Saturday, September 12, 2015

Kay's Pond in Chester seems too Shallow

My wife and I used to drive past this pond on the way to Hacklebarney State Park before Matt's birth. This summer, we returned to the Black River Gorge in the park for the first time in about 17 years, and as we passed, I judged this pond too shallow to hold bass and probably inaccessible. And then last week I gave my son's New Jersey Lake Survey Fishing Maps Guide a close look, finding that Kay's Pond--this pond--is designated to be loaded with bass.

So today after work, Matt and I came to check the situation out. No sooner than I got home, geared up, and headed out the door with Matt and our black Lab Sadie, rain steadily fell. All day, some clouds obscured the golf courses, and occasional showers fell pretty hard, but quickly disbursed. The rain proved to be a soaker, but we fished persistently, finding that indeed this pond seems way too shallow to hold a healthy bass population, or even many pickerel. According to the Guide the pickerel population is a good one.

Everywhere we cast and looked into its seven acres, we found about two feet of water at most. This is the Black River dammed, so its tannic. But even with the dark tea appeal, we made bottom out clearly everywhere.

"If there were any bass, we'd see them," Matt said.

But a few pad beds stood out in places, more in back. He tied on a heavy, weedless frog he could cast a mile. By then, I was more interested in trying to snatch a few photos without destroying my Nikon by getting it wet. As things went, I might have narrowly avoided blowing a lot of money.

Nothing in the back, we gave up and hiked out. A trail leading down from Cooper Grist Mill that goes through the Gorge and ends up at Kay Environmental Center is so well worn it looks real good, and we had met two hikers--not very friendly, but giving us a grunt--shortly after getting in.

"Let me try a few more casts."

We stopped, but I didn't dare open my camera bag again, covered in a Hefty Sync Sac or the like. The pad bed Matt cast to was so prominent I felt something was going to clock that frog right at the closing bell. On his second cast, it seemed to have been a pickerel by the way the splash erupted in a skitter. A small one.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Lake Hopatcong Report Solid as Usual

Laurie's report from Dow's Boat Rentals highlights smallmouth bass as large as 3 1/2 pounds, besides a seven-pound, three-ounce channel catfish, and some hybrid stripers up to eight pounds. No walleye reported from Dow's, lots of crappies on small herring and jigs are in the news, and Noel got out on Thursday, catching 20 or so crappie...and a 19 1/2 inch walleye... on jigs.
The lake has been good for smallmouths all summer, so little we hear of largemouths. And this despite the extensive weedbeds in a lake fertile enough to get you drunk, should you drink the water. They say the Lenape named it honey water of many coves, and if that were so, it's obvious they thought pretty much the same.
I'm sure pickerel have been caught plenty these past two weeks, and in any event, all summer I've got word on hybrids, big ones, and the steady productivity is enough to make you feel the lake's gneiss-studded water reflects the stolid security of this fishery. And that of the smallmouths, which relate to that stone as if the bronzeback moniker signifies ore.
Nothing but good news comes from Dow's and from Noel. But it's always interesting and never quite the same. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Weather Fronts and Fear Faced


          The old adage that fish feed in rainy weather isn’t always evident. Today I fished a large private pond under cloud cover and ten minutes of rain, catching fewer and smaller bass than days ago here under hot, noontime sun. Perhaps I should have experimented with plastic worm color or fished a topwater plug, but with little time to fish both days, I focused on quickly casting close to cover. I think if bass are really active, color loses importance, although I have experienced times when bass were quite active in relation to a particular color and not another.

          The coded, handwritten fishing log I’ve kept since 1974 marks many times I’ve gone fishing with high hopes only to be disappointed. This isn't to suggest bass don't respond to their environment, but to observe that bass respond to conditions in subtler ways than I often expect. Plenty is involved in bass behavior requiring scientific research to understand, and scientists admit that much remains unknown.

          Nevertheless, my son, Matt, and I recently experienced a classic bass feeding spree on Lake Hopatcong. We got up at 4 a.m. and woke fully to expectations of a great day. I can’t feel nearly as good during the week when I wake four hours later than that hour. Breakfast was quick and savory. I always indulge fried eggs before Hopatcong, which I don’t normally eat. The protein helps fuel activity later. A Susuki 9.9-horsepower powered the 16-foot Dow’s rental boat across the lake well before sunup, clouds showing signs of breaking and forming interesting patterns I wanted to photograph if only I had a suitable foreground.

