Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunset Bass Fishing in Bedminster with Mild Weather Lingering

Gave my neighborhood pond a try at sunset for 20 minutes or so catching three largemouths: a pound and a half and couple of others, one about an ounce under two pounds, the other an ounce over two pounds on a 3/8th ounce spinnerbait, large Colorado blade, twister grub. The blade seemed too large forcing a slow retrieve, but the bass struck right at the surface under wake like on an ordinary evening in mid-April.

Today hit only 60 or so, and we have some real cold weather on the way, 51 forecast for the afternoon, but 24 at night! So will my supposition that we've moved into the stable warm weather pattern hold up? It's supposed to be in the 50's and back into the 60's by next week, so this may not be a slip back to water temperatures in the early season 40's.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Biggest Largemouth yet this Year Takes Senko Small Ponds Seem to be Stably Fishable

Around sunset I caught a couple of bass in my neighborhood pond.
This largest struck a chartreuse Mini King Spinnerbait right off the top; it weighed somewhere between a pound and a half and two pounds. I lost another bass of perhaps two pounds, then a smaller snapped the line, the knot having weakened as they do sometimes. I tried a black Mini King for more than five minutes without a hit, changed to a five inch Senko-type worm, and hooked a much larger bass that stormed off on a surprisng five yard run before the hook pulled. The bass took the worm dead sticked for more than 10 seconds right at that edge between deeper and shallower water where I caught the four bass on March 6th or so, whatever that date was I posted. I felt the weight before I set the hook, figuring it was a bass about the size of the first I caught today. I forget just what brand it is I pay less for than Senko brand, and can't find the packaging; essentially the same worm as a Senko, heavy bodied and all, rigged wacky. A while later I caught a 12 incher further out towards the middle of the pond on the same worm. The bass felt before I set the hook like the lightweight it was.

Algae has thickened considerably since 10 days ago or so.
Water clarity has clouded somewhat as would be expected.

(Not that bass can't be caught when a pond isn't "fishable." That was for the sake of a title, meaning that we seem to be on the warm side already.)

Trout Prep: Tips for New Jersey Trout Opening Day Fishing

Every early spring a special overlay of subtle excitement conditions my responses at times to the new season. It's not that I get the trout Opening Day jitters in my middle age (as young as I do feel inside) like I did as a boy and in my teens, but I'm reminded of them, and feel something of them from time to time. The birthing season just cannot convince me that the trout are just hatchery fish as if they have no value. The busting through of skunk cabbage and the yellow explosion of forsythia among hundreds of other green variations poking through is as real and wild as the dawn of the planet (even though forsythia is a quasi-domestic plant).

If the order stays the same this year, brookies will be first. They do take salmon eggs, but it's a good idea to bring two rods, one rigged for eggs with two pound test, a small snap, and two leaders with size 14 snelled hooks, the other with four pound test and the tiniest sinking Rapala, about an inch long. Particularly the large trout, if any present, will strike the plug. Try a two or two and a half inch size for the big one also. Another trick--live line a medium shiner using four pound test and a plain shank, size six hook, no weight unless it's a very deep hole.

Salmon eggs are expensive. So if you can find a shop that sells eggs from last year for a buck a jar as Lebanon Bait and Sport did last year and may be doing the same now, harden them up with just a pinch of salt on top. Add too much salt and the entire jar's worth will be ruined; I've done it before.

If water is slightly off color, use bright eggs. Otherwise, the usual dull colors all work.

You still have time as of this date to buy Loon Wader Repair UV light reacting polymer for your wader seams from Cabelas. If you are confident the waders are water tight, bring along a tube of this wet application that cures completely in seconds in bright sunlight, even on wet waders, just in case some subtle incident breaches them. Just make sure you don't expose the open end of the tube to sunlight. I use my hand to shade it as I apply. Most situations require only hip boots, but the breathable chest waders are so easy to wear that I don't waste money on boots besides.

Buy an inexpensive cloth creel perhaps, and attach your fishing license and trout stamp by a standard license pin holder to it instead of poking holes in clothing, unless you have already poked holes through a fishing vest to accomodate the game warden.

Holding my breath, but it looks like this year water conditions will be low and clear, temperatures very mild. I wish the state would stock rainbows to begin the season so that I could have full confidence in salmon eggs as I used to, catching perhaps 30 rainbows by early afternoon. But after many years of stocking rainbows for Opening Day, the state got the logic: brookies are the coldest water trout (actually char), rainbows are second to brookies, and browns tolerate the warmest and begin to get stocked in early May.

Get to your chosen starting spot early, a full hour before 8:00 a.m. That's the ritual, standing in the stream for an hour doing nothing but anticipating the hour ahead and conversing offhand with others doing the same. It's never been a difficult exercise to get through.

