Friday, May 20, 2016

New Jersey Hybrid Striped Bass Action, Some Trout

Mike Maxwell and I departed Bedminster at 4:35, arriving three minutes ahead of schedule at Dow's Boat Rentals, 5:17. By then, plenty of light in the sky brought me back to earlier times, before I bought portable running lights, and a half hour later, no visible sunrise afforded a photo op. Temperature slid a little, and though no wind made life miserable, for at least two hours, more like three, we felt pretty cold, even though we wore winter coats.

We trolled. Mike caught a yellow perch to start things off, and then a trout. I felt like out hiking, traveling such a distance way down the lake, almost into the State Park flats, turning as shallows started to hang our Rapalas with weeds. The slowness of action made me feel as if a lot of effort had gone into a leisurely boat ride. I thought of the 30 bucks I blew on a planer board. If you want my honest advice, for flatline trolling, keep it simple. That's the advice Fred Matero gave me, but I bought this piece of plastic and haven't used it yet, if I ever do. I also spent another 30 bucks on silver-plated Sutton spoons. At least they're collector's pieces, but they may prove of no more value to me than this, and I can sell them on Ebay someday if I want. By all the evidence I've gathered, these top-notch trolling spoons that reflect light like no others, no longer get made. I rigged one with a tungsten bullet weight, quarter ounce. The concentrated density of tungsten is less complication ahead of the spoon to possibly turn a fish away. I tied a small barrel swivel five feet ahead of the wafer-thin spoon, so with the weight, the spoon does ride about four or five feet down.

But we caught all our fish on Rapalas, except for a pickerel I caught on a Phoebe, small fish of about 17 inches. I caught one of the small trout the state stocks in Lake Hopatcong to feed cormorants. Oh, I forgot, the true intention is to serve fishing license holders. I guess the only way around the inevitable fate for such a large percentage of stocked trout statewide is to stock only breeders, except of course in streams where cormorants don't do their damage. Stock fewer, but fish cormorants can't swallow.

We headed towards Byram Bay when I got fed up.

"Mike, it's so slow, what do you say we buy some nightcrawlers. I know places where rock bottom has no weeds, and there's got to be some smallmouths around."

When we began, water temperature registered 56 degrees. Fifty six degrees. It's almost June. At that temperature, not even smallmouth bass spawn. When we left, 59.

I figured no hybrid bass wanted to play in water so cold, which is why I trolled a Phoebe on a second rod in a holder, figuring, well, at least trout will. Water is about as cold as was a month ago, 53 on April 17th.

Judged that wrong. I decided to make a final trolling pass of a favorite spot, before getting the crawlers. My five-pounder struck. And for the next two hours, it felt like non-stop action. What a difference some fish make. The second fish I had on much bigger than the five-pounder, you have to understand how hybrids fight with extremely energetic punches--one of those bursts of convulsive power snapped 12-pound test fluorocarbon, and not at the knot. I kicked myself 52 times, well, how many times I don't really know, but I knew with a distinct burning sensation that the loss was my own fault. I had set the drag just slightly too tight, not by a wide margin of error at all. I use thin-diameter Power Pro braid and a fluorocarbon leader of about four feet.

And then another struck and the drag screeched before the hook pulled. I fought yet another a long time, and just as Mike lowered the net, it turned broadside for both of us to judge as about the same size as the bass I caught, and the hook came out.


And then I said to Mike, "I never feel bad after a fight like that when the loss isn't my fault."

After this I caught one a couple of ounces over 3 1/2 pounds, and missed a couple of hits or they missed me. Mike had a hunch about his Rapala. It stumped him because we both used #9 silver floaters. He had caught the perch and trout on just that plug he used now.

"Bruce, could this broken hook have to do with it?"

"I doubt it, but here." I un-snapped my Rapala and handed it to him, taking his.

Minutes later, I said, "This plug is screwed." I checked the tie-on, wasn't that, but it did not run right. I snapped on a perch-pattern Rapala.

Finally Mike caught a hybrid just shy of keeper size.

Dow's Boat Rentals

Monday, May 16, 2016

Catching a Couple Largemouths Despite Cold Front

Quite a cold front came through with temperatures in the middle 40's during rain last evening, and with mostly clear skies this evening at Round Valley, temperatures fell from the mid-60's. Busy all day, I arrived at the main park entrance at 7:00, and as I expected, found that's when it closes.

