Friday, August 12, 2016


Just experimenting with an idea I dreamt up for a novel about five or six years ago. My writing mentor, a poet and novelist I won't name to protect his privacy, took a stay at Carrier Clinic in Central Jersey. He'd undergone cancer treatment, had a bad reaction to chemo, got hospitalized again, and in some state of delirium, muttered words about suicide. You know how it is in our uncertain times, when no one knows simple care anymore--you get thrown in the looney bin for no reason, really.

So I went and visited him there; conversation found us both intensely lucid, under the circumstances...he soon won dismissal from the place and never resented the experience, finding it interesting material.

How's this. As I was driving down U.S. 206, I thought of a former job as a meal carrier by car, this during 1992. I was asked to pick any number for my long-range, two-way radio handle. "601," I said. A mile or two before coming upon the road I knew Carrier is on--just by physical association, familiar with the area, not by road name or number--I thought of this novel I might write, 601, about country roads, radio music connectivity, and other weird linkages between signposts of sorts. As I drove out of Carrier two hours later, I headed back out that same road, and something nudged me to look over my shoulder before turning left onto 206 towards Bedminster. Well, check the number. It's a Country Road, right? I figured now I need to learn as many as I can.

CR 601.

That's the road Carrier is on. Didn't fully blow me away. I was already thinking of weird connectivity.

I'm still thinking of our recent Boston trip. Maybe this one particular novel, if I ever write it, needs to do with interstates and state highways, state highways like CT-15, also. Clear of the Metropolitan region, I switched on the radio, turned the dial, pausing at three or four stations worthless to linger upon, and then hit upon Boston's "Foreplay/Long Time," this certainly worth our time, the song just warming up. Trish and I both love the band--and Boston.

"Bach on mescaline," I said.

Trish chuckled. I started thinking I really need to study up on Bach's musical structure, to find correlations of any significance between Bach and Boston, the band. I notice Boston's alternating notes in a few falling-tone guitar riffs, which suggest Bach, if I'm not mistaken, though this pattern is too trivial without more substance behind comparison.

Further on the way, sort of suspended in Island Time, three hours feeling at least a little closer to eternity than strictly to hours, flying up Interstate 91 in our brand new Honda Civic--Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Free Bird," live. The live recording. God, I had never before heard it so well. The standard recording absolutely sucks by comparison. And this bird will never change--won't you fly high, oh freebird, and I say, yeah!

The Topwater Bass Secret

The Topwater Bass Secret

          Ninety-degree noontime sun scoured my neck. Anchored along a weedline, fishing weightless plastic worms 17-feet deep, water reflected in our faces, dead calm, making line control easy. We set hooks into average-size bass. When chop began to build, I looked around, thinking of an alternative to finesse. A boat ventured onto the large weedy flat behind us, and I witnessed a terrific surface strike. One of two guys lifted high, moments later, a largemouth of at least three pounds. The sky informed me why. Clouds thickened, not enough to block sun entirely, but the amount of light endured a process of change. Minutes later, they boated another bass just as big and I rowed to try Hedden Torpedoes well aside from their fun.

          Once July heats up, the word among bass anglers is early and late until about mid-September. Traditionally, we think it’s because of relatively cool temperatures, but largemouths and smallmouths have an eye structure that advantages them to see prey, like shiners and sunfish that don’t see them as well when light is changing. This is what university research has suggested, though bass don’t have the tapitum lucidum retinal eye structure that allows walleye to see well in darkness, but something a little different. According to what I’ve read, it’s a chemical structure specific to light in transition from brighter to darker, or vice versa, and not necessarily light occuring early and late.

          Changing light helps explain why topwater plugs, buzzbaits and soft-bodied weedless lures like Phat Rats and Scum Frogs are so effective in the morning and evening for bass. Bass scoot along below, looking upward to better see the outline of forage, and our friends the apex predators of so many waters go on the attack. Naturally, if bass have this advantage, they’ll use it, choosing to feed especially when they best can. But what many anglers don’t know is that topwater lures can be deadly effective in the middle of summer afternoons, so long as the degree of light is changing.

