I've spent the last twenty-five years chasing the fish that swim in our local waters and I've enjoyed every minute of it! During that time, I've made some remarkable friends and together we've learned a great deal by spending loads of time on the water.
It's early November and I'm already tired of " Waiting for Striped Bass" – see last week's blog title. I continue to hear promising reports from Rhode Island and New York coastal waters, but those fish just don't seem to be in a hurry to move down into New Jersey waters. We've had some flashes, mostly a short-lived blitz of 20-pound stripers that happened right around Halloween, but for the most part, the 2016 fall run has been far from steady or predictable.
I decided it was time to shake things up a little. When I fish, I don't sit and wait for the fish - I go to them. I packed up my surf gear and headed north in hopes of kick starting the fall run. Armed with an arsenal of high-end surf rods, indestructible surf reels and hundreds of dollars in plugs, I teamed up with a few buddies to cover some ground in the central and northern portion of New Jersey. At 5 AM, Metallica was playing in the truck. The "Seek and Destroy" song seemed to set a perfect backdrop for our "battle plan."
Sunrise at Bradley Beach, NJ
Our plan was simple: fish sunrise and then spread out to find some action. The sunrise bite was nonexistent. We split up and scouted the oceanfront like gulls looking for meal. After a little driving, we spotted some bunker just out of casting range. The bunker seemed unbothered until three whales exploded out of the water. It was a magical experience. The way the whales erupted into the air with their gigantic mouths open gulping down bunker by the bucketful was truly an amazing spectacle.
We watched the whales play cat and mouse with the bunker for close to two hours without any sign of striped bass or bluefish. Once again, we decided to split up in hopes of finding some action. We started the morning just north of Belmar and drove through Asbury Park, Allenhurst, Deal, Long Branch and finally Monmouth Beach. The landscape is very much different than what I'm used to in South Jersey, but it definitely had a "fishy" feel to it. After much searching, we returned to the bunker pods and watched as the bunker flipped happily on the water's surface. We made a few more halfhearted casts as the morning slowly turned into afternoon. Feeling defeated, we packed up for the long ride home.
Sightseeing in Northern New Jersey
This was my second trip up north in the last ten days. The first trip was similar, but without the whale sightings and I mostly concentrated from Island State Beach Park north up to Mantoloking. The commute isn't much different than my normal South Jersey stops, but I just can't get used to being skunked. When I'm fishing my home waters, usually the back bays, I can always manage a few schoolies to make my trip seem a little more worthwhile.
Between the combination of my surf fishing skunks and continued poor fishing reports, I decided to return to my roots – South Jersey backwater fishing. Our back bays are hardly in full fall run striper mode, but there are always enough back bay linesiders to keep a smile on my face. I hit some of my local haunts just after a midnight high tide and found steady action right off the bat. The stripers I caught seemed like resident fish, mostly between 18 and 26 inches, but I did manage one 28-inch keeper. After the back-to-back surf skunks, I enjoyed catching those small stripers a little more than usual.
Home Sweet Home
The next night, I headed a little further south and was a little surprised to catch a few 12 to 15-inch bluefish and some 12 to 16-inch weakfish. Other than cooler air and water temperatures, it doesn't seem like much has changed in our local waters. Fishing during the first week of November sure felt a lot like fishing during the first week of September. I remember a time when things would turn on just after Labor Day with the mullet run, then around Columbus Day with the cooler weather, then around Halloween with daylight waning each day, now I'm thinking maybe by Thanksgiving?
As of this writing, 1:30 PM on Tuesday, November 11, coastal water temperatures in Cape May and Atlantic City are an identical 57 degrees. The weather forecast for the remainder of the week looks breezy and chilly with a real cold shot scheduled for the weekend. Maybe this colder air is what we need to get the stripers moving south?
Whatever happens, I'm looking forward to the coming weeks. At our house, fall equals family, fishing and football. My son, Jake, has off from school the next few days for the annual NJEA Convention and my dad is flying up from Texas this weekend. We're looking forward to some serious fishing time, but I'm starting to feel a little pressure. This same time last year, we had steady action with fish ranging from 26 to 42 inches - something has to give!
A chilly northwest wind, nighttime air temperatures dipping into the 30's, morning frost on the pumpkins, multicolored leaves covering the ground and the sun is setting a little earlier each evening – are you thinking the same thing I am? It's striper time!
I'm Ready for Linesiders!
While South Jersey anglers are not so patiently waiting for the migratory fall run of big bluefish and striped bass, I have some good news: they are heading our way! Reports up in Rhode Island and New York waters sound outstanding and some of the great action is beginning to trickle down towards Northern New Jersey. I expect to hear some better action towards Island Beach State Park and Long Beach Island by sometime next week.
Fishing conditions have been rather difficult lately. Air temperatures seem to be on a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs – one day it's 80 degrees, the next its 50 degrees. The erratic weather conditions are definitely taking a toll on water temperatures. Right now the Cape May Monitoring Station is reporting 58.8 degrees while the Atlantic City Station reads 59.7 degrees. Strong northwest winds aren't helping either. Winds from the northwest direction usually bring very cold air and sometimes blowout conditions. A look at the long-range forecast seems promising with more stable weather moving in by the weekend and highs for most of next week in the 60s and 70s. Once the dust settles, I expect water temperatures to recover slightly and fishing action to become a little more predictable.
Since the cold snap, our resident striped bass have really put on the feedbag. Most are on the smaller side, but there are enough decent-sized fish around to keep it interesting. In the last week, I've noticed more fall-type fishing and less summer species with what seems like each passing tide. Weakfish and snapper bluefish catches seem to be dwindling while schoolie striped bass and herring catches are on the rise. Fishing has been fun, but it's not the action that keeps most of us up all night either.
An Average South Jersey Resident Striped Bass
The South Jersey striper run seems to take place much later than it used to. I remember expecting full-on blitz conditions by mid-October. Those days seem to be gone, but our late-season runs are enjoyable too – last year, I had good-sized stripers feeding in the backwaters right up until the season's closure on January 1. If you're dying to try for stripers, you can get by with the resident bass or you can head about 50 to 80 miles north and extend your striper season by a full month. In recent years, I find myself heading north a little more frequently each season.
If you decide to stay local and tempt the resident linesiders, there are some added incentives. The first one that comes to mind is the red drumfish aka redfish. Over the last ten days, a handful of redfish were caught from Corson's Inlet to Cape May Point. Last year was oddly slow, especially after 2013 and 2014 had many anglers believing redfish were returning to our waters for good. Each year seems to differ, but overall trends seem promising. Another southern visitor is the spotted or speckled sea trout – many of us reference them as "specks". A few of my fishing pals dedicate much of October and November to these beautiful sea trout. Much like the redfish, the runs seem to fluctuate from year to year. Last year was slow as I heard of just a few specks caught in Cape May County. There hasn't been much talk about specks yet this season, but I did see a photo from an acquaintance a few days ago. To many anglers, the southern species are a real trophy as catching any number of these fish would take a fair amount of skill and a lot of luck.
South Jersey "Specks"
With stripers and saltwater fishing on my mind, freshwater fishing adventures are limited. After last week's unbelievable trout fishing, I couldn't help but hit some of the locally stocked waters again this week. The rainbows were a little more spread out, but just as willing to hit a spinner. I love having the big trout to myself but I feel like I have to share such a great experience. If you enjoy trout fishing, make sure to get out there soon!
Fall Trout Fishing is a Blast!
Last but not least a first for me – I caught my first warmouth. I was hooked into a giant rainbow when I noticed what I thought was a crappie, than a perch shoot from the bank behind me. I was in my waders and fishing in gin-clear water when I noticed the oddly patterned fish stalking around me. At first, my mind was on the big trout, but after landing and releasing the trout, I went back to look for the strangely colored perch or crappie. When I waded back, the fish seemed more curious than afraid of my presence. Not expecting much, I casted my spinner and the fish annihilated it. After a short, scrappy fight, I reeled in the fish and admired the odd color pattern – I was certain it was a warmouth. As I went to take a photo with my phone, I dropped the fish and it swam about five feet away. I figured I blew my shot at a picture, but I tossed my spinner at it again and the warmouth nailed it. Apparently these fish are very aggressive, but not very intelligent. I snapped a few photos and let it swim away. When I came home, I did some research and found the State of New Jersey considers warmouth an invasive species. I made a few phone calls and sent an email or two, but I'm still waiting for a response. I'll make sure to pass along any interesting information.
The fall trout stocking is complete. Many of our local ponds, lakes and rivers are teeming with big, beautiful rainbow trout. Over the last two weeks, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife stocked more than 21,000 trout throughout state waters. These aren't the little trout we see in the spring on Opening Day; the average-sized, fall trout is about 15 inches with many larger specimens up to 22 inches. Trout fishing in October is nothing short of remarkable – some of these fish look like salmon!
South Jersey Salmon?
With great weather and literally truckloads of trout riding through South Jersey, I felt like I was in heaven. I fished lakes, ponds and rivers and had giant trout swimming in every direction. The Pequest Trout Hatchery does a wonderful job raising these trout and I'd like to thank them for making the most of our trout stamp fees. It feels strange thanking a state agency, but I definitely got my $10.50's worth.
How much is this fish worth?
This paragraph is my asterisk - I'm not going to pretend that fishing for stocked trout is the same experience as fishing a pristine, native trout stream in Northern New Jersey, Pennsylvania or New York, but the big trout are dropped right in our backyards and are put there for the sole purpose of fishing enjoyment. Some may consider this "fishing in a barrel" and for good reason, but I wonder how many people actually tried to catch a fish in a barrel? I can tell you from experience, these fish aren't as easy to catch as some may think. While fishing for stocked trout may not be as prestigious as some other types of fishing, it is fun – lots of fun! Catch rates are usually high, you don't have to feel guilty when taking a fish or four home and the odds of battling a trophy fish are likely higher in your own backyard than they would be just about anywhere else on the planet.
Trout like this are swimming in your backyard right now!
I've been fishing for stocked trout for years and I've learned a few things during my time on the water. The hatchery fish usually seem to be a little sluggish at first, as the trout need some time to acclimate to their new surroundings. The larger fish seem to take a little longer than the younger, smaller fish. In my experiences, rainbow trout seem a little easier to catch and a lot less particular than brook and brown trout – maybe that's another reason the state only stocks rainbow trout now? The stocked trout set up and behave differently depending on the location. At ponds, it seems like they roam around drop offs, points and lay downs. On the larger lakes, the trout seem to head straight for dams and spillways – the concrete spillways are like trout magnets. When fishing on creeks and rivers, undercut banks and deep pools seem to be likely fish holding areas. Years ago, I thought of trout as more of an open water roaming fish, but the state stockies often seem to prefer cover. I've lost quite a few fish in lay downs and log jams.
This one didn't get away!
There are many effective techniques used to catch trout. Fly-fishing, casting lures and bait fishing seem to work well. In my opinion, Berkley PowerBait Trout Bait is one of the most effective way to catch trout, but it's not as much fun as tossing inline spinners. If water temperatures are very low, I'll yield and use PowerBait, but if temps are above 50, I'll be tossing spinners. I came across a certain spinner a few years back and it's been my go-to for the stocked rainbow trout. It's a spinner named the Double Spinn, made by Thomas and I prefer the Nickel/Gold color pattern. The spinner is heavy enough to cover a lot of water when casting. The twin blades offer a tremendous amount of flash, which catches the attention of any nearby trout. The double blades also allow for a slow sink rate so I can impart a little more action into the spinner. After having many follows by trout without strikes, I learned that a little jig every once in a while would trigger a strike. I can accomplish the same action with smaller, lighter spinners, but they don't put off the same flash and I can't cover water with the smaller spinners like I can with the Double Spinn. If you're going out for trout, do yourself a favor and make sure to have a couple of these in your bag.
The Thomas Double Spinn strikes again!
The fall trout stocking days are like holidays in my family. I asked Jake if he wanted to take two days off from school to fish for trout and he couldn't have been happier. Before I get reprimanded, don't teachers get a few vacation days? Well, I think the kids should too. I wasn't quite sure how to write a note excusing his absence - trout fever? Looking back, I'm sure the memories we made over the last few days will last a lifetime.
I gave Jake an A+
Jake and I had a great time trying for the stocked rainbows this week. We even had a few of the locations all to ourselves. Imagine Opening Day of Trout Season, but with much larger trout, better weather and no crowds – yes, that's it. I am a little surprised the big fall trout don't receive a little more attention from South Jersey anglers. If you knew what you're missing out on, you may choose to celebrate the Opening Day of Trout Season in October from now on!
Fall is here! The smoky scent of backyard bonfires, multicolored landscapes, harvest celebrations, hayrides, falling leaves, scarecrows, apple cider and pumpkin-spice flavored foods and drinks are just a few of the welcoming signs. While I enjoy everything the fall season has to offer, the great fishing action tops my list. Freshwater fishing opportunities are among the best of the year as our resident sweetwater fishing turns up a notch with an influx of super-sized rainbow trout. Coastal anglers spend their days and nights chasing the almighty striped bass as the fall migration kicks into high gear. It's a great time to be living and fishing in South Jersey!
Kayak fishing on a brilliant October afternoon.
Water and weather conditions look favorable for fishing over the next few weeks. Freshwater rivers, ponds and lakes are running a little low, but the waters are clear and cool. Saltwater conditions also look promising as Hurricane Matthew skirted our area to the south and than pushed further out to sea. Over the last ten days, coastal water temperatures dropped by almost 10 degrees. The Cape May station is presently reporting 63.9 degrees while the Atlantic City monitoring station reads 63.3 degrees. The resident schoolie stripers have been much more active since the water temp drop. With a stable weather forecast, I expect water temps to rebound and hold in the mid 60s for a few weeks. Our backwater estuaries are exploding with a plethora of baitfish so the table is set for a great fall run.
The recent drop in water temp triggered some better-sized fish this week.
The recent coastal storm and what seemed like an unending northeast wind forced me to step away from the great weakfish action and take on some new fishing opportunities closer to home. After a few days of rain, being stuck inside watching, reading and listening to political news, commercials and opinions, I couldn't wait to get as far away from society as I could. I looked over the map on my iPhone and searched for some of the most remote waters in my area. I needed an escape from "Election 2016."
After a little research on the new fishing locations, we loaded the kayaks and headed out to get away from it all. Fortunately, we had a beautiful lake to ourselves, the launch area was perfect and the fishing action was steady. It was exactly the escape I needed to feel sane again. Paddling out onto a serene lake on a warm October afternoon felt like paradise. While politics have a way of reminding me of everything that's wrong with the world, kayak fishing has a way of reminding me of everything that's right with the world.
This is my happy place!
My son, Jake, spends far less time fishing with me since school started, but his first four-day weekend (Columbus Day) came at the perfect time. We loaded up the kayaks and had a father/son trip that couldn't have been more enjoyable. Our Wilderness Systems kayaks are outstanding fishing platforms and we have them rigged to the max for enjoyment on the water. Jake paddles my old Tarpon 120 and I love my new ATAK 140. We usually fish all the likely areas such as docks, bulkheads, drop offs, stump beds and lily pad fields. I've been especially fond of the Rapala Shadow Rap Shad lately – the perch-colored pattern gets a lot of attention from our finned friends.
Rapala Shadow Rap Strikes Again!
Once we're done working over the lake, we usually paddle upstream to fish, have lunch and explore. The creek mouths and pockets are good for a few fish and the trek upstream is always enjoyable. Kayaking on lakes and ponds is great, but there is something special about paddling into the untouched areas that other boaters cannot access. We've found some great fishing spots, viewed a tremendous amount of wildlife and even found a couple out-of-the-way swimming holes. Kayaking through these types of areas is a lot like hiking on the water.
The time Jake and I spend together on the water is always memorable. The experiences range from almost magical on some days to just really good on others. If our trips were a game, we'd always win. Between fishing action, our conversations and the beautiful surroundings, how could we lose? I watch as friends and family spend large amounts of money to fly to other states or countries to get away from it all while I just load up my kayaks and paddle off into the sunset.
If you haven't tried kayaking, I suggest giving it a shot. Maybe you tried kayaking a few years ago and the unstable little sit-in kayak didn't feel safe or comfortable? Kayaks have come a long way in the last few years. I'm not a young man anymore; certainly not the surfer type and I can stand and fish on my kayak very comfortably. The seats are more like a Lazy Boy recliner than the old wooden slats I sat on in my canoe. Creature comforts continue to reach new highs as new and useful products pop up on a daily basis. Items such as lightweight motors, pedal drives, carbon fiber paddles, high-end fish-finders, stereo systems, adjustable rod holders, charging ports for your phone, live wells, solar charging systems, remote-controlled anchors systems, and tackle storage options are just a few of the innovative new improvements made for kayaking. It sure is a great time to be a kayak angler!
By this time next year, I'll be dancing on my ATAK 140!
There are not many things I enjoy more than catching weakfish during the night tides. After many years of tough fishing, it's great to have the weakies back again! My nights have been filled with solid strikes, bent rods, lots of croaking/drumming and some awesome drag pulling, headshaking battles. This year's weakfish run continues to be one of my best seasons in close to a decade.
I love it when they talk to me!
Over the last few weeks, I've experienced a consistent bite that just seems to be getting better. The speckled beauties are showing up in good numbers and sizes in many of their old haunts. While I enjoy catching the spike weakfish this time of year, the bigger weakfish are a welcome unexpected bonus. Since September's full moon, schools of 20 to 26-inch weakfish have been mixed in with the spike weakfish. These fish filled in nicely as we transitioned from the recent closure of the summer flounder season to the beginning of the striped bass fall run. Weakfish anglers tend to keep to themselves more than most so I guess it's not surprising that even though weakfish reports are picking up, they aren't quite on par with what I'm experiencing on the water.
This 25-inch weakfish slammed a bubblegum-colored Zoom Super Fluke
Did you even wonder why most weakfish sharpies are so tight lipped? While most of us enjoy a little elbow space, it's mostly due to the fact that when the fishing action is good, weakfish are among the most predictable fish that swim in the ocean. This may sound pretentious, but I've spent twenty-five years chasing weakfish and I think I know where these fish will be before they do. It may be hard to believe, but I'd wager that ten years from now, I could set up on a particular rock, on a specific day, time, tide stage and not only catch weakfish, but probably predict the size within a few inches – however, the wager would have to be rather sizable for me to give up such a predictable location. It may come as a surprise to some, but when weakfish are around in good numbers, they are almost as predictable as the sun rising each morning.
I'll never tell!
To break it down even more, weakfish not only tend to have seasonal habits, but they tend to feed on the same tide stage night after night. The old saying, "You could set your watch to the bite," couldn't be more true. High and low tides change about fifty minutes a day so if I had a good bite from 11 PM to 1 AM on an outgoing tide, chances are the next night the bite would take place from 11:50 PM to 1:50 AM. Lately, the fish seem to be most active during the last few hours of the outgoing tide, but each location has it's own windows of opportunity depending on bait, structure and current. Time spent learning weakfish habits will pay off for years to come.
20 years later - same place, same tide, same bait, same result!
Unfortunately, it looks like my weakfish train might be coming to a screeching halt. The recent northeast wind and rain is a real bite killer. I think we could withstand a couple days of coastal flooding, but with constant 20 to 30-MPH NE winds combined with an influx of freshwater into our back bays, things aren't looking good in the near future. With talk of Hurricane Matthew working its way up the east coast early next week, things aren't looking great in the long-range forecast either. Events like these combined with tomorrow night's new moon have a way of flushing our back bays prematurely – say goodbye to the mullet!
Coastal storms and mullet runs seem to occur at the same time each year.
I don't give up easily so I'll be trying for weakfish as soon as the weather breaks. Weakfish seem to be a little more sensitive to weather and water conditions than most other fish so I'm hoping that Hurricane Matthew tracks east and heads out to open water or it could be a long two weeks. If the hurricane brings more coastal flooding and wind, it may take a while for our waters to clean up. If this scenario plays out, it will likely be time to switch from weakfish to striped bass.
In the meantime, it's probably a good time to get back to some sweetwater action. Our ponds and lakes should benefit from the heavy rain. Some of our local waters were as low as I've seen them in a long time. I've spent most of my free time chasing weakfish, but when I did stop at my local fishing holes, action seemed to be on the slow side – little largemouth bass and a few small pickerel. Hopefully, the cooler weather and extra water trigger some better action. I'm looking forward to spending October mornings and afternoons in my kayak chasing largemouth bass, crappie, pickerel, perch and rainbow trout.
Reports of weakfish are pouring in from as far south as Delaware and to the north up in New York waters. Fortunately, it seems like we're right in the middle of the resurgence as our local waters are exploding with weakfish action, especially from Cape May to Barnegat Bay. Many of the speckled beauties are on the small side, but some better-sized fish moved in recently. I'm not ready to call it a comeback, but it's beginning to feel like the good old days when weakfish were common in our waters.
It's good to see these beautiful fish around in numbers again!
After years of decline, there are signs that weakfish could be making a comeback. We had some promising runs between 2010 and 2012, but the action tailed off a little between 2013 and 2015. The 2016 season started with a great spring run as big weakfish were found in some areas that haven't surrendered numbers of tiderunners in more than a decade. This spring, I found better numbers and sizes of weakfish than I've witnessed in at least eight to ten years. With limited fishing pressure and daily bag limits at one fish per person, per day, it is reasonable to think that many of those large weakfish spawned successfully.
In my opinion, no one can predict the future of a fishery. With so many variables, predicting fish stocks is nearly impossible. Weakfish seem to have a boom-to-bust history that cannot be easily explained. The best we can do is continue research, watch trends and hope to learn from our observations. As anglers, we tend to base the health of a fishery on our catch rates. I believe catch rate numbers are about as useful as any other factor, but not always a determining factor in the overall health of a fishery. For example, I've noted better catch trends during warmer-than-average years with little rainfall. Most of my fishing time is spent in the South Jersey back bays where factors such as freshwater influence, water clarity and water temperature can have a huge bearing on my success. If we have a particularly cold winter, cool summer, frequent coastal storms or a lot of rain, my catch rate may be down due to the conditions rather than a lack of fish. The weakfish bite seems a little more susceptible to poor conditions than other fish like striped bass and bluefish – I think that's one of the reasons I enjoy catching them so much. In the big picture, I understand my observations are miniscule, but it's all I have and it works for me.
Enough with the theories and opinions, lets talk about the great fishing action. After spending much of summer in the sweetwater chasing largemouth bass, it sure felt good to return to saltwater action. On my first trip, I wasn't expecting much, but found some decent striped bass action. Since that early-August trip, I've been out often and the weakfish bite has been outstanding. The bite has been so good that I've been out almost every night – I'm thrilled to see so many fish around again!
The fanged fish are back!
We refer to the late-season run of weakfish as the summer spikes. The little spike weakfish seem to be showing up everywhere. The small 8 to 16-inch weakfish used to show in good numbers every August and gorge themselves on the bait balls that flood our estuaries each season. The young, one to two-year-old weakfish would stay in our backwaters until late October/early November before migrating to their offshore wintering grounds. Many anglers question the whereabouts of these fish after their first year or two in our waters and for good reason – there have been many years in which we've had tremendous numbers of spike weakfish leave our waters never to be seen again. Where do these weakfish end up? Some believe they end up as bycatch in Carolina shrimp trawls while others claim some type of natural predation. I'm not certain what happens to these fish, but I'm sure the two factors mentioned above take their toll on the fishery.
Not only are the summer spikes back, some bigger weakfish are showing too! On my last few trips, I caught a bunch of spikes and some larger, headshaking weakfish between 22 and 25 inches. The big weakfish are ripping through massive schools of peanuts bunker and silversides. Topwater weakfish action usually involves a swipe and a small dimple or swirl on the water's surface, but they've been blowing through the bait balls and exploding on the water's surface. I pride myself on recognizing specific patterns and I've rarely witnessed weakfish attack baitfish on the surface so aggressively. Much to my enjoyment, they are attacking my jigs and soft-plastic baits with the same reckless abandon.
I'm usually pretty quick to set the hook, but they have been inhaling baits.
I'm not certain if this is the beginning of a great comeback story or just a little bright spot in the downward cycle, but whatever the case, I'm going to ride this run until the end. The September full moon bite was amazing and I can't wait to get back out there. With summer flounder season coming to a close on September 25 and striper season still a few weeks away, this year's run of spike weakfish should fill in nicely.
I can almost hear the buses rolling down the road. In our neighborhood, school starts in two days on Tuesday, September 6. Our kids will be back to the daily grind of getting up early, shuffling from class to class and coming home with plenty of homework. Sounds like fun right? Not to me, I dreaded the first day of school. As a boy, I was always outside; I played sports, fished or hunted until I needed to eat or sleep. After a summer of outdoor fun, I felt like going back to school was the equivalent of a nine-month jail sentence.
According to today's youth, most schools are much more user friendly. It seems like many of the "walls" have been broken down over the years – for better or worse. Sadly, it seems like time spent outdoors is not high on list of most educational institutions. I'm not sure why administrators don't put more emphasis on learning outside of the school building – perhaps a few more walls still need to be broken down?
Fortunately, there are a few programs that offer outdoor learning to children (and adults in some cases) outside of school buildings. Our community offers programs such as guided nature walks, kids fishing contest, bird walks, kayaking and canoeing trips, Nature Tots program, Hooked on Fishing – Not On Drugs (HOFNOD) meetings and a bunch of other free outdoor learning experiences.
Over the years, my family enjoyed many of the community-based outdoor programs. I grew up on Wilson Lake which in now usually referred to as Scotland Run Park. The cedar-lined lake is a great place to cast a line, view wildlife, kayak and learn about the outdoors. Jill Taylor, the Senior Park Naturalist, can usually be found in the Nature Center and is a wealth of information. If you're wondering if your community has similar opportunities, try contacting your county's Park and Recreation Committee.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a Hooked On Fishing – Not On Drugs Kids Fishing Tournament at Corson Park in Millville, NJ. The contest was open to a couple of local HOFNOD groups and the public. Joe Haase leads one of the groups and planned on stocking and tagging some fish before the big event. I met Joe a couple of years ago at a HOFNOD training class – he's a great guy and is always looking for new and exciting ways to keep the kids interested in outdoor learning activities.
The fish stocking and tagging went off without a hitch. In just a few minutes, the kids and adult volunteers had the fish tagging process down to a science. I worked the camera as the group completed tagging and stocking the fish into the lake with machine-like efficacy. I was thoroughly impressed by the entire process. Even the younger kids seemed incredibly capable.
A Tagged Sunfish Ready for Release
Soon after the fish were released, the fishing tournament started. The kids went all in and fished hard for a solid two hours. I walked around the lake and watched as families fished together, kids helped each other out and everyone caught fish. It was a beautiful day and everyone seemed to have a great time. During the two-hour tournament, I didn't see one child lose interest in fishing. This morning was full of sunshine, fish and smiles!
After the final horn, the kids met up and had lunch. Hot dogs, chips and water bottles were given out to each participate and their families. Winners were announced and given tackle boxes, trophies and rod and reel combos. I was especially proud of my own son, Jake, as he caught a ton of fish and helped out with the younger anglers.
That's My Boy!
Having experienced this event first hand made me want to start my own group even more. My wife and I have gone back and forth with some ideas, but it's not easy to get things off the ground. I have a great respect for people like Joe Haase – he put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into his group and asks for nothing in return. The kids had a great time because a few big-hearted adults volunteered their time to make it happen - these people are an asset to our community.
If you're looking for something to do with your kids this weekend, I'd like to suggest a visit to New Jersey's Annual Wild Outdoor Expo. The big event is happening this Saturday and Sunday, September 10 and 11 from 10 AM to 5 PM – rain or shine. Admission and parking are FREE! Some of the activities include: fishing, kayaking, shooting sports, camping skills, hiking, rock climbing, compass navigation and wildlife watching. Programs will include fish and wildlife conservation, reptile and raptors, sporting and tracking dogs, historical reenactments, SCUBA dives, nature photography and much more. It sounds like a great way for our kids to unwind after their first week back in the big house.
This year, I decided to spend most of the summer months concentrating on freshwater ponds and lakes in search of trophy largemouth bass, crappies and pickerel. I landed some real beauties and had a great time exploring new waters. Fishing stump fields, laydowns, lily pads and weed mats from my kayak was a blast, but I'm looking forward to breathing in some salty air, watching mullet spray through the waves and hooking into weakfish, summer flounder, bluefish and striped bass!
During the summer months, fishing along the coast is worthwhile, however I don't think it compares to fishing during the spring and fall seasons. When back bay water temperatures approach or exceed 80 degrees, many of the largest species head for the ocean and deeper, cooler waters. Throw in thousands of summer vacationers with their speed boats, sail boats and jet skis and you may understand my decision to spend most of the summer season inland on a quiet pond in the woods.
Summer Is Drifting Away
While our shore towns are still filled to capacity, I couldn't help myself – it's like a little voice in my head wouldn't stop until I went down to check out some of my favorite late-summer fishing holes. Wanting to avoid the masses, I planned accordingly. The weather and tides were perfect for a late-night backwater trip: a light west wind and air temperatures in the lower 60s with high tide slated for 1 AM. I planned to fish two hours before and two hours after high tide.
Our first stop was a small causeway bridge that is usually choked with baitfish. As soon as we walked up onto the bridge, we spotted a big, black cloud of peanut bunker. Snapper bluefish were tearing through the school, many of which weren't much bigger than the bait they were attacking. After a few casts in the bunker school, I walked up a little higher and spotted two, 28 to 30-inch striped bass working the surface of the shadow line. On the first cast, I missed the mark. The second cast got hammered, but somehow I missed the fish. The third cast would have been it if not for the knot that formed in my freshly spooled braid - the fish hit and as I set the hook the line broke at the knot. This is not how I planned on starting off my night!
I muttered to myself as I tied on another ¼-ounce jig and grabbed a bubblegum Zoom Super Fluke from my bag. I tossed a few more casts, but I blew my chance. As I walked down the bridge headed to the next location, I thought to myself, "I can't believe I blew it, but it sure was nice to see some fish at our first stop."
Our next stop would be a small marina where I usually find striped bass working over baitfish under dock lights. By the time I arrived, the incoming current had slowed down considerably and the snapper blues had the bait balls all to themselves. Over the years, I've noticed striped bass and weakfish seldom compete with the hoards of small bluefish – if stripers or weakfish are present, they'll usually set up below the snappers and clean up the leftovers. I worked high and low at the docks, but only came up with a couple snapper blues and a few half eaten Zooms.
At slack tide, we headed over to another small bridge and were a little surprised to see baitfish stacked on both sides of the bridge. Large schools of peanut bunker swarmed to the lights like moths to a flame. Watching thousands of baitfish circle under the lights is hypnotic. Unfortunately, other than a few snapper bluefish, action was slow. With so much bait present in our waters, it's easy to find bait balls, but not so easy to find bigger fish working them over.
Catching bait in the cast net doesn't get much easier.
We checked a few more likely areas before we found some active fish. The tide just started moving when we heard the telltale "pop" sound made by a surface feeding striped bass. We could hear the stripers feeding from a couple hundred yards down the Intracoastal Waterway. We pinpointed the sound to a well-lit pier that I call the fish bowl. Upon arrival, I noticed a large school of peanut bunker under the lights, but the stripers were only feeding on the stray baitfish that were swept past the dock pilings by the falling tide. Even though there were thousands of peanut bunker inches away, the stripers were keyed onto the small crabs and silversides that were carried by the tide. I made a few well-placed casts and landed a small striper.
This one was hungry!
To most, the catching aspect of fishing is always paramount. While I enjoy the catching as much as anyone, I find watching and learning about my quarry to be equally gratifying. Fishing under bridge or dock lights isn't much different than watching fish swim around in an aquarium. Seeing how and figuring out why fish behave as they do is a gigantic plus, especially for those other times when you can't see what's happening beneath the water's surface. The way I look at it, the time I invest learning about fish behavior will result in more fish on the end of my line.
The striper bite at the pier lasted about fifteen minutes. With late summer backwater temperatures hovering around 80 degrees, the fish are relatively lazy and usually only feed during the most opportune times – typically, the same type of behavior occurs when temperatures are at the lower end of the spectrum, too.
The final stop on our scouting trip would be a small bridge that usually lights up with action on an outgoing tide. It was close to 3 AM and by this time the outgoing current increased a great deal. Mullet, peanut bunker and silversides were holding up in the shallower water where the current was much slower. I watched as snapper bluefish and needlefish slashed through the bait balls. I made a few casts, but only came back with half-eaten soft-plastic baits.
A little frustrated, I thought about our prior stop at the pier and how the striped bass related to it. While the bridge was much larger than the pier, the set up wasn't much different: lights, current, baitfish and pilings. A few casts across the pilings and I was hooked into another summer schoolie striper. Once I figured out their location, I found steady action. The bass didn't want to fight the current, snapper bluefish, and needlefish for food; they decided to sit, almost effortlessly, beside and behind the pilings to pick off the easy meals the current provided.
While the fish we caught that night weren't very big, I learned a little more about fish behavior and the areas I fish. The big schools of baitfish aren't always the best place to fish? How many times do you read that in a book? In the few hours we fished, we covered a small area and saw lots of fish. I'll be down at least a couple times a week until things really start to heat up. If you have a chance, get down to the back bays and set up at a well-lit municipal pier or bridge – it's quite a show!
Not long ago, I remember a time when I looked forward to the summer season. That time is gone. With recent air temperatures in the mid 90s and heat indexes between 105 and 115 degrees, I'm putting up the white flag – bring on September and those cool nights!
To most of us, the oppressive heat is like a smack in the face, but it also seems to be taking a toll on the local fishing action. Most species of fish, especially the largest of the species, usually become lethargic when water temperatures approach 90 degrees. Water temperatures vary depending on which body of water you're fishing, but we're running well above average in most locations. Yesterday, I logged 89 degrees at a nearby freshwater lake; on Saturday my Lowrance unit recorded 87 degrees in a coastal, backwater creek and last week, we set a record-high ocean temperature in Atlantic City where the mercury soared to a sultry 83.3 degrees – the previous record was 83.1 degrees, set five years ago.
Despite the stifling weather conditions, I continue to plug away on my summer fishing trips. Last Tuesday, August 9, my Dad flew up from Texas – when he visits, fishing is always on the agenda. Many of my go-to lakes are a bit slow now so we decided to hit a couple of farm ponds that my daughter's boyfriend frequents. John, Jake and I fished the ponds on Tuesday and tallied over 100 largemouth bass in just a couple hours. 100 degrees and 100 fish – you have to love farm ponds! Most of the bass were between 8 and 15 inches, but John did manage to catch a few better fish including one that was pushing 3 pounds.
Farm Pond Bass Thumb
On Wednesday, we returned to the farm ponds, but this time we brought my Dad along to get in on the action. Getting to the fishing hole is a little bit of work as this particular farm is off the beaten path. Access to one of the best ponds on the property requires one to crawl under an electrified fence – John has permission to fish the farm ponds, but there is a ton of land and the walk to the gate would take some time away from fishing.
Slipping Under the Electrified Fence
After navigating through the obstacle course, we arrived at the promise land and were into fish right away. It didn't seem to matter what we threw at those hungry little bass - they were going to hit it. I started with a Rapala Shadow Rap Shad and then switched over to a small jig. The farm pond bass seem a little more like piranhas than largemouth bass – it's hard to believe that many fish can live in what looks like a big, brown puddle.
Jake With a Farm Pond Bass
While we didn't catch any trophy fish, we still managed to have a great afternoon. We caught a ton of 1-pound fish, busted each other's chops for a while and then stopped at Mood's Farm Market for a refreshing apple crush. Under the harsh conditions, I think it's fair to say we made the most of the day.
Sometimes the Smiles Are Bigger Than the Fish!
After a few days of sitting by the air conditioner, I was ready to get back outside. On Sunday, August 14, I attended a Demo Day at West Creek Kayak and Canoe. I was there to represent Wilderness Systems and to help customers with any questions about kayaking. Glenn Collins is the shop's owner and one of the nicest guys I've ever met. Right behind the shop is a small feeder creek that connects to Little Egg Harbor – it is a perfect location for kayaking.
A Perfect Day for a Paddle
As an avid paddler, it's great to see the industry continue to grow by leaps and bounds. If your idea of kayaking is only based on an experience in an old sit-in kayak, you do not know what you're missing out on. The new line of sit-on kayaks offer so many amenities that your head will spin! For most of us, safety and comfort are of utmost importance. Some of the new kayaks are so stable that you can stand up on them comfortably and I'm not just talking about the young, strong surfer types – us older people can get in on the fun, too. The new seats are so incredibly adjustable and comfortable that you won't want to leave the water.
The New Kayaks Are Amazing!
When I'm not fishing or kayaking, I enjoy spending time with young anglers. There are two local kid's tournaments coming up in the next few weeks and I plan on attending both. If you're in the area, come on out and bring the kids along – it's always a good time!
Joe Haase and the Cumberland County Hooked On Fishing – Not On Drugs Fishing Program will be having their Tournament on Sunday, August 28 at Corson Park in Millville, NJ from 9 AM to 1 PM. Come on out to catch some fish and see what this wonderful program is all about.
Hooked On Fishing - Not On Drugs Tournament Flyer
On Saturday, September 10, the 2016 Kid's Fishing Contest will take place at Scotland Run Park in Clayton, NJ from 8:30 AM to 11:30 AM. This tourney is one of my favorites as I grew up fishing at Wilson Lake and participated in the very same contest when I was a teenager. I've seen some impressive catches over the years. Gloucester County Parks and Recreation and Sportsmen's Outpost do an outstanding job with the kids.
2016 Kid's Fishing Contest at Scotland Run Park Flyer
After waiting nearly a month for a break in the mid-summer heat, a perfect weather window opened for our fish-camp trip to Parvin State Park. With weather forecasters calling for daytime highs in the low 80s and nighttime temperatures dipping down to the mid-to-low 60s, I couldn't book our reservations fast enough! A week in the wilderness would include spending most of our time fishing from our Wilderness Systems kayaks and the remainder eating, sleeping, and exploring the park. We camped at Parvin State Park a couple times last summer and had such a good time, we couldn't wait to get back down there.
Fortunately, our favorite campsite, lucky number 013 was available and we set up for a week of living in the great outdoors - campsite #013 is the best site for kayakers as it backs right up to the water. As luck would have it, I was driving in the last tent stake when I saw a shiny, little circle. At first glance, I thought it was an old rivet from a tarp, but after digging the rest of it out of the ground, it turned out to be a gold band. Upon further inspection, it was clearly marked with 14K and a 1908 stamped on the inside of the ring. I don't have any idea how much it's worth, but it was a great way to start our trip!
We're off to a good start!
After setting up our gear, we slid our kayaks into the water and got down to business. Big crappies were our target and it didn't take us long to find them! We found good numbers of big summer slabs at the same little cove that put out great numbers of fish last year. I started by fishing two rods: one rigged with a float and the other with a 1/32-ounce jighead and a Berkley PowerBait 2-inch Power Minnow in the emerald shiner color. A steady east wind provided a good drift and it didn't take long for the rods to bend.
Super-sized crappies are a blast on light tackle!
The size of the crappies in Parvin Lake is beyond impressive! At most lakes, an average crappie usually tapes out around 10 inches, but at Parvin most of the crappies we caught were between 12 and 15 inches and extra thick. If you're into crappies, this lake should be on your list!
This one taped out at a little over 15 inches!
Jake and I caught fish until sunset and then headed back to camp with smiles on our faces. We ate dinner by the campfire and went to bed early, as we wanted to get in a good night's sleep before heading back onto the water at sunrise.
Sunset at Parvin State Park
The next morning, we woke up at 5:45 AM and were on the water by 5:50 AM. We were greeted by a beautiful sunrise and much calmer conditions. There is something almost magical about watching the sunrise on the water. Fish were surfacing all over the lake and it didn't take long for us to get back into the action. The steady crappie action continued right where it left off the evening before. To add to the fun, a few big sunfish, white perch and largemouth bass decided to join the party.
Sunrise Over South Jersey
By 10 AM, that east wind was picking up again. We boated a good number of fish and our stomachs were looking forward to breakfast. We brought a little propane grill to cook meals and I was seriously looking forward to pancakes and grilled breakfast sausages. With the thought of food on our minds, I think we may have paddled a little faster on the way back to camp than we did on our way out. It was a perfect morning!
Finishing off a great morning with pancakes and sausage.
With our bellies full, we decided to settle down for a while. It was great just sitting around, talking about our fishing trip and taking in our surroundings. Many of life's complications and stressors seem to disappear when you're spending time in the wilderness. Whether it's camping, hiking, fishing, kayaking or just sitting under a tree by the lake, there is something soothing about being surrounded by shades of blues and greens that have a way of melting away all of life's troubles.
After we decompressed, we decided to take the kayaks out to our swimming hole. The park has a small area of the lake roped off with a lifeguard present for swimming, but we decided to paddle upstream and swim in the cooler, cleaner feeder creek. The feeder creek is aptly called Muddy Run and the water seemed especially stained during our stay. While the water wasn't very clear, it was cool and quite refreshing, especially on a warm, sunny August afternoon.
Fun in the Sun
Soon after our swim, we decided to explore Muddy Run and the many little offshoots that can only be navigated by a kayak or canoe. We spotted some wildlife, paddled over logjams, under tree branches, and through inches of water all while soaking in our beautiful surroundings. Kayaking these areas is like hiking on the water.
I don't think those turtles are playing leap frog?
Jake, John and I paddled back to the main lake just before sunset to catch a few more crappies. The bite was steady and we picked away at crappies until dinnertime. The open-water bite is a ton of fun and doubles are a usual occurrence. We usually keep a few fish for a camp fish fry, but we had plenty of food packed and John was thoughtful enough to bring sandwiches for everyone – John, as much as we appreciated those hoagies, I'm sure those crappies were even more thankful.
Having spent much of the time in my Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K 140, I have to admit; I've fallen even more in love with it. My ATAK sheds the wind like no other kayak, it offers unbelievable stability and the raised AirPro Max seat combine to make for an awesome fishing machine. Sitting in that chair on that kayak with a rod and reel in my hand is truly my happy place!
My Happy Place
We spent the next few days repeating the same events: fishing, kayaking, exploring, roasting marshmallows by the campfire, enjoying life and each other's company. On Friday morning, I was woken up by the sound of a hot air balloon that hovered over our tent and then just a few feet off the water – the smell of propane was thick in the air. I thought I was dreaming – how many people can say they were woken up by the sound of a hot air balloon?
Up, Up and Away!
Our time at Parvin State Park was an incredible experience and I suspect the memories will last a lifetime. Do yourself a favor and take the time to enjoy what's left of the summer season and make sure to spend it with the people you truly care about – you'll be happy you did!
In South Jersey, our warmest weather usually occurs between late July and early August. With recent air temperatures approaching triple digits, it's safe to say the "dog days" are upon us. Fishing during this time of year can be quite difficult and in some cases even dangerous. When air temperatures are forecast to reach the 90s, it's 90+ degrees in the shade and quite a bit warmer in the sun. The unbearable heat isn't just uncomfortable for anglers; it also takes a toll on most species of fish. With a little planning, you can feel much more comfortable on the water and continue to keep those rods bent.
When trying to beat the heat, a few options quickly come to mind: fish during the early morning, evening and nighttime hours. These simple choices will offer the most enjoyable fishing conditions – it's also likely the fish will be a bit more cooperative during these times, too. If you're fishing during lowlight conditions, you can leave the sunscreen at home, but remember to bring the bug spray – those South Jersey mosquitos will carry you away!
