Thursday, September 1, 2016

Saffin's Pond, Mahlon Dickerson Reservation Bass

 Mike got a shot I would have liked to have saved for magazine use, but this bass was a bleeder hooked in the gills, one of the few inevitable unfortunates an angler can only hope for upon release. I said to Mike after the bass bolted, "I could have kept it for my wife." "Yeah? She likes bass?" "Loves bass." "You?" "Not really." Habits are hard to break. You hope a bass like this survives when you let it go. Doesn't look like it at all.

Another hour-and-a-half outing before work, to Saffin's Pond with Mike Maxwell the Trout Assassin. I promised bass, waiting on a cloudy morning. This I was able to plan since Monday. We even got a little rain. I knew the two shorelines to fish. Promise fulfilled, but shucks, all mine. Devoted time to showing Mike the casts: pointing where, naming targets, even pitching for him from high atop the gravel trail down a 12-foot high embankment between branches narrowly spaced...I've hooked bass this way. And otherwise. To stomp down to water's edge and then cast is to miss about 25% of opportunity, bass scooting out of sight.

This is pond fishing. Twelve acres. Lakes larger than 50 acres typically don't have such overhangs, trunks and limbs in the water, bass inches from banks that drop pretty sharply. What's the wooden structure of Lake Hopatcong, for example? Mostly docks, by far. Landowners keep things pretty neat and trim.

So I caught four. That was our total. All on weightless. The favorite Chompers. Not the watermelon color now. I like some purple, blue and green fleck mixed with a green underside just more than half the length. Guess the bass do, too. It's not that I've never noticed differences in numbers of takes by color, but I usually ignore switching around. At least if bass take, as usually they do.

As we hiked out, I said, "They say it's just chucking a worm in, but worm (plastic) fishing really isn't easy. Takes some experience." And as I've said in earlier posts, I could do this for my rest of my life and never totally perfect the art. That's not to say that most every outing, I make casts I see in my mind before I begin my swing--actualized exactly as I pictured. Tight in to cover. Under a bush with inches between leaves and water. But when I'm off a foot, I've missed. I only reach perfection a few times on an outing, and the best part about it is that it's no big deal.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

North Jersey Bass, Salmon with the Sun Watching Overhead

The new job's going well, exercising my back and other muscles; we're getting out despite tight time, and today fully confirmed I'm back to normal. Let's just hope things stay this way. Now it's a little hard to believe that during my 40's and early 50's I was 55 pounds heavier than I am now. I couldn't lose it by exercise, not that I didn't try at all, but I hated working out in the gym, except weight lifting brought back just a touch of nostalgia for high school afternoons when I lifted regularly. Before going off to fish. Instead of running a treadmill, I listened to Gary Null on WNYE and WBAI at noon while on the job as a driver for many years. I took his advice on what to eat and what not to eat; what to drink and what not to drink--and lost the weight. Now that my new job is physically demanding to mild degree, I've gone from very uncomfortable pain in my upper back to barely feeling any in about a month. I feel more in step with time moving along at ground level, and I'm fitting outings into my schedule, which I feared I wouldn't be able to fulfil.

Someday, I want to have every minute my own: writing, shooting photography, fishing, hiking, boating, urban outings, travel. But that's not to waste time dreaming about. If I live to retirement age, its a given anyway, though I'd like to achieve enough earnings from writing and photography before I'm that old. It's just that--I'm pretty old. It's not so long off now. If I don't make those royalties, that's not the most important thing anyhow. The man I consider New Jersey's greatest outdoor writer, Jim Stabile--who was my favorite reading when I was 16--told me last year: "It's not about you. It's about the reader." The debate over whether writers should write for money or not has gone on for millennia and will never end, because writing isn't on the clock. I think anyone who wouldn't accept a check gratefully doesn't understand appreciation implies trade, which necessitates the medium of exchange, just as I also think an artist--writer or otherwise--who doesn't well practice the business end of his endeavor fails at the best antidote to states of mind that might make him a little crazy. But I never forget Jim's words, and also memoirist, novelist, and poet Sheldon Vanauken's, who wrote me, "Books are letters to friends."

