Friday, December 30, 2011

New Jersey Pine Barrens Winter Pickerel

Imagine catching a 9-pound, 3-ounce pickerel. It happened in 1957 on Lower Aetna Lake, not named after the insurance company, thank God. Associated with the New Jersey Pine Barrens, though not deep within them to the best of my knowledge, it's unlike how some bogs virtually need to be stumbled on during a long hike to be found without a name. For about four years the Lake Aetna pickerel was the world record, and it warms my soul to know it came from the Pines, since this is a special place to me.

Nevertheless, that former world record, now state record, may not be New Jersey's largest. I take angler/author Art Scheck's word as the truth. Out of the remnants of a canal in Sussex County, not to be confused with the Delaware and Raritan, his wife caught a pickerel over 10 pounds--then released it. I would have taken the rewards, and possibly the trouble as so many record holders have taken heat, although they did messy PR jobs in some respects, but life tends to be messy in some affairs for everyone. However, I fully sympathsize with Art's story. The greatness and mystery of the world includes that it doesn't all get reported. I can't be an absolutely firm believer in this story because I don't know Art Scheck personally beyond his revealing book: A Fishing Life is Hard Work. But every indication I get from his writing style leads me to believe it's true. 

Something in me wishes such a fish were limited to the Pines. They just aren't; the world record 9 pound, 6 ounce pickerel came from Georgia. Always, always, though, the Pine Barrens are home to pickerel, which tolerate that tannic acid in water that doesn't freeze as much during the winter as that of the state's northern counties, since the climate is warmer, and aquifer springs are fairly common, which helps somewhat if you have a winter fishing adventure in mind to these desolate sandy flatlands and bogs. 

Lake Hopatcong pickerel are not native in their "Many Coves of Honey Water," a meaning the Native Americans are reputed to have given the lake, and which subtly suggests the dark, tannic, winding bogs found in the pines rather than Morris and Sussex Counties. Introduced in 1852, the Knee Deep Club's historical record is 6 pounds, 9 ounces. Plenty prowl Hopatcong, but in my experience fishing Lake Musconetcong (for years before it was virtually destroyed in 2010 by vegetation killing chemicals) how many over three pounds we caught I don't know off hand, many. They averaged about two pounds--but we never got one over three-and-a-half and 24 1/4". I heard a story about a 30- incher, but I also heard a story about a 32-incher from Mirror Lake at Browns Mills--in the Pines.

From a 15-acre pond in Stafford Township, I caught numerous pickerel averaging 10 to 12 inches, with one 19-incher slamming my Rapala in April. I've had the same experience at Turn Mill Pond, where others report larger fish. At Lake Absegami they averaged about 19 inches. But the real lure of these waters may not be numbers or size--if the thought of a real gator existing somewhere back there is appealing as an ultimate goal you almost know you will only reach in your dreams. The intrigue involves finding lakes and bogs themselves, then plying them to discover fish or not. If you go about it crudely, just showing up and not taking notice of environmental subtlety, you may not be disappointed, you may find it nice, but unless nature is contemplated and studied with the sort of attention rightly given an art work, the joy of being out there will not make itself known to you, nor will it be communicable to someone else. I freely admit I do not notice everything, and my moods are very changeable, sometimes more focused than other times, sometimes swelling slowly to surprise me with an internal high tide.

Yes, the lure of the Pines ultimately calls from deep within your own consciousness. But you have to actually go there to experience yourself in relation to the Pines alone. Here are some helpers on how to catch winter Pines pickerel.


