Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Coming for Lake Trout, I run into Fred Matero

After disentangling six rods and reels--brought six because I didn't care to sort this out at home--and carrying three to the point, I spoke to who I later learned is a man by the name of Ben. He had caught a 16-inch rainbow. I tended to my rods, dipped my hand in the bucket for a shiner, and happened to look back his way. One of his rods bent, pulsing under a striking trout. I called out and by the time he looked, it was all over.

Back at my car for the last of my stuff, including a foldout chair, someone yelled my name. Fred Matero had just pulled in! Auspicious coincidence, because we just don't get many days any more when both have off to fish together. The temperature of about 60 degrees brought him out on a day off, and though the warmth made the fishing easy, the easy fishing yielded nothing to either of us.

Since Fred had marshmallows, mealworms, and Power Bait, I fished a shiner, marshmallow & mealworm, and Power Bait. Three rods, three baits. I hoped lake trout might have migrated in close to shore by now, and perhaps some have, but they do like that water really cold before they might get caught regularly. Some years they do, some don't. Ice covers lakes and ponds, so the water is cold, but I get suspicious about shallows warming slightly when it comes to sensitive trout. How a laker 60 feet deep could possibly tell the shallows' warming to just slight degree, I have no idea. But the whole ecosystem functions singularly in ways we know little about.

Fred and I tentatively committed to fishing the Meadowlands for stripers in April. I suggested trolling Hopatcong in May also, but Fred especially likes the strange allure of those tidal waters in the Lyndhurst area. After we parted, I thought about our jobs making very little opportune, when his suggestion that we go in the morning resonated as very possible, in spite of the fact that I have to start work at noon. I can take sleeping pills and try to nod off by 9:00 to get up at 4:30 or 5:00, and we can fish before 7:00. Two hours is really all we need.

We talked a lot about work. Both of us take an attitude of adjusting unpleasant demands to our own need to be happy, despite what's in the way. Five months ago, I felt like I was clobbered over the head; the new job put demands on me like no other, but though my usual activities seemed threatened, a stronger determination within me stayed calm and focused as if it would work out, which it has. Americans come from pretty strong stock. I sometimes think of the westward pioneers. The hardships they overcame, not just to survive but to flourish, were nothing to complain about because there wasn't time for that.

I told Fred I feel like I'm in a pressure cooker all the time. I stay up writing essays until 3:00 a.m., sometimes 5:00 a.m., and then I wake and go directly to my specialty meat counter job. And then I come home, spend a half hour, maybe an hour with my family, and then go back to work.

I continued, "I'm doing some of the very best work I've ever done. I sort of don't like to admit it, because I'd rather feel good. But all that pressure results in form I never achieved before."

Of course, I achieved plenty before the summer that needed to get done before I could do what I'm doing now.

Upon arriving today at 1:00 p.m., the news came on to announce the death of Carrie Fisher. I admired her. Or still do. After coming home, I told my wife she had a hard life, and of course, I didn't mean any disparagement.

"She never made it a 'woe is me' story. She had the courage to come out about her bipolar disorder, her drugs, and she was a really good writer," Patricia said.

"Yes. Hardship just is that. It doesn't warrant complaint or dependency," I said.

Hardship is the greatest opportunity for character.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Setting is the Opportunity

 Mike Maxwell's first time ice fishing.

"I should have brought my skates."

Maybe not with the marginal safety. Ice five and five-and-a-half inches thick in close and outward about 50 yards from where we entered the lake, I found the ice about four inches thick beyond. Further out, I never bothered to test the thickness. The Morristown Daily Record reported some open water at the lake Friday, three-and-a-half-inch thickness where four anglers fished, so as usual, the wind is playing its game. Small ponds usually freeze evenly; lakes can issue shocking surprises. Just a few years ago or so, two teenagers fell through and died, unspeakably tragic.

I used the splitting bar in the photograph above to judge safety as we progressed outward, but once we got our belongings in place, fired up the power auger to cut, after I had whacked out three holes with the bar. Even ice this thin put some pain in my old man's right shoulder. Mike stayed safe; only I ventured beyond what we first established as quite safe at better than five inches, and then as we gathered the tip-ups deep into dusk, he accompanied me a little further out where the ice is four inches thick. The two of us stood apart from each other. That's safe ice, but no neophyte gets any recommendation from experienced ice fishermen with conscience to venture on ice any thinner. During my younger years, the rule was three inches. But at three inches, the ice had better be hard and clear through and through, and the weight of anyone walking on it not excessive. Two people standing side by side on three inches is risky. Some of the ice we walked on has gone through wind breakage and all of it slight refreezing. Snow fell over the weekend, totally gone and melted into the ice surface moist on top with afternoon temperatures above freezing--slippery, we wore boot spikes. We never encountered any thinner than four inches. Where I found it that thin by placing my hand in holes I cut and grasping the thickness--first cutting with my splitting bar and accurately estimating thickness--the ice was quite hard and clear, having frozen a little later than in closer to shore where wind had broken some portions of an initial freeze, now frozen thick and secure.

Since I've done this strange ritual of contemplation--ice fishing--since I was 15, I'm not much afraid of falling through, or I guess this has to do with other things, such as my spending years treading clams in wetsuits for a living in freezing bays. I know what it feels like, since my wetsuits once ripped open to brine that freezes at 29 degrees. Twenty-two degree, 45 mph wind--I don't even know what the wind chill--the shallow bay's temperature was pretty cold. I felt relieved that whatever cut the neoprene, didn't cut my leg open.

Besides, it was always such a pleasure to leap off the boat's gunnel and feel that freezing brine race up my spine before the wetsuits warmed the brine by insulation.

We began by riding to Stanhope for live shiners. Once again, Bait & Boat was closed and as our Delaware River trip required, we rode on to Andover. We lost at least 45 minutes, so our time fishing got shortened, for a short stint to begin with. I usually walk out on the ice at least a hundred yards from shore before I start cutting, and then spread tip-ups each about a hundred feet from another. The lake is shallow throughout--six feet--except for a hole of 12 feet. Northern pike, largemouth bass, and a relative few pickerel and smallmouth bass spread out. Ice fishing is typically slow.

Today, though, I kept the tip-ups pretty close to where we sat on fold-out chairs, spaced apart by about half the typical distance. Most of the holes allowed the sinker to fall about six feet, though, so it's not as if no possibility awaited us. Typical ice fishing here results in no tip-up flags anyway, unless you were to stay out all day, perhaps. I've seen pike caught as large as 39 inches, have heard of larger, and it interests me to encounter such an animal. The teeth of a smaller pike I once caught sliced my thumb open. I took my knife out of its sheath and cut the cuff of one of my white socks I had put on under wool socks. That served as bandage as I continued tending tip-ups. I'm fascinated with the teeth of northern pike, rows of hundreds of them in each maw. The poignant beauty of such ferocious power implied.

