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.

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