Sunday, December 27, 2009

Iced Out

Chris sets free a small native brown trout caught by yours truly in the Hollow Brook. Apologies for the bush-league photography.

When: Sunday, December 27th
Where: From Budd Lake, along the South Branch to Spruce Run Reservoir to Tewksbury
What: Enjoying the un-seasonably warm day and catching a couple of trout.
Weather: High near 50, Sunny.

Regardless of what the calendar says, my New Year begins with my first ice fishing trip, and for as long as I have lived by this philosophy, that day has always fallen in January.

As of a few days before Christmas, I was fairly certain this year was going to be different, and that this last Sunday of December would be spent standing on a frozen Delaware Lake with the twins, Brian and Chris.  However, as the holidays passed, rain and high temperatures put our endeavor in question, and we ultimately decided ice fishing was going to have to wait.

Instead of loading the truck with gear only to be diappointed by unsafe conditions, I decided to let my sled, jigs and tip-ups rest for a couple more weeks and come up with another plan.  Fishing days have been hard to come by this month, so I wasn't going to let this beautiful weather get away.

Brian and Chris asked me to come by their folks' place in Hunterdon in the early afternoon, so I decided to slowly head out that way and do some investigating in the process.  My goal was to first find access for ice fishing for a future date on Budd Lake, and to also locate river access on the South Branch, which originates at its southwestern shore.  Budd Lake is one of the handful of New Jersey impoundments that has a healthy population of northern pike, and although I have never fished there, I am looking forward to trying it.

I succeeded in finding parking and access right on Route 46. I marked the spot along with a couple others on my road atlas, then proceeded to take a stunningly beautiful drive along the South Branch and Route 513 through Western Morris County and eventually Hunterdon.  I did a little more scouting around Spruce Run Reservoir, and eventually made it out by the boys in Tewksbury around 11am.

It was an honor to have two long-time locals show me all the pools in the neighborhood brooks and for their determination to get me a Christmas Trout.  We hiked up and down the Cold Brook and the Hollow Brook, managed to entice a couple native browns and barely survived a couple slides down a ravine (if Lindsay's reading this, I'm kidding, but not really).  The weather was top-notch for December, and their mother rewarded our efforts with some fine food.

After a hectic holiday and a busy couple months at two jobs, it was great to have some morning solitude and to take a peaceful ride through some of the most beautiful country in the state.  In most of years that have passed, my connection with the outdoors has ended with the cold weather.  More recently, I have found that hiking, fishing, photography and taking a Sunday drive doesn't have to depend on the seasons, and that a few layers of clothes will allow anyone to be at peace when most others don't want to leave their homes.

This should, for all intent and purpose, end my adventures for Decmember, and for that matter, the year.  By my best calculations, I have caught two fish this month.  That may not seem like a whole lot compared to the other months this year, but it's undoubtedly two more fish than I normally catch in December.

Happy Holidays and a Healthy New Year to everyone!!!!!

With Peace and Love,

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The First Annual Fish Of The Year Award

Shortly after Lindsay pulled this walleye from the back of Byram Cove in Lake Hopatcong, I told her (although half-jokingly at the time) that she was in the lead for "The Fish of the Year Award."  Although I wasn't quite serious when I said this, I soon found myself desperately trying to best her impressive catch, and a competition had been born.  I had a few fish that were close in quality, but in the end, I had to humbly give her the nod for the nicest fish of 2009.

That being said, I am the sole judge of this contest, and all rules and regulations are completely open to my own interpretation.  The two biggest factors that went into my DMP (decision making process) were the type of species and the size of the fish in relation to that species.  I caught several bluefish, a couple striped bass and even 1 largemouth that were bigger than this walleye in the last 365 days, however, there is nothing special about a 12-lb. blue or a 27-inch linesider.  The largemouth was a few ounces north of 5-lbs and is this year's runner-up, but when I considered all the facts, I had to give credit where credit was due.

After months of putting together the pieces of how to fish Hopatcong, a slip bobber went down in the back of Byram Cove, and after a short, but well-handled fight, Lindsay landed the first walleye that either of us had caught from the big lake.  I had pulled walleye in NY state and have since caught one in Hopatcong, but this was a nice 5-lb. fish and a landmark one at that.  Although a 5+ pound largemouth is nothing to snooze at, it is not my biggest bass and barely my biggest one of the year.  The answer was clear...............
Congratulations to Lindsay for The Fish of the Year...........2009.

One last look at the runner-up........................

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ice Fishing 201

Steve Carey of Fish Sense Lures with a beautful Merrill Creek Reservoir Smallmouth he caught in Mid-December, fishing with his creation, The Binsky.

Before last winter, I had only been ice fishing a half-dozen times. I actually thought it was some kind of bizarre punishment from Mother Nature; being forced to stand on frozen water in order to catch a fish.  It was the final insult to the harsh realization that it was winter.

Thankfully, my opinion has changed.....and now I can't wait for ice.

Last year was not only slightly successful, but I actually had a lot of fun. I took what knowledge I had picked up in the previous years and used it to catch a few fish.  This year, with the addition of some new gear, good info from the Knee Deep Club guys and forums like, I think that I'm officially ready to take my game to the next level.

I have a ton of new toys that I am totally stoked to try out, but 3 of them immediately come to mind, and here there are............

The Binsky

It was my distinct pleasure to sit down with owner of Fish Sense Lures, Steve Carey, and BS about fishing for a couple hours. It took no longer than seeing his collection of Kistlers to know this guy could fish.....then he showed me some pictures.

Our paths crossed a few days later on Lake Hopatcong, and although there were a ton of boats out there, he and his buddy were the only ones catching fish.

Steve is a big believer in blade baits and an even bigger believer in his Binsky. I would have to agree. I've seen his pictures of lake trout, smallmouth, largmouth, a replication of a monster walleye, Chuck's testimony and Steve telling me how he donated a Binsky to a Hopatcong musky after a long, hard fight. The bait's vibration and vertical presentation make it perfect for the jigging that the Knee Deep Club members do in the late-fall and winter, and is probably why it is quickly catching on up there. It's perfectly suited for the ice as well, and I can't wait to try it.

You can check out the Binksy and buy a few at

The Shimano Symetre 500

Anyone who has ever gone fishing with me knows that I'm a Shimano guy.  I own a few Penns, a few Daiwas and a couple Okumas, but for the most part, I buy Shimano.

I bought this little beauty last Spring to put on my ultra-light.  In only a half-dozen outings, it has already caught its share of trout and I couldn't be happier with its performance.  It handles 4-lb. test perfectly and I can cast tiny spinners a healthy distance even though my ultra-light is only 5 1/2-feet.

After spending far too much time on The Shanty, I've quickly learned that it is the opinion of quite a few seasoned pros that the Shimano Symetre 500 is THE top-notch ice fishing reel.  I have a small Frabill rod that it is perfectly balanced on, and can't wait to tie on a Swedish Pimple with a mousie and start hauling in panfish.


