Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ice Fishing Last Year's Knee Deep Derbies and More

Happy New Year! Should be another good one, and we may have ice soon.

          Due to plenty of ice on Lake Hopatcong—nearly two feet thick as of March 10th—the Knee Deep Club is hosting another derby on Sunday, March 16, ice conditions permitting. Additional information can be found online. If the derby is held, non-members will be enabled to participate at an additional cost: $25.00 instead of $20.00 for members. Individual membership in the club is $20.00 and a perfect way for beginners to familiarize themselves with ice fishing and the lake otherwise through acquaintances with other members. If mild weather persists until Sunday, surface ice may be a slushy mess, yet safe underneath.

          Pickerel and perch especially fish well through the ice, and plenty are being caught. The February 16th derby winning pickerel was 3 pounds, 12 ounces, and 2nd and 3rd place fish were also over three pounds. The winning walleye was also 3 pounds, 12 ounces, not large as this species goes, and the winning yellow perch was 1 pound, 3 ounces—larger than the winning largemouth bass at 1 pound, 1 ounce.

          This does not mean that Hopatcong bass are small. They don’t fish as well as pickerel and perch through the ice, and no one happened to catch any good sized that day. I got a weekend report from Laurie Murphy at Dow’s Boat Rentals on Monday, February 24th, which included news of a 5 pound, 6 ounce largemouth weighed in at the shop’s scales. The bass was released. Perhaps a party cooler, filled by a siphon stuck through the ice, was used to transport the bass alive. How it was done I prefer to leave to imagination. On Gropp’s Lake, Mercer County, we used to construct live wells by hollowing out 18 inch thick ice, then cutting a small hole through the bottom.

          I also heard from somewhere or other that during the February derby, a few small muskies of about 40 inches were caught. Muskies are not included in the contest, since the overwhelming persuasion on the lake is to release these fish.

          If you want to try for muskies, walleye, or even hybrid stripers and big channel catfish, ice fish one of the many main lake points. If you can find parking at Dows, you can access Nolan’s and Chestnut points, or even walk clear across the lake to Elba or Pickerel points. In any event, purchase a Fishing Map Guides topographic map of Hopatcong, which shows the points, coves, and pickerel flats. If you do fish the main lake, most of the walleye, hybrid stripers, and catfish will probably be 30-45 feet deep. Muskies are not necessarily so deep, although they often are way down at bottom. Sometimes a smallmouth bass is caught at Chestnut Point, but whatever the reason, this species is stubborn through the ice.

          Largemouth bass are better through the ice than smallmouth, but finding where they are is difficult. Pickerel are relatively easy to find and better acclimated to cold water feeding. The State Park flats, for example, about six feet deep when the lake’s level is normal, are acres of weed beds that pickerel prowl winter, summer, spring, and fall. The River Styx is another example of extensive weedy shallows that can be productive for ice fishing. Woodport is productive also, and a good bet with low water now. Perch are available in these spots too, and often rove about in large schools through other areas as well.

          Most of the perch fishing is done by jigging a tiny jig with a mousy grub on the hook. A good idea is to exercise with the manual or power auger and cut a lot of holes. If a school swings in under one hole and is gone after a minute, you can move to another hole and possibly catch up. In any event, especially if you use a hand auger, this is a sure way to keep warm if it’s cold out. The effort expended on ice 18 inches thick is substantial.

          Laurie Murphy told me recently that she remembers years when the ice wasn’t completely gone until early April. It was amazing to contemplate a photo taken of Lake Absegami in Ocean County on February 22nd this year completely ice free. The Highlands are certainly a winter attraction if you learn how to approach them, while South Jersey is another story entirely.

          Even Round Valley Reservoir has ice a foot thick at the time of this writing, and ice fishermen are catching lake trout 60 feet deep. It will be interesting to see how long the ice fishing season extends this year. Even if you don’t care to actually fish through the ice, getting out on a frozen lake for a walk can be a very stimulating, brisk way to relax.




Friday, December 26, 2014

Beach Fossils of the New York Bight

Beach Fossils of the New York Bight

Here's an article sufficiently outdoors published in The Paleontograph many months ago.

          Rockaway Beach, Queens, New York, is a slice of sand where routines of the everyday Big Apple meet the open Atlantic. Who would think this crowded beach is a great place to pick fossils after a storm? Between November and March, Nor’easters produce opportunity few care about, but those who do seek fossils find tokens of deep time. A group of about three dozen of us from the New York Paleontological Society kicked our way across the sand towards drift lines, having been informed that the treasure to seek is a blue crab fossil from the Pleistocene Epoch more than 11,700 years ago. We were assured that plenty of fossil shells would be found, but that the crabs, locked into place by clay having become rock, are uncommon.

          We could do better. Fossil lobster claws, gastropods, sponges, and other very rare specimens have been found on the Rockaway and Long Island beaches. But no one seems to expect them.