The more you acquire practicality as your own second nature, the more it resembles art. But I don't know that any man has lived without some artlessness; not even Goethe was himself a perfect work of art. So take some winter pointers if you don't already know them and apply:

  1.  Using lively shiners (unless you can pot or buy killies, they are hardier). Medium size work, especially for the smaller pickerel, but large, and even extra-large allow long casts, and are attractive to large pickerel from further away.
  2.  Use no split shots or sinkers. A barrel swivel is enough weight (nearly none, it connects your leader) unless you fish water deeper than about six feet. In such situations, use a small split shot, or strip lead to adjust as you approximate. Lighter mono allows longer casts, and managabilty, but use no less than six pound test--a large pickerel and heavy cover may persuade the use of 15 pound performance braid. But braid will handle poorly if temperatures fall enough below freezing.
  3. The circle hook persuasion is on the rise, and some who use them claim no leader is needed. But 15 pound test fluorocarbon is not so thick, is abrasion resistant, is less visible than mono, certainly less so than steel, and prevents razor-sharp teeth cutting your line. Tie a 16 inch length to the swivel, other end to a simple, plain shank, size 6 hook. A long shank allows easier hook removal, but I prefer to use a regular length shank from long standing habit and proclivity to liking less metal on the line.
   4.  Set that hook pretty soon so you don't gut hook--allow the pickerel's mad dash, wait about six seconds for it to turn the shiner headfirst into its mouth, and set.
   5.  Always live line available cover--let the shiner swim and settle to bottom, then lift rod tip, retrieve, let settle. Often you must swim a shiner or killie over and into branches or stumps. (A hit, even in winter, may be a visible thrill.)
   6.  Any evidence of residual aquatic vegetation with enough depth (about two or three feet or more of water that may be too tannic to see bottom) is fishy evidence.
   7.  If you can fish a sunny, mild day, this is to your advantage, particularly in the late afternoon. If the afternoon has been especially mild and sunny, stick around into evening if you can. The magic hour around sunset may be most promising for a large pickerel.
   8.  Cast plenty of  range. Don't bobber fish unless you've brought along extra rod(s). Live lining is live finding, and laying a couple rods aside with bobbers out may only inhibit your freedom to fish an entire body of water, possibly not. It may be possible to fish multiple lakes, bogs and ponds, and even stream or river sloughs in a given day. You may not find cover or vegetation everywhere, so concentrate on fishing the "deeper" water, which is typically fairly shallow, when not much else is present. Springs may not be evident to you, but they are out there. During winter pickerel are drawn to the milder temperature of their influence. Keep them in mind even if you don't see them. If you get a strike, catch the fish (or miss it), and fish the same area in case it's a "hotspot." (Even though winter water is cold.)

Simple and Sweet (But Acidic)

Happy New Year!

For more on pickerel, click under labels on the right of my other blog:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Budd Lake Solitary Ice Fishing Memories: Persistence for Pike

For a very many years, it seemed, I ice fished Budd Lake, NJ, alone. When my wife and I made a move from a Victorian home in North Plainfield to a second story apartment in Chester above a prominent antique shop, Pegasus Antiques, 1994, I considered trashing my tip-ups and whatever else remained of my old ice fishing equipment. As soon as I had felt that, a counter-rush of feeling came and stuck me to my gear like glue. That was August, we weren't married yet, and when January came we went and spent a couple days at a good friend's place on Little Swartswood Lake, along with my tip-ups. But the clincher was January or February 1997. My friend had moved, but close in vicinity to the lake. His son and I ice fished Little Swartswood, both of us catching pickerel. I had caught the old fever, and the next weekend went out on Budd Lake for the first time.

Budd Lake is a sort of glacial swath, not a deeply dug chasm, if 40 or 50 feet of depth is any chasm with magnificent rock structures in clear depths. It averages 6 feet deep, has almost no rock structure, and in a very limited area reaches 12 foot depths. I placed a couple of my allotted five tip-ups in these depths for a single flag that day. By the time I got to it, the fish had stripped all the line off the spool. Only metal remained. I guess I figured that if a fish ever got that far away, it can have its freedom, or that if I tied the braid to the spool--it might yet have its freedom, pulling along a piece of broken tip-up. But I suppose this fish had some 75 yards of heavy line to contend with against weeds or other obstructions. The shiner had been set about 12 feet down. I figured it was a nice bass, and it could have been, bass really run with a shiner. But a couple years ago I returned to Budd to fish alone. I caught a 15 inch channel catfish that had run like mad with a shiner. I had never before seen a tip-up spool turn so fast.