It doesn't take a genius to figure out that ice is slippery, and since I am not the most nimble of creatures, there have been far too many times that I have planted my ass on it.  This can also be dangerous, especially when you get as excited as I do when a flag goes up.

This year I decided to spend a few less times wiping out, and was in the market for some kind of cleat.  There are a handful of options, but when making my decision, all I had to do was remember what I saw on Webguy's feet, 'cause not many people know better than him.

I bumped into him for the first time last year on the River Styx, and during our conversation noticed that he was wearing Korkers.  The Shanty confirmed my already well-founded suspicion that as far as footgear for hard-water fishing is concerned, these little devils are the poo.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Better Than Nothing

When: Sunday, December 6th, from 1pm to 3pm
Where: Pier by the Hyatt, Exchange Place, Jersey Cith
What: Fishing for stripers and tommycod with bloodworms and clams.
Weather: 40 degrees, sunny, 10mph wind from the NW.

I was pretty excited when I heard that small stripers were being caught off the Hudson piers...................until I caught one.

Chris had been out the week before on the pier in Hoboken and caught 4 small hake and 4 small stripers.  I intended to try the same locale, but after 20 minutes of being frazzled by the multitude of primo parking spots and not being able to decide which one was "just right," I decided to go back to Jersey City.

For the record, I hate Hoboken.

In any event, it seemed to be the same deal.  Chris told me he had a lot of hits from what must have been small fish, and I had the same experience.  I was getting bit every time the bait hit bottom, but the small striper that you see above was the only one to come over the rail. 

I also thought that I would be fishing incoming tide, but shortly after I arrived, I realized it was on it's way out.  All of the action came when it must have been full and it seemed as though the fish left with the water.  The faster it started moving, the quieter it got, and so I left.

I never take for granted how wonderful it is to have someplace close by to wet a line if I have a couple hours to kill.  It was cold, windy and I only caught one small fish, but I'll take being outside over sitting in front of a T.V any day.

Well........most any day.

Monday, November 16, 2009

One For Two Ain't Bad

When: Sunday, November 15th, from 6am to 5pm
Where: Lake Hopatcong
What: Fishing for walleye and hybrids with jigs, the Binsky and herring.
Weather: For the end of November, as good as it gets.  High near 65, mostly sunny, with a 5ish mph wind from the N to NW.

There are a lot of fishermen who wouldn't consider 11 hours on the water and 1 fish a success, but I do. 

Chuck and I had simply gorgeous weather, I was able to actually sit still for almost a half a day, at peace and completely relaxed, and to boot, I caught my first Hopatcong walleye.  I really enjoyed fishing with Chuck, and look forward to doing it again. He's a great fisherman with great passion for the sport, and that is something I truly admire.

At the beginning of the spring, I set two goals (sort of) for my fishing season.  I wanted to catch my first walleye from Lake Hopatcong and my first hybrid striped bass, period.  I think that there was also something about a musky, but that wasn't all that realistic, yet. 

This being the first year that I have even known "how" to fish Lake Hopatcong, I am not embarrassed to say that I had yet to pull a walleye or a hybrid from it.  I have been the Captain of the boat when Lindsay landed a beautiful walleye and my dad a small hybrid, but had yet to get mine.  I have caught walleye from Black Lake in New York and the Connecticut River in Vermont, but not in New Jersey.  I have never caught a hybrid striped bass, but I have a hunch that will change in the next 365 days as well.

I got the walleye though.

You can't expect to catch a lot of fish, or even "a fish" every time that you go out on the water.  However, if you have even the slightest clue as to what you're doing, and put your time in, good things are bound to happen, at least every once in awhile.

So, I set two goals in April and accomplished one.  Along the way, thanks to my first year as a member of the Knee Deep Club and people like Lou Marcucci, Web Guy, Chris Lido and Chuck Sorrentino, I have obtained an incredible amount of knowledge on how to catch fish in Lake Hopatcong.  This information helped my father and I catch some nice trout in May, Lindsay land a gorgeous walleye in June, me catch a walleye in November and a ton of other fish, in just one lake, in one year.  This is knowledge that I can use for the rest of my life, and I have a hunch that I will be having even more successful outings on this lake for years to come.

This will most likely wrap up my year on Hopatcong until there is safe ice.  When I think of all I have learned and how this lake seems to be thriving, it makes me pretty excited to think of what I'm going to catch next year.
A special thank you to Laurie at Dow's for a wonderful year.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Nor'Easters, A New Friend And Another Day On Lake Hopatcong

As I sit at my desk at 3pm on Friday, all I can think about is fishing.

I was supposed to spend Saturday on Rob's boat with him and Pat, combing the bottom of Roamer Shoals and the East River for what might be the last chance of catching a huge fall striped bass.  Once again, however, Mother Nature had the final word.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is calling for gusts up to 30knots and 8-10 foot seas on Saturday.  Sunday is supposed to be beautiful. 

This was a no-brainer.

By the time I got word that Rob and Pat had freed up their schedules for Sunday, I had already made a pact with a new friend, Chuck Sorrentino, to spend Sunday on Lake Hopatcong on the last day Laurie will be renting boats this year.  It's supposed to be in the mid-60's with less than a 10mph wind.  I'm stoked.

Chuck is also a member of the Knee Deep Club, and after a few emails, a few phone calls and a little scheduling difficulty, we're finally going to get together and do some fishing.

In addition to catching his share of Lake Hopatcong's mixed-bag, Chuck Sorrentino is a licensed NY State Guide, and has spent countless hours in the Catskills fishing treasured waters, among others, as the Beaverkill and the Delaware.  Chuck also guides the Salmon River in Pulaski in the fall for coho salmon, king salmon, steelhead and trophy brown trout.  Chuck specializes in fly-fishing, but has spinning gear available and can accommodate anyone from a novice to a seasoned pro.

Anyone wishing to use his expertise in the hopes of catching a trophy can contact him at or give him a ring at (201)417-1036.  You can also see some his handiwork in the "Videos You Should Watch" or link to his page under "Sites to Check Out" for more pics and movies.

In the meantime, we're going fishing.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Point Mountain Reservation

When: Sunday, November 8th, from 9am to noon.
Where: Point Mountain Reservation, near Hackettstown and the Musconetcong River
What: Hiking
Weather: Unbelievable.  Got up to almost 70.

Another day, another hike, this time with friends.

Those "trout guys" I had been talking about also mentioned Point Mountain and the Musconetcong River, so when Lindsay suggested hiking there for the group-hike she was organizing, I was quite interested. 

It should come as no surprise that the route we followed was yet another "Hike of the Week" from the NYNJ Trail Conference.  With that hike in hand, we found ourselves in a gravel parking lot at 9am, a short distance from Point Mountain and the Musconetcong. 

