Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Season is Never too Late for Bass

The Season is Never too Late for Bass

          I never put away rods and reels for winter, and years ago the species I pursued in any open water available included largemouth bass. Although in recent years I’ve caught some in March, my youthful eagerness to fish bass on windy, subfreezing December afternoons passed, but not the memories. As a teen, I was especially proud of making catches under conditions invigorating at best.

          Since I’ve kept this article in mind for several weeks before writing it, I considered that maybe I will apply in late November what I’ll recommend. We used to call what happened to me recently getting psyched. I hooked bass on a spinnerbait; they were striking short in water getting critically cold, sort of nibbling at the leadhead skirt, barely getting hooked. I worked my way down along the pond’s spillway while casting, stared into the deepest water, and took a few more tentative casts, letting the lure reach bottom to reel it back slowly. That’s when I looked forward to the possibility of dunking shiners.

          However, live shiners are not the only way to catch bass when water temperature falls below 50 degrees. I’ve caught largemouth bass in December on jigs fished on bottom in a pond’s deepest water. I’ve also caught January bass through the ice on jigs. But for now, let’s concern ourselves with open water.

          When water temperatures fall into the 40’s, bass usually go deep.  This isn’t because deep water is warmer. They lose the chase for bluegills and other forage in the shallows. Until water temperature drops to 39.2 degrees, the warmest is at the surface, coldest on bottom. However the science of physics accounts for the reversal, if the coldest possible water didn’t rise, ice would form on the bottom of a pond, lake, or stream. Nevertheless, although bass are cold blooded and prefer temperatures closer to 70 degrees, the chief reason they descend into the belly of a pond sometime in November is relative inactivity.

          Contrary to popular opinion, bass have not fattened for winter during the classic “fall feed.” Bass have no cause for putting on fat to protect against cold because they have no body warmth to protect. Their cold blooded metabolism simply adjusts to water temperature. During the 19th century, it was widely believed bass hibernate during winter! Fishermen believed they burrowed in submerged brush and under rocks to remain dormant until spring. Bass don’t feed as often during winter; their bodies process calories at a much slower rate. But they will strike in reaction to lures on occasion, though they are much less likely to pursue a lure retrieved quickly.

          Ponds and lakes with lots of shallows, lots of bass, and a relatively limited area of deep water may be easy to fish in the late fall and winter. Bass congregate in the deep area and are vulnerable. Most ponds and lakes are more and less shallow throughout, or have lots of deep water. In the case of ponds or small lakes with lots of 10 foot depth, bass roam randomly and fin in place if no cover is available. It may then be that fishermen need structure more than bass. The prospect of going out in a boat or standing on shore and casting randomly in the freezing cold is futile. I’ve found that at least some of the bass in a given pond relate to the bottom edges of drop-offs from shorelines into the deepest water available, if that pond isn’t deeper than about 15 feet. Extreme depth is less likely to hold largemouths. In a shallower body of water, residual weedbeds, submerged brush, or other cover, if available, will hold bass.  

          Bobber fishing is a bore compared to live-lining shiners. For one thing, suspended under a bobber, you can never get a shiner deep enough. Let a shiner swim for bottom without any weight added to the line but a small barrel swivel to connect a leader. But more important, with a bobber you lose out on the subtle action of a bass taking the bait from you. Fishing is all about contact. That’s why a bobber suddenly going under is such an uncanny thrill. But the slightest tick you may feel from free-swimming shiner taken so the line transmits subtle tension to a sensitive graphite rod raises goose pimples quicker than the action of a bobber ever can. And then you see the line slowly moving away, tightening, as you allow the bass to swim off another yard and lower the rod tip, let that line tighten straight, and set the hook.

         An event like that can make a subfreezing afternoon bass fishing worthwhile even to an adult.     

Monday, October 26, 2015

Witness to Trout Rising in Ken Lockwood Gorge

I didn't know the back way to Ken Lockwood Gorge, South Branch Raritan River, but once I realized it's just County Road 512 through Pottersville, over the Lamington River and straight on out to Califon and Shannon's Fly Shop, I found it very easy and convenient. Bedminster isn't exactly centrally located in relation to the Highlands, but right at the foot of the hills, it's in a real good position for access. The shore's a cinch to get to, also, just takes a little while.

Today I went into the Gorge at the north end, and found a hole right away that surely holds trout, though none hit my black Wooly Bugger. Soon, I took advantage of sunlight about to vanish, and I wonder now if I really should be shooting with a remote at high apertures. Donned in waders, I set my tripod up midstream, and managed to dig it in tight enough to prevent current from shaking. I got a big smile from a woman with a tripod and a full frame camera. It's treacherous to take expensive camera equipment into the river, but to get shots you can't get otherwise, carefully take chances. Yes, I had Korkers on.