I like to think Budd Lake is meant for ice fishing. You can set a tip-up almost anywhere for a flag. During the warm months, the lake is bland. The water quality is not at all poor, but it isn't especially good. Budd's natural outflow is the very headwater of the South Branch Raritan River. What amazes me is that a quarter mile downstream from this weedy slough of a sluggish stream, brook trout are present! In that short tumble among stones and rocks that filter and purify water, fed by numerous cold mountaintop springs, the water quality rises to a nearly pure level.

A 15 pound, 39 inch pike came through a hole close to where I fished one afternoon in 1999. Until 2007, when I first took my son ice fishing, I pursued such a fish ice fishing Budd Lake alone, never catching it. I caught some pike, but most often I left skunked. I would walk the ice in solitude--more often than not I had the entire 376 acre lake to myself--and look ahead to my retirement. I remember looking ahead 26 years, seemingly trapped in wage work until then. I knew that I would like to spend time here, sometimes all day instead of 2 1/2 hours, which was usually all the time I had. A 15 degree breeze would make the skin on my cheeks rosy, and the pain of it was enlivening.

It's said that the essence of depression is suspense, but on Budd Lake in solitude I would willingly suspend almost everything and it was a very pleasant, but very remote, feeling. Getting away from it all--I did that, even within a couple hours. I remember I would stop at the 7-11 afterward, perhaps for a pack of cigarettes, always guilty buying them, but peculiarly in need of the pain, for the sake of overcoming this pain for that little pleasure, one among many, but reliable, like a base to touch, a crutch, and the snazzy atmosphere inside of pop music and flashy advertisements always hit me like someplace very far away from where I had just been, even after a couple hours. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Slow Day for Salmon River Steelhead

You can view fishing the day after you've been taught by a great steelhead guide as no more than a true test of your prowess, against which your ego stands or falls, depending on whether or not you catch a steelhead--on your own. And if it falls, what then? Aren't you going to get back out and fish? And to certainly catch plenty fish again. So what does the acid test matter? It's totally a fiction that has something to do with the necessities of our distant, primitive past. But it's an illusion demanding of respect; its essence, in fact, is no illusion or fiction at all.

I sat in the comfort of that little luncheon in Altmar when I considered my despair over failure, as if the question belonged entirely to the realm of psychology, as if now that we are just sportsmen, not living off the land, what does it finally matter--I'll go back and fish. The underlying issue is survival, those necessities of our primitive past. But we have not advanced beyond the need to survive, as if we ever will. This is why fishing is a serious recreation. At the least it sometimes reminds us that reality tests us, so long as we place our angling in difficult situations. If we have plenty of money and sheltor, it's easy not to take such challenges too seriously. But history judges every civilization. And in any historical period at least some people exist who are life and death challenged. We ignore them at our peril. To ignore others so challenged is to guarantee that dire and grave conditions will come around to bite us in the ass.

This doesn't mean altruism rules the day. Altruism typically doesn't see reality, when it doesn't respect the object of charity. And it very likely is not at all charity which someone in need desires, perhaps an exchange of words will do to mutual benefit. In essence, those of us who have very difficult lives may potentially have the most knowledge to address an ailing civilization, a society that does not necessarily have to fail entirely before it recovers, and improves in a new way. Even extreme difficulty and hardship does not by any necessity imply that such lives are troubled victimhood--it means that such a life is situated to take the problems of the age we are all living through the hardest. 