As a kayaker, this time of year can be especially daunting. Loading your kayak and paddling requires a little more physical effort, which can exacerbate the effects of the hot, summer sun. To combat the heat, I usually don't push my limits, dress in light-colored clothing and pack lots of cold water.
The simple items listed above are usually enough to enjoy the hottest of days on the water, however there are a few extra steps to make summer fishing trips even more comfortable. I've found a few other cooling options that work wonders. Some of the new fabric technologies are mind blowing. One of these products is the Columbia Freezer Zero Neck Gaiter. The neck sleeve is extremely versatile as it can be worn in a variety of ways, provides sun protection, comfort, and cooling properties. A little sweat actually makes the Omni-Freeze Zero material feel cool against your skin. I was one of those guys that said, "I'd never where on of those face buffs." Now, I don't leave home with out it.
Feeling cool on a hot July day.
Armed with my hot-weather gear and enough bottled water to fill a swimming pool, I hit a bunch of lakes this week. I took the kayaks out to a few of my favorite venues and visited a couple new bodies of water. The unfamiliar waters looked fishy, but my efforts came up small with just a few fish for the day. Fortunately, my go-to waters have been much more productive. Fishing action has been great despite the height of the summer heat.
The heat hasn't slowed the fishing action!
I've put together a pretty successful routine and I'm going to stick with it for as long as it lasts. My day starts early – usually, I'm on the water by 6:30 AM. I begin fishing the flats and weed edges with a yellow perch-colored Rapala Shadow Rap Shad. Largemouth bass, chain pickerel, crappies, sunfish and yellow perch seem to love the Shadow Rap Shad. Rapala lists the Shadow Rap Shad at 3/8 ounce, 3.5 inches in length, and a diving depth of 3 to 4 feet. I fish the lure with an erratic, jerky retrieve and it seems to hang around a depth of 1 to 3 feet, which is perfect for many of our weedy, shallow South Jersey waters. Rapala describes the Shadow Rap Shad's action as, "Swims with horizontal struggle. Slow rise on the pause. Perfectly mimics a shad in trouble." Their description is dead on – the action on this lure is remarkable and it drives fish crazy!
The Rapala Shadow Rap Shad getting it done!
Around 10 AM, the lily pads draw my attention as largemouth bass begin to explode on the many types of dragonflies that flutter just above the water's surface. Usually by this time, I've had my fun with the little, yellow perch-colored Rapala and I'm ready to switch it up. I used to fish frogs, but lately, I've been throwing the Doomsday Turtles with great results. I rig the turtle with a small, lightweight hook so it sinks slowly on the pause. It skitters across the water perfectly as the four curly legs ripple the surface of the water. If the fish aren't aggressive, I'll slow down my retrieve and pause in the open pockets of water just long enough for the turtle to sink a little and the bass crush it! By the time I'm done working over the lily pad fields, the sun is high and I'm paddling back to my car with a smile on my face.
It's a bad day to be a bass!
My son, Jake, has been out with me often. On our last trip, he hooked a decent largemouth bass on his very first cast. It's a joy watching him improve his knowledge and techniques. Now, Jake goes his own way and works over waters that look fishy to him. He was rewarded with a beautiful 24-inch pickerel – a new personal best for my little fishing buddy! We had a great trip even though it was 90 degrees.
Jake had his hands full with this one!
August looks like it's going to begin with a little break from the extreme heat. Midweek highs are forecast in the low to mid 80s and Jake and I are planning a three-day fish camp at Parvin State Park. We fished at Parvin about the same time last year and had one of the best open-water crappie bites I've ever experienced. We're hoping for a repeat and a couple bass wouldn't hurt either. Don't let the "dog days" get the best of you – there are plenty of fish to catch!
The new Pokémon Go app seems to be taking the world by storm. Just in case you're not up on the latest craze, Wikipedia states, "Pokémon Go is a free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile game developed by Niantic for iOS and Android devices. It was released in most regions of the world in July of 2016. Making use of the GPS and the camera of compatible devices, the game allows players to capture, battle, and train virtual creatures, call Pokémon, who appear on device screens as though in the real world." Sounds like a blast right?
Admittedly, my little knowledge of Pokémon comes from my children. My oldest son, Frankie, absolutely loved all things Pokémon. I'd like to thank him for engraving Pikachu, Poké balls and the cartoon's theme song into my brain forever…
"I wanna be the very best Like no one ever was To catch them is my real test To train them is my cause
I will travel across the land Searching far and wide Teach Pokémon to understand The power that's inside
Pokemon! (Gotta catch ‘em all), it's you and me I know it's my destiny (Pokémon!) Ooh, you're my best friend In a world we must defend Pokémon (Gotta catch ‘em all), a heart so true Our courage will pull us through You teach me, and I'll teach you Po-ké-mon (Gotta catch ‘em all!) Gotta catch ‘em all! Pokémon!"
It's the kind of jingle that you just can't shake – even fifteen years later. Thanks Frankie!
Wanting to see what the hubbub was about, I downloaded the new Pokémon Go app - more out of curiosity than anything else. A few minutes later, I captured a Charmander in my living room. I learned a little more about the game and decided it wasn't for me. I understand why some people may enjoy the game, but I have some of my own very real Pokémon to catch. It just so happens that all my characters have fins!
Even though I'm not into the new fad, I can appreciate the many ways the pocket monster's game relates to fishing. Right off the bat, the tag line in the chorus "Gotta catch ‘em all" is right up our alley – as anglers we can appreciate that. The Poké balls strangely resemble bobbers and both are used as an aid in catching our quarry – the Poké balls are red on top and white on the bottom while many of our plastic floats are white on top and red on the bottom. In most scenarios, each of us is searching for the largest, strongest and most rare of Pokémon/fish species. Many of our targets require an intimate knowledge of the Pokémon/fish species in order to be successful. The more you think about it, catching fish is a lot more like catching Pokémon than not. Maybe we can make fishing the new craze?
Gotta Catch 'Em All!
Can you imagine if fishing was as popular as the new Pokémon Go app? There seems to be a lot of pros and cons to anything that becomes so wildly popular. Most of us are aware of the pros – entertainment value and monetary benefits quickly come to mind, but some of the cons include some real horror stories. Over the last week, some of the news stories are mind blowing: trespassing, robberies, and assaults – all while hunting for virtual pocket monsters? To top it off, I just read a story about an 18-year-old shot dead while playing the Pokémon Go game near Guatemala City – police found twenty bullet casings at the scene of the murder. Maybe we're better off if fishing doesn't become the next craze?
Meanwhile, back in my little part of the world, it seems like the dog days of summer are here to stay. With air temperatures nearing triple digits, fishing action has slowed down considerably. We're still catching fish, but mostly 14 to 16-inch bass - the big girls just aren't eating like they were a few weeks ago.
When I'm not looking for trophy fish, I like to take my kayak out into the lily pad fields. July's bright sunshine and intolerable heat sends the bass looking for cover and the pads offer shade much like the umbrellas we use on the beach. Sometimes the bass can be a little sluggish, but they still have a difficult time passing up a well-placed cast.
Summer Fun On My Wilderness Systems ATAK
Recently, I've been on a bit of a top-water fishing kick. I started with frogs as I've always enjoyed froggin' the pads. The only complaint I have about the frogs is the amount of missed hits – some days, my blowup-to-hookup ratio is unacceptable. I needed to change it up.
Topwater fishing in the pads is a blast!
A few weeks back, my daughter's boyfriend, John, passed along a pack of Doomsday Turtles and I was dying to use them – thanks John! To tell you the truth, I thought they were a little gimmicky, but I wanted to test them out to see how well they worked. To my surprise, my hook-up ratio soared and I landed nearly all of the fish that blew up on the turtle. The Doomsday Turtle is mostly flat so it rides over the pads easily and if I want to drop it into open water areas, between the pads, it sinks just slow enough to trigger the less-aggressive fish. So far, I am thoroughly impressed with the turtles. Another great tool added to my "Gotta catch ‘em all" quest!
Did you ever wonder if you caught the same fish more than once, twice, three times or more? If you fish the same waters enough, wouldn't you think it's likely to come across the same fish at least a few times during their lifetimes? For years, I suspected I had been catching at least a few fish over and over again, but without any identifiers, I had no hard proof.
Wanting to understand fish behavior a little more, I became a member of the American Littoral Society's Fish Tagging Program - the largest volunteer, saltwater fish-tagging program in the United States. I don't tag every fish I catch, as circumstances aren't always conducive to fish tagging, but I tag my share. Most of the fish I tag are striped bass. As you may imagine, receiving my first tag return made my day. With tag returns coming from as far as Maine, I thought the odds of me recapturing a saltwater fish with access to the Atlantic Ocean would be much less than recapturing a largemouth bass in a small pond.
From the Delaware River to Maine!
As luck would have it, last fall while fishing a midnight tide, it happened - I caught a small resident striped bass with a bright yellow tag attached. It turned out it was a fish I tagged just a few weeks ago. I finally had my proof! If I could catch the same fish in a backwater channel with access to the ocean, surely I could catch the same largemouth bass in a small neighborhood pond.
On December 11, 2015 I caught this striped bass for the second time.
Flash forward to June 8, 2016. I caught a beautiful 20-inch largemouth bass with a distinguishable spot on its tail. Last Tuesday, July 5, I caught the same 20-inch fish in the same location with the same spot on its tail. I wondered if I had caught this fish before. After comparing the recent photo, I had my proof.
A largemouth bass with a spot on its tail was caught on June 8, 2016
The same spot-tail bass was caught again on July 5, 2016
I fish a lot and I think about fishing even more. If you're like me, you know what I'm talking about. If not, feel free to call me a fishing geek. With the recent recapture of a fish I caught a little less than a month ago, I began wondering how many times I could catch the same fish in a lifetime, year, month, week or day? Without some type of identifier, it would be nearly impossible for me to distinguish one 16-inch bass from another.
A couple days passed before I received a daily update from Timehop – an app on my iPhone that shows me pictures and posts from the same date of prior years. Technology is great right? As it turns out, on July 8, 2015, I see myself holding the very same, but somewhat smaller spot-tail bass in the same location. This photo put me over the top and my wheels have been spinning ever since.
The same spot-tail bass was caught almost exactly a year before.
The saltwater fish-tagging programs offer a ton of valuable information so why aren't we doing the same with freshwater species? With the current technology available to most anglers, we could do amazing things to improve our understanding of many types of fisheries. The possibilities I'm considering seem endless!
In my opinion, fish tagging promotes catch and release practices even more. It is through these types of experiences that we can truly appreciate catch and release fishing - a fish can only be caught a second time if it was released the first time. I also see fish tagging as another tactic to introduce young anglers to fishing – a fish with your tag in it gives you a vested interest in that particular fish.
I'll see you again soon!
With little information available regarding freshwater fish tagging in New Jersey, my first hurdle will be acquiring a fish-tagging permit from the state. After some research, I found this paragraph in the 2016 Freshwater Fishing Digest concerning fish tagging "No person may tag or mark and then release a fish without first obtaining a fish stocking permit or by special permit issued by Fish and Wildlife. Contact the bureau of Freshwater Fisheries for application information." I'm hoping to meet whatever requirements the state has for issuing permits for fish tagging. I'll follow up with a phone call or two to the state early next week and keep you posted. Wish me luck!
Can you believe we're halfway through the 2016 fishing season? The first six months flew by, but not without some decent catches. A mild winter and early spring gave way to a dreary and cool May followed by an average June. According to my logs, fishing action was average to above average. The first half of the 2016 fishing season is off to a good start!
I started the year plying the local sweetwater venues. Chain pickerel, crappie and yellow perch accounted for the little action I had in January. There seemed to be just enough snow and cold air to keep the fishing action to a minimum, but after the prior two years of bone-chilling winter weather, it was great to be fishing open water again. January fishing was a little on the slow side, but I was fishing and catching so I'm leaning towards above average.
My son, Jake, started February off with a bang. After a slow day at the crappie pond, I decided to catch up on chores while Jake walked down to our lake to give it his best. About ten minutes after he left the house, I received a phone call asking me to come down to see the largemouth bass he just caught. It was a good fish, especially for early February. As the month progressed, fishing action picked up and we experienced a solid crappie bite. February is usually my toughest month – between winter storms and cabin fever, I'm always glad to flip the calendar to March. All things considered, I have to say February was a little better than average.
February Bonus Bass!
March ushered in warmer weather and some great fishing opportunities. Looking back, I see myself on March 8, 2016 fishing from my Tarpon 120 in shorts and a t-shirt. The next day, Jake and I returned to catch a bunch of crappie and pickerel in 70-degree temperatures. As March continued, we fished Rapala Shadow Raps and caught tons of largemouth bass and pickerel. By mid-March, it was time to hit the coastal backwaters where I found better striped bass action than I've seen in years. March can be hit or miss, but this year was a definite hit - clearly above average.
Spring Striped Bass
Fishing in April was amazing! Freshwater action was great and the South Jersey back bays were full of life. The local lakes and ponds offered largemouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch, crappies and tons of freshly stocked rainbow trout. Summer flounder, tiderunner weakfish and an insane amount of big bluefish joined the striped bass in our coastal waters. Once I found the weakfish, it was difficult to fish for anything else. It was great to see so many large weakfish around again! The last few years were promising, but most of the fish were in the 3 to 6 pound class. This spring, there was a good showing of 8 to 12 pound weakfish – I was in heaven! Towards the end of the month, a steady coastal flow began, dropped backwater temps and killed the great bite. Despite the late-April east winds, fishing action was well-above average.
Tiderunner weakfish made my spring!
May is usually my favorite time to fish. I wait all year for the month of May. This year I was thoroughly disappointed. A seemingly unending east wind made for poor fishing conditions for the first three weeks of the month. Backwater fishing action suffered the most as water temps dropped and then held steady in the mid 50s. Striped bass and bluefish didn't seem to mind the constant east wind and flood tides, but the weakfish and summer flounder bite took a nosedive. Because of the poor conditions, I spent more time freshwater fishing than usual. Fortunately, the easterly flow didn't hurt the largemouth bass bite. While fishing for largemouth bass, I caught a few monster chain pickerel. The weather and water temps moderated towards the end of the month, but I never found the kind of action I experienced in April. Fishing in May was worthwhile, but not the great action I look forward to every year – definitely below average.
Great freshwater action almost made up for poor conditions along the coast.
Thankfully, the weather and fishing action returned to normal in June. A few tries for flatfish ended with a decent amount of 17-inch flatfish, but I was still left feeling a little salty about missed opportunities in May and releasing 20 to 24-inch summer flounder in April. Smaller summer weakfish showed in Cape May County so I'm hoping they hang around for the next few months. After spending a little more time fishing the sweetwater ponds and lakes in May, I found a decent largemouth bass bite and had more fun freshwater fishing than I've had in years. In just the last few days, it seems like the pattern changed again and I may have to start fishing the nightshift to find any decent action. Overall, June's fishing action was average.
I'm hoping to find more bass like this one this summer.
The long, hot summer months can make for some difficult fishing. While I enjoy summer fishing, a part of me is already looking forward to cooler weather and good fishing action. I'm hoping for a repeat of the 2015 fall run. I'm excited to see what the rest of the 2016 fishing season has to offer. Please feel free to share your halftime report below in the comments section.
It's hard to believe the summer season begins in two short days on Monday, June 20. All the signs are there: the kids are finished another school year, shore traffic is picking up on Route 55 and everyone is heading for the beach. I love summer, but I'm going to miss my peaceful, backwater kayak trips. The spring season was good to me; I'm going to be sad to see it go.
With the weakfish run slowing down, much of the striped bass heading north and the summer flounder heading towards the inlets, my best saltwater days are behind me. I'll enjoy the summer season, but when it comes to fishing, spring and fall are tops in my book. Not wanting to fight through traffic and jet skis, I'll probably only fish the salt on weeknights until Labor Day.
Fortunately, I can usually find solitude on the nearby rural waters through the summer months. Freshwater fishing in South Jersey isn't a bad trade for the saltwater action. Whether it's frogging the pads from my kayak, exploring Delaware River tributaries for bowfin and snakeheads, or wet-wading the small backwater creeks, I plan on enjoying great fishing action right through the summer months.
Lately, I've been on a largemouth bass binge. I fish for bass often, but I've taken it a little more seriously over the last few weeks. I'm considering signing up for some of the local kayak bass fishing tournaments and want to work on my game. I used to fish for largemouth bass seriously when I was younger, but over the years, I found myself leaning towards saltwater species. The largemouth bass action is a lot better than I remember it.
One of four fish from this afternoon's trip.
After months of packing up the kayak and commuting an hour to the bay, it feels great to be fishing so close to home. Living just a few hundred yards from a small lake has its perks as I can walk to the lake in less than five minutes. The neighborhood lake has clear water and a good bass population – it's a great place to study my new quarry.
It's nice to have fish like this so close to home!
After a few days of solid action, I decided to mix it up a little. My goal wasn't to catch bass, but to watch them. I want to learn more about their behavior and how they feed in their natural habitat. I took two rods a can of worms and my GoPro. I could've fished with lures, but I figured I'd get a better response by using something the bass normally feed on: a sunfish.
The bass reacted to the sunfish a little better than I thought they would. Even with a rod over them and a camera pole under them, they attacked that poor sunfish with reckless abandon. At one time, I had five bass fighting for position to grab the sunfish. My GoPro only picked up a few of the fish – I'll improve content as I continue to experiment with camera angles.
Having the luxury of watching the carnage with my own eyes, I couldn't help but think of piranhas or sharks drawn to blood. If bass had teeth, those poor sunfish wouldn't stand a chance. After watching the video, I knew my selection of lures, no matter how lifelike, couldn't compare to a nervous, live baitfish. If I could bottle whatever stressors those nervous baitfish are emitting, I'd be living on easy street. I have so much to learn.
While chasing largemouth bass, we came across some other great fishing opportunities. The first thing that comes to mind is bullhead catfish. I grew up in Philadelphia and spent hours catching bullhead catfish in Darby Creek, Cobbs Creek and over at Tinicum. It's been a while since I've caught a bullhead catfish, but they seem extra aggressive this year. Jake hasn't caught many catfish so it was a treat for him when a few bullheads tracked down our Rapala Shadow Raps.
While walking along the bank, I noticed a ball of young catfish and then another – they look like tadpoles, but with tiny little whiskers. Having seen catfish young before, I had a feeling mom or dad would be nearby as the parents often shepherd their young for a few weeks. Sure enough, one of the parents was nearby and went into guard mode while I was filming. The adult catfish came into the shallows and stirred up the mud in an effort to protect its young. I was impressed by the display and left thinking much more of the "lowly" catfish after my experience.
To mix it up a bit, Jake and I spent an afternoon exploring a few of the local spillway creeks. If you've never fished a South Jersey spillway, you're missing out. The amount of fish in these small waters is almost inconceivable. I believe it's possible to catch a variety of fish on each and every cast for hours! We rarely catch redbreast sunfish in the ponds and lakes, but they seem to be prevalent in our local tailwaters. While most of these fish don't get very large, the pure numbers and variety of colorful fish are enough to keep us coming back. It's going to be a fun summer!
National Fishing and Boating Week takes place from Saturday, June 4 to Sunday, June 12, 2016. This national event was created to highlight the importance of recreational fishing and boating across America. The nine-day celebration is a great time to introduce children, adults and families to the sport of fishing and all of the joys that come with it. You may find out that fishing is about much more than fish.
During National Fishing and Boating Week, there are numerous opportunities for anglers and outdoor enthusiasts. Many states offer free fishing days - a day or days when a fishing license is not required to fish state waters. In New Jersey, the first of two free fishing days is this Saturday, June 11. As of this writing, the weather forecast for Saturday looks outstanding: mostly sunny, a high of 80 degrees and light winds out of the southeast at 5 to 10 mph. The second free fishing day takes place on Saturday, October 15 and is scheduled later in the season so anglers can take advantage of the fall trout stocking. I love catching those big rainbow trout!
Free fishing days are the perfect time to invite non-fishing friends and family members onto the water to try fishing with little to no investment. Personally, I plan on inviting a few of my out-of-state buddies over to get a little taste of South Jersey freshwater fishing. Many anglers from Delaware and Pennsylvania already make the trek through the state to fish our coastal waters, but I have a feeling they are a little less aware of our amazing freshwater fishing opportunities.
Besides the free fishing days, there are all kinds of events coinciding with National Fishing and Boating week. Last Sunday, June 5, we spent the day in Clayton, NJ at Scotland Run Park's Water Fest. It was a great afternoon as the park offered many great outdoor activities. We enjoyed a live animal show by Wild World of Animals and then spent most of the day kayaking, canoeing and fishing at the lake. It was great to see so many people enjoy themselves outdoors. Kids put down their smart phones and video games for an afternoon and picked up fishing rods, crayfish, tadpoles, toads and frogs.
Fun at Scotland Run Park's Water Fest
If you missed out on last weekend, don't feel bad; there are plenty of great outdoor activities coming up this weekend. The Hooked On Fishing – Not On Drugs Program is sponsoring a statewide Youth Fishing Challenge. Registration is free and anglers do not require fishing licenses on Saturday, June 11. Programs held at the Pequest Trout Hatchery include Fly Casting and Fishing for Beginners at 10 AM on Saturday, June 11 and Take Dad Fishing at 10:30 AM on Sunday, June 12. Please visit www.njfishandwildlife.com for details.
When I'm not busy chasing tiderunner weakfish and summer flounder along the coastal backwaters, I've been enjoying some great local freshwater action. In my last four freshwater trips, I've caught over 100 fish some of which were good enough to qualify for New Jersey's Skillful Angler recognition Program. Largemouth bass, pickerel, yellow perch and crappie fishing is on fire. I usually stick to the waters I know best, buy every once in a while, I like to venture out to some new waters. Alloway Lake has been on my radar for years so I decided it was time to check it out. I fished the lake by kayak while my daughter and her new boyfriend, John, worked the lake in a small aluminum boat – finally a guy that likes fishing! While we didn't catch any trophy fish, the action was steady. I had a bunch of bass and pickerel on Rapala Shadow Rap Shads and Berkley Gulp baits. I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of white crappies and yellow perch in the lake. I rarely catch white crappies in my local cedar-water lakes.
I don't see many white crappies, but this one hammered my Shadow Rap Shad.
Short trips to the lakes around my home have also been worthwhile. Jake and I hit a small lake on Saturday morning and we couldn't keep them off our lines. We had a good mix of largemouth bass, pickerel and big crappies. The bass and pickerel were holding in open water on weed lines while the crappies were in big schools around the docks.
This big crappie was just one of many holding close to the docks.
On Monday, I had to drop my wife's truck off at the shop. She took my car to work so I was grounded for day. It was a beautiful day and after catching up on some household chores, Jake and I decided to get in a few casts at our local lake. As luck would have it, out of all the places I fished and the miles logged over the last few weeks, I would find the fish I was looking for literally in my own backyard!
That's what I'm talking about!
Our local lake has some decent largemouth bass, but we're used to catching a few pickerel and a handful on 1 to 2-pound bass. I worked the area by the dam with a silver Shadow Rap Shad. After a few casts, I aimed right down the face of the dam, I jerked the plug twice and it got creamed! I set the hook and could tell right away that this was a special fish. She pulled a ton of drag and ran for the center of the lake. I played it cool, but yelled over to Jake that I had a beast fish on. Jake came running over and said something along the lines of, "That looks like a Florida bass!"
This one had shoulders and a belly!
After a few minutes of back and forth, I landed the big girl. Jake and I high-fived and admired the big, beautiful bass. I didn't have my scale, but I did get a measurement and a few pictures before we placed her back into the water. She was a little slow to swim off, but she seemed fine after a couple minutes.
It was a great experience to share with Jake – that's how memories are made! For some reason, I have a feeling Jake will be fishing at our lake every day for the rest of the summer. Make sure to take advantage of this weekend's free fishing day. It's the perfect time to get out on the water and make some memories with your loved ones.
What do you do when you're favorite coastal fishing holes are inundated by countless numbers of holiday weekend vacationers? I don't know about you, but I stay as far away as possible! Before Memorial Day, I picture myself floating along in my kayak with the company of striped bass, weakfish, summer flounder and bluefish. After Memorial Day, I picture overcrowded roadways, hundreds of boats and of course those wonderful jet skiers. Maybe I'm a bit spoiled, but I fish to get away from the masses, not to be a part of the crowd. From now until Labor Day, it looks like my coastal fishing trips will be limited to weekdays and nights.
I already miss having the water to myself.
A making-the-most-of-it attitude goes a long way in life, but to stay on topic, I'll focus on the fishing aspects. It's Memorial Day weekend and I'd love to be chasing striped bass, weakfish and summer flounder, but the odds of having a successful trip and enjoying myself seem fairly low – see the overcrowded roadways, hundreds of boats and wonderful jet skiers reference above. I could make the most of it and fight through the traffic, crowds and everything that comes with it to catch a few fish or I could stay closer to home and make the most out of fishing my local lakes and ponds for largemouth bass, crappies and chain pickerel.
As it turns out, my decision to stay closer to home paid off, as the weather was much better inland than along the beach. While some may argue that fishing in the rain is a good time, I'd prefer to stay dry whenever possible. Warming waters and cloud cover would make for perfect fishing conditions at our local lake. Our commute took all of about five minutes and I didn't even pass a traffic signal. When Jake and I arrived, we had most of the lake to ourselves and began working the flats with Rapala Shad Raps.
It's not raining here!
The resident largemouth bass and chain pickerel didn't disappoint. Jake and I caught a ton of 1 to 2-pound bass and pickerel. Jake was using a light-colored Rapala Shad Rap while I was tossing a perch-colored Shad Rap Shad. The lake was just treated with an aquatic herbicide so the weeds weren't a problem. Fishing action was good as we rarely went a few minutes without a strike. We had double hookups often and enjoyed our time on the water.
Doubled Up on the Shad Raps
Just after lunchtime, things got a little more interesting. A monster pickerel left a tremendous wake as it rocketed across the flat to strike my bait. Once hooked, the pike-sized pickerel went airborne and then made a bunch of sustained drag-pulling runs. A few minutes into the battle, I began to wonder if my 10-pound leader would hold, especially after I got a good look at the beast's impressive teeth. After some tense moments of back and forth, I finally slid my hand under her gigantic gill plate. She shredded my 10-pound leader, but it held – thank you Seaguar! She taped out at a little over 27 inches. After a few photos, she swam off strong.
What big teeth you have!
After a good catch, I like to sit back and appreciate the moment. I thought to myself, "Somehow a great holiday weekend just got better." While I'd prefer to catch trophy striped bass and weakfish, I don't think I'd trade my time with Jake, my catch or our peaceful surroundings for the hustle and bustle of the shore towns on Memorial Day Weekend. For the record, I heard some great reports of striped bass and tiderunner weakfish in Cape May County waters. Years ago, I would have raced down to get in on the bite, no matter the circumstances. Fishing isn't any less a part of my life, but I'm learning to appreciate fishing for everything that it offers.
A great fish!
While many anglers put striped bass or largemouth bass on some higher level, I find similar enjoyment fishing for what some may consider lesser species such as sunfish, pickerel, bowfin, snakeheads, crappies, catfish and carp. Now, I fish on my own terms and I find myself enjoying time on the water ten times more than I did when I was chasing fish and reports up and down the New Jersey coastline.
This Memorial Day weekend is one I won't soon forget. Not just because of the solid fishing action, but because I was fortunate to spend the weekend with the people I care about the most. Family barbeques, kisses from our 9-month-old granddaughter, Addison and teaming up with my daughter-in-law in a crazy game of horseshoes will all make the list of things I remember about this weekend – it was Amanda's first time throwing horseshoes and she threw two ringers including the game winner! I think the boys are still a little salty.
After our fun-filled weekend, I couldn't help but think about the real meaning of Memorial Day. I cannot express the level of gratitude I have for the men and women that fought for our freedoms and never made it back to eat a hotdog, cast a line, throw horseshoes or spend time with their loved ones. I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday weekend as much as our family did, but please take a moment to remember those that made it all possible.
I wait all year for the month of May. I pictured myself drifting along in my kayak and catching fish after fish on warm, sunny days. That doesn't seem to be the case this year. Dreary days with a chilly east wind seem to be the new normal. It's a backwater angler's worst nightmare. Dealing with a lack of sunshine and its non-warming effects on the backwater flats is one thing, but the relentless east wind that continues to push colder ocean water into our backwaters is a real mood killer.
High, cold and dirty water is never good for a flatfish bite.
It's hard to believe that our backwater temperatures increased just a few degrees since late March. As of this writing, the Atlantic City monitoring station is reporting 57 degrees while the Cape May station checks in at 61 degrees. Full moon tides and winds from the east have backwater temperatures in the mid to high 50s. During a normal May, I'd expect some back bay locales to be as much as 10 to 15 degrees higher than ocean temperatures. A steady 58 degrees seems to be a good all-around number for dependable action with most species. Unfortunately, we've been stuck in the mid 50's for most of the last two months.
On a brighter note, it looks like we're about to bust out of the current trend. The local forecast for the next few weeks have highs in the 70s and 80s – one outlet is even forecasting 90s later this week! Fortunately, there are plenty of fish around and an increase in water temperatures should really get things going. Maybe I should start looking forward to June from now on?
Despite the crummy weather pattern, fishing action has been pretty good. Big bluefish seem to be the main attraction. The big slammers can be found in our backwater sounds, inlets and along the beachfront. The blues are a blast on just about any type of gear as some of the yellow-eyed eating machines are pushing 15 to 20 pounds! Top-water plugs, metals, jigs and cut baits seem to be working well – those big bluefish usually aren't picky. The cooler water temperatures may help keep them around a little longer than normal.
Big Blues for Everyone!
Weakfish action has been decent. While the action is certainly not widespread, anglers willing to put in the time have been rewarded with some impressive catches. Much of the action has been in the backwater sounds, but I expect the inlet rock piles to turn on as soon as the weather warms up. With subpar water temperatures, the tiderunner bite has been a little more particular. My best experiences have been during an hour window on either side of low tide when the current is relatively slow and the water temperature is at its highest. It's been great to see so many large weakfish around again!
I can't get enough of those big yellow-mouthed tiderunners!
Striped bass action has been good in the area although not as predictable as the bluefish. There are plenty of schoolie striped bass in the backwaters. Some better-sized bass are staging around the inlet rock piles as they prepare to head north on their summer migration. With the passing of May's full moon on Saturday, May 21, I expect the striper bite to pick up as we head into the Memorial Day weekend. Hopefully, the lower water temperatures will keep them from moving along too quickly.
Jake got a bunch of small stripers while searching for weakfish.
I haven't been out much in the last week. A case of bronchitis took its toll on me and kept me laid up over the weekend. Thankfully, I'm beginning to feel a little better and hoping to get out sometime later this week. I'd usually be kicking myself for missing out on the summer flounder opener, but the lousy weather took a little of the sting away. Some flatfish were caught, but by most accounts, it was a slow weekend.
Earlier this season, summer flounder were stacked in many of my favorite weakfish holes. I noticed the bite slowed down since the influx of cooler ocean water took its toll and dropped backwater temperatures a few degrees. If we can string together a few sunny days, I'm sure the flatfish will begin to cooperate. I can't wait to put a few fresh flounder fillets on the grill.
I can't wait to get back out there!
Between the poor weather conditions and not feeling well, I did manage to hit a few of my favorite freshwater lakes. Usually, the month of May offers some unbelievable largemouth bass fishing opportunities, but it's been tough so far. I'm assuming we're a week or two behind now, at least as far as water temperatures are concerned, and the bite will pick up shortly. I hooked one decent largemouth, but I have a feeling most of the big girls are still sitting on their beds.
Hoping to find a few more like this in the coming weeks.
I'm beginning to feel a little like a broken record, "Next week has to be better." Whatever Mother Nature throws at us, God knows I'll be out there trying my best. Looking back, I'm having a pretty good year despite the less than ideal weather conditions. Imagine how good it could be if we could string together a few days of pleasant weather? The holiday weekend would be a great time to get things back on track. Good luck and stay safe.
I love everything about spring in South Jersey. The sights, smells and sounds are nothing short of heavenly. Colorful flowers blend into a beautiful, bright, spring-green backdrop. The sweet smell of budding blooms fills the air with a delightful scent while the birds and frogs sing a lovely tune. It's as though all is right in the world.
Spring in South Jersey
As an avid angler, there are some other great sights, smell and sounds that make the spring season amazing. Some of the sights include the brilliant purple hues of a tiderunner weakfish at sunrise, slammer bluefish blitzing along an inlet jetty and a hefty, cow striped bass at the end of a bent rod. I find the smell of the salty marsh and fresh bunker oddly pleasant and perhaps the most satisfying sound on the earth: a screaming drag!
Our coastal waters are coming back to life and blossoming much like the acres of peach trees that surround my home. The month of May offers some of the best fishing opportunities of the year as a variety of large fish move into and out of our rivers, backwater estuaries, inlets and beachfront waters. Head east or west and you'll find a great striped bass bite - as the big breeding linesiders finish their mating rituals, I expect the fishing action to turn up a notch in the Cape May County area, especially as we head into next weekend's new moon stage. Big slammer bluefish have inundated our local waters and are wreaking havoc on fishing equipment – the tackle shops must love those big bluefish! Waves of big weakfish are showing from time to time and the summer flounder are here in good numbers – just three more weeks until the 2016 summer flounder season opens!
Tackle shops must love those big bluefish!
With so many fishing opportunities, I've been out early and often. To be honest, I'd prefer to catch big weakfish all day every day, but with so many other great fisheries, I find myself attempting to do it all. After years of fishing the area, I've learned it's best to plan my trips according to conditions. On days when the winds are light, you'll find me paddling the backwaters in my kayak looking for trophy tiderunners. The April run of spring weakfish coincided with a great stretch of calm, warm and stable weather.
Trophy Tiderunners Are Back!
When the wind picks up, presenting lightweight jigs in a strong current becomes extremely difficult. Depending on weather conditions, especially wind direction, I'll switch it up and target striped bass or bluefish. If the wind is over 20 MPH, I'll resort to staying closer to home and pond hopping for largemouth bass. Since I've decided to let conditions dictate my target species, I've noticed my trips are much more successful.
The recent steady dose of east wind certainly doesn't seems to be helping my backwater efforts – the onshore flow brings an influx of cold ocean water and the extra water usually creates poor water clarity. With high, cold, dirty water infiltrating the backwater sounds, the odds of finding willing weakfish drops to almost nil. Knowing this, I decided to change things up and fish for big bluefish. The first day of east wind was great; the big blues would hit just about anything. On the second day, the water temperature dropped a couple degrees and the bluefish bite became a little more specific – they preferred plugs fished towards the end of the tide. By the third day of east wind, it seemed like the blues would only hit bait. Planning for weather conditions and their likely effects on your target species will go a long way in making or breaking a trip. With a few more days of east wind in the forecast, I think my best bet is to fish with bunker or clams along the beachfront and along the Delaware Bay shores.
The big bluefish will give you a workout.
As soon as the weather pattern changes, I'll be back out on my kayak in search of weakfish. This year's run has been one of the best in many years. Waves of 8 to 10-pound weakfish are showing up in many of the perennial early-season hot spots. In the last few days, reports of big weakies have come from South Jersey to as far as New York. Typically, the month of May offers some of the best weakfish action of the year so I have high hopes for the coming weeks. I just hope the weather cooperates!
South Jersey fishing action is off the charts! Striped bass, big bluefish, drumfish, tiderunner weakfish and summer flounder are here and they're hungry! While largemouth bass, chain pickerel, and truckloads of rainbow trout are making headlines at many of our local freshwater venues. Whether you choose saltwater or sweetwater is up to you, but it's time to get out there - fishing in South Jersey is as good as it gets!
From the rivers to the bays and along the beachfront, striped bass have us surrounded! Delaware River anglers reported one of the best spring striper runs in years, with numbers of quality fish taken on bait and plugs. With the recent passing of the late-April full moon, the big girls should be heading south and out of the river soon. The resident backwater bass are a little smaller, but they can be found in good numbers. The oceanfront bite is just starting to heat up and should continue to improve as the breeding stock pours out of the Delaware River, makes the U-turn and heads north for cooler waters. I have a feeling the action down along the Cape May beaches is really going to heat up as we head into the month of May.
News of the bluefish invasion is second only to the almighty striper. Even if you think bluefish aren't your thing, it's difficult not to enjoy this kind of action. Over the last few years, we've been spoiled by an amazing run of gigantic bluefish. The slammers are accessible to just about everyone as they can be found almost everywhere. A heavy leader is usually required when playing with the toothy beasts, but they are a real blast on light tackle – your drag will definitely be tested!
The big bluefish are a blast!
Anglers fishing with fresh clam reported the season's first black drumfish. The big boomers are a blast from the surf! I expect the drumfish action to pick up through May and peak right around the next full moon stage on May 21, 2016.
Tiderunner weakfish are back! I've been out early and often looking for my fanged friends. My first few trips were a little discouraging as I had just about everything except weakfish, but when I did find them, it was awesome! After paddling around a few spots, I found a solid bite with weakfish in the 8 to 10 pound range! It's been a few years since we had fish of this size around. Many of the weakfish I caught were large females and full of eggs. The big girls were inhaling my jigs - unfortunately, one of the big girls took my jig deep in the gill and I couldn't revive her. I'll be out chasing tiderunners for at least the next month so expect more details in next week's report.
A beautiful 10.46-pound true tiderunner weakfish.
While searching for tiderunners, I found the mother load of summer flounder. Most of the big flatties were over the legal 18-inch size minimum, but about a month early. It sure is difficult releasing keeper-sized fluke! I wonder how many South Jersey anglers know what they're missing out on? Our best time for backwater summer flounder action is now and we have to throw them back. By the time the season opens on Saturday, May 21, many of the larger flatfish will be moving out of the inlets in search of cooler ocean waters. Meanwhile, Delaware's 2016 summer flounder regulations are as follows; four fish daily, 16-inch minimum size and the no closed season!
Flatties are here and they're hungry!
While I wasn't targeting summer flounder, I have to admit, they were a welcome bycatch. The big flatties absolutely crushed my jigs. While pink soft-plastics are my "go-to" bait for backwater striped bass and weakfish, I feel like I catch many more fluke on a white bucktail and a long strip of fresh meat. I couldn't help to think about how much better the bite might be if I was actually targeting them.
Fluke have a reputation as a food fish, but they offer game fish qualities as well, especially on light tackle. I find summer flounder to be quite interesting - they are so much different than most of the other species in our waters. The flatfish move, feed and fight so much differently than most other finfish. Maybe they'd get a little more respect if they didn't taste so good.
When I'm not fishing along the coast, I'm enjoying great action close to home. I'm surrounded by trout-stocked waters and find myself spending an hour here and there at the local lakes and ponds. The rainbow trout provide steady action and make for a great meal when baked in foil. The hatchery trucks will be delivering another load of trout this week so they'll be plenty for everyone.
This beautiful rainbow trout is destined for the dinner plate.
My son, Jake, has developed a case of largemouth bass fever. He has been out daily and just can't get enough. The bass bite has been steady, but the fish are starting their spawning rituals so expect some tough fishing over the next few weeks. It's difficult for me to do it all so I'll catch up with the bigmouth bass when the saltwater action slows down.
Chunky largemouth are super aggressive before the spawn.
The next few weeks offer some of the best fishing our area has to offer. Many anglers wait all year for the variety of fishing opportunities available through the month of May. Fishing action blooms much like our landscape – one day nothing and the next flowers, shrubs and trees are in full colors. Much like the colorful blooms, the fish won't be around for long so get out and enjoy the action while you can!
Can you believe we had a few inches of snow on the ground just a week ago? Fortunately, last Saturday's snowfall didn't have a lasting effect on the fishing action. Since the snowfall, the Delaware River striped bass bite exploded, many of our freshwater ponds and lakes were stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout, largemouth bass put on the feedbag and the saltwater action is picking up as the season's first bluefish, weakfish, and summer flounder were reported this week. Everywhere you look things are blooming and coming back to life – it really is the most wonderful time of the year!
Pickerel in the Snow
With better weather and good fishing conditions, I can't spend enough time by the water. In the last week, I've fished the night tides for striped bass, kayaked the early-morning hours in search of weakfish, fished the local stocked lakes for rainbow trout and tried for largemouth bass and pickerel at the local farm ponds. Even though I've spent a great deal of time fishing, I feel like I just can't get enough. South Jersey residents are truly blessed to have so many great fishing opportunities so close to home.
Stable weather patterns and rising water temperatures are exactly what I like to see during the spring season. Coastal-water temperatures vary from 50.5 degrees in Atlantic City to 56.7 degrees in Cape May at the Ferry Jetty. Backwater temperatures are ranging from the mid 50s to the low 60s - depending on location and time of day. I don't want to jinx it, but the wind has finally backed off too. The long-range forecast is looking good so I expect the fishing action to continue to improve.
I'll start this week's report in the sweetwater. Jake and I decided to skip the trout day opener and hit our favorite venues throughout the week. With another truckload of trout stocked on Tuesday, April 12, there is certainly no shortage of fish. We caught a ton of rainbow trout on nickel/gold-colored Thomas Double Spinns. The double-bladed spinner flutters and falls a little slower than most other spinners, which make them the perfect selection for many of our shallow-water lakes and ponds.
Those Thomas Double Spinns Are Deadly!
While I haven't caught or seen any large, breeder trout yet this season, I did manage to make a special catch on Tuesday afternoon at Harrisonville Lake. One of the trout I caught came with a little piece of jewelry! This particular rainbow trout was jaw-tagged as part of the state's Hook-A-Winner Program – 1,000 trout are tagged and distributed throughout the state's waters each year. Winners must submit their name, address, fish tag number and catch location to the Pequest Trout Hatchery to receive an award certificate and patch.
Hook-A-Winner Rainbow Trout
With the recent stretch of warm, sunny days, I find myself looking for any excuse to stop by the water's edge. That lake on the way to the supermarket, the pond by the mall or the little farm pond across from my mother-in-laws house – you know, ten minute stops here and there just to wet a line. Lately, those little stops have been paying off as largemouth bass and big chain pickerel seem to be strapping on the feedbag. I'm on a Rapala Shadow Rap binge; both the Shadow Rap and the Shadow Rap Shad have been extremely effective recently – the pickerel just can't keep their mouths off them. The size of the fish at some of the local "puddles" will surprise you!
This Afternoon's Pit Stop
When I have a little more free time, I'm making the hour-long commute to fish the coastal backwaters. Nightshift trips have been worthwhile, as 20 to 30-inch striped bass seem to be just about everywhere. We've put up some numbers over the last few nights and had a lot of fun with the little linesiders. I tagged a few fish for the Littoral Society and look forward to learning more about the habits and migration patterns of our local back-bay bass.
Tagging Striped Bass
On calm mornings, you will find my plying the local creeks and skinny-water flats in my A.T.A.K. kayak for spring tiderunner weakfish. A few have been caught, but I've only come up with striped bass and bluefish so far. The new kayak continues to impress me; the performance on the water and stability is simply amazing. My sunrise kayak sessions seem almost surreal – now if I could only find a few willing weakfish.
Heaven on Earth
At least the bluefish are cooperating. Those bluefish seem to move in earlier each season. I have a feeling the yellow-eyed eating machines will be invading our waters in full force over the next few days. Hopefully, I can find a few weakfish before the big bluefish arrive in numbers and wreak havoc. I caught a handful of 6 to 8-pound blues the other morning while trying for weakfish. They really put a toll on my jigs and soft-plastic baits as I was unprepared for the toothy demons and didn't have any heavy leader material on my kayak – I won't make that mistake again.
