Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Gave Round Valley a Visit

Forget Tilcon Lake. Hoped, last night, that maybe I could introduce my son to Oliver Round by ice fishing the lake after all, ironic as this would be, since we hoped to go in January. Last year, Matt and I fly fished when he was home on break. But I checked Round Valley Pond early this afternoon and most of it is open water. Since that's the case here, I don't believe for a moment Tilcon Lake has safe ice. Tilcon is about 20 feet deeper than Round Valley Pond. Tilcon also has a greater mean depth, its shorelines dropping almost immediately into deep water.

I came on over to shoot photos, but before I loaded my camera bag and tripod into the Honda, I checked on the mealworms in the fridge. Still alive. (So long as you keep them cold, they never seem to metamorphize into the black beetles they do become pretty quickly at room temperature.) I grabbed a bag of little marshmallows and a rod already rigged for the Valley. I had a couple of others rigged, too, but didn't care to complicate matters.

I set up to fish in a minute or so, and then began shooting nearby. Finally, I fetched my camera bag to begin an arduous walk from the Ranger Cover area towards the ramp. I trusted my rod and tackle bag to any strangers. Don't think I would have on a weekend. That's an expensive rod and reel, and so are the bag's contents. I also trusted that rod and reel to the trout. On one occasion in the past, a trout spooled my reel before I attended it, the bail open so the fish could take the bait, but the fish just sort of stopped running after all the line was out, so it didn't pull the outfit into the reservoir. Now I realize it wasn't really wise to trust it to the trout. Strangers? Less likely to take it.

But no trout hit.

I also hiked further back along Ranger Cove after I reeled my rig and stashed it in the Honda, surprised at the ice cover over there, though my photo doesn't do it much justice. I wore my hikers and felt surprised my feet never got cold. My Irish Setter pac boots never get swapped out for hikers when I ice fish, and these big boots are always warm, but I like my hikers here at the Valley, the way gravel and rock feels under them. Temperatures today down near 20 and the wind heavy, here we are well into March now, and out there alone by the reservoir, I didn't feel a trace of spring coming.

It would have been a good hour for a shiner rigged on a little Styrofoam for any possible lake trout, but I left the bucket home, though I could have turned left at U.S. 22 over to Round Valley Bait and Tackle. That's my only regret. I've had wonderful encounters with lakers in the past, and today really felt like a day for more, but with so little time to fish, I do doubt any would have hit, if any are in the shallows this late in the winter anyhow. Don't know. That's a good reason to have least tried.

I guess this is about all for winter until December. Very vigorous--and comfortable--occasion. I worked hard at getting good photos with my still-new camera, beginning with my 24mm Sigma Art lens, using the 70-200mm Nikon zoom for some, and then keeping with my 50mm Nikon. I got down on my belly in the snow on some occasions for close angles, but although I shot 101 photos, only a handful interest me very much. Shooting them was a lot of fun, though, and the more I do it, the more my collection of exceptions grows. Once the water level falls again for the work on the dams, there'll be some especially interesting opportunities. 

Ice formed inside a bend near the lower parking lot.

The back of Ranger Cove is frozen over.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Ice Season Lingering On

Phoned Landolfi and he can't ice fish tomorrow. I had emailed Laurie; she replied telling me they're still on the ice in her cove, at the State Park, and back in River Styx. The latter is most interesting to me, but not in the shallows in back, and I'm afraid the main narrows where water's about eight feet deep might not be safe. Guess it would be her cove. But we troll that cove in May, and besides one spot all the way across, just don't hook anything. The only exception was a nice brown trout for Landolfi out in the middle over 25 feet of water. Don't want to cross that with ice a bit dicey.

What a season! Most that linger on into March have been accompanied by thick ice, if not very thick ice, but over the course of this season, the thickest I read about came to me as information from Jim Stabile about eight to 10 inches on Monksville Reservoir. Most figures elsewhere were of about seven inches at most.

Did Tilcon ever have much safe ice? I imagine it did some, but I won't drive over there tomorrow. The situation does remind of last year. I kept telling Oliver Round I didn't think it was safe. Week after week for about three running I blew us both off, finally deciding to give it a shot. To my astonishment, we found the ice 10 inches thick, so if we were to go tomorrow, who knows....

Maybe next year. Who knows, maybe next week.

Laurie says she expects business this weekend. And it seems possible I might get on the ice with my son a week from tomorrow.

Monday, March 4, 2019

In-Line Spinners All Gamefish

In-Line Spinners for Everything Game

          By what I’ve gathered, a Frenchman, Andre Meulnart, invented the in-line spinner in 1938, which led to the Mepp’s brand emmerging after World War II. Whatever the ins and outs of lure making and market history, during the 1970’s, in-line spinners held a special fascination foe many anglers. This attraction has seemingly declined, though not the lure’s compact and tantalizing effectiveness. Today, the in-line spinner’s popularity for bass—largemouth and smallmouth—is eclipsed by spinnerbaits, and its reputation among trout anglers is shadowed by Trout Magnets and other tiny jigs, and although in-line spinners seem to maintain stable value for pickerel over the past four decades, regular use centers upon a relative few who, instead of denigrating these fierce members of the pike family, uphold their secret good reputation, savaged otherwise by abusive language. Native to New Jersey, pickerel, like brook trout and yellow perch, have bloodlines in our state going way back before more “respectable,” but introduced, species like largemouth bass took popular strongholds.

