Thursday, July 18, 2013

Memories from Cedar Rapids at Barryville, New York: Camping and Float Fishing the Delaware River

We're headed up to Barryville August 4th for our annual float trip, catching mostly smallmouth bass, but we often catch a walleye, as well as big red ear sunfish, rock bass, and my son has caught a couple of large suckers on his nightcrawlers. We used to camp at Cedar Rapids, which was the first camping my son, Matt, then five, and his friend Tommy Slota, then three, have done. Steve Slota has been coming up to float the Delaware at Barryville since he was 15, almost 40 years ago. He was my connection to this stretch of the river in 2004, and my gratitude will never fade out. We camped about half a dozen times over five or six years, highlighting the outings with the float trip and fishing, yet enjoying the cooking, swimming, and shaded ambiance of the campground nestled in the woodland at the base of the ridge above. It was a wild place with a lot of campers, yet what I remember best is the peace in the outdoors. One morning, my son and I got up just before sunset to witness steam devils on the river, 80 or 90 feet high, spinning vortexes, excitement stirring the peaceful, misty mood of daybreak. It's a part of the Delaware that has called us back every year since 2004, a freedom to be away a fair distance from Bedminster, forget everything else, and enjoy each other's company while focusing on fishing and whatever comes to mind between us. After we're done a full day from 9:00 a.m. to about 6:00, we stop at Port Jervis Diner for dinner, which my wife Patricia especially appreciates. We've also fished Steenykill, Sussex, and Cranberry lakes on the way home

Some of these years we've gone up to fish more than once. In 2004, I drove up with my son in late November and fished the river from shore, catching smallmouth bass, a largemouth, and a pickerel. We caught no walleye, although boaters get the big ones in the late fall and winter season so long as the river isn't ice jammed. Why we haven't caught a big walleye during summer, I don't know. Why they are mostly caught during the cold season, I don't really know, except that are a cooler water fish than bass. However, they need to feed in the summer too. I've heard that walleye migrate up and down the river, so perhaps they hole up in the deepest water during summer. Narrowsburg further north has the deepest hole at 113 feet, which Matt and I visited that November in 2004, but couldn't effectively fish from shore.

When something we used to do--camp at Cedar Rapids--became a yearly event, it seemed almost as if we would do it every summer for the rest of our lives, but of course things change, although the memory and feeling persists in a positive way, which means the value lasts. These places actually live on in us even when establishments no longer exist because the thought of them can evoke the best of the feelings we had there. I think of Steve in the context of the river--fresh, wild, unspoiled--more than I think of his coming originally from Paterson, although Paterson is a wild city I know from visiting it on a courier job I worked in the 1990's. I was amazed at the colorful diversity of people and places. But he explored a fairly distant wilderness rather than remained within the limits of that city, which made a crucial difference in his life. And he passed this on to my family, which has made a difference to us.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

North Branch Raritan River Smallmouth Bass Difficultly Gained

Left at 6:00 pm and soon began the long hike and wading to our favorite North Branch Raritan spot. Like last year, the hole was all but completely dead, and this after over a 10-year history of my son and I catching smallmouth and some largemouth bass since he was three, although I was alone this evening. Slogging through water with soft bottom to get there especially onerous, I don't remember it being so tough or else I'm suddenly aging, which I usually don't feel at all. I guess that's all the more reason to get away from the usual ease and take these stress tests.

I had four killies left from fishing Island Beach a month ago. I fished two of them in our favorite hole and lost a small bass, one of the killies still fishable later. Becoming drenched in perspiration fast, I felt the temperature hovering over 90 thick and omnipresent. And I felt a little surprised at how the river felt like bath water. I cast a Senko so I could reach spots clear across the river and missed two hits. Then I went downstream.

The stretch further from the parked car is my new favorite, perhaps. So once upon a time the stretch up above, which apparently gets some pressure, got the favor and now the stretch where it's difficult to wade close to the bank and not get deeper than the cell phone in the pocket is the preferred. But I've never caught a bass here better than 13 inches, and have caught a couple of bass over three pounds, and some others close to two pounds above. One of those bass nearly 19 inches long, we sighted another there of at least 20 inches.

Most stream bass measure about nine inches, and five of the six total I caught today were about that, one of them a little over 12 inches and close to a pound, a hard fighting fish. Three of them on the killies and three on seven and eight-inch Chompers worms. One of the bass I caught hit the Chompers on the surface as I retrieved to make another cast.

Apparently Sandy took several trees down in this stretch lengthwise along the bank, further down than I photographed below. When a tree or other large obstruction is in the water, flood currents dig around it and deepen the water, so I couldn't get all the way down the stretch and into the back I used to like to fish, not without getting my camera and lure bags wet. I had already placed my cell phone, keys, and wallet in my camera bag. My lure bag took a bad rip. It's ancient, susceptible, and needs replacement. I was careful not to lose a lot of money's worth of lures.

So much for my dream of actually hiking and wading all the way down to Route 28 and back, a total of about five miles. Not sure I could even do that without swimming at times. A kayak would work, by dragging it through some riffles. My son and I did get about half a mile further downstream once. Even then we had to do some tricky bank climbing to get around impassable water, impassable without swimming, that is.

I had some nice moments just before sunset when the air felt like it had cooled significantly. I had got as far downstream as I could with my two bags, unless I was going to deposit them on the high bank and risk thigh chafing on the wade and hike back. I thought of what efforts the outdoors sometime demand, and yet you can feel good in spite of the difficulty--even because of it. You struggle, and then when you relax with ease the response is pleasure and everything around you is nice, beautiful, and right.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Fly Casting for Paulinskill River Smallmouth Bass

Took my son to NJ Audubon Ridge Walkers, based at Mohican Outdoor Center. He'll be there into Friday. Plan was to take him Sunday, but he had sprained his ankle. The most strenuous hike they did earlier today. So Matt and I waited at the Center a few hours until they got back, going into town for dinner. A nice afternoon up in the mountains.

Fished the Paulinskill with my fly rod and a couple of bead head nymphs, but the sun had gone down and I couldn't sight any smallmouths. Had a real good time with my son in 2011 catching some bass on nymphs in the middle of the hottest afternoon in many years. It was over 105 degrees, much, much hotter than today. It was so hot we cut our plans short by two hours and swam in the river to cool off, exhausted by heat and desiring to drink the water (we didn't). I tried for 40 minutes or so this evening, pleased with my casting, catching a couple of sunfish and a rock bass. The bass gave a fair little account of itself. I got control of casting quicker than I thought I would. It's not that I did no fly casting as a boy and teen, but I've always had that notion hanging over me, which is commonplace, that fly casting is a difficult art. Basically, you need a wrist that knows where to put the line, and it's not all that difficult to do.

 Catfish Pond

Monday, July 15, 2013

South Branch Raritan River Still Running High

Back in May, I imagined doing a lot of South Branch Raritan fishing this late spring and summer. I almost began for smallmouths in late May, don't recall what interrupted. I got killies in mid-June, but the heavy rains had begun and although I got out on the river twice, it was running too high and stained. I still have some of those killies left--not that they're the only way to catch stream bass, far from it. I'm used to using a spinning rod, and the four-piece that I keep in my vehicle lost its two top sections to Lake Hopatcong recently. Still awaiting the new Ugly Stik.

So I tried fly fishing, although I really like doing this for smallmouths when water level is low. Water was only slightly stained today, but volume too powerful, I felt, to manage the Wooly Bugger. Wading was a problem with the high water too. I caught one little bass inadvertently by walking upstream to the next spot while trailing the Bugger behind me.

Northern Water Snake