On down the river, I found a stretch I liked and got hung up, so I waded quietly and freed the streamer, finding myself in better casting position. It didn't take long to sight a 15-inch rainbow. Sometime later, that rainbow rushed the Bugger, but didn't strike. I also sighted a small rainbow stocked in the spring. Naturally, I felt inclined to linger, and overtones suggesting that I stay into the magic hour seemed to promise some action.

I never got a strike on the streamer, but I noticed some tiny, off-white mayflies, and then a dimple. I tied on a size 20 or 22 blue-winged olive, and somehow fouled my leader above the tippet, and proceeded to have a bad time with a new blood knot on uneven line diameter, the damned trout dimpling repeatedly. But I got it done, and then found the fly tended not to stay afloat, nor could I ever see where it alighted on the surface. You can tell I'm a novice at fly fishing, but regardless of skill, things got real interesting fast.

An even smaller rainbow, no more than nine inches, rose repeatedly a few feet in front of me. And then about half a dozen were rising, sips and few splash rises. I whipped that little fly mid-air for all I was worth to dry it off in hopes it would float! But whether or not it did--I could never see it, though once I did drop it in front of me and it floated--none of the trout took, though for about 10 minutes as dusk gathered, they fed with abandon.

Musconetcong River Gorge Nature Trail and Dinner at The Ship Inn, Milford, New Jersey

For three years or so, I've meant to hike in the Musconetcong River Gorge. We had little time after I got off work, and then after my son got off his job an hour later this afternoon, but we rounded out more than a mile of walking and a 200-foot vertical ascent on the way back, most of that at the end of the walk, which we paced steadily, allowing us to breathe deeply, rhythmically, and really know we made effort. That's a feeling I would never want to pass through life without. I reminded my wife, Trish, of her ambition to hike Mt. Tammany at the Delaware Watergap.

"Tammany is a 1200-foot vertical ascent in about a mile flat. That's climbing like we just did for another thousand feet, and in some places, a lot steeper," I said.

My son and I have done it many times, and made more ambitious ascents elsewhere. It's good to be reminded. And Trish was not dissuaded, though I didn't mean to say she couldn't do it--just sort of try to strike a balance on the issue. And on the contrary of any suggestion that she can't, she pointed out that she would have summited in 1993, had "a real hiker" taken her.

You know what it's like when your eye narrows at the corner.

"You brought no water along and didn't give me proper boots," she said.

It was 92 degrees out that afternoon...I knew with a sinking feeling she has a real point.

The Gorge descends further down to the river itself, although I don't know of trails, and we didn't have time to investigate. But the factory or mill down by the river as you approach the park on County Road 519 is really cool-looking, at least to us, and I'd like to see if I can get some photos some day.

The 30-foot Warren Glen Dam just below the CR 519 bridge is an obstruction which, once political will breaks it, will open the river to a flourishing ecology and more holdover and wild trout, although the immediate sections here aren't stocked. Surely some holdovers work there way down.

We planned to meet Matt's Grandpa in Milford at the Ship Inn. As it turned out, we had plenty time to cross the Delaware River and check out Upper Black Eddy, and then park and linger around the Inn for a few photos while waiting. The ride down CR 519 had been like nothing.

As it turned out, after five or 10 minutes, my Dad had been waiting inside, sipping a Coke. The Ship Inn has a black-painted, patterned interior tin roof, and a rustic ambiance nice to settle into for a couple of hours of conversation. The beer on tap is brewed on the premises. Mine was full-bodied, yet mellow, a nice example of New Jersey's first brew pub, modeled on the English idea, although my beer wasn't room temperature and just as well. I had been eager for that beer. The burger was good too, and the desert some of the richest chocolate I've tasted in a long while.

Gotta watch that weight!

But here's a link to yet another excellent restaurant in Milford reviewed:

 Last big toad we'll see this year (we saw a little one further along).
 Antiques to the left and the sort of slide-out of a ridge beyond.
 Nice antique shop.
 Way back in 1978--I was 17--I drove up an hour from Lawrence to fish the Hakiokake Creek, beginning on the other side of the bridge I stood on to snap this photo, and I continued upward to fish the pool to the right in the photo and beyond into the brush and trees, long before the Ship Inn became established, but long after the Victorian era of its origin. I caught 30-some rainbow trout that spring day, and never encountered another angler.
The Ship Inn