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.