The first 2 miles were more like a leisurely "nature walk," but followed the bank of the river for a distance and provided some spectacular views.  We saw a couple fly-fisherman, and I will definitely be paying this area another visit with my waders and my ultra-light.  The Musconetcong is a native trout stream, meaning that it has a naturally-reproducing trout population.  It is well protected and quite pretty, and with the efforts of groups such as The Musconetcong Watershed Association (MWA), has a promising future.  To learn more about this delicate and beautiful river and its tributaries, visit

Back to the hike.

After the first 2 miles, the trail turned vertical and headed straight up Point Mountain.  The few extra pounds that I'm carrying around tried their best to stop me, but I was able to make it up without too much trouble.  The rest of the gang made it as well and a nice couple snapped a pic of us on the overlook. Cheese.

A few minutes, a few peanuts and a liter of water later, we followed the trail along the ridge for a bit and eventually headed down and back to the gravel parking lot.  The 4ish mile hike took us just about 3 hours, which was an ample chunk of time since I had woken up at 1:30am Saturday morning because I was uber-amped to go striper fishing.  I was looking forward to some rest.

This was a great hike on a simply beautiful day for November.  OMG, November?

Well yes, but it felt more like Spring. 

Everyone involved had a great time and is looking forward to more hiking.  After some discussion, we're kicking around the idea of starting a hiking club...................

............and wethinks we have a name.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Attack Of The Yellow-Eyed Monsters

When: Saturday, November 7th, from 6am to noon
Where: Boat left from Belmar, fished north near the Shrewsbury Rocks
What: Striper/Bluefishing
Weather: The mercury didn't crawl over 50, it was windy too.

For those of you who don't travel in fishing circles, the term "Yellow-Eyed Monster" refers to Pomatomus Saltatrix, more commonly known as the bluefish.

Although sought after and even prized by many anglers, striped bass fishermen have a different take on our friend the blue.  These often-abundant fish have been given their omnious nickname for their ability to take bait intended for a bass and to shear line with their piranha-esque incisors.

They put up one hell of a fight though.

Here's a bit of history for you...............................The largest fish that yours truly has successfully landed was indeed a bluefish.  It was probably a few pounds north of 20, which is quite a size for this species.  The other thing, however, is that I caught it when I was 11.  It recently occurred to me, that after all the fishing that I've done, that not only is my "big fish" a mere 20ish pounds, but I caught it two decades ago.

That being said, my best chance for felling this stale record is probably with a striped bass.  It was in the back of my mind that I had at least a shot on this particular day...........but instead.......all I caught was bluefish.

I am in no way complaining though.  It's actually been a few outings since I've had action like this and the bruiser that you see above is the biggest fish that I've caught in some time.  I probably landed a dozen and lost a few more.

It was a great day.

Next week, it's Rob's boat, and another chance at breaking a 20 year-old record.

I'm hoping that this time my 25lb. bass will become a reality, and not another visit by the Yellow-Eyed Monsters.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Should Have Went Crabbing

When: Sunday, November 1st, from 3pm to 7pm
Where: Exchange Place, Jersey City
What: Striper fishing with fresh bunker.
Weather: Cold and windy.

Once again, the Fishing Gods left me scratching my head. 

Approaching full moon, flood tide, the heart of the fall striper run, dusk........................and no fish.  Oh well.

There we were, hours before the start of game 4 of the World Series, two die-hard Phillie fans and a die-hard Yankee fan.  We did our best to get along for a little while, and managed to get a few friendly hours of fishing in before our teams squared off in a pivotal game. 

It was cool and breezy at the end of the pier by the Hyatt.  I've seen some big striped bass caught there, and figure that it's just a matter of time until I get mine.  This wasn't my time though. 

The stars seemed to be aligned, and I was confident that between the three of us, we could catch at least one fish.  I knew from reports that the bass were in the bay and the East River.  It would stand to reason that they'd be in the Hudson as well, but they either weren't around or weren't biting.

The crabs, however, were ferocious.

There is a distinct movement of a rod tip that gives away the fact that a crab is gnawing on your offering instead of a fish.  They aren't often hooked, but a shredded piece of bait confirms what you already suspected.  There was a lot of this happening on this particular evening, and I had the pleasure of liberating a large male that became entangled in my line.  Check out his big blue claws.  That's the sign of a man-crab and is where these tasty critters get their nickname, The Blue Claw Crab. 

Since I'm not too keen on dining on anything that calls the bottom of the Hudson River its home, I let this one go.

When darkness fell, we did have a few potentially small fish taking line from our reels, and once again, I was provided with solid evidence of what was lurking below.

This time, eels, and I once again had the pleasure of getting one back into the water.

Next time we'll go crabbing, and hopefully catch our striper.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fish/Hiking The Gorge

When: Sunday, October 25th, from 11:30am to 3:30pm
Where: Ken Lockwood Gorge Wildlife Management Area, near High Bridge, Hunterdon County
What: Hiking the Columbia Trail and doing a bit of trout fishing in the South Branch.
Weather: High well into the 60's.  It was a breezy day, but you couldn't feel it in the gorge.

As far as fish/hiking goes, this might be about as good as it gets.

Over the last several years, I have befriended some "trout guys" and heard countless references to the Ken Lockwood Gorge, it's great fishing and it's beauty.  I have caught trout from the South Branch of the Raritan River, the river that flows through the gorge, but I had yet to do any exploring in the gorge itself.

I got the full experience on this day.

Lindsay and I planned a day to get outside, and the area seemed like a good idea.  It came as no surprise, that when I googled a hike, I came up with a link that brought me to the website for the NYNJ trail conference.  The site suggested taking the Columbia Trail, which runs exactly 7 miles (with markers to prove it) from the lovely town of High Bridge to the possibly more lovely town of Califon.  We didn't walk the full 7 (it would have been 14 round-trip), but took a drive for lunch and a bit of sightseeing in Califon later in the day.

Our journey started near the Municipal lot in High Bridge, where we parked the car (we slept late, the lot was full), found the trailhead and went on our way. 

The scenery was stunning.

If we lived a little further North, I think they would call this "peak foliage," but regardless of the terminology that you want to use, it was beautiful.

The trail runs a distance up from the river, but we took a couple trips down so I could toss my spinner in hopes of catching a trout. 

After about 3 miles, we crossed over a trestle and took a path down to a dirt road on the other side of the South Branch.  Shortly after I caught a brown trout and we asked a friendly stranger to take a picture of us.

The dirt road continued towards High Bridge, but it was eventually necessary to cross over the river again and head back up to the Columbia Trail.

This turned out to be a wonderful day.  The weather was as good as it gets for the end of October and the leaves let us know that fall was in full swing.  We enjoyed some amazing scenery and I caught a fish to boot.  In all we probably walked between 6 and 7 miles through what "they" call one of the 10 most beautiful places in New Jersey.

I would have to agree with them.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

King Of The Lake

When: Thursday, October 22nd, from 8am to Noon
Where: Lake Hopatcong
Weather: Warm and Windy
What: Fishing with Lou Marcucci

Everyone has people they admire for being great at what they do.  Whether it be the ability to shoot a jump shot, play the guitar or look beautiful, our society is embedded with people who possess all levels of greatness.  As for me, being a huge fan of all things fishing and all things Hopatcong, one of my people is Lou Marcucci. 

