Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Finally, Smallmouth Bass

Got to the South Branch Raritan well before dawn and made my way along a trail in relative darkness, noticing a few big carp making a ruckus in shallows when I got by the water, not able as yet to see that water was off color, though I was able to judge it was high and guess that it wouldn't look good, either.

I came with my St. Croix Avid seven weight. My prize for placing as a finalist for the Brookwood Press Writing Award. I've had the rod a couple of years, sitting in its tube, awaiting whenever I might get back to the Salmon River and fish steelheads. I got the idea last year to buy fly line, leaders, and flies to use for the smallmouths. I spent well over a hundred dollars on this summer quest, and though it would seem as if it didn't begin well this morning, I got a taste of efficient casting, and being there on the river was worth the effort.

How efficient, I can't judge by much experience, but it does feel as if the Scientific Anglers Air Cel fast forward line I bought is somehow too light. I don't feel it quite loads as it should. I didn't spend a whole lot of money on it. I should speak to Oliver Round about this, and Jim Holland at Shannon's Fly Shop, and possibly find myself obliged to spend a lot more. If I'm headed back to the Salmon River, I don't want to be without, and besides, after all this anticipation for the South Branch, I don't want to let that be a cheap shot, either.

Nothing rose for my popper. No surprise. I did see a few fish come up here and there, so I thought just maybe a hit was possible, but every time I find the river like this--high but not very high, off color but not outright muddy--I fail to score. The only exception might have been a little bass on a Johnson Beetle Spin once.

I did bring killies. Since I have a bucket full after fluke fishing the other day, I made sure to bring my spinning rod as well. Nothing hit a couple of big lively ones.

I left the South Branch and parked at the North Branch, right over here near home, where U.S. 202/206 passes over. I knew water would be low and plenty clear. No room to fly cast--I wasn't into the idea of roll casting here--I got killies underneath that bridge, having lost a small bass to a jump on the first cast. I told myself you would think there's a nice big smallmouth hanging out back in that darkness, the water at least fairly deep, and I cast as far back underneath as I could--pretty far--and then let current take the bait even further.

Finally, the line moved off and when I tightened it, I felt the weight of a sizeable fish pulling. I set and felt solid resistance. The fight involved a couple of drag screeching runs on six-pound mono. I knew the bass wouldn't quite weigh two pounds, but for steam smallmouths, it qualified as a pretty big one.

I measured it at 15 inches.

I never could get the killie all the way back. I guess a number of attempts finally coincided with the bass having happened to swim up as far back as the bait reached. That bass is still there, released. I've never kept a North Branch bass.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

More on the Hopatcong Algae Bloom

Summer is high time for getting living in, and for many, this involves swimming, fishing, or other wet water sports on Lake Hopatcong, so the algae bloom is a serious inconvenience. If you planned on fishing there this summer, you know that if the algae persists through the rest of the summer, and you don't want to risk getting hit by spray or getting algae on your fingers from wet line, plenty of other places might be interesting in unexpected ways. Or if you can fish from a boat that won't get you wet when the wind riles up chop, you can always bring a bucket of clean water and use a wet rag to keep fingers clean of the stuff. If that's even a problem, really.

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Monday, July 1, 2019

Living is More than Work

It didn't happen right away.

I had to go back to the car for a second armful. As soon as we had our belongings on the beach, Trish left on a long walk with Sadie, while I immediately began tying rigs for my two surf rods. An eight-foot rod I created a simple bank sinker fluke rig for, and for an 11 foot rod I tied a circle hook to 30-pound leader material by snell and rigged fish-finder style. Killies for fluke. Fresh live surf clam for any black drum.

I got deeply absorbed in sitting back and watching the two rod tips closely set apart, the dimensions of shapely clouds overhead against deep blue sky of striking and unexpected interest to me. I'm certain this experience helped me get where I was going.

Some of the time I got up and tried casting for fluke, having cut off the three-ounce bank sinker and going with a couple of large split shot, but the only hit came after I got a killie way out there by that heavier weight and let it sit. I felt surprised, because it took awhile, and I figured peeler crabs would have got the bait.

I had wanted to sit and watch, rather than reel the rig in at the probable moment. I could have done more heaving of killies, but it wasn't too long before the wind shifted suddenly, blowing in from the northeast, temperature dropping drastically all at once, biting flies disappearing in an instant, and surf getting rough, but not very. I figured any fish might move in close. I wanted to be involved with working the bait, rather than letting it sit, though I could have cast the bank sinker and retrieved it by lifting it and letting it drop, though that would have felt heavy. Much of the time I cast a double-split shot weighted killie and let that sit. The split shots held bottom.

The sun getting low but not yet close to setting, this is when I reeled in the baits and took a walk, finding myself very focused in a relaxed way on what was right in front of me. After a hundred yards or more of this, I looked up and around me, and that's when it happened. All the garbage taken in day after day at work evaporated like magic. I was nothing but everything I saw and felt around me, feeling as free as I might ever want to feel. It's not that I was thinking of work at any time earlier during the outing. I hadn't thought of the place since the day before, when I was there. But I did think of my job at the supermarket soon after my defenses had fallen, and felt dismay that a shield came back up, though I went on thinking, realizing that--no doubt--when I'm finally done with stupid jobs, I will heal.

It might take only a day at that.

Stupid jobs, that is. I realized, as I often have, while heading back to our station on the beach from this walk, that writing is work. It's a job, too. I thought of something Ayn Rand wrote (The Ayn Rand Column) and detested her words. That people with "real" careers, or however she put it, don't like to go on vacations. All they really want is their work. She's some example, because she suffered her elder years depressed. I've inferred this from My Years with Ayn Rand, a memoir by Nathanial Branden, and I've also found Jeff Walker claims this explicitly in The Ayn Rand Cult. To do nothing but work is to miss the point of life. Because no work, including writing, is a sufficient end-in-itself. It should be obvious that work is a means to living. Living is more than work.

And I caught a fish today. They always look like a joke when they come into the wash. Skates. But I feel respect for any catch. Mine took a big bloody chunk of bunker I had cut with my Spanish War Knife. I had put it out near the end of our stay hoping for a bluefish, and though I would have much preferred a keeper fluke, or a bluefish like the one a friend caught on Island Beach the other day, or even better yet, a black drum, the only disappointment I felt about the state park was the 8:00 p.m. closing, though I came to quick terms with that.

As we packed to go, a tern dive-bombed for something right in front of us. We saw it come out of the water with a baitfish wriggling between its beak.

"That's a good sign," I said.

Trish said, "They're not leaving." A number of other people on the beach were clearly going to stay later. "You want to stay?"

"No. Let's stay within the law. We'll come back in September."

No restrictions then on staying into dusk