Saturday, June 28, 2014

Shepherd Lake Bass, Pickerel, Crappie: Have They Ruined it with Weed Killer?

We rented a rowboat at Shepherd Lake, Ringwood State Park, Passaic County, NJ, began rowing off when Matt noticed we had no life preservers. I called out and one of the high school or college aged attendants at the boat house ran and got a couple. All around I'm sure they do a good job and we didn't resent them for water in the bottom of the boat either, but a few years ago when my son and I first fished here, we noticed other things overlooked that a private business never lets slip. A rowboat is very expensive here. $60.00 is about what you pay for a 16-foot boat with a 9.9-horsepower outboard at Dow's on Lake Hopatcong, and Stanhope Bait and Boat at Lake Musconetcong charges $15.00 to take out the same rowboat the state offers here. I'm always happy to go out on Shepherd, grateful for this opportunity, and hope it continues. My point is not to complain but point out that government simply is not in business when you get down to the issue; business is market driven by incentives that mean price is minimal and service optimal.

We stopped at the bait shop on CR 511. Last time my son and I fished here, he lost a big pickerel simply by dangling a shiner down about five feet over the boat's side. We got a dozen and they paid off. Matt's crappie is a nice one. He also caught two pickerel this way, the second not photographed a little larger. I also caught two pickerel more and less this size and hoped for an encounter with a really big one.

Beginning with plastic worms, Matt said he'd never caught a bass this way, and over the course of the four hours, which went quick--boathouse closes very early at 6:00--we tried to get a straight line between him and a bass. He did lose a bass in the last minutes.

I found bass associated with the outside and inside edges of roadway-shaped pad fields. A small cove sinks back from very deep water as much as 37 feet to bottom. I caught a 17 3/8-incher on a weightless Chompers worm, an inset hook protecting against vegetation snags, this bass a very hard fighter with a sizzling run on 15-pound test Power Pro braid, and on the next cast missed a hit from another nice bass. I can tell by the feel of the fish even if I don't hook up. After fruitless casting, we went through the pads and got in close. I couldn't yet tell how deep. I thought I got snagged on stems until I felt throbs and then a great bass lept straight though these silver dollar-sized pads as if to laugh at our faces.

It was badly hooked in a gill and I thought I had to take it home. I got the hook out with pliers without causing more damage, however. I admired a bass I knew was at least 18 inches, then hoisted it over the side to wash away copious blood before we would photograph the fish. It shook free and was gone. We waited there, no wind to blow us away from the spot, but the fish never bellied up. So I wonder if this bass will survive despite a bloody wound. Possibly the cut clotted and the fish is OK.

The fish finder marked depth at about six feet at the inside edge of the pads. It doesn't look this deep from a distance. When we fished here three years ago, water lay under us shockingly clear and bottom would have been completely visible here. I think the lake has since been bombed with weed killer, very unfortunate. Not as much vegetation is present, vegetation which filters water and keeps it clear. Shepherd Lake was a much more beautiful place three years ago when you could see far down to bottom. It was a lake you would desire to swim in, though they do keep the beach open.

We tried surface lures pretty close to the back, but then I could tell this was useless, especially with greatly increased turbidity. We had minutes to try at the edge of the cove again. I tied plastics back on. Matt lost his bass, and minutes later we rowed to the boathouse.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Canoeing Round Valley Reservoir for Bass

Maureen and I took her canoe to try for bass at Round Valley. I had a distant spot in mind, but it seemed we didn't have time to paddle there, especially since we felt unsure whether the breeze would die or possibly increase. Unlikely as this is in the evening, we just didn't feel like a long haul and settled for a shoreline with some weeds and gravely stone bottom, sure to hold some bass. Some time or other.

Fred and I have done well with jigs in recent years. Little more than a week ago, he caught three largemouths one to two pounds each on Senkos fished deep. We usually have action 18 feet deep or so on rocks with bottom edges of weeds combined. When the sun gets real low we switch to topwaters. This evening, Maureen and I roused nothing with jig and synthetic leech combinations nor with Senko-type worms. I marked a lot of fish 22-28 feet down suspended off bottom, many large enough to trip the fish alarm, but none hit. I tried jigging for them vertically. We also saw a few trout break water. Surface temperature registered 72 degrees. That's not much beyond the 70-degree range bringing them in close to shore in September. The way the fishing reports are written, you would think they're always at the depths reported, but they do surface for any herring up top. They just don't remain there. I wondered if buck bass still guard beds, but I saw beds 10 feet down and no bass.

