Saturday, July 2, 2022

Eastern PA Fishing // 100th Species

    Today my dad, brother, and I decided to drive up from Philadelphia to Reading to watch a minor league baseball game. We had some time before the game, however, and so luckily had the chance to go fishing (for the second day in a row, pleasant surprise). My dad is not the biggest fan of fishing, so I really do appreciate his willingness to set aside some time to fish.

    Upon arrival in Reading, which was surrounded by green Appalachian ridges, we stopped at a live bait shop I found online. The shop was essentially made into the basement of a house. Despite receiving good reviews from a few months ago, I walked in to find the bait shop empty and seemingly abandoned, with bait prices labeled but no bait. Odd. It was certainly an interesting introduction to Reading, PA.
We then went to a Dick’s to get bait. I picked up night crawlers, but asked around about the best bait for Smallmouth Bass, seeing as how I am not from the area. I was told that waxworms make for the best bait, but that nightcrawlers would also do fine. Nightcrawlers were the only bait in stock, so I’d have to make do. We left the store and drove over to the fishing spot at Gring’s Mill Recreation Area.
I had found the fishing spot online the night before. Although it feels mundane, I really appreciate the ability to use the internet to find so much about fishing spots in places you’ve never been to in such a short amount of time.

    We parked at the lot and walked a bit to the bridge/dam crossing the Tulpehocken Creek, which would shortly flow into the Schuylkill (which then goes to Philadelphia and out into the Delaware). The creek was extremely clear, and we could see fish and rocks easily. We put the Phillies game on the radio and started to set up. It was definitely a really cool place to fish, and I was already happy to spend some time there, regardless of whether or not we would catch fish.

    The flow of the river was moving especially rapidly because of the dam, so I knew that the rig with a bobber that I had tied on from a previous fishing trip was not going to work. I tied on a simple rig with a swivel and split shot sinker and tossed it in. I placed the baited hook adjacent to the bank of the river, so that it would be near the visible rocks and structure, and a bit out of the strongest part of the current. This way, I would be more likely to catch fish that come out of their holes and bite its unsuspecting prey. Luckily, the plan worked rather quickly.

    Soon after, I began to feel nibbles. Although the fish stole some of my bait, I was able to hook one at last. Jacob and I reeled it in (the old spincast reel was pretty iffy and showed signs of its age today). We brought it over the railing to see that it was a Rock Bass! Closer related to a sunfish rather than bass, it was a new species for me and also (surprisingly) my first fish in Pennsylvania! The Rock Bass is a really cool fish, with a unique pattern and deep red eyes. Jakes and I took pictures, unhooked the fish, and threw it back. It was already a great start to the trip, and I was excited about what was to come.

    We kept trying to catch fish by drifting the baits near rock piles and doing our best to be patient while schools of fish would bite at our baits. There were aggravating instances when fish would either bite the hook enough to pull the rod tip down but then spit it out before we had the chance to set the hook, or take the bait straight into a rock where the hook would get stuck. Regardless, I caught the second fish of the day, a Bluegill. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the fish, considering that since we were fishing new waters in a new place I was sort of hoping to catch new species. That being said, a fish is a fish, and I was glad to come up with another one.

    It’s always fascinating talking to local fishermen in places that I do not normally fish. This time, I had an interesting conversation with some other fishermen from Reading that were going for sunnies (sunfish) about the fishing results and some minor league baseball stadiums. They were a little surprised to hear that I was from Miami, which I figure is reasonable. After all, it’s not every day that a Floridian would be found at a local fishing spot in a small town in Pennsylvania. But that’s what I love about fishing and how universal it is. There are always different fish, different types of waters, and different ways to catch them, and I love experiencing as many as I can.

    The Smallmouth Bass was our main target of the day. It’s a staple game fish in the northeast, caught in waters from mountainous North Carolina to the midwest and the northeast well into Canada. I’d targeted them before, but I’d never caught one before. I rigged up a rod, casted it out to a rock pile, and gave it to Jakes when I felt nibbles. I went back to rigging the other rod, telling him to be patient and keep calm while feeling the nibbles, unlike how he had been all day. Fishing is not an activity for the impatient. I also told him to let out line and leave it slack, and only to reel in and set the hook when the line started going out rapidly and consistently. That was the technique that was working for me. Sure enough, he hooked one and I went over to him as he was reeling it up. We brought it in, and I had to do a double take to make sure. It was a Smallmouth Bass! From my research, I knew that they were in the creek. It was really cool to finally see one in person, on the end of our line. We had caught a small one, but it is still a Smallmouth Bass. It had the golden color typical of Smallmouth, especially younger ones, with the distinct bars on its body and patterns near its mouth. It was a pretty fish, and we felt great about it. After taking a lot of photos and admiring the fish one last time, I threw it back and was happy to see it swim away easily. Another fish crossed off the bucket list, and perfect for my 100th all time species caught!

