Monday, June 6, 2016

Artificial Leech Jigs for Smallmouth Bass

Artificial Leech Jigs for Smallmouth Bass

          Several brands of synthetically produced leeches are on the market, three to five-inch lengths serving as great trailers for 1/8th to ¼-ounce jigs, wide gap hooks not necessary with the leech riding behind the hook’s curve. Bass’s eagerness to gobble them sometimes involves the scent, the mixture tank tested for effectiveness by at least one company, and artificial leeches have a fluttering action like no other bait or lure. Actually, they’re a combination of bait and lure. On descent and retrieve, the leech waggles up and down similarly as natural leeches swim by ribbon-like undulation.

          In reservoirs, lakes and rivers where leeches lurk, smallmouths eat them aggressively. If leeches aren’t nearby, smallmouths will grab your bait anyhow, opportunistic feeders fooled by natural quality to quick response, a plastic bait perhaps ignored when an artificial leech works. In any case, as an alternative to twister tails and tubes, leeches may whet your own curiosity. On one occasion, I used a three-inch size on a round-headed jig in the North Branch Raritan while seated in a canoe. Casting to four feet of water, I let the jig and leech descend to bottom and rest a full 20 seconds or so before, sure enough, I got a pick-up and caught an average stream bass. Sure that scent did the trick, I knew lake and reservoir bottoms or deep holes of the Delaware can produce the same way.

          Regardless, essentially a jig is a tool to tap rocks when it comes to smallmouths. Whether or not the sound emitted makes any difference seems irrelevant, because the action of the jig on the bottom is lifelike, the best cadences requiring subtle skill. I don’t always achieve them.

           The most sustained jigging skill involves a trance-like state, not merely of mental concentration, but bodily dexterity from arms, hands and fingers. It’s no big deal to people who don’t reflect on it, but rather than being mechanical technique, jigging is not a calculated rhythm, but motion from nature within an individual going on down the line and behaving like something alive in the water. It’s like performing music. Art imitates life, it’s said, and this is possible fishing a jig. It’s not something anyone can always do to peak performance, since inspiration is episodic, though practice invites this controlled play and can create a magic touch to some degree anytime you fish, and most of the time the bass display some reluctance to hit and need to be teased.

          The slightest difference in how a jig is fished by irregular cadence on stone, compared to just jerking the rod tip, can result in a take. Look at the minute irregularities of creatures like crayfish moving on stream bottoms. They give you some idea of what pains can be taken to retrieve a jig with a bass anticipated nearby. When fishing rivers, let current work in your favor. Forage gets swept into places bass await, as does your jig. It’s not always so easy in still water.

          Be aware of rocks with space underneath. Whether you fish an undercut river ledge or let a jig drop off the edge of a big submerged lake boulder with space underneath, the sudden appearance in free fall amounts to a deadly tactic. If you’ve ever caught a really dark, if not black, smallmouth bass, it came from deep remove away from daylight. Bass hide back under stones if they can. More often they wait in ambush at an open area underneath or just under a ledge. When a jig falls right in front, the bass has little more to do than suck it in. Flathead swimming jigs work best this way.

          If you fish 35 feet deep along a drop-off where a point deepens, you’ll need at least a quarter ounce on six-pound test monofilament. It’s easy to get lost in depths greater than 20 feet. A half-ounce football jig will give you good solid contact on six-pound test quality braid. Some anglers have no qualms about going this heavy or heavier, but my own preference for going light involves subtlety I try to present. I lose feel, but with each tap—if that much is felt before the lug of a bass—connection increases and the difficulty diminishes.

          It’s a lot easier to let fast current sweep a jig into an eddy where a bass nails it hard, but current also takes some work. Keep enough tension in the line to feel a tap and set the hook, without dragging the jig unnaturally in the flow. If you fish the river, it’s best to cast upstream at about a 45-degree angle, but if you’re floating fast in a canoe through riffles, just pitching the jig across to get it behind boulders in shallow water is very effective. Haul the bass over the gunnel and release it quick, because opportunities pass you by in no time. Always carry a 10-pound mushroom anchor in a canoe, raft or kayak. All sorts of deep, fast runs with enticing boulders, slower stretches rock strewn, deep black holes and sharp ledges present themselves in a wonderland of bass opportunity.           

           Working a jig on bottom isn’t the only way to fish. Artificial leeches move with an undulating rhythm on retrieve, just as real leeches swim. So a jig can glide on a slow to moderate, steadily arching retrieve back to the boat, thus possibly being effective for bass in limbo over anoxic water. In any case, experimenting with retrieves and flat-headed swimming jigs can yield results, so long as you get the lures where bass await.

          I’ve witnessed a lot of impatience and blind casting over the years. It’s not enough to know a structure. The jig has to get on the spot, or very close to attract a bass to give chase. Bass have lateral lines sensing anything in the water for yards around, but typically they won’t move five yards to overtake a lure just cast out and reeled back. Too much gets compromised for demon speed on the water. An electric motor is a great—f necessary—tool. Falling to the temptation to letting it carry the excursion away invalidates use.

          On the other hand, sometimes bass surge with life and no point exists in painstakingly detailed

cadences to get them to bite. A quicker retrieve and heavier jig takes heavy hits. These may be the

times best remembered, especially if the action dies before we’ve had enough.

P.S. Sorry about the odd typography of this last paragraph. It's not intended. For some odd reason, Blogger won't cooperate. 


