Saturday, June 1, 2013

Canoe or Kayak Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass Reflections


         Fred Matero and I eased his Mad River canoe down an embankment, balancing ourselves on boulders, and used the same as a platform to climb in. We paddled out a few yards and let slow current take us down a stretch of Raritan River immediately below the confluence of North and South branches. This recent evening would be the first time Fred has been skunked fishing this stretch, although we caught numerous smallmouth bass, having paddled well up the North Branch.

          Both branches of the river more and less have careened out of the Highlands—at least the South Branch certainly races through Ken Lockwood Gorge—to flatten and slow on the Piedmont Plain. Although plenty of rock remains for smallmouth bass habitat, more aquatic vegetation means more largemouth bass and Fred has caught plenty.

          We had lots of light penetrating the water before sundown, so Fred fished a chartreuse Senko-type worm. The idea behind bright light,/bright colors and vice versa for lure choices is to match environmental visibility, rather than do the opposite by trying to make a bright lure stand out to fish’s view in low light, or a black lure in clear water and sunlight. Fred caught bass. I used an eighth-ounce, unpainted jig with black Berkeley Gulp! Leeches on the hook, synthetic composition that is a cross between lure and bait. I caught bass.

          For all I know, some anglers have actually experimented at length with lure color, taking careful account. I have never cared to unlock the mystery because my idea has always been about lure and bait presentation—including wide experimentation with different lures and bait—what amounts to sensory grasp of the environment and where I cast. I don’t rely on color much; I tempt strikes by feel. And I approach possible takers by exact thinking, keeping a mental account of where I place casts and heeding spontaneous intuitions of where to approach next.

          Placing a cast is based on knowledge of the water’s overall structure, but I focus on the situation at hand, trying to relax as part of the environment, an aware part like the bass, uncomplicated and acute. 

          As we paddled off, I looked for bottom. Seeing none, I relied on judging the jig’s descent to tell depth. I had already observed the shoreline and aquatic vegetation along the edge—soft bottom.

          “Rocks upstream?” I said.

          “Some near the dam too,” Fred said.

           We drifted near and I anticipated a strike.

           Since I have fished nearly 50 years now, plying all sorts of places with lures and bait, I’ve observed plenty fishing situations while not failing to notice what I do with each cast. Even miserable times have got my attention. Mostly in my persistent teens, I cast a crankbait, for example, reeling it back at high speed, doing this over and over like a machine covering a wide range of lake acreage. The message slowly drove into me that fishing doesn’t have to be work.

          Everyone seems to know the classic definition of work as expended energy, whether work is human labor or done by machine, but fishing is best when energy expended results in energy gained, a relationship with the water making you feel good while you fish and afterward, not drained. So while knowledge of fish habitat is essential, getting fish out of the rocks, sticks, or weeds onto your hook actually involves a relationship with whatever waterway you approach: this is what I mean by feel.

          Whether South or North branches, or the Raritan conjoined from both, bass are there, and many. If you are fortunate to hook a few, pay close attention to the excitement the bass feel and ask yourself if possibly they feel no pain or fear but stimulation and whatever it is for a fish to feel challenge. And let each of them back into the river kindly. For hundreds of years anglers have reported deep wonders of contemplation on the water because the essence of angling is not the angler opposing himself to quarry, but encountering living species other than human, yet of the same natural world we inhabit.

          Angling may be a difficult way towards success in life; traditionally an angler leaves the beaten road, hustling marketplace, and war in the case of legendary angler Izaak Walton. But the more you understand why a bass takes an offering, the more likely it is that what you have to contribute to human society will, eventually, gain notice. Call it therapy if you want. I don't see the need to label it this way. What we do for recreation is re-creation, fundamental to the formal activities we pursue otherwise.     

Thursday, May 30, 2013

High Stick Nymphing for Wild Trout; Plastic Worming for Largemouth Bass

Oliver Round introduced me to high stick nymphing. Until last night, I didn't know about use of tungsten putty for trout nymphing, or that tungsten bead head nymphs exist. We caught some little wild brown trout and Oliver caught two stocked brook trout on the larger of his double nymph set up. Getting one of those trout out of overhanging brush was a feat. Close quarters require precision use of the rod. We talked about fly fishing around the state and I had told him I'm through spin fishing for browns. I like my little 3 1/2-foot spinning rod with two-pound test and a salmon egg for early stocked rainbows, though. I'm amazed I didn't catch poison ivy because I know I ran amok in some. No ticks either. Climbing over deadfalls and up and down banks was arduous and will be well remembered. Oliver had spotted a 15-inch or so wild brown associated with the deadfall pictured above.

After sunset, we caught some bass. Oliver's the second person I've met who fly fishes without ever having used spinning. I know because he held the spinning reel upside down until I showed him how. We approached docked boats on the pond and I let Oliver cast first. He missed a bass. I was thinking of the bass a few ounces under 2 1/2-pounds I had once caught under the dock walkway and decided not to mention it, because Oliver had showed me a photograph of a larger bass he had caught fly fishing the pond. Then I whipped the Chompers worm near the walkway and several feet from a boat. The dusk was thick and the pond dead calm. We used dark-hued plastics. I wished I'd brought some topwaters, but by now I was resolved on the Chompers since the bass hit well. I felt one on, paused, and when I set the hook, I thought for a moment I was snagged.

