Thursday, April 13, 2017

Spruce Run Creek Trout Fishing and the Deeper Current

Until February 2016, I hardly knew Spruce Run Creek, besides its grand entry into Spruce Run Reservoir, a spot I knew about for big brown trout during the fall seasons of the 1970's, but never got there until 2005, fishing for northern pike, trout no longer stocked in the reservoir to hold over and grow into trophies or otherwise avoid the intent of anglers. I used to pass the creek on my way north to the Delaware Water Gap from Mercer County during my teens, but have no memory of taking any notice until my young family moved into the region going on two decades ago. That February, on my way to a kayak shop to view the merchandise, I stopped at the creek at Schoolhouse Road and did a photo shoot.

This spring was going to be a sleeper, my getting out to fish trout infrequently and only with my two-weight fly rod, but instead, at the deep level I have a lot to thank Mike Maxwell for. (The Trout Assassin.) I met Mike very shortly after my family moved to Bedminster from nearby Chester in 1999. He was 20, and I believe that was either fall 1999 or spring 2000, at the U.S. Highway 202 Bridge over the North Branch Raritan. I happened on him fishing trout, as I readied to fish also, and conversation struck up as naturally as the setting. I was 38 or 39. About the age Mike is now. I learned very soon that he lives just around the corner in my neighborhood. We were the only two fishing that afternoon.

On another occasion at the same spot during the fall, I fished alone and filled a pocket with a limit catch of brook trout hardly a millimeter more than legal size, took them home, boiled them rather than fried them, and the meat was as tasty as lobster but more tender and the broth better than that of Mercenaria mercenaria. The Latin means money, but you can guess about the designation. This is a whole other can of worms, this story, yet appropriate to this afternoon. Money has everything to do with my fishing salmon eggs this spring, because without the need of mine to earn a little more money, I would have stuck to my fly rod.

We used those salmon eggs today and did rather well. As I was telling you, last spring, I caught a five-pound rainbow trout on my 6-weight fly rod, and I was headed upstream from thereon where no one can find me, flicking flies. But meanwhile, The Trout Assassin was fishing like he never has before in his life, me happening upon him as he smoked trout on his grill, or sat out on the porch in the sun as I drove into the neighborhood, the two of us catching up on each other's news as I stopped the car with the window down. Salmon eggs. And I remember thinking, "Well, this is what I've wanted to see for the last 20 years." Mike really committing to this purpose, or this folly as most people think, fishing.

Since January 2015, I've changed jobs three times. The previous job involved fly fishing. Had I stayed with it, that's of course what I would have done this spring, but working at a supermarket chef studio, I earn better pay as needed. Mind you, supermarket. The conventional sort. Food. Sales involved that might compare in a very broad way to stocked trout and the most effective, rather than most refined, way to catch them. Mike's Salmon Eggs, the most popular brand, are a long-time convention, though eclipsed in recent decades by crass Power Bait. Power Bait is some sticky mess that floats. All but useless for fishing the subtle nuances of currents. And though salmon eggs themselves are conventional, the method I've used from the age of 14 isn't. On the market today, you won't find an ultra-light spinning rod less than four-feet, four-inches long. Mine is three-and-a-half feet. Much better of a wisp than any you can buy today. I cast a weightless salmon egg a centimeter in diameter on a tiny size 14 hook. And I fished a three-and-a-half foot rod when I was 14, too. Built it from a rod blank and other components.

It's a very effective method and too much to describe in this post, but certainly easier ways to catch trout exist, though you won't catch as many as you can by really going light--and doing it well. If you want the easiest rainbow trout from a creek, go ahead and find a hole with a very slowly current where 150 trout have been dumped, weight your line with a big sinker, and let Power Bait float in front of the noses of those trout. Letting a salmon egg drop into view of those trout would be more effective anyway, but on this tackle I describe, fishing is more like the grace of an orchestral conductor and his baton, than like the stage engineer cranking the curtain up.

During those teenage years of mine, I wrote and got published a lot in outdoor magazines, but why--all these years since--I never reread any of these articles editors eagerly took is a deep mystery to me. Part of this mystery is easy to understand, however. I have a thick folder containing about three fourths of the total published, and I never wrote an article, not during those years, that a magazine or newspaper did not publish. This folder never got out of my wherewithal, though how a fourth of my articles got lost, I don't know. In fact, the article most crucial to me now--on this salmon egg method--came back my way contained in the entire magazine issue from an old high school friend about 10 years ago. He sent his copy to me by snail mail. I quit writing the articles at 18, convinced I would become a great novelist and looking down on outdoor writing as beneath lofty artistic ambition. (Self-contempt is unavoidably problematic, but this is a whole other bucket of fish.) I wrote those articles. And all these years since, or since sometime after I had distanced myself from them, I imagined I wrote them badly, compared to the great writer I had become while filling enough handwritten journals to comprise about 500 books.

So I never read a word of them. Easy to guess that's all it is. I thought they must have been badly done. I never read a word all those years. Until very recently, delighted to find they're good. Really good.

And the article my friend mailed me is central to why I am back out casting salmon eggs with Mike. Bait as light as a beadhead nymph.