Sunday, June 5, 2016

Father and Son Fishing: Recreation's Way on Lake Hopatcong with Lots Caught

Once and awhile an outing let's me know it's touched the reason--with flying colors--of why any of us live on this planet. Whether walking, floating, sitting, or laying back on this ball in space we call Earth, today I feel I've done the best for myself, my guests and the whole global event. I guess this doesn't leave Mars out of consideration, since my mathematician son wants to get involved with NASA in the effort to go there, but today Steve Slota, his son Tom and I stayed put on 2680-acre Lake Hopatcong, covering some range while especially pursuing hybrid striped bass but not failing to find a spot with promise, anchor and slow interest from six species of fish increased.

About slowing down to speed up, I read Marilyn Ferguson's book Personal and Social Transformation in the 1980's a long time ago, in 1984, but I've never forgotten her specific idea. To move about all too fast, consumed in means, is to forget the end, the reason anyone cares to live--happiness or at least the pursuit of happiness. Perhaps the pursuit confuses a lot of people who don't know how to stop and let the world catch up to them. Pursuit involves means, but happiness is an end in itself, the final reason for everything we do. Even the worst examples of destructive people exhibit acts of frustration at the lack of happiness in their lives.

Nearly 400 years ago, Izaak Walton wrote The Compleat Angler, a book destined to become one of the most bestselling book of all time, next to the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer reprinted more often than any other book besides the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, according to BBC Radio. Ever since Walton developed the theme of fishing as a contemplative recreation in his book, writers who fish have echoed him, because the proof is in the experience. Walton didn't create the fact, but exemplified the truth by fishing and writing as no one else before him had. The notion of contemplation and fishing goes back to Jesus Christ--who chose fishermen as disciples--and long before.

To separate the prefix of the word recreation by hyphen emphasizes what it's all about, re-creation serving as the way to renew life. Ever since 2004, the year Steve introduced my son and me to camping and fishing the Delaware River at Barryville, New York--the four of us floated a 3 1/2-mile stretch with all day to take our time--ever since that year I've honored my son as responsible for getting me back into recreational fishing with a passion. After years of fishing during my boyhood and teens, I worked as a commercial shell fisherman for 13 years until I met Patricia, my wife, and that clamming endeavor involved the most hardcore outdoors efforts I've enjoyed. I worked New Jersey brine in wetsuits during January and February, and besides all that, summited Mount Washington in New Hampshire and camped on top during the winter, to go on and hike the rest of the Presidential Range during a long weekend, but that backpacking experience--despite 80 mph wind and zero-degree temperatures--didn't trump clamming.

With clamming finished, it took me 10 years to figure out I really needed to fish seriously again, thanks to Matt. I had fished all those 10 years at least two dozen times each year, often a lot more, but why Matt got me so involved hints at more of what recreation's all about. To have a child is to re-create in the deepest possible way, and raising my son through fishing, capturing and photographing snakes and other reptiles and amphibians, hiking and camping, fossil and mineral collecting, birding, has proven not only beneficial to the success of his intellect but the balance of his temperament. So I feel very honored to have taken a father and son fishing on this Saturday. Especially since they're both good family friends.

We began trolling my favorite spot, Tom and Steve each quickly catching two small hybrids minutes after sunrise, and just about as quickly, I judged we needed to move on, further trolling passes yielding nothing. Instead of trolling along shore, I revved the Dow's Boat Rentals Suzuki engine to full speed in forward gear, and pretty soon we entered Byram Cove where a roundabout trolling pass brought nothing aboard and again I moved us onward.

Familiar with our third spot to explore, I felt the hunch--as if everything so far this morning led to this area--and yet the first pass did not feel right, and I felt a little anxiety, as if maybe I had guessed wrong. How could that be? It's never a guess made merely in my head; my hunches come as experiences making it more difficult to apply words and concepts than to simply proceed and catch fish. Or split. Sometimes all I can judge is absence.

I had a fish on as we had turned about to angle through the large cove differently, and then soon boated a big crappie. Rather than relate all the details--we caught too many fish yesterday for me to do that, let alone provide photography for each--it's worth mentioning I lost my first Lake Hopatcong trolled largemouth bass, a bass of nearly a pound-and-a-half, and pretty soon caught a hybrid striper of about the same weight, clued in immediately to the spot worth slowing down for. The cove itself large, a sort of mouth to one of its sides features a bowl of 24-foot depths and a rise on up into shallows 10 feet deep. The hybrid stuck a shallow-running X-Rap over 14-foot depths just beyond the present weedline.

This time I ordered live herring before going out. Just before stopping to anchor, Tom had another fish on he lost, and said, "I like how it feels right after they get hooked."

I told Tom I knew exactly what he meant. That's my favorite feeling while trolling, too. And it only happens just that way by trolling.

How long we stayed put, I have little idea, but fishing felt fast, even though we felt the world stop for us. "This place is amazing," Tom said. "We're hooking fish all the time."

I knew, however, the likelihood of hooking a really big hybrid here hadn't much hope, so we tried two spots on the way to our favored trolling passes. Three dozen herring had seemed enough to buy. When we ran out, we had finished our attempt with them and tied on lures. I cast a weightless Chompers worm to a dock and on the third cast hooked a largemouth.

When we began making the last trolling passes, Steve soon caught a 15-inch hybrid. We missed some other hits--they struck short, except for one that slammed my Rapala X-Rap, throwing the hook when it boiled the surface.

Hybrid stripers, crappies, yellow perch, pickerel, largemouth bass, a smallmouth bass--an interesting eight hours on New Jersey's largest and most convoluted lake.