I've ice fished alone more than I have with others, and yet the best of ice fishing is the conversation, or when it does ignite, as it did between Mike and me. I have no desire to reproduce what we said, but I think of Marshall McLuhan's phrase, "The medium is the message." I also think the setting is the opportunity. Since most of us spend most of our time in routine settings, there's not much hope of conversation that gets very interesting, at least not when we're doing-as-we-do. But get outside where expanse can't help but subtly suggest possibility and refreshing thoughts expressed in words will likely occur between you and whoever's along.

Monday, December 19, 2016

On the Way

I've mellowed with age. And with persuading at least four inches of clear hard ice to ice fishing neophytes who I urge to team up with people in the know for the first adventures. I went on NJ Fishing.com this evening to learn guys were even out on the ice in yesterday's warmth. Or at least in the morning. I don't know. It's all too easy to imagine more softening of the ice than actually was the case, judging by this evidence. Saturday reports claim ice was as thick as four-and-a-half inches.

And I'll tell you the truth. With all I have to get done, I was half-hoping we couldn't go this coming Wednesday. By all indications, we can. Or at least I can. So I will. Whether or not my friend who will ice fish his first time is coming, don't know yet. 

They Were Out

I heard people got out on the ice as early as last Thursday, and on Budd Lake with three-and-a-half inches of ice on Friday morning. My bet is they'll get back out with this next cold snap, but I'm on the fence about Wednesday, since the warmth softened that base layer, and clear hard ice is the rule for safety when it's not so thick. I doubt we're going, but I haven't time to further look into the situation right now this morning.

Article by Jim Stabile (He told me he didn't write the headline.):

Be sure the ice is safe before fishing

is published in the Morristown Daily Record http://www.dailyrecord.com/story/sports/columnists/jim-stabile/2016/12/18/sure-ice-safe-before-fishing/95572660/ Jim mentions that four ice anglers were out on Budd Lake Friday.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Forget Black Ice

So much for black ice, with this morning's snow. An inch or two in Bedminster, N.J. Forecast high of 55 tomorrow with rain. That will ruin the ice, but temperatures dropping to 18 by Monday morning will harden it. Tuesday morning--15. I can't judge what ice conditions will be by Wednesday, not with snow on it now and then rain water tomorrow.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Feels like Safe Ice

Black Ice

Just a quick note to regular readers. As I write at 3:19 a.m., temperatures fall towards the single digits after recent cold nights, which means New Jersey ponds from Mercer County northward will probably be safe to ice fish today. Small ponds not subject to open water due to wind.

I'll try to go on NJ Fishing.com tomorrow night and see what's up.

An early start to the season for whoever goes, but Mike and I reviewed a weather report earlier tonight. Unfortunately, a milder trend may come within a few days.

If enough cold remains, we're going ice fishing on Wednesday.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

What's Happened to Us? Still Here

This month of December in New Jersey feels lonesome when you get away from the holiday hoopla. Otherwise, it's as if--at least for regions with chilly weather--Western Civilization long ago conspired to counteract natural recess due to forbidding elements by bringing emotional and spiritual warmth into the lives of people brought close together by the holidays, just as winter's brutal turn comes. People try to escape reality in so many countless ways, whole encyclopedias could be devoted to this behavior.

Nevertheless, true to our odd practices, which could be taken either way, depending on who you are and what you think the real world is--as an escape or of facing reality--my son, Matt, and I came to stand beside Round Valley Reservoir this afternoon, amble about taking in the scenes and the gravel and the sand and the mud at our feet, and the rocks, just waiting on five lines baited with live shiners we put out for trout. We caught nothing, but as dusk fell, Matt did reel in one empty hook, so who knows. One thing is without doubt. If reality exists, we made contact with it. I sort of feel like Rene Descartes at present, beginning with thought as certain, but that's because I'm behind a computer screen. The self-evident is that. To deny it is to doubt yourself in turn.

Early on, a boat came in. I had driven our Honda down to water's edge at the end of gravel laid for boat launching.

"Catch anything?" I asked.

"We did OK," one of the men said. Terse tone of voice, his eyes refused to meet mine, and I felt put off.

Nice boat.

An all-too-typical image script came to mind immediately. There my son and I, two guys who can't afford a boat to fish in style. Here the elect who wouldn't even answer my question with any definite response. The masters. And we the slaves. But had I accepted this as the situation, it would have served as my own choice. I knew that, and sort of kicked the proverbial stone about, thinking.

During the 1970's, I asked that same question habitually, and responses more often than not offered meaningful information. Cheerful and respectful, regardless of obvious social status. A short chat would ensue. Now I was thinking of T-Rex and Jurassic Park as analogous to T-Rump and America.

What has happened to this nation in which we all felt included? I guess that's an ironic consideration, given Trump's election purportedly due to the voters...who felt left out.

The men hiked to the lot to fetch their vehicle. In the meantime, I politely moved our Honda further back from water's edge, anticipating that they would need space. Some minutes before I made this maneuver, I checked two rods I thought might have suffered the boat's landing; line could have got caught by the outboard prop.

Minutes later, I sullenly watched one of the men load the boat. The second had stayed behind. The same man who barely uttered any words looked our way once, harshly.

And then some time later, Matt noticed a rod move. I went for it, walking behind the boat just a few feet from me, seeing that it pointed towards the vehicle, not the water...aha. The man stood in the boat, arranging things, and now I saw he fiddled with my expensive Power Pro braid line, wrapped around his body. I felt not the slightest anxiety. I knew this was at least our opportunity.

"Your line's caught on me," he said matter-of-fact.

I had some of that line in my right hand aside of his port gunnel.

"Here." I got it free from behind the trailer as he unraveled himself, and then I lifted the end leading to him. He had backed the trailer into the reservoir and apparently just barely caught the line on the left side, facing the water.

"Mind if I cut it?" He said.


I freed the line, got the rod, reeled in what was left, and had a look at my spool, judging that I need to add a little to maximize casting.

"You caught lakers?" I asked.


"Regular four-pounders?"

"Yeah. They're either about that, or 20 pounds."

Here is where the chatting began. We probably spoke no more than two minutes. Just like the 1970's again. Two Januarys ago, he caught a 23-pounder. He's caught four in total over 20 pounds. We said some more, and then, "Take it easy."

Imagine, had things been different. Had my line not saved us from isolation in a world insistent on oil from the age of dinosaurs, instead of the minds of people like ourselves, figuring out an appropriate future on the basis of reason and respect. Many of us feel the 1970's were a crazy time, but I insist, that decade was much more rational than "crazy" and "mad" repeated ad infinitum on TV and radio and just about any media you can pick up. And by the mouths of people you might meet every day. They might tell you everything is crazy. We always said in the 70's, "If you think the world is crazy, it's you who is crazy." I never say the world is crazy. I'm just reporting on what I hear from others. After the 70's, we somehow ended up in this current social morasse, and not because of that decade.