And today I got to go fishing with him.

How cool is that?

From the first sparkle of my infatuation with this lake, I immediately noticed, upon investigation of the KDC website, that Lou is a top authority on how to fish it.  When I started bumping into him at the dock of Dow's boat rentals, his kindness and his willingness to impart his wisdom instantly made me a better fisherman.

As fishermen, our greatest  Luck, however, is not dependable, so knowledge is our best asset.  When I started fishing Lake Hopatcong in earnest just about two years ago, I didn't have a clue.  Yes, I could pull largemouth bass out of any pond that I could find shoreline on and take my share of fluke out of Raritan Bay, but as far as consistently catching quality fish on this gem of a lake, I was lost.

When I found the KDC website, I started to read how it's done.  When I met Lou, he showed me.

I sent Lou an email a few weeks before and asked him a few questions about how to jig the points for Walleye and Hybrids in the Fall.  I couldn't have been more excited when he offered to take me fishing.

We had a simply beautiful day for the end of October.  It was a bit windy, which made it a little tough, but Lou managed to catch two Walleye before it really picked up.  One of them was 6lbs., as you can see Lou weighing it above.  It was successfully released back to lake.

I didn't catch any fish, but once again, was the beneficiary of Lou's knowledge.  I'm going to do a repeat in a week with a couple of friends, and I every fish I catch on Lake Hopatcong, for a long time, I will have Lou to thank for.

Thank you Lou.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day..........

James Macallum (Jimmy Mac), who shares my love of blogging, the outdoors and spirituality, suggested participating in Blog Action Day.  Since I think that Jimmy is pretty cool, I took his suggestion.

To participate in Blog Action Day, all I had to do was register, write what you are reading and tell you to check out  This year's topic is climate change, and the task was to relate the subject to the theme of my blog.  Since my blog is all about being outside, and climate change refers to it getting warmer........outside, I was sure that this wasn't going to give me too much trouble.

So here it goes..........

As honesty is a big component of my repertoire, I must admit that, for selfish reasons, I have pondered if global warming would benefit New Jersey.  As an angler, it has occurred to me that warmer temperatures would increase the metabolism of fish, making them grow larger and stay more active through the course of the year.  Also, prize game fish that prefer a warmer bath would start making their way into our coastal waters, eliminating the need for me to buy a plane ticket to Miami to catch them.

With that out of the way, I do not think that it is God's intention for me to catch a tarpon in Raritan Bay, nor am I willing to justify other ramifications of global warming with a healthy population of "double-digit" bass swimming in Lake Hopatcong.

The fact is that New Jersey has unique ecosystems that could be vanquished by a warmer climate.  A rise in sea level would immediately threaten our coastal wetlands and estuaries, displacing marine invertebrates and destroying essential nesting and foraging grounds for waterfowl and wading birds.  It has also been predicted that our magnificent hardwood forests in the northern part of the state, the landscape that I cherish most, would be taken over by southern pines and oaks.

If you take the time to venture out in to the wilderness of New Jersey, you will encounter beauty as only God can create.  From our vast pine barrens, along our 1,792 miles of shoreline, over the Palisades, across the Wyanokies and on to the rock fortress that makes up our side of the Water Gap, we have been truly blessed with a diversity and splendor of nature that is truly right at our fingertips.  I've stood on the farm ponds and looked across the rolling hills of Hunterdon County.  I've floated down a coffee-colored river through the fabled Pine Barrens.  I've walked for 6 hours along the Van Campens Brook without seeing another soul besides the one that was with me.  I have marveled at the beauty of the Ramapo Mountains from atop its many overlooks.  I have seen an osprey crash into the water to take a trout from Lake Hopatcong.  I have scoured the beaches on the Jersey Shore for shells, sea glass and starfish.  I have tasted the water from beneath the earth of Stokes State forest and have pulled fish from the pristine water of the Big Flatbrook.

We don't know exactly what will happen to these images if global warming continues unabated.  We do know that our tidal wetlands are at great risk from a rise in sea level and that our forests would almost surely be different.  Some of the fondest memories of my childhood are being knee-deep in Barnegat Bay and my favorite place now is among the rhododendron and mountain laurel of Worthington State Forest.  It's a blessing to still be able to enjoy the Long Beach Island I loved as a child and my favorite forest is only an hour away.  These are two places that might not exist as they do now if the climate were to change, and it is our responsibility to pass them along to the next generation as we have found them, so that they can love them too.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pat's Turn

When: Sunday, October 11th, from 7am to 11am
Where: Round Valley Reservoir, Hunterdon County
What: Trout fishing from the shore of the recreation area
Weather: Cold in the morning.  Sun came up and made it feel warm, although it was not warmer than 50.  Mostly sunny skies, temp was probably closing in on 60 when we left.

Pat had the hot hand today.

I normally tend to err on the side of having too much bait.  As a direct result, my previous failures at catching trout have afforded me a collection of pertrified jars of Berkely Power Bait that never got the chance to be eaten by a trout.  Being absolutely sure that this would happen again, I only brought one jar................

.............and was on my way to the bait shop by 9am.

Although the aforementioned migration of trout was not yet taking place, there were still fish within reach of the shore.  Pat scored almost instantly, but after that, our hook-up percentage plunged like the Red Sox did this October and we didn't land a fish for a couple hours.  Plenty of bites necessitated a "bait run," but as far as hooking fish, it was a little slow.

One of the main issues was that the "dough type" Powerbait seemed to be slipping off the hook with a little too much ease.  When I made my trip to Lebanon Sports on Route 22 (5 mins. from the lake), I procured the "marshmallow type" which seems to stay on the hook a bit better.

Pat's next bite was successful.

The action slowed down and since we both had things to do at home, we made an early exit.

Another perfect day with Pat.

I have to say that I have been getting much more pleasure heading West instead of North for my fishing endeavors these days (trips to Hopatcong being the exception here).  Although there were a lot of anglers, kayaks, boats and bird-watchers, it wasn't "too" crowded.  Also, Round Valley seems to be thriving.  There were a ton of fish breaking the surface, something that has been lacking in the lakes I have been visiting in the North, and I could see many a bent-rod along the shoreline.

Again, one of the main reasons for this seems to be the result of good conservation and hard work by the NJDEP Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Round Valley Trout Association.

Pat caught two beautiful fish, but since they weren't going to be eaten and were properly handled...................

...........they lived happily ever after.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Skinny On Round Valley Reservoir In The Fall

The Where-To

Round Valley, New Jersey's largest reservoir and second-largest body of water can be easily reached by taking Route 78.  If coming from the west, take 78-East to exit 18, take 22-East and follow signs for Round Valley Recreation Area.  If coming from the east, take 78-West to Exit 20-A, take 22 west, and once again, follow signs for the park.  Parking, boat launch and an abundance of fishable shoreline can all be found at the recreation area.