We switched to topwaters and had action but got no bass over the gunnel. I lost a little nine or 10-inch largemouth right at the canoe's side. Maureen had hits on a Pop-R but hooked none. Interested in a miniature cove indention, we paddled over and missed hits. I set my rod down after casting, drawn suddenly to photograph a view. The Pop-R simply sat there in the shallows for half a minute when I felt pressure on my leg. I looked sharp and saw the plug was gone, ripples from a swirl receding. I had my hand on the rod when the bass leapt, throwing the hooks. Nothing big but maybe a pound.

We paddled to the dike near the main launch and didn't have much more action. I kept retrieves very slow after the encounter with the bass hitting the motionless plug. I missed a hit, another hit without much deliberation behind it, but that was all for this outing.

Very nice, warm evening. Looks like we'll do this again.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

First Practice Session with Oliver's 10 wt Fly Rod

We cast for an hour, and will need to spend more hours yet. I shot 40 foot casts with the leader rolling out straight, but still seemed to have the line sweeping to my right as if the first would take off the head of our charter Captain. We borrowed Oliver's 10 wt, 9 foot Scott rod and Orvis reel to practice for South Carolina in November. Redfish, possibly seatrout and other species sight fishing flats won't be easy to approach. I already made arrangements for spinning just in case, but this is  a big deal. We'll be out 8 hours and the $600.00 price is good; added to plane fare, car rental, motel, and meals, it will add up to a lot. All the money for this trip I've earned writing fishing articles, and I have yet a more money earned by them. I figure I better spend most of it before Matt moves on to the best college his excellent grades earns. So little time left with our son.

Not that anything's wrong with spinning, but you have to admit there's a special romance about fly fishing. I want to get on the casting deck and fly fish. I want to drop a shrimp pattern on a redfish's nose. I want to hook and catch five pounders. 15 pounders are seldom caught. But if the Captain blows the whistle on us, OK, we'll spin fish. Who knows, maybe wind will blow 40 knots. You can practice six hours a week, and if it's a bad day all of that's out for this trip.

We enjoyed our hour and will enjoy more. I'm on vacation for two weeks and mostly working around the clock, writing my book on fishing and performing other writing tasks. Nothing is more obsessive than writing. It gets hard to live your ordinary life. You tell yourself you don't have time to practice fly casting. But then you go to the field; you enjoy it, and you think about how you're spending so much for five days away in South Carolina, but that's not it, really. It's that you should make it special because it is special. Besides, the tensions of writing, writing, writing, and then trying to reorient around other daily demands can use a little relaxation, and casting provided this.

 Matt didn't get the rod quite level on release. He pointed it a little too low.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Largemouth Bass and Pickerel: Calm Topwater Evening and a Pond Matt Found

Matt and I went with high hopes for a big bass, but we had a good time and weren't really disappointed. Any time we can get out and fish is a good one; I don't recall any bad.

I brought along a bucket of killies for Matt, since I have them after our recent fluke attempt, and they won't likely last until I next fish the South Branch, which I haven't posted about yet this year, the two stints so far just too short, as was the single bass I caught.

Here at the lake I began by fishing a Senko-type worm deep (15 feet) and shallow in the weeds. It's better to rig the head with an inset hook to avoid snagging. Someone else came along in a kayak, said he'd been fishing an hour and caught one 3 1/2-pounder, also on a Senko.

Since action made the outing real slow, I succumbed to killies. Matt and I went back to a pond he had found on our previous venture here, and we caught our four bass on the killies, the action dead at first, but Matt spotted a bass he said estimated at close to three pounds, then another four-plus.

"Don't think they'll hit," he said.

"They will," I said.

But the bass we caught measured a lot smaller than he reported.

Having returned to the lake, I switched to a big Hedden Torpedo, and began fishing calm surface along weedy drop-offs, bombing off long casts. When I got to a section of shallow flat, I knew the sluiceway between an island and more shallow flat area off to the left was just the spot.