As we packed our gear, a little sedan came racing down and stopped almost directly across from our Honda, yards away. Two attractive girls in their 20's leapt out. Naturally, since I'm just this na├»ve, natural sort, I said hi, quite audibly, but they didn't seem to hear. Nor did either girl so much as acknowledge us in any way whatsoever.

I considered. Well, here my son and I stand, this area to ourselves. These two people just barge into our space. I mean, any form of decent respect would sense this as the case. They behave--completely--as if we don't even exist.

Both of them giggling over mobile devices, of course photography went into action. Pictures of themselves, a half dozen or more in less than a minute. At that rate, they'd have taken more than I shot in an hour-and-a-half, within the next two minutes. Now one of them pulled a fake ukalale from a hatchback or whatever. She perched on the back of the car, fake strumming. The big photo op.

I got in the driver's seat of my car, Matt beside me, window coming down as I started the engine they didn't yet seem to hear. I budged the car. Then just as I had anticipated heads to turn, I said, "I'll wait for you to get your shot."

"Oh, no. That's OK!"

"I'm just going to pull ahead and turn around."

Suddenly, the girls were all smiles and recognition. I smiled back, drove my son and I forward, and turned around ahead of their vehicle.

Total narcissistic self-absorption. I had skillfully broken that spell to reveal the truth. It sure can seem as if people have utterly forgotten humanity, but we're just lost for the time being.

At full pool, the reservoir easily gives you the impression of having a rocky, gravely, and sandy bottom down deep beneath its heavy water, since the shoreline edge at that level is chiefly so composed. The thick mud revealed in this photo is about 26 feet under water at full pool. You can smell sulfates. I'm no expert on chemistry, but wouldn't be surprised if sulfate is part of the composition or formation of oil.

 Round Valley Pond shot from atop the dike.
I stood nearly 20 feet under water when I shot this sunset, given full pool.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ice Fishing Largemouth Bass: The Best Time of the Ice Season to Go

Black Ice for the Best Winter Bass Bite

          Many years ago, an older friend and I ice fished two consecutive days on the newly formed “black” ice of a six-acre private pond in Mercer County we had permission to fish. Bright, sunny skies prevailed, the ice clear as a pane of glass, water underneath pure as if from a well. Tip-up flags sprang constantly both days. Oddly, half the largemouths took the shiner, ran four or five yards and dropped the bait.

          The third day, we arrived upon a transformed environment. Snow fell overnight, four inches covering the ice. Clouds remained overhead. Since we could not find previously cut holes, each of us whacked new openings for tip-ups with our splitting bars, and then we waited and waited. We fished for hours, enjoying no more action than three flags.

          This got us thinking and theorizing. Correct or not, we concluded that bass in clear water, under clear ice with lots of sun penetrating through, strike in reaction just as they do during warmer months of open water. If you’ve ever noticed a silver shiner’s scales catching sunlight, you may have felt astonished at the pulse of reflected light. We believe such pulses provoke bass to hit. And some bass may drop shiners they initially strike, not interested in eating.

          It’s a story that makes sense, whether or not it’s true. Ice fishermen everywhere tend to agree that first ice is best ice, so some reason or other must exist. As the ice fishing season deepens, ice develops milky-colored surface layers of melted and re-frozen snow. Towards the end in February or March, ice can feature water flowing between a thinly frozen surface and the body of thick ice beneath, or present a mess while melting under slushy snow or half a foot of water. First ice—that “black” ice illusion you see from a distance—is remarkably clean and simple by comparison. It invites an ice fisherman out for a pure experience of the frigid new season and the bass may respond with frisky bites.

          If you are new to ice fishing, I recommend finding someone introducing you. If you know of no one who ice fishes, you can find at least one guide service in New Jersey for ice fishing. Otherwise, the local activities of a lake community, such as encountered on Lake Hopatcong, will give you clear indication of whether or not the ice is safe. I was taught that three inches of hard clear ice is safe, although I would never recommend this measure to anyone venturing out on his own for the first time.

          There are reasons. Large lakes and reservoirs freeze unevenly. Round Valley Reservoir, for example, froze 18 inches thick by March, 2014, and yet about 25% of the water in the reservoir remained open all winter. Other lakes never freeze evenly—coves freeze first, main lake points last as a general rule. Ponds of few acres do freeze evenly, unless a little cove or two is protected from prevailing wind and freezes first. An entire book on ice conditions could be written by whoever goes to the trouble of cataloguing dozens of variations found on lakes, reservoirs, ponds and rivers, but for our discussion: clear, hard, safe ice is the concern.

           Fish clear water underneath, choose a sunny afternoon if you can, and stay out until dusk. The magic hour near sunset until a half hour or so thereafter always has the potential of lunker bass feeding. Nevertheless, in my experience, the most direct sun rays possible make for the fastest first-ice fishing, the most flags tripped.

          Shallow lakes and ponds may prove best. A deep lake offers bass the opportunity to escape brilliant light by settling deeper. If you set a shiner 25 feet deep, it will not reflect light sharply as it will in 10 feet of water or even shallower. If you fish Lake Hopatcong, for example, notorious for its main lake points dropping off into 40 feet of water or more, try River Styx shallows or the State Park flats instead.

          The best kept secret for first-ice fishing is ponds, by virtue of the fact that many ice fishermen don’t care to hear about the success, habituated instead to lakes and reservoirs with the fanfare they draw. Shallow ponds freeze to safe thickness before protected coves freeze safely on lakes and reservoirs. Snow may fall before ice is safe on any lake or reservoir, yet a day or two exists with a relative few ice anglers catching bass in shallow, clear ponds before black ice opportunity is ruined.

          Whether lake, pond or reservoir, know the water before it freezes to reduce the random element when setting tip-ups. Bass frequent many of the same sorts of habitat during winter as during the warmer months, although in ponds, for example, you will catch plenty in the deepest water of perhaps 10 feet, if most get caught hugging shorelines in the summer and fall. Any cover in the water—whether of lake, pond or reservoir—should have tip-ups set close as possible to it without the shiner getting entangled. Often cover is situated in relatively shallow water. Set a tip-up in the deepest water possible that remains in close relation to the shallower cover, whether submerged brush, boulders, a sunken dock or anything else that may draw forage and bass to it.

           Residual weeds remain remarkably thick during winter in some waters and bass inhabit them. Not every weedy situation involves an outside edge adjacent to deeper water, where bass frequent in search of forage. Flats comprise many acres of reduced weed mass with enough tendrils and leafy greens remaining to hold lots of fish. Tip-ups can be spread over a flat, set by best guesses, and tended. Check on every tip-up to make sure the shiner doesn’t entangle in weeds. Occasionally lifting a tip-up to check on it also helps ensure that a shiner remains active on the hook.

