My old habit involved preparing the night before for the day's fishing but things don't necessarily go south for entirely bad reasons. I got up this morning, though, and just couldn't find energy to really want to fish today, but I consigned myself to loading each item, along with the help of Matt, and even as I turned the ignition key shortly after 12:30 p.m., I generally rued the loss of my GoPro as we packed out from a recent Hopatcong outing. Two years ago I got footage of a largemouth, and though the still shots didn't come out well, clear water Tilcon Lake really makes the malformed images striking. Naturally, I wanted to try again. Suppose I will, once I buy another.
Once everything was in motion, headed up U.S. 206, my nasty state lifted and I felt all this would be worthwhile. About 40 minutes later, we got to my friend's house where I'm hiding my stash from the condo association and loaded that stuff on top of the Honda for the world to regard. We got to Tilcon, and I found that one of the cart tires I had just inflated back in Bedminster was about 30 % deflated. So, what will happen when we would load 250 pounds or more of canoe and accessories?
If you've ever heard a tire rupture clean and the air hiss, you would think no cobra can do it better.
The good tire.
The bad tire had simply coughed out. In the middle of discussing the apparent need of loading back up and trying the back of the lake, where the walk in is fewer yards but very, very steep, I asked Matt if he could just carry the 70-pound marine battery the two football fields' distance. I would carry a load, and then we would try the deflated wheels for the canoe with light stuff in it.
The wheels got us there. We had positioned the cart near the rear, so Matt had a lot of weight in front to carry. He had gum surgery yesterday. Warned about heavy lifting causing blood pressure to rise.
No matter. I'm his father after all, so my advice is pretty good.
I pushed us away from the bank with a paddle, clicked on the electric, and found the battery was low. It's not just my stressful job, I was explaining to my son, it's an entire shift of my habits. I told him I can't wait until I'm deep into writing the trout book. I had worked for about six months on a 24-page essay I hope to get published in one of the world's top literary journals, and although I toggled between that and many other writing projects, that big essay was always there to get involved in by forgetting everything else. The feeling of compensation for a gutsy hard day working in the supermarket was exquisite, and the same sort of feeling accompanies writing about trout.
You don't consciously intend to overlook well-established habits, such as charging the battery two days ahead of schedule; they just get forgotten along a way that's become less deliberate.
I ruled out pressing back to the rear of the lake. "With this headwind, we might never paddle home," I said. Trolling speed for elusive Atlantic salmon was too slow, as we approached a spot only some 900 yards distant from base, but I caught the bluegill photographed above out over water 32 feet deep distant from relative shallows, on a Phoebe.
Force of habit: We fished one of our two favorite spots hard, me using worms. I tried a 12-inch Mann's Jelly Worm, having taken advice from an article in On the Water magazine, and after 20 minutes of focused fishing, I switched to Chompers eight inch. I had said, "I can't quite feel I'm fully in earnest." How could I be after seven years of nothing but Chompers and Senko-type worms?
I had given the big worm a shot. The habitual choice was no hit with anything, either.
"Looks like rain," I said. It kept on looking like rain, and after we moved around a tight corner and over the 10-foot depths of a weedy flat, I finally got the day's first good idea, thanks to my son. Water temperature was 71. Almost perfectly optimal for largemouth bass. Low bunchy clouds overhead looked as if they passed over us at silent movie speed. I voiced the situation, "Wind is really blowing."
Matt was throwing a spinnerbait. You could tell the wind was blowing by how far he could cast in a certain direction, if not by any other means. "Might be good...for a buzzbait…" The way he said this tentatively emphasized value in the possibility. As if a buzzbait might cause some special change in the way things really are.
"How many buzzbaits did you bring?" I had forgotten my topwater case. Nothing was more stupid than that omission.
"Pass one on."
Big and black. On the fifth cast, I had a pickerel on that came off.
It's not just a chemical reaction. Brain science is way too immature to really know what it talks about, if it says serotonin, or whatever other neurotransmitter, functions only in an individual brain, unrelated to objective possibilities in the environment that brain inhabits. There's a whole ecology between a good human brain and natural environment. But I always make this distinction: I didn't know we were on to something. But I did know that hundreds of other times I've felt like I felt after I lost that pickerel...those hundreds of other times led to gain. Some people just don't have brain chemical spikes like I enjoy. "Some are born to sweet delight/Some are born to the endless night." And that's a legal quote. Jim Morrison stole it from William Blake. I take it from Blake. My fish sense lit up. Here we go.
"Maybe back in those shallows," Matt said. He put on a yellow buzzbait just a little smaller. We moved 10 yards inward. Soon I caught a chunky 14-inch largemouth. Minutes later, Matt wailed a cast--you don't actually hear the line peel, you imagine that part--to a weedline, and something huge exploded on that buzzbait. I heard the POW! without seeing it just then, but even when I looked, water flew wildly about as if a hippopotamus got stocked along with those half-real salmon. Missed that one, but he soon caught a pickerel. And then something pretty big slurped his lure, not getting hooked, and one second later, another slurp. I was onto a good fish. The bass would have taped out at nearly 19 inches, but I didn't have Matt photograph it by use of my wide-angle lens, so maybe that's about how big it looks in the picture below, instead of five inches longer. Looks about 18 to me, but it was longer than that.
Matt was talking about all the acreage around us, but my fish sense was already sagging. If that's manic-depressive, it sure is prophetic, because we fished those buzzbaits all over about five acres, or so it seemed, before the sun came out 20 minutes after all the action had faded. That's something else I notice time and time again. Fish seem to sense what's coming and behave accordingly. Seems to us absurd for them to fear the sun, but not to them.
And then we lost a couple of hours or more, just not getting it right, trying another favorite spot completely barren, trying a shoreline downwind of that. We went back to the edge of that five-acre flat, anchored, and I felt like slowing way down. I remembered Lake Hopatcong years ago and how rewarding fishing live bait. I was fishing a Chompers. A bass took after fifteen minutes or so. The flat is so full of thick vegetation, and the bass like to get in so thick you might not get them out. I set the hook and felt powerful muscular pulsation, then I felt so much weed mass I couldn't budge the bunch. Finally the weight gave, but with no bass on the line. I caught a pickerel while working that worm very slowly through the weeds. Then I caught the weedy bass photographed below. That too I couldn't budge where it had got to; I couldn't budge it before my St. Croix almost broke. Action seemed to slow; I felt possibility in another sort of cove between two weed edges. We eased over to it, and I had a big bass on right away, line catching on weeds, and during the disturbance of that connection made suddenly and jarringly irregular, that bass got off.
Matt almost caught a pickerel on a Jitterbug. Neither of us have ever caught a fish on that lure.
We got off the lake about 45 minutes after the sun went behind hills, well into dusk, and the cart with the flat tires kept working its way to the square back of the canoe and past the edge of the canoe's total length. We had to haul the thing out. Matt kept remembering football practice, he told me later. My participation involved compressing very bad discs in my lower back, a certifiably insane exercise, and I wondered, without any solemn emotion, if financially the best bet was to leave the canoe there and say the hell with it. I won't be due for back surgery.
The clock is swinging its way towards 3:00 a.m. now, and my back feels as if it's OK, so, as I felt when I committed myself, I think that haul was no mad exercise. We went to my friend's house, pulled the bear steeply uphill into dark woods, my headlamp essential, the intense light provoking no one to fling open a window a fire a pump-action shotgun at its source, and after all was done, we got home at 11:00 p.m. sharp.