          The lake was calm and fishing slow for the first hour. The sky patched with blue in spots, I felt impatient as precious early minutes slipped by. We get most of our big Hopatcong fish before 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. But after we caught our first smallmouth, a couple of others soon followed, and then I noticed cloud cover had thickened deeply and looked menacing. The weather forecast included no rain until about 11:00 a.m., but forecasts just reflect the best prediction can do. I’m no better at predicting fishing success.

          Soon two herring rigs apiece overwhelmed us. Thunder rumbled distantly and I knew we had little time. If we chose to fish through the storm, we might catch more bass and bigger, but that’s not worth being unwise. I took out my cell phone to check time, feeling the morning had progressed to about 10:00. It was 7:45. Action made short duration feel full. Minutes later, we reeled in our herring, pulled anchor, and took cover at Dow’s before rain began. We had caught seven smallmouth bass, the three largest between 16 and 17 ½ inches, two others not much smaller, and released all of these, as well as lots of white perch on ultra-light rigs with nightcrawlers, more of them than sunfish and yellow perch. Several other nice-sized bass shook hooks during the excitement.

          As rain began to dot the lake’s surface, two other boats came in. A middle aged, solitary angler told me another remained out there, as always through thunderstorms. I compared how my son and I suffered no loss by waiting out the storm. Some things are too desperate to be worthwhile. When we returned to fish sunlit water, we caught no more bass, no walleye, hybrid stripers, or pickerel either. The feeding spree before the storm made our day. I guess it made the fish’s too.

          That’s the sort of weather front to turn fish on for a short time, if especially an approaching thunderstorm with quickly falling barometer does just that. When I was teenaged and reckless, I fished through a tremendous thunderstorm lasting a long time. The action was incredible. I have never before or since witnessed largemouth bass as big as four pounds leap high to dive open-mouthed on a spinnerbait buzzed just beneath surface. Not one, but many bass performed this acrobatic. They seemed manic with frenzy. The fish, brilliant lightning as close as a long cast, thunder, and sheets of rain made me manic too. Having gone against better judgment is to admit the same. At 16, it didn’t seem anything foolish, but I’ve been wary of thunderstorms ever since.

          I was spared once, so I don’t tempt fate to strike. Graphite rods conduct electricity. It makes sense to stay out of harm’s way, and I’ve felt since this episode of bass fishing beyond the pale as if being vulnerable a second time might not carry favor.       



Next Round at the Neighborhood Bass Pond

The neighborhood bass pond suffered a dramatic fish kill from last winter's thick ice. I spotted numerous two and three-pound bass, dead. My son found a dead bass over five. Shallow from shore to shore, the deepest water may be about four feet, but that water is super fertile and of good quality. My son and I once hiked the nearby mountain, locating the feeder stream almost at its spring source. Why we didn't follow it on up directly to that spring seems to speak of negligence now. Would have been interesting.

Matt fished the pond last week, losing a 14-incher on a buzzbait. I guess that got me interested. Why else would I have fished this evening? I haven't all year, but I sit by the pond every day when walking our black Lab Sadie, thinking the worst of the situation with the bass.

I began flicking my Chompers next to algae mats thinking that once upon a time, we were always sure the pond holds a five pounder. Matt caught one that big here once. Very soon, I caught a 10-incher, wondering if hardly any larger survived. Answer came quick. A nice 17-incher got posed before my camera lens after a chugging fight. I wasn't terribly surprised. After all, just because dozens of big bass die, doesn't mean the majority don't live on, perhaps. Or some.

I caught another 10-incher and that was all after about 25 minutes. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Nice Little Bass Pond

It's hot. Has been all month, and yet here in New Jersey, leaves change colors and drop like never seen before so early in September. It's a serious drought.

So with sun bearing down on most of the water when I walked in, I went to the left of this photo taken later when clouds obscured the light getting near the horizon, and placed my second cast in tannic water deeply shadowed. I set a moment after the take and soon released a 10-inch largemouth, hoping that dinks would not prove the overwhelming rule.

But what do you expect when checking out a little pond new to you in New Jersey? I bet everyone who fishes here--not many people--toss the bass back. Nevertheless, most ponds fish slow and the bass aren't big. Even if it's possible a single five-pounder does lurk out there. Somewhere. And even if the worm dropped down it's nose, it would turn that nose down.

I caught another 10-inch bass, fulfilling a very nice hour-and-a-half of fishing rather thoroughly in a casual way.