          A light wire, plain shank size 6 hook is all you need for each tip-up. The light weight isn’t a burden for lively bait to carry. Crimp a medium split-shot about 15 inches ahead of the hook to a three-foot fluorocarbon leader—15-pound test if pickerel are present—and lower the rig to bottom until the dacron main line goes limp. Turn dacron back onto the tip-up spool as you lower the spool to the water surface, until the line comes taut with the split-shot directly on bottom and your index finger and thumb holding the line at the surface. Now turn seven loops of dacron onto the spool and set the tip-up in the hole. The shiner will swim slightly suspended above bottom.

          And to have a tip-up set to wait is a satisfying feeling. A flag sprung is pure joy. 


Civilization's Coming Transformation: An Answer to Last Night's Post

Suffering one of my typical attempts to sleep last night, the insomnia keeping me lucid for an hour-and-a-half after covering myself with sheets, I reflected upon the post I'd written, among many other things. Even after taking Ambien, I never felt the relief that comes of crazy interruptions in my train of thinking, the relief of those harbingers of dreams below the threshold of wakefulness, not for a long time.

I thought of guys taking issue with how I ended my spiel, and felt my eagerness to answer. To begin with, everyone knows the industrialism that tore this state apart, leaving it behind like a facsimile of hell--all you have to do is Google about New Jersey's many Superfund sites--everyone knows that industrialism drove a thriving economy, compared to now.

Accept this--it's gone. It is not coming back.

Some of us have realized this long ago already. A showman con artist can't change our minds about the facts.

What is possible? Given what is, what is to become? What might become is more than ancillary to the inevitable, because it's really up to us, but my habit of thinking assumes an unshakeable optimism, so I always begin with the assumption that the best will be.

This is fundamentally an attitude of more than personal predilection, because grounded in first cause deeper than anything I may derive. I wrote that a flourishing environment means a flourishing society. I heard the imagined protest of someone I know point out that it was for the cave man, too. I thought awhile, and then responded, "Yes, in fact it was."

And I continued, "We're not cave men, and we won't be."

My knowledge of the transformation our civilization hurtles towards, while admittedly, day to day and year to year, we witness change at a slow pace, given economic difficulties persistent, my knowledge lacks, but I know this, as far flung as I seem: Arthur C. Clarke's prediction of science and technology indistinguishable from magic, (A.C. Clarke author of 2001: A Space Odyssey) combined with naturalist E. O. Wilson's belief that we can create paradise on earth, involves more than restoring natural balance; it involves our participation in an artistic, scientific, and technological transformation of given nature. We have stream "restorations" in New Jersey that really amount to creative streamscaping, a humble beginning, but nothing at all to denigrate. I've seen beautiful results and have fished them.

Long ago now, in the 1980's, I read about the shift from industrial to super-industrial civilization...and we want the 1950's back? 

Read Einstein! The 1950's exist. But only exactly as they are. You can't get them back, but we can get the happiness back we really wish for.  

Monday, November 28, 2016

Leadership in Wildlife Conservation: Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey Honors for Women

I'm especially taken by this press release below, which I received from Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, because Tanya Sulikowski is among the award recipients. Five or six years ago, I interviewed Tanya for an article I hoped to write on Schiff Nature Preserve in Mendham, when she served as Director there. She was wonderful to work with. Kind, very bright, fully present, and generous with information. I never forget the key motive in my seeking her out: what I felt to be a revolution in New Jersey concerning the environment.

Ostensibly, the article was to represent Schiff, and with her help, no doubt it would have proved to be a very good one, but I did not fail to speak of this issue of a change in the state's modus operandi in favor of the environment. Deep down, Schiff symbolized a larger whole for me, though Schiff itself is a wonderful acreage with valuable programs. The organization is also important in keeping intact the homestead of the father of the Boy Scouts of America, Baden Powell.

I could write for hours, days, weeks on the shift in New Jersey from industrial cauldron to environmental transformation, but I'll finish by pointing out that environmentalism today has come to recognize--and I think where it hasn't yet, it should--that the state's geography and the planet exists in the people's interest. I remember the scripts from the late 1960's. All about how evil man is. Now we learn that a flourishing environment means a flourishing society. 

Three New Jersey Women to be Honored for Leadership in Wildlife Conservation on Nov. 30 at Duke Farms

in Hillsborough

Gov. Florio keynote speaker at Women & Wildlife event

featuring silent auction, Awards Ceremony, and live bird of prey

Hillsborough, NJ – The nonprofit Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF) will present their 11th annual Women & Wildlife Awards on Wednesday, November 30 at the Coach Barn at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey. Former New Jersey Governor James J. Florio will serve as the keynote speaker, and the event will also include a silent auction and a live bird of prey.

The Women & Wildlife Awards recognize special individuals for their achievements, the advances they have made for women in their professions, their efforts to increase awareness of rare species and the habitats they depend on, and their contributions to New Jersey's wildlife.

“Wildlife conservation efforts have benefited from a strong core of female scientists, educators, advocates, researchers, and rehabilitators who serve as role models for the next generation,” said David Wheeler, CWF Executive Director. “Thanks to our Women & Wildlife honorees, today’s young girls can feel confident in pursuing science and conservation as careers with limitless and exciting possibilities.”

Event sponsors include PSE&G, Eric Sambol, Bob and Maureen Coleman, Renzi Bernardi Suarez & Co., Dr. Barbara, Brummer, Dewberry, James Fiorentino, Glenn Insurance, Inc., Amy S. Greene Environmental Consultants, Inc., Grumpys Tackle, Mercer County Wildlife Center, Merrill G. & Emita E. Hastings Foundation, New Jersey Education Association, Pinelands Nursery, Rick Weiman, and Your Part Time Controller.

The 2016 honorees are:

Martha Maxwell-Doyle - Inspiration

With over three decades of dedication to resource management, hazardous materials, and environmental protection, Ms. Maxwell-Doyle has proved to be a powerful force behind habitat restoration and protection. Currently working at the Barnegat Bay Partnership as a project coordinator for estuary protection and restoration, Ms. Maxwell-Doyle's years of experience at multiple national estuary programs has made it second nature for her to implement conservation and management plans. Ms. Maxwell-Doyle’s enthusiasm for life and the environment drives her to do as much as possible to repair New Jersey's wildlife habitats while teaching others that a difference can be made.

Wendy Walsh - Leadership

As a Senior Fish and Wildlife Biologist at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Ms. Walsh has proven herself invaluable in the endangered species field for her work with wildlife such as the piping plover, swamp pink, and seabeach amaranth. Her most notable work is with the red knot, a declining species for which Ms. Walsh took the species lead in the federal listing process. Her tireless efforts coordinating, analyzing and interpreting data, particularly detailing the effects of changing climate on these long-distance migrant shorebirds has made her work widely acclaimed as the final rule. Ms. Walsh's open-mindedness to others' expertise makes for effective planning and implementation of her vision to one day recover all threatened and endangered species.