Today I fished Mount Hope Pond and caught one bass on a bright-colored Chompers cast to one of those eight-inch wide submerged tree trunks. It was nice out in the very warm weather, not yet 90.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Fly Fishing Solitude: Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Smallmouth Bass after Sunset

Brown as the mud my wading shoes shuffled.

On the spur of the moment, I grabbed my fly rod and camera and headed over to the local North Branch Raritan. The evening settled down to a nice, calm blanket of mild fading luminosity after lots of sun and warmth this afternoon, and I thought maybe the trout would rise. I also felt I needed to get away from working on my novel, rather than plough ahead. Sometimes I feel like I should be planting crops rather than constructing something with language.

It so happens that the highlight of the weekend came Saturday at the Clarence Dillon Public Library in my Bedminster hometown, vegetable gardening with my wife. We rent a plot. How appropriate that the local library has garden plots to work. When I start to feel overly ambitious and my presumably great novel takes me out of everyday life, it's a good thing I have some fishing very nearby.

I got to the stretch after sunset. Trout didn't rise with abundance like going on two weeks ago, but pretty soon a brown trout took my brown caddis parachute, size 14 I think it is, and jumped off. I caught the brown photographed, a rainbow, and a smallmouth bass on the same fly, then lost it to a tree branch. By then I needed my headlamp--had it on my head--to tie on another parachute, feeling opportunity slip away like the water passing underneath most of me as I struggled with hackle to get the tippet through the eye loop, wearing my reading glasses.

I went back to casting, cutting close to branches on the back hand, and hooked another trout I fought for a while before the hook pulled. Very few trout rose and as darkness seeped into everything like coffee, even fewer rises dimpled the surface despite brown trout being nocturnal.

I did see some big, whitish mayflies before dusk really came on, but only a very few. They would have been about a size 6 or 8. I felt happy the trout wanted my brown fly with the white parachute that made it possible to see the fly even with deepening dusk.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Fly Fishing Big Flatbrook Roy Bridge Woolly Bugger Streamer

Roy Bridge was our first stop, although we made the turn onto NPS 615 from what began as Mine Road. The first mile or so of driving offered a lot of pull over options I passed up. My wife did get a license and tried some fly casting, and as you can see, my son has a laid back attitude. I couldn't fish as aggressively as I could have alone or with someone who would have been there to really fish.
The water was in as good a shape as it appears in the photos, plenty clear, not too high, and plenty cold, cold enough to have numbed my feet in wading shoes without waders, just a pair of shorts. I believe it was in the 30's up there last night. And it was cold today, not much above 60, if that.
I love going up there; the mountain setting has a lot of range and you find yourself driving through a different sense of time without words grabbing your attention as advertisements infect roadways just about everywhere else in the state, affecting the sense of busy-ness and time. But when I have managed to go up there and fish, I've never had the opportunity to really fish hard at length for hours on end. My novitiate lack of fly casting skill is still evident by having lost a good brown or rainbow that popped my blood knot--I guess the difference of line diameter between the tapered leader and the tippet should have been heeded with more care. Trout do hit streamers hard, I find. I missed three hits on  a beadhead black and brown Woolly Bugger. Caught one rainbow on same. I suppose really walking the stream for a mile or so and back might bring interesting results if you know how to fly fish in the first place.

Largemouth Bass Attempt Up in the Mountains

Blue Mountain Lake is deep within Delaware Watergap National Recreation Area, high up in the Ridge elevations. Taking Mine Road all the way in from Interstate 80, we arrived after a pleasant drive on one of the nation's oldest roadways. Blue Mountain Lake can also be accessed from Blairstown, CR 620, I think it is, connecting with Mine Road in Millville, a little historical crossroads, or by NPS 615 from points near U.S. 206, or from the Dingman's Ferry area. It's back in the woods, up in the mountains for sure, and yet we saw about two dozen other people along the man-made lake. This is not a glacial marvel as is Crater Lake, which we visited thereafter, also crowded, for lunch.

With the severe cold front sure to influence fish behavior, I fell for buying a dozen large shiners at the Stanhope Bait & Boat on the way up. And it was cold up above Route 80 at the high elevations, about 60, probably in the 30's last night. I sighted two five-pound bass and two about 3 1/2 pounds swimming side by side in the very clear water. This motivated me to fish hard and lively shiners. But no bass or pickerel--if pickerel are present, as I think they are--gave the shiners any attention but one buck at a nest that only nosed a shiner.

It's a nice place, but sort of has a park feel with the domestic grass along the dam that looks all too conspicuous. Yet, the water quality is excellent and I suppose that if you were up there on a rainy day alone and nailing largemouths, tossing them back, it would feel distant and desolate enough. You have to hike in a good quarter mile. Imagine going up there in the winter and ice fishing. I know of someone who did, that's how I learned about this place. 

Crater Lake