This one made it to the kayak!
Whether you're a long-time angler or just beginning, it's a wonderful time to hit the water. With so many options, that old, familiar saying seems entirely appropriate – "So many fish, so little time." I'm going to make the most of the spring run and I hope you do too. Good luck on the water!
Did you ever have one of those fishing trips where you could do no wrong? The kind of trip that lure selection, casting location and retrieve just doesn't matter – every cast is a fish? The kind of trip where you catch fish after fish for hours straight - you know, the kind of trip you remember forever? I call these types of trips homeruns and these are the trips I live for!
People fish for different reasons. Some fish to relax, some fish to enjoy their surroundings while others fish to socialize. While I enjoy all of the great perks that make a fishing trip experience great, when it comes down to it, I fish to catch fish! Catching a few fish here and there is always better than catching nothing, but those all out fish-slaying trips are what keep me going. Hitting singles is fun, but smacking homeruns feels great!
Last Thurday night, March 31, just after midnight, I had one of those trips. Jake and I were dialed into a steady bite, but a persistent 20 to 25-MPH south wind had me concerned that our string of good trips could be in jeopardy – boy, was I wrong! We got out of the truck, walked down to the water and were welcomed by a stiff wind and acres of striped bass popping in every direction.
I had the idea that catching fish on plugs would be fun and a little more enjoyable than my go-to lead-head and soft-plastic jigs. I started by tossing a 5-inch, bronze Yo-zuri Mag Darter and it got annihilated on the first cast. After a few fish, I wondered if the lure was that effective or if the fish were just in full-tilt feeding mode. I switched up to a MirrOlure 52 MPD otherwise known as the "Purple Demon." The linesiders killed it! Fish after fish on the purple demon – it took me longer to reel in and unhook a fish than to catch one.
MirrOlure 52 M Purple Demon
After some fun with plugs, I switched back over to jigs. The striped bass didn't seem to care what I threw; if it was in the water and moving, it was going to be attacked. As it turned out, fishing with light jigs was a lot easier on the fish and me. Trying to remove up to nine hooks from a bunch of 5 to 15-pound striped bass on a dark sod bank isn't exactly my idea of fun. During the melee, removing the multiple treble hooks ended with me hooking myself more than a few times. That doesn't seem to happen with jigs - the hook sets are clean, the jig head gives me a little leverage to remove the hook and I feel like it's especially efficient when practicing catch and release.
Removing a single hook is a lot easier than removing three sets of treble hooks.
As the night continued, Jake and I continued to catch on almost every cast. I lost count after thirty-something stripers. At one point the fish were so thick, I could cast over my back, walk a few steps and have my rod double over. Some call this "stupid fishing" as you don't have to be very intelligent to catch – whatever the case, the crazy back bay bite has been a blast.
Jake with a good backwater striped bass.
Totally spent, Jake and I packed up just before sunrise with the bass still blowing up all around us. We drove home with sore thumbs and big smiles. The resident South Jersey back bay stripers are far from trophy fish, but the 25 to 35-inch striped bass are here in numbers and a lot of fun on light tackle.
Fun on Light Tackle!
We have a few more trips under our belts since our crazy night and while fishing action remains steady, it's nothing like the "stupid fishing" we experienced last week. One thing is for sure: the weather rollercoaster surely isn't helping any, especially the wind! We went from east winds and flood tides to strong west winds and blowout tides to south winds at 30 MPH. Air temperatures are in the 70s one day and the 30s the next. As I write this, it's 3 PM and 42 degrees with a north wind at 20 MPH – it feels a lot more like February than early April!
While we've been having fun with the little backwater fish, some of my river-rat buddies are making impressive catches from the banks of the Delaware River. Some true trophy striped bass have been yanked out of the river this week. The big girls are making their way up the river to spawn so please use care when landing and releasing these beautiful linesiders.
This may be hard to believe, but it's not all about stripers as the season's first weakfish has already been reported in South Jersey. Mike Crudele nailed the year's first weakfish behind Sea Isle City while fishing from his boat with silver-fleck colored Mister Twister. I think last week's warm-up opened a small window of opportunity as water temps rose into the mid to high 50s in a few locales. With the recent stretch of colder weather, I believe that window has closed. I'll be out trying for weakfish as soon as the weather stabilizes. I'm hoping for a good spring showing!
I can't forget to mention Trout Day! Our trout season opens this Saturday, April 9 at 8 AM. Jake and I are heading up to the Pequest Trout Hatchery to fish the trout pond on opening day. We'll be back to hit our favorite South Jersey trout venues on Sunday morning. Right now, Saturday's forecast isn't looking great: a high of 44 degrees and a low of 24 degrees with afternoon showers and a 15 to 25-MPH northwest wind. If you're going to chase rainbows, make sure to bundle up.
With a mild winter, I had high hopes for an early spring run, but every time conditions began to look promising, we'd get just enough of a cold blast to shut down any hopes of serious action. Fortunately, the latest warm-up put us over the top and the fishing action blew wide open. Striped bass reports seem to be coming in from all over South Jersey. Over the weekend, solid reports of striped bass came from anglers fishing the rivers, bays, inlets and even out front along our southern beaches. Many of the striped bass are on the small side, but there are enough keepers around to make it interesting. The big girls can't be far behind!
Conditions are prime for serious action. With daytime highs forecast in the 50s and 60s, it looks like we've finally turned the corner. Ocean water temperatures are running well-above average as the NOAA monitoring station in Cape May is reporting 51.8 degrees while the Atlantic City station checks in at 47.8 degrees. Backwater temperatures are finally stable and holding in the low to mid 50's.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey
The recent stretch of warm weather pushed the back bay water temperatures into the 50s and the striped bass bite went from zero to hundred in what seemed like seconds. The last few days and nights have been a blur. Between holiday family gatherings, modifying my trailer, rigging my new Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K. and striper fishing the overnight shift, time for sleep has been few and far between. With a great striper bite, who has time for sleep?
Jake's spring break couldn't have come at a better time. Earlier in the week, we put off a few fishing trips to get some household chores and yard work done in order to bank fishing time for this week. We started our weeklong fishing spree on Saturday at Wilson Lake at Scotland Run Park. Jake met up with a school buddy to fish from his bass boat, while Jen and I paddled our kayaks around the lake. It was my maiden trip on the new ATAK and it was great – I never imagined I'd be standing in a kayak, but I did and the platform was very stable. The adjustable Air Pro Max seat is amazing - in the high position, my viewpoint of the flats was much improved, yet I didn't feel like I gave up much, if any, stability. I caught a bunch of pickerel and few largemouth bass on Rapala Shadow Raps. Our boys in the bass boat didn't fare as well. After my first trip, I have some outfitting to do, but one thing is for sure: my ATAK is going to be one bad fishing machine!
My New Fishing Machine
After ribbing Jake about his uneventful day on the water, he wanted redemption. Even though we were both tired, we decided to head down to the backwaters to catch the late-night high tide. When I pulled up to one of our favorite early-season hot spots, I noticed the wind was blowing a lot more than it was back at home - I started feeling like it may not be our night.
My hopes were soon restored as I watched a striper swipe at my jig on the first cast! As I looked over to tell Jake, I watched his rod double over and he screamed out, "I'm on!" My second cast got annihilated and the fun began. Doubled up, we battled our pair of 26-inch stripers up onto the bank. As Jake held both bass for a quick photo, the top-water popping began. We could hear bass after bass exploding on baitfish – if you've never been fortunate enough to experience this, it sounds and looks like someone is throwing bowling balls into the water.
It turned into one of those nights where we could do no wrong. Stripers were popping at our feet to as far out as we could see. Our retrieval styles and cast location didn't seem to matter - it was an all out feeding frenzy and we hooked up on just about every cast for almost three hours. I couldn't imagine kicking off the spring striper season in a better way!
During the wee hours of the morning, I think delirium set in as Jake began mumbling incoherently. With an hour ride home, we decided to pack it up even though the fish were still biting, but between us, we tallied close to fifty stripers on the night. Most of the stripers were in the 23 to 26-inch range, however we did manage to box a pair of keepers for the dinner table. I fished the entire night with a bubblegum-colored Zoom Super Fluke on a ¼-ounce jig head while Jake fished with the same Zoom, but on a ½-ounce lead head.
I returned to the same locale last night and found the stripers feeding on top again. I got in a good hour of action before the skies opened and the rain came down. People say that fish don't mind the rain, but that's not the case in my experiences, especially when I'm fishing on the flats. The fishing action didn't completely die, but it slowed down considerably - enough that I determined it wasn't worth getting soaked over. I decided to pack it up to catch up on sleep so I can be ready for my next trip.
Before the Rain
If you're still wondering when it's worth getting your gear out and hitting the water, the answer is now! The freshwater action is great, our resident striped bass are active, and the bigger migratory striped bass are moving up into the rivers to spawn. Trout Day is less than two weeks away and bluefish, weakfish and summer flounder will be here before you know it. Good luck out there - it's time for me to hit the water.
Wow, what a warm up! It's hard to believe we had a couple inches of snow on the ground a week ago and now I'm sunburnt from head to toe! The recent stretch of 70 and 80-degree sunny days almost seems too good to be true; it is early March in South Jersey right? Birds are singing during the day while chorus frogs screams can be heard throughout the night. One thing is for sure: warm, sunny days will kick start fishing action all over the area so expect fishing reports to pick up greatly in the coming week.
After years of logging fishing trips, it didn't take long to see how much weather and water conditions influence fishing action. Air temperatures, water temperatures, wind speed, wind direction, cloudy days versus sunny days, rainfall or lack of rainfall and a myriad of other weather-related factors have at least some impact on most species of fish. Water temperature is certainly one of the main factors to consider when fishing. Cold water temperatures may not always dictate movement, as in migration, but it does play a major role when it comes to feeding habits. Knowing your quarries preferences will help increase the odds of a successful day on the water.
Unlike air temperatures, water temperatures usually change gradually; however, big swings in air temperatures, like the unseasonal warm-up we're experiencing now, can speed up the process dramatically. Dark-colored mud flats and a strong March sun are a perfect combination to warm up chilly waters. Smaller, shallow bodies of water can vary by as much as twenty degrees in just a few hours. In tidal areas, the back-bay flats will warm up much more on a sunny day, especially towards low tide. An incoming tide can drop temperatures and an angler's odds at finding active fish considerably as cold ocean water flushes over the flats.
USGS Current Water Temperature Chart
Last week's snowfall put a littler damper on my hopes of an early-season striped bass. I haven't fished the backwaters for striped bass since opening day, but after the last few days and a glance at the water temperature, I believe it's time to start making plans. The long-range forecast looks good with average to above average daytime highs. Back bay water temperatures are already flirting with that magical 50-degree mark. Reports along the Delaware River are trickling in and I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot more about striped bass over the upcoming weekend.
Even though I didn't get out for stripers, I tried to make the most of the beautiful weather by spending some time in my kayak on the local waters. On Tuesday, my daughter, Julia, and I stopped by Wilson Lake at Scotland Run Park. We arrived at the lake around 10 AM and it was already approaching 70 degrees. First step into the water quickly reminded me that the recent snow had melted just days before: the water was so cold; it felt like it was cutting you! I tried my normal go-to fishing holes, but the chilly water seemed to be working against me.
With just a small pickerel to show for my efforts, I decided to head towards the shallow flats at the back of the lake. After a quick paddle onto the flats, I could see the sun's effect on the skinny water as tiny baitfish were being pushed along a weed line by a school of hungry pickerel. I poked around in skinny-water areas that would be unreachable by any other means other than a kayak and it was perfect. Only a week into March and I'm on the lake in my kayak in shorts and a t-shirt catching fish after fish.
I told Jake about our trip that evening and decided to let him play hooky on Wednesday – what can I say, 80 degrees in March is a holiday at our house. We had plans to hit a nearby lake that had been on our radar for years, but we just never got around to fishing it. Fishing is allowed but kayak access would be difficult as would parking my trailer. Whatever the case, we were going to make it happen.
We got to the lake a little later this time – you know to let the sun work its magic. I pulled up to lake and we quickly unloaded the kayaks. Our only access was from a small, backwoods road and we had to slide the kayaks under a guardrail. Once we unloaded our gear, I parked the car a short distance away and took off my shoes and left them in the car. The walk back to the kayaks was fine, but loading the kayaks from land to the water would be an issue: hundreds of little spiked balls (we call them monkey balls) properly known as sweet gum balls made the barefoot carrying and rigging a real nightmare – I might have preferred walking on glass.
Once we finished navigating our way through the treacherous monkey balls, we slid the kayaks into the water and felt like we finally arrived in paradise. The warm sunshine, crystal-clear water (which was noticeable warmer than the day before) and light breeze set the table for a great afternoon on the water. I hooked a pickerel on my third cast and never looked back. The grass beds are just coming to life and were quite a spectacle as shades of greens and gold blended into each other. As luck would have it, the best fishing took place right on these shallow grass beds.
A pickerel's colors camogflage perfectly into the green and gold weeds.
Jake and I spent hours catching bass and pickerel on small jigs and soft-plastic baits. After exploring the lake, we decided that it has some serious potential. We didn't take the day lightly as this type of weather should be appreciated for all its worth. Towards the end of the day, neither of us wanted to go home: mostly because the weather was so beautiful, but also because we knew we'd have to pass the monkey-ball gauntlet again.
Honestly, if I could picture heaven, it would be very similar to my experiences this week – well, maybe the fish could be a little bigger. Spending a beautiful day on the water with the people you care the most about; how can it get any better? I hope everyone has an opportunity to enjoy the spring season as much as I plan to.
It feels great to be back in the swing of things! Getting off the couch and back out by the water's edge with a bent rod was exactly what I needed. Even though fishing action isn't quite in full swing yet, some impressive catches have been made over the last few days. Freshwater action is very good and the season's first striped bass have already hit the scales. We have a lot to look forward to, as fishing action should continue to improve with each passing day.
Let's start with striped bass – Tuesday, March 1 marked the beginning of a new fishing season for many of us as New Jersey's back bay and inlet waters opened to striped bass fishing. A few South Jersey tackle shops offer "bounties" for the first legal striped bass of the season. Captain Dave Showell, from Absecon Bay Sportsman Center, offers one of the most-generous bounties around. Anglers can claim a variety of prizes, up to a $200 gift certificate. On Tuesday afternoon, Matthew Calabria made the long ride from Raritan Bay with a 28.5-inch striper to claim the title of the season's first striped bass and earned two $100 gift certificate prizes.
Matthew Calabria with the Season's First Striper! Photo courtesy of Absecon Bay Sportsman Center
Minutes after Matthew claimed his prize, local angler, Trevor Daniels, stopped by the shop with his own striped bass - taken from the Mullica River. Trevor's striped bass pushed the scale down to 23.7 pounds and earned Trevor two $100 store gift certificates of his own. I'd like to congratulate both anglers – catching the season's first striped bass and earning $200 worth of equipment at Absecon Bay is a great way to start the 2016 season!
Trevor Daniels with His Prize-winning 23.7-pound Striped Bass Photo courtesy of Absecon Bay Sportsman Center
I wish I had a great fish story to share, but my season-opening trip was rather uneventful. For the first time in a few years, yours truly drove down to fish for stripers on opening day – well, opening night as I started fishing just after midnight on Tuesday, March 1. I had good conditions, but just didn't come across any signs of life. I made the rounds and gave it an honest effort, but came home empty handed. On the way home, I thought to myself, "we're close but just not there yet." I have a rather odd cue that signals when the striped bass bite begins in earnest: frogs – spring peepers to be exact. I haven't heard the chorus of frogs yet this year. There is one particular area, just about a ¼ mile from my home, where I usually hear the first peepers of the year. After taking my first skunk off the year, I'm nearing home and pull up to the last stop sign intersection before my house. I roll down my window and believe it or not, I heard what sounded like a solo frog doing its thing. I sat at the intersection (I live in a rural area and at 3:30 AM I'm not holding up traffic) and listened to that lone peeper for a few minutes with a big smile on my face. It won't be long before thousands of frogs are singing and screaming through the night and the stripers turn on the feedbag.
I think we have a few more days to wait, but I expect things to pick up later into next week. The weather doesn't look great to end the week as it seems like we're due for a little snow tonight and maybe a few more flakes on Sunday. Fortunately, next week looks to rebound nicely as I saw a bunch of days in the 60's and a couple in the 70s! The water temperature stations are showing a slight improvement since last week as Atlantic City is reporting 43.9 degrees and Cape May shows 44.1 degrees. I'm sure next week's warm afternoons will get those frogs singing and wake up the resident stripers.
While the striped bass seem to be a little slow to start, I've had a little more luck at the nearby lakes and ponds. Largemouth bass, yellow perch, crappies, and pickerel seem to be enjoying the extended daylight and are frequenting the warmer, shallow flats. I used to fish with live baits early in the season, but I feel like I'm holding my own with a variety of soft-plastic baits. Trout Magnets, Berkley Gulp Minnows and rubber worms seem to be on par with live baits. Jake and I haven't caught any big bass this week, but I've seen a few trophy fish taken recently. March is a great time of year to catch quality bucket mouths.
This Average-sized Spring Bass Couldn't Resist a Berkley Gulp Minnow
After not fishing for a few weeks, it seems like I'm a little more of an action junkie than usual and crappies have a way of filling in nicely. It seems like just about any shallow structure (2 to 4 feet) is holding crappies and the bite continues to get better each day. The wind has been a bit of an issue - catching in 20 to 30 MPH winds is never easy, especially when you're tossing ultra-light lures. Despite the wind, Jake and I are having a ball with the local crappies.
Jake Tempted This Slab Crappie with a Rubber Worm
In the coming weeks, I'm sure I'll forget about those crappies and move on to bigger and better things. To be honest, I'm already looking forward to tiderunner weakfish and striped bass, but for now, those crappies are the best thing going and I'm going to enjoy every minute of it. If you have a chance to hit the water, don't overlook the great crappie bite – they can be found in great numbers and are lot of fun on light tackle.
Our backwater striped bass season opens in less than a week! If you're looking forward to the season as much as I am, it's exactly six days, eight hours and fifty-two minutes until midnight on March 1, 2016. The last few striped bass season openers were tough, but this year, conditions seem to be favorable for some great early-season action. If you're not ready for the new season, it's time to get moving!
When it comes to being prepared, I'm usually quite the Boy Scout, but this season I'm running a little behind schedule. I finished up a lot of my offseason chores this week, but I still need to order a new kayak and send a couple reels in for service. After what seemed like a few never-ending off-seasons, this winter season flew by.
I love this time of year. Even though it's still cold and I haven't wet a line in a couple weeks, there are so many things to look forward to - between great freshwater fishing opportunities, receiving new fishing equipment deliveries almost daily and planning next week's backwater assault, I'm psyched for a new fishing season.
Usually, our warm-water outflows offer anglers the best shot at opening day striped bass action, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear striped bass action coming from other local backwater areas too. Current coastal water temperatures are still marginal as many of the reporting stations are hovering right around 40 degrees. A look at the long-range weather forecast shows above-average temperatures with daytime highs ranging from the high 40s to the mid 50s. A few sunny afternoons should get those dark-colored mud flats warmed up enough to provide a decent early-season striper bite.
Spring Warm-Water Striper
I plan on heading out for the midnight opener this year. I have a few firsthand reports that the resident striped bass are already actively feeding in our backwaters. My favorite early-season flats will be covered with plenty of water, as high tide will occur just after 1 AM. If "plan A" doesn't pan out, I'll run a round a little scouting for any signs of life. If I don't find any action, I'll probably head up to the outflow and spend opening day in my kayak. After two months, that first striper sure will feel good!
An Average South Jersey Resident Backwater Bass
In the meantime, after much research, I finally decided on a new kayak for the 2016 season. I plan on ordering an A.T.A.K. 140 from Wilderness Systems later this week. The ATAK should provide the perfect platform for my dream fish-catching machine. The kayak world has grown by leaps and bounds since I purchased my Tarpon 120 five years ago. Not only are they incredibly stable fishing platforms, the customization possibilities are seemingly endless. With conveniences such as lightweight electric motors, built in fish-finder/battery/transducer pod options, Power-Pole Micro Anchor systems and much, much more, the possibilities are unlimited. I've always considered myself to be more of a streamlined, practical paddler, but some of the great new offerings have me seriously reconsidering.
A.T.A.K. 140 - Isn't She Pretty?
I'm not the only one excited about my new kayak. Jake is looking forward to swapping out his old Tarpon 100 for a fully rigged Tarpon 120 – complete with everything a 14-year-old angler could dream about. Jake and I have fished together since he could walk, but he turned the corner last season. He made some impressive catches and recently received a letter from the State Of New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife regarding a fishing photo contest award and an invitation to fish at the Pequest Trout Hatchery on the opening day of trout season. Kayaks aren't allowed on the education pond, but dads are allowed to fish too!
We're going to try and do it all this season – freshwater, brackish and saltwater – from striped bass to snakeheads. Striped bass season begins next week, trout season is a little over a month away, and lots of fish to chase in between. Get your gear ready – it's time to hit the water!
Whether you're a fair-weather fisherman or a diehard angler, I think most of us would agree that getting through the month of February is rarely considered fun. Bone-chilling cold fronts, weekly coastal storms and half-frozen waterways aren't exactly my idea of a good time, but it seems a little easier this year. Fortunately, my offseason schedule was delayed a few weeks by some great late-season fishing action. Now, I'm beginning to wonder if I'll have enough downtime to finish off my offseason chores. One thing is certain: you'll never hear me complaining about not having a long enough offseason.
As I write this, a fresh coating of snowfall is on the ground and we're expecting the coldest air of the winter by the weekend - sounds like fun right? On the bright side, the long-range forecast looks good as above-average temperatures are expected during the second half or the month. Our coastal water temperatures are running a little above normal too – 42.8 degrees at Atlantic City and 41.5 degrees at Cape May. After two long, cold winter seasons, the 2016 season should start right on time.
At least a little of my good mood can be attributed to our recent midweek getaway and a couple afternoons at the Atlantic City Boat Show. Last year, my wife and I decided to take advantage of the great hotel rates and we had such a good time that we agreed to make it an annual routine. This year, I was really looking forward to our three-day trip to Atlantic City to help break up the winter blues. I'm not much of a gambler, so we opted to stay poolside at Harrah's Resort. It was everything we hoped for and we'll definitely be back next February.
Palm Trees and 82 degrees in Atlantic City?
When I wasn't hanging out at the pool, I was at the Boat Show talking fishing and kayaking with Jim Markel from Bel Haven Paddlesports. It was my first show representing Wilderness Systems and I really enjoyed my time working the booth and getting to know Jim a little better – he's a wealth of knowledge, especially with all things relating to canoeing, paddle boarding and kayaking. Bel Haven Paddlesports offers a perfect location for test rides on the Mullica River and is just minutes from Batsto Village.
Bel Haven Paddlesports Booth at the Atlantic City Boat Show
After our fun-filled getaway was over, I figured I'd fall back into winter mode, but that doesn't seem to be the case. While I was in Atlantic City, I received a letter from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. As it turns out, I earned a Specialist Angler Award, a Master Angler Award, a Panfish Slam and tied for a top spot in a Catch-and-Release Category of the 2015 Skillful Angler Recognition Program. It was a good year!
While winter seems to be flying by for me – it had the potential to be a long offseason for Jake – in case you couldn't tell, we're very competitive and enjoy ribbing each other whenever possible. After giving Jake a hard time about my recent accomplishments, he was chomping at the bit to hit the water. Against my better judgment, we took a ride to the crappie pond and as I expected, it was iced over. We made a few half-hearted casts along a sliver of open water by the spillway, but we couldn't buy a hit. A few minutes later, we decided to head for home as I had some things to catch up on after our recent trip. Jake decided to grab his gear and walk down to our local lake – I laughed to myself and told Jake, "Good luck!"
Approximately ten minutes passed before my phone rang – Jake caught a pickerel. He was pretty pumped, a little more so than normal, probably because he wasn't expecting much as the weather was terrible and the water temperature was just a few degrees above freezing. About five minutes later, my phone rang again – this time, Jake was ecstatic and asked me to come down to the lake to take a picture of the big bass he just caught. I dropped everything and shot down to the lake. When I pulled up to the lake, Jake was holding a beautiful bass and had a grin from ear to ear. I took a few photos and videoed Jake releasing his prized catch. I congratulated Jake and told him that he had about as much fun as you could have on a cold February afternoon – it was an impressive catch for sure.
Later on that evening, Jake shared the story of his catch at the dinner table. When he was done, he looked over at me and said, "Hey Dad, who has the biggest bass of the year?" I just shook my head and gave Jake the answer he was looking for, "You do Jake." I better catch a few fish soon or the next few weeks are going to seem like forever!
With a fresh 12 to 24 inches of snow and most of our waterways iced over, it's the perfect time to get ready for the upcoming fishing season. I don't know about you, but I'm already feeling a slight case of cabin fever so I've started checking off some of the chores on my offseason laundry list. Lubing reels and organizing tackle does little to lift my spirits, but I do look forward to the winter fishing shows – catching up with old friends and buying new fishing equipment is almost as good as being on the water.
This winter, I won't just be walking around the shows; I'll be working a few of them. I'm happy to announce I just signed on with the great staff at Wilderness Systems. Kayak fishing is growing by leaps and bounds and I couldn't be more excited to represent such a great company. There in no place I'd rather be than in my kayak and I have big plans this season. As one might expect, I'm looking forward to the winter shows more than ever!
Look for me at the Atlantic City Boat Show next Thursday and Friday, February 4 and 5. I'll be at booth #724 with Jim Markel from Bel Haven Paddlesports – we'll be ready to talk about kayaks and fishing the local waters. I'm looking forward to an Atlantic City mid-winter getaway more than I thought I would – between the AC Boat Show, Bass Pro Shops, great hotel rates ($39 weeknights at Harrah's) and a beautiful heated pool, what's not to like? If I could just find a way to get Bass Pro Shops to let me drop my kayak in their over-sized aquarium.
With so many shows coming up, I thought it would be useful to put together a list of winter shows within an hour or two ride from South Jersey. The venues offer a little of everything – from top local-angler seminars to great deals on boats, kayaks, rods, reels and all kinds of fishing tackle. If you would like to add an event, please feel free to comment in the box below.
A couple weeks ago, I had high hopes to fish right through the winter months, but that's becoming increasingly difficult with each reinforcing shot of cold air. As I write this, the air temperature is in the mid 20s, the wind is blowing out of the northwest at 25 to 30 MPH, the lakes are freezing over and winter storm Jonas seems to have us in the crosshairs for the coming weekend. I'm as diehard as most other 40-year old anglers, but I think it's time to wrap it up – another season in the books.
Fortunately, the 2015 fishing season ended a lot better than it started. If you remember, last winter was especially frigid and "cabin fever" was at an all time high. Many of my normal early-season fishing routines were put off weeks because of unusually cold temperatures and ice-covered waterways. Looking back through my logs, I see we were walking on many of the iced-over ponds and lakes I usually fish during late-February into early-March. If I remember right, we endured one last shot of winter with a substantial snowstorm on the first day of spring.
The long, cold winter certainly took its toll on the first portion of spring, but by April, the ice melted and the fishing action slowly improved. After a few ice-out pickerel and crappie, we spent the first week of April chasing rainbow trout. Speaking of trout, I can't say enough about how great the trout fishing is in South Jersey – whether you're looking for quality or quantity, the state does a great job filling our lakes with lots of hungry rainbow trout. I've taken more trophy-sized stocked trout in the last few years than I thought was possible in a lifetime.
After the water warmed up a little, we hit the Delaware River a few times for striped bass. The "Big D" is usually on fire by April 10, but with below-average water temperatures, the stripers seemed a little less hungry than normal. We caught a bunch of small striped bass, but the cows were few and far between.
With the river action a little on the slow side, I decided to hit the back bays and thankfully found some decent striper action on the flats. The resident backwater striped bass seemed to provide a little more enjoyment this spring - I don't think the bite was any better than usual, but it sure felt good to have them bending my rod again after what seemed like a never-ending winter.
By late April, the fishing action exploded! If I could bottle a time to fish in South Jersey it would be the few weeks between late April and early May when freshwater and saltwater opportunities are amazing in South Jersey. As you might imagine, during this time of year, I'm in my glory and spend every free moment either on the water or by the water's edge. If conditions are good, I prefer to fish the back bays for striped bass, weakfish, bluefish and summer flounder, but if the wind is up, I'll usually stay closer to home and chase largemouth bass, trout, pickerel, snakeheads, crappies or bowfin.
I spent much of May paddling around the back bays in search of tiderunner weakfish, but all of my favorite weakfish holes were inundated with big bluefish. At times, the schools of big blues made fishing for anything else impossible. We've had similar bluefish runs, but these weren't the normal-sized (4 to 6-pound) bluefish. The big slammer blues (8 to 15 pounds) took over our backwaters and took a toll on my light-spinning gear. Not only did it seem like they were everywhere, but they hung around for close to a month. I usually don't target bluefish, but those big slammers were a blast! I remember most trips ending with tired arms and a big smile.
When a cast managed to get past the bluefish, summer flounder were quick to grab my jigs meant for weakfish. The fluke bite was great until the summer flounder season opened and the wind blew straight for what seemed like a month! It seems to happen almost every year - the best flounder action takes place from mid-April until mid-May and then the season opens a few days before the Memorial Day weekend circus comes to town. I miss the old days!
Once school let out, I spent most of my free time freshwater fishing with my son, Jake. Largemouth bass and big, toothy chain pickerel were our target. Summer days at the lake consisted of working top-water plugs and frogs over the pads – if things were slow, we'd fish rubber worms around the docks. We had some great days and Jake learned a great deal – he turned 14 years old and finally graduated from live bait. Many of our South Jersey ponds and lakes offer great top-water fishing opportunities over the summer months. If I didn't have such a passion for saltwater fishing, I'd freshwater fish a lot more often – those top-water explosions are awesome!
The dog days of summer kicked in around the end of July and lasted into August. Action at our local lakes slowed down and I was looking for a change of scenery. I decided to schedule a family camping trip at Parvin State Park. Largemouth bass were our target, but it turned out to be a panfish palooza. We had so much fun fishing, kayaking and camping at Parvin that we decided to work it into our seasonal routine.
Before we knew it summer was over, we flipped the calendar to September and the kids returned to school. I played around at Parvin a little more and fished the mullet run. The 2015 mullet run was decent, but rather short-lived. I had hopes of some redfish and southern sea trout, but I only came up with small stripers, short fluke and snapper bluefish. Steady and constant northeast winds took over towards the end of the month and ended the mullet run and my hopes prematurely.
October usually means striped bass, but summer-like coastal-water temperatures had things rather slow along the shore towns. I spent some more time playing with crappies and perch at Parvin before cashing in on the fall trout stocking. The weather was mild and the fish were hungry. If the stripers weren't going to cooperate, I'm glad I had such great freshwater fishing opportunities to fall back on.
By November, I wanted stripers. Even with the great freshwater action, I needed to get my fill of linsiders. The back bays were full of bait and I found small schools of stripers almost every night. Reports of some serious surf action came from a little north and were too good to pass up. November quickly turned into a striped blur – back bay stripers all night and daytime stripers in the surf. Warm weather and massive schools of adult and juvenile bunker made for a great fall run. After a couple bad fall runs, this push of striped bass was long overdue!
December offered more of the same as mild temperatures and hoards of baitfish kept the striped bass action going right up until a couple weeks ago. I spent most of December in the backwaters and had solid action on every single trip. It's been a few years since I've experienced a consistent bite like we had this year. It felt a little odd fishing the December nightshift in t-shirt, but I'd trade anything for a return to those days now.
2015 started slow, but ended with a bang. The big blues combined with a good fall run made up for the slow start. Having steady striper action right up until the end of the year should go a long way in helping many of us get through this winter. Even though I hoped to fish through the winter months, it will be nice to catch up on the things I put off to go fishing – maybe I'll even get a little ahead of schedule to free up some time for next spring. For now, it looks like I'll be trading in my fishing rod for snow shovel.
It was a great ride, but it looks like we're back to the reality of winter in South Jersey. After an unseasonably mild November and December, I had high hopes for at least the first half of January. A three-day stretch of below freezing temperatures and nighttime lows flirting with single digits proved to be a bit of a mood killer. Over the last few days, coastal water temperatures dropped by nearly 10 degrees and many of our local sweetwater venues have just enough ice to making fishing nearly impossible. The 2015 fishing season started at a zero-to-one-hundred pace so I guess it's only fitting it would end much the same way.
I don't plan on throwing in the towel just yet, but one more cold shot will likely be the knockout punch. The coming weekend actually looks promising – a little rain, but temperatures in the 50s on Saturday and 60s on Sunday. Long-range weather forecasts don't look as favorable and I'm thinking this weekend could be our last shot at any serious action.
Before the cold blast, anglers were making the most of the great late-season striped bass opportunities. Striped bass fishing was steady on all fronts. The backwater bite stayed strong right up until the closure at midnight on January 1. The surf bite was great before the cold shot, but slowed considerably over the last few days. A little east wind and some warmer weather could give the local surfcasters one more shot this weekend. The best striper bite seems to be happening just off the beach where private and charter boats continue to report blitz-like conditions. Yesterday, January 7, Captain Skip Jastremski of the Cape May-based Stalker reported good numbers of striped bass to 40 pounds!
I continued to work the skinny waters for striped bass until the New Year. I had back-bay stripers blowing up on grass shrimp and spearing at 2 AM on Thursday, December 31. The fish showed no signs of slowing down as they annihilated my pink soft-plastic baits and would throw head-shaking fits on every hook set. If the cold weather didn't move in, I'd surely be tempted to make a few more backwater trips. I'm going to miss my line-sided backwater buddies. March 1, 2016 can't come soon enough!
Goodbye backwater stripers and 2015!
With the saltwater season nearing its end, I'm looking forward to spending time closer to home and some serious freshwater fishing. I never completely stop fishing freshwater, but it takes somewhat of a backseat when there are good saltwater fishing opportunities. Over the last few days, freshwater action came to a crashing halt as artic air moved in and covered many of our local waterways with a thin layer of ice. One day, I had new lily pads emerging from the warm mudflats and the next they were covered in ice. I believe the fish knew the change was coming as they put on the feedbag and we had some unbelievable action right before the deep freeze.
Before the cold snap, Jake and I were fishing just about every afternoon. Action was good as we caught lots of crappies, yellow perch, pickerel and small largemouth bass on jigs and soft-plastic baits. The crappie bite seemed to provide the best action so we concentrated on them and had a blast. A small float and a little crappie jig is about as simple as it gets. Rigged properly, I doubt there is a more efficient way to catch winter crappies.
Jake and I had doubles for most of the afternoon.
Speaking of floats, those little plastic bobbers seem to get a bad rap. Fishing with a float may seem juvenile to some, but they work well for a bunch of reasons – besides being a brightly colored strike indicator, the weighted floats I use allow me to cast 1-inch grubs rigged on 1/64-ounce jigs great distances and they keep the bait strategically suspended in the strike zone which is especially important when fishing in chilly waters. When properly utilized, a bobber becomes more than a float - it becomes another useful tool in an angler's arsenal.
If our waterways don't ice over, I plan on fishing for pickerel, yellow perch and crappies right through winter. The pineland bogs are on my radar this winter – I'm wondering how they compare to some of my favorite local pickerel hot spots. As I grow older, my sense of reason seems to outrank my sense of adventure. I find myself asking, "Why drive an hour to fish new waters where I'm uncertain of the outcome when I know I can catch tons of fish closer to home?" It's a difficult battle, but one that I believe is worth fighting as I find myself learning much more on unfamiliar waters. My resolution for the 2016 fishing season isn't a new or trophy species – it's to get out of my old routine and add more adventure to the sport I enjoy so much. Whatever your goals are for the 2016 season, I wish you the best!
I'm looking forward to 2016 and big pickerel like this one!
It's hard to believe there are only a few days left in the 2015 calendar year. Usually, at this point in the season, I'd be writing a wrapping-up-another-fishing-season report, but not this year! Yesterday's blitz reports were some of the best of the season. Whether you're a saltwater or freshwater angler, fishing action remains outstanding and it really doesn't show any signs of slowing down anytime soon!
In my opinion, the main factors to the great coastal fishing action are mild weather and a lack of any prolonged coastal storms. With 60 and 70 degree daytime highs and coastal-water temperatures holding in the low to mid 50s, fish and anglers alike are much more active. Baitfish and stripers aren't in a hurry to continue south if conditions don't warrant a migration – much like anglers are less likely to migrate to their couches this late fall/winter. The last two fall and winter seasons were frigid and the fishing action along with angler participation dropped off soon after Thanksgiving. This year's mild trend is similar to the 2011 fall/winter run – remember the outstanding fishing action that season?
These fish aren't going anywhere soon!
Between holiday gatherings and the recent rainstorms, I've been fishing mostly at night in the back bays. The backwater striper bite remains as solid and predictable as I can remember. About two hours on either side of high water, the stripers show up and turn on the feedbag. I've been tossing ¼-oz jigs and pink soft-plastic baits at them with great results. Many of the linesiders are in the 22 to 26-inch range, but they are a lot of fun on freshwater bass gear.
Backwater stripers are lots of fun on light-duty gear.
Moving forward, as of midnight on Friday, January 1, 2016, New Jersey coastal backwaters will be off limits for striped bass anglers – this includes inlets, sounds, estuary waters and rivers. I can't say I understand the reasoning for this regulation and as an avid backwater angler it should come as no surprise to hear I'm not very fond of it. I was told the closed-season regulation was put in place to limit anglers from snagging semi-dormant stripers in some of the deep-water holes – I don't know the severity of this type of fishing, but I would assume it was miniscule. Regardless, sadly, my back bay striper trips will end in about sixty hours.
I'll miss my backwater bass!
On the bright side, the backwater closure will force me to fish more out front and by the sounds of it, I've been missing out. The surf bite has been steady, but it seems like the first day of an east wind really gets them going. Yesterday, striped bass and bluefish went crazy a little to the north around Seaside Heights, NJ. During my recent surf trips, I've had much more success during the backend of the outgoing tides – being able to get out on those bars can make or break a trip. I'm looking forward to landing my first striped bass of the New Year in January instead of March of the 2016 season.
When I'm not chasing striped bass, I've been hitting the neighborhood lakes and ponds for crappies, largemouth bass, pickerel and yellow perch. The freshwater action has been exceptional. Whether by foot from the banks or out in my kayak, I've been pleased with the bite on every trip. Usually by this time of year, live baits or downsized artificial offerings are required to catch consistently, but we aren't limited on techniques yet as the fish remain quite active. On Christmas Eve day, we had largemouth bass and pickerel blowing up on shiners while we were fishing top-water plugs in shorts and a t-shirt!
Topwater Pickerel from the Kayak
Over the last few days, Jake and I have targeted crappies and yellow perch - Santa brought Jake lots of new fishing tackle to test out. We've been much more successful this season than in years past. I'm sure the warm weather is helping, but I believe another factor is the time I spent in my kayak with a good down-imaging fishfinder. Earlier this season, I marked some great underwater structure areas and took note of specific areas that I could reach from land - it's paying off big time!
Jake is having a blast with his new gear.
A beautiful 14-inch yellow perch.
The 2015 calendar year may be coming to an end, but the fishing season is far from over. Whether you prefer to chase striped bass and bluefish along the coast or if you're staying close to home and targeting freshwater species, it sure will feel good to start the New Year with a bent rod!
Somebody pinch me – I feel like I'm dreaming. We're into mid-December and it just keeps getting warmer! The weekend forecast looks incredible with daytime highs pushing well into the 60s. Coastal monitoring stations are reporting ocean temperatures ranging from 50.7 degrees at Atlantic City to 52.3 degrees at Cape May. With nearly perfect fishing conditions, action remains solid and I don't expect it to tail off anytime soon.
In my experiences, the biggest benefit of a warm winter is a shortened offseason. Striped bass action should keep us busy until the end of the month. After some fun with the linesiders, I'm hoping to get in some more freshwater trips before our waterways begin to ice over. If we're real lucky, maybe we'll have a mild January/February and our waterways won't ice over at all. One more bonus – warm winters usually mean early spring runs!
No more looking ahead, there is plenty of action going on right now to talk about. As usual, the almighty striped bass is stealing the spotlight, but there's a good number of big bluefish around, too. The backwater schoolie striper bite has been as steady as I can remember. Surf fishing action is a little more hit-and-miss, but when it's a hit, it's likely to be a trip you'll never forget. Oceanfront boaters seem to be into the best action as massive schools of adult bunker are yielding 20 to 30-pound linesiders. The big bait balls also seem to be attracting a few humpback whales. I've spotted them with some regularity from the beach, but boaters are enjoying some almost magical up-close-and-personal encounters.
I'm still fishing around the clock and enjoying every bit of the late-season action. My nighttime backwater excursions have been a lot of fun. I've been fishing the same two locations since October and they continue to produce. At this point, I can set the bite to my watch as the fishing has been as steady and predictable as I've experienced in at least a few years. The stripers aren't big, most range from 20 to 26 inches, but catching a bunch in a couple hours is enough for me. "Magic time" lasts about two hours and usually starts about a half-hour after high tide. Pink plastics on ¼ to ½ ounce jig heads work well for me, but I'm fairly certain these fish would hit just about anything put in front of them.
Right on Schedule!
The early-morning hours are for surf fishing. After spending most of my life fishing the overnight shift on the backwaters, I can't explain how much I enjoy fishing along the surf at sunrise. The surf bite has been more hit-and-miss as I'm averaging one good day for every bad day – a bad day consists of not catching while watching a beautiful sunrise and casting into the waves. The good days have been remarkable with lots of National Geographic, bait-and-birds-everywhere moments.
A Beautiful December Morning
Last Saturday, December 5, I woke Jake up early and headed for the beach. The poor kid had to come home from school and hear my stories all week – he was ready to join in the fun. We arrived right before sunrise and peaked over the dune only to see birds and bait everywhere. We couldn't put our waders on and grab our gear quick enough. We ran out to the surf and casted into the melee. My Daiwa SP plug got hammered and my rod doubled, I looked over to check on Jake and he was bent, too. The linesiders were a little smaller than our prior surf trips, but it didn't take away from experience. The bass had peanut bunker pushed right up onto the beach, birds were screeching in excitement, the sun was rising and it was exactly the perfect picture I'd drawn in my mind. We had blitz-like action for about a half-hour before the birds, bait and fish dissipated.
"Take the picture Dad, I want to get my line back out there!"
After Saturday's trip, we had to return again on Sunday morning. We started at the same location, but came up empty. We drove a few towns north stopping to fish a bunch of promising-looking areas without a sniff. It turns out; the bite was a little to the south on Sunday morning. Even though we zigged when we should have zagged, we had a great time trying, talking about fishing and grabbing breakfast on the way home.
We manage to have fun even when the fish don't cooperate.
At this point in the year, I look at each trip as bonus time. Jake and I have been very fortunate this season and any additional trips will just be the icing on the cake. With 60's forecast for the weekend, I have a feeling we'll be up early again this weekend. A quick glance at my logbook shows that I usually hang up my saltwater gear on or near an average date of December 10 – that's not going to happen this year! The factors responsible for ending my season usually consist of a combination of a slow bite due to cold water, cold weather and the added pressure of getting ready for the holidays. During the warmer years, I fished well into the New Year and have fond memories of catching stripers while listening to Christmas carols. Tis' the season to be jolly.
