The Amazing Ledge Rock Bass of New Jersey

When I lived in Northwest New Jersey I occasionally heard rumors of large bass living in the river that created and runs through Great Gorge in the picturesque Vernon Valley. The general public recognizes this as the premier ski area of the state. I'd heard that the river was a torrent of white water that sounded more suited to Atlantic salmon or Steelhead than Smallmouth Bass.

Ever curious, I decided to give it a try one Saturday morning. Arriving at what seemed to be a good jumping off point I marveled at the sound of crashing water below me and wondered out loud- "could there possibly be a backwater calm enough for smallmouths down there"?

It took awhile to find a path to descend and after some careful walking and holding on to rocks for support (dear life) I got close enough to water to try to fish.

The steep bank behind me made normal casting impossible. I tried to bow and arrow some line out into the water to roll cast but the current quickly took it downstream and that proved fruitless. I didn't really see any glides or eddies that bass might tolerate but I was too tired from the descent to immediately try to head downstream. My only hope for a chance at a fish was a steeple cast directed upstream so that the Black Wooly Bugger would have a bit of time to sink under the froth.

My first attempts were feeble, but I finally developed a bit of rhythm and was able to get some line out. Quickly raising the rod and hauling with the line hand I flung the line upward and went into the forward cast, but the rod arched back in mid-cast and I thought that I had found some branch or root that magically grew out of the ledges. Pulling forward gently I felt some electric resistance much like a fish. I pulled a bit harder and it pulled back. Fearing that I had hooked some small animal I turned around and looked upward to see what was one the line. When I pulled a bit harder I saw a fish slide over a ledge - and he was attached to my line. Pumping my rod gently I gradually pulled the fish down all the ledges to me.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this smallmouth colored fish with small claws on its fins. Apparently the claws helped it maneuver on the ledges. I carefully unhooked the fish and slipped it into the water at my feet. It swam off slowly then turned quickly toward shore and with a burst of speed swam to the shore and jumped to the level of the first ledge behind me. As I watched with my mouth open it proceeded to climb up about 8 ledges before it disappeared from sight! What a weird fish.

I didn't get any more strikes that day but talked about the fish to all the fishermen I met. Most gave me a look that could have propelled me to the nearest mental ward. Others gave me a wary smile and skulked off. I never could find a name for the fish nor any scientific description of it. I tried the famous ledge pool again that year but didn't get any fish. Was that the only one? Where are the rest? The mystery lives on.

If you should wander into that area of the world give it a try. I can offer you the following tips:

1. Forget about forward casting. Use the steeple cast and try to let your fly drift back onto a ledge.
2. Don't use Clousers or any other weighted fly because their weight hinders a good high steeple cast.
3. Be sure to take a camera to record any catches to use against the doubters. I'm sorry that I didn't have one with me.
4. Be sure to report your findings back to this website - with pictures of course.

Jack Swegel
June 5, 1999

Reprinted by permission of the author

PO BOX 362

With thanks and apologies to Richard Brautigan

Other Selected Writing:
Conjuring Blues in the Surf at Nantucket
Warrior Days
Don's Advice
Stars and Stripers Forever
Striper Fishing in America Jonah
Striper Fishing in America Hits the Tag Sales
Fly Fishing On Other Planets

Please cast your lines in this direction:
Striper Fishing In America.

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