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