After getting up late this morning--7:00 a.m.--and hurrying my son and myself out the door here at the Steelhead Lodge, as disheartened that I was at taking such a leisurely start on the day, since I like to have all in order and to depart on the earliest instant, and also to have sputtered away the entire morning without real conviction in what I was doing as we fished, I gave the last hour and a half or so of about three straight hours of afternoon fishing to sunset a dogged, honest persistence during which time I had three solid hits. This alone made the day. Without that, I would have compounded my awful depression, deepened as the local rock station blaring in the restaurant at Altmar produced visual obscenities in my mind. I muttered a few disparaging remarks to my son at the table just to recognize myself as human.

But I made myself fish hard afterward, much less out of any hope that I would catch another steelhead than the knowledge that if I just got a flow going, not a great stream of ecstacy within myself, just an honest process of doing it right, floating that egg sac in the way a steelhead would take it, then a bead--which three did hit--I would recharge the batteries in myself and be done with this stupid depression--which is what I tend to think of every depression. The exercise replaced all that confusion with an accomplished attempt.

Most people we spoke to reported a slow day. I spoke to only one person who had done very well. We walked well away from the crowds near the lots twice. Overland trails are convenient. The long walks freshly reminded me of our foray into the Douglaston Salmon Run a month ago.

The Salmon River is truly a great river with an amazing history. Since sometime shortly after the glaciers 10,000 years ago, Atlantic Salmon made their way into Lake Ontario from the St. Lawrence--and up the Salmon River by the scores. This is what I hear; I haven't read factual documentation. This is the true origin of the river's name. It deserves better than my son and I, my brother Rick, my nephew Kyle, and Dennis Fairburn have given it, flying up here from New Jersey for mere long weekend stints. 

My son netted this gentleman's steelhead. Three hours or so later we walked the half mile or so back to the lot together, speaking freely. He suggested spending about $300.00 on a steelhead fly reel, after I had informed me about features and I had inquired about price.

Not anytime soon perhaps. But once we got back to my room I imaginned given this river its due during my retirement, and told my son about this. He told me that it would be best if I spent long periods of time fly fishing. I got to thinking our noodle rods will go by the wayside.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Habitat Decimation in Delaware and Raritan Canal

I've been shifting back to Litton's Fishing Lines for my New Jersey posts, but at least for this canal story, I want to follow through on my promise to "be back."

I'm not sure I'll fish the canal again until next summer after today's boredom with it. The best I can account for being skunked after nearly an hour of fishing, 65 degree weather besides--at least I caught a pickerel last week in a half hour's fishing, and had that excitement I wrote about the previous week--is that so much brush in the water seems to have been cleared out that habitat is reduced and fish populations are down. 

For the past couple years I've been fishing the canal near Weston and Manville, summer and fall. I catch a single fish here and there, putting in no more than an hour at a time, pickerel and largemouths. But I'm drawn to the judgment that since the dredging in 1986, I believe it was, fish never returned to their previous levels of presence. I remember fishing the canal a number of times in the early 90's and feeling this is true. Either submerged brush never has accumulated back to what it was, or a State Park maintenance crew takes brush out--and decimates the environment in the process. I know for a fact a beautiful deadfall--a whole tree in the water--was removed last year just downstream from the bridge as Weston Canal Road turns towards Manville. I also observe that overhanging trees are occasionally cut at the bank, reducing habitat. It all seems to be done just to keep the canal somewhat "clean," to homogenize, simplify its appearance for those who walk the towpath.

I like a wild appearance. But most like things dull.

My fishing log is loaded with facts from 1975 until now. We caught quite a few fish--sometimes six within an hour--during the 70's and early 80's. Most were small but 16 inch pickerel were common, as were 10 and 11 inch largemouths. Sandbars at the Quaker Bridge Road bridge attracted shiners schooling in the shallows to avoid pickerel, which rushed out of depths to slash through these baitfish and take a meal. The dredging did away with them. But mostly the brush was great habitat in fall and winter for gamefish. We caught pickerel consistently through January and February when no ice locked everything under. A simple crappie jig did the job, just dancing it through and around brush.

