Late Summer Bronzing
The welcome break in the heat and humidity kicks off a brief period still tan-worthy sunshine and comfortable temperatures and the inevitable, albeit slight for now, cooling of the still and moving fresh waters. And with this, an across-the-board uptick in fishing activity via the slowly awakening appetites.
This is our prime time to wet wade the several Garden State rivers and streams that harbor that tawny, vertical barred, scarlet-eyed ultra-light tackle terror: the smallmouth bass, aka bronzeback.
We’ll pursue by boat when the opportunities arise, and on the Delaware River’s deeper areas, our “big smallie” moving water go-to, a vessel is the only way to get to the busters. However, it’s the wading, with El sol caressing downward from the shoulders, the rays still capable of adding summertime’s waning swashes of bronze, that, in our lexicon, is the real definition of the term bronzeback, all respect to the species, of course.
The wet wading pursuit can be as minimal or as complicated as one wants to make it. Predicated on the choice of pursuit, it’s a lanyard holding a hemostat, nail clipper to snip line, and a palm size lanyard box that holds a selection of hooks and split shot, tiny jig heads/tails, and/or miniature plugs and spinners.
If using live bait, and our late summer fave is the time-honored baby nightcrawler and, if we can find a few, hellgrammites. These go in a belt bait holder. Easy peasy.
When flyfishing, said lanyard box holds an amalgam of meaty dries, wets and nymphs, and a couple of downsized streamers...with a spare spool or two of tippet material (mono is fine, no need for fluorocarbon) also affixed to one of the lanyard clips.
Yeah, there are those occasions, such as on the Delaware, that a sling pack which holds more terminal tackle (read: lures/jigs/plastics, and tools) is the way to go, as big bronze can sometimes take a shine to a bait out of the ordinary. Greater selection, greater shot.
About the wet wading thing: hip boots or breathable waist-high (or convertible to waist-high) waders will suffice. Some are squeamish about the weeds thing, of which there will be patches to traverse through unless opting to return bankside and then re-enter below or above, depending on the approach. However, it’s imperative that the footwear bear at the least felt soles, studded soles, or even better, studded felt soles, which will aid greatly in preventing slipping, sliding, and possible injury. Stream and river bottoms are at late summer bottom slime levels, so nix the old sneakers approach. Trust me on this one!
It’s a full blow-go when pursuing from a boat, as there is, in the late summer bronzeback context, no limits to the tackle boxes. Still, the basics will burnish the most and biggest stillwater bronze. Suspending crankbaits, Senkos (from 3 to 5 inches), paddletails and grubs, 1/8-3/8 ounce spinnerbaits, and, for some heart-thumping strikes, poppers and walk the dog-style surface plugs when the surface is calm, especially from late afternoon into the first traces of dusk.
In addition to the Delaware River (a reciprocal license honor system), particularly from Harmony north to the Montague/Milford Bridge at the end of Route 206, top wet wading rivers include the North and South Branches of the Raritan River, the Raritan proper down into Bound Brook), the Musconetcong River (Stephens State Park to Changewater, then from Bloomsbury to Riegelsville), and the Paulins Kill River from Blairstown to Knowlton.
Rather boat than wade? Hot late summer bronzing can be experienced on Merrill Creek, Round Valley and Split Rock reservoirs, Clinton, Echo Lake, Oak Ridge, and Canistear reservoirs in the Newark Watershed (permit required), Lake Hopatcong, and Lake Aeroflex. Good opportunities in Budd Lake and Spruce Run Reservoir as well.
All of the above are located in the northern and central sectors of New Jersey. However, not to be overlooked is the 898-acre Union Lake in Cumberland County in the state’s southern region. A steady population with some surprisingly husky bronzebacks.