Saturday, October 6, 2018

Nice Largemouth South Branch Raritan

Killies left over from the time of my "Rough" post, the Island Beach State Park outing my wife and I took on September 16th, have survived very well even without use of my aerator, although three of the largest did die when I was keeping the bucket indoors about two weeks ago. Cooler weather and keeping that bucket on the porch was perfect.

So very late this afternoon I finally went to the South Branch Raritan, to my favorite stretch alone except for our black Lab Sadie, and found the river running very high but not very off-color, visibility a little better than two feet.

I had to check the depths where I often catch bass, the killie rigged with a medium split shot, though I was all but certain nothing was going to hit there, because the current was strong. Two drifts, the split shot clipping bottom, were enough. I aimed a cast downstream to the edge between current and slow water, an edge not very well defined, but the cast veered left to put the killie into the slow water. I let it sink a moment and then began a slow retrieve, feeling a firm pick-up within a couple of seconds, letting the fish take for another two seconds, and then setting the size 6 plain shank hook into a nice fish.

Not only did I forget my new Rapala digital scale; I forgot to set drag to accommodate six-pound test instead of 15-pound braid, just as I forgot last October when Mike Maxwell witnessed a big smallmouth snap my line of the same test. This time the fish didn't threaten a heavy run so fast, and I was on that drag, loosening it.

This fish wasn't nearly as big as the one I lost last year, but it was a nice largemouth, the largest of this species I've caught in any of these small New Jersey rivers, 16 inches, and though there are bigger largemouths in the rivers, you don't very often even come upon small ones. Before I left after sundown, I had caught additionally three regular-size smallmouths of nine to about 10 1/2 inches, all these fish hitting along edges between that heavy current and where it slows against shallow water.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Deep Drop-Offs: October Top to Bottom

Deep Drop-Offs: October Top to Bottom

Lakes and reservoirs with enhanced fisheries offer anglers the possibility of catching multiple species from a single anchored position, thanks to New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife and organizations like the Knee Deep Club and Round Valley Trout Association. In October, many steep drop-off’s hold largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch and pickerel among rocks and weeds as shallow as a foot or two, perhaps crappie in mid-column depths, and walleyes, hybrid striped bass, and in some reservoirs, trout, 20 to 45 feet down. Classic grand slam catches of various species take laurels among many angling circles, but it’s possible to do three or four better, if you include channel catfish as factor 8. Sunfish don’t amount to nothing, either, and a variety of colorful species inhabit our waters. If you succeed in lifting a painter’s panoply of all sorts of gamefish over the gunnel, an outing can feel like a dream, fulfilling the sort of action making fishing feel easy for a while. Hitting it just right, especially after mid-October, isn’t all that difficult to do, once you’re clued into the right spots.

Anchor Mid-Point

As a general rule, setting anchor in 15 to 20 feet of water allows you to fish herring weighted by ¾-ounce slip sinkers on bottom with two rods per man, while fishing shallows with the likes of Senkos, spinners, jigs, or nightcrawlers. Perch and sunfish provide plenty of action if you use what my son used to call his “secret weapon.” Under Matt’s influence, I deeply succumbed to using nightcrawlers, contrary to my typical preference for artificials. They teach me a lot about nature’s rewards. When offering a nightcrawler, if a bass awaits nearby, sunnies or perch scatter and let the aggressive predator have the bait. I’ve caught October largemouths on several or more consecutive casts without a tap from panfish. You can also jig 10 to 15-foot depths and score crappies in some situations.

When Round Valley Reservoir fills again, rip-rap will produce. Weight rigs for trout 15 to 30 feet down, and catch smallmouths and largemouths situating among shallow rocks. Merrill Creek Reservoir may offer similar opportunities. Spruce Run Reservoir (northern pike possible) has rocky drops with hybrids possibly on the deep end. Greenwood Lake and Monksville Reservoir have sharp drops, walleyes and bass. Is a musky an impossible factor 9? Of course not.

Finding the spot is everything. If you don’t own a boat, Dow’s Boat Rentals at Lake Hopatcong will accommodate you. If you’re not familiar with the structure of the lake or reservoir you intend to fish, go to NJ Division Fish & Wildlife Lake Survey Maps online, buy the same in book form or purchase a Fishing Guide Map of the lake or reservoir in question. You’ll see deep drop-offs holding fish designated by close contour lines. A fish finder will possibly help you pin-point schools of hybrids or walleye pods, although especially walleyes may hug so close to bottom that they don’t mark on the graph. Chiefly, use the sounder to orient where to anchor and set bait deep.

