Saturday, January 26, 2013

Lake Hopatcong Ice Fishing on a Flat and Along Drop Off

Finally after a winter last year like eternal spring and December this winter season one of the mildest on record, we have ice. Very mild weather is forecast this coming week, but at least today it was really cold out on Lake Hopatcong. It's been so long since we've ice fished, the memories that kept us in the loop year to year were broken, discontinuous and we approached with uncertainty. But Landolfi was on my power auger first thing. It started for the first time and I felt it all come back. We weren't cheated by the mechanical failure possible. Joe cut about a dozen holes finding the ice here out in front besides Nolan's Point was only about four inches thick. So I saw opportunity to use my split bar, venturing out farther and left towards the Point, walking alone in brilliant, snow reflected sun with snaking streams of wind blown powder racing past my feet. Cold scintilated my cheeks so I could feel the blood flow increased to my face and the tingling was a pleasure that made me undividedly present. Rather than being a dead environment inhospitable to life, the world I traversed was wide open including the sun 93 million miles distant, the progenitor of all life, yet intimate with snow hissing as if to alert me to accept its presence instead of ward it off as alien. I paid close attention as powder accumulated deeply along a thick crack that had leaked and a small ridge risen.

We fished in front of the green house, home of "The Yeller Woman," who doesn't like people fishing in boats this prime smallmouth bass spot about 30 yards off her bulkhead. No one is home all winter. The plan had been to fish River Styx, but fishing around the corner from Dows Boat Rentals where we bought shiners gave us about 2 1/2 hours to fish. We would have driven at least a half hour around the lake otherwise. A flat extends out from the bulkhead those 30 yards, very shallow, then drops and keeps dropping off to about 45 feet. We set half of our 15 tip ups along this drop off in 10 to 14 foot depths. It's a great musky cruise with the giant predators stalking the length of this edge. Other possibilities included pickerel, largemouth and smallmouth bass. Chances are we didn't fish deep enough for walleye or hybrid bass. The flag on a tip up set about 10 feet deep rose.

"Do you feel it?" Joe said.

"Yeah," Matt said.

"Slow! Pull slow!" Joe said.

Joe snatched the line to feel what Matt had on.

"It's big," he said.

A moment later, it was gone. But for Joe to have said Matt had a big fish on meant it probably was at least four pounds. Who knows. But Joe's a real veteran who once caught a 20 pound tiger musky through the ice. I've caught plenty of three pound pickerel and northern pike that came in easily, that didn't feel "big." 

"When you get a flag," Joe said, "You're like a five year old on Christmas morning running to see what's in your stocking."

Arriving upon Bedminster with my son Matt, I said, "I don't like to feel I just live in Bedminster. I like to get out so I feel part of broad horizons." I had just spoken about driving into New England during winter or certainly to Pulaski for steelhead once we get a four wheel drive vehicle. We travel during the warm months and today's outing linked me to New England winters, having experienced them as a boy.      

"Yeah!" My son recognized what I meant by broad horizons. "I do too."

Friday, January 25, 2013

Ice Fishing Lake Hopatcong Tomorrow, Looking Forward to It

23 degrees this afternoon, I was a little unsure Round Valley Reservoir would still be open water, that skim ice might cover the surface. The pond--I guess about 30 acres--on the other side of the rock dike is frozen and I'm sure is safe to ice fish, but I looked and saw no holes cut yet. Walking on rocks and gravel in really cold weather seems to be more of a pleasure than during spring and summer. Perhaps the crunch reminds me of broken ice around holes ice fishing. I always enjoy walking on a frozen lake. You can't escape the knowledge that it's water, which conditions how you feel it. Some people never get over the fear, no matter how thick the ice.
I first ice fished at age 15, introduced by an outdoor mentor 11 years my senior. He cut a couple of holes when I heard a loud crack and boom, leaping into the air frightened. He said, "The ice settles!" turned and went back to cutting a hole. I guess it took me no more than a couple of outings on the ice to feel comfortable. And pretty soon I felt I belonged out there. My whole attitude to cold weather changed. Before I ice fished, I detested cold. I celebrate by welcoming it positively since.
If you can't understand why anyone would enjoy hours on a frozen lake in bitter cold just to catch a few fish, the serenity of really knowing in my bones that I am not only fit for severe natural elements, but am happy in such conditions, is the reason I love this recreation. The motive isn't to prove anything, but be.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Change is Here

18 degrees at Round Valley this afternoon. I walked around the corner just to take the place in, with the cold feeling good, seeing no one else, not surprised at that. 

I got word from Landolfi by phone that Lake Hopatcong has four inches of ice in the coves. It's thickening fast, of course. Saturday afternoon may be the trial run of the power auger I bought fall 2011 and had no opportunity to use last winter. The split bar won't be left behind on any ice fishing venture, I think, but I won't use it to cut fresh holes when ice is thick. It was one thing to slam through 18 inches of ice when I was 18 years old, but busting ice with an iron chisel headed bar in recent years has been difficult and slow. This is not a complaint. I got through that way, but when means become affordable it's natural to buy them. 

My wife always said I'll never use the auger, that ice fishing is all over, but climate change does not happen overnight, and I don't really believe it will be ever be so severe that we don't have some ice in New Jersey during winters in the foreseeable future. 