If I had State Park oversight I'd put habitat in, not take it out.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lunch Date with the Delaware and Raritan Canal for Pickerel

Picture's a month old. I had some fun fishing the Delaware and Raritan Canal a few times, but the pickerel and largemouth were small. I went yesterday, which seems a season ago today now that six inches of snow has accumulated so far. I have to tell you I got a thrill at the end of my 45 minute stint. First, I had fished along the bank on the right side of this photograph taken in Weston from atop the lock trestle. No hits, nothing. But having re-crossed the lock, I was attracted--for good reason--to the cul de sac to the side of the flow through the lock passage. Duckweed covering a good three or four yards of deep water with a log jam would hold fish. Was it just too close to the exit way? Well, why would it be? Especially with that strong flow beside this calm pocket it could be special.

So I just dropped my killie (leftover from my Sandy Hook trip a month ago, but live and frisky) and it obliged me by swimming down and back under the duckweed. I watched as line slowly unwound from my reel spool. Nice. That killie was really going back where something might be watching it, gathering the juice of its own desire. But of course I remained skeptical. You have to or else exhaust yourself with hope.

Then that line just shifted into rapid motion as quick as a switch you never knew was flipped. I swear it peeled off faster than those hybrid stripers took our herring a week ago. I set the hook, felt nice, then the fish was gone. Baited back up, did the same.

Now most of the time when we shoot a lure or bait back into a spot where we just lost a fish--nothing more happens. That was the only fish around. Most often. I knew it all depended on whether this spot--yeah, a pretty substantial space, deep, lots of cover--actually held, well, possibly a number of fish. We think of pickerel as territorial loners (not bass necessarily), but this is not always true--if pickerel closely bunched together do ignore each other totally.

Just like the first time, the line raced off again. This time, when I set the hook--I got the log jam. The fish--whatever it was--had gone directly into the thick of the wood like the grain of it's age, which my hook held fast to like an anchor.

The line snapped, and that was all. I had somewhere else I had to be, quick. Who bothers to fish the canal anyway? But I have to tell you there's really nothing like it for just messing around with a few fish in wood cover. And I'll be back.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jersey Hybrid Stripers: Herring and Vertical Jigging Produce

I like having daylight savings time this late in the season. I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m., but reset and got up at 4:50, walked the dog, and by the time my son, Matt, and I had finished breakfast I was alarmed to see it was 5:46. Normally we get to Dows Boat Rentals about 10 minutes before opening. But passing Morristown on Interstate 287, no sign of light had crept into the sky. I actually spent a leisurely five or 10 minutes speaking with Laurie, and we still got to Racoon Island well before sun-up.

The cold was not nearly so severe as it has been for us on Lake Hopatcong this time of year. About 40, with a light breeze: it was enough to chill Matt's hands and face, and I had him open vermiculite hand warmers first thing so he could use one while traversing the lake. The surprising event was such a chill all day--it never warmed above 55, I'm sure, if that. Surface water temperature held at 58--two degrees higher than this time last year.

My idea was to start with live herring, then switch to vertical jigging within an hour or less. Nightcrawlers served the purpose of placing a few yellow perch in the live well so I could put one out for a musky as we drifted and jigged. A few large sunfish, and a very small largemouth fell for the crawlers as well. But after about 20 minutes to a half hour of waiting for a walleye (I assumed) to hit a herring, Matt's first significant fish proved to be a hybrid bass, close to 16 inches, which we released.

But it seemed that in no time we started to tally up quite a number of bass. Apparently pods of them were working the area of Racoon Island's large drop-off. We fished 25 to about 35 feet deep. After we had caught four or five between about two and slightly better than three pounds, I changed my mind about rushing into jigging. We were definitely in sustained action, the sort of thing that does not happen every time out. Would it last?