Deep Drop-Offs and Oxygen

An all-around figure for walleyes and hybrids is about 35 feet deep, but experimentation yields results. By using multiple rods, you can set bait up and down a drop-off from 20 feet to the bottom edge. In my experience, the bottom edge is key, and I like to spread herring apart by 15 yards or so, casting so the sinker drops where I know the slope ends. Don’t worry about getting this exactly right. Experience will teach you, because walleyes and hybrids will take your generous offers, even if they have to swim a few yards from that edge we only suppose they like to follow closely.

By October’s third week, Lake Hopatcong usually isn’t entirely turned over with oxygen re-established in the deepest depths of greater than 40 feet or so. By noticing how deep fish mark on the graph, you get an idea of how far that oxygen has penetrated. Far from cove and shoreline protection, out on the main lake, Nolan’s Point and the Ledge, for examples, take greater wind action and may feature oxygen deeper than other spots. When you first set herring, let them be for 5 or 10 minutes, and then reel back at moderate speed so as not to force them off hooks. See if they’re alive. If so, you’re good to let them bait your quarry a long while. If the spot is new to you, try to determine if bottom is rocky by graph indication or by feeling rocks while retrieving the sinker on bottom. That’s hazardous and you may get snagged, but this will tell you the spot is fishy. Rock is better than mud. And any sort of snag usually means additional cover.

Worthy of mention, a hybrid striped bass revolution has occurred in recent years, many anglers switching from live herring to chicken livers. In my opinion, this is about as close to the definition of revolution fishing can come, since the difference between a super-lively (but delicate) herring, and a piece of dead bait from the innards of a bird is divergent, but the new method, involving chumming with liver cat food, is very productive. For our purposes of anchoring in one spot to access both shallows and depths, chicken livers are problematic, not best right on bottom. You would have to use slip floats, and that is doable, though less so with heavy chop. Part of the beauty, however, of letting a herring do its thing on a 4 or 5-foot leader anchored deep by a slip sinker is simpler focus on fishing. Frequently looking at reel spools with bails open to spot any movement is easier than the demand on attention a bobber inevitably compels. Line either rapidly leaping from the spool (hybrid striper), or slowly unwinding towards the pick-up guide (walleye), may feel more thrilling than noticing the same associated with the drag of a slip float out there.

Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, Pickerel

As mentioned earlier, October largemouth and smallmouth bass often inhabit very shallow depths of as little as 1 or 2 feet. Fifteen feet is about maximum, pickerel sometimes in the mix. Rocky shallows top side of the best drop-offs are great for both bass species this time of year, especially with some weeds associated. Water is cooling quickly and bass like a sharp incline into depths as they begin orientation for the cold water season.

Especially if you can find a large, undercut, flat-topped boulder—cast a jig, weightless Wacky rigged Senko, or a nightcrawler inflated by a worm blower and impaled on a size 6 plain shank hook, weighted by a split shot. Right on top, slowly pulled over the edge so it drops as close to the rock as possible. If any bass is waiting in shadow to ambush something highlighted outside, it will likely pounce. Some lakes have huge boulders with 10 feet of water or more directly in front of them. We’ve caught bass after bass in situations like this.

Walleye, Hybrid and Trout Rigs

Walleye and hybrid rigs are simple: 6-pound test monofilament, size 8 treble hook through a herring’s nostrils, 4- or 5-foot leader of same test tied to a small barrel swivel, ¾-ounce steel egg sinker allowed to slip on the mainline. Whether a rod is fast action, slow action, moderate, 5 feet or 7 feet, this matters little, though you will get a longer cast with a longer rod and better accuracy from shorter. We use medium power. Set the herring; let it swim wildly on the leader. Tangles happen less often than not, but if you want to spend the money, fluorocarbon mainline sinks and gets out of the way of that herring. Braid line does tangle much easier than monofilament or fluorocarbon. I don't recommend use of braid for this kind of fishing.

For trout, use single shank size 6 hooks, same rig otherwise, although leaders as long as 10 feet by use of longer rods may prove effective on suspending trout. Marshmallow and mealworms, Power Bait and shiners produce.

