Friday, August 15, 2014

18 Inch Bass Caps the Day at Neighborhood Pond

Fished my neighborhood bass pond for more than a half hour as evening approached. The water was still as glass. I began with my favorite Baby Torpedo topwater even though, owing to experience, I didn't expect it would work. I've caught a lot of bass on Rapalas under windy conditions here, but if my memory doesn't fail, I've caught only one bass on a strict topwater. I really don't know why. The pond is very shallow. My son has caught dozens on buzzbaits, and often in the middle of the afternoon.

So getting no attention, I switched to the reliable Senko, soon hooking a little 11 incher. Further up the shoreline, I got a hit from a good sized bass, felt weight on hookset but lost the fish.

I just took my time slow, as the fishing was slow, and enjoyed grass under bare feet. I didn't expect a bass when I felt resistance while fluttering the Wacky retrieve. I really thought it must be vegetation. When I saw line moving swiftly aside, I set, and I was into a nice bass, estimating the fish at three pounds, at least. It weighs a little more than that. I measured it at 18 inches, and it wasn't skinny, although not especially fat.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Topwater Bass at Jefferson Lake, Morris County, NJ

Jefferson Lake, Morris County, NJ, new to us, I felt happy when the first bass sucked down my Baby Torpedo. We fished for 20 minutes or so, and the feeling grew ominous as if we might get skunked. Shortly after I released this bass, I caught another about the same size on the Torpedo, which I never changed for anything else. About to switch to a plastic worm when the first bass hit, pulling the plug under with barely a dimple of evidence, I let that notion go.

We marked water as deep as 12 feet, most of the depth in the 10-foot range. We tried another, broader cove. Matt got a hit, unmistakably a bass. We motored over to the big island with the 55-pound thrust Minn Kota. I fished very carefully, very sensitively, imparting all the life I could give the little plug one size larger than the Tiny Torpedo, heavy enough to cast a good distance on 15-pound Power Pro low-diameter braid, but not far as some heavier plugs I thought of using instead. I stuck it out.

I spliced braid to 15-pound fluorocarbon leaders, avoiding barrel swivels more prone to collecting weeds or spooking wary bass. And we kept on fishing into sunset, feeling as if this lake is a real loser. I talked about how the water seemed too turbid, but it really isn't bad, just not strikingly clear the way I like a lake.

Nevertheless, Jefferson didn't let us down. All the way in back of a small cove--a tight space between shore and thick weeds--I hooked another bass about the same size, then boated another a few minutes later. All this time, the inflatable felt comfortable as a bean bag chair. Efficient in getting everything set up, we found it served purpose all round. By comparison, in metal boats or fiberglass canoes, it's all too easy to knock about and spook fish in a large radius.

As dusk fell deeply, I hooked and caught the fifth bass. I fish a topwater persistently and carefully. My son couldn't keep up, but he very much enjoyed this outing. He just didn't cast as accurately. I placed the plug perfectly next to weedlines twice to catch a couple of my bass, and the other fish responded to intentional casting also.

We unloaded everything, emptied the air, and packed up in no time, stopping at Quick Check in Byram, guess it is, bought cashews and almonds and a beef jerky for Matt.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Big New Jersey River Smallmouth Bass

Plan was to fish Jefferson Lake after the river. Our inflatable boat--not much better than a bean bag seat--in the trunk. I was ready to haul out the marine battery and 55-pound thrust Minn Kota. The sky appealed not much nor the weather forecast. It's awkward enough fishing from that boat in pleasant weather, even though we've enjoyed it. I decided we would just fish the river and maybe the lake on Thursday, well aware we had better fish the river today, heavy rain forecast tomorrow. I feared an en route downpour would muddy the river before we got there.

It struck. By the time we got to the river, fairly light rain dimpled the surface, the sudden storm having abated. Water low and clear, if not too low, I let Matt have first cast. He caught an average stream bass. By the time my shiner struggled in the stream, muddied water flowed into view along the bank. Within minutes, the river clouded fairly thick on our side, and my interest at the quick effects of a heavy rain shower now passed piqued. Matt caught another small bass, and a nice one of about 13 inches swooped upward out of the proverbial ort cloud for my shiner. I missed it.

