May 28, 2009

fishing the cycle

Last week, to mark the Memorial Day weekend, I spent four nights up at the lake with friends, which was a rare treat thanks to the holiday weekend and two additonal vacation days that were tacked onto the beginning.

The goal was clear: starting Thursday and continuing through at least Sunday, catch the complete lake cycle - one of each type of fish that swims the waters of Kittatinny. That's right, your old friends. Sunny, pickerel, catfish (either kind), perch, small mouth bass, large mouth bass, crappie. And let's not forget the American eel.

Over the course of four days, seven out of the eight were captured and released. The American eel, ironically enough, was the only one of the eight to elude. Last year, eel were so common it was a sure-fire bet.

Photos and video to come, but highlights included a large pickerel caught on boat, several beautiful perch landed, a catty found live on a hook left out in the water after a late night, and a large mouth hooked in the shade about five feet off water's edge.

Fellow angler (and college roommate) Adam traveled up from his new home in Baltimore, Maryland, but thought ahead - that lake pro...- and purchased a 2-day permit to fly fish Big Flat Brook, just ten minutes down the road.

All seven of us took a Saturday field trip to Flat Brook, the scene of many a childhood summer afternoon for me - quiet days of yonder where we'd ride bikes down the dirt road and get to the big pool to hop into the frigid water from the massive rocks, trout darting through the brown water below.

The cars lumbered down the hole-filled dirt road to park near the pool, where we found three other anglers casting in silence on the other side of the stream. It looked like a perfect day, and the stream had been stocked just two days before.

We stood watching while A.Z. got geared up, and had the chance to see at least one angler reel in a fish. In the water, literally dozens of trout were visible from our rock perch, including rainbows, gorgeous browns and others. They congregated in groups in the deeper parts of the water. The browns shot around near the surface, within a foot or two of the edge, and further down lighter looking rainbows held their ground. In the same area, one or two absolute monsters lurked - trout that had to be 20+ inches almost sitting perfectly still in the water. If this sounds good, don't be naive. Get the fishing permit because game wardens and forest rangers are guaranteed to visit throughout the day.

We spent a good half-hour watching the scene and when we left to take a walk, with the exception of Hemingway back there on the stream, who was now one in seven anglers fishing corners of the same large pool, we all experienced the same thing. Extreme interest in fly fishing. New-found appreciation for the sport...the nuances of the sport...the technique...the gear...the variables. Just from sitting there and quietly watching what was going on (no one wanted to speak at all for fear of disturbing everyone), it was clear that there was quite a scene going down. Quiet sportsmanship rules practiced but unspoken between fishermen.

Did you know that rainbow trout do not thrive in many areas because they need very cold waters? Brown trout, in turn, aren't even native to this country. Yet they do very well and outnumber the rainbows - at least they did on BFB. Some fishermen took great care to de-hook their trout without the fish so much as breaking the surface of the water - they methodically brought the fish in then carefully brought it by their side and removed the hook. Some flies sink, others float. Some lines are held up by aerial floats, so as to make the fly appear more natural. Many flies get caught in trees, some are so tiny that the hooks are hardly bigger than a grain of rice.

My favorite interaction among the fishermen down at the pool (there were many funny interactions) was when this one guy in full gear sort of upstream finished fishing for the day. I hadn't seen him catch a thing while I was down there. At one point earlier on, I had quietly commented how Adam was lucky because all of the other fishermen hadn't even noticed the giant brown and good-size rainbow he had been casting toward downstream. Well, when the guy finished, he said a few words to the other anglers, stepped back and from the ground picked up a gill-line with about four good size trout that had been tied up live near the bank. Then, practicing good etiquette, he walked about 20 feet further downstream before crossing, so as not to disturb anyone. When he walked back upstream past us, he had the fish dangling and flippin on the line in his hand. A fashion show.

"Going after those big ones, eh?" he said. He'd known it was there the whole time, but hadn't even sent over a single cast.

I guess you can't pull the wool on a pro.

We left A.Z. at the stream and went back to the house. When he returned hours later, he came back without a fish, but told us the story of the rest of his day. He ended up hooking a monster brown trout, which several other fishermen helped him land using their nets. It flipped clear out of the water a few times measured 22-inches and weighed 4 pounds. It was his personal lifetime best. He also hooked a great rainbow, but it was foul-hooked, i.e. hooked in the side or the gill rather than the mouth. In fly fishing land, that's bogus and not grounds for an officially counted catch. He had the rainbow on a makeshift gill-line, but the knot came undone at the last minute, during transport.

Even still, A.Z. was satisfied with the day, and he was amazed at the size of the trout he landed and the fight.

May 12, 2009

five hours: no fish, but two captains save lives

I fished the bay beginning on Saturday evening at 8:30, an hour before high tide, and got a ride down to the wall because there would have been no way to carry the cooler, net, bait, tackle box and four poles on my own.

Jon D. was set to come down by 10 p.m., and as I casted the first line two things came to my mind: 1) Three of the poles needed re-rigging after a disastrous triple-tangle last time out. I didn't even have enough equipment to rig them all and 2) If I caught a fish now, I'd have no way to bring it back to the house. No one home, brother out in the city.

Oh well.

I got two out of four poles rigged, baited and thrown in as the sun was just going down, and when Jon arrived at 10, I still had caught nothing. His brother arrived shortly after and we had the extra supplies to get all four poles in. But while Jon was making the supply run, I checked the poles (which had constantly come up empty - without bait - each and every time one was reeled in) and one felt heavy, like dead weight. A crab, I'm thinking.

Sure enough, I got the line in and see what was weighing it down - a spiral shelled snail, like one you'd find on the sands of Jamaica or something like that. It had my bait and hook locked inside and surely had a death grip. I managed to pop the hook out and put the snail on the top of the wall as proof to show that at least something was caught.

By around midnight, the wind was really starting to pick up and there was one point where we remarked that it suddenly seemed to just take off. Shortly after, we saw emergency lights coming from every direction and a police helicopter took off from Floyd Bennett Field, just across the way, heading toward Breezy Point. Trucks from Brooklyn drove over the bridge, pausing for a moment mid-span, and a few police boats flashed blue lights. We saw what looked like a big glowing fire flickering at the horizon and, at the time, thought that a house had gone up.

As it turned out, it wasn't a fire at all that brought all the rescue. A boat had capsized in the bay and four people were in the water at that very moment. Apparently, their boat was slammed into the waves and began taking on water. Two nearby fishing boat captains heard a "Mayday" call and arrived in time to get all four people on board and to shore, where they tried to keep warm after a few minutes in the frigid water.

We had no idea any of this was going on, but, still, nothing bit our lines.

In the end, after five hours of fishing, there was nothing to show for it.

May 8, 2009

reading: cod

I’m not finished reading Cod (Penguin Books, 1997) by Mark Kurlansky yet, but I wanted to post up some of the most interesting things from the book so far, in my esteem:

- No one knows exactly why cod have a small dangling piece of flesh below their lower lip.
- Cod has just about no fat and is more than 18% protein, more than most other fish. When it is tried, the water in its flesh evaporates and the meat contains about 80% protein.
- There are more than 200 species of cod, almost all of which live in cold waters in the Northern Hemisphere.
- Because cod feed on sea life that thrives where warm and cold waters meet, cod are almost exclusively caught in waters where two currents of different temperatures meet.
- While a cod can lay between 3 and 9 million eggs, it is so difficult for eggs to thrive that the cod population would stabilize if even just two of the eggs survive to maturity.
- Traditionally, there had been a much higher demand for dried, salt cod as opposed to fresh cod.