By about 10:00 a.m. we had caught about a dozen, all of them close to two pounds, and better, one of them four pounds, four ounces, and our three and a half dozen herring had dwindled to under a dozen--fortunately half a dozen or so leftovers from previous renters swam witth our limit of hybrids in the other live well. I had intended to use more than two dozen of our herring going after pickerel with quarter ounce lead heads tipped with these fiercely active, shinery-than-shiners fish---and to stay out until 5:00 or so, which it turned out Matt wanted no part of.

I negotiated through until 4:00, it turned out, charming him along. He kept telling me the fish gods were not happy with how greedy I was after we had caught 17 hybrids. He was more than satisfied, he told me, smiling. He was. And I was happy that he felt such accomplishment. But anglers who are driven to fish more than catch will understand that I already felt all that action as past, much as I enjoyed it. My attention riveted on trying to get a walleye or another hybrid (one of mine hit a Rapala ice jig) to strike, and to fish places like Sharps Rock and Chestnut Point with some thoroughness. I did manage to try for pickerel and largemouth for a half hour, and had one hit.

I needed to exercise my alternate approaches. Otherwise I played Matt along, and made sure we left well before 5:00--although I got some agreement that next year we do stay to 5:00!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

North Branch Raritan River Release: Thinking Trout, Fishing Smallmouth Bass

I stepped into trout-cold, painfully temperature decimated water wearing only shorts and sneakers. Earlier air temperatures had reached 72, but last night fell through the 40's, leaving the North Branch Raritan at who-knows-what until it rose into the 50's--felt like lower 50's--by this evening.

You might think I'm jumping the gun, since the river isn't stocked until Wednesday next week, but I doubt I'll even bother with the hatchery supply. I thought about it while fishing, and the prospect then of catching even a glorious 22 inch brown or rainbow--no doubt such a fish is glorious--just didn't interest me, its having come from a truck hours or a day before. To catch one of these fish a week later--or in January--is more sporting. I like to catch trout the day of stocking in the spring; although most of those are small, but in such numbers that it's quite understood this is hatchery fishing. And it does have challenges.

However, the hatchery scene can appear grim. The thought of us not so much reducing trout habitat--we still have about 50% of the orignial brook trout range in New Jersey, and many pure, spring water small streams flow in this state--but making man dependent on his government to supply trout from a truck can be deeply dismaying. Sure, I get out there with the other enthusiasts and have fun, too. Normally I don't think about this dark side at all. I'm one of those good natured guys who actually takes measures in his life to maintain a positive outlook. But it bothers me just now and this afternoon that so many seem to believe that a government social program is about all fishing in New Jersey can amount to. I have to admit that I like my solitude. And to a certain extent this solitude is protected by others being ignorant in this way. Or is it really?

It isn't as simple as that solitude is protected by others not knowing. I don't think ignorance in any form ever protects anything. It's almost as if many aren't--in a deeper sense--out to fish. Ostensibly--certainly they are, and enjoy it (but only some really). They got there by governmental publicity. Through years of it in the newspapers. Stocked trout are such a long tradition now that no one remembers how the flocks of people wore down stream banks in the first place. But it's a tradition of government--at least by the sheer numbers of frustrated fishermen--more than angling. However, at bottom the desire of each man, woman, and kid who purchases a fishing license and trout stamp trumps that governmental scheme. It's a close call, but I'm positive that what fundamentally moves these people is a pure and authentic desire to get out and pursue happiness by an attempt to catch fish. It is as individualistic as this, and readily shared with anyone--a son, friends--who someone bitten by the bug feels will respond and join him.

