We all look forward to the official start of the summer season and the beginning of fishing summer 2016. This year we were treated to the impending threat of Tropical Storm Bonnie, which despite of the risk of rain, brought some welcome hot weather to bookend our cool spring. The increasing temperatures livened up the action on the Paulinskill and other Trout streams throughout the preceding week.
I took off Friday from work and used both Friday and Saturday to work on my house project. Sunday was planned to be the day for fishing, an important choice because it is also the day of parades, limiting the foot traffic on the rivers. On warm to hot days like what the weathermen were predicting, the key to catching fish is to go early in the morning or late in the day. We started around 6AM in order to get in the holes just as the sun was rising.
This time of year is always a good time to break out the color green on the Paulinskill and other local waterways. You can use leverage either Woolly Buggers or Trout magnets. Knot Just Flies in Blairstown has even had a few custom flies spun up specifically for this time of year. A four or five weight Fly Rod or ultra-light weight spin tackle is all you will need.
The Trout and Smallmouth have moved from there early and mid season holding locations. The heat is forcing them to seek springs, deeper pools and more oxygenated water. Unfortunately, we even noticed some dead Rainbow carcasses; these fish likely expired from the heat.
Plying the deep pools slowly and areas known to have cooler waters due to overhanging trees and brush yielded results quickly. The stocked Rainbow Trout have grown since they were first put in here; some of them are pushing over fourteen inches. The growth in these Trout is always nice to witness, as the strong ones tend to become holdovers lasting the entire year.
Some of the Smallmouth are still watching nests in the river; others are firmly in post spawn hunger mode now. The Smallmouth Bass in the river were sitting in more oxygenated and cooler pools. Looking for the bubbles in the current was a good indicator of potential holding locations. Mark also found that locating a nest was they key to landing a large one.
Let’s all pray for cooler and wet weather to keep the water comfortable and the fish eating.
The summer of 2015 commenced as a cooler than average summer trailing a long, cold and snowy winter. In fact, due to the weather we experienced, Rainbow Trout have been taken from the Paulinskill throughout the summer. Since mid August, a significant heat wave combined with a lack of rain has reduced river-fishing opportunities. These conditions will improve once the fall rains commence. In the meantime, fishing for warm water species early in the morning or late in the evening remains quite productive.
To celebrate the conclusion of this summer and the beginning of, “Cast and Blast Autumn 2015,” we of course, went fishing. This time of year, I cannot stress enough the importance of waking up before dawn and wetting your line by sun up. With Mark still driving from Morristown, I headed over to Dale’s Market in Blairstown for one of their famous breakfast sandwiches. After consuming this delicious creation and 16 ounces of fresh coffee, I hopped in the FJ and headed north to the river.
This morning was to be an epic day of catching warm water species in the Paulinskill. I have often said, the Paulinskill holds a seemingly unbelievable biomass. This morning was a strong confirmation of my previous statements. Mark and I caught the following species in multiple: Crappie, Smallmouth, Sunfish, and Largemouth Bass. They were caught consistently until around mid day. In this river, the fish may not grow the largest but there are a plethora of them.
The Epic Battle
Throughout the summer, these electronic pages have catalogued the pursuit of Smallmouth Bass in the rivers of Warren and Sussex County, New Jersey. Of the countless hours I have put in pursuing the scrappy fighters, the four hours on Saturday were highly rewarding.
Perched in the spillway of the dam, which didn’t have much water coming over due to drought conditions, I spied some actively feeding Bass in the sand and weeds. These Smallies must have been chomping on little minnows and crustaceans that were washed over the dam.
Spotting the feeding fish, I false cast my Sage 8’6” VXP 4WT two times and then fired about 50 feet of line out of the tip. A near perfect cast, my custom mohair Woolly Bugger landed right in the opening where the Smallmouth was hiding. As the ripples from the splash settled, I quickly gave the fly some action as it fell to the river bottom. Then I felt the tug, the tug that could only originate from a sizeable Smallmouth!
I maneuvered the fish and put the fight on the reel, just as this was complete, the Smallie went aerial. I bowed the rod to the fish simultaneously losing my balance and almost going for a swim. My studded wading shoes prevailed and I caught myself before swimming with the fish. In the end, I landed this fish, tagging in at about two pounds.
As anticipated the fishing turned off by eleven and it got quite warm outside. The whole team then headed over to the Lazy “K” Ranch, our club headquarters, currently under construction in Frelinghuysen, NJ. There we tried out the new Ruger .357 revolver that Zach acquired in the last week. We also started to work on our wing shooting performance that will be required in less than two months.