          We walked and picked shells that appeared ancient near the throat of the New York Bight, the indentation or oceanic pocket between Long Island and Queens, and the northern New Jersey beaches, cleaved by the Hudson Canyon. Ocean currents erode the coastline freeing fossils from sediment and sand; storms wash them onto the beaches. To some degree the canyon, 7217 feet deep at the continental shelf’s base, routes current in the direction of Rockaway Beach. At any rate, when the wind is strong from the southeast, fossils tend to grace drift lines. You could bet that collectors walked the beaches after Hurricane Sandy, and in fact a blog account confirms they did.

           We surely found Holocene Epoch specimens only a few thousand years old, and none of our collection seemed to be of the rare Lower Pleistocene exceptions two million years old that sometimes get reported. Most seem to come from the Pleistocene Ice Age, although interglacial periods warmed ocean temperature averages 3.6 to 19.8 degrees F beyond what they are now. That was news to my concern for global warming. It made me feel that we are less alone and unique than I had thought. On the other hand, the Wisconsin Glacier was the last of three ice masses, and ocean levels fell 400 feet lower than at present with ocean temperatures averaging 5.4 to 12.6 degrees F colder than they are now. Thus, the Hudson River carved what remains as the Hudson Canyon cutting through the continental shelf. Almost all of the fossil shells are of species alive and well in the Bight today such as surf clams, ocean quahogs, whelks, and moon snails. However, the Ponderous Ark and the periwinkle turn up while living specimens today are from North Carolina southward. This is clear evidence of those warmer waters of startling climatic shifts between glaciers.

          On our beach trek, I had been finding fossil shells that would have excited me as a boy, had I known this is what they are. North Carolina’s Outer Banks had yielded many finds for me at dawn before other beachcombers took their picks. Fossil shells may be available on any beach, although barrier beaches subject to erosion reveal the most. But how does one know how to identify them?

          They tend to be gray. Once a fossil shell was pointed out to me by an experienced collector, I knew them all. Discoloration can vary from gray, to off-white, to tan or rusty. They have no periostracum, the outer shell layer, nor ligament that holds together the bivalves, although there is more to being a fossil than these lacks of characteristics. On occasion, a blackened shell may be found that is not a fossil. The black shell particularly of clams and scallops is the result of years being buried in bay mud, which may be anoxic as is sometimes claimed to be the case. Sulphides stain the shell. However, black shell stain may not require much lack of oxygen. As a clammer in New Jersey’s Barnegat and associated bays many years ago, I found black mud had permanently blackened shells, as opposed to the whitish shells of those from sand, yet these live organisms were not without oxygen despite abundant sulphides. The smell left no doubt.

          As paleontology enthusiasts, we New Yorkers knew that what is essential to making a fossil shell is not the lack of a ligament—which is also usually not present in fairly recent, non-fossil bivalve shells—nor the absence of periostracum, but the mineralization of the fossil substance, whether of shell or crab that also characterizes gray clay concretion. Taphonomy determines specifically how and why fossils are preserved. In common parlance, a fossil is the remains of an organism turned to stone, but fossil shells are not exactly stones and don’t seem to be so at all, although they may be embedded in stone concretion such as common gray clay. Furthermore, shells are mineralized upon formation by organic processes—they’re made of calcium. So are bones, and fossil bones are classics. But the quality of mineralization is not the same in fresh shells or bones as those that have fossilized. The scientific term for the process is perimineralization, which implies the added ingredients from ground water penetrating the pores of bone over great expanse of time, or of brine transforming the mineral content of shells—porous enough—and hardening them to some degree.

          We all know fossils are special. We sensed this as children. Their stoniness is something I sensed as a five-year-old as having to do with a special process of some sort, and I was aware of immense time as a very young boy. It is a natural transformation that results in preservation, as if impermanence in nature is not the whole story. As a child, I found fossils in my Indianapolis, Indiana, backyard and contemplated them as symbols of something absolute within existence of which I am part. They suggested to me that I have something deep within myself that can weather the flux of life.

          True, the earth, the oceans, ourselves—none of this lasts forever. Yet the oceans and the entire planet are part of existence that cannot have come from nothing, nor become nothing. Everything transforms, as a fossil is a transformation of organic matter, given that it is not a fossil footprint or the like. A fossil suggests immortality in the way a work of art is a re-creation or transformation of experiential meaning which lasts for millennia. But nothing lasting would mean anything without particular search here and now, quite limited in time as we were by the few hours of our outing.

         For the time being, we clambered along the beach. We must have walked 15 or 20 blocks and I never expected to find one of those blue crabs, not that any evidence of the original coloration would be present if I did. We all seemed to search with sincere persistence. No one on the beach appeared to be there on a social lark. My son, Matt, had gained a fossilized lightning whelk in perfect condition. What’s the likelihood of this? I saw it first, standing out on the flat, wet sand as the wash receded, like a live creature crawling out of the primordial sea in full view to anyone who would look from the City of New York. I called out to my son. I pointed and he ran immediately to it. We celebrated and soon moved on, my suspecting that this would be our best find and perhaps it was, but everyone had the crab in mind.