My wandering about to find just where I felt sure a fish waited for me lifted a sinking mood brought on by being way too tired. I had been up until 5:00 a.m. working on my book on fishing, then had to wake and let the washing machine repairmen in at 8:00. I never went back to sleep, but worked on my book all day, very productively. Sometimes demolishing the routine produces outstanding results. Maybe that makes you sort of crazy for the time being, but definitely means a lot of stuff to work with comes up. On our evening run here up north, I almost rear ended a car on Interstate 80, then missed two turns, driving unnecessary miles beyond familiar markers.

"I must be losing my mind," I said. We were driving back to make our last turn, having a difficult time finding it.

I cast to the sluiceway, let ripples die down, then chugged the big Torpedo twice. It got slammed, just as expected. You don't always throw all your chips in for the intuition you feel; you reserve a little skepticism so you have something leftover to save face if nothing happens. Or sometimes the feeling takes you whole, but usually it doesn't. I did have the edge tonight, not to be too certain. Nevertheless, often enough a fish is waiting to strike.

A treble all a mess in the pickerel's maw, I lugged the fish back to our stuff and pliers. Back in the water, it rolled over. I shucked my shoes, got in, and tried to revive the fish. I thought we would have to take it home, but minutes later I went back in, moved it with my rod tip, and it righted itself and took off.

I felt wistful about the flat to the left I had also encountered. If only I fished that with the Torpedo, surface perfectly calm, I might have found more fish. But I had no distinct feeling for that open, shallow water as I did for this cut between land.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Piers: North Carolina Outer Banks Fishing

King mackerel at Frisco Pier. The pier was since destroyed by Nor'easter

Outer Banks North Carolina Piers Always Produce

By Bruce Litton

Spring through fall, the six functioning Outer Banks fishing piers produce fish almost on a daily basis. Fishing begins with blues, sometimes speckled trout (weakfish), and flounder early in spring. By May, Spanish mackerel get caught with an occasional cobia coming over the end rail.

Piers provide a distinct contrast to summer surf fishing. The surf barren of big fish besides sharks at night, king mackerel, cobia, sometimes tarpon, barracuda, jack crevalle, and big sharks strike at the pier ends. Pilings attract baitfish and Spanish mackerel cut through nearly each morning along with cocktail blues and sometimes weakfish. Black drum find bait on bottom occasionally; fluke can be abundant; and kids love pompano, croakers, and spot. The pier pilings produce barnacles, which seem to make sheepshead magically appear from the ocean basin to feed on them. Fall has big bluefish storm through, stripers wandering south of Chesapeake Bay, and red drum that seem to find the region home. The rails close during winter.

All six piers have stood for many decades, so fish populations know all about them. If you’re headed to the Outer Banks for vacation, you should know about them too. From Avalon Pier northernmost in Kill Devil Hills, to Avon Pier on Hatteras Island, they’re open each day and into the night. Since summer offers the most species to pick and choose, I’ll highlight these opportunities. Most of us who visit the Banks from New Jersey, New York, and Delaware come during summer, but don’t rule out the fall if you want to hook a trophy red drum. Known locally as redfish, they are North Carolina’s official saltwater state fish with artistic depictions serving as motto for many Banks establishments.

Early Morning Gotcha Rippin’

Some of the best action happens before sun-up until two hours afterwards, Spanish mackerel the most popular attraction. The same Gotcha jiggers I’ve written about for vertical jigging walleye are the only show on deck for Spanish mackerel. With the tie loop on top of the lead headed hollow plastic or aluminum tube, and the jig head slanted to work the lure downward on retrieve, the jigger is retrieved with a long spinning rod (8 or 9 feet) held tip downward over the rail. So hold tight and keep the jigger cutting left and right by firm snaps of the rod. Lift the tip to the 3 or 4 o’clock position and snap it to the 6, keeping retrieve speed fast. Spanish mackerel travel in fast moving pods and schools, speedsters that have no time to scent out forage but sight baitfish like falcons, so don’t bother with wire leaders, risk losing a Gotcha or two to razor sharp teeth. Using fluorocarbon helps, but if you want low line test for cast distance (12 pound low diameter), use a Seaguar knot or other to attach a 20-pound test fluorocarbon leader to monofilament. A barrel swivel can turn these sensitive fish away. Spanish generally run from one to three pounds and the world record 13-pounder got caught at Outer Bank’s Ocracoke Inlet.

