Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Culver Lake Dock Fishing

 This shot was taken yesterday by John's mother. Kittatinny Ridge shadows glacial Culver Lake, the gap in between an interesting feature.

A coworker friend, John Lusk, invited me to fish Culver Lake from his mother's and stepfather's dock. We had a great day fishing a private lake off limits to any public access. I felt elated with gratitude for the opportunity, didn't have to hold back much, and in addition to two members of John's wonderful family, met his next door neighbor and a man named Eddie from the next house towards the back of the lake's 660 acres, a man reputed to be the lake's best angler for good reason. He's a former rodeo competitor who took up professional bass tournament fishing, winning some tournaments, too.

Upon meeting Eddie, I said, "For the past 20 years, I've wondered if I would ever get a chance to fish Culver. Now here I am standing beside the best angler on the lake."

He told me I might hook a pickerel, and before he finished telling me to use what he would get, he began making his way to a gear box at home. Two minutes later,  he handed me a white twister jig, saying, "Just drag that on the bottom."

I cast. Let sink. Began dragging bottom. Seconds later, I hooked a largemouth that jumped, showing itself to be about 11 inches as it shook the hook. "I told you so," Eddie said.

Until then, John and I had caught only a few sunfish and yellow perch. I began by hitting all the spots in range with a Senko, including a sunken rock pile in 10 to 15 feet of water. Bob, John's stepfather, told me the algae bloom hampering any visibility of things beneath the surface happened during the past week. John had bought three dozen nightcrawlers, and I didn't deny my own pleasure in using them. As John put it, "It's better than getting skunked."

Things would take an ironic turn later. But not by a big margin.

In the meantime, Bob fixed burgers and hotdogs on a grill; John's mother, Mary Grace, made an excellent salad and corn on the cob. We dined before a huge window on the lake, with the view of the gap in the distance that sold Bob on this particular house. Mary Grace told me it was originally built about 1830. That blew me away. I wasn't aware the lake had such history, besides the 12,000 years since the Wisconsin Glacier began to recede. She showed me a book on the lake's history, which I leafed through, and so now I know its attraction has served homeowners for a long while. She also showed me an article from Offshore about boating while the writer grew up on the lake, by a woman she knows who now freelance writes on boating.

After the meal and conversation, the sun angled light low. John said it was time. "This is when I always begin fishing here." Culver Lake boasts the state record hybrid striped bass at over 16 pounds. Hybrid stripers come right in close to the dock, the drop-off drawing herring in against this edge. We saw some herring dimpling before we quit tonight. Bob told me smallmouth bass sometimes push herring right in against the shallows of this slope. On one occasion, John fished a nightcrawler at sunset, right off the dock, and caught a 10-pound hybrid. I said, "Fishing is like photography. It's about light."

Fish took the nightcrawlers. I set the hook into something that felt big. We caught bluegills, yellow perch, a pumpkinseed, and white perch. John lost something really nice off the dock of a neighbor on the other side of the house.

Besides the nightcrawlers, we had killies. Those killies from Murphy's Hook House in Tom's River, when my wife and I went to Island Beach for the last time this year. (How long ago is that now?) I've kept them alive in my study. That is some study; the word is a synonym for office which artists and intellectuals use, my having learned the word as a very young boy from my dad, mine loaded to the hilt with both books and fishing gear.

I replaced the white twister on my jig with a killie, missing a sudden strike from something that stripped the fish from that hook, and catching what might have been a white catfish a foot long at sunset. Not too much later, I caught another catfish of the same description on a nightcrawler, enjoying the fight especially because--just maybe--it was a bass, but I felt sure it was a catfish. It would have measured maybe an inch longer than the one photographed.

All this ado about live bait. John never succumbed to killies. Instead, he rigged a Berkeley Power Bait worm with an inset hook and a little weight. Then he proceeded to catch two largemouths by working the worm up the slope, neither of the bass a foot long, but they were bass and they weren't caught on bait.