Initial plans had Matt and I fishing on Friday, but the head chef had to change the work schedule, so I got this one day off this week instead of two. I got up this morning late and set directly to loading the car, needing Matt's help to car-top the squareback canoe, which weighs about 100 pounds. For a moment there, I felt loading and unloading four times altogether might be so much physical work as to cross the line on what's worthwhile, but the busy work felt invigorating as it should, and rolling the canoe fully loaded--70 pound marine battery, 55-pound-thrust Minn-Kota on the transom, etc.--about an eighth of a mile to the lake never became very difficult, just testy with the dolly pretty weak near the center, weight shifting.

We got out there, and I realized I had left behind my box of jigs. After I took account of the cloudless sky, that is. No doubt, bass could be deep. Sun already burned my face. I swished another cast, the weightless Chomper's worm touching down where I had my doubts any bass would lurk, but after 20 minutes total, I caught a two-pounder. Or a little better. Maybe 45 minutes later, Matt caught his only fish, a bass, though later--near sunset--an Atlantic salmon would crash the surface where he lifted his Binsky bladebait after retrieve, missing the hooks by less than an inch. (My wife took my word yesterday as a promise that we would have super-fresh salmon for a late dinner tonight....)

And sometime after Matt's bass and no more hits from anything but very small fish--like sunfish--it finally came back to me, especially with moderate wind a problem, that allowing weightless worms to sink as deep as 15 feet or more among weeds just wasn't getting to where most of the bass might be, so I reached for my tackle bag, hoping to find a few jigs. None. But I found a pack of quarter-ounce bullet weights and rigged up Texas style, feeling a little giddy, thinking I haven't done this since I can remember. Second cast. That's all it took. I was into another near two pounds hooked 25, maybe 30 feet down at the end of a rocky point.

If you fish, you know how that goes. As if you've found--the pattern. Another word for Holy Grail. As if bass after bass will now come over the gunnel.

But Matt hooked a nice one 15 minutes later.

"Now we're gonna get 'em," he said. His grin belied a mischievous quality unlike his sober intellectual self. His hit 25, 30 feet down also, at the bottom of a drop to the left of the point I thoroughly plumbed. Net in the water, the bass suddenly dove straight for bottom, drag crackling, and pulled free.

"How big would you say it was?" Matt asked.

"Close to 18."

We never quite got 'em. We took an interlude, trolling for salmon and marking very, very few and small. Finally, we visited a spot that's only failed me once. We fished outside the little area that always responds, with those weighted worms. and nothing happened. Finally, I told Matt we should retie and go weightless. I moved us in a little closer. The worm the way I'm used to it alighted right where I knew--beyond any doubt, right?--it belonged. Immediately, I felt a heavy take and knew this bass had to be big. Or at least three pounds big. More like three-and-a-half, and that's about the size it proved to be. Could have been 18 1/2 inches and an ounce or two more, but I didn't measure her. About eight feet of water, vividly clear with an emerald tone beneath the surface of blue reflection. Sunlit as can be.

"I should have told you to cast there," I said.

"No, I was still taking the sinker off," Matt said.

It was a long six hours or so. The sun accompanied us. Or at least me. I never found the words to express the feeling to my son, a feeling yet tentative, as if all that sky-blue had weight in a balance to judge me yes or no: is this still worthwhile, this sort of thing? A few times, Matt had his mobile device out, and I asked him if he were on that farce of reality, Facebook, though I didn't denigrate the tool for him. Just asked simply.

"No, I'm communicating with friends," he said, and I don't even recall whatever the medium he uses to do that, though he told me, a little ashamed. I quickly thought of how absurd it seems to chat with friends while out here, but said nothing, and further felt the doubt--not oppressive, just iffy--about whether his being out here in "nothingness," as a high school friend of mine once called wild places, is really worth the time.