The temperature outside was in the high eighties, the air thick enough to wade through. Lacking a pool and with the lakes all kind of warmish the best option to keep cool on Sunday was wet wading in the river! I loaded my XT 600 with some light duty gear for the Smallmouth and rode over to the Lazy “K” Ranch to meet Mark. Over at the old homestead in progress we ran into our other rod and gun club mates. Woodhead was out feeding the resident deer. Dave and Zach came over to enjoy a beer however, I rallied at least Mark and Zach to head down to the river.
In an exciting bit of news, using accumulated L.L. Bean dollars I was able to replace my old set of waders with an upgraded pair. The old ones were getting worn out and some of the lace holders had popped out. The pair I purchased are called West Branch Studded Wading Shoes by L.L. Bean. After using the new boots for several hours on Sunday I am highly satisfied with the purchase. The shoes lace up well and provide ample support. The rubberized materials seem to keep off “aquatic hitchhikers” while drying quickly. The studs provide ample grip on slippery rocks, even allowing me to catch my balance and save my phone after falling over a big hidden rock!
Midsummer on the Paulinskill can be an exciting time to dip a hook in the water. There is literally no telling what you could pull out of the water when something bites. The variety of temperatures, habitat and stream conditions allows for many species, stocked and wild to live together. In just a few hours of fishing we had landed Rainbow Trout, Smallmouth Bass, Rock Bass, Largemouth Bass, White Suckers, Sunfish and a Golden Shiner. This year, the copious rainfall that has kept the river cool and flowing high, yielding above average fishing days.
As far as tactics go, this time of year the fish seemed to be enjoying a Green Woolly Bugger or similar fly, cast across stream, allowed to dead drift downstream and then retrieved in two inch strips or a steady lift. I suspect a wet fly attractor would have presented in a similar manner and yielded and equally good day of fish. The only trick was locating faster water, springs or deep pools. That seemed to be where the fish were congregating.
The day was predicted to be a washout, however, if we made it out to the Delaware River early enough there was a chance to engage in a couple hours worth of pre-frontal fishing conditions. Mark and I were up to the challenge; accustomed to waking up for work early, a 5:30AM wake up is not a problem. Especially since in all of summer’s glory, it is already light out by this time!
Arriving on a remote dirt road in the Delaware Water Gap NRA everything about today looked like it would have been a washout. The cloud ceiling was low, the humidity high and a marked chill in the air. The only part of this adventure not cooperating was the barometric pressure, which was rising and not falling, sub optimal for pre-frontal fishing conditions we sought. Looking out at the low hills surrounding the Delaware River there were spirals of mist lifting off of the treetops and little droplets of rain falling. I donned my L.L. Bean Emerger II wading jacket on top, filled it with fly boxes, tied on some 0X tippet and marched (quietly) out to the river.
Equipment and Tactics
At this point we have written a sizeable amount of material on seeking Bass and other warm water fish. This time I used my 7WT St. Croix Bankrobber, my Sage 4280 reel and some weight forward floating Rio Grand line. Following the advice of Barry Reynolds and John Berryman in, “Beyond Trout a Fly Fishing Guide,” I brought pearl white Zonkers, Woolly Buggers and some crawfish patterns that I purchased at Orvis NYC. The crawfish or mudbug patterns work but probably not as well in the Delaware as Zonkers or Woolly Buggers. The location to seek Smallmouth, very similar to trout is the transition area between fast and slow water where the Bronzebacks are holding to feed. The Smallmouth Bass is a river fish and can tolerate a moderate current though not to the level of a Trout. Pound for pound these are the hardest fighting freshwater fish out there.
Smallmouth Bass like streamers, they do not eat them delicately, they rip through and devour the streamer. I use the Kelly Galloup method for hucking streamers to Trout and apply it back to Bronzebacks. For more information you can check out his book. In New Jersey we do not have the massive Browns he has in Montana, we have Smallmouth in big rivers like the Delware. Anyway, I throw my streamer out on the slow water, fast water transition line near a deep pool. I do this once, I do this twice, the third time as I go to retrieve, the line goes taught as if I just drove my Zonker hook into a floating log.
Just as I hook into the juicy upper lip of this “log,” the fly line rips through my fingers that are maintaining tension. Holy crap, that was not a log that is a fish! The fight was intense; I used most of my effort to prevent the Bronzeback from moving into the fast water, once I got the fish on the reel it was easier to control. As I shortened his leash and moved him in towards my net, he enveiled the last of his evade, escape and survive arsenal. He went air born! By far the best part of aggressive Smallmouth Bass is that they not only fight you below the surface but they engage in aerial combat when you least expect it. I bowed my pole to him and kept the tension, however this Zonker was securely fastened to his upper lip do to the aggressive take. As I netted the fish, it turned out to be a one pounder, I am curious to learn what a four to five pound Smallmouth Bass fights like.