The cool waters of Round Valley Reservoir cover over 2,000 acres and reach depths pushing 180 feet.  It is the deepest lake in New Jersey.  Round Valley has a naturally-reproducing lake trout population and is stocked several times a year with brown and rainbow trout by the NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife and the Round Valley Trout Association.  Although rainbows and browns cannot naturally reproduce in Round Valley, the large number of "holdover" trout keeps the reservoir populated with them throughout the year.

It is important to note that Round Valley Reservoir has been designated as a Trophy Trout lake.  Size regulations and creel limits on Trophy Trout lakes are more restrictive than on other bodies of water in New Jersey.  There is no closed season for rainbow and brown trout on Round Valley, but all fish must be 15" and only 2 fish combined may be kept per person, per day.  Only 1 lake trout of 20" or more can be kept per day, and no lake trout can be kept from September 15th to December 15th.  Anyone fishing Round Valley Reservoir must have a valid NJ fishing license and persons possessing trout must also have a trout stamp.

The Low-Down

Every year, while children are thinking about what they want to be for Halloween, the brown and rainbow trout of Round Valley are thinking about children.  The problem is, however, that since no streams or creeks flow in or out of the big reservoir, they can't find a place to spawn.  As a result, they spend long hours cruising the shoreline looking for a place to breed and are easily accessible to shore anglers.  The movement of brown trout usually follows the movement of rainbows by a few weeks.

How To Catch Them

This angler initially failed miserably at his endeavor last year for one simple reason.  Trout are line-shy.  Using anything larger than 4-lb. test greatly reduces, or even eliminates your chance of catching a trout.  I have learned to overcompensate for my previous inadequacies, and now use 4-lb. test fluorocarbon, which although a few bucks more, is virtually invisible underwater.

As far as catching them, there are a few simple and inexpensive methods that I use. 

1)Spinners.  My personal preferences are 1/8-oz. and 1/16-oz. Blue Fox, Panther Martin or Rooster Tails.  There is really no trick to using a spinner.  Cast it out.  Reel it in.  Change the speed of your retrieve and see what happens.

2)Nightcrawers.  Casting a whole nightcrawler on a #10 trout hook when they are visible from the shore is probably your best shot at catching one.

3)Power Bait.  While casting spinners or crawlers, I usually have a light slip-sinker rig off the bottom with Berkeley Power bait.  This is a tried and true way of catching trout.

As far as tackle is concerned, the lighter the better.  If you have a light or ultra-light combo available, great.  If not, my medium-action bass rods have done the trick.

Fly-fishing is one of the most well-known means of trout fishing.  I'm hoping to put off opening that can of worms for as long as I can, or hopefully forever, so although there are many respectable authorities on fly-fishing, I am not one of them.  As a matter of fact, unless it is absolutely necessary, this may be the last time that you will ever see me mention fly-fishing in my blog.  One of the goals of my writing is the hope that I will teach somebody, something, anything, but if you are hoping to learn something about fly-fishing, I will tell you now that you are going to be disappointed.  I truly admire this intricate art of angling and those who seek to master it, but I have enough trouble moderating my hobby as it is, and can't afford (both figuratively and literally) to embark on any new endeavors at this point in my life.


By all means, take one or two (at most, by law) home for the table, but remember that fisheries are delicate and their existence is dependent on our conservation practices.  Fish being returned to the water should be quickly unhooked, photographed and released.  If a fish is hooked deeply, cut the line and sacrifice your hook or spinner to give it a better chance of survival.  NEVER use stainless steel hooks.

In Closing

It would be my absolute pleasure if someone reads this, and in turn catches a trout.  Even if you are not a fisherman, Round Valley Reservoir is a breathtaking piece of scenery to behold.  Its clear water instantly makes an impression, and its sheer size is something that you may never forget.  Always bear in mind that the survival of such treasures is in our hands

Monday, September 28, 2009

Back On The Big Pond

When: Monday, September 28th, from 7am to noon
Where: Lake Hopatcong
What: Fishing with live herring.
Weather: Mid-50's in the morning, then up to the 70's.  Wind started off 5-10mph from the west, then shifted and picked up.

Seeing as Labor Day and the boat traffic of summmer was long gone, I decided that it was time to take another boat from Laurie at Dow's and try our luck on the big lake again.

The lake was completely different on this Monday in September than the way I had left it on a Saturday in July.  Gone were the jet skis and the power boats, and with their absence came a peace that is magnificent on a lake of this size.  There were a few boats, but for the most part, the lake was ours.

We made a beeline for Pinetree Point, at the mouth of Byram Cove, and quickly landed two fat perch.  That would be all of the action that we would see for a few hours.

After motoring to a few spots, each time dropping anchors and bait and not getting a bite, we came to rest once more on the north side of Pickerel Point, off the main lake and out of the stiffening wind.

As Lindsay decided that it was time to take a nap, I decided that it was time to catch a fish.

Easier said than done.

I made sure that every hook had a lively herring and started chucking some of the hot new lures that have come my way.  Nothing.

As Lindsay awoke from her slumber, the wind shifted and seemed to bring the lake to life a bit.  A few of the slips went down and we could see a fish chasing bait on the surface.  After a couple failed attempts to hook up, I landed a decent pickerel.  By this point, however, we were out of bait and out of time. 

Chores and a now hefty wind beckoned us off the lake, and off the lake we went. 

When I think of fishing, I don't think of the summer.  My desire to be outside, and in particular, to be fishing, was further strengthened by seeing how perfect this lake is in the fall.  Beach chairs and water skis have been packed away, the kids are back in school and their parents are back to work.  The crowds of boats that kept me off Hopatcong for two months are long gone and it is now wide open for the taking.

I sincerely hope that I have another opportunity to get out there before the lake is lowered and Laurie packs up the boats, if not, it will be my first stop for ice fishing.


When: Saturday, September 26th, from 8am to 11:30am
Where: Palisades Interstate Park
What: Hiking with Lindsay and my sister
Weather: Cool but comfortable.

The day finally arrived when we were able to stop talking about hiking the Palisades and actually do it.  Once again, the three of us found ourselves up bright and early with another NYNJ Trail Conference "Hike of the Week" tucked in my back pocket.

We have made a habit of paying no mind to the difficulty of these hikes, as we have found them to be greatly overexaggerated.  On this particular hike, however, the mention of "rock scrambling" actually meant "rock scrambling."

A shiny nickel goes to anyone who can find me in this picture.

The first portion of this hike descends down long
switchbacks until the trail comes to rest along the shore of the mighty Hudson River, providing a spectacular panoramic view.

The next part of this hike is the tricky part, which includes, but is not limited to the Giant Stairs and two talus slopes, one of which you see pictured.

After this one mile stretch where you indeed need to be paying attention to where you put your feet, the rest of the hike was relatively easy.

As we reached the Peanut Leap Cascade it became apparent that it was not cascading due to a lack of heavy rain.  We did, however, take the time to explore the ruins of the Italian Gardens, which were built by someone who I have never heard of at a time that I don't remember.  The ruins included two rope swings which I believe were built more recently.  Janel and Lindsay took a swing while I took some pictures.