Cocktail blues strike the jiggers also, pods coming and going. Some years feature speckled trout and some don’t. Bucktails effective for specks, they also hit jiggers intended for mackerel. Flounder, as fluke are called in the South, may also hit best early, so a choice must be made. However, flounder tend to hit well in the middle of the day, which Spanish rarely do, although Spanish tend to return in the evening.

Black drum infrequently show, most likely to hit early. Clam bait is not available, so either freezing salted clams and bringing them down or using Berkeley Gulp! Clams is a way to try.  A fish finder rig is best. You can strap a surf rod to the rail and keep the drag set light while you fish for other species nearby.

Summer Flounder Behind the Rollers

Most of the flounder inhabit the outer slope of the outer bar behind the first breakers. Some will be closer to the beach, and fewer will be in the depths. The typical pier is 600 feet long; expect most of the founder fishing within the first 300 feet. You can cast parallel to the wave formations and sometimes see a flounder hit in clear water.

Shrimp and cut bait strips rigged on a size 1 bend hook tied to 30 inches of 12 to 14-pound test leader attached to a bead chain sinker work effectively. I like to use one ounce, but most anglers use two-ounce sinkers and do fine. Fluke don’t easily drop the bait, although the beak-like configuration of the mouth does mean frequently missed hits.

Here’s a tip not to forget. If you will stay near a lagoon canal that empties into Pamlico Sound, you can bring a killie pot to collect bait no one else has. We just toss a couple of fried eggs into the pot I bought at Dicks and come up with dozens hours later.

Bottom Fishing and Messing Around

Most of the bottom fishing is from mid-length to pier’s end, although the very end is usually occupied by big game devotees. Hi-low rigs most effective, some cocktail blues hit shrimp or cut bait on fireball rigs with the red-painted float at the hook. Hi-low rigs are sold prepared to fish at all piers. A one-ounce, bottom holding pyramid sinker works when seas are light and lighter tackle efficient.

Croaker, spot, sea mullet, bluefish, weakfish, and a few sheepshead and pompano get caught on bottom rigs. Years ago, reams of white perch visited the Kitty Hawk Pier no longer in existence. I checked the books and found that white perch do turn up in salt water sometimes. The best all round bait for any of these species but sheepshead and bluefish are bloodworms. You can cut bloodworms into quarters or even smaller bits and save a lot of money. Frozen squid comes in one-pound blocks and works well. If you want to hook a hundred-pound ray, put the squid head on a big hook and just try to get the fish over the rail. Shrimp is a great bait and good for sheepshead also, although sand fleas may be better with their crusty coating. Pompano take sand fleas also. Collect sand fleas in the surf wash inches under sand; keep them cool in a bucket with a layer of eel grass from the Pamlico on top.

Hi-lows are standard. People use them because they efficient and effective. But light freshwater spinning tackle with eight-pound test, size 6 plain shank hooks and split shot can be just as or more effective in unconventional ways. Last year, Matt Litton discovered pompano right against pilings in the current sway. He couldn’t get them to hit on a hi-low rig, but refused to give up. So he tried the basic freshwater approach--hook and split shot--without asking me about anything. Leaning over the rail, he pointed rod tip downward and with a heavy shot was able to swing shrimp bait in current around pilings to catch fish after fish. He knew about drift from trout fishing.

Big Game

The end of a pier is the point of awe beyond which the enormous ocean swallows all intent, so it’s fitting that the most admired angling is performed there. Open water gamefish—particularly king mackerel—get caught with the use of two rods per angler: a long surf rod outfitted with an eight-ounce anchor sinker, and a conventional big game rod with a hook harness and live baitfish. A stand-up rod and Penn Squall reel will do, for example. It needs to be tackle with 80 pound-test quality braid and rated for it. Two years ago, a 15-year old boy caught a 107 pound tarpon at Avon pier. This is why wide diameter lift nets await at each pier’s end.

In short, here’s how it’s done. The anchor sinker is cast as far out as possible, so a 12-foot surf stick is best. The line from the fighting rod—small live bluefish, pompano, croaker, or spot in hook harness—is attached to the tight anchor line with a release clip that allows the presentation to slide down until the baitfish is suspended at the surface. This should give some idea as to why a long cast for the pronged anchor sinker is important. Big game is shy of meandering around the pilings, but sure enough, in the middle of day a big mackerel or other will slash into a splashing cocktail blue like the tyrannosaurus took a goat in Jurassic Park.

Matt & I with pompano, Avon Pier