Tanya Sulikowski - Education

A champion in environmental education, Ms. Sulikowski is currently the Manager of Programs at Duke Farms where she hosts hands-on creative projects that include bird banding and monitoring, as well as rain gardens and barrels just to name a few. Ms. Sulikowski considers her creation of the Teen Action and Leadership Opportunities for Nature program to be her greatest professional achievement, since it inspires urban students to make lifestyle changes that incorporate their newly discovered love of nature. Her reach has extended statewide through her various roles within the Alliance for NJ Environmental Educators, where she currently serves as Vice President.

For more information on the 2016 Women & Wildlife Awards, please visit
www.ConserveWildlifeNJ.org/getinvolved/event/women/. To learn more about CWF, please visit www.ConserveWildlifeNJ.org.


Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey has worked to protect rare wildlife in New Jersey and beyond for over two decades. CWF biologists and educators utilize field science, habitat restoration, environmental education, public engagement, and volunteer stewardship to ensure our most vulnerable wildlife species can continue to call New Jersey home. Our dedicated and innovative scientists have helped many species recover and thrive again in our densely populated state.

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

May the sword of justice bring peace, prosperity, and gratitude to you on, or perhaps let's say after, this Thanksgiving, sometime, since things may take time and patience to work out.

I always find each American holiday--including worldwide Christmas--to feel quite different. Ever since I caught crappies in the Delaware and Raritan Canal on Thanksgiving way back in the late 1980's to contribute to our meal, this holiday has never recovered from that foray. Which is really to say that little jaunt, though I knew the spot and how to catch the crappies, that little jaunt I would have too easily evaded, and yet I had no predilection to evade it, did it, and ever since I've felt this day with a depth of solemnity that isn't stuffed and contrived at all. We only do that to the turkey. All it took for me was an hour of crappie fishing, which isn't to say the holiday hadn't any substance before, just that I feel so much more ever since that dabble. 

So gratitude to all my readers throughout the year. And if you can only feel it on Thanksgiving, or perhaps not even feel it, but honor it as you know you should feel it, you're missing out. And if you accept life day to day with an open embrace, I know you're probably reading my blog with appreciation,. 

Delaware River at Interstate 80 and Delaware Water Gap

A sudden cold snap typically puts fish off from feeding, but we've had cold weather here in New Jersey for days now, and though I hoped the stable quality of the weather might mean some fish feeding despite cold water, the Delaware River seemed completely deserted. Thirty nine-degree water clear as a bell, bottom visible 12 feet down, current slow with low water as severe drought persists; we never sighted a fish of any species, and the structure near the pillars of Interstate 80's gateway into Pennsylvania proved to be less of a fish attractor than I had hoped. I'll explain this in a moment.

We bought 2-cycle oil in Chester for Mike's untried 3 1/2-horse outboard many years old, and then gas in Flanders, listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan after I had switched off WQXR classical music to play "Shake for Me," my hybrid striped bass theme song from May when we trolled for these lightning streaks. Nothing shakes on the line like a hybrid bass. Conversation had just got started back in Bedminster and for more than seven hours total, never quite ceased. The music played under what we had to say.

At 13 State Route 183, Stanhope Bait and Boat--13 my favorite number and not surprisingly the name of a Door's album--we found the shop closed and surmised that Diane, think that's the proprietor's name, must have left for a Thanksgiving destination along with the many others crowding the highways. I shot a photo of Lake Musconetcong covered by skim ice from aside her shop.

So we continued north on 183 to connect with U.S. Highway 206, drove through Andover and stopped at a shop chiefly advertising guns and ammo. I muttered my bewilderment about live bait; Mike quickly pointed a sign to my left advertising it. So we stepped inside to immediately witness a man trying out an AK-15, I think Mike said it was. Not firing it, but peering through the sights. I better liked the shotgun typically used for hunting that I might have noticed in passing as another man examined the weapon. The woman proprietor was one of the many kinds I like--steely backbone, fit to deal with tough customers, attractive, and friendly in no way obnoxious. As she scooped our three dozen shiners, I asked her of any fishing report. She told me Aeroflex is down 15 feet, salmon coming over the gunnels. I told her we were after walleye on the Delaware and before she said more, the two gun prospectors chimed in to confirm that now's the time for those fish.

It is and isn't. I didn't say that, but of course that's what I thought. When the river warms by as little as less than a degree or two, on those unusually mild days as we enjoyed here in New Jersey just days ago--temperatures above 70--or maybe when it's considerably cooler than that but warming the water--walleye get caught on plugs in the shallows as sunset approaches during winter. Otherwise, it's jigging pretty deep and possibly tipping those jigs with live shiners, or just using a plain shank size 6 hook and a medium-size or large split shot. Shiners tempt a take or two more likely than lures, or maybe half a dozen hits rather than one or two, as back in the 1970's I fished down river at Bull's Island with my brother Rick and we caught that many walleye on a chilly December day. My coldwater history on the Delaware doesn't encompass much experience, but I have caught smallmouth bass while wading the river in December, also. How I managed to keep my feet from going numb involved standing on rocks above water level. Those were boot-foot waders I used, but not of high quality. I've fished the river enough in the cold to have rich memories.

I began succumbing to fantasies of doing what Mike and I did today about 10 years ago. In December 2004 or 2005, my son and I fished the river below Carpentersville from shore on a December 7th, trudging through a foot of snow. We rode out to Phillipsburg and cast plugs in February sometime around 2006. All well and nice, but not in a boat like that time with one of my brothers. I dreamed and dreamed of just a 12 or 14-foot boat with a 9.9-horse outboard. Artistic temperaments like mine have chemistries more potent than hallucinogenic drugs which only mimic what comes natural to us, at least if any of us has such chemistry to the pronounced degree I experience, which isn't to say I suffered my dreams of the Delaware, but enjoyed them deeply. Of course, I imagined some pretty great fish, though I knew the likelihood of getting skunked if I ever were to get out on the river, rather than fish it from shore, since after all, you can't rent a raft to float downriver in November, and I knew the unlikelihood of ever affording a boat, given my chronic financial straits. The truth is, years after the deepest of these dreams, I spent more money on camera equipment than to have paid for that 14-foot boat and outboard, minus the charges of storage space, since condo association rules where we live prohibit trailers in the lots. Finally, I had a solution after experimenting with an inflatable for a few years. The squareback canoe I keep hidden behind bushes flush against a wall of our unit.