After this, it was all uphill back to the State Line Lookout where we had parked the car.

Another great hike had by all.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Musky Fever

When: Sunday, September 20th, from 7am to 10am
Where: Monksville (aka Skunksville) Reservoir
What: Taking my first shot at musky fishing.
Weather: Mid-50's in the morning, warmed up nice with blue bird skies. No wind.

Although Ryan and I didn't even get a bite today, I had a wonderful time and came to two important realizations. The first thing is that at some point I'm going to need a boat, and the second that is that I am now on a mission to catch a musky.

This was exactly my first time fishing with equipment and lures with the sole purpose of catching a musky. I immediately uncovered a powerful mystique that the water seems to possess based solely on the knowledge that they are swimming in it. There was also an indescribable anticipation of knowing that at any moment, there existed the possibility that I could be hooked-up with and battling the mighty muskellunge.

I'm so hooked.

I have missed a few of these fish in my life, all while targeting other species, but I think that I have come to the point where I have caught enough largemouth bass and it is time to shift gears to larger game.

It was, of course, necessary to buy some new gear for this endeavor, and I must say that I took almost as much pleasure out of the performance of my shiny new Calcutta 400B as I did with the sheer magnificence of my surroundings. I undoubtedly think the reel is up to the task and I look forward to the day when I can test every pound of its drag against the brute strength of the true king of freshwater fish.....................the musky.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Just One Of Those Days

When: Saturday, September 19th, from 9am to 12pm
Where: The Hoffman Ponds, near Clinton, Hunterdon County
What: Bass Fishin'
Weather: High in the mid-60's, sunny, a little breeze, nice.

After the couple of times that we have gone, I have immediately taken a liking to fishing with Pat. We have a calm, relaxing time, we both appreciate the beauty of our surroundings, we have a lot of fun and laugh and each time I catch a giant bass.

Awhile back I asked someone who I have quickly grown to admire if he knew of any bass filled farm ponds in Hunterdon County, since it is his home turf. Although I didn't make it out there that time, he referred me to the Hoffman Ponds.

The day came that Pat and I were in the market for some shoreline, and I remembered what my new friend had told me. We wet the first line a little after 9am, and on the 3rd cast, in the shadow of a tree growing on what was instantly named "Bass Island," I set the hook on the hog largemouth bass that you see pictured above.

Moments later Pat landed the beautiful rainbow trout that you see pictured as well.

It would have been a perfect day if we had gone home at that point, but being our first time there, we wanted to uncover some of the other watering holes that are scattered about the park. This endeavor turned out to involve a lot more walking than fishing, seeing as we didn't know exactly where to find them. Any and all difficulty that we had could have been easily avoided if we had noticed the trough full of maps on our way in.

Oh well, I needed the exercise.

Probably an hour later, we found ourselves on the shore of the same pond where we started. We fished a little longer, and each added another bass to our tally, but it really didn't matter, our day had already been made.

This was a great day of fishing in a beautiful place with a great friend. The fact that we caught a few fish made it better. The fact that two of them were memorable made it great and the fact that we got a couple pictures and let them live made it perfect.

Thanks for the memory, Chris.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My First Publication

From the Product Profiles column in the September 2009 Issue of The New Jersey Angler Magazine.

A very special thank you to Gabriel Hnat, and everyone else at the magazine.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Getting The Scarlet Skunk Off

When: Sunday, September 13th, from 3pm to 6pm
Where: Scarlet Oak Pond, on the Ramapo Reservation near Mahwah, Bergen County
What: Bass fishing and more importantly, relaxing.
Weather: High probably around 80, light to no wind, party cloudy to blue-bird skies.

I woke up on Saturday morning to the equivalent of what I deem a nightmare. Our month-long process of purging our storage facility had taken its toll on our apartment and left it in complete disarray. We had two more days to finish moving out of it, our place was already completely cluttered with objects waiting to be given a home, and to boot, this was the day that I had chosen to do my writing for the October issue of The New Jersey Angler.

In a moment of complete hopelessness and desperation, I asked Lindsay to phone Liz and regretfully inform her that we were not going to be able to join her for the opening game of the Giants' football season the following day. The forecast for our weekend was bleak.

As I sat down to write, Lindsay set out to get things done. By the end of the day, although far from having completed everything that we needed to do, things were undoubtedly looking up.

By the time the sun came up on Sunday, we were already busy as bees. This day, however, we could see a light at the end of the tunnel, and even suspected that we could steal away for a couple of hours to relax after going non-stop for the majority of the weekend.

At 3pm on Sunday, Lindsay found herself in a chair reading a book on the shore of Scarlet Oak Pond, and I was deciding which lure to tie on for a little fishing before we headed back home to finish our work.

I tried a few things without any luck, but spent the majority of the time fishing a Texas-rigged plastic worm for a very specific reason. Pulling a worm through all kinds of weeds and snags and working it off the bottom requires complete and total concentration. After having my mind racing for almost the entire weekend, the peacefulness of paying attention to nothing but the bait on the end of my line was priceless. I probably fished it for about an hour before I "woke-up." It was actually one the nicest times that I have had fishing that did not involve catching a fish.

Scarlet Oak Pond is a favorite of mine. I am a shore fisherman at heart for no better reason than that I am the most uncoordinated person that I know, and only feel right when my two feet are planted firmly on solid ground. There is not an abundance of freshwater lakes in New Jersey that have ample shore fishing, but this is one of them. The downside is that this park gets crowded, and the lake gets a lot of pressure. It's kind of a shame seeing bobbers stuck in the weeds with no one around to tend to them. The fish feel the pressure, and although I have caught some beautiful bass here, they can be few and far between.

Even with its reputation for being a stingy little puddle, I could not recall a day that I had been "skunked" on it. I was sure that this was going to be my day as I tried bait after bait after bait, but I finally hooked and landed a small bass on none other than my tried and true Yum Forktail Dinger.

The fish was pathetically small and I even went as far as telling Lindsay that it "didn't count," but whatever way you look at it, it was what, my friend, we call "getting the skunk off."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

One Last Chance

When: Sunday, September 6th, from 9pm to 9:30pm
Where: The Marmet Locks, on the Kanawha River, Marmet, West Virginia
What: Catfishing with nightcrawlers, chicken livers and PetSmart goldfish.
Weather: Wet, like really wet.

After moving from the campsite to the resort on Thursday, we were well rested (and showered) by Friday morning and ready for our trip down to Charleston (Charleston, WV that is).

Aunt Carol and Uncle Wayne went above and beyond making us feel welcome and had planned a wonderful weekend for us. We were on the road by 6am on Saturday morning and super-psyched for the opening game of the 2009 Mountaineer football season. Seeing Shirley, Bob, Shelley and Pam again, as well as a few new faces, added to the excitement of our first WV football game. We also had the pleasure of meeting Eerman.