          And then it appeared very simply at my feet. I saw the ribbed pattern underside, picked it up, and beheld what everyone else up and down the beach was looking for. I felt more odd than fortunate. This proved to be the only blue crab fossil found. The outing’s expert guide gave my son a blue crab piece he had found on earlier occasion as if to complement his father’s fortune. I was more grateful to the guide than for my own find. I don’t find myself truly avid about paleontology these recent years. But I was so as a young boy; it was important that my son take home a special token. What I remember best is Matt’s triumphant lifting of the whelk above the surf as if he could blow a clarion call through it.    

 Fossil lightning whelk
 Fossil oysters in clay concretion
Fossil blue crab (not blue-claw)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Good-Size Trout Hooked Round Valley

 I happened to be walking by with my camera when he set the hook. "Can I get a shot?" "Sure."
Nothing's happened for me since I caught the big rainbow more than two weeks ago, but I've been out a few times and got the feeling of Round Valley's expanse that always seems to let me breathe easier. I guess that's important for someone who smoked Marlboros. We had some intense snow showers, obviously low pressure moving through, the kind of conditions that make an angler more expectant. This young man I photographed battled a very good-size trout long and hard before it snapped his line. Once these larger trout get close to the bank, they react by powerful runs. I wish I had thought of telling him to loosen his drag a little.
He used a shiner. Now I'm thinking of doing the same, not that this will dramatically improve my catch. Nothing does that in winter. I'd love to catch a laker, and shiners might make this more likely than marshmallows & mealworms.
Has been very quiet in the park. The Valley has a harsh, forbidding wildness in winter. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Round Valley Winter Lake Trout Possible to Catch from Shore

Funny how, by mid-January, it still didn't seem Round Valley Reservoir would freeze. By March, 18 inches of ice had accumulated in the main launch area.

Round Valley Lake Trout are a Winter Possibility
          The recent cold snap never froze Round Valley Reservoir. Chances are good for open water fishing the rest of the winter. I’ve been fishing for rainbow and brown trout since October, using the classic mealworm and marshmallow combination. M & M, as it’s called. I’ve meant to try shiners and think I will buy some to use before this article gets to press. Both rainbows and browns hit shiners, but lake trout do also, and I would love to catch one.
          I’ve had lake trout in mind for years. While in Maine six years ago, we rigged a canoe with a portable graph recorder. Our lines with ounce-and-a-half metal spoons got down to the needed 63 feet or so in a jiffy. Big lake trout marked on the graph as I back-paddled the canoe against the breeze. My son jigged a spoon in their midst. None hit. We tried Lake Wawayanda in Passaic County, deep drifting live herring from a rental boat. Nothing there, either.
          But during the late fall, winter, and early spring, some of Round Valley’s many lakers venture close along shore. Last winter, someone landed a 28-incher from a stretch of iron-tinged sand and gravel near the South Lot. This isn’t especially large for a lake trout—30-inch rainbows get caught from shore sometimes—but I would be plenty happy with a 28-inch laker.
          My son and I, and his Uncle Jim, have together tried live shiners, and I’ve tried them on some occasions solo. We’ve caught bass 25 or 30 feet deep on sharp drop-offs in the dead of winter, but my largest trout so far, a rainbow well over five pounds, went for the humble M & M on a size 1 plain shank hook. Two small marshmallows floated the mealworm three feet off bottom, the leader attached to a small barrel swivel. A three/fourth-ounce steel egg sinker guided the main line running through the middle of it in the South Lot area.
          A mile or so of shoreline to the left of the main boat launch ramp, along the dike, and on around the bend into Ranger Cove and beyond the South Lot area is good fishing. Apparently, trout roam around all of the roughly oval shoreline outlining the reservoir’s 2350 surface acres. Those are many miles to perhaps spread pods of trout apart by wide distances, but if you happen to be in the right place at the right time, you may enjoy a flurry of action.
          I spoke to an angler who caught three rainbows just under the 15-inch minimum size and missed six hits yesterday. Today neither he, nor myself, got any hits. With the rain and fog I thought we might have some fun, but it doesn’t always work out as the conditions seem to augment.
          A couple of years ago, the wind blew from the west 25-40 mph steadily, driving rain like pins into our exposed faces, and this was too much for trout to resist. Four browns came ashore on the hook along with a 20-inch laker between me and another angler in little over an hour. I can’t say for certain whether the weather moved these fish to feed, or whether we were at the right place and right time to meet a pod of trout that could have been elsewhere, but it seemed quite obvious that the trout were feeding actively.
          If you want to catch a laker from shore, you will probably have to spend years fishing. But in any event, live shiners are the bait to use, and bottom fishing may be most effective. Throughout the Ranger Cove area, bottom usually drops off quickly. You can fish from 15 to 30 feet deep or more using the same steel egg sinker for casting range and secure hold. A plain shank, size 6 hook through the back behind the shiner’s dorsal fin suffices. Attach a small piece of Styrofoam to the leader between the hook and the barrel swivel, about eight inches from the hook tie loop, to keep the shiner floating away from obstructions.
          Even at this time of year, Round Valley is a beautiful destination which I find worthy of photography on every outing, in addition to fishing. Since the method is called still or bottom fishing, there’s nothing to prevent you from getting some reading done. Most anglers use a bell device on the rods’ tips to alert them to a hit. In any event, be in close earshot, or check your two or three rods often.