Mike's outboard failed us today, but my 55-pound thrust electric got us way upriver without any problems. Those pillars in the photo below create eddies that I know hold bass during the warm months, since my son and I have done well wading and fishing those closest to the Jersey bank. We fished eddies only a few feet deeper mid-river, seemingly great for relieving bass and walleye from fighting cold current, but I don't think any fish were present at all. We fished very methodically, thoroughly, and then began to poke our way back downstream with the sonar graph on, finding that the same depth of about 10 feet extends some 400 yards down below the bridge before water deepens to about 12 feet for at least another 400 yards, before finally deepening to about 16...until reaching 28 feet deep across the river from the ramp at least a half mile below the bridge. So fish that must have some relation to deeper water--55 feet deep at most further downstream--don't have much structure in the form of rocky edges and deep water rising to those relatively shallow pillars, which would draw and guide them to and fro. The bottom we could plainly see beneath us is featureless and uniform. Just hand-size rocks for the most part, leading nowhere. I had hoped for a hole of about 20 feet deep just downstream of the bridge, assuming depths would increase on downward. Well, a long way downward.

And we fished those depths way downward, drifting with slow river current, keeping shiners at bottom. We came upon another boat, two anglers complaining of catching nothing, as they said they often do catch bass in the cold, though they didn't manage to find a bait shop open for the shiners they wanted, and fished jigs instead. Not that hair jigs, or jigs with plastics, don't work at all in the cold.

Always important to get out. I forgot everything else, and a lot of what is otherwise becomes very stressful and not rewarding of much pay, not that I don't recognize it's more important. It's just that it's more important yet--to forget what's important.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Round Valley Reservoir at Lowest Levels since 1982

Round Valley Reservoir reached its lowest level since November 28, 1982, on Thursday, November 3rd. I'm sure more than one individual stood at the edge when the mark fell, baiting rainbow trout and celebrating this fall's phenomenal fishing. At approximately 67% capacity at that mark, maybe catches this fall like none previous signify the difference measured in billions of gallons of water in terms of trout with less space to evade the hook. Whatever it is, I've missed out, as I said in the previous post, but I'm feeling better since I got over there this morning for some photography and talk with Dave Deluca for 20 minutes or so. It's not even December, and he's caught about 350 rainbows since the trout came ashore late in September, all but about 10 of them released. He goes just about every day, but even so, this is consistent action like I've never seen since I began fishing shoreline trout during the cold season in 2006.

Still thinking of giving the fishing a try some morning soon. My generic Ambien comes in the mail soon. I'm putting in the hours, since my son goes away to university next fall, but though it's difficult to cheat on a regular schedule--I was exhausted at work today and I got up at 9:00 a.m.--knowing how much I need to get out, I'll probably do it. Zolpidem helps. I didn't really sleep until 1:30 a.m. last night without the drug.

I'm hoping for ice this winter. Plan on hitting Budd Lake first, as soon as three or four inches thick. But I'm nervous that ice fishing might conflict with getting over here to try for lake trout in January. So little time.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Round Valley Reservoir Trout Abundance: An Answer I Never Came for

Feeling it awesome I caught this rainbow four years ago on December 5th. In the post of mine from which I stole the photo below featuring Albert Camus, if not some of the words of this philosopher-hero of the working man, certainly significant allusion signifies my association with him as meaningful to where I've come from that time, and where we've come, because whatever Donald Trump is--I once joked that he's an occasion like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the movie Ghostbusters--working men seem to have largely comprised the equation of his election. Somehow or other--it strikes me as mysterious--I found Camus's Notebooks: 1942-1951 at JFK Airport, 2012. I don't remember if enroute to the Florida Keys or Europe. Other books for sale didn't carry the intellectual importance. I read the book that fall and winter fishing Round Valley Reservoir from shore while I worked in a job I had come to love, just as Camus wrote of the way beyond despair, my taking conscientious stock of his words some six or seven years before I came to appreciate this job so deeply--thanks to Albert.

I'm feeling deeply disappointed for not making it to these same shores this fall--just down further where water used to be, as the reservoir is at record low level. I came once with Oliver for fly fishing about a month ago on an extremely windy morning, the reservoir lonesome besides the two of us. Going on two weeks, I've felt the guilt for not being there as I used to come two or three times a week, though three or four visits since late September might have satisfied this year. You can ask Mike Maxwell the Trout Assassin; he's heard my gripes masked by enthusiasm. He told me Horhey here in our neighborhood swung in with two big rainbows in his trunk recently. Fish of about 22 inches fairly typical this year. Nevertheless, the numbers and size of trout, though I don't deny the excitement and that this is what I feel disappointed about along with my not seeing friends I made there, the numbers and size could never replace the exquisite experiences of appreciation I've experienced for many more lonesome years at the reservoir and write about in a section of nearly a hundred pages in my coming memoir.

Just back from Round Valley Trout Association's meeting, I got some more details on the news a lot of people seem aware of this year. Mike Roman said, "We've never had numbers of 21, 22-inch rainbows like this before." Zach Merchant, the most famous shore angler of the host, said, "It's dropped off a little bit. Guys are still catching fish, but it's not as good as two, three weeks ago."

Behr's Bait and Tackle is closed twice weekly all winter. Word from Behr's quarter speaks of low customer turnout. News I offer in this post comes late, but that's just as well by me, since I don't care to seem responsible for high turnout for the trout. It's just that I do like to see individual men and women who get outside and develop personal appreciations which effectively embrace this world, thus hallowing this worldly presence infinitely more complex than any mind can grasp, and yet vulnerable because we are vulnerable. Let me further plug in this very important point. The natural world is quite indifferent to us. When it seems benevolent, when it answers us, it does so as an echo of our own affirmation. Not necessarily a weakened echo, but a return instead of perhaps more potency than we offered. And it does work both ways. Positive or negative. Energy is subtle, and ultimately where it matters most is human consciousness, not just the gas tank. We matter. If we destroy ourselves, that's all we do, besides taking whatever species to demise and death with us. The natural world as such will simply go on in whatever affected form we leave it. And where we go in spirit--who's to say? No one. Believe what you will. We do know energy is almost infinitely subtle. We do know that we don't know all the possibilities. And I do not want to leave this world in a bad way.

RVTA plans on stocking another 200 undersize brown trout this year. Last year's batch may easily be legal size now, but if you catch a brown trout you can legally keep, I only ask that you please put it back. The state hasn't stocked any of 15, 16 inches you might catch, and the intent of the club is observe these browns growing to trophy size.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Breaking the Bank on a Fishing Rod is no Ticket in

A few afternoon hours can fill out a day, making time off from the job a reconnection with solid assurances at the ground level, instead of presumably urgent matters running away with energies that need replenishment. I felt just a couple of moments when I wondered if I bored my son with such simple pleasures as walking the river, posing him for the photo featured above with Sadie, and fly casting. Shortly before we packed in, I had spoken of us at least encountering some trout, and added that it's important to get out and cast.

"Oh, yeah?" He said, a little too wise, as if my words fell somewhat on the empty side of events.