          We know about topwater bass at night especially during August. Changing light doesn’t explain how good the fishing is, especially for lunkers, unless the moon shades in and out of clouds, perhaps. Surface action can be terrific on rainy afternoons when cloud cover remains constant, too. Changing light doesn’t explain everything. It can, however, make you more confident in a surface lure when it happens.

          When my son and I approach bass in the morning, we get to the pond or lake well before sun-up. We’ve had to contend with bears active in the lingering dark, but never have reneged on our enjoyment in taking advantage of the full spectrum of transition from night to day. We start fishing with some blue to the east. I feel as if every cast is golden, and always target very shallow spots first. Experience has informed me that big bass like very shallow water a foot or two deep. They feel comfortable and emboldened to feed in the quiet. Very early and late into dusk is when we find them in skinny water.

          Even on Round Valley Reservoir, Fred Matero and I have nailed smallies on Torpedoes right up against the banks among rocks after sunset. At 18-acre Mount Hope Pond, I once took the liberty of what felt like a perfect first cast into a corner a foot deep. “Bloop, bloop, bloop—kabam!” Minutes later, I lifted a bass of nearly five pounds that hit as if previous hours stored gusto in its muscles just for this release.

          I’ve spoken to some anglers who feel topwater fishing is strictly a shallow water affair, three or four-feet deep maximum. Nevertheless, especially when bass strike on the surface during the afternoon, topwaters may be effective over 10-foot depths. Usually, this is weedy water, though not always. Smallmouths strike topwaters fished over rocks 10 or 12 feet below the lure at times, invariably a matter of clear water.

          On lakes like Hopatcong and Wawayanda, reservoirs like Spruce Run and Round Valley, all of these waters in New Jersey, finding bass may seem more of a challenge than need be. Hopatcong and Wawayanda are loaded with weedy habitat for largemouths, and yet a morning’s outing can seem slow as if bass are scarcer than places evidently serving as good habitat. Make every cast count. If nothing hits, you’ve eliminated water. This doesn’t mean no bass is present. None may be interested. If I feel a dock with lots of vegetation deserves more than one cast, I’ll offer the plug again, perhaps angling it in closer to a sweet spot, but I’m more interested in covering a range of water before the sun gets up. Experience has taught my senses to leap to alertness when, for examples, a particular open pocket in weeds or a corner along a weedline seems fishy, but I don’t stay too long. I’m always looking ahead for further spots to make casts wortwhile.

          This principle of selective casting doesn’t depend on having already figured out a lake, knowing what to expect. When my son and I visited Jefferson Lake on an August evening last year, fishing began slowly and I felt a little bewildered fishing here the first time. I caught the first bass after 20 minutes or so on a Torpedo, and then fell right into the groove. An hour and a half later as we got out with darkness approaching, I had caught four more, not a big catch, but satisfactory. My son didn’t mind that he got skunked, but he was a little curious as to why. I told him he has to feel the purpose behind every cast he makes by learning to sense where bass might be, based on previous success.

          Likewise for bronzebacks. Once they turn on at about sunset at Round Valley Reservoir, I forget my leech jigs entirely. Every cast has expectation behind it, because I know these bass are active and it’s only a matter of the plug coinciding with interested quarry below. During the day, Round Valley smallmouths hang tight to rock piles (not only along the dikes) in water as deep as 35 feet or more, and as shallow as about 15. Mostly, the bottom is sandy gravel and fist-sized stones vacant of bass, but the situation loosens as sunset approaches, smallmouths spreading out actively after forage and invading shallows where shiners take refuge. I work topwaters fervently, often by quick-paced retrieves. And the hits come—in foot-deep shallows and over 10 feet or more of water.