Mike and I fished the North Branch Raritan Zoo for about an hour after Spruce Run Creek. Not many here today.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Belvidere, New Jersey, Visit

 Martin's Creek Power Plant on the Delaware River

For years, I've meant to take my wife to Belvidere, "beautiful place to see," in Italian. Matt and I fished there in the Delaware River at the mouth of the Pequest seven years or so ago, trying for stripers at night with live eels. I've felt obliquely familiar with the town since my teens, passing near it on the way to the Delaware Water Gap and back, and so naturally, my curiosity grew. Somehow or other I learned of Victorian homes, and I imagined there would be a nice downtown to walk.

The plan included driving from Milford to Reigelsville on CR 627 along the Delaware River, a drive I've never made, but time prohibited. We would have continued north through Philipsburg. We did take I-78 west to Philipsburg, got on CR 621 from U.S. Highway 22, and followed the river to Belvidere, a fairly long ride. I parked in the town's center and said, "It's not what I thought it would be." Patricia had asked me if there's a downtown to walk, and I said there was. Later, as we drove home, she asked had I lied. No. But I told her I should have been critical of my belief and said I didn't know.

As we stood in Belvidere, the Pequest River racing under a bridge, she made fun of the town with her typical dry wit, though I don't remember the words. We saw only about half a dozen Victorian homes. Most are early 20th century. But one of the Victorians, pink and very large, up on a hill, especially fascinated me. We were driving out after ice cream, after I went inside an antiques co-op that didn't offer much, but Early American Life magazine was interesting, though I didn't buy an issue. I turned around and drove down a dead-end street. A trail lead up to the house, but I not only judged it wasn't appropriate to walk on up; parking there in front of a couple homes would be too nosy also.

So we rode out to U.S. 46 and stopped at Hot Dog Johnny's. Patricia expressed confidence that we'll stop here again in May, since the powers-that-be where I work won't want to pay me time-and-a-half back to back, she figured, on Memorial Day weekend. She wants to return to Millbrook Village in Delaware Watergap National Recreation Area. The thought of really hiking up Van Campens Brook with my two-weight fly rod flickered in my mind. Last year, we visited Layton and the Little Flatbrook before arriving at Millbrook Village. I plainly judged that to fish the Little Flatbrook, you have to walk right up the middle of it between a lot of brush. Since I've begun working at Shop Rite nine months ago, one of the butchers and I have a running conversation on fly fishing New Jersey streams. He's talked about that Little Flatbrook a number of times. I knew last year that if I were ever to do this, it's not a trip to take my wife along. The butcher confirms my initial observation: you have walk straight up the middle of the stream, and it's tough casting.

There's so much worth doing, which the American hegemony of economic power concentrated among the super-wealthy won't allow so many of us to do, because we have to serve them just like slaves--paid peanuts as tokens of American freedom--with very little time off to pursue values a lot more worthwhile than Bread and Circuses. I refuse to be their victim. It is better to fight and die while refusing to submit as the voiceless sacrifice they might demand you be, than live as a victim. This doesn't mean I don't work, hard and efficiently. Just the opposite. What else do I go to my job for than to work? There's a lot I don't agree with. But I punch that clock. And within that time I agree to work, I do my best. It's my work. The very little I am limited to.

 Pequest River

Country Gate. A stage presentation of Into the Woods at one of the first venues I noticed as we drove into town, the play piqued interest. Not only do I know the book, the young man who sought adventure and freedom was moved by deep yearnings that must have been similar to what moved me to walk out of society to harvest clams commercially in wild bays, which I did for 13 years as if away on a very prolonged Jewish Kibbutz. I wasn't the only one, and that's the reason I can draw that comparison.

Trout Opening Day

It was tight. I couldn't find my leader wallet Thursday night, so that ruled out getting up for 8:00 a.m. starting time, since I spent the hour I would tie snell-hook leaders looking for that wallet. Took longer than an hour the next night to tie four leaders anyway. During that interim, I found snelling hooks--which I used to enjoy doing--impossible with my failing eyesight. Actually, I gave up snelling two or three years ago for this reason. Even wearing reading glasses that correct any problem reading--not using any right now--I can't judge leading the line through loops to get the knot. So now I just tie directly to the loop, which doesn't impart as direct a pull upon setting, but at least seems to make no difference.

We got to the Zoo nearly 11:00. That's what Fred's affectionately called the AT&T stretch. Or if he doesn't mean it that way, I do. I helped Matt get set up and let him cast and drift his glo-egg weighted by four snap swivels snapped onto a snap. A BB split shot would have been better for that high water. Had I remembered to bring any. I meandered around shooting photos.

"Hey, the spy from Field & Stream is photographing us!"

I let go a belly laugh and the guy laughed with me. All round, the scene had a good feeling that remained every bit as constant as the river current.

When I rejoined my son, he had missed two hits. I rigged up the same and soon caught a typical rainbow. Cool weather had no nip to it. It really felt very nice as I leaned against a tree trunk, leisurely pitching casts and keeping a tight drift, missing two hits before it began to feel repetitive and we quit.

No time for Peapack Brook and there didn't need to be. We went home to family comfort and reconnaissance; I cleaned the trout, and then drove off to my job.