were never full of brook trout, but one watershed did have some natives and still does apparently.

My son and I found a hole way upstream in Lewis Morris County Park home to half a dozen adult seven-inch brook trout. We searched the tiny rill--a step-across stream--to the spring head a mile upstream without missing a foot of length, and found only two other brook trout, each about three-inches long. Were these fish descendants of the Wisconsin Glacial release about 12,000 years ago? It's known that many NJ natives are this, because genetic studies are now advanced enough to tell. How many years have just a handful of trout (actually char) survived in this tiny waterway? These trout we left alone, too precious to make sport of.

But Warren County's Dunnfield Creek, for example, is fair sized, and has so much spring influx that the holes are a pure-toned aqua marine that makes you want to drink from them and I always do. I know professional naturalists who fairly recently have told me not to do that. At the least, I could get an amoeba, they say, but I've done it since I was 17. Even though you supposedly get real conservative about your health after 40 or so, I feel only the slightest reservation, willing to recognize the water isn't really safe to drink, as I told myself at 17; it's risky to drink. Such is the nature of faith and willing risks.

I could write poetry about drinking wild New Jersey water, but not right now. If anyone tried to sell New Jersey bottled pure spring water, they'd be laughed at.

Beaver Brook, Flanders Brook, Van Campen's Brook, Big and Little Flatbrook in some stretches, even Jackson Creek just outside Dover serve as just a few names of places to try a two or three-weight fly rod or super ultra-light spinning.

I used to catch many nine and ten-inch brookies in the Dunnfield on smallest-sized shad darts. They were particularly effective when I angled a cast well ahead of myself to fish that hadn't spooked. The holes are not the only spots that hold larger brook trout. I caught some in moving water hardly covering their backs. Two-pound test monofilament is the way to go. Nowadays, nothing beats a trout magnet brass headed jig, unless you limit the game to fly fishing.

Fast water brookies less wary in any case, you need to combine careful hiking with fishing. These fish are so special--our NJ state fish designated by Governor James Florio in 1992--that they should all be released or maybe a handful allowed to be taken home over the course of an angler's lifetime so that he gets to eat a true, native brook trout, very special table fare. I released all of the brook trout I caught on the Dunnfield, but have eaten one native brook trout in my lifetime, this one from the Saco River in New Hampshire. I felt even at age 17 that fishing them about twice a year was enough. It's a minor pilgrimage to fish a pure water trout stream, because this rite does in fact connect you to some degree with earth's ancient, pre-manmade metaphysical essence. It does so maybe more than any other way of fishing, combining hiking and deep wilderness value.

I hiked alone all the way up the Dunnfield to the top of Kittatiny Ridge and beyond--where the stream is a step-across rill where I saw one brook trout about three-inches long. I was about six miles from Interstate 80. This is nothing like Alberta, Canada. But the forests are deep of these many thousands of acres, and the great, wide open field on a sort of plateau at high elevation, a place where no trails led, as far as I could tell.

If you ever read "The Mental Traveler" by William Blake--a long, deep, deep, deeply mysterious poem among the signature pieces of genius of all time--you will get a feeling for this mystery of setting out and returning. The poem, of course, is much more about inner space than environmental technicalities and statistics. Each of us has profound wild nature within us.

Go to the Star Trek archives. I don't remember the name of the episode, but it's unmistakably the standout for me, about the guy who actually moves the Enterprise clear across the universe by his mental powers alone. That one made the impression on me as a boy, the Mental Traveler theme.

The Dunnfield experience all the way upstream near the original spring feed involved something exquisitely fundamental and elevated contacting me that afternoon tucked away in New Jersey, far from anyone else's presence, after I had bushwhacked along the Creek. But I've had many experiences beyond the everyday in my lifetime, just as artists must. Somehow or other the memory of that place way up there on the Ridge where no one goes--wide open field--reminds me of the final scene of the movie Knowing. The girl and boy, the only people saved from Earth's doom, are running in a field...the Garden of Eden.

Island Beach New Jersey Bluefish, Rough Surf, Fluke, Hoping for Stripers

 Surf was rough.

"Maybe we'll get one blue!" I said to Matt when we set our place on the beach. 

Soon I thought--nothing. But I felt surprised five or ten minutes later fighting a blue that popped the line--bad knot. Hit right in the froth.

With a seven-ounce frog-mouth sinker, I couldn't hold bottom with bunker heads. I persisted, using two heads, letting them slowly drift aside and back towards me, recasting. But bunker chunks held place in the surf fine, and missing hits from apparently smaller tailor blues felt thrilling with anticipations of fighting and catching fish. They socked the chunks and set rod tips flinging back and forth rapid fire, but when I reeled the rigs in, the chunks still clung to the hooks. I put clam out as sunset neared, but at Betty & Nicks heard of scarce stripers. Eventually, we got a couple of blues, 17 and 21 inches.

I also tried casting a two-ounce bank sinker to navigate the rough with live killies, left my hookless Hopkins back home. I hooked a fluke that had to be close to keeper size, using a huge killie. "Keep coming, keep coming," I told the fish, because I felt the hunch that it would come off. It did.

Wading very rough water to above my waist, I minded that left knee I got surgery for in December. Think I've never frozen my ass off this close to summer before! It was almost cold out. I kept whipping killies out as far as possible, finding occasional passages through whitewater when for 5 or 10 seconds these bluewater portals invited them through.

I had the hunch, hooked up, and experienced another take besides, the latter which happened unexpectedly.

Really wild in that rough surf, white water splashing my chest, tearing by my legs--loud--sensations of the breeze a vital presence accentuating water thrown about as helpless mass gathered by greater mass. The moon is a pretty big object, and the wind that rallies the waves riding over tides brought on by that lunar presence is a more formidable power--episodically--as all surf fishermen ultimately put more trust in the stable turns of high water and low. Ironically, they come and go by the same object from which we derive the word lunacy.

It was fun. My body and mind yielded to it all, becoming part of it, if to forever so remain.