Monday, November 24, 2014

6.9 Pound Rainbow Trout Round Valley Reservoir

The trout broke someone else off. The two yellow orbs of bait weren't mine, and the hook they were connected to wasn't swallowed.

My first trout of the season at Round Valley, third or fourth time out, all of these short stints. I set a mealworm and marshmallow about 20 feet deep, returned to my car, and revisited the rod about eight minutes later. As I approached, I saw the line was tight, straight out. I thought I must have set the rod down before the steel egg sinker hit bottom, so no slack resulted with bail open. And then I saw the spool was empty, and amazed I lifted the rod, reeled some line onto the spool. I'm not sure I tied a proper clinch knot, but I guess so. It's amazing the trout didn't either pull the rod and reel in or break the line off the spool.

It was a long, hard fight. The trout crashed on the surface about 300 feet out. When I got it close to shore, it took off on repeated runs, giving the six-pound test line...a test. Marvelous to see the fish struggling in close. I felt some pity, knowing I was going to take it home. Fish are just like us, in a way. They seek pleasure and flee pain. But we really have no idea just quite what a fish's experience is, although it's not human. Nor would an assumption that they feel pain in any intensity comparable to us have decisive evidence in its favor.

The yellow eyes were fierce, with cobalt blue centers, the teeth spike-sharp. I took it to Behr's Bait and Tackle on the way home to have it weighed. 6.9 pounds, slightly less than 25 inches long.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Carolina Low Country Redfish Schooling take the Fly

My family flew to Charleston, South Carolina; my son and I fly fished flats redfish behind Isle of Palms just north and east of the city with Jeremy Mehlhaff of Charleston Shallows. We fished for six and a half hours without a single cloud overhead. A front came through overnight, promising a very tough day. Arrival day had been partly sunny, 80 degrees, and then temperatures never rose beyond the mid-60s. Days like our first when temperatures spike with plenty of sun are the classic chilly season days when reds usually feed, and quite a number may be caught and released.

Wind wasn't too bad on this outing we planned well in advance but brisk enough to hamper my son's casting especially. You need to be able to double haul--not difficult to learn--and cast accurately about 50 feet with nine weight, weight forward line. Polarized sunglasses (amber), may help sight redfish long before they're in range. Sometimes you see nervous water first--not even wakes but subtle riffling--and then the fish come into view. You always want to cast ahead so you can make the fly seem to want to escape.

We began downwind not far from Isle of Palms Marina, water browned by wave action, casting very difficult, and we soon roared away, traveling for miles and to the west to get out of wind. I got a very bad impression from that stained water. I was afraid we'd get skunked. As Jeremy expected, we found clarity. I'll never forget the first red I sighted, a small one perhaps four pounds, and though my cast was awkward, this fish was too close to the boat and surely spooked anyway, though it didn't tear off but quickly passed us before I could throw a second cast. Jeremy sighted fish I couldn't see. I had to wait before I could cast as anticipation flourished with life. We found what we came here for. A friend of mine once went on a guided outing to fly fish redfish in Louisiana, I believe it was, and both he and his father got skunked. That was my secret little dread.

"9 o'clock! Get it out there." I double hauled as I false cast three times, three big reds approaching in front of many behind them. "Drop it." My 50 foot cast perfect, the Seducer fell behind the line of approach. "Strip, strip..." One of the three, a big one of at least 10 pounds, magnificent fish, caught sight of the "escaping" fly, lurching into direct view. The fish, which looked about three feet long and at least 15 pounds to me, darted without hesitation and in the next instant was hooked. Amazed with myself, this was the largest fish I've had on a fly rod. It fought for a full five minutes before the hook pulled. The experience was enough. 

Never drop the fly directly into the path of an oncoming fish unless it comes straight on, in which case you want to strip the fly away from the fish as if food is escaping, usually pulling the fly at an angle. And you want to strip the fly into the fish's view but avoid a cast that results in stripping directly towards the fish. When the fish strikes just keep stripping and the hook will set. Don't use the rod to set the hook. If you're strip-setting for the first time, you may find the habit of setting the hook with the rod irresistible, as I did, but if you just strip into the fish instead, you might boat the first red you have on. Keep the rod tip pointed low towards the water surface for a direct pull.

Sorry about the dearth of fish photos in this blog post--we caught some up to six pounds--but I have to save photos for use elsewhere. We had a great day. From mid-October the reds begin schooling. We sighted a school of close to a hundred fish, which may have offered us more productive fishing had these fish not spooked. That would have been asking too much, given our skills. Through the winter, there's lots of huge schools in these bays hanging out near sod banks, but not scouting right up against them as individual fish or small pods do during summer. If the fish are settled a few feet deep, fly fishing is useless. Through the winter months plenty or most will be in about a foot of water and vulnerable to people who can fly cast. We saw a lot of bottlenose dolphins and that's one of the reasons reds stay shallow--to avoid getting eaten. Reds feed especially on shrimp, plenty available to them. We noticed a lot of finger mullet they eat too.