Don’t wait to set the hook, once you notice line moving. Line passing through an egg sinker can get caught around an obstruction or gut hook, if you don’t tighten up and set immediately. The herring wear each treble hook like a crown. Single shank hooks placed through nostrils turn awkwardly against the bait’s head. Usually, walleyes or hybrid stripers get hooked near the outside of the mouth, but have a pair of plyers or a hemostat handy for a walleye that gets hooked in the back of the mouth.

High Winds and Interesting Results

If you double anchor, you can beat wind swinging the boat side to side. We simply use a single 10-pound mushroom anchor. If windy, a long length of rope allows the anchor hold. Even with the boat moving left and right, the herring lines manage not to tangle, but for some, this might feel nerve wracking.

Some of our best catches have accompanied high winds. Motoring from one spot to another, we’ve noticed everyone else fishing out of the blow. Asking them about catches, unhappy reports came. Gamefish like a lot of commotion in the fall, rough surface overhead just right. Brave it, and you might do especially well.

Bass and pickerel get caught on crankbaits, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and traditional plastic worms in addition to jigs, Senkos or nightcrawlers, possible choices too many to mention, but my son and I, friends besides, like keeping it simple. Whether you fish lures or nightcrawlers, catching bass and pickerel, perch, sunfish, and crappie while keeping an eye on lines out for deep denizens makes fishing more interesting, particularly when a good-size bass rivals big walleyes and hybrids down below.   

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Work Hard, Fish Hard

Caught in a quandary between the job I hold, and possibly a new opportunity, I take the chance to reflect just a little as this pertains to fishing. At present, a company in Summit wants me to take an online interview involving webcam use, so I tried a practice question and felt appalled at speaking into a screen. If they allowed written response, you might agree I might do well, but my point would be that even though I would be advantaged, because practiced at words on a screen, I would be able to follow through with the promise. I let this interview go, I'm not doing it, because even though I might not interview in person as well as some do, I've done it before and can do it now, even if my cynicism has increased greatly facing such scrutiny since I was younger and more sincere.

That might read: Bruce doesn't really want a new job. And perhaps this is true. When Oliver and I waded Mulhockaway Creek Friday morning, I noticed that my stamina and energy on a streambed is better, now that I'm almost 58, than it was three and five years ago. A couple of North Branch Raritan posts relate my self-doubt as I had aged, feeling the stress of exertion as I walked and waded. Three years ago, I lost about 60 pounds, but this was just the beginning. Actually, I went from 266 all the way down to 192 last summer, now up to 210. (Last summer I was on a lower dose of a certain medication.) At 210, I'm not terribly overweight, over six feet tall, but now its the exercise I get on the job I notice saliently. Upper body musculature has returned. I carry heavy stuff. I feel muscle in my upper back and deltoid region working as I carry out tasks during the day. I walk here and there throughout the supermarket gathering items to prep and from the kitchen. I'm always on my feet.

The difference is big. I remember the shape Affinity left me in after sitting in a car most of the day for about 13 years. At the country club, I sat too. That left me in terrible shape to take on the supermarket, and I pushed like all hell. Now it all goes a lot easier. A major stumbling block for me, considering a new job with those regular hours, increased vacation time, holidays off, and maybe interaction with more intelligent people--important to me--is the loss of exercise. If I am to take a mailroom job, I'll be on my feet some of the time. These jobs typically require ability to lift 50 pounds, and I see lifting as one of the opportunities, not a drawback. But the customer service I see as a possibility will require even more sitting.

I'm not certain, either, that a corporate environment will offer that intelligence I seek. Where I used to work, it took more than 10 years before I became friends with the Security Officer, an intelligent man about 10 years younger than me. We share the photography passion and still connect often on Facebook. It's true that I settled into connections with people from all sorts of departments and branches sooner than that, relating perfectly well with people on all status levels, and by the time I got laid off, I had developed into a dignified older man who could have taken on responsibility at a much higher level than I occupied, but not only is convincing anyone else without paperwork--a suitable degree--all but out of the question...I did try to get a position with Business Development...the cultural atmosphere today, as it was three years ago, maybe not as badly then, is distracted and uncertain, cynical and indifferent, which is not to say conversations characterized by verve and focus never happened where I worked, they happened often, but to say that the bottom line is broken everywhere. Trust at the fundamental level of competence is missing. Without this, the balance sheet itself is a blur.