I can't believe it's December. I woke up this morning, flipped the calendar and thought to myself, "where did the year go?" It seems like just yesterday I was out on my kayak catching fish in shorts and a t-shirt – actually it was Saturday and I had a blast catching crappie, perch, largemouth bass and pickerel. Between the days flying by and the stretch of warmer weather, it sure doesn't feel like December.
11/28/15 A little dreary, but 65 degrees!
Fortunately, this fall we've been blessed with mild temperatures and the fishing action has been great. While air temperatures are no longer close to 70 degrees, a look at the long-range forecasts shows daytime highs in the mid-50s for most of the month. Coastal water temperatures are hovering in the low 50s. My Lowrance recorded similar water temperatures (52-54) while kayaking the local freshwater lakes. After the last couple years of frigid temperatures and too much talk about polar vortexes, I feel like I have some making up to do!
With so many fishing opportunities, I've been fishing day and night. Largemouth bass, chain pickerel, crappie, yellow perch, white perch and sunfish are providing steady action. My daytime fishing trips consist of working the shorelines, either by foot or in my kayak and tossing small jigs and soft-plastic baits to a variety of species. Panfish (crappie, perch and sunfish) seem to prefer a small brightly colored Trout Magnet while the bass and pickerel bite has been on natural-colored (dark top/light bottom) 3 and 4-inch soft plastics such as Berkley Gulp Minnows. While most of the freshwater species are small to average size, the action has been hard to beat.
If the great freshwater action wasn't enough, last week, the state trout wagon made their "Winter Stocking" rounds and dropped off a truckload of rainbow trout to sweeten the pot a little more. I spent a couple of days at the trout ponds and had a great time landing a bunch of 14 to 18-inch rainbow trout. Spinners, Trout Magnets and Berkley PowerBait Trout Bait should put some fish on the end of your line. As far as I can tell, the freshly stocked trout have not been receiving much attention so they should provide a good fishery for at least the next few weeks.
Winter Trout Stocking
As soon as it gets dark, my thoughts quickly shift to striped bass and saltwater fishing. While daytime surf reports seem more hit or miss lately, the nighttime backwater bite has been as steady as I can remember. Night after night, the same areas continue to provide good numbers of 20 to 28-inch linesiders. Bubblegum-colored Zoom Super Flukes on ¼ to ½-ounce lead heads are working well.
On Friday night, I took Jake down to get in on the action. High tide was right around 11 PM so we timed our arrival with the falling tide. The tide took a little while to get going, but as soon as it did, the striped bass cooperated. Imagine a warm night, a falling tide and stripers breaking all around you – can it get any better? Jake and I had a great time as we caught bass after bass through most of the night. Just after 3 AM we looked at each other and decided we had enough and it was time to head for home. We tagged a bunch of fish with American Littoral Society (ALS) tags and brought home a 28-inch fish for the dinner table. After a night like that, even the ride home was enjoyable.
Over the next few nights, I returned to the same locations during the same tide stages and experienced similar results. It appears as though new schools of fish continue to enter our estuary waters each day as I've caught many fish covered in sea lice. Most of the areas I'm fishing are miles away from any inlets so I'm hoping they stick around for a while. Most of the linesiders aren't very big as many seem to fall into the 22 to 26-inch range, but they are a lot of fun on my light G.Loomis and Shimano spinning gear.
11/30/15 Sea Lice Striper
After some down years, it feels good to feel good about striped bass again. By no means am I saying we are out of the woods, but this fall run seems promising. Most of my trips have been short and sweet. While the action barely compares to the striped bass heydays, it is much better than the last few seasons. I'm hoping the better action turns into a trend.
My recent backwater trips ranged from Ocean City north towards Long Beach Island. I haven't heard many promising reports from anglers fishing south of Ocean City, other than some boaters trolling a couple miles off the coast – some of my boat buddies have been posting solid reports with many of the fish in the 20 to 30-pound class. The lack of fish along the South Jersey beaches may have a lot more to do with circumstances other than a problem with the striped bass biomass – only time will tell.
For some of us, striped bass season is in full swing, yet many of New Jersey's southernmost anglers are left wondering when or if the striped bass season will begin at all. By many accounts, reports of striped bass and bluefish from New York to Long Beach Island (LBI) have been outstanding, while anglers fishing south of Atlantic City are left questioning the health of the fishery. This pattern seems to be more of a reoccurring trend than an anomaly and I think it's about time we addressed it.
Is it time to worry or should South Jersey anglers remain patient and hope the big schools of striped bass eventually make their way towards Cape May? As a longtime South Jersey angler, I can tell you for certain things aren't like they used to be. Stop waiting for the fish and do yourself a favor - migrate north!
Over the last few fall seasons, it's almost like the Garden State Parkway exits could be used as a striped-bass meter in which the exit numbers equate your chances at landing decent-sized striped bass: Exit 0 down in Cape May, Exit 38 to Atlantic City, Exit 63 at LBI, Exit 82 takes you to Island Beach State Park and Exit 100 will put you into the Asbury Park area. From LBI to the north, most anglers are happy catching 20 to 30-pound striped bass, while most South Jersey anglers are happy catching 20 to 30-inch stripers. About 50 to 80 miles separates world-class striped bass fishing versus dogfish city.
In my own experiences, I have spent less than 5% of my fishing time north of LBI, yet over the last five years many of my best catching trips, in both numbers and sizes, have taken place to the north. I grew up fishing just about every nook and cranny of South Jersey and I've grown to love and appreciate all that the area has to offer, but the fall runs just aren't cutting it anymore. My familiarity with the local waters keeps me coming back in hopes of finding the action that I once knew, but I consider myself lucky to have a handful of memorable trips per season. I'm beginning to question my want to fish south of LBI at all.
I joke with many of my northern friends, "Anything north of LBI is New York to me." There seems to be an imaginary line that cuts along the Route 72 Causeway in which the state transforms into a completely different and unfamiliar area, especially along the coast. Rooting interest for professional sports teams change from Philly-based teams to NJ/NY teams; hoagies are called subs; minnows are referred to as killies and most importantly the coastline changes. If you look at a map of New Jersey, Barnegat Inlet and to the south is the point where the coastline begins to recede towards the west. This one feature alone could be enough to explain the difference in fishing action results for North and South Jersey anglers.
While geographical features cannot be underestimated, there are many more questions to ask – many of which I'm not sure anyone can answer. Are the big schools of striped bass currently off our northern/central coast Hudson or Raritan Bay fish? How many of them actually retreat northward back into deep-water holes to wait out the winter months? Do most of the fish continue south from Barnegat Inlet and follow a straight line south and stay miles off the South Jersey Coast? What happened to the Delaware Bay fishery? Is climate change and warming ocean waters to blame? Despite lots of research and our best science, many of us are left with more questions than answers.
My thoughts on the subject are relatively simple. The range of striped bass is clearly shrinking due to a dwindling biomass. Much like the weakfish, I witnessed the best fishing action move a few inlets north almost every season – it started in the Delaware Bay, moved up and around Cape May and before you know it, most of the South Jersey coast loses another solid fishery. I watched the weakfish collapse happen and denied it at the time, mostly because I was catching some of the largest weakfish of my lifetime – albeit in a smaller area and a little further north than I was used to fishing. Sounds familiar right?
With all that said, I've had a lot of fun with the striped bass this fall. The northern fishery is as good as it's been in years and I'm finding good numbers of smaller striped bass in a lot of my backwater holes. However, I cannot ignore the fact that fishing in South Jersey has been dismal. My range used to consist of Atlantic City to Cape May. Lately, I find myself fishing from Avalon to Seaside Park, but my trips south of Ocean City have been few and far between. I haven't completely given up as I plan on fishing south tonight. I'm trying to keep hope alive, but it's becoming increasingly difficult.
At this point, it would almost be some type of small miracle if the striped bass moved down into our neighborhood just in time for the holiday season. It wouldn't be the first time South Jersey fishing lit up after the Thanksgiving holiday - some years the action lasted well into the New Year. Regardless, I'd like to wish everyone a great Thanksgiving. Enjoy time with your family and friends and if you can do it on the water that's even better. It's time for me to go chase some linesiders.
It's early, but this season's fall run seems to be shaping up as one of the best in the last few years. Just to the north, massive schools of big bluefish are working their way down the Jersey coast. Striped bass continue to show up in both good numbers and sizes. Whether you're a surfcaster, boater or backwater angler, it's time to hit the water – the stripers are here and they're hungry!
Fall Run Fun!
Weather and fishing conditions seem to be nearly perfect for an extended fall run. Mild November days and nights seem to be keeping our coastal water temperatures right around 60 degrees – some may consider 60 degrees a little on the warm side, but the fish don't seem to mind. A look at the ten-day forecast shows daytime highs in the mid to upper 60s for all of next week. The long-range forecast predicts more seasonable temperatures, but for the first time in a few years, it looks like we're going to ease into the winter season. Tons of bunker and other baitfish can be found out front, in the back bays and everywhere between. The variety of bait is also very impressive. The fish are here and they have no reason to leave!
I missed some fishing time as I tweaked something in my back and was laid up for close to a week. For a bunch of reasons, the timing couldn't have been worse. Fortunately, I'm feeling better now and I'm fishing around the clock trying to make up for lost time. In my experiences, adrenalin overloads from hooking into sizable striped bass are much more effective at killing pain than any prescription medications ordered by the doctor. Fishing has an odd way of curing any troubles.
Up and around again, I started with a night trip in the South Jersey backwaters. I found striped bass popping at my first stop and had a blast casting soft-plastic baits at them. What the little linesiders lacked in size, they made up for in numbers. At times, it seemed like every cast ended with an 18 to 26-inch striped bass. After I had my fun, I moved to another area and had similar action with small, but feisty stripers. Snapper bluefish, spike weakfish and summer flounder added to my catch - proving that water temperatures are still a little on the mild side.
Having fun with the little fish was just what I needed, but I couldn't pass up the reports of bigger fish coming from the north at Long Beach Island and Island Beach State Park. After debating on whether or not to make the trip north, I arrived at IBSP a little late, but walked the beach until I found a perfect cut between the sandbars. In the first few casts bass were swiping at my Daiwa SP Minnow. I landed a few good fish and dropped more than I'd like to admit. Even though I had a good day, I couldn't help wonder how many more fish I might have caught if I arrived before sunrise.
I went home and asked Jake if he'd like to get in on the action. His first experience plugging the surf came just a few weeks ago in which he was lucky enough to land a keeper-sized striper. I told him our odds wouldn't get much better as lots of fish were around and it seemed like the "stars were aligned" for a perfect trip.
Jake's first striper on a plug.
The next morning, we left extra early and arrived at IBSP about an hour before sunrise. As we gathered our gear and put our waders on, Jake looked up and said, "Dad you weren't kidding about the stars being aligned!" As luck would have it, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and the Moon were lined up almost perfectly. We both laughed for a minute before we hurried off towards the water.
As we hiked in over the dunes, you could smell bunker in the air. I told Jake this was going to be our day. We set up and started casting into the darkness. We fished for a good hour before the sun came up without a touch. Some doubt started creeping in and I wondered if yesterday's fish moved along.
As the sun came up, the tide started out and our luck was about to change. My SP Minnow got hammered and the fish went airborne. I thought I had a bluefish, but it turned out to be an acrobatic 32-inch striped bass. I had a few bass on the sand before Jake hooked up. With another good fish on, I looked over at Jake to tell him to come over, but his rod was already bent. The action was fast and furious! After a few minutes of back and forth, I landed my fish and headed over to help Jake. He battled the fish for at least five minutes. When I saw the big bass in the surf, I went nuts. The only thing better than catching good fish is having your kids catch one! He played it like a pro and slid his first sizable plug bass onto the beach.
Jake with his big bass and a proud papa!
The next half hour was a blur that seemed to last about 30 seconds. Jake and I got into a great bite with multiple fish over 40 inches. While Jake was unhooking his fish, I hooked into another mid-twenty pound bass and couldn't believe how great the bite was. I don't fish the surf often so trips like this would be extra memorable, especially with Jake getting on the action.
As quickly as the great bite started, it ended. We continued to work the cut and walked down to hit another fishy-looking area, but our casts came back untouched. It's funny how no matter how long you spend on the water a half hour stretch can make a day. At that moment, I looked at Jake and told him I didn't care if we didn't catch another fish all season – it would still be worth it!
It's that wonderful time of year when schools of striped bass return to our coastal waters in numbers. Over the weekend, reports of striped bass came from our oceanfront beaches, inlets and backwater sounds. Fishing for striped bass may not be as easy as it was just a few short years ago, but there are some great opportunities available for those willing to put in a little time.
Over the last few fall seasons, figuring out striped bass staging/feeding patterns seemed a little more difficult then it used to be. I think it's fair to blame at least some of the problem on the fact that there seems to be less striped bass around than there were a few years ago. I believe another factor is the weather - the last few fall seasons we went from one extreme to the other – extremely-high water temperatures in October were followed by a coastal storm or two and a frigid crash in November. Big swings in weather patterns and temperature changes usually don't bode well for fishing action in general, especially pattern-oriented anglers.
So far, this season seems different. We battled through an early coastal storm and now the water temperatures seem to be dropping gradually – perfect conditions for predictable fishing patterns. I couldn't help but smile when looking at the long-range forecast – it looks that good! This week promises daytime highs in the low to mid 70s with an average cooling trend continuing right through early December. It looks like the table is set for a good fall run!
We're off to a good start!
With perfect weather conditions and so many opportunities available to us, it can be a hectic time of year for outdoor enthusiasts. I'm splitting time between freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing, kayaking, hiking and hunting and I love every minute of it! The recent freshwater rainbow trout action was some of the best I've ever experienced. I'm fairly new to hunting, but Jake and I had an incredible morning last Saturday, October 31, at Peaslee Wildlife Management Area's Youth Pheasant Day Event – he aimed a shotgun while I aimed a camera.
The boys had a great morning at Peaslee WMA!
Even with so much going on, I have a feeling that it's about time to make the fulltime switch over to striped bass. During my recent backwater trips, I've experienced fast-paced action with schoolie-sized striped bass – numbers seem far better than I've seen in at least the last five years. Keeper-sized fish (28 inches or better) are a little more difficult to come by, but chances are with a little more effort, you'll find a few fish for the table.
This one made the mark, but we practiced catch and release.
What the little linesiders lack in size, they make up for in action and predictability. An average trip consists of about fifteen to twenty stripers between 18 and 28 inches. Tagging the short stripers also adds to my enjoyment. It's not the good old days, but it does seem promising, especially after some very dismal fall runs. My best action seems to be happening at night and away from the inlets and any dredging or beach replenishments projects. I expect the inlet areas to pick up soon, but the backcountry action has been on fire. Schools of peanut bunker, hoards of silversides and some leftover pods of mullet should keep things interesting well into December.
Tagging short stripers and a few summer flounder add to the experience.
It looks like I have lots of paperwork to catch up on.
I've fished a bunch of areas from as far north as Island Beach State Park to the south down in Cape May and many of the areas in between. The best action seems to be taking place a little to the north. The backwaters of Barnegat Bay to about Avalon seem to be providing the best action – there are fish behind Stone Harbor, Wildwood and Cape May, but it's just not the same. The run usually seems a little later down in the southernmost portion of our area so I'm not too concerned yet.
Julia caught this micro-sized bass behind Stone Harbor.
I've witnessed feeding stations set up at places such as bridges, piers, docks, creek mouths and shell beds – watching striped bass, even schoolie striped bass, feed on top-water baits never gets old! By concentrating on these types of areas, your production should improve, especially if you fish during a high outgoing tide. My go-to bubblegum-colored soft plastics on ¼ to ½-ounce jig heads haven't let me down, but there were a few nights the little bass were picky and preferred a 1/8-ounce jig with a natural-colored soft plastic bait – dark top/light bottom baits work well.
Jake had his hands full with this backwater striper.
I'm hoping that the recent back-bay action is just a precursor to a great fall run. It sounds like a fresh body of fish just moved down from New York/North Jersey into the northern portion of our area (IBSP) so action should continue to improve as we progress further into November. Fishing for stripers may not be as easy as it was ten years ago, but it might not be as bad as some of us thought either. I'm anticipating a striped bass season to remember!
The 2015 New Jersey fall stocking season is complete as thousands of big, beautiful rainbow trout are now swimming in our South Jersey lakes, ponds, and rivers. The trout-stocking trucks made frequent stops in which they unloaded tons of hefty 14 to 22-inch rainbow trout. Usually, angler participation is low compared to the spring trout fishery, so these big trout should be swimming in our waters well into the winter season and maybe as long as next spring. If you enjoy the spring trout action, you'll love the bigger fall trout.
An Average Fall Rainbow Trout
After twenty-five years of fishing for trout in South Jersey, the fall stocking is clearly my favorite time to fish, as the state only puts in two sizes of trout – big and bigger. More times than not, your biggest spring trout will be smaller than your smallest fall trout. The bigger fish fight a lot better and seem to fit the dinner plate perfectly. Throw in daytime highs around 70 degrees and a backdrop of beautiful fall foliage and it's difficult to find a reason not to fish for these brawny rainbow trout.
A Day at the Trout Pond
I guess I need to write a disclaimer - fishing for stocked trout is not the same as fishing for wild trout; we're certainly not fishing gin-clear, mountain streams in Montana. This is New Jersey and the trout are strategically placed by the state to offer the best chance for anglers to capture them. The South Jersey trout fishery is often referenced as a "put-and-take" fishery. The truth is most if not all trout would die in many of our waterways as summer water temperatures rise well into the 80s. Think about it like a fish market where we're allowed to fish for our meals. The words glamorous or sporting don't usually come to mind when talking about stocked fish, but it sure can be a lot of fun!
Jake is having fun!
Fishing for stocked trout isn't always as easy as some may think. The trout take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to acclimate to their new waters. In my experiences, rainbow trout are far more aggressive and take much less time to adapt to their new surroundings. Sometimes, it seemed like the brown and brook trout took weeks before they really starting biting. Since the furunculosis outbreak at the Pequest Hatchery, the Division has decided to stock only rainbow trout, which should bode well for anglers.
When the trout truck visits our area, I usually go on a two to three day trout-fishing binge. I let my son, Jake, take a day or two off of school and we chase trout all over South Jersey. It's about as close as either of us will get to trout fishing in Montana. We fish ponds, lakes and rivers for no other reason than we like catching lots of big trout. Sometimes the fishing action is fast and furious, while other times, it's a very specific bite that can be quite challenging.
Over the last two days, we've hit three different waterways – a lake, a river and a pond. The fishing action was good at each venue, however the trout responded a little differently at each location. In the shallow lake, the trout were rather lethargic and difficult to tempt with any offerings. I believe many of the trout we caught at the lake struck our spinners more out of aggravation than hunger. After some time, I switched over to a Trout Magnet and a slower, jigging presentation and the trout responded nicely.
This big male rainbow trout hit a gold Trout Magnet.
After we had fun at the lake, we headed over to the river. When we arrived, I could see trout zipping in and out of the deeper pools. These trout seemed spooky and full of energy. Many of the larger trout were holding along the banks in the deeper cuts. These fish would only hit if we presented from upstream and we let our spinners sit almost still in the current – the spinner would sit in place with only the blades spinning. While the bite was a little more specific at the river, the current and surroundings felt much more trout-like.
Jake with a River Rainbow
This afternoon, we visited a small sand wash pond. Crystal-clear water with nice drop-offs presented lots of visuals. We found big schools of trout holding wherever we saw down trees. I was a bit surprised, as I always believed trout preferred open waters, especially when no current is present. I tried my go-to Trout Magnet as I could jig it in and around the underwater branches, but I couldn't buy a hit. I switched back to a double-bladed spinner and I had trout on almost every cast. My best catch of the day put up a real fight, as it seemed to swim through every underwater branch on our side of the pond. I was happy when the big male trout finally came to the net.
Another Big Rainbow Trout from This Afternoon's Trip
Looking back at our two-day trout-a-thon, Jake and I had a tremendous amount of fun. It wasn't the most challenging type of fishing or the most glamorous, but we had a good time. I'm sure some will scoff at our super-sized stocked trout – it's ok, we know all about the stocked trout and enjoy it for everything it's worth!
Wherever you look, autumn is in the air. Sunrises are occurring a little later each morning while sunsets are a little earlier each evening. Squirrels are going crazy, stocking up on walnuts and acorns. Our skies are filled with migrating birds and monarch butterflies. Mosquitos and other bugs are dispersing. While many of us enjoy our pumpkin-flavored foods and drinks, I'm looking forward to the harvest festivals, bonfires on chilly nights, color-filled landscapes and some of the best fishing action of the year.
Water temperatures are dropping right on schedule and I believe this weekend's northwest blow should really getting things going. As of 1 PM on October 15, 2015, the Atlantic City monitoring station checked in at 64.6 degrees while Cape May's station reported 67.3 degrees. Some of the coastal backwaters and many of our freshwater lakes and ponds have already dipped into the 50s.
Chilly Morning on the Water
Striped bass reports are picking up in our area as many of the resident fish become more active. The bulk of the migratory fish were last reported working their way down from Montauk and towards the South Shore of Long Island, New York. Sandy Hook, New Jersey reports are beginning to trickle in and should continue to improve as the weekend approaches. Further south, from Island Beach State Park to Cape May, fishing action has been a little slower, but a few quality fish are beginning to show up. The resident stripers will keep me busy for another week or two before I take the ride north to look for some blitz-like action. As each season passes, it seems like the South Jersey striper season occurs a little later in the year – look for more widespread, serious action to take place in November.
While waiting for numbers of striped bass to return to our local waters, there are many other great fishing opportunities available. The trout trucks will be visiting our portion of the state early next week. Even though the state doesn't stock as many waterways as they do in the spring, the quality of the trout more than makes up for it. These big, beautiful rainbow trout aren't receiving the attention they deserve. I understand they're stocked fish, but fooling the big rainbows can be both challenging and rewarding. The fall stocking information below was copied from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife's website:
Tuesday, October 20
ATLANTIC & CUMBERLAND COUNTIES • Giampetro Park Pond - 170 • Hammonton Lake - 340 • Mary Elmer Lake - 170 • Maurice River - 400
BURLINGTON, CAMDEN & GLOUCESTER COUNTIES • Crystal Lake - 170 • Grenloch Lake - 170 • Oak Pond - 170 • Sylvan Lake - 170
Wednesday, October 21
GLOUCESTER & SALEM COUNTIES • Greenwich Lake - 170 • Iona Lake - 170 • Schadlers Sand Wash Pond - 170 • Swedesboro Lake - 170
MIDDLESEX & MERCER COUNTIES • Colonial Lake - 170 • Roosevelt Park Pond - 170 • Rosedale Lake – 170
A Fall of 2014 South Jersey Rainbow Trout
I'm looking forward to next week's trout delivery, however I don't know if it can compare to the crazy panfish action I've experienced over the last two weeks. The bite has been so good it is almost unbelievable. Crappies and yellow perch are beginning to school up and if you can find a good piece of underwater structure, be prepared to catch fish all day long.
Having fished the nightshift for most of my life, I'm enjoying and appreciating fishing during daylight hours. While the nightshift certainly has its benefits, early-morning kayak trips provide both great visuals and fishing action. I arrive at the lake and paddle through a steam or water vapor that I refer to as smoke on the water. Mirror-calm conditions magnify the beautifully colored trees that surround many of our local waterways now. A curious and likely hungry eagle circles my kayak each morning as I pull fish after fish in from submerged structure. As I take in the entire experience, I can only explain it as magical.
Mirror Calm Mornings Are Especially Beautiful
After years of lugging around all kinds of fancy, expensive gear, I've streamlined my approach. On my last trip to the lake, I loaded my kayak, two fishing rods, a life vest, a paddle, a water bottle and a very small utility box of small jigs, floats and soft-plastic baits. Very little effort is needed for this simple type of fishing and it makes the experience even more enjoyable.
All Smiles on a Perfect Fall Morning
Fishing for crappie and yellow perch isn't very complicated, as they seem to hit just about any small bait selection. I've experimented with a bunch of different tactics and continue to learn on each and every trip. While you can learn from trips in which no fish were caught, I find I learn much more when lots of fish are present. I've experimented with retrieves, colors, lure selections, and floats over the last few trips. I found that I can catch fish on just about any offering, but some offerings worked better than others. Of all the techniques I tried, my go-to weightless Berkley Gulp 3 and 4-inch minnows provided the best results. Small, brightly colored jigs (I like using Trout Magnets) in sizes 1/32 to 1/64 also worked extremely well, especially fished under a float.
This Slab Crappie Fell for a Trout Magnet
The key to catching wasn't so much about what type of retrieve I chose or what type or color offering I selected. It was all about location. If there was some type of structure in more than three-feet of water, fish would be there and in many cases, they'd be schooled up in impressive numbers. Fine tuning my lure selections and retrieves allowed me to boat a few more fish, but I'm certain I could have caught some fish with a bare hook.
This Yellow Perch Qualifies for the State's Skillful Angler Award and Completes My Panfish Slam
There are times when I appreciate a challenge, but sometimes it's nice to sit back and just have fun. If your idea of a good time is simply catching loads of fish on a beautiful day, it's time to hit the water!
I'm not going to sugarcoat it; it's been a tough two weeks for coastal anglers. Constant northeast winds continue to take a toll on our seaside fishing, beaches and property owners. While we were fortunate to dodge Hurricane Joaquin, I don't think many of the barrier island's property owners feel so lucky after this weekend's moderate to major flooding event that occurred on multiple high tides. Water in the streets is one thing, but our beaches took a real hit and the back bay flooding was some of the worst we've seen in years, highlighted by a home on Grassy Sound falling into the water and drifting south under the bridge before getting stuck near the mouth of Turtle Creek.
Fortunately, it appears there is light at the end of the tunnel. The sun is out this morning and the winds are beginning to relent. A look at the long-range forecast seems promising, as it appears we're shifting to a more stable weather pattern with winds from the west later this week. Our coastal water temperatures were a little over 70 degrees before the weekend blow, but as of noon today, they've dipped to 63 degrees in Atlantic City and 64 degrees in Cape May. Decent weather and falling water temperatures should allow for things to get back to normal, including our fall fishing.
While I prefer the saltwater scene this time of year, I don't mind retreating to the sweetwater once in a while, especially during long periods of northeast wind. August and September were extraordinarily dry and many of our shallow lakes and ponds were running low and stagnant. Many of the little lakes and ponds I frequent seem unaffected by wind and actually benefitted from the coastal storm. The welcome rain brought life back to many of our local waters and the fish responded on cue.
With my fishing options limited by the weather, I stopped by a few of the nearby waterways I haven't visited since the spring. The lakes and ponds were a little stirred up from the recent rains, but the fish didn't seem to mind. Largemouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch and sunfish cooperated, but the crappie bite was unbelievable. I lost count of crappies after catching one on every cast for fifteen casts. After unsuccessfully chasing South Jersey unicorns (redfish) for the last two weeks, the great crappie bite was much appreciated.
Crappies on every cast!
I can't explain my fondness for crappies, but there's something special about catching them that I enjoy immensely. They certainly aren't the greatest fighters and they don't reach gigantic proportions, but if you can figure them out, the action they provide is unmatched. More than anything else, I appreciate crappies because they fill a niche. In January when there is nothing else going on, I have crappies. In the spring before the striped bass, bluefish and weakfish show up, I have crappies. In the fall while we're waiting for striped bass and bluefish to migrate into our neighborhood, I have crappies. A coastal storm with winds gusting to 50 MPH, I have crappies.
It's always calm at the crappie pond.
Perhaps the biggest draw to crappie fishing is how great of a time you can have with so little time or money invested. For me, it's about an hour commute to the beach. Do I want to drive an hour each way to catch 18 to 26-inch striped bass in snotty conditions? Sometimes, I do, but it is for this reason I appreciate a great bite close to home even more. This afternoon, my son Jake will come home. He'll get his homework done, grab a snack and we'll be fishing five minutes later. Tackle selection is uncomplicated and inexpensive. We each grab a rod, a few small soft-plastic baits, a float or two and we'll have fun bending rods until it gets dark.
Easy and Fun!
Don't get me wrong, I'm really looking forward to this year's fall run, but while things are settling down along the coast, I'll make do with the crappies. Freshwater fishing action in South Jersey is about as good as I can remember and to top it off, we'll be receiving a few truckloads of big rainbow trout in a couple weeks. Whatever you do, get those rods and reels ready - we have a lot to look forward to!
September is a transitional month that marks the end of the summer season and the start of autumn. Despite warm ocean temperatures, cool nights and dwindling daylight hours trigger the beginning of the fall migration. Hoards of baitfish move out of our backwater creeks and channels towards the inlet and out along the beachfront. Most seasons, mullet are one of the first species of baitfish to begin their fall migration and this year they seem to be moving out right on cue.
The mullet run is in full swing!
Timing the mullet migration isn't usually difficult. Mullet begin moving out of our back bays sometime between the end of August and the beginning of September. If calm and stable weather patterns are present, full and new moon phases usually get the mullet moving. This year's September new moon phase took place on Sunday, September 13 and the mullet responded accordingly. I spent the last few days fishing the coast from as far north as Island Beach State Park (IBSP) and to the south at Cape May Point – numbers of mullet were present at almost every jetty pocket along the way. The mullet should remain staged along our beachfront at least until the next full moon, which occurs this Sunday, September 27.
Inlets are a great place to find mullet.
Unfortunately, the recent onshore flow caused by a slow-moving, low-pressure system just off the Carolinas could make spotting any mullet difficult for the foreseeable future. Building seas and an increasing northeast wind will make conditions along our beachfront especially difficult this weekend as northeast winds are forecast to reach 20 to 30 MPH. I have a feeling this coastal storm will end the 2015 mullet run a little prematurely. I hope I'm wrong, but slow-moving, poorly timed coastal storms have a way of killing even the best of runs.
While I'm a little disappointed with the weekend forecast, I'm sure glad I spent the last few days chasing mullet in the surf. I don't know what it is about cast netting bait that I find so enjoyable, but I always feel like a little kid when I'm catching bait – at least until the next day when knee and shoulder pain bring me back to reality.
On a recent trip up to IBSP, balls of small bay anchovies, also known as rain bait, greeted us as soon as we made our way over the dunes. Diving gulls and balls of baitfish under attack really get the blood pumping. I spent a few hours casting into the melee, but only found snapper bluefish, mostly between 8 and 12 inches. The action and environment were great, but I had hopes for some bigger fish.
After playing with the tiny bluefish, we drove south to the inlet jetty. As expected the jetty looked like a small parking lot as cast netters were lined up in search of mullet. I watched as men threw their nets into the jetty pocket and along the inside of the inlet jetty with varied results. I decided to keep my net in the truck, as the amount of netters seemed to outnumber the amount of mullet. A few cast netters filled up while others came back empty time and time again. We fished our way back up the beach and caught a few more snappers before we packed it up for the day. It wasn't a great catching day, but it was a start.
Inlet Jetty Parking Lot
I decided to look for mullet again on Tuesday, September 22. Conditions were far from perfect, but the forecast seemed to be going downhill right through the upcoming weekend. With flood tides and a brisk 15 to 20 MPH northeast wind, I figured Cape May Point would offer the best conditions for fishing and cast netting mullet. As soon as I made my way over the dune, I felt the wind at my back and saw schools of mullet along the beach. I ran down to the beach and loaded up on mullet. The surf was a little higher than normal, but the mullet schools were packed between what's left of the small groins.
When conditions are right, it doesn't take long to fill the bait bucket.
After a few successful tosses of the cast net, I decided to live line a few mullet. Snapper bluefish, skates and tiny sea bass quickly attacked my baits. The snappers would bite the tail off and then the skates and sea bass would finish off the rest. A lone 16-inch summer flounder was my "catch of the day." I had hopes for a possible redfish, weakfish, striped bass or doormat fluke, but I didn't see or hear of much other than snapper blues. With my fill of small blues, I decided to put the rods down and go have some more fun with the cast net.
As high tide approached, the mullet were a little more difficult to spot in the big water, but they were thick – even my blind throws were coming back with a dozen or more mullet per throw. It didn't take long to fill a bait bucket with lively, 3 to 7-inch mullet. My bycatch consisted of mole and calico crabs, a couple snapper blues and a bunch of small 10 to 12-inch striped bass.
Cast Net Striper
With my fill of snapper bluefish and a bucketful of mullet, I headed for home. After the hour ride home, I took the bucket of mullet out back to my fish-cleaning table to sort and package for the freezer. The sizes of mullet varied a little more than I'm used to, about 3 to 7 inches. Usually, the mullet are a little more uniformed in size - between 4 and 6 inches. For live or frozen bait, I prefer fishing whole 4 to 5-inch mullet, but the 3-inch mullet should be perfect for the backwaters. I cut the 6-inch and larger baits into chunks for later use. In total, I bagged about twelve dozen, which should get me through most of the fall.
Rinsed and Ready to Pack for Freezing
In closing, I'd like to note that Cape May Point should not be overlooked when searching for mullet. Years ago, Hereford Inlet was my go-to mullet stop, but Cape May has provided a much more consistent catch over the last few seasons. If you think about it, it makes sense that the mullet would stage at the southernmost portion of our state before heading south for the colder months. If you plan on fishing this weekend, the west side of Cape May Point should offer an escape from the wind. I'd also like to take a moment to remind fellow cast netters to be responsible and only take what you need for bait. Let's hope this coastal storm doesn't hang around too long so we can get back on track.
September in South Jersey offers many things, but great fishing action isn't high on the list. Brilliant, sunny days and refreshing, cool nights stir thoughts of great fishing action and the fall run. The backwater creeks and sounds are filled with mullet, peanut bunker, silversides and a plethora of other young-of-the-year species. What more could you ask for?
To start, how about some cooler water temperatures? As of this writing, the coastal water temperature in Atlantic City is 72 degrees while Cape May's monitoring station checked in at balmy 76 degrees. With daytime air temperatures forecasted to be in the mid 80s for most of the upcoming week, I don't expect our water temps to drop anytime soon. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the bulk of the migratory fish are well to the north and if recent trends continue, we're at least a month away, maybe two.
I spent most of last week plying the waters of Cape May County. After a long summer of freshwater fishing, it sure felt good to taste the salt again. Backwater creeks, bridge pilings, fishing piers, shell beds and rock piles – this is where I belong. I started my scouting trip at some of my favorite bait holes and I wasn't disappointed. Peanut bunker was thick at each of my stops. With one toss of the net, I had more bait than I needed for the night. Equipped with live bait and a good outgoing tide, I fished a few bridges without much luck. Small sea bass, snapper bluefish and dogfish wouldn't leave my live baits alone. I switched over to a jig and soft-plastic bait and had to work for a few small striped bass. The action wasn't bad, but with so much bait around, I had high hopes.
The next morning, I drove around in search of mullet. My first few stops came up empty, but I found some good pods way in the back. After a few throws, I had enough mullet and decided to try the Cape May Point rock piles. Action was slow as it was tough to keep bait in the water – the crabs and snapper blues were relentless. I walked the beaches, but only found more of the same.
Searching for Mullet
I fell into the trap – the September in South Jersey trap. You'd think after all these years I'd know better. If you're a South Jersey angler, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about: baitfish all over, the first push of cool nights, social media reports from our northern buddies holding big striped bass – you want the fall run so bad you can taste it, but it's just not happening down here yet. I can remember a time when September offered great striped bass fishing, but the last few years just haven't been the same. I believe the summer-to-fall-fishing transition begins in our area right around Columbus Day weekend. Until then, it's probably best if you fish strictly at night or just enjoy the summer species while they're here. If you just can't wait to get in on the action, a road trip up to Montauk may be in order.
9/9/15 South Jersey Summer Striper
Ok, enough with what's not happening. As mentioned above, the weather is glorious, crowds are gone, baitfish are everywhere and there's still plenty of worthwhile summer-fishing opportunities. Summer flounder season remains open until September 26, 2015. Those big flatfish love mullet and we still have two weeks to bring home some fresh fluke fillets. Snapper bluefish are all over and offer steady action. With a little effort, you could fill a cooler with panfish such as kingfish, croakers, and spot. Late-season crabbing usually provides some of the best action of the year. Freshwater fishing action is also good, especially for largemouth bass and crappies.
We have a lot to look forward to in the coming weeks. Striped bass and big bluefish are the big draw, but freshwater trout fishing should not be overlooked. I miss the big brookies the Division used to stock, but the big rainbows will be fun, too. Approximately 20,000 two-year old rainbow trout, averaging between 14 to 22 inches and 1.5 pounds to 8 pounds, will be stocked into our streams, rivers, ponds and lakes starting on October 13, 2015. Grab some spinners - those big trout are a lot of fun!
2014 Fall Rainbow Trout
Over the next few weeks, I look forward to chasing redfish at Cape May Point. I heard a few more reports of red drum this week and expect the catches to increase as we head towards the end of the month. Hopefully, a few speckled sea trout will show up too.
After last week's trip, I've learned to appreciate what we have, even if the fishing action is a little slow. The weather, water and coastal landscape is beautiful and there is no place I'd rather be.
New Jersey's Striped Bass Bonus Program (SBBP) was reinstated on Tuesday, September 1, 2015. According to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, "Permits have been issued to replace permits purchased prior to May 1, 2015. Anyone who purchased a permit prior to May 1, 2015 and has not received a replacement permit by September 14, 2015 should call (609) 748-2020 and leave a message with their name and a phone number where you can be reached during business hours."
I purchased my SBBP permit this spring and have not received my new tag. Some other anglers have received their tags and forwarded me information they received from the Division of Fish and Wildlife that is not currently included on the Division's website. I'll list some of the important changes below, but new permits will be limited so if you'd like to participate in the program, please visit www.njfishandwildlife.com to print and complete a 2015 SBBP Individual Participant Application and Child Support Application. The program appears to be free for the remainder of the 2015 season, but the Division requires applicants enclose a self-addressed, stamped, #10 business envelope per application.
SBBP Individual Application Form
The revamped SBBP has changed in quite a few ways, some of which will come as a surprise to many anglers. The new regulations are as follows: one striped bass from 24 inches to less than 28 inches – if you remember back a few years, we called this size range our "slot fish." The old SBBP paper permit has been replaced by a red plastic tie that must be securely attached to the fish through the mouth and gill immediately upon capture and prior to transportation. Harvest reporting is mandatory and must be reported online or by leaving a voice message at (609) 748-2074. Only one bonus permit will be issued per person in 2015 – you read that right, you may only take one bonus striped bass for the remainder of the 2015 season. Anyone failing to submit logs to the Division will not be considered for the 2016 Striped Bass Bonus Program. Logs must be submitted by mail or online by January 15, 2016 – the Division's website has a link to complete logs online by using participants' nine-digit conservation identification numbers as their user names and participants' date of birth as their passwords.
I'm not certain how I feel about the changes yet, but I believe the old SBBP needed some improvement. I can't figure out how adding a red plastic tag will result in any advancements to the program, but I do like that submitting log information is now a necessity to be considered for continued participation in the program. I look at the SBBP as a privilege and believe the information gathered is extremely beneficial. However, when it comes down to regulations, I think the State has it backwards - I'd much rather see our general, state-wide regulations include some type of slot fish and our SBBP turn into a trophy tag of say one fish over 40 inches.
An average South Jersey backwater striped bass.
The party/charter boat facet of the SBBP allows customers to use a permit each day. Party and charter boats captains are required to submit daily logbooks and weekly reports of striped bass harvest to ensure the quota is not exceeded. I feel for the party and charter boat captains, but I dislike the fact that if I fish on a "for hire" boat, I can take a bonus fish every single day, yet as an individual recreation angler, I am only allowed to use one permit for the remainder of the 2015 season. I never liked the fact that as an individual recreational angler I have to follow strict bag and size limits, but if I want to buy commercially harvested fish, I can buy as much as I want - I can't count the days I had to let go big, beautiful summer flounder while the commercial guys fished right next to me and could kept every fish they caught. I understand that hook and line commercial fishermen provide a much less harmful way of harvesting fish, but at the end of the day it just rubs me the wrong way. The state claims the allocation of commercial harvest has been transferred to the recreational sector, but with the current SBBP regulations I think it's fair to consider party/charter boats as commercial vessels. We have one set of regulations for average anglers and another set for those willing to pay a price.
I'll keep up-to-date with the SBBP and continue to update the blog accordingly. I hope everyone enjoys what's left of the summer season and the holiday weekend. Stay safe and good luck out on the water!
The Division released another statement regarding the delivery date of our SBBP tags. 2015 SBBP permit holders should receive their SBBP tag no later than October 1, 2015. According to sources, some post offices claimed the Division did not include enough postage for the tag envelopes to be delivered. The tags were returned to the Division and the proper adjustments were made. I received my tag on Wednesday, September 23.
With daytime highs in the 90s and another heat wave expected for the coming week, it's hard to believe we'll be flipping our calendars to September tomorrow morning. For many, Labor Day marks the unofficial end of the summer season and it's just a week away. Thousand of big, yellow buses will be on the road later this week as the kids head back to school and if you haven't noticed, the sun is setting a little earlier each day. Some of the local wildlife is already shifting gears – several species of birds and fish are already staging in preparation to make their fall migration. The writing is on the wall: enjoy what's left of summer because fall is right around the corner.
Sunsets Are a Little Earlier
As much as I enjoy the summer months, I'm looking forward to fall and everything that comes with it – well, everything but raking the yard. According to many of the long-range weather forecasts, it seems like we could be in store for a warm autumn. A late summer followed by a warm fall usually goes in one of two ways: a late run that last well into the new year or a late run that ends abruptly with coastal storms and frigid temps. In the part of South Jersey I fish the most, Atlantic City to Cape May, summerlike fishing patterns can last well into October. A September mullet run provides a little spark, but for the most part, we're left waiting for the striped bass and bluefish to make their way down from places like Montauk, Sandy Hook and Island Beach State Park.
A slow and calm transition from summer to fall usually bodes well for Cape May County specialty anglers whom target southern species such as speckled sea trout and redfish – my fingers are crossed! A few good sea trout seasons were followed up by a little boom in redfish catches in 2012 and 2013, but the 2014 season turned out to be a big bust – I blame the frequent cold fronts for cutting our season short. If the weather cooperates, the specks and redfish fill a niche for many of us as we wait for the bass and bluefish.
Let's hope some redfish show up for this year's mullet run!
With coastal water temperatures at 74 degrees in Atlantic City and 79 degrees in Cape May, I haven't put much time in lately. However, fishing reports are picking up a little and I plan on making a few scouting trips later this week. Mullet and peanut bunker schools are popping up all over our backwaters so it makes sense that our resident striped bass, weakfish, bluefish and summer flounder are becoming more active.
It's time to dig out the cast nets!
Back at home, I've been busy with end of the summer activities such as fishing with Jake, family reunion barbeques, school shopping and becoming a grandpa! Addison Lee Ruczynski came into the world on August 16th and checked in at 8 pounds, 6 ounces and 20 inches – a keeper for sure! Addison is a real cutie and I'm already looking forward to having another little fishing buddy!
She's a keeper!
In between the excitement of a new family member, Jake and I have been hitting the local ponds and lakes. For the most part, fishing action has been a little slow as many of the local waterways we frequent are low and crystal clear. I believe I heard something in passing about this August being one of the driest on record – we haven't had much rain in quite some time. Small pickerel and largemouth bass are providing some action, but we're working for them. I enjoyed freshwater fishing this summer, but I really miss the salt life. I'm looking forward to mornings on the beachfront and nights in the backwaters.