The way the world feels out here, face to face with nature, climate change doesn't seem to be a problem. Here's the world right now and all is fine. In other words the problem, as always, is with us. It's how change affects our systems of all kinds that has already become problematic. And like any problem, it's an opportunity to grow and become something new. That may strike you as a very naive statement but the fact is: the change is here. And if it proves to be severe enough, civilization will not be the same. Can we take the opportunity to create something better?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Positive Attitude, Camus's Negation, Myth of Sisypus, Leonardo DaVinci

Positive mood, we finally got some really cold weather. I'm looking forward to ice fishing with Landolfi and possibly bringing my son along this Saturday afternoon. It's perfect how with all the positive episodes I enjoyed all summer and into December, towards the very tail end of them--no one enjoys such fortune without respite--I was reading Albert Camus, Notebooks: 1942-1951. The key idea I focused upon while life was still glorious, these great series of personal events that soared right through everything, was negation. And while I was in a much better state than negation, I noted to myself that this idea was what hooked my mind more than any other of Camus's. 

And what's that? Negation is just ordinariness. There's no mysticism to it really. But you can certainly take the ordinary a couple of steps higher than cynicism and despair.

By the second time I photographed Camus's book with my fishing rod for this blog, I think I was coming back into the ordinary placement of life. His idea of the Myth of Sisypus is that inevitably you get in a routine--like rolling a boulder uphill each day and letting it roll down when day is done, only to push it back up again the next day. And at first you hate it. Of course you would hate that. And if you don't choose to learn to love it, your life is inauthentic, nasty, cynical, despairing--because if you don't learn to love what you do, it will ruin you. That's just the nature of human life. But that doesn't mean every day must be heaven, and every day can't be. Challenges always crop up. But in general, I think no one put it better than Leonardo DaVinci: "If you can't do what you want, want what you do."

Negation just dropped out for a short while tonight, and I remembered perfectly how I soared for much of six months because that's how I felt again. Not that I'm blowing sunshine. I don't need to do any of that.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Winter Reflections Take You More Places Than Meet the Eye

Bearing down under the winter drag with about a month-and-a-half yet before temperatures will warm somewhat. A lot of gray lunches at Round Valley recently, and no trout since January 3rd. With cold wind, I spent the time in the car, writing, checking on the rod occasionally, but it was still nice to be there, a break from the road. 

We do what we do to earn a living, but its good to do some living with the earning. This enhances work performance too. I've worked at a desk all day, years ago, and still do for a short part of the day, welcomed since its a capping off, and then I'm on my way home. It's tougher on the road for my present job. But I prefer how hard it is over watching the clock. I hated the sense of time dragging while working indoors. Driving stimulates thought. And especially during the warm seasons I enjoy fishing. 

Those of you familiar with this blog know I write about fishing and other things besides. In recent decades, many writers earn Master Fine Arts graduate degrees. I made the choice to keep with my self-employed clamming while studying and writing, which made all the difference for me, because I was free to go as deep into reading as I pleased, on my own time. When I went to St. John's College, Annapolis, MD, during orientation we took fair warning from administration that because of the program's ambitiousness, superficial assimilation of studies is a danger. Of course, this didn't mean that's necessarily the case, but the words made an impression on me, and I decided I can do better studying without a school regimen. 

Retired English professor, novelist and poet Ed Minus instructed me on writing monthly and weekly and almost daily for six recent years. I wouldn't say, "Go away and write," as if Hemingway didn't train as a reporter on the Toronto Star and study under Gertrude Stein's tutelage. Novelist and creative writing teacher John Gardner made the trenchant point in his book On Becoming a Novelist that although Hemingway said what I quoted, he got what Gardner deems necessary: training under the guidance of accomplished others. 

Nevertheless, Hemingway didn't make that statement in vain, and I believe he would stand by it today, a state of affairs that Gardner refused to elaborate on while taking a polemical position that derides cranks instead. Gardner's persuasion, of course, is good for MFA programs, though may be harmful to more ambitious and adventurous writers who would strike further out and still find ways to get the guidance from others they need. Besides, nowadays all you have to do is own a computer to be enabled to reach out to all sorts of forums and communities, although the value of working one to one with someone knowledgeable is a directly informative encounter which cannot be mediated by
cyberspace remove to the same degree of immediate conversation. 

During the fall of 1982, I lived in desolated Surf City, New Jersey, keeping an infrequent correspondence with novelist and poet Sheldon Vanauken, who was my history professor at Lynchburg College in Virginia. He suggested that I seek even further "outness," exactly my intention. Not only did Hemingway achieve no more than a high school diploma for formal education; he spent, for one example, 300 consecutive days in the Gulf Stream marlin fishing. During that time he didn't write, but he had no university post, and for the most part, not as tight-knitted an affinity with other writers as many do. Needless to say, he wrote for a large audience, not just other MFA grads. 

I needed Ed Minus's help because I had created a separate world in close to 60,000 handwritten journal pages since I was 17 by the time I met him. They're readable. But publishing written work is another matter, unless perhaps there is posthumous interest in my unpublished work. Marshall McLuhan's "The medium is the message" is apt. I had to relearn the mainstream culture we share after 13 years in Island Time on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. 

I suppose it's possible that one way or another some of my journals will eventually get published. But I've been putting them behind me--I would never discard a word--to work on novels and other material I publish. When I was on the Island, I hoped that I would be living on royalties by my mid-30's. Life proved to be much more difficult than expected. But overcoming the hardships really means I have more material to give my work meaning and scope. So I hope I live into very ripe old age.

Winter reflections at Round Valley take you more places than meet the eye. That's why open space where you can be alone is so important.