No, I was after smallmouth bass this evening. And smallmouths were never stocked by a government, but by anglers who smuggled them in on freight steam locomotives from the Midwest. Smallmouth bass have hunted in this state for 150 years. They are absolutely wild. And I don't disagree with wild browns and rainbows, even if originally stocked by state government. Ultimately, it's an act of futility to disagree with the past. If you don't accept deeply the past for what it was, yet assert disagreements with wrongs, you will not understand those wrongs nearly as well you might if you dare to empathsize with those who committed them, which can be a very difficult act, if really successful at all, perhaps years later you realize something you tried to understand. Sometimes the present too needs to be absorbed even when wrong is done if all you can really do is witness. Sure, I get out and fish hatchery trout. And I view this scene in many different ways, not all of them consistent with the mood I'm in now, nor am I one of those who thinks "Government is the problem," that's not what any of this means. I think in essence what my position does mean is that economic solutions are better than governmental what are in fact economic problems, not that I am blind to how mixed up things are today.

Anyhow, two weeks ago manic bronze bass rushed at top speed for shiners I retrieved back after missed hits. Once in the water today, I knew this would not happen. I was surprised that my first bass (after a missed hit) swirled my weightless killie off the surface. Both were the average nine inch, bulldogging bass.

I did better in the hour of fishing this evening than I did on two summer afternoon excursions to the South Branch this year, except that I did lose my largest stream bass of the year near Three Bridges, although I doubt it was better than two pounds. I fished my favorite North Branch honey hole once or twice for no big ones this summer, but did well otherwise further downstream. Plenty tell me the South Branch is New Jersey's best smallmouth stream (other than the Delaware), but I just haven't experienced this. I may be wrong, but my bet is that the Paulinskill is better than both North and South Branch. Yes, for smallmouths. I have caught smallmouths from Princeton Township's Stony Brook in November, plenty. I think I have from the Locatong Creek in November as well, although I won't trouble myself to look it up in my log right now, and I have in the Delaware in December. But this is it for me on streams this year, I think, unless I do try for such trout... and wild trout on the Pequest in December.

Anyhow, you see that shadow line along the undercut bank across stream in the photo. That's where I got one of them, and the other just upstream in deeper water along a fallen tree. Wading out there, something that seemed larger than a muskrat, smaller than a beaver came swimming up mid-stream, and when it turned towards me, I remembered being attacked by two muskrats (I tore away) wading Little Shabakunk as a young boy. They terrified me. I was ready to brandish my rod. My right knee is too bad lately for sudden, evasive moves like scrambling up a high bank. The beaver turned back to face forward in mid-stream--then slapped its tail and dove. Small beaver. And later I got a clear look at its tail.

It's wonderful to get out and be released from all the demand out there. Not that demand is a bad thing! Plenty of us have been released from demand--jobless!--and it sucks. Lately I love my job, but it's all a performance, it's like trying to perfect a dance routine and no matter how much that is enjoyed, the freedom of just doing as you please to catch a couple bass on a nice stretch of clear water river away from it all--despite the pain of that cold water, after about an hour it really hurt this evening--such solitude returns you to life as it must be sometimes. Otherwise you can't be fully human. Something essential is cut off.

And that's a tradgedy no government will ever repair, by  the way. The best they can ever do is protect this freedom for a man to get up and go out alone.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Lake Hopatcong Vertical Walleye Jigging Underway

Joe Landolfi has more experience vertical jigging walleyes than I do, so when he told me the action begins in September, not mid-October when the lake is just about, not quite, turned over throughout its depths, I listened. And I was very surprised that we marked fish at 33 feet today. All week it's been in the 80's, surface water temperature was as high as 66, but it was relatively cool at the end of August and much of September, at least some of the month. I suppose, however, that so much rain has to do with it. Laurie Murphy at Dow's Boat Rentals said the same after we came and discussed it.

After an hour of fishing my graph recorder went on the blink. Joe got it back up for a short while. We tried again and gave up on it; it was useless, some electrical disconnection. But in no time at all he didn't miss the device. Wind kicked pretty hard, so we snapped on 2 1/2-ounce striper bucktails and confidently judged depth, as well as kept a tight, vertical line with a fast drift.

