Saturday, August 23, 2014

Wild & Scenic Delaware River Smallmouth Bass Float Trip

Our annual Barryville float trip proved to be a wonderful time. They had about seven inches of rain Thursday up there, and the river rose, of course. I spoke to Joni at Reber Rafting Friday. She said the river flowed brown but not too high and to phone her in the morning. Water must have been low, because today, Saturday, it was off color but not too bad. The Laxawaxan flowed muddier and added stain. (We always eat lunch at the confluence and the Zane Grey museum when we clock the five-mile trip.)

We began fishing Rat-L-Trips. With water off color, yet returning to normal, I thought of walleye. Nothing happened halfway to Zane Grey, so I reached for my box of jigs. I realized then that I had forgotten my two tubs of Berkeley Gulp! Leeches. This was off-putting, since the leeches have become my favorite Delaware presentation. I put a three-inch yellow twister grub on an eighth-ounce jig and quickly caught a longear or red bellied sunfish. I was thinking of an alternative, since bright yellow under dark sky and in dark water isn't quite right. I remembered I put a pack of Keitech Custom Worms in my tackle tote for Maine. These inspired by my friend Fred, who used them on Round Valley fairly recent. If you remember the old Ringworms from the late 70's, these are like a knockoff, only with a paddle tail and fishy scent. The rings trap air bubbles. The color smoky and dark, they seemed to suit the situation best.

And pretty soon I was into smallmouth bass. Matt never switched from the Rat-L-Trap and didn't fish much, content to lay back and read. I fished a wide gap, eighth-ounce jig, having broken off the stubby jig, deciding it wasn't quite what I wanted.

Most of the bass hit in faster shallow water. We let the raft drift and I simply pitched the jig and bounced it off bottom almost vertically. Especially in small eddies behind big boulders with about three to four feet of water, the bass were there and willing, a lot of fun. I felt like I could have fished this way for many hours on end. We were on the river at least six hours and it felt like a journey. I brought one of my 10-pound mushroom anchors, and we made a few stops.

Once, I reverted to the Rat-L-Trap and fished very thoroughly where rapids had begun to slow. We had just witnessed two guys in another raft, one of the men nailed a walleye about 18 or 19 inches long. In my river experience, walleye have bunched together with water conditions just like this, and we've nailed them one after another on Rat-L-Traps.

As many of us know, walleye have a tapidum lucidum for each eye, which is how they get their name, and this retinal structure advantages eyesight in dark water, including water that is stained, so long as some visibility is possible. I fished long and hard, fan casting the area, but got not a hit from varied retrieves. First I cast and simply retrieved at moderate rate, hoping fish would active enough would chase the lure down. I progressively slowed retrieve until I risked losing the lure to a snag. I tried lift and drop retrieves in between.

Then we went off downriver and I had fun with bass on the jig. Walleye would certainly hit it too, and I really don't know why we didn't encounter any, only that walleye are in general a much less frequent catch.

My favorite shoreline we didn't fish. We ran a little late and had to paddle. That's really the only disappointment I can think of. Once I was into fish on the Keitechs, I forgot all about my leeches.

Reber River Trips bus

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lake Musconetcong Water Quality Suffers Weed Killer

One look at the water, and I knew likelihood of catching bass was slim. "Spinnerbaits work in mud like this," I said. I really didn't know if many bass remained to respond.

Lake Musconetcong used to have beauty in the clarity of water, the varied greens and reds of aquatic vegetation, and the natural color tone of the few rocks protruding above surface. The water is deeply stained now not because of rain. Aquatic vegetation filters a lake's water by absorbing nitrogen and phosphorous feeding minute particles of algae. And when a lake is loaded with weed killer, the decaying vegetation adds to the lake's turbidity. Only by leaving the lake alone to let nature heal can the vegetation return and water clarify, fish populations increase and the cormorant population dwindle, since these voracious diving birds can't swim through thick aquatic vegetation. It may take many years, but Lake Musconetcong will return to health if it is allowed. 

No one we saw did any water skiing. I haven't seen any evidence of water skiing all summer.

I was there in 2009. A red carpet covered much of the lake. However, fish populations throve. I have fishing log figures to show that the fishing was good. It was very good. Pockets existed in the weeds. Weedlines provided cover edges. And bass and pickerel hit right through the weeds with scum frogs and Phatrats fished on top of the masses. Could you navigate a boat? Rowing was trying. Electric outboards impossible. But, yes, we got around by rowing. It took effort, wasn't easy. Not everything worthwhile in life is easy, but by the evidence of what I've read, water chestnuts create an anoxic condition that would eventually kill all the fish in the lake.

Rather than resort to chemicals, which have in fact done as I've described, I have visions of dozens of laborers hired to work in flatboats over the course of a few summers, rooting out this infestation. Examples on the web show this approach works. I have no information to judge how many years Lake Musconetcong will be stained, fish populations dwindling, before the chestnuts get eradicated and the lake let be to clear, fish populations coming back. I hope that day comes, but no evidence I've read suggests that water chestnuts have ever been eradicated entirely by either chemical or manual means, and the "chestnut" seed pods can lay dormant as many as 12 years before sprouting new, rapidly infesting plant life.

So if the lake is allowed to breathe again and fish populations return, it's possible water chestnuts will return with them. The best approach clearly is manual removal, the employment of many people and lots of equipment when needed in the interest of preserving the lake's clear water quality, water filtered by abundant aquatic vegetation other than water chestnuts, which keeps the numbers of fish-hoarding cormorants much lower also. Where's the money for this in New Jersey? I'm assuming manual removal is more costly than the funds Lake Musconetcong Planning Board paid to the company that administered weed killer. So the lake is a mess because we've done it the easy way, apparently cost effective. What other way is possible? Manual removal is possible to an imaginative mind, not to politics as usual in the state today, by all appearances.

 Fred fishes a spinnerbait unsuccessfully.
 Cormorant on a previously brown rock, whitened by cormorant excrement.
 This filthy rock, thick with cormorant excrement and once brown, stands out visibly white all the way across the lake, as if vandalized.
Cormorants have free reign to swim now that vegetation doesn't stop them. Their numbers have increased dramatically. I once read that a single cormorant eats 10 pounds of fish a day.
 Look at that brown water. My lens has a polarizing filter. Previous years, you could see the bottom clearly, five feet down.

 Stanhope Bait & Boat is a baitfish hub for the whole region, but virtually no one fishes the lake now, except for catfish. And if you want big ones, do come and buy bait here and you can catch them off the dock out back. Fifteen pounds this summer.
Are there any bass left? We got skunked.