Four knee surgeries, three stents in my chest, a back that screams when I remain upright for too long, and more birthdays and pounds than I care to count have drastically altered my fishin’ style as I close in on my 80s.
Long gone are the days when I filled an empty soup can with worms from our garden and walked up the hill to chase sunnies and perch at Park Lakes in Rockaway, NJ. No more wading the Rockaway River for trout, either. And forget about navigating the rocky and uneven paths I used to take to get to a couple of good spots downstream from the Jackson Avenue railroad trestle. These days, even fishin’ from my heavy-duty, extra-large Cabela’s chair is limited to lakes where I have a smooth – and short – path from my truck to the water’s edge. One thing will never change, however — I still love fishin’. Love it, love it, love it!
This is where my buddy Rich comes into the picture. Rich owns a 225-acre working hay farm in Hardwick Township in Warren County. I met him about six years ago and it didn’t take long to discover we had a mutual love for fishin’. He told me he about two small bass ponds on his property about three hundred yards from his house and, when the weather is nice, he’d fish those ponds almost every day from the time he got home from work until dark. One day, after trading fishin’ stories, he uttered the magic words: “You’re going to have to come up some day.” I thanked him for the offer and tucked away the info. I was still somewhat mobile and able to get (carefully) to most of my favorite shoreline spots at Mount Hope Pond, an eighteen-acre lake five minutes from my home. For variety, there was also Lake Ames and Egbert’s Lake, both less than a half-hour away.
One day, Rich convinced me to join him at his farm. “Convinced” isn’t a good word here, because I had accepted his invitation before he had finished his sentence. The thirty-mile ride to his farm took forty minutes – half on Rte. 80 West and the other half through absolutely gorgeous farm country. We got to his home and I waited on his deck while he changed into his fishin’ clothes. The view of the Kittatinny Mountain range that greeted me was spectacular — genuine take-away-your-breath spectacular. The plan was to check out both fishin’ spots— small bodies of water Rich reverently calls “The Pond” and “The Swamp”— and then let me choose where to start. “The Pond” is a man-made rectangle half the size of a football field that Rich’s dad had dug about sixty years ago. Depth of the water ranges from three to twenty feet and it is fed by natural springs he had reached in the digging process. “The Swamp” is a natural four-acre stream-fed body of water from three to twelve feet that features lily pads, grasses, drop-offs, points, and a rowboat that was unfortunately much, much too small for me.
It was a no-brainer. I couldn’t wait to get at the lunkers feeding under all that natural cover in “The Swamp.” Two hours later we each had landed one bass about eight to ten inches — “quarter-pounders”, Rich called them—and we decided it was time to try “The Pond.” I caught a three-pound largemouth on my first cast and finished with eight fish in two hours fishin’ from the same spot. Really, there was no need to move. Rich, citing “home-field advantage” did a little better as he moved around the perimeter of “The Pond” working holes he knew were there from countless years of experience. Rich told stories of landing five-and-six-pounders, bass that had matured since his father first stocked the two bodies of water sixty years ago. Naturally, everything we caught went back into the water.
In the past six years, I’ve had good days, better days, and “really good” days – but NEVER a bad day. There have been days when the bait on my first cast hadn’t even reached bottom before I got my first hit. There have been days when I was happy with landing two or three bass during my five-to-six-hour stay. The views of the farm from both spots are absolutely gorgeous. Picture yourself sitting in the middle of a lush field of green that stretches out to the edge of a forest. The I-can’t-believe-what-I’m-not-hearing silence of the place is broken up by a single-engine plane coming from or heading to Blairstown Airport. This interruption happens once— maybe twice —a day.
I’ve seen a lot of deer. Herds of twenty or thirty feed on one of the fields near the long driveway as I leave for home in the early evening. I’ve seen plenty of water birds; eagles riding the thermals, solo or in pairs; fox and wildcats (I think) at the edge of the woods; a couple of bears loping across the field toward the woods; solid black squirrels I thought were skunks that made me reach for the binoculars I keep handy. Just imagine yourself sitting in your favorite feel-good place for most of the day – and catching more than your usual quota of fish! Yes, the place is that nice.
Thanks to Rich’s farm ponds and open-end invitations, I have been able to ease into a more sedentary style of fishin’. Some things, though, have not changed. My sticks are still Ugly; my boxes are Plano; my reels are Shimano; and my favorite bass baits are plastic worms. My lure retriever that I used to use occasionally as a walking stick is still at my side as I fish except now it is my walking stick that I use occasionally for a lure retriever.
I’m almost exclusively braid now, not only because my fishin’ magazines say it’s better for bass but because I can SEE the line better than monofilament and/or fluorocarbon. There have also been other changes, notably what I carry now in my lakeside fishin’ bag as well as what is now on my fishin’ desk in the garage. Those magnifying specs used by fly fishermen that clip onto the brim of my hat are now essential. One pair for my tackle box and another pair on my fishin’ desk. Those knots you must tie keep getting smaller and smaller, you know?
I have a long-handled pair of tweezers and a three-foot magnetized tip telescoping item the width of a pen that have become necessary tools. The tweezers for the lures, cigar butts, and apple cores I keep dropping and the magnet for the hooks, swivels, split rings that keep rolling off my fingers. The tweezers and magnet have become items of necessity, of course, since I need them to keep me from bending. And, as my fellow old-part fishermen will agree, not having to bend all that much enhances the chances of us staying drier longer.
So far, changing old habits because of the aging process has not hampered my getting out to the side of a lake. As things change, the hope here is that we’ll all continue to be able to adapt so we can stay with our favorite sport. And that would be fishin’ – love it, love it, love it!