    We spent the rest of the fishing trip cutting up our nightcrawler into manageable bait pieces and trying to catch fish with them. Jacob caught the last fish, a small rock bass. It was a nice way to end a great day of fishing at a new spot. We then made our way to the baseball game at FirstEnergy Stadium (a quality minor league stadium, I must say) to cap off an awesome day in Reading.

    I was really glad it worked out. As I was explaining to my dad on the way there (while listening to Overkill by Men At Work), one of the biggest life lessons I’ve learned from fishing is the importance of just going for it despite what worries you might have. In this case, especially with my dad, who is not exactly a fisherman, I was a little worried that we’d leave the trip empty handed and that it would seem like a waste of time. However, as I’d heard from other fishermen, you can’t catch fish without putting your line in the water.  I definitely wasn’t going to catch fish if I didn’t go fishing in the first place, so I had to go and see what I could find. Especially when fishing, you can gain even if you don’t catch fish; knowledge on what to do better, info about a spot, fishing method, bait, the input of other local fishermen, or even just a good time out on the water. I’d found what seemed to me like a diamond in the rough, a not-so-well known beautiful spot on a great creek. I would have enjoyed the time on the water even if I hadn’t caught anything. It just goes to show that you can’t let worries and fears of what may happen keep you from putting your line in the water. You just might end up with what you’d hoped for.


Friday, July 1, 2022

Summertime And The Fishin' Was Easy

    I'm currently in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, outside of Philadelphia. While in town visiting family and the Phillies, I figured I'd get some fishing in while I had the chance. I'd been excited to revisit Hopkins Pond - I'd tried it years before, But I had not used good bait and the lake was too overrun by Alligator Snapping Turtles to get any fishing done. This time, we were going to be more prepared.

    My grandfather, brother, and I headed out to Dick’s to pick up worms for bait and gear such as small snelled hooks, swivels, and bobbers to replenish the low supply I had left in NJ from previous trips. However, while getting back in the car, it didn’t start. It’s an old car we’ve got up here, and the battery certainly showed it. Long story short, we had our bait and tackle but would have to wait until later to go fishing.

    Despite the setback with the car, which was thankfully fixed the next morning, we were not deterred and excited as ever to head back on the water. It was a perfect and clear summer morning with temps in the 80s when we decided to go out, this time straight for the lake.

    After parking at the lot next to the lake, we took the trail alongside the shore through the surrounding trees until we found a nice shaded spot to drop our lines.

    When we first arrived, Jacob and I had the same I idea: it may start off slow, but it was going to be a good day. We turned out to be right on point. Greeted by a large snapping turtle at the bank, we tossed our baited hooks in. Jakes and I switched off all day between two rigs: one with the hook suspended under a bobber, and another setup with the line connected to snelled hooks attached to a swivel, weighted with a split shot sinker fastened to the line above the swivel. Both worked.

    Unlike the last time I was here, the fish started biting almost immediately when we dropped our baits in the water. As I was explaining to my grandfather on the way over, fish tend to look for shade and structure on a hot summer day, making the tree root-riddled shore of the lake a perfect place to catch them. We were going for sunfish, testing the lake, with the hope of a new species. But, of course, the main goal was to have fun.

    It took a bit to actually start catching, since although the fish were nibbling, they frustratingly took the bait off the hook before we could set the hook. However, eventually, I was able to put us on the board with the first fish, a Bluegill! Once I caught that one, the catching was almost nonstop for the next few hours until we ran out of worms. I caught about 10 and Jacob caught about 16, but his higher total was obviously because I spent more time rigging and baiting. Obviously.

    The fishing was going so well that even Zaide, who had just been taking pictures so far, got in on the action. He caught two bluegills as well, after which he said with a smile, “well, that was enjoyable.” While editing some of the photos, he showed me a caption he gave one of them: “It Was Summertime And The Fishin’ Was Easy,” similar to a line from a favorite play of his, Porgy and Bess. I thought the line described today perfectly - a fun, easy day of fishing with family on a nice summer day. It doesn’t get much better than that.