If you see large, silvery fish, often schooling, you may be sighting adult mullet, not redfish. Mullet of three or four pounds are frequent. Reds are darker in coloration and thick bodied, although not always shading in the classic deep reddish tone, as the photos I've provided for this story show redfish in peachy and silvery colors. Jeremy says they're happiest when shading deep red.

Reds are spooky and that's part of what it's all about. Even the grind of the push pole against oyster shells can send them scurrying. So can the slap of chop against a skiff's bow. And when it's calm, a bad cast slapping the surface can send wakes in every direction.

Oyster bar (no drinks available)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Fly Fished a Somerset County, NJ, Trout Stream

The hike to the pool was about three fourths of a mile. I had time to fish one other using my TFO 2wt. My inexperienced hope was that brown trout would run upstream to spawn and stack in this largest of the stream's pools, complete with some blockage, but when I looked closely, it was evident browns could move on upstream. I don't really know if they run upstream to spawn. They drive out of reservoirs into streams by that urge, but this little Highlands stream has no such connection. I ended up catching the little wild rainbow photographed. A bead head nymph did the trick.

Spotted a pileated woodpecker on the way out, that was nice.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Pickerel Cold Water Fishing

Pickerel are Active through Winter

          “What are you doing?” I said. Having parked my Ford Fairlane station wagon along the gravel roadway, I leisurely strolled to the edge of the Delaware and Raritan Canal where a familiar fisherman managed something in the water on a cord.

          “Trying to catch some damnable bait!” He said, lifting the square drop net. Four thin, rounded steel supports bended behind a loop in the middle of them for the tied cord. I knew the sand bar he had tossed the net upon attracted a lot of shiners. Silvery reflections wriggled. The bridge of Quaker Bridge Road was busy just beyond where the fisherman stood, plucking fish from the netting and into a bucket half full of water.

          This was October, 1978, and the bait chiefly used for pickerel. The canal has never been the same since it was dredged in the 1980’s, but pickerel can be caught in many lakes and ponds in our region fall and winter, open water or not, chiefly on shiners.

          When my son, Matt, was still a young boy, he wanted very much to catch a pickerel. Describe something interesting to a child, and then offer him the chance to not only see it, but catch it first hand, and he won’t let you be until he succeeds. I took him to the two Burnham Park Ponds in Morristown on a 68-degree January day and he caught several, one of them over 20 inches long.

          But many other opportunities exist, including Ryker Lake and Ramapo Lake from shore, and Lake Musconetcong, Lake Hopatcong, and Greenwood Lake from a boat, if perhaps on a mild day. All of these waters have residual vegetation where pickerel spend the late fall and winter from three to 15 feet deep. Areas like shallow River Styx and the State Park flats of Lake Hopatcong are full of pickerel. By boat, live shiners rigged on size 6 hooks and a 15-pound test fluorocarbon leader, attached to a snap tied onto low diameter 15-pound test braid, can simply be drifted over the stringy tops of vegetation under a light breeze. You don’t have to use braid, but it could mean boating a big one that dives for thick weeds. You do have to use a fluorocarbon leader to prevent pickerel’s rows of razor-sharp teeth cutting line.

          Pickerel are of course members of the pike family. Although they inhabit Florida, and survive quite well in waters that warm well over 85 degrees in summer, they typically feed more in cold water than bass. Along with yellow perch, they are the most popular pursuit for ice fishermen. They are also known popularly as a fish to catch during fall.

          Since not many anglers get out and fish open winter waters, pickerel don’t have the image of open water winter fish like trout, but mild days may offer anglers a chance to get outside. If you’re not resolved to keeping rods and reels packed away until spring, you could catch some fish. Pickerel can be caught even on cold days, but after a few days of sunshine in the 60’s, pickerel become especially active in smaller, shallow waters that warm significantly. Nevertheless, Lake Hopatcong’s River Styx and State Park flats will warm significantly more than the main lake points when such a weather system lingers. (Safe ice can cover the shallows when the main lake remains open—the reverse of this situation.)

          Part of what fishing can be all about is a variety of different sorts of outings. Home methods and approaches, like home waters, preoccupy fishermen, but a new lake or pond, approach or method, piques interest. I admit that I haven’t fished winter pickerel—besides ice fishing—since the Burnham Park Pond days. We went a number of times and always did well. But I have good memories ranging from the New Jersey Pinelands, to the canal in Mercer County, to Morris and Sussex counties, catching winter pickerel since my teenage years when I was keenly attracted to gaining experience of the wilds. I still am, and fished at Round Valley throughout last winter. When I used shiners hoping to hook a big lake trout, I thought of pickerel. 