"If you value fly fishing."

He saw the smile on my face, confident as all the years behind me at this endeavor, since I was 10, and his doubt fled as reassurance came.

Simple pleasures like these I've noted always gratify in me much more than any denigrating caricature of them can deny worth, because the planet is an important value indeed. No one who is sane doubts this fact. The complexity is beyond enormous, but the best part about outdoor recreation is the substantial solidity it grants anyone's character who really participates. With respect to the notion of this gain, simplicity is a unification of many things, not a cop-out in relation to more sophisticated endeavors.

We hiked a half mile upstream from the lower entry of Ken Lockwood Gorge, South Branch Raritan River, in search of a pool to fish, water low, feeling November perfectly present with light breezes carrying temperatures in the 50's, and finally found a small eddying depth with lots of leaves to avoid, catching nothing as expected, and yet I thought of a large stretch easily accessible from the upper entry near Hoffman's Crossing Road, and with enough time to walk back to the Honda and drive over, we did. There I drove on down the roadway with no room for passing and parked very near this stretch I had in mind, where we encountered six other anglers and those trout I've mentioned, which, as expected, wouldn't hit, although a 14-incher did seem to take interest in my pheasant-tail nymph, not actually striking. The rhythm of casting and easy fulfillments of accuracy felt pleasurable, and I often looked askance at my son, who I hoped felt some of the same, though he is so caught up in university applications and his two high-level online math courses--if mostly caught up with his friends--that I think if there's real hope for his taking command of outdoor values I've taught him, it will take hold as he grows older. I'm unusually committed, not so much because I have time to do much of it now--many have more time and money than I do--but because my youth involved an almost daily involvement at the opportunity cost of schooling that would have been more sensible, though schooling never could have imparted nearly as much wisdom. My high school grades suffered, my SAT scores weren't great, but despite my refusal to take AP English--because I wanted to continue fishing more than take the work load--I took the AP English exam and scored a 5, the highest mark. I never forget the girls who laughed at me--me smiling and laughing in turn--when I walked into the exam room, me the only one taking the test who hadn't taken the course. Not all who took that exam scored a 5.

Besides, I read plenty. I didn't need a state-mandated high school to tell me what to read.

As we fished, I overheard conversation among four remaining anglers besides Matt and I, who knew each other. One of these guys had bought a G. Loomis, and I thought of online critiques which, at least regarding seven-weight fly rods, account better for less expensive St. Croix. Eventually, the eldest--early 40's--addressed me. I had already decided he didn't much appeal. First, he tried to tell me all the trout in the pool we fished are big. I pointed out the little 10-incher I had been watching, and spoke of this pool loaded with trout this size last October, holdovers from spring. He never acknowledged the fact, but finally a young lad of about 22 came over and had a look. In the meantime, this elder savvy fly fisherman had confronted me with imperious advice on fishing hopper nymphs, as if, perhaps, my pheasant-tail nymph just wouldn't do. I felt as if our coming President had taken hold of his soul, until I remembered that when I met and worked with Donald Trump--not flinching a flicker while meeting his eyes very directly and shaking his hand--while participating with the Bedminster environmental council concerning issues at his golf course in the township, a session that lasted at least a half hour, no such arrogance as this fly fisher-in-the-know had exhibited came from the President-to-be. But anyway, I gave this younger elder man a pass, thinking after the bristling encounter had finished that he might have been a little enthused, rather than his harboring any lasting need to be top dog.

Five or ten minutes later, another young man of about 22 began speaking, and our conversation ranged over fly fishing salt and fresh, Cape Cod to Pulaski, New York, and Charleston, South Carolina, very pleasant. Matt and I had to go. I have editing work to do tonight, and first my wife and I went out to see a movie in Bernardsville, Dr. Strange, an overdone simplification of the meeting ground between physics and spirituality dramatized pretty badly. The young man expressed hopes that he would see us again, and once again I felt fishing proves to redeem sociability, rather than get lost on "superior" knowledge and G. Loomis as if breaking the bank on a fishing rod might be the ticket in.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Moody Shots

Another summer-like day as late fall comes on, or at least a day like late May, into the 70's here in New Jersey, somewhere in the 60's as darkness came on and I advanced casts with my two-weight fly rod after setting up my tripod in the river. When I walked to the edge of the North Branch here at AT&T entry and exit, I spotted a nice trout darting upstream.

Water remains low, of course, but it's good to know there's a few stockers. Maybe I'll try again in December and give the fishing more time. I meant to get out with the sun yet over horizon, but my wife and I had to talk finances. As things went, I was happy to get my waders wet at all, hobbling over rocks with my father on my cell phone before I slipped them on, finished talking, and got in with the tripod extended. Wasn't sure I was going to fish, not at first, but as that conversation proceeded, came to realization I could get the shots I've wanted since September, put the camera and tripod aside, and cast as dusk deepened. Exactly what I did, casting two spots, but I know I need to come back here another time and work further on these low-light possibilities with the Nikon.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Strong Lamington River Flow and the Broken Dam about to Go

First encounters will deeply impress memory, if genuine. Early in the year 2000, one of my brothers, Rick, phoned to tell me he fished trout in the Lamington River. At the time, he worked as a banker somewhere within reasonable distance of getting here at the edge of Bedminster, my home town since July 1999. I had fished Hunterdon streams on a warm Opening Day, as I remember, and came home a back way to stop and check this river out. I caught nothing, but Rick's call a week or so later got me back to try again, and for about two weeks, I caught many rainbows drifting salmon eggs along the seam of current that presses around the broken wing dam--broken then, too--to then cut along a deep hole.

Summer that year, I bought the 5 1/2-foot St. Croix I especially use for bass, first casts here in the Lamington above this wing dam, my catching a smallmouth. Since then, my son and I have parked at Cowperthwaite Road's iron bridge to hike and wade on down to fish the North Branch Raritan for bass, confluence with that river a fairly short distance away, but a little trying to ford.

This awkward wing dam. It's always felt a little interesting to see. It won't be here forever. There's talk about its removal for many months now. This is what got me interested in the past week to come and photograph it, before I can't. My 35mm Pentax served interesting shots of my young son exploring it many years ago, but I needed a few for my digital files, arriving here at about 3:30, light getting pretty low, although not creating the sorts of quickly passing opportunities last light often makes very valuable. I'm looking out my window on twilight now, and the sky has cleared after I did notice some interesting light for a moment.

I had taken the opportunity of some breaks in cloud cover. It would be worth trying again around sunset, given time.

North Branch Raritan is stocked with relative few trout this month, water very low. The irony is that Lamington River not stocked is flowing strong, surely due to releases from Round Valley Reservoir into one of Rockaway Creek's branches. I wanted to also get out with my two-weight fly rod for whatever trout may be in the North Branch nearer to home, after the shoot here, planning also to shoot there around sunset, tripod with me this time, but the pressure is on and it's just too much for now with my son's university application process and my demanding job.