Listening to a Stevie Ray Vaughan collection on the way there, I sketched plans of taking my wife through the main entrance sometime this summer, paying the entry fee, and hiking a trail into the reservoir's rear and back. Since I've been reading a book on photography--the present chapter on photographing plants--I had hoped to find some flowers today, but maybe we'll find some summer blooms, and besides, I can come in the spring during years ahead to try and find early blossums.

I began by fishing in the wind and wishing I had loaded six-pound test monofilament that deals with the likes better than braid. Pretty soon, I took Sadie and walked back into the woods to try and find those flowers, but found some pretty interesting scenes instead with sunlight quickly vanishing.

And then I went back to the reservoir, ready to slow down as the wind had died, and figured I'd get skunked with the cold front. A big hatch of mayflies danced over the water, best I could make them out, yeah, they were sulfurs. I saw a few dimple rises well out from shore, and someone told me he caught an 18-inch rainbow yesterday, so they're still in close.

Something small picked up the Chompers weightless, and after another 10 minutes or so, I caught a largemouth of about 10 inches. I stayed well into dusk, catching another of about 11 inches.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Bass, Relaxation, Photography at Round Valley Recreation Area

Some outings just invite you to slow down and relax. When my son and I fish Avon Pier on the Outer Banks, North Carolina, I enjoy hours at a stretch doing almost nothing, not that the rest of the time I'm inactive: casting a jigger, casting and retrieving for flounder, and teasing pompano from pilings. At Bahia Honda Channel, we enjoyed non-stop action with snappers and groupers, and yet we fished for six or seven hours at a stretch in blazing sun and humid temperatures in the mid-90's. It felt like the entire world stopped for me, and the suspense bridged time all the way back to summer after summer in the bay clamming for a living behind Long Beach Island, New Jersey. I experienced on a deep level a continuity between that time during the 1980's to 2012 when we last visited the Keys--as an unbroken life never lost.

This afternoon I got to Round Valley Reservoir after rain had stopped not long before and began by fishing the pond. As I approached my favorite corner, I thought of how another chapter of my life has turned, since I'm no longer coming here so often as I had since 2011, now five years ago. I fished that corner today feeling as if I'll never catch up to fishing again; this year I haven't got out much, and when I toyed with my camera--getting shots from close angles I thought pretty cool, but really aren't all that special--just afterward I felt as if photography interests me more now. This corner as dead as last year's fishing revealed nothing; I left the pond feeling a little resentful, but knowing I couldn't pin it on anything. (Last year I wondered if ice fishermen have taken a lot of fish home.) I know a lot of fishermen feel vengeance towards spot burners, but I never see anyone fishing this pond, besides a very few over the past five years.

I gathered my stuff to fish the reservoir, not possessed of any serious concern for a few big bass I lost in the pond years ago, which made the experience special, since I can never know how big. I know how a bass of about two pounds or possibly much better takes my weightless worm. Sadie, my black Labrador with me, behaved well, and I sat on the dirt and gravel and began casting, which in total I must have done for an hour-and-a-half hardly moving from one place.

Small stuff got me interested right away. Taps and hits from any sort of fish piques interest. When light from the setting sun made miracles happen, I leapt up and ran with my camera around a bend to try and get shots of amazing light on the distant Cushetunk mountains. Later, driving home, I considered buying a Nikkor 17-55 mm lens, which will cost a lot of money, but sure enough, once I tried to process in Lightroom raw images from the "kit" lens, the Nikkor 18-55 mm, the color balance for most of the images proved to be all screwed up and irredeemable. It's as if this relatively inexpensive lens is only good for ordinary light, but my expensive Tokina 11-16 mm and Nikkor 70-200 mm lenses served me just fine this evening.

Best of all, though--just sitting there fishing that weightless worm. Allowing the world to stop. Because, man, I've been busy, and if I don't relax sometimes, I will burn out. Relaxing at home just does not do it as does fishing real slow.

I caught four largemouths, 10 and 11 inches, but the possibility for a really big bass in the reservoir is enough to make me feel very patient with the small ones. Over the past five years, I caught quite a few over three pounds and one five-pounder. Who knows, maybe the likes will happen again.