           Pickerel exist in both the reservoir and the Round Valley Pond, although not nearly in such numbers as trout do in the reservoir, and probably don’t range as deep as a half-ounce sinker can be set from shore, either. But at any rate, if you haven’t caught winter pickerel and want to try a different approach to fishing, the whole of winter months lay ahead to try.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Walleye and Hybrid Striped Bass Hit at Drop-Off Bottom Edge

At least I thought I heard the temperature was supposed to rise well into the 60's today, chance of some sprinkles in the morning. Some of the Highlands region did get a little rain well before sunrise, and then a cold front pressed down on New Jersey. When we motored across Hopatcong, powered by a 9.9-horsepower Susuki--one of Dow's Boat Rental's--the wind already kicked up enough for me to get drenched back in the stern. Overhead, the stars almost had wilderness quality, very bright and numerous. I kept at full throttle despite getting wet.

I felt surprised when I opened the photo (below) of me with the first walleye. I caught it before sunrise, but it seemed as if we had fished a long while, yet the light reveals an early moment. Matt had caught a bullhead on a live herring; herring, by the way, are available only in small two-and-a-half to three-inch sizes. I don't know if that's why we caught two more bullheads and apparently lost another. Jimmy at Dows told me not to expect any large herring for the rest of the season. We certainly have no complaints; we caught some nice fish.

After Matt caught his walleye and I had caught both of my hybrids, the anchor began to drag, and I averted the boat and motor crashing into rocks. We had been taking turns with our herring rods, one fish, and then the next.

I don't reflect on issues like this well when I'm on the water, but now I see that it's appropriate next time that bullheads don't count. Matt got a smallmouth, a nice crappie, and his walleye was bigger than mine, but I got two hybrids in addition to the walleye I caught. We caught yellow perch and sunnies on nightcrawlers besides. It's a different way to fish, the setting of herring on bottom, more like ice fishing when you take turns with tip-ups collectively. We used to designate our own two herring rods and go with that, more like the individualistic tradition of every angler for himself, even in good company. On an outing in October 2011, my son & I tallied up nine hybrids for me, eight for him, which is pretty much an equal cut, except that my son should have the privilege of catching more than Dad. We did it the individualistic way by dividing our own rods apart. Now I like putting all four in use, taking turns, and next time not counting bullheads, or crappies for that matter. Even though a crappie is a gamefish, it's not on par with walleye or hybrids in our opinion.

At least when we began fishing Lake Hopatcong in the summer of  2007, Matt caught a five-pound walleye, and I just caught a few bass. He caught some bass too. And he caught our first keeper hybrid, along with others, and walleye on other occasions. He has no complaints. For all I really know, I was right to start him out by minding his own rods rather than pooling them all together. That's how we began ice fishing when he was eight, pooling them, but tip-ups are more and less identical. A rod and reel is specially your own, and more than "teach" Matt to value his own things, I provided things for him, and I pointed to opportunities for his acquisitiveness. He bought his own Nikon D-60 when he was eight. It cost him more than $600.00; a significant amount of that money he earned by getting photos he took published along with articles I wrote for fishing magazines. Before he owned his own camera, he was using mine.

Before we arrived (and learned that it was supposed to really blow, and that fishing has been very slow), I expected to fish Binsky and Cicada bladebaits for the most part. We did fish these for an hour-and-a-half at the end of the morning and just after noon, but got nothing on them. We hadn't seen but a couple of other boats. Now that we fished out of the wind, boats appeared plenty.

I wonder how they did. We had let wind rip right through us for hours. In the fall, I find windy conditions better, so I'm less likely to fish where we would feel more comfortable and take care of things easier. But fishing a bladebait among whitecaps would have been ridiculous, at least I think so. Otherwise, anchored in the wind, line remained just at the edge of being all over the place, I mean, you would think the tangles would be constant with four out and two more fishing crawlers, but we've done this before a number of times and it works out. We soaked bait and fish found it.

 Matt did his sleeping early in the morning. He told me he was very comfortable.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Where the Small Bass, I Wonder

This skinny bass with a bad eye but a big mouth struck on my first cast. With wind, it was chilly, 54 degrees, although temperature warmed to 69 in the afternoon. If enough cloud cover justified using a black spinnerbait, enough sunlight struck water to prompt switching to a white-headed spinnerbait with a green and yellow soft plastic frog for a trailer and large Colorado blade. This lure tracked very slowly with the wind action, too slow, although it didn't take long to feel a jab and miss the short hit, yet two seconds later get slammed. I had the bass on, maybe a three-pounder, but lost it after a couple of throbbing seconds.

This pond makes me wonder what all the small bass inhabit. I've caught one nine-incher, a 13 1/2, a 14 and some, and all the rest have been two pounds to more than three-and-a-half. Doesn't it make sense that the number of smaller bass would exceed the larger? Lake Musconetcong is similar. Most of the bass have been 15 and 16 inches, if most of them get wiped out with the chemical eradication of weed habitat until the water chestnut problem is solved. If it is ever is solved. The pickerel averaged 20 inches and now prove all but absent.