Instead of worsening, wind softened. I jigged up a perch from 20 foot depths just east of Sharps Rock, having changed back to a half-ounce Gotcha jigger. But the real action came west of Raccoon Island, in the area of the ledge. First Joe jigged up a pickerel from 15 foot depths, then I missed a hit, and finally he caught a three-pound, five-ounce walleye, straight from the drop in about what clearly seemed 15 feet of water.

It had been a dark day, threatening and chilly, great walleye weather, and at the end of our last drift, at Nolan's Point, rain began to fall! Laurie assured us it's early yet for jigging. The Fisherman is still reporting catches after dark on live herring. But even for one walleye in the middle of day, I hand it to Joe, or photographed him anyhow, who's been catching them with his friends from September on for years.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fishing Sandy Hook

Had a great weekend with my son's Boy Scout troop on Sandy Hook this past weekend. We arrived Friday night in an absolute downpour, but within 20 minutes the rain slowed. By the time tents were set up, it stopped, and never returned. Mosquitos are bad since Irene, but that was a slight nuisance and no worse.

Saturday morning I drove out to Julians Bait and Tackle for a pint of killies. If they looked like blackberries, the mushrooms in the salad the night before must have been the wrong kind, but this was a completely ordinary excursion. However, I managed to get left behind the troop as they hiked off for North Beach as things got complicated for me preparing tackle. I hiked out from the campsites, but ended up on Gunnison's alone.

Having soon managed to lose a good sized fluke on my medium power, 5 1/2 foot St. Croix (same rod I use for smallmouth bass in the North Branch Raritan) with just a split shot, size six plain shank hook, six pound test, and eight pound flouro leader for good measure against teeth, I fished hard for a half an hour, then decided to reach for deeper water.

I call it the Hopkin's Hop. Instead of a two or three ounce bank sinker, I use a Hopkins with the treble removed--no hook. It's the weight that attracts fish when pulled off bottom and allowed to flutter-fall back. Attach a swivel to the rear split ring and tie an 18 inch flouro leader to it, and a simple size six plain shank or larger to the end of the leader. With my eight foot Tica I flung casts six times as far out as I could with the split shot.

It works of course--for bluefish too. They don't hit the Hopkins. They are attracted by it, but see the large killie "chasing" the Hopkins, and compete, always hitting on a fast snap. It doesn't matter that the Hopkins is bigger. I've caught a lot this way, both blues and fluke--two blues close to three pounds on Saturday, and three fluke, one of them a keeper, as well as losing four other fluke in the early afternoon, two more at sunset on North Beach, and losing another bluefish Sunday morning at North Beach. After this weekend I'm ready to pitch my idea for a magazine story some day so consider the Hopkin's Hop my invention! But go ahead and beat it to the press. If invention were this simple we'd all be millionaires. 

Before I left North Beach yesterday morning I watched the rod of the guy next to me go into spasms, and saw a 29 inch striper come ashore on a circle hook that had been baited with clam. I hope this bodes well for the months ahead. My chances are always slim because for me it's like playing the lottery. Well, for anyone it's like playing the lottery, but those really in the know both have a lot of time to play--and know a lot of the winning numbers to choose. 

Welcome to Fishing in New Jersey

No, it's not an oil refinery explosion, nor a nuclear blast over Manhatten, which you would either know about, or not. It's Saturday's sunset behind North Beach, Sandy Hook.

I decided to create a new blog for my New Jersey fishing excursions, and to keep Litton's Fishing Lines for out of state trips, as well as more general themes and possibly posts on techniques and tactics, all of which pertain to fishing for my readers. Fishing in New Jersey will also include posts from general perspectives on the northern, central, and southern counties down through Ocean and Burlington, possibly further south and over to Cumberland, it all depends on whether or not we get down there. My son and I have considered fishing in Cape May County.

I've posted either 111 or 103 articles on Litton's Fishing Lines, so plenty is present to peruse through the archives, and plenty more will appear yet. Please read! Photos are attractive for being effortless to enjoy. But words, demanding more, bring better reward.