Spin Rod Verse Fly Rod
As many of you can tell from the extensive tales of outdoor adventure on this site, I often go fishing with my buddy Mark. Mark is a die-hard spin fisherman, who I can proudly say, now owns a fly rod (that he has not used). He was able to land two Smallies, however this was the day of the fly rod. I landed three Smallies, a Rock Bass and a White Zucker all on various flies. This was a bit of redemption from last summer’s adventures where Mark out fished the fly.
The rain finally came as a torrential down pour around 12:30, beginning to soak even through my rain jacket. We decided to call it quits, as the rain was about to wash out the entire weekend. However, no trip to these splendidly isolated parts of Sussex County New Jersey is complete without a trip to one of the many glorious roadhouse and watering holes at the park boundaries. On this day we went to The Flatbrook Tap House, a rustic fishing themed establishment on the edge of Stokes State Forest, the banks of the Big Flatbrook and located on 206 North. We had delicious deep friend Calzones and Chicken Parmigian sandwiches. I highly recommend this place to a hungry angler or biker in the area.
It’s been a tough trout season for NJ anglers this year. After the long winter which kept the rivers cold throughout April & the Furunculosis outbreak at the NJ fish hatchery, we weren’t sure if there would be any season at all. This year only Rainbow & Brown trout were stocked in our local rivers & in much less numbers. Both species of trout are typically less tolerant of cold water than their cousins the Brook Trout. Over the past two weeks, the river temps have been slowly rising & the fishing has turned on. On May 10th, the air temps rose into the 80’s and the weather was predicted to be foggy with showers all day changing into thunderstorms in the evening & night. These are my favorite types of spring fishing days. Trout, like all fish, will tend to be more aggressive before a large weather system. The fog & cloudiness also help with a stealthy approach because you will not project a shadow. Being a spin fisherman as opposed to a fly fisherman, you need any help you can get on our local rivers.
The plan was to explore some new spots on the Upper Paulinskil that I found using Google Maps. I looked for bridges over the river and areas close to the Sussex Branch Hiking Trail where the river was accessible. After trying 3 spots which did not pan out, the 4th location had a large bend in the river caused by a massive beaver dam. In the middle of the bend there was a deep hole between 4-5 feet deep. This type of river structure almost always holds fish and sometimes a true trophy will be at the bottom of the hole. Using a small blue & white spinner, I managed two stockie bows on the edges of the bend. I fished the deeper section with spinners, jigs and a sinking rapala but no takers. The action slowed & some thunderstorms rolled in, so I moved on. The rest of the spots yielded no fish but looked promising for future trips.
After dodging some more thunderstorms, I ended the day at the Musconetcong River near a spot which I was told always holds fish. As the sun dropped, the spinner was no longer useful so I switched to a black & pink trout magnet jig. I managed 2 more trout in the evening and missed a few others.
Total count: 4 rainbow trout, 1 smallmouth, 1 largemouth and a few small sunfish. So far, the best day of trout fishing I have had this spring in NJ and hopefully it will continue through the month.
Last week, I turned 30; it is a point in life that I never believed would occur, especially looking back to the college years when I was eagerly awaiting my 21st birthday. These days, 30 years is indicative of actual adulthood. Much like boiling a frog, the number creeps up slowly and all of the sudden its there.
Be that as it may, up to this point I have had a great run and I am going to hammer down for an even better decade to follow it up. In the last ten years, I learned to fly fish, went pheasant hunting for the first time, bought a piece of land, graduated from Business School, landed a job I enjoy, won my first municipal election, travelled around the USA, met countless new friends and shared quality time with my family.
Anyway, my brother, father and the crew assembled in Park City, Utah to celebrate this milestone with me. Park City is one of my favorite places in the world: great skiing, fly-fishing, good bars and friendly people. There is no better way to spend your birthday than with family, friends and doing the sports you love.
30th Birthday Party
The actual date was Thursday, January 23rd. Like the adult that I now am, I worked and attended a township budget meeting. Another indicator of turning 30 is that you don’t need to go out on your birthday. We saved all the energy for the Friday evening plane ride out to Salt Lake and the bars in Park City. Adding fuel to the fire, we arrived just prior to the last night of the Sundance Film Festival. This was to be a multi-night event of whiskey-fueled entertainment.
Saturday we skied the Canyons. It was Nicole’s official first time skiing. Due to the previous evening’s festivities, it took the crew a while to get moving. Once up and about, I gave skiing a whirl, something I have not done since my college days. To my excitement, skiing is much like riding a bike; it is not something that is easily forgotten. After ten runs, Nicole and Mark had had enough and Brandon had a pitcher of hoppy goodness waiting at the warming station. I would have preferred to ski more but I was out voted. We went home, made delicious baked Ziti and headed out to Main Street for the last day of the film festival.