We fished the lake for years and caught dozens of three-pound-plus pickerel about 23 inches long, thick bodied fish, and yet not one more than three-and-a-half pounds. No bass more than that weight, either, although I've heard of a number of seven-pounders caught in the thickest of summer vegetation. I hope I get a really big bass in this pond, meaning more than five pounds, but I think Round Valley Reservoir, where I landed one that big in May, is the likelier place for fish like this, even though average size there is a little under a foot long.

Guess these afterthoughts foreshadow the end of bass fishing this year, but I may get out a couple or a few more times this fall.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Round Valley Reservoir Trout: Looking Forward to a Long, Cold Season

Had to choose between coming to Round Valley and trout fishing, or visiting Ken Lockwood Gorge and photographing river scenes. Since rain fell fairly hard, I figured I better not miss out on the chance at catching a trout. Besides, the South Branch ran a little high, not very, and my photo opportunities might have been affected in the negative somewhat, and besides water perhaps running too high in relation to a boulder or two in the foreground, leaves have not yet reached peak color anyhow.

I stopped at Behr's Bait and Tackle in Lebanon and bought mealworms. Mr. Behr reported a four-pound and a six-pound rainbow weighed in from the reservoir at his shop this morning. He said plenty are being caught from shore, and this is the typical scenario this time of year, although when you occupy a spot and other anglers fish nearby, you don't usually see a lot of trout being caught as if it were Opening Day or a stocking day on a stream. You may see one or two, or a few, caught, and they average about 16 inches.

During the really hardcore season of December, January, February, and early March, you witness very few caught, although there are regulars who brave the cold and certainly catch some. They just may have to wait a total of 12 hours or more between fish, but there are guys who fish five, six hours a day, a couple or more times a week.

Round Valley is like deep wilderness in winter with few anglers and birders present. I often come and no one is there at all. That's nearly how it was today. I saw no one fishing in the Lot 2 area, but I did see a few cars drive into the lot above, and a Park Ranger drove by.

I've been blogging about this fishing for several years and nothing changes. No increase in visitors results, and it's really not so much my aim to draw others in, but tell a story that you, the reader, may appreciate. Particular points I make may have universal value, so it's more than a fishing report about the reservoir. And if you want to try for these unlikely trout, most of the anglers I've encountered have no qualm about seeing another or others. In fact, at this time of year, especially deep in winter, greetings and conversation are the norm, unlike spring and summer when you're just another person among many, everyone indifferent to one another, except we secret human beings who notice people because life is very much about being social. Leave the anti-social types to their delusions and avoid them, but that's not really how most people are, although people in a crowd are in fact less likely to approach each other, and Round Valley Recreation Area really does fill up when the weather warms.

Not a hit today. The usual, expected result of a sincere attempt.

It's October 23rd and leaves still haven't reached peak color. A mild summer, warm fall. What will winter be?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bass Hitting Spinnerbaits Under Windy Surface

This place seems to never want to let me down. It's not that I approached the pond feeling I would get skunked. Wind blew like a Halloween banshee out of the north, cold at 56 degrees and never milder all day, certainly very invigorating with the light rain jacket, but I really didn't feel nothing would happen, although I felt a skunker possible with so little day left.

Which way to go? I stood at pond's edge and chose between my right or left: back to the fallen tree again and relative shallows, or down where the wind blew against the bank. No, today didn't seem a day for sun-warmed shallows, obviously not. I sort of went with the assumption that wind carries baitfish and stacks it against the bank the wind pushes water against, not that I actually thought bluegills were getting pushed, but I did spot some baitfish in very thin water I took for killies.

Baitfish or not, bass get active in the fall under wind-churned surface any time of day, at least in my experience. I find that in the spring and summer, windy late mornings and afternoons tend not to produce. This nice bass well over two pounds slammed that black spinnerbait and immediately leapt. Not much later, I fought an even larger bass, lost it. Both were 10 to 15 feet out from the shore edge, only a couple of feet to about four feet deep. I did wonder if the first bass that struck about 10 feet out followed the spinnerbait or lurched from deeper water aside from the pulsing blade. Certainly the powerful vibration the Colorado blade produces is sensed from a distance. In any case, that bass overtook the lure very swiftly.

I may get out for bass one or two more times this fall.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pursuing John Insley Blair's Spirit: Blairstown, Hope, and White Township, New Jersey

Today my wife, Patricia, and I followed the Blair Trail as written about very thorougly in New Jersey Skylands Visitor magazine, beginning in Blairstown, following through Hope, passing the White Township Museum on CR 519, ending up near Belvidere, and back tracking to find the museum only open on the second Sundays of each month, among other hours, I think. John Insley Blair, 1802-1899, began his career in boyhood trapping muskrats and selling pelts. At 11, he was a store clerk, and he rose through many mercantile endeavors, achieving wealth and becoming a great NJ railroad magnate, pivotal for the nation's 19th century industrialization. Blairstown originally existed in 1760 as Smith's Mill, named after the hamlet's central feature, a grist mill just downstream of what is now the dam of Blair Lake. When J. I. Blair arrived in his late teens, it was called Butt's Bridge, with four homes and the mill; soon the name changed to Gravel Hill. To make a very long and amazing story short, the town became a thriving trading center largely through Blair's influence, and was named after him 175 years ago in 1889.

