Thursday, June 6, 2013

Rain puts Trout off the Rise

Tuesday and Wednesday I stopped by the North Branch Raritan on my bike rides and trout rose incessantly. This evening, I fly fished with Oliver and saw two rises. Rain had begun as the tropical storm approaches, early in the season now for tropical storms. (Unfortunately, with south seas warmed beyond prior average temperatures, we're likely going to experience tropical storms and hurricanes more often and more powerful.)

The dry fly fishing has been best after calm, mostly sunny days. I viewed the stretch earlier than sunset yesterday.

Oliver caught a wild brown and a rainbow in fast water not much more than two feet deep. The nymph weighted with tungsten putty allowed high-sticking the rod to control drift under the tip.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Summer Smallmouth Bass: Herring for Suspended Bass, other Techniques

Summer Smallmouth Bass Lake Methods

Lake smallmouth bass can get depressed during summer. Sounds crazy? Not if it’s Lake Hopatcong, Spruce Run Reservoir, or other lake with oxygen stratification. This has little to do with depleted brain cells, but exile from home. Good-size smallmouths suspend over their natural habitat—deep, rocky drop-offs. If you’ve ever had the blues, you know the feeling of suspense and unwillingness to do much. Suspended smallmouths will show up on the graph recorder, but chase almost nothing offered them.

Ripping and rolling crankbaits through the water column may work in favorable conditions. But usually a better approach is to match the homeless mood. No bass will bum money off you, but a few may swipe live herring.

If wind is not heavy, a slow drift over drop-offs with a few live herring out, no weight, just hooked through the nostrils on a size 6, plain shank hook, can work wonders even on a sunny afternoon. Herring head right down to the oxygen break and make their way at the zone until bass find them. On Hopatcong, that’s about 15 to 18 feet in August, possibly 12 feet on Spruce Run. Set the hook quick to ensure a clean release.

Nothing perfects the approach to stratification as herring do. This is an opportunity to appreciate the beauty and specific effectiveness of using live bait. To whet curiosity, we’ve tried live herring in Stony Brook, Mercer County, and small bass only play with them. But good-size lake smallmouths have no compunctions.

The situation for smallmouths with a breathable retreat path to the depths calls for any number of lure choices. Find these summer bass associated with rocks and gravel anywhere from the shallowest reaches several feet deep, down to 40 or 50 feet deep or more. I know someone who caught a smallmouth on a live herring intended for a lake trout 90 feet deep in Round Valley Reservoir during summer.

Where bass will stage along the routes they take from deep to shallow, shallow to deep, and on migrations around a lake depends on so many variables volumes could be filled on the subject. A good book to read is Will Ryan’s Smallmouth Strategies for the Fly Rod, which goes into detail about smallmouth bass behavior. But a good rule of thumb is that changing weather patterns, especially falling barometer with the onset of rain, usually jump starts action towards shallows.

A typical fishing depth may be 10 to 20 feet. Among rocks, bass will hit subtle presentations throughout the day, and may slam crankbaits retrieved at moderate speed. I caught a 3 ¼-pounder during a partly sunny afternoon in three feet of crystal clear water one recent summer—it didn’t hurt to try that cast. 4 and 5 inch Senko-type worms are my go-to choice. They cast a mile and sink fast, no weight needed to get down 20 feet pretty quick with control of line in a steady breeze. Wacky rigged in the middle is effective, but an inset worm hook allows the worm to nose dive into wide rock crevices where smallmouths wait to ambush. If the day is really slow—no breeze on clear water absorbing a demon sun—I use a seven-inch Chompers worm, perhaps with two inches of plastic removed from the head, on a size 2, plain shank open hook. Slow descent and subtle feel can literally make all the difference. For one thing, a slow-descending worm stays in the bass’s visual field longer.

With optimal weather conditions that really get bass on the move feeding, crankbaits may out-produce any other lure or bait. All sorts of diving lips offer a range of depth options. Crankbaits come in very small sizes too, but the notion that smallmouth bass want small offerings is not necessarily true. For example, when I use a Senko, I almost always choose a five-inch worm over four-inch and have caught plenty little smallmouths on the larger. 

Years ago when I first encountered a Rat-L-Trap, I thought it was a clumsy, awkward, useless device. One day with stained water on the Delaware River, I chose to try it for the rattle and have been hooked on this lure ever since. Since lipless crankbaits sink, you can work them effectively 20 feet down and even deeper. They can be yo yo’ed, ripped and paused, etc.