I will post a piece specifically dealing with fishing salmon eggs on Litton's Fishing Lines, my other blog, link below the photo.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dows Boat Rentals Open at Lake Hopatcong Fishing Underway

Dow's Boat Rentals is open for service! Walleye, muskies, pickerel, largemouths and smallmouths, crappie, plenty of perch, and even hybrid stripers are all there begining to cooperate now. I got news of a 27-pound musky caught this past week. Trout will be in the lake in three weeks.

That's Joe Landolfi with a walleye vertical jigged at the end of September this past year in one of Laurie's boats. September the jigging commences, but isn't in full swing, since the lake is not completely turned over, although we did mark fish as deep as 33 feet that day, cool in the 50's. Sounds and looks a lot like the weather now, but water temperature was 66 in September, and we do have a way to go yet to reach this level. However, walleyes strike Rapala Ice Jigs and Gotchas under ice, and they will now. It's catch and release until the season for the table resumes for this species, but pickerel will slam spinners trolled behind an outboard in 47 degree water. Largemouths may not be so feisty, but they will take tube jigs (smallmouths too) and small frame spinnerbaits with a heavy head retrieved slowly along the outside edge of weedlines about 16 feet down, to give a ballpark figure.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fishing Zebra Midges on Pequest River for Brown and Rainbow Trout

Our first time on the Pequest, my first impression was of green algae thicker than I would have expected to see even in summer, a slightly disgusting surprise. A river regular told me it's because of the mild winter. The Pequest reminded us of the Salmon River: water was not especially clear. With all the limestone springs that feed it, I had almost expected water as pure as the Dunnfield Creek's. The way I remember the Pequest where it empties into the Delaware--we were fishing for stripers that evening and night--is not how it was in the Trout Conservation Area today. That was summer and the river seemed especially clear. 

We saw a 16-inch brown caught (photographed being netted above). My son missed a strike from a 14-incher, which turned on its side the moment Matt felt the hit to give him a clean flash of fish. We went downstream a half mile or so to evade the crowd. We used no strike indicators, kept the flies at bottom, but we both are novices at this, although my casting is sure and precise compared to how I began last year. Lots of good water, the deepest we encountered about four feet, but plenty of good cuts and sluices, big rocks everywhere. I do suggest you really walk the river, however, and trails are well defined. Most of the anglers stayed very close to the parking lot. At sunset, I would have been wise to switch to a Wooly Bugger for low light. I didn't think of it until I had seen a trout rise and refuse to hit the midge as I worked the area very carefully, which it may not have been able to see by then for all I know, although trout have very special vision according to what I've read.

Speaking of which, Tom Gilmore's book Fly Fishing the Big Apple clued us into zebra midges. According to Gilmore these tiny flies--ours size 18, I think--work almost always on this river. At Efinger Sporting Goods a happenschance angler insisted I buy brown midges the same size along with the zebras, which I did, and tried one. Gilmore has imparted to me great confidence in this river long before I have actually fished it (my son did explore upstream a way with his rod that summer evening mentioned). I certainly knew better than to let some greenery on rocks ruin my experience. However, I feel as if I will always prefer the Dunnfield to any other New Jersey stream, although I'm biased with my amazing experiences on it during my youth. To this day when I go to the Dunnfield, I drink straight from it above where the AT verges left. I've been told by at least one deep New Jersey environmental mind not to do this and I feel as if--not that I am crazy, not that at all--but that I may be to divulge this so openly. But why not? I have only one life to live.

That water is pure aqua green as if it comes directly from springs and the water that doesn't is moss-filtered, etc. I've been there after very heavy rain, and although the stream nearly broke its banks, it still ran clear.

Speaking with the regular on the Pequest, we both agreed the Trout Conservation Area should be catch and release only year 'round. I bet that's how most who fish it feel.

Zebra Midge

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mini King Spinnerbait Bass and Rebel Minnow: Spring Largemouth Tips

The surface was choppy today unlike this photo from last year. I went out after sunset minutes ago and caught four largemouths in this reliable corner on the Strike King Mini King spinnerbait. I would cast well out, retrieve at a good clip, then slow down. The hits came right at the edge between very shallow and somewhat deeper water, on a couple of occasions hits were short. I'm sure the water reached at least 50, but didn't warm much more than this. With surface chop, the spinnerbait worked. The bass were all about a pound besides a two pounder, another that large lost, and another about a pound came off the hook. But here's a tip for calm water 47 degrees or warmer after a mild afternoon. If water temperature is falling, it won't work.