In other news, I'm expecting my 2015 Striped Bass Bonus Program Permit (SBBP) any day now. The original message from New Jersey's Fish and Wildlife page stated that current 2015 permit holders would receive their new permits by September 1st, however it appears the notice was updated recently and now states, "All current permit holders received notice that the old 2015 permits are no longer valid and will automatically receive a new permit prior to or shortly after September 1, 2015." As of September 1, the new (SBBP) regulations will be: one striped bass between 24 and 28 inches. I'm fairly certain taking a permitted "slot fish" along with regulations allowing the general public one striped bass at 28 inches to less than 43 inches and one striped bass over 43 inches does little to protect our striped bass stocks. I'd feel a lot better about our regulations with the (SBBP) slot fish and one striped bass at 28 inches or greater. At this point, legally killing three stripers a day seems at the very least questionable. Just because our regulators don't use common sense doesn't mean that we can't. Please consider making your own sensible striped bass limits, within the law of course.
Let's face it: unless you're out at the canyons or offshore wreck and reef sites, the dog days of August don't exactly offer the best fishing opportunities. The long, hot days and warm water temperatures take a toll on many of our favorite freshwater and saltwater species. I'm not saying it's impossible to put together a decent catch, but the odds are stacked against us when water temps are in the low to mid 80s. September is fast approaching and with it will come cooler nights and the much-anticipated mullet run. In the meantime, I suggest hitting your favorite panfish holes and having some fun with the scrappy crappies, perch and sunfish that are more than willing to bend a rod.
When I think about fishing for panfish, it's usually because options for other more desirable species are limited – usually during the mid-summer and mid-winter periods. However, over the last few years, I've gained an appreciation for panfish, especially black crappies and yellow perch. Our local waters offer some great panfish opportunities and because of our climate, the crappies, perch and sunfish have a longer growing season than up north or out in the Midwest. While a trophy crappie may not compare to a trophy striped bass, you won't find me complaining about any type of world-class fishery.
Before you dismiss fishing for panfish, there are a few things I'd like you to take into consideration. Panfish are schooling fish and can provide hours of insane rod-bending action. The variety of yellow perch, white perch, crappies, and sunfish always keeps things interesting and if a stray largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, pickerel or catfish decides to join the party, all the better. Daily bag limits are fairly liberal when keeping crappies (8-inch minimum and 10 fish), perch and sunfish (no minimum size and 25 combined). While most panfish are bony, they are fairly easy to clean and offer sweet, firm, delicious, white fillets.
I'm sure at least a few readers are asking themselves, "Can you eat fish from our local waters?" According to the State of New Jersey's General Freshwater Advisories and the 2013 Fish Smart, Eat Smart Guide, there are "no restrictions" for the general population when consuming sunfish. While specific bodies of water do have more stringent consumption guidelines, panfish seem to be one of the least affected by pollutants. I'm assuming a sunfish's diet and shorter life span don't allow them to accumulate toxins as easily as some of the other species listed such as largemouth bass and striped bass. From much of the literature I read, generally, I would say that eating panfish is likely less harmful than eating striped bass. Surprising huh? For more detailed information, visit http://www.state.nj.us/dep/dsr/njmainfish.htm.
After our great family outing at Parvin State Park last weekend, Jake and I decided to return this weekend and set up our fish camp. We packed light and trailered the kayaks down to Parvin on Friday, August 14. It took just a few minutes to set up the tent and get our campsite in order – we checked in around noon and were carrying the loaded kayaks to the water's edge by 12:30 PM. Our plan was to fill a cooler with some tasty panfish to cook over our campfire each night.
After a short paddle, we returned to the same little cove that surrendered so many fish last weekend. Just a few casts in and we located a school of gigantic crappies. Cast after cast ended with 12 to 14-inch crappies, 10 to 12-inch white and yellow perch and 8 to 10-inch sunfish. I was tossing a 3-inch Berkley Gulp Minnow on a bare hook while Jake was jigging small, brightly colored tubes from a crappie kit we picked up at Wal-Mart. The crappies seemed to hit closer to the surface while the perch preferred our offerings a little closer to the bottom. We attached a small, ice-filled cooler to Jake's kayak and had it filled in no time. This wasn't a fishing trip – it was a catching trip.
Filling the Cooler
On our return to camp, we pulled our kayaks and compared notes about the great fishing action. We kept our limit of crappies, a few perch and released a bunch of other fish. It wasn't until it was time to clean our catch that I noticed preparing these fish wasn't going to be as easy as it is at home where we have a hose and a fish-cleaning table. I didn't think the next campers would appreciate us using the campsite picnic table as a fish-cleaning station so I decided to use the next best thing – and old tree stump. Cleaning twenty-five or so fish on a tree stump in the wilderness is quite an experience. Jake helped by bagging the fillets, tossing the discards and filling the bucket with clean water when needed. About an hour later, I had a sore back and big bag of tasty fillets.
Our Camp Fish Cleaning Station
Later that evening, after we showered and cleaned up, we prepared the fish for dinner. We packed aluminum foil, cracked pepper, a little butter and some locally grown squash and zucchini to cook with our fillets. A few minutes over the fire and our tasty meals were complete. Jake and I talked about how great the fish tasted and how much fun we had catching them. I thought about the many great fishing experiences I've had over the years and how this panfish trip somehow ended up right there with any of them.
We hit the lake early the next morning and fished the weekend away. It was a great trip as the fish cooperated the whole time. We practiced catch and release for the rest of the weekend as Friday afternoon's trip provided plenty of fillets for us. Now that my back is feeling better, I can't wait to get back out there again.
Do yourself a favor and don't overlook those puny, little panfish. They are a lot of fun to catch on light tackle and make for delicious table fair. With such liberal regulations, I'd like to remind everyone to make their own sensible limits. Just because we can keep so many fish per day doesn't mean we have to keep a limit on every trip. Responsible practices will allow us to enjoy great fisheries for years to come.
Looking to get away from it all? I was, so I did a little research on nearby campgrounds. I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I haven't planned a family-camping trip in close to ten years. I wanted a venue that offered a campsite on or near water, hiking trails, kayaking opportunities and good fishing action. A Google search made viewing and comparing campgrounds a breeze. Things sure have changed a lot since our last family camping trip!
I started my search at some of the South Jersey shore-point campgrounds, but to my surprise, many of the coastal campground sites are charging hotel-room like rates to set up a tent for the night. My attention quickly shifted to the New Jersey State Parks where $20 a night ($25 for non-residents) seemed much more reasonable. My choices were quickly narrowed down to Bass River, Belleplain, Parvin, and Wharton State Parks. Each location seems to offer fun and exciting adventures so I decided to choose the closest to home, Parvin State Park.
Our State Parks use a website called ReserveAmerica.com to provide information, maps and payment options for campground reservations. Parvin State Park offers fifty-six tent and trailer campsites with fire rings, picnic tables and lantern hooks. Up to six people and two vehicles are allowed per site. Four group campsites capable of accommodating twenty-five people are available for $50 a night or $100 for non-residents. If sleeping on the ground isn't your thing, the park also offers eighteen furnished cabins with running water and electric. Each cabin offers a living room with fireplace or wood-burning stove; two bedrooms to accommodate four people; a kitchen equipped with an electric stove and refrigerator; a bathroom with sinks, toilets and showers; outdoor campfire ring, a brick patio with table and grill. Two of the cabins are accessible for persons with disabilities and offer accommodations for six people. Cabin rates are $55 a night, but the park requires a minimum of a week stay between Memorial Day and Labor Day – a week's stay will cost you $385. Cabin fees for non-residents are $65 a night and $455 a week. Six-bunk cabins are $75 a night and $525 a week while nonresidents will be charged $85 a night and $595 per week.
With fishing and kayaking high on our priority list, campsites 013 and 015 at Jaggers Point were our top choices. Site 013 was reserved so we took 015 – both campsites back up to a common ground in which a canoe or kayak can be carried about 50 yards to the waters edge. For those trailering a small boat, the park has a boat ramp available for a $12 fee. If you're travelling light, you can always visit Al's and Sam's Canoes, Boats, and Kayaks on the other side of the lake. Their rates were reasonable for an hour or two on the water and the dockhands seemed friendly and knowledgeable.
Jake and I set up camp on Friday afternoon while the ladies were due in later that evening. It took us a little longer than expected, but we made sure our site was perfect for our weekend getaway. After we set up camp, gathered wood and hiked a few trails, we took the kayaks out for a quick tour of the lake. A stiff northeast wind made paddling around the lake a little more difficult than I hoped, but we managed to scout out some likely fish-holding areas for the next morning.
Our Weekend Retreat
Sleeping on the ground at 30 years of age was a lot more enjoyable than sleeping on the ground at 40 years of age. After a long, almost sleepless night, Jake poked his head into my tent and whispered, "Dad it's time to wake up and fish." I responded with something like give me a few minutes. A few minutes passed and Jake returned with, "Dad big bass are jumping all over!" The kid knows how to get me up.
We gathered our fishing equipment and carried the kayaks out to the lake. The sunrise was beautiful, but that pesky northeast wind made fishing for bass by the lily pads quite difficult. After a half hour without a strike, I started to worry that it may not be our day. We left the fishy-looking structure on the south shore and headed to the other side of the lake to a beautiful cove where the trees blocked the wind. A few minutes in and we could see fish surfacing all over the cove. I tossed a 3-inch Berkley Gulp minnow while Jake decided to use a tiny portion of a leftover rubber worm. Within minutes our rods were bent over and we were into some of the best big panfish action I've ever experienced. We caught a mixed bag of sunfish, crappies, yellow perch, largemouth bass and pickerel, but the numbers and sizes of the sunfish and crappies were impressive – countless sunfish from 8 to 10 inches and crappies from 12 to 14 inches. We finished our morning with big smiles and a return to camp for breakfast around 10 AM.
After a great breakfast, we decided to check out the lake's swimming area. The kids drove to the other side while Jen and I took the kayaks over. I stopped for a few casts on the way and had a tough time pulling myself away from those monster crappies. About a half-hour later, we made our way over to the swimming beach. The beach area was nice, but many of the children were unruly and that's being polite. The lifeguards had their hands full and were continuously yelling at the kids. It was not enjoyable for any of us so we packed up and headed back for camp.
Swimming or crappies?
At sunset, Jake and I returned for the evening bite and found the same great action we had during our morning session. A few other boats were out on the water, but we felt like we had the lake to ourselves. The wind had settled a little and the experience was perfect as we caught fish well into darkness. Roasting marshmallows over a campfire completed a great day.
I slept a little better on Saturday night. I'm not sure if my body adjusted to the surroundings or if I was just too tired to care. Whatever the case, I was ready to go and had drag Jake out of bed on Sunday morning. We paddled back over to "our spot" and were immediately back into solid action. The pure numbers and variety of fish in that cove was amazing – cast after cast with largemouth bass, sunfish, crappies, yellow perch, pickerel and I lost a small carp at the side of my kayak. This action lasted for about three hours before we left them biting and decided to head in for breakfast.
Instead of a visit to the swimming beach, we decided to kayak up Muddy Run – the creek that feeds Parvin Lake. Jen and I took our kayaks while the kids rented an extra kayak from Al's and Sam's. Just a little ways upstream from the lake we came across a perfect little swimming hole. We stuck our paddles in the sand to anchor our kayaks and enjoyed a peaceful and refreshing swim – the water seemed much cooler than the lake water. We played in the water for hours. It was an experience I doubt any of us will soon forget.
Jake jumped right in.
We returned to camp for lunch and then headed back out in the kayaks to explore Muddy Run. We paddled for more than an hour upstream and covered at least a few miles. Some stretches were perfect and serene, while a few others turned out to be a little more adventurous – it was exactly what I was hoping for!
Julia and Craig heading upstream.
Julia and Craig having fun on the water.
As we paddled further upstream, the current felt stronger, but maybe it was just fatigue. We spotted all kinds of small fish, turtles, birds, frogs and even some wild grapes growing alongside the creek. We paddled over and through logjams, in inches of water, under a bridge and through some areas too narrow to paddle through – we had to paddle hard enough to gain momentum to carry us past the narrowest sections. Exhausted from hours of fishing and paddling miles upstream, it sure felt good to drift back to the lake.
This turtle was quite the climber.
Not being one to leave a good bite, Jake and I fished again on Sunday night and again on Monday morning before we had to break camp. I didn't think the great action could last, but it did. It's difficult to find a public lake that fishes like a private lake, but that's how I would describe Parvin Lake. Perhaps anglers are so enamored with the largemouth bass they overlook the outstanding panfish bite? Either way, Jake and I can't wait to fish the lake again. We had a blast!
To make the experience perfect, they could tighten up the rules in the swimming area and clean the bathhouses a little more frequently. To be fair – I believe the pros outweigh the cons 100 to 1, but I will be calling to complain about the bathhouses and the rowdy swimming area patrons – most of which aren't campers as the park offers swimming passes for a $2 daily fee.
If you're into fishing, this one should be put on the to-do list. Parvin State Park is a great asset to South Jersey. It offers a beautiful setting for all kinds of outdoor activities.
It's official: I'm in a slump. It happens almost every year, usually between the last week of July and first week of August. I used to fight it, but I've accepted it's a difficult time to fish most of our local waterways. I call it a summer slowdown. Most days, air temperatures range from 90 to 95 degrees and the fishing action just isn't what it used to be. This time of year, I'd much rather be in the water than on the water.
Over the last few days, our great freshwater bite really slowed down. Areas that yielded decent-sized fish since April have all but dried up. On our last trip, we caught a bunch of bass, but none over 14 inches – many weren't much bigger than the baits we used to tempt them. I don't expect an improvement in the near future as a glance at the long-range weather forecast looks like we'll be in the 90s for at least the next week. Well, it was fun while it lasted, but I guess it's time for me to make the change to the night shift.
Other than a few beach trips with the family, I've been away from the saltwater scene for a few weeks. You think I would have learned to bring a rod and reel after my last encounter with the sharks? As luck would have it, we returned to the same spot on the beach and instead of sharks working over large bunker schools, this time it was birds working over schools of peanut bunker and snapper bluefish. I felt like the yappy birds were laughing at me, but it was good to see some signs of life. In my experiences, the back bay and surf bite usually drops off during the dog days, but the summer night bite can be lots of fun.
According to reports, the summer flounder action is starting to heat up on our wreck and reef sites. While short fluke seem to inundate our shallow backwaters, the bigger flatfish usually head for cooler, deeper waters as we head into August. I don't fish on party/head boats often, but I usually manage a trip or two each summer for some deep-water fluke. I'm looking forward to a trip in the next few weeks.
Speaking of summer flounder, I was recently contacted by NBC 4 New York's reporter, Brian Thompson, regarding one of my YouTube fluke videos. Brian was reporting on more looming fluke cuts and wanted to use some of my underwater video footage for his spot on the evening news. I was happy to oblige, but I'm not happy to hear about more cuts to our summer flounder quota. According to sources, the latest scientific assessments are calling for a 43-percent reduction in next year's catches. A 43-percent reduction could mean an even shorter season, higher minimum-size limits and a smaller daily bag limit. Legislators may attempt to loosen the noose a little by spreading the reduction out over a few years, but either way, things are not looking good for flounder-pounders or the businesses that depend on the summer fishery. I'll keep current with the situation and update my blog accordingly.
NBC 4 Summer Flounder Cuts
In other news, according to the NJDEP Fish and Wildlife's web site, the Striped Bass Bonus Program will reopen on Tuesday, September 1, 2015. The party/charter boat facet of the program will also be reinstated. Applications for individuals, as well as party/charter boats, are now being accepted. Former 2015 permit holders will automatically receive a new permit prior to the September reopening. Striped Bass Bonus Program participants will be allowed to harvest one striped bass between 24 and 28 inches. If you've been around as long as I have we used to call this a "slot fish." The SBBP uses the New Jersey commercial harvest quota of 215,912 pounds. If that SBBP surpasses the commercial quota, reductions will be made to the program in 2016. To review, the New Jersey recreational striped bass regulations are as follows: one fish at 28 inches to less than 43 inches and one fish greater than 43 inches. Striped Bass Bonus Program permit holders can keep an additional fish between 24 and 28 inches.
The reopening of the Striped Bass Bonus Program (SBBP) will be at least slightly controversial. Many anglers feel like the striped bass stocks are in decline and the State of New Jersey may have already pushed a little too far with their choice of a two-fish daily bag limit, especially when many of the migration states decided to drop to a one fish bag limit. In my opinion, the state is doing little to protect our striped bass stocks. When you add the new SBBP "slot fish" to the state's striped bass daily possession regulations, only striped bass measuring less than 24 inches are protected. In what could be a critical time to determine the future of the striped bass stocks do we really want to continue keeping three fish of various sizes per day?
I think I'm going to see how the fall run pans out and make my own regs this season – within the legal-limit options of course. To be honest, I miss the "slot limit" fish as the little stripers were tasty, easy to clean and fairly easy to catch in the South Jersey backwaters I frequent. However, if I don't see some improvements during the fall run, I'm not sure those little striped bass will taste as good as I remember.
Is it me or is the fishing season flying by? After a late start to a short, but sweet spring run, it seems as though the summer season arrived right on schedule. I was hoping for an extended spring run, but it seems we've transitioned into our summer fishing patterns as the striped bass and big bluefish continue their northward migration. Summer flounder action seems a little slow as the back-bay flatfish are heading towards the inlets, but the wreck and reef action isn't on fire yet. As far as I can tell, the spotlight appears to be shifting over to sharks and rays. Coastal-water temperatures range from close to 75 degrees at Atlantic City to almost 80 degrees down in Cape May.
Speaking about things flying by and moving along, I received a letter from the American Littoral Society (ALS) the other day regarding a fish I tagged at the Delaware River this spring. I tagged and released an 18-inch striper on 4/9/15 and it was recaptured fifty-five days later on 6/3/15 at Kittery Point, near the New Hampshire/Maine border – that's nearly 400 miles as the crow flies and much longer for a striped bass considering it had to swim south out of the river, down through the Delaware Bay and then north along the beachfront to Maine. I had no idea the smaller fish travelled so far so quickly. I shared the news with my Dad and Jake, as they were present when I tagged the fish. It seems like that little striped bass wanted to get as far away from us as it could!
Tag #850417 Ready for Release
From the Delaware River to Maine in 55 days!
I'm still fairly new to the fish-tagging scene, but I've found the experience to be incredibly enjoyable. I started tagging in late October of 2013 and my only regret is I wish I started years ago. To date, I tagged forty-one (thirty-nine striped bass and two summer flounder) fish and I received four (three stripers and one summer flounder) returned tags. I do not take my tagging gear with me on most trips as tagging fish does require a little extra time and effort so I usually plan my fish-tagging trips in the spring and fall when I'm most likely to find numbers of migrating fish. For more information on the American Littoral Society's Fish Tagging Program, please contact Jeff Dement at Jeff@LittoralSociety.org or (732) 291-0055 ext. 106.
I love getting mail from the American Littoral Society!
On Sunday, July 12, we had a family get together in North Wildwood. I traded my fishing rods and tackle bag for beach blankets, picnic baskets, chairs, sunscreen, bug spray, coolers, beach bags, Frisbees and footballs. We arrived early and set up just a few blocks south of Hereford Inlet. I have to admit, I felt a little out of place being near the water without my fishing rods, but we were packed for a day of fun in the sun. As luck would have it, while lugging way too many items over the dune towards the beach, I looked out towards the water and saw two gigantic schools of bunker about 100 yards off the beach. As I set up what seemed like a small town on the beach, Jake headed for the water and said he saw two sharks just a few feet in front of him. I headed out to see for myself and sure enough, I spotted a few sharks working the backside of the sandbar. As far as I could tell, they were small (3 to 4 foot) brown sharks, otherwise known as sandbar sharks and very common in our waters. The bunker schools quickly pushed offshore as they were worked over by what I assume were more sharks. We spotted a few more sharks and a ton of dolphins throughout the day. We had a great time, but I wish I packed a rod!
I haven't spent much time targeting sharks or rays, but I have caught a few while fishing for other species such as summer flounder, weakfish and late-season striped bass. Over the years, I tussled with a few smaller brown sharks, a couple southern rays, a gigantic butterfly ray and countless cownose rays. The sharks and rays provide a great sport, especially on light tackle, but I just never got into them. After reading some recent reports and seeing a ton of big fish beach photos, maybe it's time to reconsider?
While I may be tempted to try a trip or two for sharks, it's going to be difficult to pull myself from the recent stretch of great freshwater action. The largemouth bass bite has been outstanding, as Jake and I continue to experience quantity and quality on most of the nearby lakes and ponds. Top-water plugs, frogs, plastic worms and big, live baits are working well. The recent storms have the water a little off color, but the fish don't seem to mind. Docks, bridges, dams and patches of lily pads are yielding good numbers of quality fish. Big bluegills, crappie, yellow perch and pickerel just add to the fun. If you have a chance to visit a neighborhood pond or lake one evening, I promise it will be worth your while.
Just minutes after completing my last blog entry, I grabbed my pole and walked down to the lake. As luck would have it, on my very first cast, I battled a 5+ pound largemouth bass to the bank. After all my writing about how it's not all about catching, it's funny how pumped I was after landing this beauty. While it may not be all about catching, it sure is exhilarating when that big girl strikes, bends the rod, starts pulling drag and goes airborne!
6/18 Adrenaline-pumping Beauty!
Late June into July offers some of the best freshwater fishing opportunities of the year, especially for largemouth bass anglers. Big, post-spawn largemouth bass are coming off their nests and extremely hungry. While targeting largemouth bass, you're very likely to come across some other types of green monsters such as gator chain pickerel and slab black crappies. After years of fishing in South Jersey, I'm still amazed at the size of some of the fish that live in our local "puddles."
As back-bay saltwater opportunities for large striped bass and weakfish continue to dwindle, the freshwater action for largemouth and pickerel fills in nicely. Options for catching bass and pickerel are almost limitless, as we've caught fish on everything from plastic frogs, rubber worms, buzz baits, and plugs to blades of grass, hot dogs, bread and banana peels. Whatever you choose, it's likely that if you present your offering well, a fish will end up on the end of your line.
When fishing for bass and pickerel, there are two types of fishing that I prefer: one is for numbers of fish while the other is for big fish. Top-water fishing is tough to beat, especially in many of our weed-choked waterways. If you fish the local waters, make sure to include some frogs, poppers, and top-water plugs like a Heddon Zara Spook – the walk-the-dog retrieve is deadly around lily pads. Make sure to have a rubber worm or jig rigged on another rod to throw as a follow up to any missed top-water strikes. Summer evenings are primetime to throw top-water offerings, but if you can cast close enough to cover, chances are you'll tempt fish at any time of day. Jake and I have been fishing the afternoon shift and killing them on Spooks. Some of the hits are mind blowing - you can see a v-shaped wake accelerate towards your lure and then explode on it!
6/14 Big Pickerel exploded on a Zara Spook
While top-water action provides great action and visuals, nothing compares to live lining big baits for green monsters. As much as I enjoy fooling largemouth bass on artificial lures, watching a 20-inch + bass inhale a 6 to 8-inch golden shiner or a hand-sized sunfish is thrilling. I've spent hours working over an area of the lake with artificial lures with nothing to show for it and then tossed in a shiner, sunfish or perch and had groups of 2 to 6-pound fish appear immediately at my feet as if by magic. If I could bottle whatever action/scent those baitfish put off, I'm sure I'd be a millionaire.
Big Baits = Big Fish!
I came across the use of big live baits many years ago as a boy and purely by accident. I was fishing with night crawlers in front of a spillway when a big bluegill took my hook. Halfway through the battle, the bluegill felt like it got snagged. I tugged and tugged until it pulled free. As I pulled the bluegill towards my feet, I saw a big bass dart in after it. Shocked by what happened, I tossed the sunfish back out and it was grabbed immediately by the green monster. Again I played the fish, but in the end, I pulled the sunfish from the big fish's mouth. Looking back, with a little hook in the sunfish's mouth, I had little to no chance of hooking the big bass, but my adrenaline was pumping and I couldn't get the bait back in the water quick enough. I'm not sure I slept that night.
I returned to the lake more times than I can remember and I had that fish on for what seemed like a 100 times, but I just couldn't land it. I remember one day I had her to my feet before she spit the hook and sat in inches of water staring at me – my buddy, Andre, jumped into the water to grab it, but with one swoosh of her big tail she returned to the depths. Attempt after attempt, I just couldn't get her mouth into my hand. After snapping my 8-pound mono more than few times, I even brought my surf rod down to the lake. I had her on my surf rod, but she managed to spit the hook. Before the younger generation starts laughing, just remember we didn't have braided line, Google, YouTube, and all the other great info you're fortunate enough to have today – we learned on our own and sometimes it took us a while.
July 6, 1995 will always be a special day in my memory. It was the day before I was to marry my beautiful wife and the day I finally caught the green monster! I remember my fishing buddy laughing at me for tossing out a hand-sized bluegill. He joked, "Are you fishing for sharks?" Soon after he said that, the sunfish jumped put of the water followed by a big dorsal fin – my buddy had stopped laughing by now. The sunfish went crazy and then I felt the telltale bump of the largemouth grabbing its meal. I let her run for what seemed like five minutes, before setting the hook and driving it home. After a long back and forth battle and knowledge gained from prior mistakes, I pulled the gigantic bass onto the bank. My buddy, Glenn and I stood and stared in amazement. The fish was enormous and I remember Glenn saying, "Its eyes are bigger than yours!" I put the fish on a stringer, as I was sure I wanted to mount this beast. Glenn caught a sunfish and quickly had it rigged for live lining – if I remember right, he caught a nice 3-pounder a few minutes later. The park ranger and just about everyone else at the lake admired my trophy. As she sat there in the water, Glenn asked if I felt bad killing her. I thought about it for a few minutes and decided to let her go – we didn't have iPhones or digital cameras on us back then so I couldn't even take a picture of my prize. After I revived her and she swam away, Glenn said, " There is no way I would have let that fish go." We laughed about it and packed up to get ready for my big day. That was almost twenty years ago and I remember it like yesterday – that was my biggest bass to date and I have nothing other than a memory, but that's enough.
For some reason, live lining seems to be considered "cheating" by many of today's bass anglers. I assume some of the "pros" would mention (and rightly so) that the chances of gut-hooking a big fish are increased greatly when fishing with live baits, but after twenty years, I've figured out a few ways to minimalize the damage. First, I use big hooks - the larger the hook the better the odds that a big bass or pickerel will not ingest the hook – 6/0, 8/0 and even 10/0 size hooks are good choices. I hook the baitfish as far back towards the end of the dorsal fin as I can – many, if not all, big baits are consumed from the headfirst – having the hook further back into the bait will result in less deep hook sets. If the hook is swallowed and cannot be removed somewhat easily, cut the line and minimalize the stress on the fish. Finally, the big girls fight with everything they have so make sure to spend a good amount of time reviving them properly.
6/25 A live-lined shiner took this nice bass.
It's time for me to head to the lake to visit our local green monsters – lately it's been tougher to catch the shiners than the bass. If everything works out as I'm hoping, the fish will provide some fireworks this afternoon. I hope everyone enjoys some time on the water this holiday weekend. Good luck and stay safe!
There isn't much I enjoy more than fishing. It's fair to say that I like catching a lot more than fishing, but as I grow older, the fishing experience has turned into much more than casting and catching. More times than not, I believe most of us measure our fishing success strictly by the size and number of the fish caught per trip. While catching should never be underestimated, I thought it would be nice to share some of the other unforgettable sights, smells and sounds that add to the fishing experience.
A Foggy Fall Morning at Lake Lenape
It wasn't long ago that I measured the value of each fishing trip only by results. My goal was to catch as many fish as I could on each and every trip. I guess I looked at fishing as a game in which winning could only be achieved by topping my personal best. By pushing myself, I learned and accomplished a great deal, but looking back, it was a lot more business than pleasure. If I caught sixty-two striped bass one night, I wanted sixty-three the next. I remember beaching a 36-inch weakfish and instead of enjoying the fish and the moment, I rushed back into the water in hopes of a 37-inch weakfish. I'm sure I could have enjoyed those trips and catches a lot more, but I wonder if I would have learned as much?
I don't want to send the wrong message here - I will never be of the, "If I catch a fish, I catch a fish," ilk, but I'm learning there is much more to fishing than catching fish. Years ago, I remember reading something concerning the "Stages of a Fisherman." It went something like:
Stage 1 – I want to catch a fish! Stage 2 – I want to catch a lot of fish! Stage 3 – I want to catch big fish! Stage 4 – I'm just happy to be fishing. Stage 5 – I want to share my passion and knowledge of fishing with others.
When I read the article, I thought to myself, "There will never be a time when I'll just be happy to be fishing." Today, when I think of this article, it seems spot on. I am happy just to be fishing and there is little that brings me more joy than sharing the sport of fishing with my family and friends.
Looking back, there is much more to fishing than casting a line and catching fish. The sky, sunrises and sunsets immediately come to mind – the beautiful yellow, orange, red, pink and purple colors are mirrored and twice as stunning on the water. I guess most would think one wouldn't be as likely to experience great views at night in complete darkness, but that's simply not true. If you've never seen a super-sized, orange full moon come up over the horizon, you're missing out! It appears like something out of a Star Wars movie as the moon seems ten-times larger than normal and the reflection off the water magnifies the experience. I can't tell you how many shooting stars and meteor showers I've witnessed over the years – many light up the night as bright, green fireballs streaks across the sky.
Sunrise from the North Wildwood Rock Pile
Have you heard of phosphorescence? If not, it is described as a bioluminescence of organisms in the surface layers of the sea – small organisms light up or glow when stimulated by mechanical irritation, such as the movement of water. The glowing organisms create unbelievable nighttime landscapes. Waves, wind, current and fish movement are just a few of the triggers to bioluminescence. Anglers sometimes refer to this as "fire in the water." While catch rates may suffer some during these occurrences, the visuals are nothing short of amazing.
Many of us enjoy viewing wildlife, but when you're out fishing, you not only get to view nature, you interact with it! I've had my share of memorable experiences with wildlife. One night, what I thought was a small dog following me down the beach turned out to be a very friendly and hungry fox - I have a 100 other fox stories. On another trip, a curious skunk followed me onto the bridge and decided to watch me fish for a while. In Stone Harbor, I decided to fish a few backwater docks for weakfish when something popped its head out of the water and barked at me. A few seconds later, another otter approached from the back of the dock and didn't seem happy about my trespassing on "their" dock. The "cute" otters didn't seem so cute when I was corned on the end of the dock at 2 AM. After a few minutes of back and forth, I pushed through and went on to tell the story to my pal that was up fishing on the bridge. When we returned to the dock the two otters were on their backs cuddled up in the middle of the dock and he just laughed at me. I didn't both to argue. I have stories about dolphins, whales, sharks, turtles, deer, birds, insects, snakes and all kinds of other animals that helped make my fishing trips more memorable and enjoyable.
This mountain deer greeted us on the way to the pond.
This week's blog topic came to mind after an experience I had with the family while fishing over the weekend. On Saturday, we drove to Avis Mill Pond otherwise known as Camp Crockett. My son, Jake, and I were planning to fish while my wife took a few photographs and relaxed by the water. We never catch much at the pond, but the surrounding wildflowers and wildlife makes the trip worthwhile.
Jake and I decided to start in the small lagoon on the backside of the spillway. I made a cast or two before I noticed what looked like a dead owl in the water. A few seconds later, the owl's head moved and it looked over at me. Of all the animals I've seen and photographed over the years, I've yet to come across a great horned owl – their loud hooting has woken me up on cold winter nights, but viewing them after midnight high in our pine trees is nearly impossible. This was my chance. The circumstances weren't exactly what I hoped for as I could tell something was wrong with this owl.
I spent a few minutes watching the owl before I made the decision that it needed immediate assistance. I wasn't sure if it was tangled in fishing line, exhausted from trying to climb out of the water or ill. I made the decision to help in any way I could. I grabbed a stick and got into the water. Surprisingly, the owl grabbed onto the stick and I got him into shallow water. My next step was to grab the owl and place it onto land. The poor bird was so exhausted it didn't put up much of a fight. I carried it over to the bank that we were fishing from and laid it up against a branch as it was to weak to hold it's head up. My wife and I made a bunch of phone calls to state and county wildlife agencies, but answering machines are far more likely than reaching a real person, especially on a Saturday afternoon. After a bunch of calls and voice messages, we received a call back from the Salem County Animal Control. Ned would be out in an hour and rendezvous with a wildlife rehabilitation center a little later that evening.
Great Horned Owl
Waiting for Animal Control seemed like forever as we watched the owl struggle to stay alive. At times, it perked up some and then would sit with its head down. When I carried the owl to the road to wait for help, it looked at me with its big eyes and let out a few faint hoots. It was a moment I'll never forget. A few minutes later, Ned from Animal Control showed up and placed the owl into a carrier for transport. I knew the owl's chance at survival was slim, but we thanked Ned and wished our feathered friend the best.
Ned is far more than a dog catcher.
I called the rehabilitation center a couple days later and they told me the owl didn't make it. I was sad at first, but then thought about the people that were willing to go to great lengths to help injured animals. We did all we could do and I guess that's all anyone can hope for.
Our experience with the owl was just one of many we encountered because we were out fishing. When we talk about great times on and near the water, the first thing that usually comes to mind is a memorable catch. Stories of huge fish have been told for centuries and I'm sure we've all heard and told our share of "epic" catches. I think it would be interesting to hear some of the other things that make your fishing experiences great. Please feel free to share any of your own stories in the comments box below.
I thought it would be a good idea to talk about some of the fishing programs offered by the state of New Jersey. Believe it or not, the Division of Fish and Wildlife wants to make our fishing adventures as enjoyable as possible. I'm going to revisit the new and improved Skillful Angler Recognition Program along with a few other great programs that should get your attention.
In an attempt to broaden interest, the Division of Fish and Wildlife revamped last year's Skillful Angler Awards Program and changed the name to the Skillful Angler Recognition Program. The new program offers anglers everything the old program offered and a lot more. The three main divisions remain the same (Adult, Junior, and Catch and Release) but now there are a bunch of new categories offered to anglers.
The new catagories include:
Specialist Angler – catch five qualifying fish of the same species within one year Master Angler – catch five qualifying fish of different species (saltwater and/or freshwater) within one year Elite Angler – catch ten or more qualifying fish of different species (saltwater and/or freshwater) within one year First Fish – catch your first fish of any species
Freshwater Slams Trout Slam – catch one each of a qualifying rainbow, brook amd brown trout within one year Bass Slam – catch one each of a qualifying small and largemouth within one year Panfish Slam – catch one each of a qualifying sunfish, crappie and yellow perch within one year
Saltwater Slams Inshore Slam I – catch one each of a qualifying striped bass, bluefish and fluke within one year Inshore Slam II – catch one each of a qualifying black sea bass, tautog and weakfish within one year Offshore Pelagics Slam – catch one each of a qualifying bluefin tuna, bigeye tuna, yellowfin tuna and dolphin within one year Marlin Slam – catch one each of a qualifying whaite and blue marlin within one year
Minimum Size Requirements
Anglers that meet the required criteria will be awarded a certificate suitable for framing, but the state also receives valuable information from each participating angler. Information such as a fish's length, weight, girth, and location should help us understand our fisheries a little better. At the end of the year, the winner of each category will receive a customized certificate to commemorate their achievement as the best of New Jersey's Skillful Anglers.
Skillful Angler Recognition Program Certificates
I like the new format and think the program is heading in the right direction. I often hear my surf-fishing buddies talk about citation fish from Virginia and North Carolina, but few participate or even know that their home state of New Jersey has its own program. According to the state, the program started in 1983 and began with thirty-one applicants. Last year, the program received fifty-three applications. I think the program deserves more attention. The size limits set by the state are attainable, the information gathered helps everyone, and we're paying for this program so we might as well use it. Applications can be printed online at www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/skflang.htm
Another perk offered by the state is a program called Free Fishing Days. The first of the two Free Fishing days takes place this Saturday, June 13. It's a great time of year to introduce a family member or friend to freshwater fishing in New Jersey. The second Free Fishing Day takes place on October 17, 2015. The October date was chosen to allow the public to take advantage of the state's great fall trout fishing opportunities.
The Hook-A-Winner Program has been in place since 1998. The state jaw tags trout before stocking them into our waterways. If you are lucky or skilled enough to catch a tagged trout and send in your contact information, you'll receive a certificate and an award patch. I like this program and wish the state would consider tagging other species of stocked fish.
Speaking of stocked fish – it's not all about the trout! The Division of Fish and Wildlife stocks many warm-water fish throughout the state. Muskellunge, northern pike, tiger muskellunge, walleye, hybrid striped bass, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, landlocked salmon, channel catfish, black crappie, sunfish, and brown bullhead catfish are placed into New Jersey waters. The Hackettstown Hatchery distributes over 2,5000,000 fish each year! A breakdown of stocked waters seems heavily skewed to the north and I'll make sure to bring that up at the next fisheries meeting. Fishing in South Jersey is great, but I'd like to see us get a little bigger piece of the pie.
Another worthwhile program is Hooked On Fishing – Not On Drugs (HOFNOD.) Big-hearted volunteers are trained and certified by state workers to offer neighborhood-fishing programs to school-aged children. My wife and I took the certification class last fall and hope to start our own group soon. The state provides informative materials and fishing supplies to program leaders to get kids interested in fishing instead of drugs. The people we met at the training class were great and I admire each one of them. Robert Johnson and Joe Haase are actively running HOFNOD programs in South Jersey and doing a great job. People like this are a true asset to the community. The weekly meetings offer many interesting adventures for the kids to get excited about and to top it off, the classes and field trips are free!
The Fishing Fun Photo Contest is another program that is rarely talked about. The program was put into place to encourage children between the ages of 6 to 15 years old to have fun fishing. The state awards prizes to the top three places in several categories. Winning entrants are honored at the Pequest Trout Hatchery and Natural Resource Center on the opening day of trout season.
As anglers and residents of New Jersey our tax dollars fund these programs so we might as well get our monies worth out of them. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of the New Jersey Freshwater and/or Marine Digest and familiarize yourself with some of the great opportunities available to us. For more information on New Jersey fishing programs, please visit the Division of Fish and Wildlife's homepage at www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/index.htm
After a long, cold winter, I was looking forward to spring and summer a little more than usual this season. Spring started a little later than I hoped, but I enjoyed a few weeks of good weather conditions and great fishing action. The late-April into mid-May time period provided ideal conditions and a great bite. Life was good. Then came the wind - the dreaded south wind!
I can pinpoint those relentless southerlies to the day - as luck would have it, the same day the 2015 summer flounder season opened: Friday, May 22. It's like someone flipped a switch and the fan has been blowing ever since. The strong south wind has taken a toll on our local fishing. To start, our coastal water temperature plummeted. The NOAA monitoring station in Atlantic City is currently reporting a water temperature of 55.4 degrees – anyone for a swim? Stained, weed-filled water greeted me at the inlet rock piles and drifting for flatfish with 20 to 25-MPH winds is rarely productive or enjoyable.
Returning from a south-wind skunk
As I write this, thunderstorms are moving through. Storm fronts like this usually signify a changing weather pattern. A look at the forecast shows a little more of an easterly pattern. Hopefully, the water temperature comes up a few degrees and stabilizes so we can enjoy what's left of the spring run. I like summer, but I'm not ready to make the switch just yet.
Ok, enough complaining about the weather. While conditions aren't making it easy, there are still plenty of fish to be had. Reports of large, post-spawn striped bass, big bluefish and keeper-sized summer flounder came from many of our local tackle shops this week. Most of the striped bass action seems to be happening out front, especially near the inlet rock piles. Big bluefish are still around and over the last two weeks, numbers of 1 to 3-pound blues moved into our waters. The best summer flounder action seems to be coming from our backwaters. I'm hoping the below-average water temps keep the flatties in the back a little longer this season. It seems the best push of weakfish went a little further north this season, but anglers fishing back-bay structure and the inlet jetties found a few 5 to 7-pound trout. Over the last few days, I heard some decent kingfish reports coming from surfcasters fishing between Ocean City and Wildwood.
The bluefish don't mind the wind.
With questionable coastal forecasts, it's been a lot easier for me to stay close to home and take advantage of the spring freshwater action. While I wouldn't trade stripers and weakfish for largemouth bass and pickerel, the freshwater action is a lot better than casting into a 20-MPH wind and catching weeds. To be honest, the wind has even made my sweet-water fishing a little more difficult than I'm used to. Fortunately, I'm surrounded by a bunch of lakes and ponds and I can always find a place to hide from the wind.
Staying close to home has a bunch of advantages, but the biggest plus is that I can usually fish with my son, Jake. A little part of me misses the saltwater scene, but nothing can top watching my son fall in love with the outdoors. Some days we make trips to our favorite neighborhood lakes and ponds while others we set off to explore new waters. I enjoy casting top-water plugs to largemouth bass and pickerel while Jake is still learning new fish-catching techniques – lately he's been catching on weightless soft-plastic baits.
Who has the bigger mouth?
Once school lets out, I plan on getting Jake a little salty. He made his first few backwater kayak trips with me earlier this season and is dying to get back out there. Maybe the weather will cooperate a little more by then, but even if it doesn't, we'll find a way to make memories.
I'll always remember our days doubled up in the lily pads!
It's difficult to put the recent bluefish invasion into words. I've been fishing for close to thirty years and I've never seen anything like it. Spring backwater bluefish runs happen most years, but these weren't the average 4 to 6-pound racers we see each season. Over the last two weeks, an exceptional amount of drag-burning, tackle-testing, voracious 8 to 18-pound bluefish have taken over our waters. The big blues were so thick in many locations that it made fishing for any other species nearly impossible.
Back Bay Brutes
Up until this season, I considered bluefish an unwanted by-catch while in search of spring stripers and tiderunner weakfish. Most of the time, the blues were half the size of the stripers and weakfish I was fishing for and those yellow-eyed eating machines have a way of ripping through my jigs and soft-plastic supplies like no other. Catching a bluefish or two was enjoyable, but after landing a few and losing a fair share of lead-head jigs and soft-plastic baits, I wanted to get back to chasing striped bass and weakfish.
Releasing Another Big Bluefish
This season is different. Although I'm certainly not happy about the lack of weakfish, the big blues offer an incredible battle on light tackle. My Shimano Stella 3000 drag reached notes I've never heard while my light-duty G-Loomis NRX rod got a serious workout!
With so many large bluefish in our waters, it makes great fishing opportunities available to everyone. I spent a lot of time fishing in my kayak, but the backwater bridges, piers, and sod banks were just as worthwhile. The inlet rock hoppers and beachfront surfcasters even got in on the great action. Most days, it didn't matter what you threw at the big blues: bunker chunks, plugs, metals, soft-plastic baits, bucktails and just about anything else pulled through the water would likely attract the attention of nearby blues.
The big blues kept surfcasters busy for weeks!
The only con to this spring's unprecedented bluefish run is the lack of weakfish at my regular stops. Some of these locales have put out weakfish year after year for decades and I couldn't tempt a single one. I have been fishing a lot more during the day which I'm certain has at least a little relevance in my poor showing. Just recently, it seems as though a few more weakfish have been reported, especially around the inlet rock piles, so I'm not giving up yet.
On the bright side, an added bonus to fishing during the day is the tremendous amount of summer flounder taking my jig meant for weakfish. When I manage to get past the bluefish and down to the bottom, the flatfish are quick to take a hook. I've played catch and release with more sizable flatfish already this season than I have in the last five together. Big fluke are lined up along the channel edges and hungry. My best catches came in 12 to 15 feet of water this week. Opening day should be a good one; Friday, May 22 can't come soon enough!