"Matt, take a live shiner and go fish under the bridge." (That's where I expected a big one.)

"No, you go ahead. It's important."

He referred to my hope to beat my 16 consecutive outing streak record with numbers instead of zeroes in my handwritten log. (Panfish & the like don't count.) I refused to go all the way to the bridge and caught an average stream bass, so this made 15 outings unbroken by zeroes, with one more to go for the tie.

Fishing slow compared to last we were here in 2012, since I never have given the spot away to anyone, I wondered if others haven't discovered it on their own. Who knows. We caught some more bass, a 12-incher for me, an 11-incher for Matt... And then I saw her. What a bass! I was very sure of a five-pound smallmouth. Matt dangled bait downstream more than a hundred feet away. I had to attempt this fish.

Many--if not most--bass anglers shun live bait. You can even catch smallmouths in January water temperatures of 38 degrees by letting a tube jig rest on bottom, tentacles waving subtly in slow, very slow river current. Until the moment I approached now, my largest smallmouth was caught on a plastic worm. Fair enough. But what's wrong with live shiners--really--when they work and another approach catches nothing? I could just tell this bass was not going to be eager to hit even a live, frisky shiner cast perfectly six feet in front of its cruise downriver. The stretch a shallow exposure, this bass had to be wary.

A perfect cast. The bass checked the bait out, turned away, just as I expected. I twitched carefully, the bass turned back to the shiner and took it deliberately. Now I had to hook this fish. And then fight it. I felt nervous. I never have had a five-pound smallmouth on with all hell about to break loose. I set the hook. Heavy weight. It wasn't lightning, but the bass barnstormed that stretch. And didn't want to be lifted out of the river, no, but it didn't fight as hard as bass little more than two pounds in Maine towed our canoe, drag tearing like bluefish streaks. Or bluefish afraid of becoming steaks, if they could conceive at all of what happens.

Once I held the bass high, I knew it was no five-pounder but a four-pound bass at the least. I measured it at a sliver more than 19 3/8 inches, with a belly like a middle-aged mommy. On this day, I fully expected to raise the bar to 15 consecutive catch outings and believed we would catch some big smallmouths, but I really didn't expect to catch my largest ever yet, bigger than the 19 1/4-incher I released in another river last September.

When we left, the muddy flow completely subsided, river restored to even clarity; as if a shadowy ghost passed through, it all came and went fast. We had elsewhere to go.

"By saving the shiners, if there's a big bass at the next spot, it will likely hit on the first cast." I knew what I told Matt from long experience. I can't say he believed a word of it, although in vernacular speech, it made sense, as it might not on your screen.

We had eight or nine lively shiners left. Not very large, and though I won't say where I bought them, because I have great respect for the place, it's worth complaining about the size of "large" shiners, since we don't want the standard corrupted. Most of what I spent $5.50 a dozen for were medium. I pointed this out to the proprietor, but not in a mean spirited way.

We found a new spot. It didn't look likely. But who knows. We approached with rods and bait. It had possibility. You know the feeling. It's as if you feel something might happen, but ordinary life can't believe it and remain quite sane. If every situation approached held a special reward, what would be the point, anyway? Besides, this spot didn't look special. It just felt that way to me. I let Matt have first cast. I began photographing a scene.

"Dad! Look at that bass!"

What had I said? First cast--big bass. Exactly.

Trick photography again. Matt's bass looks like a five-pounder. And let's say it was pretty close. But we measured it. 18 inches. This fish beautifully chunky, it weighed somewhere around three-and-a-half pounds. From the shallows. We caught lots of smaller bass and missed a few hits.