Jigs and smallmouth bass are inseparable. Now that hard metals such as steel and brass are replacing lead, the possible effectiveness of tapping jigs along rocks is increased. Whether or not this really makes a difference, harder metal gives you a little better feel. Tungsten jigs would be best. This metal is denser than lead and extremely hard.

Fly rodders have fun on lakes for smallmouth too. Weighted streamers don't serve the same function as jigs. A sinking 6-weight fly line may be best, must be a sinking line. Jig action is more irritating by stops, starts, and clicks; streamers behave like dissociated forage fish cruising and darting just off bottom or suspended. Fly fishing in lakes is a subtle approach that may be effective when other methods fail. It’s certainly a way that could be tried on suspended smallmouths.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

New Jersey Fly Fishing for Beginners Warm Water Season

Last Chance Trout for Region’s Streams

This is a column article brought up to date that Recorder Newspapers published last year. It's about this time of year and local waters, but slanted for beginner fly fishermen like myself, my son, and now my wife.

          Holdover trout in most area streams may be threatened upon being caught and released back to the water after June. Water temperatures in excess of about 68 degrees push lactic acid to levels that can kill after hook and line struggles. If this summer is like the last two, noted holdover streams like the Paulinskill River will spike above lethal temperatures for any trout inhabitants that don’t find cool water spring releases.

          Additional New Jersey rivers are the Musconetcong, Pequest, the North and South Branch Raritan, and Black—all great holdover trout streams with some wild brown trout reproduction at least associated with them, but some smaller like Dunnfield Creek stay cold to the touch through heat waves. Reproducing wild brown and rainbow trout, as well as native brook trout, maintain stable populations year round in the Dunnfield. But before approaching any spring stream, check first if it is regulated by state protection and follow the rules. They're simple.

          Many trout remain in the rivers in June, and fly fishermen have an advantage as the trout familiarize themselves with insect forage hatches. A good all-around dry fly is the Adams. Sizes in the 14-20 range in variable patterns may be best. Sulfurs are perhaps most popular this time of year for very good reason, but I’ve never seen them hatch on my local North Branch. Hatches are stream-specific. A great book for regional hatch charts is Tom Gilmore’s Fly Fishing the Big Apple.

          If you are new to fly fishing, don’t get the six-weight rod and line that may be suggested. For all of our streams and rivers, five-weight makes a subtle, but appreciable difference.  If hatch charts and dry flies confuse you at first, try stonefly nymphs sizes 10-16, and Wooly Bugger streamers. If trout ignore the stonefly nymphs—less likely if fished persistently—smallmouth bass may be willing. I’ve found they attack stonefly nymphs up to size 6.

          The last couple of years, my son, Matt, my wife Patricia along with our black Labrador and I have driven to the Flatbrook at the top of the state, Memorial Day weekend. This is my son’s idea. August 2011 we fly fished the Blewett Tract, naïve to the 68-degree margin I mentioned, and spotted numerous rainbow trout in low and clear water that would not hit. It’s reassuring that my son not only vividly remembers this and wants to return, but also reasoned that we should go well before low summer water conditions. An impression like Flatbrook trout reaches a youngster on a deeper level than do ordinary happenings. These are the sort of memories that can and should last a lifetime. They will if replenished by new experiences when possible. By staying in touch with fishing’s value, Matt may weather life well, just as a boat with a deep keel can withstand much more surface turbulence than a shallow draft.

           Like any sport, fishing is about more than the score, and this includes appreciation of places such as the northern section of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area where the Flatbrook flows, often offering solitude among high mountains. Last year, we came upon an isolated house deep in the forests along a road that made us wonder about heavy snow. I timed how long it took to get to the first food market—45 minutes. And you thought New Jersey is all pavement and strip malls?  

          If you ever get the daring urge to beat the sticks and really try something different—go after native brook trout. Governor James Florio announced in 1992 that brook trout as officially the New Jersey state fish. What better way to symbolize preservation of our Highlands? In this state, some of the worst pollution nightmares in history have threatened portions of the population, yet native brook trout that filled streams 12,000 years ago when the Wisconsin Glacier receded are still here. Brook trout require pure, cold water. The Dunnfield Creek, for example, has deep holes of aqua-marine tone, perfectly clear and pure.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Parents' Guide to Fishing: Be an Angler a Child can Observe and Emulate

Every Kid Would Love to Fish

          When I see a youngster fishing with a parent, I might consider that child lucky whether he or she catches anything or not. Every three to five-year-old introduced to fishing loves it. You could say that a three to five-year-old introduced to anything loves it, but there are plenty of things that can bore. TV might be one of them. Even though children respond well to shows appropriate to age and interest, TV is like tunnel vision, an enclosure in something like a dream that does not have the full, participatory experience and value of the outdoors. Every kid wants to live a real life.