It isn't easy letting big summer flounder go!
With so much great action happening in our backwaters, I figured it was a great time to get my son, Jake, out for his first saltwater kayaking trip. Safety is always of utmost importance and I didn't take the decision of bringing my 13-year-old son lightly. Calm wind and a well-planned tide made for a great first trip. Jake handled the kayak like a pro and was attentive to his surroundings at all times. Soon after we drifted out to the fishing grounds, Jake's rod was bent. We had a great time and have already been out two more times. There's not much better than making memories with your kids!
This kid gets it!
One final note: on Saturday, May 16, I had the pleasure of attending a Heroes On the Water (HOW) Event at Scotland Run Park on Wilson Lake as a volunteer fishing guide. The HOW's mission is to empower our Nation's warriors by rehabilitating kayak fishing outings that are physically and mentally therapeutic through their nationwide community of volunteer and donors. I heard great things about the program and having grown up on the lake, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to check it out for myself. I arrived a little before 7 AM and there was already a good crowd of volunteers busy prepping for the day. Everything was top notch: the volunteers were knowledgeable and helpful, the kayaks, life vests and fishing equipment were of high quality, and I can't forget to mention the great donuts, coffee and lunch. As it turned out, we ended up with more volunteers than veterans, but I have a feeling that had more to do with the questionable weather forecast – we did get caught in a downpour, but it only lasted a few minutes. Fishing action was a little slow, but there were a few largemouth bass, pickerel, and crappies caught. I had the chance to talk to a few veterans and it was great to see them enjoying themselves on the water. It was a great time and I will be volunteering again for any of their Southern Jersey outings. For more information on the Heroes On the Water program, please visit www.heroesonthewater.org/chapters/new-jersey-chapter/.
Our South Jersey backwaters are exploding with life! Tackle-testing bluefish are popping up all over, striped bass action continues to improve daily, summer flounder are stacked in the skinny water and the season's first few weakfish are just beginning to show up. If you haven't been out yet this season, (in my best Ellie Goulding voice) what are you waiting for?
It's time to hit the water!
I love everything about this time of year – I am in love with the month of May. The sights, sounds and smells make me feel alive. Our dull, brown landscape has been transformed into a vibrant multitude of colors. The air is filled with a sweet, floral perfume while songbirds of all types sing the days away. The warm sunshine feels amazing and some of the world's best skinny-water fishing takes place right in our own backyard. The possibilities are endless and you don't need a $50,000 boat or any other fancy equipment to take advantage of the great fishing action. A well-placed cast from the edge of the water has infinite potential.
With so many opportunities, it's difficult for me to think about anything else but fishing. Over the last few weeks, I've split my time between freshwater and saltwater fishing, but I'm making the fulltime switch over to saltwater starting today. The rainbow trout and largemouth bass were fun, but I'll take tiderunner weakfish and striped bass over them everyday of the week.
Jake and I had fun with the trout.
With each passing season, I find myself spending a little more time in my kayak. After much research, I decided to purchase a chartplotter/fishfinder for my Tarpon 120. With so many mounting options, I decided to take the ride down to North Wildwood to visit Chris Parson at The Kayak Fishing Store. Chris has an unbelievable selection of kayak accessories and is up-to-date and knowledgeable about anything and everything concerning kayaks. He installed my Lowrance unit while we made the short trip to the boardwalk and Sam's Pizza. An hour later, I returned to shop and was extremely pleased with the install - the unit and transducer placement was neat and perfect for my fishing needs.
All ready to go!
When I returned home, I couldn't wait to try out my new toy. A strong and steady northwest wind made any saltwater excursions questionable so I decided to try the new unit at one of the local lakes. It worked exactly as I hoped and I caught a bunch of pickerel, crappie and yellow perch along the channel edge. As a structure-oriented, finesse angler, having eyes below the water should greatly increase my catch rates this year or at least that's what I told my wife.
After waiting a few days for perfect weather conditions, I gave in and decided to fish in the breezy NW conditions. For much of last week, it really felt more like fall than spring. Despite questionable water temperatures, my quarry was weakfish. The new down-imaging unit picked up some great structure and I started marking fish just minutes after sunrise. While I couldn't find weakfish, the striped bass action was worthwhile.
Over the last few days, I've been back to my favorite early-season weakfish spot a few times, but it seems striped bass are holding in all of my old weakfish holes. Some big bluefish are patrolling the area too and they've taken a toll on my jig and soft-plastic bait supplies, but they sure are fun on light tackle. I heard few promising weakfish reports this morning so I'll be back on the hunt next week.
A school of stripers were set up on a small creek edge.
Striking out on weakfish left a bad taste in my mouth so I decided to fish a little further south yesterday. I met up with Patrick Matthews, a Facebook friend, at sunrise. Our passion for fishing and the road-kill shrapnel in the back of my kayak made for easy conversation and after a few minutes, it was like I was talking to an old friend. We loaded our kayaks and launched just before the sun peeked over the horizon. Fortunately, the flood tide and calm winds made paddling effortless - I'm still hurting from paddling against that northwest wind last week.
It was a beautiful morning, as everything seemed to be in our favor. The conditions were prime: the tide just starting trickling out with little to no wind. We concentrated on points and channel edges for weakfish, but we couldn't get past the summer flounder and bluefish. The flatfish weren't part of the plan, but the fast-paced action and size of the flatfish made for a great day. I fished ¼ and ½-ounce jigs with bubblegum-colored Zoom Super Flukes. I never stopped trying for weakfish.
Not a weakfish, but I'll take it!
Even though I struck out on weakfish, I did have a good time with the flatfish. We caught a bunch of 15 to 17-inch fluke and a decent amount of what would be keeper-size fish topped off with a 26-inch beauty. It wasn't easy to let her go, but after a few photos, she shot off like a bullet. One more note: Bill Shillingford otherwise known as "Bucktail Willie" tagged a 22-inch flattie just a few hours before Patrick recaptured it – the flatties sure are hungry! The summer flounder season opens on Friday, May 22, 2015 and it can't get here soon enough!
Wow! Sunshine and 75 degrees sure feels good. It's hard to believe we had ice-covered waters just a few weeks ago. Fishing action is exploding in South Jersey as freshwater and saltwater fishing continues to improve daily. Largemouth bass, pickerel, crappies, perch, catfish and truckloads of trout are keeping sweet-water anglers busy. Striped bass have us surrounded as they migrate along our beachfront, through the inlets, into the back-bay estuaries and up into our freshwater rivers. With bluefish, weakfish and summer flounder due in a few days, my head is spinning. It's time to get out on the water!
It's like the ice-cream truck for anglers!
After the long winter, I'm enjoying every minute of spring. If I'm not fishing, I'm planning my next trip. With so many great opportunities, it's difficult to keep up. I started at the local lakes with slab crappies. I don't know why I enjoy fishing for these paper-mouthed panfish so much, but I do. Big schools of crappies have moved onto the flats and I've been annihilating them. On calm days, small, weightless, soft-plastic baits work well. On windy days, it's tough to cast weightless baits so I switch over to a crappie jig under a float. The action the crappies provide is remarkable, as it seems every cast ends with a strike.
I love big crappies!
After some fun with the crappies, it was time to chase some trout. My son, Jake and I had plans to fish early on opening day, but he woke up at 1 AM with a stomach virus. Fortunately, Jake felt better later that afternoon so we decided to hit the lake early on Easter morning. We woke up at 5 AM on Sunday and made our way to Giampietro Park in Vinleland. When we arrived, there were thirty to forty cars in the lot and I thought we were a little late to the water. I started to doubt my decision to forego our local stocked lakes in order to fish a new lake that was stocked with fifty bonus-broodstock rainbow trout. Once we got out of the car, we noticed no one was fishing. As it turned out, the parking lot was full for a sunrise church service.
Feeling relieved, Jake and I set up and tossed our Powerbait rigs into the darkness. Within minutes, the sun came over the horizon, the church group began singing and Jake's drag was screaming! With his rod bent in half and line peeling from his reel, we knew this was a super-sized trout. After a well-spirited battle and way too many swipes with the net, we landed a beautiful 5-pound rainbow trout. Jake and I high-fived and took a few minutes to enjoy everything about our early-morning adventure.
Jake had his hands full with this rainbow trout.
A few minutes later, my rod goes down and it's my turn. Another great battle on light line and we slid a 5+ pound rainbow into the net. After a little more celebrating and I few more photos, I decided to switch it up and throw a spinner. As luck would have it, my third cast ended with an explosive hit. The big rainbow went crazy and put up a great fight. After some adrenalin-pumping back and forth, I guided the 6.5-pound beauty into the net. We took a few more pictures and I had to make sure Jake knew my fish was bigger than his – if you have teenage boys that fish, you know what I mean! We caught a few more regular-sized trout before packing it up. We shared our stories and photos with our family members at Easter dinner. It was one of those fishing trips that we'll always remember.
After some more fun with the trout, my dad came up from Texas and wanted to try his luck with the linesiders. I haven't fished with my dad in years so I was looking forward to catching up. We picked up a couple dozen bloodworms and headed for the Delaware River. With marginal water temps and dreary weather, I didn't think we'd have a good shot, but we gave it our best. We spend the better part of two days on the riverbanks and caught a bunch of small striped bass. It was the most fun I've had catching short stripers in a long time.
There's nothing better than fishing with family!
Since our last trip to the river, it seems like the action has picked up big time. Over the last few days, quite a few big, breeding striped bass have been caught and released. It's time! Get out and enjoy everything spring has to offer. I have to go - the trout truck is here!
I waved the white flag during the snowstorm that took place on the first day of spring. Tomorrow morning, I won't just be flipping a page on the calendar to April; I'll be waving the checkered flag on what seemed like a never-ending winter season. Sure, we're off to a bit of a slow start, but warm, sun-filled, April afternoons have a way of putting us back on track. The race is just about to begin and I'm ready to lay some rubber on the road.
No More of This Stuff!
It feels great to have open water again. I can't remember the last time our lakes and ponds were iced over so late into March. Thankfully, our waterways thawed just in time for trout stocking. Once South Jersey waters are stocked, they are closed to all fishing. Even though the stocked waterways are well posted, some anglers still seem confused about the regulations – select waters allow year-round fishing, but they are clearly noted and up north. Recently, I stopped by a few stocked waterways and was a bit surprised to see people fishing. After explaining the regulations to them, I got the notion that some didn't know the rules while others just didn't care. In either case, they stopped fishing while I was there. While the correct information is written on the posted signs, I believe the choice of wording and bolded letters could be used in a much better manner. Trout season and many of my favorite lakes open at 8 AM this Saturday, April 4.
CLOSED TO ALL FISHING!
Between the ice and trout stocking, several of my early-season hot spots have been off limits. The lasting cold has my whole spring routine turned upside. Usually, I spend most of late February and early March freshwater fishing the local lakes and ponds. By early-to-mid March, I'd be ready to switch gears over to saltwater and striped bass. I think it's safe to say we're a few laps behind.
With our options limited, my son and little fishing buddy, Jake, decided to hike through the woods in search of some new places to fish. Jake seemed to enjoy our adventures as much as I did when I was his age – I just wish I had Google maps when I was a boy! Looking back on the last few days, we did a lot more hiking than fishing, but we managed to find some great little fishing spots. Some of our newfound waters were great; a few showed potential for later in the season and a couple didn't qualify for another visit.
This pretty little pond still had some ice on it.
One particular pond has been on my radar for years, but access was sketchy. Usually I'm not thrilled about new construction sites in our little part of the world, but this site offers access to a bunch of new waters – including the pond I've been dying to fish. Jake and I made the trek towards the pond on the first warm afternoon after ice out. After a long, muddy walk, we came upon the perfect little pond. A quick glance down at the water showed a big largemouth bass and a few pickerel. Jake casted first and had his Zoom fluke inhaled by a pickerel and the bass shot off into the depths. We've visited the same pond a couple times since our first trip and I've yet to see that bass again. We'll head back when the water temps warm up a little more. I guess it's true what they say, "You don't win the race on the first lap."
One of the many pickerel Jake caught this week
With spring-like weather gaining momentum, it won't be long before we have a difficult time keeping up with the fishing action. The trout season opener is great, but I'm looking forward to the weekly truckloads of trout that continue through much of the month. Largemouth bass are waking up - those big girls will be looking for a meal or two before sitting on their beds. Schools of striped bass will be moving through our backwater estuaries and up into the rivers. By month's end, I'll be running on fumes, as I'll be chasing striped bass, weakfish and bluefish up the coast. Hang on; it's going to be a great ride. It's time to get your gear and hit the water!
After what seemed like a never-ending winter, it looks like we've finally turned the corner. It appears I jumped the gun a little with my last blog, "There Is Light at the End of the Tunnel." The "Light" was squashed by our biggest snowstorm of the season and more artic temperatures shortly thereafter. If this is what winters in South Jersey are going to be like, I better invest in some ice-fishing gear. While snow and ice still cover much of our landscape, spring is just a little over a week away. The bright March sun is gaining strength with each passing day. Open water, warm afternoons and bent rods can't get here soon enough!
Walking on Water
Despite frigid fishing conditions, the opening day of striped bass season went off without a hitch. A bunch of die-hard anglers headed out shortly after midnight on March 1 and a few returned with sizable linesiders. Word of keeper-sized striped bass travels fast so I'm sure the warm-water discharge was stacked with anglers on the following days. I haven't heard much action since opening day other than a handful of short striped bass. It won't be long before we start seeing migrating bass heading towards our inlets, estuaries, and rivers.
First Stripers of the Season!
Coastal water temperatures are about as low as I've ever seen them for March. Most of the monitoring stations are reporting 34 to 36 degree water temperatures. While I'm not certain water temps are essential to migrating fish, I do know they will not feed as actively in cold water. I'll likely wait another week or two before I grab some bloodworms and head to a few of my favorite early-season hot spots. We should expect more widespread action sometime into April.
If you haven't noticed, I'm a bit of a weather geek. When you spend as much time outdoors as I do, it kind of comes with the territory. The amount of weather-forecasting resources available to us today is actually quite unbelievable. Armed with a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer, it is easy to acquire the same information our weather experts use to formulate weather forecasts/trends. As far as I can tell, winter is over and spring is here. Air temperatures over the next few weeks should be close to 50 degrees most days. While a big warm-up would be nice, it looks like we're going to slowly transition into spring with average to below-average temps. In fishing terms, this translates into - expect a slow start to the season. Some years, we enjoy a few weeks of striped bass action before weakfish show - a few days later, bluefish and fluke appear. I'm expecting this to be one of those spring seasons when everything pops at once. This year, I expect the floodgates to open sometime just after mid-April.
In the meantime, I'll be looking for open water and some freshwater fishing action. Chain pickerel, largemouth bass, yellow perch and crappie should be waiting for us as soon as the ice thaws. It's hard to believe the 2015 Trout Season opens in a little less than a month on Saturday, April 4. This year the stocked fish will consist only of rainbow trout. After last season's furunculosis outbreak, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife decided rainbow trout are much less susceptible to the disease. I'll miss the big brown and brook trout, but it's good to hear things are back to normal at the hatchery. Please don't forget most trout-stocked waterways are closed to fishing from March 16 until opening day, April 4.
State-Stocked Rainbow Trout
My offseason duties are completed. I just finished going through my equipment (again) and ordering a few more things for the upcoming season. You know how it is - you can never have enough. I'm considering upgrading my kayak, but I'm still undecided. It's funny, but not fishing seems to be costing me more than when I am fishing. Sitting around waiting for the ice to melt seems like it's taking forever, but at least I know we're heading in the right direction now.
Enough with the snow, ice, wind, and frigid subzero temperatures! Is this South Jersey or Siberia? Instead of dwelling on the polar winter, I'm starting to feel some excitement for a new fishing season. Even though it looks like we're locked into record-setting cold for another week or so, March isn't far away and will surely bring warmer temperatures. The worst of the winter is behind us.
The ice will be melting soon!
I'm counting down the days. As I write this, it's a sunny 29 degrees and it feels good! A look at the long-range forecast shows daytime highs in the high 40s to 50 for the first week of March – sounds like t-shirt weather. The Philadelphia Phillies home opener is just forty-seven days away. The first day of spring is thirty days away. Daylight saving time begins in eighteen days. It's hard to believe, but our back-bay striper season opens in ten days!
I'm not expecting a great start to the 2015 striped bass season, but I wouldn't bet against a few prize-winning fish showing up at the local tackle shops early on March 1. Warm-water discharges will likely be a little crowded, but it sure will feel good to wet a line again. If you're not into the warm-water scene, I have a feeling it may be a little closer to April 1 before we see widespread action.
Since fishing opportunities are so limited, I've been busy attending fishing shows, shopping for new gear, and organizing fishing tackle. Recently, my wife and I spent a few days in Atlantic City to attend the Progressive Insurance Atlantic City Boat Show. The big event drew a good crowd and was a real pleasure to attend. It was great checking out the beautiful boats, seeing some familiar faces and talking about fishing. Mid-week hotel accommodations are very reasonable in February and it sure felt good to swim a few laps in the heated pool. My luck at the casino tables was negligible so it looks like I'll be fishing from my kayak again this season. Even though Atlantic City isn't what it used to be, we had a great time and enjoyed our little getaway – we plan on making it a yearly tradition from now on.
Atlantic City Boat Show
While in Atlantic City, we hit the Tanger Outlets shops. While boats and fishing tackle are my thing; shoes and purses are hers. It was only fair as I drug my wife around the boat show for hours. While walking around the designer shops I couldn't help notice the construction site for the new Bass Pro Shops. The store is coming along nicely and is slated for a grand opening on April 16 at 8 AM – something else to look forward to! With the Tanger Outlets shops so close, it should be a breeze selling a Bass Pro Shops trip to your better half.
Bass Pro Shops is coming to Atlantic City!
If you're looking for things to do this weekend, you're in luck. If you're a surfcaster, you don't want to miss Surf Day at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, NJ. Surf Day opens the doors on Saturday from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM and promises," A day dedicated to the surfcaster." It's a good ride for most of us in the southern part of the state, but it's one of the few can't miss shows of the year. If you'd like to stay a little closer to home, you can attend South Jersey Fishing Seminars on Saturday from 9 AM to 3 PM at Island Marine Center at 2602 Shore Road in Ocean View, NJ. Seminars are to include information about fluke, tog, sea bass, drum, inshore tuna, and striped bass. If saltwater fishing isn't your thing, feel free to attend New Jersey Fish and Wildlife's Southern Freshwater Fisheries Forum. Topics will cover warmwater and coldwater fisheries management. The meeting will take place at Batsto Village in Wharton State Forest in Burlington County on Saturday at 10 AM. Right now, I'm leaning on attending the Freshwater Fisheries Forum in Batsto, but Surf Day is still on my radar.
Whatever you decide to do this weekend, I hope you feel a little better knowing that winter is almost over and we've got a new fishing season to be excited about. This winter was tough, but at least we don't live in Boston! Stay warm my friends.
It's been ten days since I've been on the water and I'm already getting fidgety. Ten days and I already feel like a little part of me has died! A few single-digit nights followed by 35 to 40-degree daytime air temperatures are just enough to make fishing in South Jersey very difficult. Most of the lakes and ponds around my house are just frozen enough to make casting impossible, but not nearly enough for safe ice fishing. Flipping through my social media networks isn't helping any either: I see heavily-dressed northern anglers with impressive ice-fishing catches meanwhile my smiling, southern pals are pictured holding their catches in shorts and t-shirts. If something doesn't give, I'll be patrolling the local spillways soon.
Two weeks ago, I was in my happy place
Right before the lakes iced over, the freshwater action was very good. Chain pickerel, black crappie, largemouth bass, and yellow perch were crushing our soft-plastic baits. I had a feeling my time was limited so I made the most of open water and spent lots of time enjoying the great action. Looking back, I'm glad I took advantage of the great action because it might be a while until we see open water again.
Jake and I making the most of it
Since fishing isn't much of an option, I'm going to need a few things to help keep me sane over the winter. I usually start by reviewing the prior fishing season. If you read my blog or follow me on social media, you know I fish almost daily and post a lot of fishing-related content. I have a ton of fishing photos and videos and I enjoy looking back at the good times. I used to keep a detailed log on a database, but it seemed like more work than it was worth. Honestly, if you upload pictures to Facebook you can go back and view dates and times if needed. If you use a smartphone and add the Timehop application, a daily notification will show you what you did on the same day for prior years and include some basic weather conditions. I know that many seasoned anglers swear by their logs, but if the trips are memorable and worth noting, chances are I will not forget them.
I had a lot of fun with weakfish in 2014!
Once I'm done looking over last season's highlights, it's time to buy some tackle. As a writer, I qualify for a bunch of media-related discounts. A few phone calls and a little schmoozing have saved me a lot of money! In case you've ever wondered, outdoor writers aren't living on easy street. The discounted gear is a big fringe benefit and I'm very thankful to the companies that offer great deals – Shimano and G.Loomis have been especially generous over the years. If you don't qualify for a discount, you can still score some great deals during the off-season. Most of us check eBay and the local sporting goods clearance racks, but did you know about discount websites like www.candjsportsinc.com and www.overstockbait.com? I'll be placing some orders soon. Christmas comes a little late for me, but I'm still like a big kid when that big brown truck pulls up with boxes filled of fishing gear.
After I receive my new gear, I'll go through my old gear and sell or donate whatever I don't need. Selling items on local South Jersey websites such as www.noreast.com or www.bassbarn.com is amazingly effective and a great way to meet new people with similar interests. Usually by this stage, fishing season is just around the corner and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Once my equipment is ready, I'll look over my charts and pinpoint some areas that look "fishy." Each season I make sure to incorporate a few new locations into my normal routine. As luck would have it, my father-in-law is a hydrographic surveyor for the Army Core of Engineers. I can't thank him enough for providing some of the most up-to-date and accurate nautical charts available. Most of my "future hotspots" never really pan out, but once in a while I hit the jackpot and it makes it all worthwhile.
Besides the Atlantic City Boat Show, we don't have a lot of big winter-fishing events based in South Jersey, but there are a few great tackle shows in the northern half of the state and over in Philly. The Atlantic City Boat Show will be held at the Atlantic City Convention Center on February 4-8, 2015. If you're a surfcaster, mark your calendars for February 21, 2015 as Surf Day and a can't miss. Surf Day costs $10 and will be held at the Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, NJ from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. I'm also looking forward to Bass Pro Shops opening a new store in Atlantic City in April.
For those of us that love to be on the water, the next few weeks aren't going to be easy. I'm hoping for a warm, heavy rainstorm or two as nothing clears our waterways better than a good rain. Please feel free to share any fishing-related activities below as we could use a little help getting through cabin fever during the offseason. March 1 is only forty-four days away!
Don't hang up those rods and reels yet! If you don't mind riding the weather rollercoaster, there are still plenty of fishing opportunities in our area. After waking up to a coating of snow on my car this morning, it's hard to believe we hit 70 degrees yesterday afternoon. After a warm October and frigid November, I think it's fair to say the local fishing action was anything but predictable. After lots of ups and downs, it appears as though we have some normal weather heading our way and hopefully a few more fish to catch before the end of the season.
By most accounts, striped bass action along our stretch of the state, from LBI to Cape May, was especially poor for land-based anglers. Surfcasters caught a few fish, but action was nothing like it was a few years ago. Backwater anglers haven't fared much better. Lots of factors come into play: lack of fish, different migratory routes, and weather patterns are usually tops on the list. Whatever the case, my eyes tell me striper fishing just isn't what it used to be.
On the bright side, over the last few years, the month of December has offered some of the best striper action of the season. While most of the bait and tackle shops are wrapping it up, diehard anglers are cashing in on the late-season action. I've had some of my best fall outings during the first half of December. The bulk of the migrating fish are just off our coast; we just need a few schools to move in along the beachfront.
Boaters seem to be painting a much brighter picture of the fall run. The Delaware Bay striper bite may not have been record setting, but when the weather allowed, most of my bunker-chunking buddies returned to port with their limit of big bass. While the bay bite seems to be slowing down, trolling out front has been worthwhile for many anglers. Stretch 30s were hot this weekend as many anglers cashed in on the great late-season action.
Cameron Koshland with a pair of stripers he trolled up on 12/1/14.
Over the holiday weekend, I spent lots of time with family and still managed to sneak in a little fishing. Jake and I worked the nightshift on the back bays in search of stripers. Even though conditions were prime, many of my old honey holes just weren't holding fish. We fished a bunch of areas just before high water and had nothing to show for it. After covering a little ground, our last stop paid off. As soon as the water starting falling, the stripers started popping. The bass were schooled up in just inches of water along a shadow line. We tossed small jigs on light spinning gear and had a blast catching 18 to 28-inch stripers. The fish weren't as big as I'm used to and we had to work a little harder to find a bite, but the end result was the same: driving home with smiles on our faces.
Good times with Jake
Before the holidays, my experiences on the back bays weren't much different. Most of my trips consist of driving around to find a school or two of mostly 18 to 24-inch fish. After years of outstanding fishing, it's not easy to appreciate the new normal. I've tried to make the best of it by joining the American Littoral Society's tagging program. Tagging the small stripers is easy and I enjoy the feedback when another angler returns a tag. I'll cover a little more about tagging over the winter months.
I've been busy tagging short stripers
When I didn't have time to make the ride to the coast, I hit the local lakes and ponds. With skim ice present a few times, I wondered how long my freshwater fishing opportunities would last, but with the recent warm up it looks like I'll be fishing well into the new year. Fishing for largemouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch and crappie has been very good. The state also stocked a few of the local lakes with good numbers of 10 to 12-inch trout. The smaller trout haven't received much attention so they should provide some action-packed fishing opportunities throughout the winter months.
On Monday, I spent most of the day fishing with my daughter, Julia. With a forecast high near 70 degrees, it was a perfect day to hit the local waterways. Julia is 18 and usually very busy so we don't get to spend as much time together as we used to. It was great having my little redheaded fishing buddy back even though I'm pretty sure I'll be suckered into some time at the mall in the very near future. We stopped by Blackwater Sports Center and picked up a few dozen minnows. On our way back from the shop we fished a bunch of lakes and ponds until we ran out of bait. Pickerel and crappie provided most of the action, but we caught a few small bass too. I prefer to fish the salt, but the freshwater action is tough to beat, especially during the winter months.
"This is so much better than the mall!"
On a side note, I'd like to mention a little about our weekend training for the Hooked on Fishing – Not on Drugs Program at the Lighthouse Center for Natural Resources in Waretown. My wife, Jen, and I plan on starting our own program to get kids outside and away from drugs. The state's Hooked on Fishing – Not on Drugs (HOFNOD) Program offers the public a tremendous amount of resources to get started. We had a great time and learned a lot during our weekend stay. If you have a little free time and would like to help some of the neighborhood kids, please consider starting your own HOFNOD group.
Good luck to the big-hearted people we met at the HOFNOD Training Program!
If we're going to have a fall run it better happen soon! South Jersey fall runs aren't like they used to be, but the late-season migration still provides some of the best action of the year. The big weekend storm is over. With a few passing tides and decreasing winds, the water should clean up quickly. Before the storm, coastal water temperatures were well over 60 degrees in Atlantic City and Cape May. This morning, the monitoring stations have our beachfront water temperature just a little over 50 degrees. Over the next few days, water temps should stabilize and be perfect for a good bass bite!
Bring on the Stripers!
Right before the blow, migrating linesiders were pushing down from Sandy Hook towards Asbury and Island Beach State Park. Our northern neighbors reported a major push of sizable striped bass and bluefish late last week just as the storm cranked up. It will be interesting to see where those fish show up after the dust settles. I'm hoping they pushed even further south.
While waiting for the migratory fish, I experienced some great summerlike backwater action. Snapper bluefish, weakfish, summer flounder, and small striped bass provided a steady bite before the nor'easter. I spotted tons of peanut bunker, silversides, and a few pods of mullet, too. I expect the storm sent most of the summer species packing for warmer waters.
Good numbers of weakfish around should bode well for the future.
Our resident striped bass remain active throughout the summer months, but they really turned on the feedbag after our first cold shot and following northwest wind. Late last week, I found a bunch of hungry little stripers set up along a shadow line and blowing up on passing silversides. The pint-sized striped bass are fun on light tackle and I enjoy tagging them. I just received a bundle of new tags from the American Littoral Society and I'm hoping to tag a bunch of fish before the season's end.
Hungry Little Stripers
My search for South Jersey redfish was a bust this season. After last season's big push of red drum, I had high expectations this year. It's possible that a few may show up over the next few weeks, but I put in a fair amount of time and decided I'm done chasing unicorns. Once the water cleans up a little, I'll make the rounds to see if I can find a few specks (spotted sea trout.)
When I'm not fishing along the coastline, I'm usually plying the nearby lakes and ponds. Largemouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch, and crappie provide some great fall action. Views of a beautiful autumn landscapes with a bent rod are high on my to-do list. Throw in thousands of state-stocked trout and I'm in heaven.
This year's fall trout fishing was a little different than the last few years. The state hatchery had some issues and the big brook trout that I look forward to each October were replaced by much smaller rainbow and brown trout. Knowing this may not go over well with those of us that purchased trout stamps, the state added thirty big rainbows to each stocked pond and lake. Looking back, I believe the state made the best out of a bad situation. I'm interested to hear their plans for the winter trout stocking. I'll keep you posted.
One of the many big trout stocked into our local waters.
Fortunately, I reside in an area surrounded by ponds and lakes, many of which were on the state's trout-stocking list. My son, Jake, and I visited three separate stocked waters and had a blast catching beefy rainbow trout at each venue. While some anglers frown upon stocked trout, my son and I thoroughly enjoy our time on the water chasing these over-sized "truckbows."
After the great trout action, I found myself feeling a little spoiled. With a forecast high of 75 degrees last Tuesday, I decided it was time to pack up the kayaks and make a trip to a local lake. I had a feeling it would be my last day on the yak in shorts and a t-shirt. After a short paddle, I had fish jumping on both sides of me. I positioned myself in a small channel and had largemouth bass schooled up on a stump field on one side and chain pickerel patrolling the flats on the other. It seemed like every cast was a follow, strike or hook up.
I spent the entire day on the lake and enjoyed everything it had to offer. I was surrounded by picturesque fall colors while a bevy of swans circled above and a pair of whistling bald eagles watched from a nearby tree. Catching fish and a bent rod is great, but it becomes much more when you learn to appreciate all of the little things.
A Beautiful Fall Day
Whatever the rest of the season offers, make sure to get out there and make the most of it. You know where I'll be.
What do you picture when you think about the fall run? If you're a surfcaster, you probably think about bent rods, drag-screaming runs, slammer bluefish and blitzing striped bass. Backwater anglers likely picture linesiders blowing up on top-water plugs, jigging soft-plastic baits for weakfish and stripers around structure, and a chance to tangle with unicorns: South Jersey redfish and spotted sea trout. Whatever your quarry, it's a magnificent time of year to be on the water.
The season's first cold front and subsequent chilly northwest wind is usually enough to get most of our wheels spinning. While it may feel like fall in our backyards, warm ocean temperatures usually hold steady until Columbus Day. With nighttime lows sinking into the 40's this week, it's hard to believe my family and I were swimming and boogie boarding in Cape May just ten days ago. Currently, the ocean water temperature is 66 degrees at Atlantic City and 69 degrees at Cape May. Summer is over my friends.
The sun sets on the summer season
In my experiences, the mullet run marks the changing of the seasons. Most years, mullet pour from our backwater estuaries, through the inlet, and down along the beachfront. Depending on a number of variables, our mullet runs can range from boom to bust. Ill-timed coastal storms and flood tides can end a mullet run before it even starts. By my observations, this season seems to be an average run with good numbers of mullet showing at the inlets and usual beachfront pockets.
Mullet Run in Cape May
As we transition from summer to autumn, the mullet run helps to kick-start the fall feeding frenzy. While some early migrating and resident striped bass may be found chasing the mullet schools, it can be difficult to get under the small bluefish that seem to inundate our waterways. Growing up in South Jersey, I associate the mullet run with snapper bluefish more so than any other species. Once the water temperature drops a few more degrees and the snapper bluefish thin out, the real action begins!
Right now, mullet can be found along the beachfront and schools of peanut bunker carpet our backwaters. Most of us know striped bass can be caught in our waters throughout the summer months, but there has been a noticeable upswing in action since the water temps dropped a few degrees from their summertime highs. We seem to be right on track; the ingredients seem to be in place for a great fall run.
When the weather permits, you'll find me spending my days chasing redfish along the backwater shell beds and out front along sandbars. After a few decent seasons in a row, last year's redfish run was the best I've seen in my lifetime. I had high expectations for this fall, but redfish reports have been slim to nil so far this season. My first few attempts at redfish have come up empty, but it's early still. After last season's showing, I'm not throwing in the towel yet.
My nighttime backwater trips have been much more worthwhile as striped bass and weakfish have put on the feedbag. Getting through the relentless snapper bluefish can be difficult, but their presence often signals productive waters. As much as I despise the little eating machines, I'll gladly sacrifice a few soft-plastic tails in order to find a feeding school of weakfish and stripers. On more than one occasion, I found bluefish, striped bass, and weakfish feeding on schools of young-of-the-year weakfish. You can't help but feel bad when a bluefish tosses a half of a still-wiggling weakfish at your feet; those poor little weakfish don't stand a chance.
I'm glad I'm not a little weakfish!
While we may not be in full fall-run mode just yet, please don't overlook the variety of opportunities this transitional period offers. What our waters currently lack in trophy-sized fish, they make up for with a variety of fish we only see during this time of year. As I scroll through my Facebook feed, I see pictures of everything from blowfish to striped bass. It's a great time of year to be an angler in South Jersey.
With another fall run just around the corner, I think it's the perfect time to talk about our beloved striped bass. The plain truth is fishing for striped bass isn't nearly as good as it was just a few years ago. For many of us in South Jersey, the fall run almost seems like a dream now. I don't know about you, but I find myself driving a little further north every fall season to get in on the type of action I desire and even when I'm fortunate enough to I find it, the bite is usually short lived and unpredictable.
Heaven on Earth
As concerned anglers, the first thing we need to do is decide if we have a problem. Those booming striper years were great, but is it really supposed to be like that every season? While fishing for stripers may not be what it was a few years ago, it seems far from a crash. Our best science tells us there has been a slight drop in biomass numbers, but the Chesapeake's 2011 spawning year class is the 5th highest on record; this strong year class should mature by 2019 at the latest. I question much of our "best science" and usually feel more comfortable relying on my own eyes.
Before 2011, I felt comfortable with our seemingly modest two-fish bag limit and protected federal waters. Honestly, not that long ago, I wondered if we we're actually erring on the side of extreme conservation. That time passed when I saw the massacre of the 2011 fall season. I spent my days and nights fishing a little further north at Island Beach State Park (IBSP.) Clouds of sand eels had what seemed like every striper in the ocean off IBSP. The fishing action was unbelievable with as many 26 to 38-inch linesiders as you wanted. As word got out, the normally peaceful, natural beach turned into a traffic-jammed nightmare. Surfcasters were COMING DOWN from MONTUAK. Rods lined miles of beachfront; at times it was difficult to squeeze in anywhere along the park. As if that wasn't enough, you could walk on the boats lined up from Manasquan to Long Beach Island even on the weekdays. Everyone caught fish and many took home their limit including yours truly.
Limits for everyone!
By the time the holidays came and the bite died off, I sat back and reflected on the great fishing action. At first, I felt privileged to take part in such an amazing bite. If you could put that type of action in a bottle, I'd be happy for the rest of my years. Part of me began to wonder if I'd ever be fortunate enough to experience another fall run like that. Then, I started to wonder about how many fish were removed from the biomass that fall season. Hundreds, if not thousands, of fish were removed everyday for at least a month. How could this bode well for the future?
To me, the 2011 season at IBSP is a microcosm of the bigger coast-wide fishery. Whenever a fishery does well, it attracts attention. The better the fishing action, the higher the number of angler participation. Years ago, when striper fishing was poor, angler participation was low which allowed the fishery to gain some momentum. Today, angler participation seems to be at an all-time high and I'm concerned that a two-fish bag limit may actually be hurting the fishery. Other than a week or two here and there, my experiences tell me we're in trouble.
How do they stand a chance?
Personally, when I'm faced with a problem, I ask myself a few questions. First, how can I fix the problem? If I can't solve the problem, I'd like to make the situation a little better and if I cant figure that out, at the very least, I'll come up with a way to not allow the situation to get worse. If I can figure out the problem, I'll follow up with: how can we stop the problem from happening again? This seems reasonable to me.
I've come to the conclusion that fishing for striped bass could be better and I'm ready to do something about it. I attended the hearing in Galloway concerning the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Draft Addendum IV to Amendment 6 to the Atlantic Striped Bass Interstate Fishery Management Plan. It was nice to run into a few old friends, but I was disappointed by the small turnout. We spoke about benchmarks, fishing mortality and things like the spawning stock biomass. After the presentation, the general consensus seemed in favor of cutting our total harvest by 25%. Several anglers preferred the selections in the Option B Section, some of which allow a one fish bag limit for the 2015 season. I'm going on record in favor of Option B1, which calls for a one fish bag limit and a 28-inch minimum size limit; this selection is expected to reduce the 2013 harvest by 31%.
It's not too late to be heard! You have a variety of options. For NJ anglers, there is a meeting on September 15 from 7 to 9 PM at Toms River Town Hall, L. M. Hirshblond Room, 33 Washington Street, Toms River, NJ. For more information call Russ Allen at (609) 748-2020. If you're from PA, you can attend a meeting on September 17 at 6 PM at the Silver Lake Nature Center, 1306 Bath Road, Bristol, PA. For more information, call Eric Levis at (717) 705-7806. If you cant make the meetings, public comment will be accepted until 5 PM on September 30, 2014. Forward comments to Mike Waine, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland Street, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201 or you can fax Mike at (703) 842-0741, email at email@example.com or call (703) 842-0740.
Unless you live under a rock, you probably know some of the world's best anglers visited our area last week to vie for the Bassmaster Elite Series - Delaware River title. South Jersey's own, Mike Iaconelli, was the favorite going in and most of the local fish-heads were rooting for "Ike" to bring the trophy home. The Delaware River provided ample room for over 100 Elite Series anglers while the Great Plaza at Penn's Landing proved the perfect stage for one of the world's biggest fishing events.
Philly was ready for the Bassmasters!
If you're not familiar with the bass-pro scene, the 2014 Bassmaster Elite Series consists of eight tournaments plus a year ending, top-fifty Angler-of-the-Year event paying out a total between $6 and $7 million in cash and prizes. Believe it or not, competitive fishing is much more involved than casting a bobber and worm at the local lake or pond. The Elite anglers take fishing to the highest level.
Fishing for largemouth bass can be tough on the Big D. By most accounts, catching wasn't easy and finding any number of sizable largemouth bass was difficult. Many anglers had to downsize their offerings to catch keeper-sized bass. After yesterday's rainstorm, I'm sure the Delaware is running high and muddy; the Elite anglers were fortunate the weather cooperated during the event or the outcome could have been much different. Even with favorable weather conditions, the perigee full moon (commonly referred to as a super moon) produced some extreme high and low tides.
Despite challenging tides, Elite anglers fished for four days and weighed in some impressive bag limits. Hometown hero, Mike Iaconelli, didn't disappoint as he bested the other pros with a four-day total of 47.14 pounds. The big win paid out $100,000 in prize money and sealed Ike's invitation to the 2015 Bassmaster Classic (the Superbowl of the bass fishing world) at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina. According to the Bassmaster.com website, less than a quarter pound decided second through fourth places: runner-up, Chris Lane tallied 39.14 pounds, Jason Christie took third with 39.1 pounds, while Kevin Short bagged 39 pounds for fourth place.
On Sunday, I packed up the family and made the short trek over the Walt Whitman Bridge and up I-95 to Penn's Landing. We could feel the excitement in the air as soon as we opened the car doors in the parking lot. The top-twelve anglers were competing on the water so we had some time to check out the vendors in what I called "Fish City." We met up with a few friends and talked to some of the pros. Jake and I tested our knot-tying skills at the Berkley Knot Wars booth; our Palomar knots proved sufficient on the machine's 10-pound test. I felt privileged to attend the last day of the event.
By 3:00 PM, the crowd around the stage was electric. The Elite anglers pulled up to the dock and everyone cheered, "Ike, Ike, Ike!" Minutes later, the familiar Saturday-morning faces, Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona popped out and really got the crowd fired up. I remember hearing at least three separate "E-A-G-L-E-S" cheers and a few other disparaging Dallas Cowboys chants; there was no doubt we were in Philly. One by one the anglers put their bag of bass on the scale, but it seemed like the crowd just went through the motions as they waited for Ike to take the stage. Even though the finish was a bit anticlimactic, when Ike finally walked out on the stage he was greeted with a rock-star like admiration. Even though I'm not a big fan of the bass-pro circuit, I couldn't help but get sucked into the moment. It was great to see a local guy win it all and share the moment with his family, friends, and fans. Does it get any better?
I want to be like Ike!
As usual, Jake and I have been doing our best to play bass pros on our local lakes. The bass and chain pickerel action has been great and we've been having a blast tossing top-water lures. Fishing around the lily pads has been entertaining and worthwhile. I've been working the edges and holes with a Super Spook while Jake's been throwing frogs through the thick stuff.
Jake thinks he's a pro!
Freshwater fishing has been fun, but I'm getting the itch to get back to the coast. The summer seems to be flying by and I'd like to get in a few deepwater summer flounder trips before the season closes on September 27th. Enjoy what's left of the summer season; fall will be here before you know it.
Is there anything better than topwater fishing? Not for me, whether it's popping plugs in the surf for striped bass and bluefish, walking the dog with a big Super Spook or pulling a weedless frog over the lily pads for largemouth bass and big chain pickerel, the anticipation of a topwater hit is purely exhilarating. The jaw-dropping strikes get the blood flowing and offer a whole new aspect of fishing, especially to a soft-plastic finesse fisherman like myself.
Over the last few weeks, I've been hitting the local lakes and ponds with my youngest son, Jake. We rarely just go fishing to go fishing as I usually have some kind of tactic or strategy planned for our trips. Lately, we've been fishing exclusively with topwater lures. Some anglers may feel as though we're missing out by only bringing topwater gear, but most of the waters we're fishing are so overgrown with weeds, it would be difficult to fish anything else.
By most accounts, early-morning and late-evening trips offer the best topwater action; however, Jake and I decided to fish the midday shift. Ready for battle, we headed out armed with sunscreen, weedless frogs, Super Spooks, Hula Poppers, and Jitterbugs. Our plan: Jake would hit the lily pads with a frog while I'd work the weedlines and pockets with a topwater plug. As luck would have it, a toothy pickerel attacked my first cast. Soon after, Jake had a largemouth bass explode on his frog. Five minutes in and we were hooked!
We spent the following trips fine-tuning our presentations. While the cadence of walking the dog came naturally to me, I found on most days, the fish preferred an erratic twitch and pause retrieve. Before long, Jake and I felt confident enough to call our shots. While we didn't always stick a hook in a fish, more times than not, we had fish exploding on our lures. With the shallow nature of the lakes and ponds we were fishing, it wasn't difficult to figure out where fish were located. Weedlines, pockets, stump fields, creek mouths, submerged trees, and docks were good to us.
This fish put on quite a show!
