Autumn Leaves and Crappies

Autumn Leaves and Crappies . . .

Van Cortland Lake in November. (photo taken 11 21 2013)

Van Cortland Lake in November. (photo taken 11 21 2013)

Instinct can coerce an angler into squeezing in a fishing trip despite the alluring pull of a comfortable couch.

That little, wordless voice urged me not to lounge around on my last Thursday off. I sat up, pulled aside a curtain, and looked up into the canopy of the tall ailanthus tree shedding leaves onto our rear courtyard. Three details stood out: the day was slightly warmer than it had been, the blue sky was softened by a thin tissue of cloud, and it was still. No wind rustled the garden for the first time in over a week.

New York’s pond fishing season is waning fast, thus the 1 Train was soon transporting me to the gates of Van Cortland Park in The Bronx. I had not reported from that destination since September of 2012. Would the fishing experience be different?

November is my favorite time for general nature loving. The brown months have almost, yet not quite, settled in for a season. Some colorful tree leaves, like the bright gold pennants of the Norway Maple, still cling to branches in scattered batches. Wildflowers, now dormant, display the pure architectural forms of stem and seed pod. Birds are active and easier to view, but the biting bugs are long gone.

Wetland path surrounded by fallow reeds. (photo taken 11 21 2013)

Wetland path surrounded by fallow reeds. (photo taken 11 21 2013)

Missing, too, were the thick lily pad beds and pickerelweed stands that thrive in the shallows of Van Cortland Lake during spring and summer. Fallen trees, half submerged, and a carpet of leaf litter had emerged as the dominant cover.

Good numbers of yellow perch are present in this lake. I selected a Prince nymph and went into action. The slow technique using a Leisenring Lift modified for stillwater should have been an effective method for luring a few specimens of green barred gold. The result instead was a quiet period of fine casting practice.

A northwest wind pushed a broken front of variegated gray cloud. The air became damp and just a hint of my steaming breath could be detected when I paused to watch and photograph a large flock of geese descend onto the lake.

Geese descending onto Van Cortland Lake. (photo taken 11 21 2013)

Geese descending onto Van Cortland Lake. (photo taken 11 21 2013)

With the nymph drawing a goose egg and direct sunlight fading, I decided to change gears and “cheat” – my term for using an Olive Woolly Bugger with a bead head. The pattern is so effective for trout, bass, and panfish in New York’s creeks and lakes that I only use it now when I want to save a day from ending fishless.

First cast . . . a slow, deliberate take, followed by several short, strong swims, brought to hand a silvery black crappie. The bright fish obliged me for photos before release into water I found to be much colder than expected; a temperature in the low forties.

Black Crappie in hand. (photo taken 11 21 2013)

Black Crappie in hand. (photo taken 11 21 2013)

Second cast . . . another strike.

Catching added to casting, I moved on from the open grassy bank adjacent to the city golf course and hiked around to the forested side opposite. There the Old Putnam Trail attracted maybe half a dozen joggers who passed through at a brisk pace. No other individuals, angling or otherwise, were seen or heard until I flushed an industrious black squirrel along with several gray ones, each with an acorn in its mouth.

Black Squirrel beside the Old Putnam Trail. (photo taken 11 21 2013)

Black Squirrel beside the Old Putnam Trail. (photo taken 11 21 2013)

Casting a fly around the branches looming above my head and sticking out of the water before me proved to be a chore in the half light of late afternoon. I lost one Olive Wooly Bugger with a bead head, but found another Olive Wooly Bugger without one hanging from a nearby bush gone bare. That find permitted me to call it even as a small flock of hooded mergansers swam off into the graying day. I left the lake to Orion, who would soon be hunting overhead.

Hooded Mergansers head into the marsh. (photo taken 11 21 2013)

Hooded Mergansers head into the marsh. (photo taken 11 21 2013)

– rPs 11 27 2013

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