Companies of all sorts depend first and foremost on the people who comprise them. Without a firm gut--I'm always writing about my fish sense--the bottom line ultimately cannot hold.

For a large part, I can't complain about my customers at the supermarket. My boss, who I work with a couple of hours each day, suddenly treats me with kindness, as if the spirit has informed him I might go elsewhere. What the specialty counter would do without me, I don't like to consider, because it would be awful to leave it in the lurch just as my boss finally seems to realize I do the work, do it well, and am not a bad guy. I'm friends with a man in seafood who has the best workingman's ethic I've ever come upon. Many other people there I like, and yet anyone who reads my blog can tell I should be doing better than wage work, corporate office or not. That's a story too long to relate, one I've struggled to understand for decades, enough to know that I will die knowing I could spend many lifetimes and still not grasp the answer altogether. (The post I will link to explains a little.) Suffice it to say that I live the writer's life. By and large, writers hold day jobs and appreciate the privilege of getting published when and where they can.

More vacation time, weekends off, holidays off, would advantage my time to fish and with friends, but I was particularly impressed with my wading performance Friday. I used to think 60 was old age. I wondered if I could still wade streams in my mid-60's. My guess, especially if I stay in the position I'm in now--I should be able at 70 or older. Work hard, play hard.

I've gone into edit function to add a remark. Many years ago, Bob Marley wrote that one day the bottom will drop out. Perhaps I'm profoundly old school and just don't get it, as if today's man is doing just fine, thank you--and we will pass on you and hire a young guy. But biologically, it's a fact that a diaphragm supports the lungs and deepest speech, just as the bottom of the gut has neural connections involved with intuition and certain judgment. Perhaps when the bottom drops out, the men of the mind will be needed again, as Ray Bradbury wrote in Fahrenheit 451. I just hope the nuclear power plants are prepared to shut down without melting down and killing all of us, if this becomes essential to survival.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Fly Fishing Mulhockaway Creek

Down and immediately around the corner, Mulhockaway Creek empties into Spruce Run Reservoir.

I phoned Oliver Round Thursday afternoon about the possibility of high water; we decided we would arrive at the Mulhockaway Friday morning just after first light as planned, hoping the water would come down enough for any trout to see our flies. As the morning turned out, I got there right at first light, shortly after 6:00 a.m., and enjoyed writing in the notebook I keep in my car until Oliver's arrival 25 minutes later. He had ventured the idea of us bringing spinning rods and spinners, just in case the hole near the reservoir we read about were to be fishable. I told him that flood events like this result in browns running. Whether or not they move into the creek prior to spawning this early in the fall, I don't know. My feeling is that it doesn't happen until about November. A number of really big brown trout--supposedly born and bred in this creek--have been caught in the reservoir during recent years, as big as 10 pounds.

We found the creek running high but pretty clear, visibility better than two feet. This is our first time fishing here, and we didn't expect to find the creek as large as it is. I felt very pleased at our discovering a number of deep holes, and fairly near the tailout of one them as we quickly progressed downstream, I caught a nine-inch rainbow trout while fishing a beadhead Wooly Bugger/#16 beadhead Pheasant Tail dropper arrangement under a strike indicator. That must be a holdover from spring stocking, unless wild browns get all the word and rainbows reproduce, too, silently overlooked. Why rainbows reproduce in some New Jersey wild trout streams, but not others, I don't understand.

We had to get to the reservoir quickly, because I had to be at work at 1:00 pm. Rather than getting to the reservoir itself, we fished about a hundred yards of widened slow water, most of this shallow, but down closer to the reservoir itself, it does deepen. On the way down to position himself to fly cast this deeper water, something pulled on Oliver's Wooly Bugger. I tried a Mepp's spinner in that deeper water, just to be sure.

On the way back up, we hit the holes, but took no strikes in return. The Mulhockaway is widely known for its wild browns, but I wasn't surprised they weren't evident to us, not after some experience these past five years fishing them here and there. But Oliver and I--more than five years ago--have caught them elsewhere. I had to remind him of one occasion when we did pretty well, and now another, on the North Branch Raritan headwaters, comes to mind. We caught a few there, too, and that's not doing badly in New Jersey.