Some little things I noticed while fishing: my hookup ratio was ten times better when using plugs like the Super Spook versus weedless frogs. While it was difficult to keep the weeds off the treble hooks, it was usually worth the extra effort. Topwater fishing on calm waters was much more productive than working over a wind-blown chop. I can only assume the fish could see, hear, and feel the vibrations of my offering better in the quieter, calm conditions. Line slap can and will spook fish. When working topwater lures in quiet, shallow waters, the line lays on the surface and the vibration from the retrieve is noticeable enough to spook wary fish. I found by holding the rod tip higher, I obtained better control of my lure and usually eliminated line slap. Jake learned not to set the hook by visual strikes. After a little trial and error, Jake found by setting the hook when he felt the strike versus when he saw the strike, his hookup ratio improved dramatically.
Somebody call a doctor, Jake's got froggin' fever!
The lakes and ponds we frequented yielded about the same number of largemouth bass as chain pickerel. While we didn't catch many bass over two pounds, we did hook into our fair share of big chainsides. I think we'd have a better shot at sizable bass by concentrating our fishing efforts a little earlier or later in the day, but fishing the dayshift was certainly worthwhile.
Fish like this one are even more memorable on topwater lures.
Honestly, long, hot days make for tough fishing conditions. By noon, most of us would rather be in the water than on it, but if you're willing to tough it out, the fish are there for the taking. Many of our local lakes and ponds are fairly shallow and offer superb topwater fishing opportunities. The explosive topwater strikes are so invigorating that you'll find yourself not minding a missed fish or two as the take is incredibly enjoyable all by itself.
Jake didn't miss this one.
On a side note, I'd like to include a little reminder about fishing lines and snagged hooks. Yesterday, a friend was out kayaking and noticed a duck wasn't acting right. When she paddled in closer, she noticed the duck was wrapped in fishing line and a hook. Thankfully, she untangled the duck and took it to get the much-needed attention it deserved. Her post struck a nerve as I've come across this scene myself a little more often than I'd like. Over the years, I've untangled my share of seagulls, geese, and swans. More times than not, I've noticed it's the braided lines wrapped around the wildlife. I've come to the conclusion that the new "super lines" are so strong that when some anglers are snagged they cannot break the line at the knot so they decide to cut the line leaving quite a bit of braid hanging from trees, poles, or wires. I found the best way to snap braid at the knot is to point your rod at the snag and pull directly away from it with no bend in the rod whatsoever. If your drag isn't strong enough to break the line, hold the spool with your hand and continue to pull the line away until it breaks. In my experiences, the line usually breaks at the knot and a hook in a tree is far less damaging to wildlife than a hook in a tree with twenty to thirty yards of fishing line attached. Another trick I've seen is to wrap your braid around a wooden dowel or a stick and pull away until the line parts. Be careful and make sure to have some type of protective eyewear as sometimes the lure gives way and comes flying back at you with some momentum; I learned the hard way! A little extra effort could save a life.
If you've followed my blog for a while, you should know I make it a point to learn a new fishery each season. A few years back, I felt complacency creeping in so I decided it was time to shake things up a little. Exploring new fisheries is always exciting and brings back the boy-like enthusiasm of the sport I hold so near to my heart. I love fishing for largemouth bass, but I don't understand how so many anglers dedicate their entire lives to chasing the same species of fish. Ok, so maybe I'd be content with 10 to 15-pound tiderunner weakfish. Seriously though, with so many angling opportunities available, I find it difficult to concentrate on one species for more than a few weeks at a time.
Last season, I decided to chase snakeheads along the backwoods tributaries of the lower Delaware River. I walked for miles along railroad tracks, through head-high brush, swampy marshlands, and through quaint little neighborhoods. I found more snakeheads than I could have ever imagined. I learned much about snakeheads and fortunately came across a similar species that shares the same waters: the bowfin.
With bowfin, also known as mudfish, on my radar, I spent some of the offseason reading up on their characteristics and behavioral patterns. Bowfins are stalking, ambush predators and will strike a variety of artificial lures as well as live and cut baits. Their preferred habitat includes lowland rivers, lakes, vegetated backwater creeks, and swamps. Bowfins are bimodal breathers, which means they can breathe air and water. Because they breathe air, bowfins are often easy to spot as they break the water's surface.
Cut bait, such as sunfish, work great for bowfin.
Bowfins are native to New Jersey waters. From my limited experiences, they seem to be thriving in many of the Delaware River tributaries, especially from Trenton down to Salem. I found bowfins in all kinds of areas, but there was one small waterway that seemed to be inundated with the "living fossils." There were so many bowfins in this particular waterway that we averaged between ten and twenty fish per trip with most ranging from 3 to 8 pounds. For that many bowfins to gather in such a small waterway, I came to the conclusion that this particular area must have offered a prime spawning area. In my mind, there was little doubt a good portion of the Delaware River fishery decided to enter this small tributary.
This one put up a great battle!
After my first few catching experiences, I wondered why anglers didn't talk about these fish more often? Bowfins hit hard, seem to be around in good numbers, and put up a heck of a battle once hooked. I should note that hooking bowfins is a little more difficult: their mouths are so bony that setting a hook can be tough. I missed more hits than I'd like to admit. Strong, sharp hooks will definitely come in handy when fishing for bowfin.
The bone structure of a bowfin looks prehistoric.
I have much more to learn about this great species, but I can't help to wonder why bowfins seem to be looked down upon by so many anglers. By most accounts, "mudfish" are junk fish that are usually by-catches made by anglers pursuing other types of fish. Even the state "overlooked" the bowfin on their list of species to qualify for a Skillful Angler Award. I made a call to the Division's Freshwater Fisheries to ask why bowfins weren't included and they couldn't offer a rational explanation. Sunfish, catfish, and carp are included in the program; why not bowfin? When I pressed further, I was told adding bowfins to an already underutilized program would create a lot of paperwork and would be unlikely. I guess I'll give them a pass on this one; it sounds like they still have their hands full with hatchery problems.
Jake with a male bowfin in full spawning colors.
For the record, bowfin aren't scavengers, they explode on top-water lures, reach impressive sizes, and put up a great battle. What's not to like? The state record for bowfin is 10 pounds, 14 ounces and was set in 2011 by Chris Hoffman while fishing on the Delaware River. If that weight sounds familiar, it should, it also happens to be the same exact weight of the state record largemouth bass. I'd bet the house the bowfin record falls much sooner than the largemouth bass record. Honestly, from some of the things I witnessed over the last few weeks, I wouldn't be surprised to see the bowfin record fall a bunch of times over the next few years. If you're looking for an escape from the same old same old, give bowfins and snakeheads a try; you won't be disappointed!
Can you believe it's June already? The nearby beaches are filling up fast, the kids will be out of school in a few days, and the official start of the summer season is only a little over a week away. The spring fishing season flew by, but it was one I'll remember for a while.
With the late start to the season and the long winter still fresh on my mind, I hit the water hard this spring. After two months of fishing almost daily, it caught up with me: I've been down for the last week with a head cold, which turned into a chest cold, which turned into bronchitis. I'm beginning to feel somewhat human again and I'm dying to get back on the water. I'd rather be sick for a week in the offseason than a day in the spring.
Before I came down with the cold, I bought a new Apple iMac. The new software and operating system definitely takes a little getting used to, but the upgrade should allow me to edit photos and video much more conveniently. Since I've been grounded, I decided to play with the movie software and put together a short teaser with some of my weakfish shots from this spring. It's a little dramatic and the legend stuff should be taken in jest, but I think it's amazing what ‘s available out there to us now. The potential possibilities have my head spinning.
2014 Spring Weakfish
Ok, let's get back to fishing. I'll start with weakfish since that's where I spend most of my time. The spring run was one of the best I've experienced in a while. I tallied over 100 weakfish between 24 and 30 inches so far this season. Daytime action is beginning to slow down due to the higher water temps and summer-like boat traffic. Many of the inlet and bay-shore rock piles continue to surrender sizable weakfish, but expect the best action to take place around sunrise and sunset. I'll be fishing the back bays on the grave shift soon.
Back Bay Beauty
Striped bass action has been good for some and a little slower for others. Cape May County anglers experienced a decent clam bite on the bay-shore beaches while a little further north in Atlantic City and Longport rock-hopping anglers are landing cows on clams, bunker, and plugs. I didn't spend much time chasing stripers this season, but a few of my South Jersey surfcaster buddies are scoring some beautiful linesiders. While it's always great to hear about big striped bass, numbers seem to be down a little from prior years. Enjoy the action while you can because those big girls will be heading north for cooler waters soon.
The 2014 Summer Flounder Season is off to a good start; despite my opening day flop. I fished behind Sea Isle in Ludlam Bay on opening day and it was a circus. I was hoping the Friday opening would keep the crowd down a little; I was wrong! A steady northwest wind, 100s of boats and narrow channels don't usually make for a great day. We ended up with a couple of throwbacks and a lesson learned: don't fish on opening day again. With the new 18-inch size limit, I suspected keeper-sized fluke would be tough to come by, but a remarkable amount of flatties over 20 inches have been reported so far this season. The best action seems to be reported by anglers using bucktails tipped with Berkley Gulp baits or minnows, if you can find them. Backwater temperatures have been good, but expect most of the keeper-sized flatfish to make their way towards the inlets over the next few weeks.
The bluefish bite has been dependable so far this season, especially up in the Barnegat Bay. Recent trips have been lots of fun as the top-water action has been insane with two fish taking one plug multiple times. I used to hate bluefish, but I've found a new appreciation for them over the last few years. In my mind, they used to get in the way as I was jigging or plugging for what I considered to be much more desirable species such as striped bass and weakfish. I think their aptitude for chomping my soft plastics right behind the hook probably had something to do with my dislike for bluefish, too.
Two at a Time
The oceanfront beaches from LBI northward are offering some incredible bluefish action. Slammer bluefish can't pass up a fresh chunk of bunker, but they're taking plugs and metals, too. For some reason, we rarely see the same kind of bluefish bite south of Brigantine. If you don't fish north of LBI at least once in a while, you're really missing out.
Slammers in the Surf
Freshwater fishing opportunities shouldn't be overlooked. Once those big bass come off their spawning beds they're going to be hungry. I've been hitting the local waterways with my little fishing buddy, Jake. We've done a little bit of everything from casting poppers for chain pickerel and largemouth bass to bait fishing for bowfin and snapper turtles. We're exploring some new waters and finding some great things. I'll share some of our new experiences in the next week's report.
The month of May offers South Jersey anglers some of the best fishing opportunities of the year. Big, hungry striped bass are pouring out of the rivers and scouring the surf for food; weakfish action is as good as it's been in years; bluefish seem to be just about everywhere, and summer flounder season finally opens next Friday, May 23. If that's not enough, over the last few days, anglers also reported the season's first blowfish, kingfish, and croaker catches. Throw in some of the best largemouth bass fishing of the season and it's not difficult to see why May is my favorite month to fish.
The striped bass run was a little late this season, but it seems to be in full swing now, especially for anglers fishing in Cape May County. The recent bite has been good in the lower Delaware Bay, around Cape May Point, and along the oceanfront beaches. Clams are the bait of choice with incoming tide offering some of the best action. I'm a little late to the party, but I plan on visiting some friends and a few linesiders later next week.
Father and son team Cody and Don Miller with a pair of Cape May linesiders that weighed 23 and 33 pounds respectively.
Weakfish receive much of my attention and while the bite has been incredible, I can't help to think I'm missing out on some other action, but I just can't pull myself away. The action has been steady and dependable with most days yielding more than a handful of 24 to 28-inch weakfish. I've shared lots of time chasing these backwater beauties with friends and family and we've made some great catches together. I know these big spawning weakfish won't be around long so I'm trying to make the most of it.
Jennifer Ruczynski with a back bay beauty
After close to a month of catching weakfish, I've had some time to figure out a few things. In the area I'm fishing, creek mouths and bottleneck areas produce better on the outgoing tides while the fish seem to be holding along channel edges in about 10 to 14 feet of water during the incoming tide. Low-light conditions are best, but fish can be caught throughout the day if boat traffic is minimal. When wind and current make fishing light jigs difficult, bottom bouncing sandworms or bloodworms can save the day.
Worming for weakfish
While on the subject of figuring out a few things, I wish I purchased a kayak years ago. For years, I was a land-based angler and spent countless hours wading back bay flats, but the kayak has opened up so many new opportunities. First and foremost, it allows me access to waters unreachable from land. The kayak also permits me to keep my bait in the strike zone longer as I can position myself perfectly for the best angle for presentation. With no engine noise, I can paddle over the fish all day without spooking them. Kayaks really do offer the best of both worlds.
When the weather forecast is for heavy rain or winds over 20 mph, I leave the kayak at home and try some other types of fishing. On Wednesday, I decided to take Jake a little further north on his first bluefish trip. With a stiff northeast wind, I figured we'd toss some metals at the inlet and hope to run into a few bruisers. Jake and I set up along the seawall and were into bluefish right away. The action wasn't crazy, but there were enough bluefish around to keep us busy for a few hours. Jake had his hands full with the 9-foot rod, but he kept at it and ended up landing a couple on his own. We ended the morning with over a dozen fish to 9 pounds. After this trip, I have a feeling catching sunfish at the pond will never be the same.
Jake is singing the blues.
Speaking of ponds, over the weekend, I was out at one of the local parks with the family and noticed largemouth bass lined up all over the shoreline. On Tuesday morning, I had some errands to run, but not before a few casts at the park pond. I threw a rubber worm out into the middle of the pond and was surprised when a big bass took my worm and went airborne. After a little back and forth, I slid a hefty 22-inch lunker up onto the shoreline. I admired her for a moment and sent her on her way. I fished the pond for another hour and landed three more decent largemouth bass before packing it up.
That old saying, "So many fish, so little time" was probably coined in May. I'm already having a tough time keeping up and let's not forget the 2014 summer flounder season is just days away. I caught a few flatties while jigging for weakfish so I know there here and hungry. The weekend weather looks great so get out there and bend a rod.
Freshwater or saltwater, it's spring in South Jersey and I'm on the hunt for trophy trout. While most anglers are busy chasing striped bass, I'm perfectly happy chasing rainbows, bruiser browns, and my favorite, tiderunner weakfish. It's been a magical two-week stretch: I tallied well over 100 freshwater trout and nearly fifty weakfish.
I'll begin with weakfish as I'm still giddy about the great action. It all started last Monday, April 21: I woke up at 3 AM with thoughts of landing my first weakfish of the season. To tell you the truth, my brain was telling me, "It's too early and the water is still too cold," but the weather looked great and I needed to assure myself I wasn't missing anything.
After the hour-long commute, I unloaded my kayak and paddled out just before sunrise. As I took in the beautiful morning colors, my second cast got nailed. The tell-tale headshakes brought a smile to my face that remains until this moment. Following a well-spirited battle, I pulled a beautiful 26-inch weakfish alongside my kayak. Weakfish are true backwater beauties, but they're even more stunning at sunrise.
I picked up a few more weakfish over the next hour before I decided to check out some other areas. Usually, the best weakfish bite takes place at night and during the first hour or two of daylight so my expectations for the rest of the day were low. I thought to myself, "Anything more would just be the icing on the cake."
After fishing a few other areas, I came back to my morning hot spot and worked the area over with ¼ and ½-oz jigs and bubblegum-colored Zoom Super Flukes. After some experimenting, I found the mother load and had fish for a solid two hours. I was in heaven: 20 to 30-inch weakfish after weakfish crushing my jig and towing me around. My back and arms weren't in fishing shape yet, so I pulled up to a nearby sodbank and caught a few more in my waders. It was an amazing day that I'll never forget. I'm glad I didn't listen to my brain!
Ok, the fish catching stories are great, but let's get to conditions, tactics, and techniques. The weather and water conditions were perfect: it was sunny, light winds, clear water, and a falling tide. I usually prefer overcast days, but when the water is cold a little sunshine can warm up the backwater flats just enough to put the fish on the feed. Looking back, the best bite occurred about two hours before low tide which makes sense as the water temp is usually at its highest during low tide on sunny, early-spring days. After varying my casts and retrieves, I found that working the jig aggressively worked best as it seemed like a jerky, upward-jigging motion drew their attention while a slow fall enticed them to strike. This type of retrieve works best when you're right over the fish in a boat or when your jig is directly in front of you when casting from a bank. I've found a jig can be worked much better when the tide is pulling away from you as it's easier to control the fall speed of the jig by slowly lowering your rod tip until you feel bottom. The bite varies from day to day, but the two-jigs-up-followed-by-a-slow-fall technique has worked well for me over the years.
Jigging for Weakfish
Since my first outing, I've been back out more than a few times. While none of my recent excursions have been as good as the first, I've had a low of four and a high of eleven fish per trip, with an average of about six fish per trip. Weakfish catches have ranged between 18 and 30 inches; however, most fish seem to be between 22 and 26 inches. Not bad for April, I'm looking forward to May and some better weather. If you share an appreciation for tiderunner weakfish, please feel free to visit my Facebook page: Wonderful World of Weakfish - https://www.facebook.com/tiderunnerweakfish
On the freshwater scene, the state-stocked trout action couldn't get much better at our local ponds, lakes, and rivers. I keep busy fishing freshwater when conditions are not optimum along the coast. Believe it or not, a few of the trout they stocked this year rival some of the tiderunners I caught recently. The little trout are fun, but once you catch a big, breeder trout, you want more.
By only fishing for freshwater trout on bad weather days, I think I've stumbled onto something. More times than not, the wind is the biggest factor when I decide to forego a weakfish trip and decide to stay local. With the wind blowing at 20 to 25mph, it's difficult to throw tiny spinners to trout. With that being said, I've been forced to use heavy spinners to combat the wind and I've had tremendous results. A 1/4-oz Rooster Tail has been my go-to spinner. I can cover twice the amount of water as other anglers, the little fish hit it just as much as they would the down-sized versions, and the big fish love them!
Big Spinners = Big Brown Trout!
The state inundated many of our waterways with trout this season and by my account, participation has been marginal. With so many trout still swimming around, they should provide rod-bending action for anglers well into May.
4/24/14 Rainbow Trout
I can't totally dismiss our striped bass run, but it doesn't seem to be off to a great start. Some good fish were landed in the Delaware River and in the upper Delaware Bay recently, but according to most anglers, it's nothing to write home about. Water temperatures are still marginal, so let's hope May brings better weather, warmer waters, and big linesiders. In the meantime, you know where I'll be. I'm out like a trout!
I don't know about you, but I have a serious case of spring fever. It was extremely difficult for me to stay in today to catch up on the things I've put off due to two weeks' worth of fishing trips, but I guess I can be an adult for a day. Lately, it's tough to do anything other than think about fishing with the amazing amount of fishing opportunities available in our area. Largemouth bass, pickerel, crappies and literally truckloads of trout have my head spinning. Saltwater action is also picking up as striped bass action seems to be improving daily. Believe it or not, I'm glad the stripers are a little late; otherwise, I probably wouldn't have slept at all this week. As soon as I finish writing, I'm picking up some "select" bloodworms and spending the weekend chasing striped bass on the banks of the Delaware River.
I guess I'll start with striped bass and get to the freshwater report a little later. By most accounts, the striped bass action has been a little slow to start, but it seems like the recent warm-up was enough to get things going. Over the last two days, it's like somebody flipped the switch: reports of striped bass are coming in from the rivers, bays, inlets, and oceanfront. My Facebook news feed looks more like a Fishbook news feed as it's filled with happy anglers holding linesiders. Most of the striped bass are running on the small side, but a few cows are beginning to show up in the Delaware River.
TJ Messick Delaware River 4/10/14
Just a few days ago, I made my first striper trip of the season. Yes, I know, I can't remember ever starting so late. I'm usually out there trying for stripers on March 1st, but with frigid water temps, I didn't like my odds until recently. I arrived at one of my favorite early-season spots just after midnight as the tide started out. Honestly, I expected to see stripers busting on spearing and grass shrimp, but it was quiet and my retrieves came back untouched.
After a half hour, I decided to hit another back bay location that usually warms quickly and provides solid action. As I walked towards the water, I could hear the tell-tale "pop" sound made by striped bass feeding on the surface. The bass weren't holding in their normal areas; they were a little further out and difficult to pinpoint in the darkness. I cast soft-plastic baits into the night and picked away at short stripers for most of the night. I tagged a few fish and ended the trip with eight bass to 25 inches. It wasn't an outstanding trip by any means, but it's a start.
First bass of 2014
Even though striped bass action seems to be off to a slow start, there have been a few reports of weakfish and summer flounder catches already this season. I found the reports a little hard to believe at first, but there were pictures to back up the reports. With water temps in the high 40s, who would expect weakfish and fluke to be taking baited hooks? Hopefully, it's a sign of promising fishing action as we approach the month of May.
Tracie Lynn with a 30-inch beauty caught on 4/5/14 Photo by Robert Conroy
I cannot express in words how good the freshwater fishing is in South Jersey right now! The warming waters have big, pre-spawn largemouth bass looking for their first meal of the season. Monster chain pickerel and slab crappies seem even more willing than normal to strike a bait and the state has dumped thousands of trout into many of our ponds, lakes, and rivers.
Colin Steward represents the Hooked on Fishing - Not on Drugs kids well with this 6-pound lunker
The week before the opening of trout season, I had one of the best big crappie bites I've ever experienced. Day after day, it didn't seem to matter what I threw at them; they were taking everything. I started with live minnows, but ended up catching what seemed like 100s of 12 to 15-inch slab crappies on soft-plastic baits, top-water plugs, and spinners.
That's a slab!
At 8 AM on Saturday, April 5th, trout season officially started. By 8:01 AM, my son, Jake had his first trout on the stringer! The trout were hungry and we had a steady bite for two hours before the wind kicked up to 25 mph. I caught a bunch on spinners, while Jake was feeding them chartreuse power bait. We landed twenty rainbows and ended the trip with our limit of trout.
Trout Day 2014
Before Saturday, I haven't attended an opening day of trout season in at least five years. I grew tired of the crowds and the whole scene. This year, Jake asked to go on opening day, so I figured we'd give it a shot. To my surprise, the lake wasn't very crowded and the few anglers that were fishing with us were very polite and courteous. While we enjoyed a little elbow room and some great fishing action, I did find myself wondering why interest in trout fishing seems to be much lower today than it was a few years ago.
The trip with Jake rejuvenated my interest in trout fishing. Over the years, I've caught lots of big brook and rainbow trout, but I wanted a big brown trout this season. I watched them stock a few of the nearby lakes and there was one fish in particular I had in my sights. On Tuesday, I spent the afternoon hunting for my trophy. The brown trout were killing spinners, but I couldn't find one over 14 inches. It was fun, but on the drive home, I couldn't stop thinking about the "one."
Fun-sized brown trout
I woke up early the next morning, grabbed my gear and headed back to the lake. When I arrived, there was one boat out on the lake; otherwise, I had the entire shoreline to myself. With the wind at my back, I could cover half the lake with my big yellow spinner. On my second cast, I had a hit and reeled in another normal-sized stocked brown trout. The morning action was steady as I caught about fifteen more trout before another angler showed up. We started talking and I found out the older gentleman just got back into fishing and this was his first time out in years. I filled him in about the bite and as I was showing him how to work a spinner, the big brownie hit! She took me through a submerged bush and then up and down the shoreline a few times before I slid her hefty body onto the bank. My new buddy seemed just as excited as I was and was nice enough to snap a few pictures before he tied on a spinner.
My big brown trout!
After landing the big brown, I was done for the day. I took my limit down to the creek and shot a few pictures. I thought about how lucky I was to have such great fishing opportunities just minutes from my home. It's hard not to feel blessed when you're sitting by a backwoods creek with a limit of brown trout on a gorgeous spring day.
On my way out, I noticed a familiar family of four; they fish at the lake frequently, but never seem to catch much. They made such a big deal about my catch that I offered it to them. When I asked them if they wanted the trout, they responded like they just won the lottery. In my mind, it was the perfecting ending to a perfect day.
The perfect day!
Tons of trout will continue to be stocked in our local waters for the next two weeks so get out and enjoy the great action while it lasts. After what seemed like a never-ending winter, 70 degrees and sunshine never felt better! The weekend weather forecast looks amazing. Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming and the fish are biting. If you haven't wet a line yet, it's time to get out there!
The spring season is just days away and we're already riding the weather roller-coaster. Yesterday, I was fishing along the banks of a local lake in shorts and a T-shirt. This morning, I woke up to a power outage, house-shaking wind, and an air temperature of 22 degrees. After a long, cold winter, I'm not going to complain about ups and downs; at least we have some ups now, right? The weekend forecast looks promising and the fish are biting!
I'll get to the fishing report a little later, but first, I'd like to share some information about the Hooked on Fishing - Not on Drugs Program. If you've never heard of the Hooked on Fishing - Not on Drugs Program (HOFNOD), it is a nationally-recognized program created by the Future Fisherman Foundation. This worthwhile program has been around for twenty years, but has recently been updated. The curriculum uses angling to teach our youth about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and how to deal with life's daily challenges. The HOFNOD network includes trained-aquatic-education professionals in over thirty states with thousands of programs nationwide.
Jake is hooked on fishing!
The state of New Jersey seems to be jumping into the revamped program with both feet. Some of you may find this hard to believe, but it appears the state is putting at least a little of our tax dollars to good use. HOFNOD programs are popping up all over and I think the kids are going to love it!
The kids loved these cupcakes!
My son, Jake, and I had the pleasure of attending a Hooked on Fishing – Not on Drugs orientation meeting last Saturday at Lake Mathilde in Sicklerville, NJ. The Gloucester Township-based program is run by Bob Johnston and he's put together an impressive twenty-eight week course highlighted by field trips including: kayaking on Barnegat Bay, fishing on the Bodacious, overnight camping, and a group bus trip to Bay Day. Sounds like fun and get this: the program is free!
Is someone telling fish stories?
During the orientation, we met lots of great kids and friendly adults. Bob did an excellent job preparing the grounds and curriculum. While the kids walked along the wooded paths and looked over the mostly-frozen lake, I took the opportunity to talk with the state-appointed HOFNOD Coordinator, Liz Jackson. We talked about the program for a while and the more I heard, the more I liked the program. There are no strings: the purpose of the program is to get kids back outside and to keep them away from tobacco products, alcohol, and drugs.
An ice-covered Lake Mathilde
I have many passions, but my family and outdoor activities are tops on the list. If I can incorporate the two, I will, and I'm going to love every minute of it. While some of us may not need a program to enjoy time outdoors with our loved ones, there are lots of kids that don't have the same opportunities. If you'd like to help, please contact Liz Jackson at (908)637-4125 x122 Liz.Jackson@dep.state.nj.us
OK, back to fishing! It seems like a little sunshine was enough to get some fish moving. Reports are far from on fire, but the season's first few striped bass were taken over the weekend. The warm-water outflow and tributary rivers are always early-season hot spots. If you're just looking for action, I suggest grabbing some grass shrimp or bloodworms and trying for white perch. The perch bite seems like the best thing going and it only takes a few perch to make a tasty dinner. Look for the striped bass action to pick up near the end of the month. I'm sure I'll be poking around soon.
I haven't hit the salt yet, but I did get to spend the last few days fishing the neighborhood lakes and ponds. Even though it's been warm, ice is still covering a few of the backwoods ponds, but most of the larger bodies of water are open. It sure did feel good to soak up some sun and bend the rod again. Chain pickerel are on full tilt and waiting for just about anything to cross their path. If you can get minnows, expect some easy fishing. Some of the largest bass are taken in March, so get out there this weekend; it was a long winter and the fish are hungry!
As I write this, many of us are counting down the minutes to the official opening of striped bass season in our back bay and inlet waters. If you're like me, March 1st doesn't just signify the beginning of striped bass season; it brings high hopes for the beginning of a whole new fishing season. Warmer weather and bent rods are getting closer everyday!
It won't be long!
Most years, by March 1st, I'm really amped up and ready to attack the waters with reckless abandon, but I'm not feeling so reckless this season. Maybe a little part of it comes with age, but the frigid weather is definitely taking a toll on my excitement. Right now, NOAA's reporting center in Atlantic City is showing a water temperature of 35.8 degrees while Cape May's water-temp gauge shows 41.2 degrees. Throw in a bone-chilling, ten-day forecast and another winter storm or two and you can see why I'm not overly excited. With the current and predicted weather patterns, I have a feeling some of our early-season hotspots may not start off so hot this season. Fishing for striped bass in waters below 40 degrees isn't usually what I would call worthwhile. While the calendar will soon be flipping over to March, it sure does feel a lot more like January and February.
On the bright side, the March sun is gaining strength and will heat up the muddy flats regardless of air and water temperatures. I've noted temperature differences as much as 20 degrees higher on the flats versus a nearby channel. Sun-warmed, shallow water will attract baitfish and in turn predator species. I spend a lot of time fishing freshwater and saltwater flats and I've seen some amazing things in just inches of water. Skinny-water anglers should expect action to heat up as we near the end of the month.
My son, Frankie, with an early-season flats striper
If all else fails, the warm-water outflows offer solid fishing opportunities as water temperatures usually average about 10 degrees warmer than surrounding waters. The warm water not only attracts stripers and other species like a magnet, but the fish residing in the warmer water are much more likely to take a hook. Fishing can be magical at these outflows, but the word is out so if you plan on visiting a warm water area, expect lots of company.
With the number of bounties offered by some of the local tackle shops, I'm sure happy I'm not a striped bass. If you're fortunate enough to land a legal striped bass you could end up with much more than just striper thumb. Here are just a couple of the shops offering prizes for striped bass catches:
Absecon Bay Sportsman Center 1st legal striper weighed in wins a $200 gift certificate 2nd legal striper weighed in wins a $100 gift certificate 3rd legal striper weighed in wins a $50 gift certificate 1st striper over 20 pounds wins $100 gift certificate 1st striper over 30 pounds winds $100 gift certificate In addition, the first boy or girl 12 years old or under to catch and weigh in a striped bass over 28 inches will be awarded a Sea Striker rod and reel combo. The first female angler to weigh in a legal striped bass will win a Shakespeare 7-foot Ladyfish combo. *If you're an Absecon Bay Sportsman Center Facebook fan, Dave is throwing in an additional $100 gift certificate to the first angler that is registered for the shop's 1st Striper of 2014 "Event" and brings in a legal striped bass.
Captain Howard's Bait and Tackle 1st legal striper weighed in wins a Penn Battle rod and reel combo valued at $125 2nd legal striper weighed in winds a Shakespeare combo 3rd legal striper weighed in wins a Shakespeare Breast Cancer Awareness rod and reel combo
The great prizes offered by bait and tackle shops should motivate anglers to stand out in the cold just a little longer this weekend. No matter the weather conditions, I'm certain someone will be weighing in striped bass this weekend. If it's anything like last year, there may even be a line of anglers waiting to cash in their catches on Saturday morning.
Midnight Striped Bass
I don't want to send the wrong message here as I'm all for keeping a fish or two for the table, but please keep in mind that this could be a make or break year for striped bass. In recent years, the fishing has dropped off some and I'm hoping the trend doesn't continue again this year. I used to think taking a fish or two wouldn't hurt the population, but the truth is, taking a fish or two isn't helping either. Good luck out there this weekend and stay warm!
I don't know about you, but I've had enough of the winter season. I'm tired of hearing about single-digit temperatures, below zero wind-chill factors, snowfall predictions, and that ever-popular catch phrase, "Polar Vortex." I can deal with thirties and forties, but days in the teens and nights around zero are a bit much. The little time I've spent outdoors this week consisted of shoveling the porch and driveway, cleaning off our cars, and freezing my tail off. When I checked the weather the other night, it was 8 degrees in my backyard and 40 degrees in Anchorage, Alaska. You can keep your three layers of clothes, hats, and gloves; I'm done with winter!
Sunny Snow Squall
It may be hard to believe, but this time last week, I was wading at a local lake, tossing soft-plastic baits to largemouth bass and pickerel in nothing more than a hooded sweatshirt. It felt great to land my first few fish of the 2014 season. I definitely made the most of the brief January thaw. You'd think a little rod-bending action would help ease the cabin fever, winter blues, or whatever they call it. The truth is, it did help, but it was short-lived and left me wanting more!
First Fish of 2014
Since my last fishing trip on Monday, January 20, we've had close to a foot of snow and glacial temperatures. All of the local waterways have completely iced over; however, I'm not certain they're safe for ice fishing. With temperatures forecast to be above freezing this weekend and a possible big storm headed our way next week, I'll probably end up poking around for pickerel at a few of the nearby spillways.
Looking for some signs of hope, I checked a couple of the long-range forecasts and it appears that the worst of the frigid temperatures may be over, but there are some very real chances of big snow storms through early March. I keep telling myself, just one more month. Hopefully, a few fishing shows will help pass the time. I'm looking forward to the Atlantic City Boat Show on February 5 to 9, Greater Philadelphia Outdoor Sport Show on February 13 to 16, Southern Regional Fishing Flea Market on February 15, Surf Day on February 22, and the Ocean City Intermediate School Fishing Club Flea Market on March 1.
At times like this, when I can't fish, sometimes shopping for fishing-related gear works as a quick pick-me-up. Over the last couple weeks, I've been in the market for a new pair of Costa sunglasses and found the selection lacking in much of the South Jersey area. It's not like you can order a pair online because you need to try them on before you purchase them. After a bunch of phone calls and a couple of disappointing visits to local optometrists' shops, I was about to give up until a friend told me about Vutt Sunglasses at the Burlington Center Mall. On Sunday, I stopped by Paul's shop and was pleasantly surprised by a great selection of Costas along with many other brands. Paul spent a great deal of time answering my questions and making sure I'd be happy with my choice. I left his shop more knowledgeable about eye care and feeling good about my selection. If you're going to spend a lot of time on the water, it is imperative to have a good pair of polarized sunglasses. Not only do they protect your eyes, but they enable you to catch more fish. They are of utmost importance to me as I spend lots of time sight fishing on shallow flats.
Shopping for Shades
With most of my shopping list completed, I've begun my countdown for the 2014 backwater striped bass season, a little more light at the end of the tunnel. We're only a month away and it looks like we're going to need a substantial warm-up to get things going by March 1. A quick glance at NOAA's coastal water temperatures shows readings of 33 degrees in Atlantic City, 34 degrees in Cape May, and the Delaware River checked in at an icy 31 degrees. I haven't seen water temperatures that low in a few years. I'm looking forward to starting the season off right; even if I have to join the masses at the warm-water discharges.
Striped Bass Countdown
I've tried to make the best of the winter weather, but it's just not good enough. Sledding with the kids was fun for a day or two, but they enjoy being outside when it's 5 degrees even less than I do. Off-season maintenence is complete as my fishing equipment has been thoroughly cleaned and organized. I have a bunch of new toys that I'm dying to try on the water this season. Spring can't come soon enough!
Well, another year in the books and I'm left wondering where did the time go? It seems like just a few weeks ago I was waiting for the fall run and now I'm already thinking of warmer temps and next season's first spring striped bass. Sure, I've had my fun with the local chain pickerel and state-stocked rainbow trout, but it's just not the same. With skim ice becoming more common each day, it's likely even my freshwater fishing opportunities are numbered. I have a feeling it's going to be a long winter!
South Jersey Pickerel
While some anglers seem down about this season's striped bass run, there were some encouraging signs from other species. Summer flounder, otherwise known as fluke, made a good showing for much of the summer months. I didn't hear many complaints about flatfish as the 17.5-inch size limit seemed attainable and the eight days added onto the end of the season was a pleasant surprise.
Speaking of pleasant surprises, how about this year's weakfish run? This spring, weakfish reports flooded in from many locales and the solid action lasted well into the summer months. Areas that haven't seen decent weakfish action in years came alive again with fish and anglers. Some of our younger anglers were fortunate enough to experience a good weakfish bite for their very first time. The unexpected resurgence of weakfish was the highlight of my year. Hopefully, it was just the beginning of things to come in the next few years. I'm already thinking of spring tiderunners!
I can't forget to mention the appearance of redfish. I caught my first New Jersey redfish back in 2008. At the time, I knew it was possible, but highly unlikely to catch redfish in our waters. I noticed a trend last season as an above average number of redfish were caught, especially around Cape May County. The 2013 season brought even more reports of redfish and we weren't talking accidental catches; in some locations, you could successfully target them. In September, I made the trip to Cape May Point for red drum and I caught one and lost another. I'd say 100s of redfish were caught along our coast between late August and early December. If the trend continues, we're going to have a lot of fun next season!
Cape May Point Red Drum
Going back through my log, I noticed my striped bass catches were a little off this season. March started off a little chilly and the weather rollercoaster just continued on from there. Some anglers believe the lack of striped bass has more to do with a decline in the stock, but I can't help but wonder how much our weather patterns have to do with it. This spring, we had cooler-than-average water temperatures with very little transition to summer temps. I'm not certain of the exact numbers, but it seemed like we went from 50-degree waters to 70-degree waters in a week's time.
The same could be said about the fall: I felt like we were too warm until a sharp drop brought water temps down dramatically. It seemed like temps went from 70s to 50s within a week and before we knew it, surf temps dove into the 40s. If I learned anything about fishing in our area over the last twenty years, I know that it's nearly impossible to pattern fish when weather conditions are severe. Maybe there aren't as many striped bass around as there were five or ten years ago, but the brutal weather patterns surely didn't help us much this year.
Overall, my yearly striped bass numbers were down, even though my numbers were on par per trip. I fished much less than usual as I find myself looking to hit homeruns more than singles these days. I only fished during windows which I considered to be good-to-prime conditions and my catch rate was very high. So my assessment of the season is somewhat skewed as every other year I fished in all types of conditions. I haven't figured out if I'm just getting older and wiser or older and softer. Either way, looking back and seeing that I made the best of the time I committed to fishing feels good.
So, I should be happy to think I'm on to something as I'm using the time I have on the water to the best of my ability, but somehow I'm still feeling a little empty. After a good portion of the season was over, I found out what was missing. While catch rates were good by only going out on the days and nights that offered the best fishing opportunities, I found I stopped learning. As you continue into the sport, the catching part isn't enough anymore. Looking back, I remember finding a new fishing hole or finding a great bite in the middle of nowhere, far more enjoyable than catching a bunch of fish in the same old holes. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to stop pounding some of my favorite fishing holes, but I realized that I need to get out of my comfort zone every once in a while to increase my knowledge.
While I didn't learn much about striped bass, weakfish, bluefish, or summer flounder, I did learn a little about redfish and a lot about our freshwater snakeheads. I spent days searching for snakeheads and I found them in so many areas it blew my mind. I read much about snakeheads, but found very little useful information about catching them. I threw all kinds of lures and baits at them and they seemed uninterested 99% of the time. I landed a few and I got one good one, but I feel like I should have done much better. They better watch out next season!
A Worthy Adversary
Recently, I've been hitting the local ponds and lakes and catching rainbow trout, largemouth bass, and chain pickerel. Fishing action has been good, but ice has been creeping in on some of my favorite venues. Chain pickerel should keep me busy through the winter months, even if I have to hit spillways to find open water. In my opinion, pickerel are one of the most underappreciated game fish in our local waters. If you feel the need to get out and bend a rod this winter, try for pickerel; they won't disappoint you.
I'm already looking forward to the 2014 season. I have lots of gear to go through, charts to study, and reading planned during the next few weeks. I hope everyone had a memorable 2013 fishing season and I wish you well for the New Year!
Wow, what can you say about the lovely weather we had this weekend? The sad truth is that it's not looking much better as we head into the end of November. After today's 40-mph winds, a nor'easter is due to blast our coastline on Tuesday and continues into Wednesday, followed by another shot of hard northwest wind and more frigid temperatures. To top it off, the December long-range forecast looks to be filled with additional below-average air temperatures. If the current trend continues, I think the South Jersey fall run may come to an end before it ever really started. I hope I'm wrong, but it's not looking good.
I think most anglers would agree that it's been slow for those of us that fish from Long Beach Island to Cape May. About ten days ago, we had some strong blowout tides and things have been slow to recover ever since. I've been out day and night and while I'm finding some fish here and there, it's been far from what we've come to expect from our fall striper run. In areas where I'm used to catching five to ten bass in a few hours, I feel lucky to have two or three on the end of the line.
On the bright side, a little further to the north, boaters and surfcasters reported some better action. Earlier this week, anglers fishing around Island Beach State Park enjoyed some solid action. I, like many anglers, grew tired of waiting for the stripers to visit our area so I headed up to IBSP to get in on the hot bite.
With a tip from a friend, I walked on to the beach at 5 AM and had birds and stripers busting on sand eels in front of me for hours. I caught a bunch of fish in a short amount of time and enjoyed every moment of it. Does it get any better than watching the sunrise over the ocean with a bent rod and a school of hungry stripers in front of you? Not for me, I was in heaven! I caught most of my fish on metals and teasers, but needlefish plugs and Daiwa SP Minnows worked well, too.
First bass on my new Van Staal
By the next day, word of the great bite was out and most of the beach was shoulder to shoulder with surfcasters. Even with 100s of surfcasters on the beach, I still managed to put together a decent catch of solid striped bass. I thought to myself, this is what I've been waiting for!
Word of the hot bite spread quickly!
A return trip on Thursday morning saw more anglers and less fish. A stiff, east wind provided some beautiful white water, but it also cut into my casting distance. I felt lucky to land the one that I did. Since my last visit, the weather and fishing reports have gone downhill quickly.
A fall fatty, full of sand eels
Recently, one or two sources were laughed at for tossing the idea of, ‘The season might be over." out there. While I wouldn't go that far, I have to admit, I'm certainly concerned. A cold shot or two is normal for this time of year, but an extended cold period with a coastal storm mixed in could be a death blow. I sure hope my feeling is wrong; I was just starting to have fun.
With poor conditions for the weekend expected, I hit the South Jersey backwaters on Friday night as I thought it might be my last shot for any decent backwater action. I waited out the rain and hit a bunch of my favorite backwater fishing holes. Conditions were good, but I had to make a few moves before I found any action. I picked away at schoolie stripers during the falling tide and tagged a few more fish. You really have to work at it to put together any decent numbers of fish. I made the best of it and jigged up eight small stripers and drove home wondering if things were going to get much better from here on out? Over the last few season's some of our best action comes in December so I'm not giving up hope just yet.
A tagged fish right before release
My experience with tagging fish continues. I finished up my shipment of twenty lock-on tags and I'm trying the same number of spaghetti-style tags from the American Littoral Society. I've found the lock-on tags to be ten times more convenient. It's amazing how quickly you can apply a tag and release a fish with a little practice. The spaghetti-style tags require a little more effort, so once this batch is used, I'll be sticking with the lock-on tags. I'm still looking forward to receiving my first tag return.
Spaghetti-style tags from the ALS
Don't forget some of our local waters will receive a visit from the trout truck this week. I've included the stocking schedule below. For more information, please visit the NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife's website at http://www.njfishandwildlife.com.
‘Tis the season: the month of November offers South Jersey anglers some great fishing opportunities highlighted by truckloads of sweet-water trout and tons of salty striped bass. Over the last few weeks, the state stocked thousands of super-sized trout in many of our local waterways, with hundreds more heading our way in the coming weeks. Striped bass action hasn't quite reached full tilt, but action is picking up and should continue to do so for the entire month of November. It's a great time to be fishing in South Jersey!
The best of both worlds!
I've been fishing day and night with solid results. My days have been spent chasing trout along the banks of streams, creeks, rivers, ponds, and lakes. By dusk, I'm in my car and headed down Route 55 to cover the back bays, inlets, and beachfront for striped bass. Believe it or not, I welcomed this morning's storm as I needed some time to catch up on sleep, household chores, and my blog.