In relation to these rivers, I won't let myself down. The drive to achieve can trip over too many lines, those lines that novelist Franz Kafka wrote in his journal are meant to be crossed, but anyone with a salt speck of sanity knows it can be lost. A planted garden needs enough watering, but to pump a reservoir into it would leave no trace. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Few Moments of Deeper Duration

When I arrived, I felt as if all of life's troubles are worth just coming up here a few times a year and writing first responses in a notebook I keep in my car. A practice that's made occasions of doing this since summer 2014 seem a long time. Arrivals can open up perspective widely and put you directly in touch with life's lastingness. Otherwise, who would disagree that 2014 was a short time ago? A day on the job may seem to last too long, but the weeks and months track by pretty quickly, a state of affairs I don't disagree with, so long as I am able to get away and experience the value of deeper durations.

I finished a couple of pages, set the notebook aside, and confidently jaunted to water's edge, wearing the hiking boots I much prefer for gravel and rocks, to cast a Chartreuse spinnerbait. Air temperature at least 80 degrees, sunlight abundant, water clear as a bell, clearest I've seen here. Not hits came on the first few casts, and I felt convinced by the general ambiance that this wasn't going to be fast fishing.

With that clear water and cloudless sky, I suspect most of the bass moved deep, although sunfish and yellow perch schooled abundantly in some shallow spots. I fished everywhere I could, and caught nothing, although a young man showed up and caught two on a white spinnerbait--about two pounds each--by casting out into deep water, which I did too, though not only that.

I sighted a largemouth of at least four pounds in close, which refused the spinnerbait. I switched to a plastic worm. By the time I pitched, the fish had vanished. At sunset after a few hours, I had pitched and cast that watermelon-colored worm a lot, last of that this year. I also switched to a red tandem willowleaf spinnerbait, which made no difference.

It was a tough one, but I didn't give up. I thought I was on my way out, parking near the exit to cast one last shoreline, when I decided to go back and slowly fish the area where I sighted the big bass with the worm. I caught a little peace. An outing that began so well became one of the most unpleasant I've fished in many years. I can't remember the last I felt my nerves as confused while fishing as today.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Rite of Passage Leaves Open Possibility of Return: Nine Years on Lake Hopatcong

The plan was to fish Lake Hopatcong on Saturday, the 22nd, since that third October weekend, in our experience, is the best of the fall fishing. My job won't allow it, and work comes first, of course. So I struggled with what we had to do--go fishing mid-week on this religious holiday when my son would be out of school, and even this got iffy, since job scheduling remained in question for a day. Whether or not Matt and I will ever fish Hopatcong again in the fall is yet to be seen, since he goes to university next year. We've done this--almost always that third weekend--since 2007. Almost always, either he catches a walleye or I do. Rarely have we caught more than one, but we've caught many more hybrid striped bass.

The five-pound, 13-ounce walleye, 25 3/4 inches, photographed above, is our catch. Strictly speaking, I caught it, but first I said, "There's a fish on that line. You want it?"

"You take it. I caught the catfish."

I guess I should have just given him the rod after I spoke of the life on the line. And as the sure death of the live herring used for bait ensued. After we got home, I told Matt once more I should have let him have that walleye. He insisted no again. So I said, "Well now we have to get back out there in the fall sometime, because the only fitting way for you to end these outings would have been your catching that walleye."

"We'll get back out there in the fall."

We made the catch at about 2:00 p.m. near the end of the outing.

Always, we've arrived at Dow's Boat Rentals about 15 minutes before the shop opens, unloaded our stuff, and with portable running lights--at least since about 2012--got on the water well before sun-up. We used to hang out until enough twilight made boating without running lights quasi-legal. At least once, we had to walk the docks very carefully, the wood coated with thin ice. This morning, temperatures in the 40's felt pleasant by comparison to cold and stiff wind past times. Never seemed to really warm as expected, though.

I wrote a post I named "Forget Chicken Livers, Hybrids Hit Herring," expressing my personal sentiment for the lively fish for bait over slimy innards, but I recently read an article by Lou Martinez about the secret that's kept this lake buzzing with catches for at least several years now, and underwent conversion. So I bought 25 cans of liver cat food and two containers of chicken livers. The cat food for chum, the livers to put on hooks. Along with us, a Tupperware container came to mix water with cat food by use of a spoon to create a soupy mix of embarrassing goo. Why does anyone lower his standards? I guess always it's for more stuff, rather than quality, but I remain convinced this method may have some merit, because I won't argue with that stuff--amounting to phenomenal numbers of hybrid striped bass caught by fishermen who go this way. Years ago--Matt told me this morning he remembers--we fished for channel catfish in the Delaware River with chicken livers, and though we caught no catfish, we did catch little 13-inch striped bass. As I remember that outing, drifting chicken livers in current had a certain delicacy about it, so maybe I just need to catch on, I don't know, but this morning not only did we draw a total blank on hybrids, we watched another boat doing as we did--flinging cat food with a spoon--and I had to laugh, mostly at myself. I then felt very tired and curled very comfortably on the bottom of the boat for a power nap, lines out and waiting, sort of expecting the men in that boat nearby to start hooking up. It never happened. And after an hour or two of waiting on this "best" spot on the lake, we motored off to try others.

We caught fish. Catfish, sunfish, perch, a rock bass earlier on. All on herring and nightcrawlers, besides one bluegill that pecked away on a piece of chicken liver I tried shallow. Later, back at Dow's, I was told very few hybrids, and small, had been caught.

We began the morning on our favorite spot. Not only did none of our herring lines register, very few panfish telegraphed any interest in our nightcrawlers fished on the shallow end. No largemouth or smallmouth bass as we typically catch the third October week. We've caught bass on both nightcrawlers and plastic worms. They'll hit other lures. I just like using live worms on Hopatcong in October. That's how I began with my son years ago and it's stuck. Like this spot we always go to first in October with only one exception I remember.

We returned there about noon, and soon I inferred that oxygen is not re-established in the depths. Water temperature 60-62 degrees, it's too warm. Herring died in the depths, asphyxiated, and I realized that when I had the boat positioned close to shallows for the panfish, our casts didn't get the bait all the way to the bottom line of the drop-off at about 35 feet down. Not until I moved the boat further out, and then herring came up dead. Experience has taught me main lake depths oxygenate sooner than more protected areas, so we motored out to a drop-off a couple of hundred yards from shore. That's where the big walleye struck, in about 28 feet of water, though herring remained alive about 37 feet down.

Lots of fog as we motored across Lake Hopatcong before dawn, just a trace of blue.

Matt's rock bass hit a live herring weighted on bottom about 25 feet down.

Lunker bullhead pulled from 37 feet of water on live herring.

Typical yellow perch.