Blair Lake is private, by the way, and although you can enjoy the walkway, you have to turn back and not enter the area of private residences. I imagine some bass exist in the rather shallow water of good quality, and thought I sighted a very small largemouth in the creek. I was motivated not to fish today, but familiarize myself more with someone who made an enormous productive and financial achievement, influencing America's history more directly than he is famous for. We've often been to Blairstown. I once had the privilege of spending time in a campus auditorium at Blair Academy for a poetry festival. And we enjoy Mohican Outdoor Center and the Paulinskill River. We've eaten many meals at the Blairstown Inn, and often go to Dale Market. But today was different. The purpose was about as singular as the rails of J. I. Blair railroads were straight steel: get a little first hand familiarity with the spirit Blair left behind, just a little, but enough to feel better connected than reading can do, so long as a fair amount has been read in preparation, and we both read the magazine article with Highlands history in our background. Patricia once complained that it was a Sunday and the farmers market wasn't opened, but I appreciated Blairstown and Hope as just like ghost towns today and with the weather chilly. It left us all alone with this spirit we pursued.   
 Overlooks entrance to Blair Academy, grave yard to the right.

 There is a monument which resembles the Washington Memorial in miniature overlooking John Insley Blair's simple gravestone. The simple stone is symbolic of the simple, frugal life he led, always on target with his projects and not extravagant besides.
 After I paid my respects to John Blair, I photographed Patricia leaving the graveyard. The gate is almost immediately beyond the Blair Memorial.
 First Presbyterian Church (1840) and Dr. John C. Johnson House
 Blair Lake
 Arches with Waterworks to the right, insdie.
 First Hope Bank, Hope NJ
 Hope NJ
John Blair worked as a clerk in this building in 1813. He was 11. Hope, NJ.

For a more in-depth story, "The Blair Trail," access NJ Skylands Visitor by this link to the article:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

October Bass Action on Spinnerbaits

Quite a different scene than July when I caught all those nice bass, and, as expected, the water has cleared, algae bloom dying off, although the water still has a pronounced green tint. Didn't have much time, but I managed to catch this little bass of less than 14 inches on a spinnerbait. This time of year I ignore the plastic worms I love to fish on hot summer days, not that bass would necessarily ignore the worms, but that in my experience, they're more willing to smack a spinnerbait. You can cover a lot more water quicker with a spinnerbait. I just fan cast shallows when this bass whacked it.

I came confronted with a fundamental choice as I made my way: would I traverse some difficult rocks and go all the way into the back of the pond, near a downed tree in shallows, or would I go fish along the easily walked banks in the deeper front? My more brainy feeling involved the notion of catching something where walking is easy. But my gut told me to go cast near that tree, and that's where I caught the bass.

I can just imagine what action would have been like in yesterday afternoon's rain. Every fall we seem to get at least one rainy day with temperatures in the 70's. Since water temperature is actually warming slightly during such a storm, the bass have all the more impetus to actively rise--no overstatement--and I've had some incredible action on spinnerbaits.

When I was 16, I fished through close lightening under a tornado watch. Some of the dozens of bass I caught actually leapt two feet in the air to come down on top of my buzzed spinnerbait and get hooked! Truly once-in-a-lifetime. I would never do the likes again--I always avoid lightening--and wouldn't actually suggest anyone else do it either. Graphite rods are like lightning rods, and you would be the ground. Leave it to one manic teenager who survived to tell a story. My wife always says God protects fools and idiots--so don't count on it! Many other warm weather storms during the fall without lightning have been excellent fishing, and all you need for these is good waterproofing.

We have less than a month's time before the bass fishery all but shuts down. I used to love to brave cold late fall, even winter, weather, dousing live-lined shiners in a pond's deepest water. I caught bass this way and on jigs as well, but haven't done the likes in years. On one strange late November afternoon, mild, but not warm, I caught bass right up against browned reeds on a buzzbait. Go figure.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Low Rivers, Round Valley Reservoir, getting some Rain

Didn't fish today, but scouted the Neshanic River (soft-clarity photo, above), South Branch Raritan, and Round Valley Reservoir, all at very low levels. Two inches of rain is predicted for tonight, and this will raise stream levels. I've never seen Round Valley Reservoir so low, but I'm sure some trout are being caught along its desert-like shorelines.

Lots of people are hoping for rain, but lets hope we don't get too much during the summers ahead. I read that meteorologists are expecting much wetter summers for New Jersey. My first concern in this respect is my summer smallmouth bass fishing. I like a stream low and clear. Smallmouths aggressive fish: a long cast reaches them unawares tending to result in furious charges from distances that surprise people uninitiated to this fishing. On the other hand, when small rivers run higher than normal and slightly stained, I have a hard time catching bass. 

That storm pipe is carrying more water now than when I photographed it this afternoon.