          The first good-sized largemouth my son caught at age three, a 13-incher, seemed to give him the sense that the world is his for the plucking. That may be cliché, but he caught a bass and that’s as plucking as picking blueberries, and the bass was considerably more resistant and larger. He got a sense that the world is to care for as well, since he released a living creature. As he grew just a little older, he wanted to fish almost every day after pre-school session. So I was willing to take him for an hour or two a couple or several evenings a week after work. Since he truly loved to fish, his total intent was infectious and I found my own desire to fish fully reawakening after a 25-year slump. Soon he was catching as many bass as I caught, a five-year-old with the finesse of a master with plastic worms.

         I had done something right in how I had introduced him to fishing. And from that initiation he developed very much by his own efforts, yet by always being visible to me, and with me as his own source of know-how to elaborate upon his own experience.

        At ages two and three, a parent or guardian needs to do all the casting for a youngster. Not only is such a young child simply too small to put a bait or lure out there, he has very little idea yet of the pursuit, the placing of the lure or bait where a fish might be. Buy him a rod of his own. Cast for him. The ideal lure for bass, if you’re not using nightcrawlers or shiners, is the plastic worm since you can help him retrieve it slowly. Let him reel in a fish; help him if it’s big.

          I went ahead and built for Matt at age five a 3 ½-foot spinning rod for trout, the same size that I use with salmon eggs. When he was three, I cast salmon eggs for him on the same rod he used for bass, and he caught some trout. He had not yet caught a “pickerel pike,” at five; but he was very eager to do so. So late in April, I took him to a pond I knew had pickerel in it, and baited his hook with live shiners. He caught one that afternoon, which was all he needed to fill the outing.

          Kids are interested in catching all kinds of fish. My son is 14 now and hasn’t yet caught a carp, very much wanted to at age 12 and we did try once. I bought a mulberry purple bait concoction and gave it to him to add to his wide selection of lures and tackle, a promise that we may try yet, although now that he’s teenaged, his independent interests have of course taken him in many other directions.

          It’s important to show kids very different methods that varieties of fish species require in order to be caught. The more they know, the better impressed they will be by the range of value, which may become a lasting endeavor. By age three, a boy or a girl has a rudimentary grasp of many differences of approach; how it is you are fishing should be pointed out. So long as a three-year-old grasps that there is a way to do it, by the time he is five he may be on top his game with at least one method, and possibly more.

          By the time a child is six, have him learn to tie knots. Kids this age are interested in such skills, want to perform them. To know the Uncle Homer knot or the clinch or both are notches they can cut on their belts. It’s the same with different lures and methods. A six-year-old wants to know how to use these devices that are so fascinating to him. As long as you relate to him at least one way to use each of the lures owned, he has a basis on which to build upon variations of method. Tell him there’s more than one way to do, but show him at least one way.

           For example, with weightless plastic worms, I told my son to cast and count slowly to 20 before he twitched the worm off the bottom, then to count to 10 and twitch it again by moving the rod tip about a foot or two and so on. He got that down pat after a couple of outings. Seeing that he had that under control, I told him so. Always confirm with your son or daughter that he or she has it right.

          “By now you know what 20 seconds feels like, don’t you think?”


          “So now just fish that plastic worm by what feels right.”

          And as I noted earlier in the article, he was a young master in his fifth year. He was very intent upon catching fish and saw his dad doing just that. So, besides how I instructed him, he watched how I fished very closely and imitated this. The best you can do for your son or daughter is be an active, open model from whom he or she can learn by observing and trusting you.

          As kids grow older, all sorts of other life influences draw them in many other directions, as I mentioned earlier. Fishing for them may seem removed from the mainstream of life. We older adults always used to speak glowingly of getting away from it all. Today kids don’t seem as much to share that value of getting outside. They seem to want to be very much with their generation’s technological involvement.

          However, older kids are very environmentally aware, much more so than we were in some ways. They are very concerned about global warming, for example, because they know it is affecting their lives now and in the future.  If you train them to recognize that equipment, tackle, methods, approaches, environmental appreciation, and successes are like any other endeavor in life, they might retain the tradition as they grow even older. They may realize they got their basic education and appreciation of life out fishing with dad.