Rebel Minnow

Spring bass on the surface in 47 degree water? Possibly. If a northeast corner of a pond or shallow lake is structurally sound for bass, it may have warmed a little more under afternoon sun to the southwest. The Rebel Minnow floater/diver plug sits at an angle on the surface. Rapalas made of balsa don't. By a subtle rod twitch, the rear of the plug lifts to the surface. Just dimple the surface every 10 to 30 seconds with the 2 1/2 inch size. Bass may take the plug as subtly as a trout sips a dry fly, just sucking in the tail end of the plug beneath surface. It's topwater fishing. And the only lure I've caught bass with off the surface so early. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Round Valley Reservoir Shoreline Brown Trout and Lakers

Friday was the third or fourth visit I've managed to make at Round Valley this year. I really wasn't paying attention to the auspicious weather for fishing, but did think to try at the South Lot instead of by the main boat ramp. I walked downslope to lake's edge to talk to the sole angler fishing in the wind and rain, his hood up, traversing in orange gear between two light rods and a bucket of shiners. His excitement affected me immediately--oh yeah...I looked at the roiled water and barely visible shorelines as if I hadn't been aware at all in the moments just previous of the fishing potential. He had a 20-inch laker, 16- inch brown, and had just released a 15-inch brown in 45 minutes or so. "They're really hitting today!"

I fished 45 minutes and caught a 15-inch brown on marshmallow and mealworm, photographing the fish at my feet in water muddied by wind-blown little rollers. Trout have been caught steadily since October, but usually by numbers of one or two here and there, rarely lakers, more browns than rainbows. October was better with catches of a dozen on one outing possible. Merrill Creek Reservoir is good from shore too; I read a report in The Fisherman this past week of a six pound brown caught on an injected nightcrawler. Don't underestimate those Berkeley and Lindy Worm Blowers. My son catches more bass that way, but I certainly can see the effectiveness for trout too, especially with baby nightcrawlers.


Some like to use slip bobbers for shiners. I've even witnessed a standard round bobber used effectively with a single salmon egg on a size 12 hook two and a half feet under the float over 10 or 12 feet of water in October, cruising rainbows rising from a couple yards or more deeper to take the egg without hesitation. But the most effective way to fish shoreline rainbows and browns is probably with m&m's (marshmallow & mealworm), a method of attaching one or two small marshmallows to a size six, light wire plain shank hook, then a mealworm, tying off a four foot leader (six pound test or lighter) to a small barrel swivel, and a half ounce steel egg sinker with the main line slipped through behind it. The marshmallows float the rig just enough so that the bait is clearly visible to trout in the reservoir's gin clear water; floatation will not pull additional line through the egg sinker so that the bait ultimately would float at the surface.

Otherwise, it's hard to say that shiners are any worse. And they will catch lakers on rare occasions, as well as largemouth and smallmouth bass, and pickerel. Use the same length of leader, line test, barrel swivel, and egg sinker to simply allow the shiner to swim freely right near bottom. Sometimes the shiner will find residual vegetation and foul the leader in it, or even tangle line among stones, although these instances are infrequent and may be remedied by adding a little Styrofoam to the line. Just slice the foam with the line so it holds in place above the shiner or use Lindy walleye floats you slip line through as you would a slip sinker. The shiner tends to swim erratically and attract trout anywhere from about 10 to 30 feet deep. In October I've witnessed rainbows in a foot of water.

For more about Round Valley, you can go to my other blog: and click under labels on the right margin: Round Valley

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fishing New Jersey Smallmouth Bass

New Jersey smallmouth bass are a wild wonder worthy of pursuit principally because of the mystery and elusiveness they share with other fish. This should never be forgotton and overlaid by habits of effective angling, never forgotten completely, although easy familiarity is an enjoyment, a self-possession earned through getting out there and finding bass. I bet every boy who fished for the first time, or the first three dozen times, was captivated by the otherworldliness of water and the self-determined denizens occupying it.

I began taking my son snorkeling in the clean water of the upper North Branch Raritan when he was seven. We both have observed many smallmouths over the past five years--and they us. They don't dash for cover as trout do when you approach, especially as brown trout do. Why do they bother to stare a diver in the face? They can't reason about us, but I bet they are fascinated with the perception.
Smallmouths are fierce. But above all they are lordly surveyers of their precincts. I love pickerel for their lightning strikes, but they cannot match the open, unabashed presence of bass. Pickerel stalk from within darkness of weeds and brush like deviant rascals.
Where to Go

Smallmouths are not native to New Jersey--they were first introduced from the Midwest during the 19th century--but they are fully wild, reproducing as established populations in rivers, streams, and lakes mostly from Mercer County northward, but South Jersey has great fishing in Union Lake and Lake Audrey. Manasquan Reservoir near the shore and Garden State Parkway exit 98 is good fishing too with very good-size smallmouth bass. I know of only one pond--Saffin's at 12 acres--in New Jersey with smallmouth bass.