          Whatever it is that drives us to fish the surface, whether it’s the thrill of the strikes or the tantalizing uncertainty of figuring out whether bass want a slow cadence on calm surface or quick chase, whether it’s the awe of provoking big bass to erupt through vegetation so thick only a weedless soft plastic suffices, or if it’s the slam a buzzbait draws from between stick-ups, we seem to fish this way ultimately for very similar reasons bass hit. It’s in our nature to pursue.     

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Honored by an Interview

I am honored by Chris Dubble, creator of Go Fishing Now, and Director of Training and Curriculum, Temple University, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He interviewed me about my writing and photography for his excellent website, so I want to pass the link to the article along to my readers, and also encourage you to explore his site. He takes a keenly active interest in fishermen and fisherwomen. I've never before encountered a site like his, and need to take some time, when I get it, to read more in-depth. It impresses me as extremely relevant, because behind every angler is a life. Fishing is not just about the pursuit and the catch, but why we do this and who we are. There's never been a phenomena in all of world history quite like fishing in America, which seemed to peak in the late 1970's and yet, to the contrary of the pessimists, is not only here to stay but remains a thriving community of people who need to "catch that feeling," to quote a Jimi Hendrix album cover, of all figures, and a community who our forefather, Izaak Walton, called a brotherhood.

That's something iBass360 seems to have picked up on, the bass fishing organization I belong to, so many of us calling each other brother, right off the cuff. Many of us otherwise, and many of us with cynical motives, too, would think that's because of the rap music revolution, but on the contrary, what is the rap revolution without a close affinity to the ground, to the soil, and thus to the water? Who would argue against the obvious low-down, ground-level, no doubt gutsy, influence--from where--driving those guttural lyrics?

Never forget that "Good Times," a direct take from the very first rap song, speaks of clams on the half shell, of those hard clams--that is the common name of Mercenaria, mercenaria--which populate the bottoms of bays, typically in mud. I'll tell you why not to forget in a moment.

I have a photo of myself at age 25 I refuse to post, because I vowed to a friend I'm keeping it private, or at least for years to come yet. But I will describe it. Hair to my shoulders curly and kinky, no shirt, deep suntan, very short-cut offs, bare feet. I sat in a blue chair in a  fine living room as I looked directly into the camera lens with a most direct, level gaze.

Now. Miles Davis, arguably the most influential jazz musician of the 20th century, produced doo bop, which hit the market in 1989--elevated (jazz) hip-hop. Ann Lebowitz photographed him for the cover. This photo I mention of me my brother Rick shot in 1985. When Ann clicked the shutter--I don't know for a fact, but it's quite possible, and quite likely--she did so after my brother's shot. Miles has no shirt on, exhibits long kinky hair, but he does wear long pants--black and yellow--a cheetah pattern. Bare feet. His posture more and less approximates mine, but he smiles faintly, as if clued into a joke.

Music and me familial, a link to my dad is at the bottom. And he's not only sacred choir music and organ recitals. Under his direction, the American Boychoir performed with Paul McCartney, just one example of what he's told me.

I spent 13 years in a profoundly ironic exile, because certainly not from the Earth--land and water. Merely from formal society as a self-employed bay treader, a clammer who earned money self-employed. I worked my feet in mud, mostly. Sometimes whitish sand, it's true. All the way down, as Hendrix wrote, that great guitarist fond of the word--dig. As a clam digger, I rose all the way to the sun, too. But the point is, there's more to effective influence than the media, and yet, without the media, nobody ever knows. So again, thanks to Chris Dubble.

The link to the interview follows the link to the Wikipedia article on my father:

And here's a link to a little more about clam treading:

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Putting in the Time and Effort for School in Boston

We left Bedminster at 11:45 a.m. Monday to return from Boston, Cambridge, and Newton at 10:57 p.m. Tuesday, feeling as if we enjoyed a week's vacation. Before I took on my present job with its long hours and no vacation until next year, I thought of adapting a different appreciation of life. Call it up-tempo perhaps, my managing to get things done in spite of the cramp. I'm not quite used to it yet, as I've always relied on time to let go, reflect, and spontaneously think and write with no need to watch a clock. I feel as if now I've entered real time, when I spent 13 years in Island Time during younger years...and never quite got over that.

