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!

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