The Delaware River is the greatest fishery besides perhaps Oak Ridge Reservoir. Plenty of streams from Mercer County northward are full of smallmouth bass. Stony Brook and Bedens Brook in Mercer, Raritan River and its branches in Somerset and Hunterdon, Musconetcong River in Hunterdon and Morris, Pequest and Paulinskill Rivers in Warren and Sussex all have plenty smallmouth to catch and release. Throwing them back is important in these small waters, although most of those you will catch are under 12 inch minimum. However, smallmouth much larger are possible, such as the 6 pound, 6 ounce smallmouth caught in the South Branch Raritan, reported in The Fisherman magazine in 2010.

Lakes such as Hopatcong, Swartswood, Greenwood, Echo, Spruce Run Reservoir, Round Valley Reservoir (state record 7 pounds, 2 ounces), Split Rock Reservoir, Merril Creek Reservoir, Canistear Reservoir, Oak Ridge Reservoir, Clinton Reservoir, Monksville Reservoir  have smallmouths, although they are not so prominent in Spruce Run.

Catch Them

Follow my two blogs or check the archives for specific pointers on techniques and wherewithal on various waters. Techniques are too varied to account for now without an unweildy bias. My other blog, Litton's Fishing Lines, has a lot of posts about smallmouths to explore. Here's the link:  then click "smallmouth bass" under the labels heading to the right margin.

An article with some information on NJ smallmouths: 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fishing New Jersey Ponds

New Jersey ponds especially offer fair to excellent largemouth bass fishing; some are loaded with pickerel, particularly in the Pine Barrens; some are stocked with trout. Unlike in Massachusetts, where I have caught smallmouth bass in a two or three acre pond, smallmouth in New Jersey seem mostly limited to streams, small rivers, the Delaware, lakes, and reservoirs. I know of one pond of about 12 acres with smallmouths. But even ponds you can cast clear across from almost any vantage have largemouths. I once caught a 20-incher in a quarter acre pond.

Ponds get overlooked by those of us who like lakes. So as long as those who do fish them release their catch, fish populations remain stable and often are found to be abundant. No better place seems to exist for a young person to develop a value for fishing than small ponds of a few acres or so.

And no better place exists to start the open water season if you want to catch largemouths early, even before the ice melts on Lake Hopatcong. Pond ice melts first. Since ponds are usually much shallower than lakes, they warm faster too. If a pond is shallow enough, an early March afternoon warm enough, bass may be caught on surface plugs while ice fishermen get the last flags of the season on Hopatcong. I know of ice fishermen who did this on an 80 degree March day.

This winter we may have little ice fishing at all. But ponds also freeze first. First ice is best ice, the "black" ice before any snow falls on it. Sometimes this clear ice is available only for a short window of time, only on small ponds.

General Approaches

Most of New Jersey's ponds are impoundments ranging from about an acre to 20 acres or more. Usually you can fish the bank all the way around, and bass will typically frequent shallow water during the warm water seasons.

The "once over" is the term of description the fishing mentor I knew during my teens used to describe the simple method of walking the bank and casting shallows usually parallel to the bank ahead. You progress as you cast ahead of where you casted last, covering all the shallows. Good lures for this approach include spinnerbaits, jerk baits, topwater plugs, Senkos, and other plastic worms.

Fishing a pond can be as subtle as you make it, although bass are selective to some degree themselves. If you want to catch a lot of them and raise the odds of hooking a lunker when they feed aggressively as a front approaches and barometer falls, don't waste time fishing plastic worms. That's too slow. Retrieve a spinnerbait at a good clip, and first try buzzing it at the surface, or try a buzzbait first.

You can impose limitations on yourself as to how you wish to catch a bass. If the pond has 10 foot depths, you might try to catch any bass only in those depths. I knew of an elderly man who fished only Senkos at Sunrise Lake (actually a three acre pond). But he knew how to fish them and caught 17 bass at 20 inches and slightly better in a single year. I have no doubt he caught every 20 inch bass in the pond, which probably numbered fewer than half a dozen. But a five pound bass is usually no sucker. So to catch it half a dozen times inside a year took skill.

A very few people approach ponds as a place to exercise their skills with certain methods they are trying to perfect. They mess around with topwater plugs, for example, just to see if they spontaneously discover something they can replicate on a tough lake.

But a pond is never a bathtub, and even a bathtub with a bass in it--would still have a bass in it, a living being with changeable sensitivities. In our teens my friends and I took our pond fishing seriously, and I still reflect on this with great respect. For more on ponds: look to the right margin, click on "ponds" under the labels heading.