Now we were after those salmon again, but tolled on far back, where I figured 20 feet of water at most covered any fish, to try bass out of the wind. Instead, I found an interesting drop, and realized we entered the vicinity of the lake's deepest depths. Coming back up a little, the sonar registering a hump, I saw herring on the graph--and lots of salmon on them. We made a number of passes, marking more fish yet from 28 feet up to as shallow as 14, though only a very few small ones in water that thin. And I just knew. None of these fish were going to shoot up to grab a Phoebe spoon as one had in July. So we tied on Binsky bladebaits and began jigging where a few marked directly under the boat. Soon, the graph revealed many dozens of salmon swimming under us, a few of them leaving the trace of the unit's largest fish icon. I had told Matt that by now, some of these salmon are at least 22 inches. Well, maybe 26. Who knows.

Unexpectedly, five or six did bust the surface. I tried to remember. Was it August when I've seen them crash surface herring in recent years? Or only July? I'd have to check my handwritten log. Water temperature at 82 on the surface, I'd like to know what it is 20, 30 feet down. Not so cold bass don't like it.

Matt got his best thrill when the salmon slashed at his Binsky by the boat, and that's all the attention we got. I sure took off on some more trolling passes with the Phoebes flickering under the surface just after that incident. And then we returned to dozens of salmon directly under us that wouldn't hit. I tried jigging a Phoebe, too.

On the way towards the gravel where we would pull the canoe, scuffing the polyethelene a little, we cast weightless worms to another predicable spot, and I caught a bass of less than a pound-a-half. Then we tried a shallow little cove just beyond, a pickerel rushing the worm as I quickly retrieved for the next cast I never made. I tied on a topwater plug. Sun had set a half hour ago. The lake had calmed, though a very slight breeze persisted in the main. This brought back Lake Musconetcong memories,  where we only fished topwater during summers. We spoke about this, some of the best fishing we've done, and my feelings warmed.

On the way home we talked like we haven't talked in a long time. Hours before, I had brought math up, but he's occupied with summer school work and had nothing to say, as if we could have conversed on stuff he probably finds as difficult to verbalize as the sorts of things my mind processed through long silences out there. Now we talked--fishing. Took us 35, 40 minutes to get home, and though we did not talk non-stop, we both voiced values we share.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

On the Big Pond with my Wife and Son

 Trish feels apprehensive after I've backed out of the docks and snapped this shot, just before I engaged forward gear. Matt and Sadie sit stolidly.

This outing I've awaited ever since trolling in May with Brian Cronk, when I got the idea of taking my wife out on Lake Hopatcong. I ran it by her when I got home; yeah, she brightened immediately. But as the event drew close these past few weeks, apprehension grew on her. It would be too hot on the boat; well, as you can see by the photo I grabbed, it really had little to do with temperature. I kept telling her, it's not the same. She's used to stepping out of air conditioned buildings and feeling the difference as a kind of shock. Once you get out on the lake, even if temperatures hang in humid mid-90's, it doesn't feel the same at all, but you do need to drink water. Friday, temperatures never hit 90. (Once she said she was too cold, after spray dampened her clothes.)

Cut to the quick--she enjoyed the boat and the lake. She got over the disorientation she felt at first, though she never voiced more than her earlier guess about heat. We rode mid-lake from Dow's Boat Rentals to the old Yacht Club rock pile out there in deep water, and I gave the wide area a thorough search, marking very few small, fish on the sonar. Sometimes big hybrids work the edges during the summer--from what I understand, perhaps mistaken--where herring bunch up. I showed her Sharp's Rock and marked few and small there. Ditto Pickerel Point and out far from the drop, where I marked a solitary fish 33 feet down; so somehow out there, oxygen penetrates a good 10 feet deeper than most of the lake now.

So far, we hadn't fished, besides me trolling a Mann's Little George, one of those half-ounce lead-bodied tailspinners that still don't get down very deep on the troll. I had a hunch as we approached Davis Cove and soon started marking a lot of fish, apparently hybrid striped bass of a pound to perhaps three, unless my new Humminbird portable has smaller icons than my previous. We spent at least an hour offering them live herring on five lines before we motored on, checking Elba, checking where Brian and I found big hybrids stacked in May further down towards Sunrise Point, one or two little fish. (Those fish in May wouldn't bite either.)