          Since the 1970’s, northern pike are not strangers to New Jersey, either, and I’ve found that although in-line spinners take second place to spinnerbaits as the popular choice for catching pike, even small spinners appropriate for trout can be killers. Nowadays I work in Stirling, New Jersey, near the Passaic River. A coworker recently told me his lunch break once resulted in a 30-inch northern on a little Rooster Tail within short walking distance of where we spoke. Spinners catch fish; perhaps any and all gamefish species will hit them.

         Atlantic or so-called landlocked salmon inhabit Wawayanda, Aeroflex, and Tilcon lakes, for another example of a species introduced to New Jersey. It’s a species mystifying many anglers. How do you catch them? Many approaches work, and one of them, if especially this time of year, is to fish small spinners as if trying for 10-inch hatchery trout. However, the salmon impress me as more aggressive than rainbows, browns, and lakers. They’re fiercer than the formerly stocked brook trout, also. You can fish a spinner near the surface in open water, and if salmon cruise below, even well below, one or two of them might shoot for the surface and strike, but a paradox rules the game. For all their willingness to strike with great abandon, they’re hard to catch, because most of the time they stubbornly refuse offerings. It’s the exception among the marks on the graph recorder that counts.

         All six of these species mentioned, and more besides, are especially vulnerable to spinners now, early in the season. Aquatic vegetation is only beginning to grow and will remain in recess into April, which means weedless presentations are not a concern. In-line spinners may serve as the lure to retrieve over residual weedbeds without getting hung up. The flash and vibration sustained like a beacon throughout the retrieve seems to mesmerize gamefish. As some of the weedy green mass begins to flourish late in April, spinners may yet prove effective, as for example, Bedminster Pond yielded my son and me some action last year on spinners I’ve owned since way back in the 1970’s.

          I used to make them 40 years ago, buying component parts at Andy’s Sport Shop in Trenton and assembling varieties to suit my pleasure. I dug a couple of them up, comparable to size 3 CP Swings, contraptions built with lightweight, metal bead bodies, so light that the blades kept the lures running high near the surface on a slow retrieve. The spinners proved to be the perfect choice for slow retrieves over and amid the weeds coming back up for the warm months ahead, resulting in a few quick largemouths at sundown.

          Bedminster Pond is shallow and all but unfishable after April. Like other ponds that become thoroughly weed-choked by May or June, now is the time to probe with the sensitive instrument that is a spinner. For the time being, such shallows warm much faster than deeper water and nourish forage. Bass; pickerel; even northern pike where a feeder stream is associated with a flat; all of these gamefish cruise shallows with an intent to feed; as do trout and salmon in the shallows of the lakes and reservoirs where they are present.

         Even if the water remains cold—in the 40’s--tickling bottom by dead-slow retrieves is not necessarily best, not even for bass. I think of spinners as mid-column lures, which means they meet gamefish halfway between winter torpor and warm-water awakening. As a young teen, I fished a Delaware and Raritan Canal basin pond in late February, catching bass by barely moving a Johnson Beetle Spin along the deepest bottom. One afternoon just before March arrived, I caught nothing, while I watched “The Teacher,” we called him, begin to catch bass after bass on a fairly large size 6 CP Swing. The water temperature was about 45.

          The example of The Teacher taught me to think of a cup as half full, rather than half empty. Early season gamefish, if they could invent an excuse, would do so, taking any and every advantage to feed. Their cold-blooded metabolism, I opine, permits more action than it restricts. Bass might not even notice a fast retrieve, because their senses aren’t yet awake on such level, but a spinner retrieved moderately slowly may trigger response.

          Spinners work down to at least 10 feet, and you can get heavy-bodied spinners twice as deep by letting them plummet and then turning the handle slowly, a deadly method on Round Valley and Merrill Creek trout, although it is fishing requiring a lot of patience and time. In streams and small rivers, before they close March 19th and once they open April 7th, spinners are a long-standing tradition for trout. Names like Rooster Tail, CP Swing, Panther Martin, and Mepp’s may seem forgotten in recent years but can prove better than other choices on occasion.

          About 10 years ago, I came to the North Branch Raritan River just before a 5:00 p.m. opening after stocking accompanied by my son, and we witnessed a cloud of rainbow trout, dozens of them milling about. We cast salmon eggs right into their midst to no interest whatsoever. The water was clear. Had it been off-color, we would have begun by retrieving spinners, but as fortune turned in our favor this day, I soon decided to tie on size 0 Rooster Tails to see what might happen.

         Trout slashed at the spinners from every angle. We caught and released a dozen or so quickly, and then decided to leave the rest for others. Catching them was so easy, I wanted to preserve the initial feeling of zest in memory.

          Spinners for trout can result in other outrageous surprises. Last April, David Jeon came to the South Branch Raritan on my suggestion in pursuit of rainbows, fishing a small spinner. He hooked something that drew a much harder and jagged fighting response than would a trout of any size, and soon measured the smallmouth bass at 22.5 inches!