Sunday evening found us heckling the Greensboro Grasshoppers with the bleacher bums at Power Field before we made our way out to the big river for one last shot at a big catfish.

This time it was Mother Nature who would shut me out.

Nothing beats the help of a local when it comes to fishing foreign territory, and that is why I was so sure, with the company of Lindsay's cousin Jeremy, this was going to be my night.

The stars were aligned, but then the clouds came...............and the rain. I consider myself a die-hard fisherman, but getting dumped on for more than 20 minutes is just not fun. We decided to leave.

So, I would leave West Virginia the next morning without catching a flathead catfish and with an image in my head of a musky's tail before it disappeared on me. I would also come home with some wonderful pictures and some wonderful memories.

It would be easy for me to get upset about a broken fishing rod and a missed musky, but that wouldn't be right given all of the wonderful times that I had.

These days, life is not about dwelling on the bad things that happen, but about counting and truly cherishing my blessings.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Redemption? Not Really

When: Wednesday, September 2nd
Where: Stonewall Jackson Lake, Roanoke, West Virginia
What: Fishing and boating.
Weather: Sunny and warm during the day, cool and calm at night.

This day began with a series of unfortunate events, but a few fish later in the day made the pain a little more bearable.

Coming in at number two on the daily list of mishaps was my 7ft. Rogue suddenly going from a one-piece to a two-piece. I put a small mark in it about a year earlier after resting it under a boat cleat on a dock at Round Valley Reservoir. Apparently, the wound was worse than I thought, and after 13 months of use, it died.

The uncontested number one mishap of the day was hooking, and promptly losing what would have yet again been my first musky. This lake is absolutely famous for its population of muskellunge, but I didn't really think that applied to little 'ol me fishing a cove from our campsite.

It did.

It was about 9am, and I was tossing a Booyah Boogie Bait in every direction from the small stretch of land that extended into the water from our site. I felt a ton of weight that started to pull, and when I looked in the water saw the tail of what was probably a 30 to 35 inch muskellunge. I made an error in judgment that gave him some slack line and he quickly disappeared.

To make myself feel better, I am going with the story that the fight on my medium action rod and 8lb. test would have weakened him beyond the point of resuscitation. So, you see, the fact that I lost this fish was due to its fate to survive and not my bush-league fish fighting.

After that, we took a pontoon boat out, where I was once again disappointed that the people at the marina were not going to let me hook one of the 35lb. carp that were eating dog food in front of the dock.

We took a nice long boat ride around this postcard of a lake and ended up trolling a huge Cotton Cordell in the hopes of once again hooking a monster.

Not a chance.

However, the campsite once again produced, and within minutes of returning I had caught two nice bass.

A small channel catfish took a liver during a brutal game of Scrabble.

Bycatch Is Better Than No-Catch

When: Tuesday, September 1st, from 7pm to 11pm
Where: The Little Kanawha River, below the Burnsville Dam, near Burnsville, West Virginia
What: Catfishing with livers, crawlers and bluegills.
Weather: Calm and cool.

I was sure that this was going to be my night for a flathead.

It wasn't.

After spending the day hanging with the ghosts at the West Virginia State Lunatic Aslyum in Weston, we set up to catch my catfish in the same river that has seen the state record mud cat pulled from its depths.

We put in some time, but all the strikes found the rocks instead of the fish. Going weightless didn't work either.

It was mighty pretty here though.

The moon was starting to beef up at this point in the week, and the reflection over the shallow falls made for some spectacular views.

Aside from the surroundings, there was one other thing that made this night a memorable one. It is not every day, or every year for that matter that I catch a species of fish that I have never caught before. Unless someone tells me otherwise after looking at the picture above, to my best knowledge, the fish that I caught was a small sauger, which would be my first. I don't know very much about sauger except that they are a close relative of the walleye and like to reside in the tailwaters of dams, where I caught it.

Lindsay was much more successful in her endeavors this particular evening, trapping more than a dozen crawfish which we held onto in case we needed them for bait.

Mudbugs anyone?

Monongahela National Forest

When: Monday, August 31st
Where: Blackwater Falls, Canaan Valley and Dolly Sods, in Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia
What: Sightseeing, exploring and a bit of trout fishing.
Weather: Sunny, high near 70 (and, as advertised, 10 degrees colder in Dolly Sods).

It probably took us two and a half hours to drive out to Blackwater Falls, but it was worth every minute of it.

We drove past Spruce Knob, through Canaan Valley and eventually through the throwback town of Davis on our way. Every second of this drive was beautiful, and fully encompassed what I consider to be the most picturesque country that one can find in the northeastern United States. Whether it be rolling hills, towering mountains, expansive valleys, lush pines, clear streams or rocky riverbeds, this area in eastern West Virginia has a bit of it all.

After soaking in the falls for a few, we took a different and much more treacherous way back to Roanoke so we could make our way into Dolly Sods. The information at the base of the Sods promised us a drop in temperature, difficult terrain and unpredictable weather. The ability to read a topographic map was strongly suggested. Nice. We planned on hiking a small loop which resided atop a steep, rocky hill, but stopped short after we realized just how long it was going to take us to drive up there. We did manage to walk a bit on a trail that was a shorter distance up and Lindsay managed a few pics of some of the diverse vegetation that the region is famous for.

While heading out of the National Forest, we crossed over a stream that I was convinced would provide me with a trout, so we stopped and fished for a bit. I took a Loomis from the truck, exchanged a spool for 4lb. fluorocarbon and put on a small spinner.

As soon as we approached the stream, the native brook trout could be seen scurrying away. It didn't take long before I hooked and landed a nice sized brookie, but it flipped out of my hand before Lindsay could snap a pic.

We spent a little more time on the stream, enjoying the scenery while Lindsay made her first attempt at catching a trout.

We didn't catch any more trout, but the one that I did catch was well worth the little time that we put in.

All good things must come to and end though, and we hopped back in the truck for the long, beautiful ride home.

Our home at Stonewall, that is.

Opening Day At Stonewall

When: Sunday, August 30th, 2pm to 10pm
Where: Our Campsite at Stonewall Jackson Resort in Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park, Roanoke, West Virginia
What: Digging in for 4 nights of camping and Eine Kleine Nachtfishin'
Weather: Partly Cloudy, Calm, Low into the 50's at night.

Let me just start off by saying that I have been on my share of campsites and this was absolutely THE COOLEST.

At the risk of sounding like an advertisement, I need to mention that this park, marina and resort are stunningly beautiful, meticulously maintained and made for a wonderful time.

There are only a handful of tent sites in the park, but they could not have been any better thought out or more perfectly placed. We had an elevated wooden deck for our tent and plenty of lakefront real estate that enabled me to have a line or two in the water virtually every second that we were on our site.

We landed on the site just after 2pm, and after getting set up left to get a few things for the next several days.

I attempted to do some catfishing starting at dusk and going into the evening. I had a few lines in the water with minnows, nightcrawlers and chicken livers being fished off the bottom. I was cooking dinner while the lines were soaking, and although this night would not produce any of the lake's channel catfish, I landed a nice bass that hit one of the minnows after Lindsay alerted me to a doubled-over rod.