We crossed over to our favorite spot to try and hook smallmouths. Matt came up with a pumpkinseed on a herring and I caught a yellow perch. On the way there, I found fish where I expected them, up near the top of a drop-off suspended at 17 feet over 23-foot bottom, but I wasn't ready to fish there yet. Eventually, we abandoned any smallmouths where we've caught so many big before and headed well out in the lake to fish that drop. There we stayed until the sun set, and I caught a smallmouth bass less than a pound as light changed, having first offered the rod with something mouthing the bait to Matt, but he refused. The herring meeting the bass halfway needed no weight on the line to find it's end. A couple of lines I weighted and set directly down over the sides, and I wondered about setting slip bobbers, but never took the pains to rig any up. I had all six out. 

I knew this spot offered a chance at a big walleye, smallmouth--who knows, maybe hybrid. Anchored, we fished long and thoroughly, occasionally a school of herring with smaller size fish associated passing under the boat. Guess they were smallmouths and not very eager to eat. As the herring did most of the work, I must have shot 250 photos. Most of these I've yet to delete, but a margin hit the mark, more than I've posted.

On the way back to Dow's, I realized I've never taken a swim in Lake Hopatcong. Mostly, we fish colder water: May, October, November...through the ice. But we've been here summers, my son and I, once me with Landolfi, since 2007. It's not that I want to go to State Park and hit that beach, but sometime get out on some remote rock and take a dive. I put my hand in the lake as the boat cruised at about 13 mph, wet my face with that clean deep, deep blue, and all the while, I couldn't escape a growing sense of guilt.

Albert Camus, the 20th century existentialist, offered the best definition of guilt I've come upon: not being here. That's what I felt, not that I hadn't entered the experience of the afternoon and evening I was leaving with my family, but that the next morning, I would have to get up and prepare to go work at a supermarket. I felt as if I better belong on the lake. More than purely personal gratification, this world we share needs grand affirmations now more than ever, as the effects of the Industrial Revolution threaten us with consequences happening now, but which we have yet to experience the full results. I thought about my feelings Friday on lunch break the next day, and thought: if the world needs grand affirmations more than it needs me on the job, why has the world placed me here, instead of circumstances having worked out to favor me affording more time on the lake? It may seem silly to think that way, but childish thoughts sometimes help to humble the sense of everything in my life seeming to rest on my choices. No one can choose more than what's available to choose.

Hopatcong's more and less a wild place, and that includes a lot of the residents, the society pretty heavy on the partying, not that I judge the lake community in the negative, and I wouldn't mind moving there. But in my life, I went as wild as I possibly could in the bays behind Long Beach Island, trying to understand the secret of nature, another childish idea, but results came in spades...including my need, eventually, to get out of the bay, off Long Beach Island, and back into society. Philosopher Ayn Rand wrote that a man can't remain for long in a state of nature, not that this statement is earth shaking for anyone. We all seem to know. Obviously, I want to go back...enough to feel the depths. But if the wild couldn't support me then, it can't now, either. I go do my job with gourmet meats, vegetable preparations, and seafood as the continued effort to make up for the society I threw off as a young man.

A couple of hours after that late lunch break, the only coworker with me this last evening made the remark seemingly from out of the blue, "Work is a necessity."

"It is," I said, trying to be as even-toned as possible, because I knew this guy means it right on the level. The two of us cleaned our work stations thereafter in silence, minding every detail, and I felt the bond between us not in words, but deeds.


 "Fire on the Mountain" T-shirt: a favorite Dead tune of mine. Matt reads In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action, by Ellie Alderman and Caroline Kennedy. One of his rods, baited with live herring, rests against his foot, and if he had a take, he'd have felt it.

 Ghostly Sail

 Miss Lolita, the 58-foot cruise boat.

 Jefferson House restaurant, arrive as you will.

The Jefferson Diner serves the best food of the many diners we know of in New Jersey