Now's an opportunity. I plan on never actually retiring, because a writer never quits, but someday I will be done with jobs. I also spent 13 years on the road for a credit union, with tasks to do for an hour or two a day at Headquarters, and though road stress is real and so is loneliness, that job I loved for its last five years or so never had the moment-to-moment demand on my every move in the company of coworkers my new job qualifies for in spades.

Before I write, shoot photography, and fish full-time, I want to pay my dues. I've led a life I feel proud of: full of adventure, creativity, love, and recreation. I want to know again what it is to feel pressured under watch all day and do well at this. I've had lots of temp jobs like that in the past, but they hardly count, since they didn't last. I've done all sorts of jobs, actually, and think of two years as a supermarket cashier. That allowed pause between customers. Someone mentioned today that he hasn't had a day off in three weeks. This makes me curious. I'm wondering what it's like to be deprived of the sort of recreation this blog celebrates, which comprises no less than the good life.    

Since April last year--until recent--my former job clocked about 33 hours a week and allowed for internet, reading, and even keeping a notebook, little clock watching needed. I wanted instead to take on more of a challenge with demanding tasks filling out all of my hours, along with hope for advancement, so I left that job for this new effort. I certainly got the tasks, whether or not I'll earn the advancement. I'm not concerned about that yet; I just do my best to keep adding new chores to my habits, catch mistakes before they happen, and learn from the mistakes I couldn't help. I make a difference, obviously, because without me, they'd have to hire someone else. I've taken extra steps forward by finding more to do than asked, and I've taken a few backward by forgetting what's required. I bring home more pay now, and that's essential to what this trip to Massachusetts was all about: my son's schooling beginning September 2017, whether university or college.

I'll tag-line photos to give you a little sense of whereabouts. Of course we went to the North End's Union Oyster House Sunday night for dinner. This made me think of a coworker, since he mentioned the spot, where I ate with my father when I was 14--a whole bucket of steamers--and Patricia and I probably ate there in 1993 or 1994. Afterwards, we got to the Harvard Coop bookstore 15 minutes before closing, which gave me time to take note of Howard Gardner's Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed, a book for our time in defense of these fundamentals. I've read a lot of Gardner's work on intelligence, he's a major thinker, and may read more by him yet. I also took note of yet another book on William Blake, of which I've read a few, as well as every word the poet wrote, both silently and aloud to my son when he was little. I've read the entire works aloud to Matt, and I've read the entire works silently for myself, as well as plenty of the poems, proverbs, and pronouncements otherwise many multiple times both silently and aloud to my son. Who does the likes in our hyper-modern world? I have, because Blake inaugurated this age we enjoy: "Energy is eternal delight." They thought he was insane, possessed by the devil, for saying that, a radical statement which, to his time, belonged only in the fires of hell. Matthew's middle name is Blakely. I could have suggested the name Blake, but I like the adverbial suggestiveness with the ly at the name's end. You might think adjective, not adverb, and that's OK. But if any poet ever wrote with Godspeed, first recommendations for honors might go to Blake. Matt's no poet. But math quickens by Godspeed, too.

I could write all night if I had the time, and I suspect you haven't so much either, so I'll end by saying I felt the MIT admissions talk and tour especially excellent. I felt right at home with MIT, especially with the humanities the university offers, and Matt will feel at home with the math department, if he is selected. Boston University is Matt's mother's alma mater, a huge university with high standards and I think a good second choice. He'll apply to other schools, of course. We'll keep fishing, too.

One last mention. At MIT Press bookstore, I came directly upon Bringing Society Back In by Edward P. Weber, a book about grassroots ecosystem management, accountability, and sustainable communities. I bought it for three dollars with my Central Jersey Stream Team friends in mind. Doubt I'll ever read it cover-to-cover, but I've perused it and know it's worth the honor of having, though of course that honor especially goes to the people like Andy Still who put in the time and effort.