Sunday we switched up and skied Park City Mountain Resort. It was another clear, warm January day. I set Nicole up on some nice groomers off of King Con lift and gave some quick pointers. As Brenton said, “What’s the difference between a ski instructor and a student; one day.” After finishing up at Park City, Brenton drove us out to Dutch John for the second part of the festivities.
Green River Float
Brenton presented me with a guided fishing trip with Doug Robert’s Old Moe Guide Service as a gift for the big three zero. On Sunday evening, we packed up the Yukon XLT, hitched up to the Clacka, and proceeded to drive the three plus hours out to Dutch John. Due to the change of management at Spring Creek Guest Ranch, we were unable to stay at our normal location. Instead we camped out at the Shire Lite Units at Flaming Gorge Recreation Services (The old Conoco at the corner of UT 191 and South Boulevard).
For breakfast we met up with Rachel, AJ and their family at the breakfast counter. You may recall Rachel, AJ and family from our summer adventures at Spring Creek Guest Ranch. We have been out to Dutch John so many times now, you develop a core group of people you drop in and say hello to.
Doug arrived at the agreed time, 9AM, to get out on the water, however, we were not yet finished with breakfast. A “large” crowd during the offseason is unexpected in this remote part of the USA, so we weren’t too worried about a later start time. We finally finished eating around 10AM and drove over to the Flaming Gorge Dam boat launch. Father and I hopped in the boat with Doug; Brenton piloted the Clacka for Mark and Tall Boy (Matt). Doug’s boat launched first, followed by Brenton and AJ’s Hyde boat pulled up the rear.
Tale of Two Boats
Immediately upon getting the boat in the water, I cast out the egg pattern with thingamabobber rigged up. Doug was readying a nymph rig for father; suddenly my indicator was sucked under the water. I pulled back and set the hook, line tore off of the reel until I regained control. The fight was on! The fish flashed its broad side to us; a crisp red line crossed it laterally, indicating it was a Rainbow. As I coerced the bow to come toward the boat, its size became apparent. As all things in life, the moment was ephemeral. As fast as this fish hit, as hard as it fought, it unbuttoned from the hook as Doug was reaching for the net. I remain unable to break the 20-inch Trout mark on Utah’s Green River.
After this boat ramp excitement, we pushed off, amped for a day of fishing, notwithstanding the cold and slight snowfall. The takes were subtle and required an eagle eye on the indicator even going as far as to follow your egg pattern in the water by eye. The hungry Trout rose slowly to the egg pattern if you placed the indicator a tad out of the fast water. Becoming familiar with the slow takes and action required to set the hook resulted in consistent Trout to the boat.
The fishing tapered off around the lunch hour and we pulled aside for some delicious chicken sandwiches. A thing to keep in mind while winter drift boat fishing, there is no such thing as too many clothes. The wind kicks up hard, especially in the bottom of the A section.
Pushing down the Green about half an hour behind us was the second part of the group. Every now and again we glanced back and viewed the Clacka about a hole behind us. This was Mark’s maiden voyage on a drift boat; he has been regaled with tales of Utah’s Green river but never fished it himself. Reports of moderate success flowed from the boat though not fishing the egg pattern worked as a handicap.
As anticipated, while the day wound down, the wind intensity picked up. Even so, at the bottom of the A section, it always pays to keep your hook in the water. Big fish reside in these parts and as they say, “Can’t catch a fish if your hook is not in the water.” Sure enough, as we drifted Catwalk Shoals, the action heated up. Father put his largest German Brown and Rainbow on the board for the day!
Bluebird Final Day
The last full day is always the most fun, after getting all the rust off my winter sports skill set; I only had one day left! The team had partied, skied, fished, partied some more and now the epic time was drawing to a close. Mark, Brandon and Nicole opted to take the Yukon out to Antelope Island. This freed Brenton, father and myself to spend the whole day snowboarding on the mountain!
We hit most of the groomers at Park City that I like and even got into some trees. The snow conditions remained the same as previous week so the only available coverage was a bit icy in the shade and all right in the sun. Dad was able to do a few mogul runs. Thus far this year Utah’s snow cover was at 60% +/- of normal (they have since received snow). Anyway, for the sake of better fishing this summer, I hope they get some substantial snowfall in February.
We concluded the sporting lifestyle birthday with dinner and beers at Red Rocks Brewery in New Park by our condo. The next day we boarded the plane and flew uneventfully, and unwillingly, back to New Jersey.