The next spot we tried, new to us also, is a deep hole. Matt nailed an 11-incher; I missed two hits. A big swirl right up against the bank opposite to where we stood revealed a good-sized bass. Another one of these heavy weights, perhaps not. But I really couldn't tell, it just seemed for certain no more than two pounds. I had waded out, abandoning the dry integrity of my shoes for just that purpose of winging a shiner right in tight, the cast perfect. The bass dropped the bait after I tightened up. Usually, they hold on, even though they feel that tension.

A nice couple of hours this afternoon. Wouldn't you know we would fish Maine hard all week, then come down to this Jersey crick and catch the bass we dreamed of catching up there.

 Matt in a forbidden place, but I never pointed out to him it is posted. Freedom is worth dying for--getting arrested isn't that bad.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Hiking Bubble Mountain Peaks, Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island

Matt decided that we would approach South Bubble Mountain by the steep trail, so his mother would have an easier descent. I was very impressed by this short trail, the sheer steepness of it unabating beats the one mile 1200 foot vertical ascent to NJ's Mount Tammany for relentless climb.

We got near the top. Matt went ahead, summited, and returned with the news that our black Labrador couldn't possibly make it without being lifted up a vertical passage with iron ladder bars. No way. And she hardly made it as was. I seriously wondered if she would give up and refuse to move. I've never before heard a dog pant like that, and we gave her all the water she would drink.

We decided that we would go back down to the car, down the steep trail, taking it slow so Trish's knee held in place. Matt would go ahead and descend on the other side.

As it turned out, he also summited the North Bubble, ran down the trail, and beat us to the car. He's sure on his feet, just as I was as a teen. The photo above proves to me he's even more sure than I was. There's a drop of about 60 feet beyond where he stands on that little pinnacle. He wasn't nervous and I would have been. The last thing I would have done, rather than shoot the photo, would be to tell him to step back. No situation to make him doubt. He found the spot on his own and left it alone, trekking over peaks and running through rock fields back down to the parking lot.
Jordan Pond

Matt's mother takes assistance from a spruce bough.

Pinkish granite (feldspar crystals) MDI is famous for.
Matt shortly before he summited both Bubble Mountain peaks.

Isle au Haut, Acadia National Park, Freedom Away from Usual Fare

Isle au Haut contains a sector of Acadia National Park without the crowds associated with Mount Desert Island. The large island, not nearly as large as MDI, is accessible only by boat, although a roadway and cars exist, and even a chocolate shop--The Black Dinah--which won a prestigious award as one of the nation's best small businesses. It's back in the woods. We walked to it after completing the Duck Harbor Trail of a couple of miles or so, arriving on the way back to the mail boat by way of the road, the boat which brought us and more than a dozen others ashore.

Compared to the many other trails we hiked, Duck Harbor Trail deeply refreshed us for the solitude we enjoyed, having encountered only one other family. I got out ahead of Patricia and Matt for awhile, and remembered directly how it used to feel hiking alone during earlier years of my life. I once hiked the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain Georgia to Hot Springs N.C., three weeks in solitude of a month total. But what really moved me the most about Isle au Haut were the lobstermen. After spending 13 years as a commercial clammer, I was compelled to know more about people who have been lobstering for generations. Some day I want to return to Isle au Haut and stay at the Bed & Breakfast with my wife. She can hang out and read as she likes, while I hang out at the dock and learn some more. Clamming was a serious endeavor, but I was just a guy from the suburbs who found a way to get close to the wild spaces of bays behind Long Beach Island and Florida's Indian River, chiefly in order to find my voice as a writer. Some might ask why anyone would go to that extreme to write, but all my life from age three, I spent a lot of time in wilds, not necessarily real wilderness, but whatever wild places I could find. The 60's and 70's were a free time when parents were not prosecuted for allowing their seven year old to roam deep woods alone. Some writers go to the city. Some go to the wild. Some go to both. I'm the latter variety.