We relaxed down by the water and rods for awhile that night, enjoying the silence and the serenity before ending our night staring into the fire.

I could not have been more pleased with our surroundings. I scoped out a few places to fish before we realized what kind of site we had. I never tried any of them out. It was so nice having all of my rods and my gear 10 ft. from our picnic table, 20 ft. from our fire and 30 ft. from our tent.

As far as fishing on Stonewall Jackson Lake was concerned, there was no place like home.


When: Sunday, August 30th, from 11am to noon
Where: Deegan and Hinkle Lakes, Bridgeport, West Virginia
What: An hour of catfishing with egg sinkers and nightcrawlers.
Weather: Mostly sunny and warm with a beautiful breeze.

We stayed by Shirley and Bob on Saturday night after our long drive down to West Virginia. They are huge Mountaineer fans, wonderful cooks and wonderful hosts.

Thanks Guys!!!!

On Sunday morning, the ladies wanted to do some clothes shopping at Gabe's, and after racking my brain about how I was going to kill an hour or so, I decided that the best thing to do would be to go fishing.

Lindsay and I procured our temporary, non-resident fishing licenses (and some crawlers) from Wal-Mart and then parted ways.

Deegan and Hinkle Lakes were right down the hill, so it was easy for me to steal away for an hour while I waited for Lindsay so we could head down to Stonewall Jackson Lake.

I got a couple bites, no fish, but thoroughly enjoyed the peacefulness, the beautiful weather and mingling with the local children. They had a knack for catching turtles, and were eager to have me photograph them before they let them go.

I really had no intentions of getting any fishing done that morning. It was a nice little surprise and gave me some time to myself to start soaking in West Virginia and to look forward to the coming days on Stonewall Jackson Lake.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In Search Of "The Big Ugly"

I was an impressionable kid. Jaromir Jagr became my life-long, favorite hockey player after I read an article titled "The Kid From Kladno" in Sports Illustrated. I was probably no more than 11 or 12 years old. Around the same time, I read an article in the In-Fisherman magazine titled "The Big Ugly." There was a page-sized picture of a monster catfish, a flathead catfish. I don't remember anything else about that article except for that picture, but it didn't matter, I was hooked.

Flathead catfish, also known as flatties, shovelhead or mud cats are neither the smallest nor the largest species of catfish that swim in American waters, but I think they're the coolest. They are not native to New Jersey, and if you set aside recent "invasive species" warnings by the New Jersey Department of Fish, Game and Wildlife, they are not found in New Jersey at all. One must travel at least a few hours west or south to find any water that would give them a shot at catching one of these brutes.

I have only caught 3 flathead catfish in my life, but have spent more than a few hours fishing for them. All three fish came in the span of a few hours, after nightfall on the James River in Virginia. The largest was no more than 5 or 6 pounds, a far cry from the 120+ pound world record. I lost what was probably a 20 pound flathead that same night, and have been heartbroken ever since.

Although I have not caught many of these fish, I have learned a thing or two about them by reading about them, fishing for them and catching some of their smaller relatives, the channel catfish, here in New Jersey. The most important thing that I have learned, is that first and foremost, these catfish are nocturnal predators. That means, leave the chicken livers and the stink-baits at home. Although channel catfish and the big blue cats will readily take stink baits, cut baits and liver, flatheads prefer to hunt. Live fish such as gizzard shad, goldfish (yes, goldfish), chubs, bluegill and other sunfish have a better shot at hooking a flathead. The night that I caught a few of them, I had a dozen bites on the nightcrawlers that I was using, and nothing touched the dead, stinky stuff. Also, waiting until after nightfall is almost a must. I have caught channel cats during the day, and have seen shows where blues are taken during the day, but to up your chances of catching a flathead, you'd better wait 'til the sun goes down.

So, why am I telling you this? I have not been within 50 miles of flathead territory in over 3 years. In 3 days, I am leaving for West Virginia and will wet a few lines in primo waters such as the West Fork River and the Kanawha and Little Kanawha Rivers. Lindsay and I have some pretty cool stuff planned, hiking, camping, biking, visiting relatives, Mountaineer football and minor league baseball. There is a lot that I am looking forward to, but undoubtedly, when I think of my 10 day vacation, the first thing that comes to mind is fishing for flathead catfish.

I hope that everyone has a happy and safe Labor Day weekend.

I'll let y'all know how I did when I get back.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Testing, Part Two

When: Sunday, August 23rd, from 6am to 9am and 11am to 12pm
Where: Kay Pond near Chester, Burnham Park Pond in Morristown, Morris County
What: Bass fishing with soft-plastics and top waters.
Weather: Hot and sticky, like a wet sponge.

Note: I titled this entry "Testing" for two reasons, the first being that I was trying out some new lures. The second reason is that it was the title of the first entry of this blog, way back in January. The one or two people who have actually read back that far may see the relevance here. I started this blog to have some fun, to post some pictures and to practice my writing. I also started it because someone who knows more than me about finding jobs told me to, and thought that it was a good place to start as far as doing something that I am passionate about. Well, as it turns out, this here blog seems to have played a role in an opportunity that I have to do some writing for The New Jersey Angler Magazine. Since part of the reason that I started this was so that maybe someone would see it and ask me to do some writing for them, and that seems to have happened, I figured that I'd put a little bookmark in my entries, and call this "part two".

We headed out to Lindsay's Mom's for the night, and stopped at Burnham Park Pond in Morristown along the way. I had never fished there before and immediately realized that the shallow water and thick weeds were going to prevent me from trying out some of my new toys. Oh well!! Luck had it that I brought plenty of other ones.

We persisted for a couple hours despite the clouds threatening imminent doom, and although our efforts were fruitless, we would live to fish another day, which would be the next day, Sunday.

This time, we were headed out to Kay Pond, in Black River State Park.

Robert, aka "The Rocket," woke up with us at 5:30am to get an hour of fishing in before his sprint through the Water Gap. A quick tutorial didn't assist him in catching any fish, but did set the stage for a 15 minute tussle with a snapping turtle with a shell the size of a garbage can lid. Apparently, Yum worms are just as effective for reptiles.

Kay Pond also proved to be a bit shallow, but I managed to land 4 cookie-cutter largemouth bass on plastic worms.

After a nice breakfast, we were headed home, and made one last stop at Burnham Park Pond.

By this time the sun was well up, it was once again steamy, and the only signs of life were some carp making large swirls. I put in almost another hour, and actually managed to do something that isn't often done. I caught a fish on "the last cast."

So, the tally was 5 bass in just under 4 hours of fishing, not great by any standards, but still not a bad day.

I also had the opportunity to fish in two places that I have never wet a line in before, which is pretty cool in itself. We had great weather (for fishing), I had great company and most importantly, got to enjoy some of that sacred time where the only thing that I had to worry about was what was going on at the end of my line.