I search islands and every city is an island of sorts, like rock bunched into place above a water line dividing it off from more open space. On our ride to and from Isle au Haut, how many islands we passed none of us counted, but well more than a dozen. A wilderness of water and land. We chugged--at a good clip--for 45 minutes easily. How the lobsters maintain any presence I don't know. Pots pocked water surface the whole way in between. An exciting moment involved a good sized craft pulling alongside a color-coded buoy, one of three men on board reaching with a rake-like device to hook and bring it aboard. "They're loading pots!" I said. This didn't impress my son or wife. I really don't quite know how the act wouldn't incite wonder in almost anyone, but on the other hand, I do know. I ate my first lobster bisque at age three and I still remember being mad about lobsters, fascinating me to no end. Philosopher Jean Paul Sarte, I learned in my 20's, once experimented with mescaline. As a result, for three weeks a gigantic, green, hallucinatory lobster followed him everywhere.

What is significant about this? I'm not altogether sure. But it resonates with how lobsters somehow meant a lot to me as a small boy attracted to the strangeness. Another philosopher, Alan Watts, remarked that a philosopher is someone who has deep moods in which he finds life weird. It's very possible that at a deep level, lobster meant the same thing to Sartre as does for me. But my wife and son continued looking out in front, as if anticipating our destination at the dock, rather than experiencing so much happening right there and then in between.

Freedom to roam and really live your life still exists in remote American places, while much of the nation is lost to restrictions on personal freedoms for the sake of nothing, really, just power for the sake of encroaching statism serving no purpose but appearances generated by forms of political "correctness." The boy I photographed with the Lab/husky is about 10 years old, owns a 21 foot boat. No doubt, he was probably allowed to roam the woods alone at age seven, if not the sea, and no one on the island or anywhere else would think for a moment of hauling his parents to court. The human species is capable even at an early age. In fact, studies show a seven year old needs to go into wild places on his own if he is to grow into a stable adult not ruined by anxiety in place of self assurance. I used to take Matt on outings and let him roam off by himself. But people who want more and more evil power don't want adults to be self-assured by such practices. Many of the politically minded pay science no heed. I never forget how Albert Einstein summed politics: "There is very little reason in the political domain."

We still have the edge. Most Americans aren't interested in destroying people to serve the ends of power for a few. Most of America is free, remote from the jurisdiction that makes everyone who owns a cell phone a suspect. Just set electronics aside and step into a wild place.

 Before we came to this dock, I spoke of bringing rods and reels to try for Boston mackerel, which not only I had never caught: I had never seen one. I decided to leave the rods at our place on MDI, since we would be hiking. Actually, we could have left the rods at the dock with a note explaining the situation--no one would have hocked them. Where there's freedom, there's no need for crime, no need for war either. The boys were catching lots of Boston mackerel. Beautiful, pelagic fish.
 Lobster effects.
 Wood frog.

 Periwinkles & barnacles
 Yes, I'm ordering a polarizer for my long zoom, soon as I have some money for it, a real good one's expensive.
 A boy on the dock high above repeatedly threw an old boot for his dog to retrieve.
 No need of any drugs to stay this way. The word haute means elegant and high class, thus Isle au Haut.

One of my Facebook friends commented that Matt has the far-off look of a mariner.

Gorham Mountain, Otter Cliffs, Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park

The trail up Gorham Mountain--about 525 feet at summit, but right over the ocean--divides. We took the steep cliff's trail up, and I recommend it. The rocks add texture to the hike and are great to admire as you move among them.

Next time we come to Mount Desert Island, Matt is climbing Otter Cliffs. There's an arrangement that can be made with the climbing school featured in one of the photos below.

We obviously caught the fog. From Gorham summit, fog nestled scenes below. And after we descended and moved among the rocks seaside, fog lifted off the water and then obscured the summit above, so timing moved in our favor.

 I wouldn't say getting through these schist piles is tricky, but is very tangible.

 Matt found a cave.
 It goes back about 15 feet around the corner to the right.

 Fog below.

 Belladonna. The berries in the background are deadly poison. Found this growing among the rocks by the sea.

 And then fog above.

 Rock climbers you can sign on with.