A few weeks ago, big, beautiful brook and rainbow trout were stocked into many of our waterways. For some reason, the trout haven't received much attention from local anglers. I can't figure out why the fall stocking doesn't seem to garner the same attention as the spring season. The weather is perfect, crowds are minimal, and the average trout is at least twice the size as the spring fish. I've visited a bunch of the freshly-stocked venues and more times than not, I have the area to myself. Don't get me wrong, I love having the lake and hundreds of trout to myself, but I just can't figure out why more anglers don't take advantage of the great fishing action.
Our limit of brook trout
With so many fish available locally, I've had my little sidekick, Jake, with me on most trips. We've been fishing spinners and the fish have been eager to chase them down. Over the years, I've thrown all kinds of spinners, but I've settled on one that seems to receive strikes much more than the others. It's made by Thomas and it's a nickel/gold double spinner. Just in the last few weeks, I've caught hundreds of trout on this spinner. The spinner casts a mile, tracks smoothly, and provides more flash than any other spinner I've ever thrown. I have a few more left in my bag, but I'll be making a bulk order before the end of the season.
Jake with a beautiful brookie
While there are still plenty of big brookies swimming in our recently stocked waters, the truck will be visiting again on Tuesday, November 25. This time, hundreds of 14 to 18-inch rainbow trout will be tossed into some of our neighborhood lakes and ponds. For a complete list of stocked waters feel free to visit the NJ Fish and Wildlife site.
Ok, it's time to get salty and talk about stripers. To be honest, the striped bass action has been a little slow to start as mild, ocean temperatures seem like the new normal. I can remember, not that long ago, when some of the best back bay action took place in October; that's just not the case anymore. Over the last handful of seasons, it seems like the bulk of the migratory bass arrive in our waters sometime between mid-November and December. Thinking back, I can remember the time between Halloween and Thanksgiving offered the hottest action; however, more recently, the best opportunity at numbers of striped bass seems to have shifted a little later into the season with the best bite occurring between Thanksgiving and Christmas, especially in the southernmost portion of the state.
Julia with a limit of backwater bass on 10/28/13
Although I'm certain the fall migration starts a little later than it used to, I'm still out there giving it my all. There are enough striped bass around to hold my interest and in the last few days the action really picked up. While there usually seems to be plenty of 18 to 26-inch bass around in the backwaters, recently, there's been a push of sea lice covered 26 to 32-inch fish. With the water temps still hovering around 60 degrees, I've hooked into a few weakfish and a bunch of out-of-season summer flounder. We need the water temperature to drop a bit more before we experience any serious striped bass action.
Striped bass with sea lice
With high expectations over the next few weeks, I've decided to start tagging many of the fish I catch during the fall migration. I did a bunch of research and talked to the great people over at the American Littoral Society in great depth about the science of fish tagging. I've bothered Jeff Dement, the ALS Fish Tagging Director, a bunch over the last few weeks with email, phone calls, orders, and questions and he's been a pleasure to talk to each and every time. I'm looking forward to sharing my fish tagging stories in the coming weeks.
My tagging packet from the American Littoral Society
Well, it looks like the storm is over and the front pushed through. You know what that means: it's time to pack up the gear and get ready to hit the water. I'll catch up on sleep later. Get out while you can because the holidays and Old Man Winter will be here before you know it.
Does it get any better than late summer - early fall in Cape May County? The seasonal crowds are long gone, daytime highs are usually around 80 degrees, water temperatures hover just a little above 70 degrees, you can fish while barefoot in shorts and a t-shirt and to top it all off, you never know what's going to end up on the end of your line.
Cape May Point
What started off as plans for a family camping trip in the Pine Barrens quickly turned into a motel stay in North Wildwood as I just couldn't pass up the unbelievably-low offseason rates. With summerlike weather forecast for the weekend, I figured we'd put off the camping trip until a little later in October and sneak in one more summer weekend. Fishing was fairly low on the family's priority list, but I knew we'd manage at least a little time on the water.
After bike rides on the boardwalk, sightseeing, a Monster Truck Show, and some time spent in the heated pool, we hit the beach. Our motel was right on Hereford Inlet, but the constant northeast wind made sitting on the beach a little uncomfortable. My trusty fishing experience kicked in and I decided we'd head south to Cape May Point where I figured the wind would be much less of a factor.
North Wildwood Surf
Fifteen minutes later, we parked the car right under the Cape May Point Lighthouse and headed over the dunes to the beach. It was like another planet as the ocean was flat, it felt twenty degrees warmer, and dolphins were jumping out of the water. We set up our beach chairs and blanket and were content with the world.
As the afternoon passed and the tide started coming in, I noticed a few birds working the nearby rips. I thought nothing of it as its common for small schools of snapper bluefish to feed on the plethora of baitfish in the area. I continued to watch as the birds were moving closer to the beach and growing in numbers. As luck would have it, a full-on feeding frenzy took place right in front of me and I didn't have my fishing gear!
The blitz lasted about twenty minutes, but it felt like an hour without a rod in my hand. As it turned out, we enjoyed an incredible day with some amazing scenery, but it could have been so much better if I could have made just a few casts! Most of the action seemed like snapper blues, but you never know what's going to show up when big schools of baitfish are present. With one more day of vacation and the forecast calling for a continued northeast blow, we'd have no choice but to return to the Point again and I'd make sure to pack my equipment this time.
We returned to the Point again on Sunday and experienced similar conditions, but the birds were gone. I know how blitzes work and the odds of repeating the prior day's action was probably close to one in a million. I figured I'd work the rock piles as I used to catch a ton of weakfish around them. I started with a ¼-ounce lead head and a bubblegum-colored Zoom Super Fluke. Low tide passed and the water just started to move. I worked the current seams at each rock pile and found tons of bluefish and a few small flatties. Right across from the lighthouse, I had something hit my Zoom hard and take a few runs before it shook the hook and left me questioning if I might have had one of the few redfish that seem to be showing up in better numbers each season. Soon after, I came to my senses and told myself I was silly to think I just lost a redfish.
As the tide continued in, the bluefish became so thick that my soft-plastic baits didn't stand a chance. Those little bluefish have a way of chomping off most of the bait without getting the hook. With only a small stock of lures packed, it was time to break out the cast net. After a few blind casts came back empty, I walked the Point jetties and found small pods of mullet in each pocket. Before long, I had more than enough bait in the bucket and it was time to have some fun.
I set up a rod for my son, Jake, and we started working the jetty pockets. Every cast ended in a strike. We caught tons of bluefish, a bunch of weakfish, croakers, kingfish, and a couple more summer flounder. Jake just turned twelve so it was a joy explaining why the fish were in the areas they were and as the day continued on I had him showing me where the fish would be holding. I didn't think it could get any better.
Jake with a Weakfish
Believe it or not, catching a bunch of 12 to 15-inch fish was a lot of fun on my 6'8" light-duty G.Loomis NRX and Shimano Stella 3000; even the small blues pull a little drag. After I had my fill of snapper blues, I figured I'd try throwing a lively mullet into the hole where I lost a larger fish earlier in the afternoon.
Soon after my bait hit the water, I felt the snappers chomping at the tail so I let it sink and worked what I'm assuming was half a mullet back along the current seam towards the rock pile. Right before my retrieve was complete I got whacked and my drag started peeling. By this time, the tide had risen considerably and it probably wasn't in my best interest to be fishing on the rocks barefooted. The fish on the end of the line took me around the tip of the jetty and I was having problems maneuvering on the wet rocks. After a few good runs, I gained control and saw the fish surface just a few feet away from the rock pile: it was a redfish! I didn't want to chance losing it on the rocks, so I walked it down to the pocket and landed it on the beach.
I picked up the 25-inch red and admired its beauty. The copper-colored drumfish had a distinct black dot and a brilliant blue tail. I've caught redfish in New Jersey before, but it's always special to cross paths with this great game fish. They put up a great battle, are pleasing to look at, and taste great on the dinner table. After a few pictures, I couldn't help but to think it was a redfish that I lost earlier in the day.
New Jersey regulations on red drum are one fish per day between 18 and 27 inches with no closed season. You read that right, if you're fortunate enough to catch a 50-inch red drum, you cannot keep it! I guess the state record is safe. While the regulations might seem tight, I believe they are one of the main reasons we're beginning to see reds return to our waters. Reports of redfish are increasing each season and it's not just in Cape May County. Just in the last few days, I heard reports of multiple redfish catches in Long Beach Island waters.
Looking back, we managed to squeeze a week's worth of fun into a three-day weekend. The wife and kids had a great time and everything worked out perfectly; well, I guess I could have had my rod with me during the blitz, but the redfish helped me get over that. Our summer definitely went out with a bang!
As coastal anglers, it's safe to say that most of us are anticipating a great fall run, but why rush it? The truth is, many of the summer species remain in our waters and will continue to hang around for at least another month. No matter how much we want the striped bass run to begin, it's at the very least, a solid month away. Sure, the mullet are beginning to make their way towards the inlets, but for every striped bass chasing those mullet, there are a 1000 snapper bluefish. With a little over a week left in the summer flounder season and a solid showing of 12 to 26-inch weakfish, I'm not in any rush to say goodbye to the summer season.
A late-summer sunrise over Cape May Harbor
I hope anglers plan on taking advantage of the unexpected, extra eight days added to this year's summer flounder season. It's rare to receive bonus time on any type of species, so I'm looking forward to at least another trip or two. Flatfish action remains good at many of the local wreck and reef sites. For those of us that are old enough to remember a time before summer flounder had a season, we know that those wrecks and reefs hold fluke well into October. Ocean conditions look a little sporty for much of the week, but the forecasters are expecting calmer seas by the weekend. If the weather prediction is right, I may spend the next few days live-lining some mullet around some of my favorite inlet rock piles. Those big flatties love mullet! I'm hoping to be back out on the wrecks and reefs by Friday or Saturday.
The party boat fun isn't over yet!
Once I'm done with the flatfish, I would be a fool not to take advantage of some of the best weakfish action of the season. Late-September and October nights offer incredible weakfish action. Our backwaters are chock-full of peanut bunker, spearing, and mullet and those speckled beauties are hot on their tails. Most seasons, the late-summer/early-fall push of weakfish run on the small side, but over the last few seasons, numbers of 3 to 5-pound weakfish seem to be increasing steadily. If we happen to find some decent striper action while targeting weakies and I'm certain we will, no one will be complaining.
I spent last Tuesday, September 10, enjoying a summer day at Hereford Inlet. I did some scouting around and everything I experienced felt like summer. I fished a few of my favorite fishing holes and caught tons of small spot, sea robins, sea bass, bluefish, and kingfish. I took in a little sun and enjoyed a few hours boogie-boarding in the 75-degree surf. The day was incredibly enjoyable as fishing action was great, even if they were on the small side. There were quite a few anglers out and about and most seemed content with the small bluefish and kingfish they were catching.
A Hereford Inlet kingfish
On the way home, I stopped in a few of the local bait and tackle shops and heard some talk about mullet. Since my visit a few days ago, talk about mullet has increased and should continue to do so as we approach the full moon on September 19. With a cold front passing today and a little NE wind forecast for tomorrow, things could get interesting along our inlet jetties. As great as all this sounds, we can't ignore the fact that water temperatures are above 70 degrees along much of our coastline. I'm sure some resident bass will take advantage of the departing mullet, but I seriously doubt that we'll be experiencing any monumental fishing action in our area. In my opinion, most of the mullet leave a little too early to expect any real widespread striper action. There was a time when a September mullet run meant something in our area, but it's been years since we've seen newsworthy striped bass action in September. If only those mullet could hang around into October and November, then, we'd have something to talk about.
Honestly, I don't blame anyone for looking forward to the fall run, especially after last season's unforgettable Super-storm Sandy. Many anglers, including yours truly, hung up the gear after Sandy and the nor'easters that followed. A fall without fishing just didn't feel right, but I felt lucky as missing a fall's fishing run was minuscule when compared to some of the devastation others had to endure. Just days before Sandy rolled through, we were into an incredible weakfish bite. After the storm hit, fishing was the furthest thing from my mind as I watched friends struggle to get their lives back in order.
Mornings we all dream about
Looking back, not fishing last fall has allowed me to appreciate the sport I cherish much more. I find myself enjoying each fishing trip, even if the results aren't impressive. Thoughts of blitz-type fishing with schools of bass and blues on mullet, peanut bunker, or sand eels is every anglers dream. My heart rate increases just thinking about it, but as much as I'm looking forward to the fall run, I'm going to enjoy every bit of summer that I can!
Summer flounder action is heating up along our reef and wreck sites! Fishing reports are pouring in from all over as bottom-bouncing anglers fill their fish boxes with tasty fillets. The season has been extended an extra eight days until September 24, so there's still plenty of time to plan a trip or two. With a little luck and some decent weather, the last few weeks of the 2013 summer flounder season could be magical.
As a backwater angler, I take a little time away from the saltwater scene during most of July and August. The fishing action generally seems to be a little slower and to tell you the truth, the thought of beach-going crowds makes me cringe. Usually, local freshwater action holds my interest, but I needed an escape from largemouth bass and lily pads.
Salty air and a trip on a head boat to fish over some rough bottom is just what I needed. Believe it or not, I have a lot of fond memories about fishing along the party boat rails. It's been a couple of years since I fished on a head boat, but the Cape May-based Porgy IV came to mind as I feel like Captain Paul is one of the best in the business.
My buddy, Dave, and I agreed to head out on Friday, August 16 as the weather and ocean conditions looked superb. We arrived in Cape May at 6:30 AM and were a little surprised to see so many anglers already lined up, especially in the bow and stern. When we were a little younger, we would put our rods on the boat around midnight and fish the back bays until sunrise, but we're a little older and softer now. We grabbed our gear and set up on the starboard side just a few feet from the stern.
Early-morning full boat
With our rods tied to the rail, we walked over to the Lobster House and ordered breakfast. The eggs, toast, potatoes, and orange juice hit the spot. I've had breakfast at all the local eateries, but the Lobster House's Luncheonette gets my vote. After our meal, we walked across the street to Jim's Bait and Tackle to pick up a few rigs and some ice for our cooler. Before we knew it, it was closing in on 8 AM, the boat was full, and we could hear the roar of the engine.
Rigged and ready
When we fish for fluke with Captain Paul, we're used to making a hard right at the inlet with a south heading set for the Old Grounds, but on this day, we headed almost straight east to fish what I assume was the Cape May Reef – head-boat captains never seem to like talking about their fishing spots. With word of good fishing action at the Wildwood and Cape May reef sites, I wasn't too surprised that we headed east – if nothing else, at least the ride was a little shorter.
As Cape May slowly disappeared along the horizon, we double checked our rigs and shared a few fishing stories with some of the other patrons while the mates collected fares and prepared bait for our day on the water. I always enjoy watching the old-timers break out their secret rigs and magic baits. Everyone was pleasant and a joy to be around; it was a good crowd.
Well-prepared bait boats
When we approached the fishing grounds, we could make out what looked like a small city. It turned out to be a fleet of boats that were already into a good pull of flatties. Our captain decided to fish alone, just a little south of the fleet. The boat provided an ample amount of squid, fluke belly, and mackerel strips to bait our hooks. I dropped my green, mylar rig down to the bottom and was into fluke right from the first drop. We caught so many short fluke, I wondered if a keeper-sized flatfish would ever get a shot at our baits. I saw a few other patrons land keepers, but I was stuck in shortyville. The action was great, but reeling up 8-ounces of lead and 16 to 17-inch fluke from the depths soon began to feel like work.
A few drifts and about a dozen throwbacks later, I finally had a better fish on. I got it about halfway up before it shook the hook. About ten minutes later, I had another solid take and put a near 20-inch fluke in the net. I continued to catch a bunch of short flatfish as I watched most of the boat pick away at keepers.
Finally a keeper!
Dave was busy with throwbacks for most of the morning. Right around lunchtime, he set the hook on what looked like a monster. After a well-spirited battle, we saw a belly-hooked, 20-inch flatfish on the surface. It wasn't the doormat we were hoping for, but it was another solid keeper. We played the throwback game for a little longer before Dave nailed two keepers on back-to-back drops on our last drift of the day.
Dave with a pair of his three keepers
When the final horn sounded most of the patrons had a flattie or two. I think high hook had four, but I'm not sure if that was a catch made by a couple of anglers. I didn't see any true doormats, but most of the keepers were thick 20-inch fish and the pool winner was pushing 5 pounds.
Our box of flatties
The mates made the rounds looking for pool fish, but we didn't have any quality fish to challenge the 5-pounder that was already on the hook. A few others were close and as it turned out, one was so close that two anglers split the pool money.
We drug our cooler to the cleaning table and watched as the mates filleted flounder after flounder. It's been a while since I had someone clean fish for me and it was a real treat. The guys were good and made quick work of the flatfish.
Looking back, there was nothing truly memorable about this trip, yet I found it incredibly enjoyable. My catch was far from spectacular; Dave did a little better, but we've experienced 100s of trips with better action. I guess part of it was the incredible weather and ocean conditions: air temps were about 75 degrees with a light breeze and wave heights were never more than two feet. The patrons came from all walks of life; yet, we got along like we knew each other for years. Tangles were at a minimum, even with a full boat, so it seemed like everyone knew at least enough to not ruin anyone's trip. Everyone was there to have a good time and that's just what we did. I have a feeling I'll be back out on the big boat again later this week.
Why do so many of us make fishing more complicated than it is? Over the last few days, I've hit many of the local freshwater fishing holes with my two youngest kids and I've learned a lot by watching and listening to them. Some of our recent experiences have me questioning what it means to be a good angler; maybe fishing is a little easier than I thought it was?
Much of the 2013 summer season has been tough as it seemed like we had one of two weather options: heavy rains or near 100-degree air temperatures. Thankfully, it seems like we've broken the pattern and better days are ahead of us. Sunshine-filled days in the 80s are welcome as we're all dying to get out on the water.
Fortunately, I have the luxury of spending the summer with my kids and they like fishing enough to tag along with their old man. While my youngsters put in an effort on most trips, more times than not, they're goofing around until their rod bends. We always have a good time, but I can't count the times I wondered, "How do they get so lucky?"
On a recent trip, my 11-year-old son, Jake, joined me for the day at a local, public lake. Most of the time, we'll start by fishing the spillway creek as the moving water creates oxygen and a better environment for summertime fishing. Some of these little holes are so full of fish you could scoop them up in your hands. As soon as our bait touches the water, a fish is on the hook. After a few fish are caught, they seem to grow even more aggressive as they go into feeding mode and become highly competitive. Our bait container was a few feet over by the first hole so I wanted to show Jake how we didn't need bait to catch these fish. I grabbed a small green leaf from an overhanging tree and put a little piece on my hook. Sure enough, I had a sunfish on just seconds after my offering hit the water. Jake followed along and quickly started catching fish on whatever he grabbed and threaded onto his hook. Soon after, we were hooking sunfish on bare hooks and laughing about those "stupid fish."
Jake working the spillway
Later that afternoon, we made our way over to another lake. It was my first time at this venue so I worked the perimeter to see what the structure looked like. Jake sat by the spillway and happily caught sunfish after sunfish on worms. As I moved a little further away, I could hear Jake yelling or singing; I wasn't sure what he was doing, but whatever it was grabbed my attention. I headed back over to the spillway just in enough time to see him hoist a nice-sized largemouth bass onto the bank. He looked at me with a big smile and said, "Dad, this bass just ate a little piece of grass I put on the hook." We both started laughing and admired the bass for a few seconds before I took a few pictures and sent it on its way.
Jake's grass bass
After Jake released his bass, I wondered about the guy that fished a half-hour in the very same location with all kinds of fancy equipment and caught nothing. I couldn't help but think about how "lucky" Jake was to catch that bass. We all know sunfish aren't difficult to catch, but I know lots of guys, including myself, that spend a ton of money on fancy lures for largemouth bass, while my 11-year-old son is here catching them on a little blade of grass that he plucked from the bank of the lake.
Catching fish on a variety of offerings doesn't come as any earth-shaking headline, but I think some of us may take fishing and ourselves a little too seriously sometimes, I know I have. We've caught weakfish and striped bass on bare lead heads, tog on soft-plastic baits, and largemouth bass, perch, and pickerel on banana peels. I'm not suggesting that it's a preferred way to fish for these species, although I may be onto something with the banana peels, but it does provide enough evidence that fishing isn't always rocket science.
Now, this may ruffle a few feathers, but honestly, how much skill does it take to throw a bunker chunk or clam 30 yards into the suds. I know lots of anglers that feel like they're "special" because they caught a big striper on a clam or bunker chunk. You could take it as step further and add the diehard jetty guys, as I'm aware of quite a few rock piles that only require an angler to be there and toss plugs, almost aimlessly, into the water. The same could be said about most other types of fish, no matter the location.
Frankie's big catch wasn't so difficult thanks to a tip from a friend
Don't get me wrong, there are times, lots of times, when fishing seems so specialized that a PhD may be required. Nothing will ever compare to the knowledge and experience gained from time on the water, but I'm beginning to think those types of anglers are slowly dwindling.
For every angler out there finding a bite and putting their time in, there are probably a hundred others waiting for his or her report. It doesn't seem to be so much about what you know as it does about where and who you know. For example, I can't imagine my children are better anglers than I was, yet they've caught 100 times the fish I caught at their age. As a young boy, I fished all day, every day and if for some reason I couldn't be on the water, I'd be watching fishing shows or reading magazines about fishing. My kids catch more fish than I did at their age simply because I put them in the right locations at the right times.
Julia hooked a good one
So is fishing really that difficult? I guess it depends on whom you ask. For me, fishing was difficult as I learned mostly on my own with a little help from Jimmy Houston, Roland Martin, and Field and Stream. If you ask my kids, fishing is easy. As I'm writing this, I asked Jake if fishing was difficult and he responded with a smile and quick, "No." When I asked him why he felt that fishing was easy he said, "Because you show me what to do and I do it." It's summertime and the fishin's easy; well, at least it is for some of us.
Before each season begins, I make a small to-do list to expand my experiences and knowledge in the great sport of fishing. Besides the normal goals of 50-pound striped bass and 10-pound largemouth bass, I throw in some new techniques and species to expand my horizons. This year there were two things at the top of my list: kayak fishing in saltwater and catching snakeheads. The saltwater-kayak trips were checked off the list months ago with more than a few back-bay trips and a surf launch under my belt. It's time to talk snakeheads.
Like most anglers, I heard the rumors about the invasive northern snakeheads in some of our local waters, so I felt like it was time for me to find out what these so-called "frankenfish" were all about. Before my first trip, I did some research and found lots of interesting information. Much to my surprise, many of the rumors turned out to be true. Northern snakeheads are a freshwater species native to China, Korea, and Russia. They can reach 40 inches in length or better and are obligate air breathers – they must breath air or they will suffocate. Snakeheads have an impressive set of teeth and feed mostly on other fish, frogs, and on occasion, small animals such as rats and young birds. Parent fish are extremely aggressive and have been known to sacrifice themselves to protect their young. Snakeheads can live on land for up to four days, provided they are wet and they've been known to wriggle their bodies and fins or "walk" as far a quarter mile!
With my interests peaked, I made my way to one of the more well-known snakehead areas along Little Mantua Creek. Upon my arrival, I ran into another angler and asked a bunch of questions. I didn't get much useful information other than, "You'll see ‘em all over out there." I headed to the water and was greeted by snakeheads milling about in open water. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, they were all over! I dropped my gear and started casting at them.
About an hour later, my high hopes were quickly dashed as cast after cast came back untouched; there's nothing more frustrating than seeing fish that you can't catch. On more than one occasion, I watched as snakeheads jumped out of the water and onto the rocks beneath me. I couldn't help but to question everything I read about these incredibly aggressive fish; why weren't they attacking my baits? After a few frustrating hours, I returned to my car with my tail between my legs.
Luke Dautel with one of many he caught back in early June
That evening, I read so much about snakeheads my head was spinning. Everything I read seemed to contradict what I had experienced out on the water. According to the experts, snakeheads preferred slow-moving waters surrounded by lily pads or other types of structure. The particular area I was fishing had heavy current and little-to-no structure, but the snakeheads were all over. I had a hard time sleeping that night, but I would be back again to try in the morning.
The next morning, I packed every lure I could think of into my bag and returned for round two. Once I settled back at the water's edge, I could see snakeheads jumping in the current, coming up for air, and swimming back and forth in front of me. I started with buzz-baits and top-water lures, but the snakeheads seemed to be spooked by my offerings. I switched lures a bunch of times before I finally had a hit on a Blue Fox Vibrax spinner. I missed the hit and tossed that spinner for another hour before trying my old standby, a Zoom Super Fluke. Minutes later, I had a solid swipe, hooked up, and after a spirited battle, I landed my first snakehead.
It wasn't easy, but I killed the snakehead as instructed by New Jersey's Fish and Wildlife regulations. It was the first time I killed a fish just to kill it. Eating the fish is not a viable option as I won't eat fish from those waterways and I don't know anyone that will. I've caught a handful of snakeheads over the last few weeks and although I've killed each one, it's becoming a little more difficult with every catch. At first, killing the fish was an easy decision, but the more I learn about these so-called "frankenfish" the more I'm beginning to appreciate them.
Lots of snakeheads die on these rocks
I spoke with the Division's principal fisheries biologist, Chris Smith, and was told to keep killing the snakeheads as they're quickly reproducing and expanding their range. Snakehead catch reports are increasing substantially along the Delaware River tributaries, especially from Salem to Trenton. Their range also seems to be moving east as Chris passed along information about a snakehead reported at the Harrisonville Lake spillway. When I asked Chris about the Division's plans concerning snakeheads, he said there wasn't much the state could do other than rely on anglers to keep them in check.
In the last few weeks, I covered lots of ground and to my surprise I found snakeheads in almost every body of water I explored. Even in the muddiest of water, they are easy to spot because they have to come up for air. With a noted aggressive nature, I found their behavior questionable most of the time. I still have so many questions to answer: maybe their behavior has something to do with the tremendous amount of rain we've had this month? Were they spawning? Maybe they just aren't that easy to catch?
Snakeheads live here
Indeed, I have much to learn about snakeheads, but I'm starting to believe the hype has more bark than bite. I fished some very hard-to-get-to waters and watched as snakeheads, largemouth bass, sunfish, carp, and small baitfish seemed to live in harmony. The one thing I can tell you for sure is that I've enjoyed fishing for snakeheads and they are a blast once you get them to take the hook. For better or worse, I have a feeling these fish are here to stay.
Fishing opportunities in our area couldn't be much better than they are right now! Despite fluctuating water temperatures and what seems like a never-ending south wind, fishing action remains solid. Not only are striped bass, weakfish, summer flounder, and bluefish more than willing to bend a rod, but in the last few weeks, we've seen kingfish, croakers, spot, sea bass, and blowfish join the party. Throw in some amazing freshwater fishing opportunities and I'm left wondering, what more could you ask for?
According to NOAA, the current water temperature in Atlantic City is 56.3 degrees while the Cape May station is reporting a balmy 69.3 degrees. The weekend heat wave was a little taste of summer, but the long-range forecasts have our area in the 70s for much of the rest of the month. Perhaps the water-temperature roller coaster will slow down and we'll experience some cooler, stable weather that should make fishing action much more predictable.
In spite of the persistent south wind, the spring weakfish run continues to impress anglers. Many of our young anglers are experiencing those head-shaking, drag-pulling runs for their very first time. After some down years, it's great to see good numbers of weakfish around again.
Most of my free time has been spent chasing weakfish and I haven't been disappointed. I've found the speckled beauties in all of their old haunts. Kayaking creek mouths for weakies continues to be productive, especially during the outgoing tides. Action along the ocean and bayside rock piles has been outstanding; the early-morning/late-afternoon bite continues to be predictable and worthwhile. During the night tides, good numbers of weakfish are gathering around sod banks, mussel beds, fishing piers, bridge pilings, and other types of hard structure.
When I'm targeting weakfish, I usually start with a ¼ to ½ ounce jig head and a bubblegum-colored soft plastic. While I find the light, lead-head and pink plastic work most of the time, there are some areas where I'll switch it up. In dirty water, I've had more success tossing rattling plugs and paddle-tail soft plastics. Dark-colored swimming plugs work well when fishing at night along the sod banks. When I'm fishing from the rock piles, it's tough to beat a bucktail: a small, white bucktail tipped with a pink plastic or a purple, fire-tail worm is deadly when fished from the Cape May County rock piles. When talking about weakfish at the rock piles, I'd be foolish not to mention bobbers and bloodworms. As hard as it may be to believe, the bobber and bloodworm combination is incredibly simple and extremely effective.
Weakfish at the Rock Piles
It's been tough to pull myself away from the weakfish, but I made my first attempt at ocean kayaking last Friday, May 31. With reports of monster striped bass and bluefish under acres of bunker, I couldn't help accepting an offer from a good friend. We met at sunrise at Ortley Beach and began scanning the horizon for signs of life. With calm conditions, we continued north stopping every few blocks to look for action. We covered some ground and finally found what we were looking for just north of Shark River Inlet. The water was chilly and launching our kayaks into the waves was definitely a lot more invigorating than my freshwater and backwater adventures. After paddling through a substantial wave, I found myself out in a good swell surrounded by acres of bunker. Snagging bunker was incredibly easy; however, we couldn't find anything willing to eat our impaled bunker. After a couple hours without any action we decided to head back, but not before two humpback whales sounded off about 20 yards from our kayaks! As a backwater angler for most of my life, the whale sighting gave me an incredible adrenaline rush; it was an experience I'll never forget. The pair of whales came up a few more times before they continued south down along the beachfront. Although we didn't find any bass or blues, I still consider my first ocean kayak trip a success. I'm already looking forward to calm seas and my next ocean adventure.
Acres of Bunker
With so much to do and so little time, I've been neglecting the flatfish. I've been catching a few here and there while fishing for weakfish, but I have plans to drift the back bays later this week. Reports have been good and I expect the flatties to hang around in the skinny water for at least a few more weeks before they start heading towards the inlets. The weather forecast looks favorable for backwater trips all week and I plan on taking advantage of it.
That's Not a Weakie!
While I've been busy chasing weakfish and playing in my kayak, some of my South Jersey surfcaster buddies have been clamming up some trophy striped bass. The bite hasn't been easy, but diehard anglers continue to make impressive catches. Sean Hillegass stole the spotlight with his 52.2-pound trophy striped bass. I watched Sean grow up: even though it was years ago, it seems like just yesterday I was watching him ride his BMX up onto the bridge for the late-night bass bite. Congratulations buddy, you deserved that fish!
Sean's 52.2-pound Beast
In between my saltwater fishing adventures, I still manage to find time to hit the local sweet-water fishing holes. The other day, I had the pleasure of fishing with my youngest son, Jake, and his buddy, Joey. It was Joey's first fishing trip so we wanted to show him how much fun fishing can be. We dug some worms in the backyard and then headed over to Wilson Lake at Scotland Run Park. The boys caught tons of sunfish and a few nice-sized largemouth bass. Joey had a blast and I think Jake might have a new fishing buddy. I'm looking forward to spending lots of time on the water with the boys this summer.
They're back! Weakfish are popping up all over: reports of 3 to 6-pound weakfish are making headlines along much of the northeast coast. The numbers and sizes of fish may not compare to the glory days, but there are certainly more weakfish around than we've seen in the last few years. Most anglers targeting weakfish are catching them in impressive numbers, while others are pleasantly surprised by weakfish at the end of their lines when fishing for striped bass, bluefish, or summer flounder. Let's hope this is just the beginning of a tremendous success story similar to what we've witnessed with the striped bass years ago.
The Glory Days
I don't know where to start. Ok here we go: my name is Frank Ruczynski and I'm a weakfish junkie. I do crazy things that most "normal" people would never dream of in order to catch "a fish." My wife and kids know that I'm not quite right, but even more so during the month of May - they've learned to deal with it; God bless them. Thoughts of tackle-testing tiderunners and a serious case of sleep deprivation often make it difficult for me to concentrate on much else; it took an unbelievable amount of willpower to stay in today so I could catch up on household responsibilities and my blog. During the little bit of sleep I receive, I often wake up to a hook-setting jolt. Once I realize the bite I just set the hook on was just a dream, I'm disappointed and usually can't get back to sleep. To most people it's just "a fish," but fishing for weakfish is one of the things I enjoy most on the planet.
Twenty years ago, when I first started fishing, those fanged-backwater beauties were abundant. I guess you could say weakfish taught me how to fish. In those days, tiderunner weakfish were the talk of the town as striped bass were talked about in a past tense only. At that time, a 10-pound tiderunner was the mark that most of us aimed for, however as the years passed our expectations went up as we continued to catch larger and larger weakfish.
Not Long Ago, Weakfish Like This Were Caught Every Spring
Since then, we've watched the population crash as those great year classes expired. We'd have some hope as schools of spike weakfish would show up here and there in the late summer/early fall season, but the action was sporadic at best.
Recently, we've seen lots of promising signs. It started a few years ago when we were tossing our cast nets for mullet and peanut bunker, but came up with tons of 4 to 6-inch weakies. The next season, we had a nice run of 12 to 16-weakfish. Last spring, we saw a fair amount of weakfish with many in the 18 to 22-inch class. The fall was amazing as we had tremendous numbers of 2 to 4-pound weakfish until Superstorm Sandy put an end to the fun. So the spring push of weakfish isn't much of a surprise, but it sure is welcome. With stories of the striped bass demise, I watched the weakfish dwindle with my own eyes, and storms like Sandy hitting our coast, I take nothing for granted. Enjoy the great fishing while you can!
They're Back and Getting Bigger!
This season, I've mixed two of the things I love the most together: spending time on my kayak and fishing for weakfish. I'm still fairly new to the whole kayak scene as I've spent most of the last two seasons floating in the sweetwater. What can I say? I'm like an old boy scout, I like to be prepared. With plenty of freshwater kayaking experiences under my belt, I felt the time was right to get the little plastic boat salty. I've been out a bunch in the last two weeks with great results.
On my first time out, I had one of the best weakfish action trips in years. Everything went according to plan, even with east winds blowing at close to 20 mph. The current wasn't nearly as bad as I expected and I was extremely comfortable on my Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120. I caught over 20 weakfish and went home with a smile from ear to ear.
Return trips haven't been as good as my first trip, but I haven't come home disappointed yet. I've been fishing early mornings, but I think I'm ready for a night trip soon. Most of the weakfish are in the 20 to 24-inch range, but I had a bunch up to 26 inches and one the other day that was pushing 30 inches. With striped bass, bluefish, and summer flounder thrown in, I feel like I've died and gone to heaven.
My Little Piece of Heaven
None of my close friends have kayak fever yet, but I have a feeling it's only a matter of time. Fortunately, I met up with a bunch of good guys on my last few trips. Dan Tholen from Lacy Marine has been a pleasure to fish with and seems to have this kayak thing down to a science. The early-morning kayak crew sure seems much more pleasant than some of my old, bridge-running acquaintances.
I'm stuck in weakfish gear, but there are lots of other great fishing opportunities to take advantage of now. The striped bass run is picking up and should pop just about any day now. Just in the last few days, I've heard reports of a number of big linesiders out front between Cape May and Long Beach Island. Bluefish seem to be just about everywhere as do an incredible amount of blowfish. Yes, I said blowfish; they are invading our waterways and are pretty good at stealing bait. Let's not forget that summer flounder season kicks off this Saturday, May 18th. Maybe I'll pull myself away from the weakies for a few days; fresh fluke fillets sure sound tasty.
Ok, it's time to catch up. I'm not sure if this week's blog will be up to par as my brain may not be fully functional due to a serious lack of sleep, but I'll do my best. The last two weeks are a bit of a blur. With brook, brown, and rainbow trout in the local watering holes, largemouth bass on the beds, weakfish and bluefish invading the bays, and the spring striper run in full swing, who has time for sleep? I've been fishing day and night and I love every minute of it!
Fishing Day and Night
Even when I'm not fishing, I spend a tremendous amount of time outside. Over the years, I've noticed some connections between nature and fish migrations/patterns. Little things like certain flowers blooming or a particular animal sighting, often correlate to fishing action in some way. Some of the old timers swear when the dogwood trees bloom, weakfish enter the bay. One of my triggers is frogs: each spring, the first night I hear the spring peepers singing, I call my buddies and say it's time to catch stripers. My best weakfish action usual coincides just days after the cherry blossoms fall off the trees.
You See Cherry Blossoms, I See Weakfish
Closer to the water, many of us use diving birds as a sure cue of an ongoing blitz, but there are other, more subtle, hints to finding fish if you keep your eyes open and your mind working. I feel like night herons are my personal little fish finders. If I walk up to a marina with fifty slips, the herons are always perched above the most productive holes. The night herons feed on little fish much like our backwater striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, and summer flounder so it only makes sense that they would show up in the same areas. Good anglers have one thing in common: they pay attention to every detail in their environment and use what they learn to catch more fish.
The sweet water trout bite hasn't been very complicated, when you see the big truck and the guys with nets, it's probably a good time to fish. Fishing for stocked trout might not be the most challenging or rewarding way to fish, but it sure is a great way to spend a day with my boys. The state stocks a bunch of lakes within minutes of our house and I just can't pass up a truckload of trout on a beautiful 70-degree day.
Time for Trout
Last Thursday was Take Your Child to Work Day and as luck would have it, the hatchery truck was due to hit our local lake on the same day! Jake and I packed up our gear and headed to Harrisonville Lake for the day. The guys stocked the spillway with brookies and the lake with rainbows and a few brown trout. After I took a few photos, Jake and I started working spinners in the spillway and had beautiful brookies on almost every cast for a good hour before we moved over to the main lake. Within minutes, we had rainbows chasing down our double-bladed spinners. With a total of five guys fishing the entire waterway, 400 trout was more than enough to keep us busy for the afternoon.
Another Great Day with Jake
While the trout trips are fun, it's the saltwater action that keeps me up at night. With some bigger bass and weakfish popping up, it's tough for me to not spend every minute in the water. Fishing action has been good and it should get much better in the coming weeks. The recent full moon and what seems like a never-ending, east wind didn't help the weakfish bite, but the stripers didn't seem to mind. Some better-sized bass moved into the backwater and they've been a blast on light tackle.
Skinny Water Fun
I feel like I'm surrounded by stripers: they're in the rivers, bays, and surf. I try to do it all, but I usually find myself leaning towards the backwater bite. While I prefer to fish with light tackle in the backwaters, you can bet I'll be out front when the big girls come out of the bay.
Local surfcaster, John Jones has been hitting the suds and bay shores with his son Jimmy. The Jones boys have been plugging the bay shores in the evenings and surf fishing with clams during the day. They've been catching good numbers of 25 to 34 inch fish. My son, Frankie, and I have the back covered. We've landed lots of schoolies and a few keeper bass up to 37 inches on jigs and soft-plastic baits. As fun as it is to be on the water, it's ten times better when you can share the adventures with your offspring.
The Next Generation
If you haven't been out yet, it's time to grab your gear and get out there! Fishing action is good and getting better everyday. It's time to put on the waders; you know where I'll be.
Wow, we've come a long way since two weeks ago when I posted my last blog entry. Before the recent warm up, most of us were beginning to wonder if winter would ever end as we set record lows and struggled to reach 40 degrees for daytime highs. I don't think anyone could have imagined such a change in the weather pattern: from 30s and 40s to 80s and 90s? I still have a hard time believing the mercury hit 90 degrees on Wednesday afternoon. This type of up-and-down weather rollercoaster usually makes for unpredictable fishing action, but the recent spike in air temps may have been just the kick start we needed to get things going!
Like most anglers, I have striped bass on my mind, but I've been spending most of my free time chasing pre-spawn largemouth bass and brook trout. Over the last few days, freshwater action exploded and it's been tough to pull myself away from the great action. The warm up has been much more noticeable for inland residents than it has for our coastal residents. On Wednesday afternoon, a little sea breeze dropped air temps into the low 50's while it was close to 90 degrees in most of our inland towns. I choose to enjoy the summer-like weather at my local lakes and ponds in shorts and t-shirts versus throwing on a hooded sweatshirt and heading to the chilly coast in search of linesiders.
Inland versus Coastal Temperature
Last Saturday, April 6, marked the opening day of trout season in New Jersey. Trout season is in full swing as many of our local lakes, ponds, and rivers have been inundated with brook, rainbow, and brown trout. Since the initial preseason stocking, many of the same bodies of water have already received their second round of fish. Some of my favorite venues will be stocked again next week, April 15 - 19 and then one more time during week 3, April 22 – 26. There's plenty of trout for everyone!
NJ Trout Stocking
John Jones with a Big Brown Trout
Fortunately, I live in an area that's surrounded by lakes and ponds, many of which are stocked by the state. The same waters that resembled a mob scene on opening day are often quiet and peaceful on the restocking dates. I enjoyed fishing at three different lakes in the last three days and the trout action was great at each stop. To be honest, most of the recently stocked fish are on the small side, but I truly enjoy tossing spinners to those beautiful, little brook trout.
Brook Trout - Speckled Jewels
Before the trout stole my attention, I kept busy with largemouth bass and chain pickerel. After years of bugging my buddy, Dave, to try a kayak trip, we finally made it happen. On Monday, we loaded up the little plastic boats and made our way to Black Water Sports Center to pick up some minnows. I had plans to hit Willow Grove Lake as I figured the shallow water would warm quickly making it a great time to fish the massive stump fields.
Just minutes from the shop, we arrived at the lake and readied the yaks for a day on the water. I had fished Willow Grove from the shoreline, but never from a kayak, so I didn't have any experience to share with Dave about the lake. As we entered the lake, neither of us could believe how cold the water felt, but we continued on with high hopes. Dave paddled around for a few minutes and quickly got the feel of the kayak. We paddled up one side of the lake and never found more than a foot of water, but we did see lots of small pickerel shooting along the flats. We caught a few toothy chains and then moved along in hopes of finding deeper water and some largemouth bass.
Plenty of Pickerel
As it turned out, we never found deeper water, but we did find plenty of hungry bass! Dave and I placed our kayaks on the edge of the stump field and watched as hungry bass and pickerel exploded on 6 to 8-inch shiners. Hooking 2 to 5-pound bass in inches of water makes for a great fight and some incredible visuals: when you're sitting in a kayak and a bass jumps, its right at eye level. As the day went on, the wind picked up a little, but we continued to catch fish steadily throughout the afternoon.
Hefty Largemouth Bass
Dave handled the kayak like a pro and we caught lots of fish, but that was only part of the experience. While on the water, we witnessed some great sites: turtles sunned themselves, great egrets and blue herons stalked the shallows, ospreys dove into the water to grab pickerel, and a small flock of swans flew overhead for most of the day. It was a trip neither of us will soon forget and a sure sign that spring has sprung!
I wish I had some better news to share, but the truth is March hasn't been much different than January or February. Most of "Marchuary," consisted of snow showers, daytime air temps in the low to mid-40s, and a steady dose of 15 to 20-mph wind. The immediate future isn't looking much better with a coastal storm due on Monday and high temperatures forecast below 50 right through the end of the month. There may be some light at the end of the tunnel as most of the long-range forecasters are expecting a sizable warm-up in April. I guess it can't stay cold forever.
Most years, we don't see consistent action until April; however, it doesn't stop some of us from trying. Sure, there are some localized areas that are known for early-season action, but the bulk of the fish don't arrive until April. If you haven't fished yet, you're not missing much. Even though it may not feel like spring, the coastal water temperatures are just about on target for this time of year.
NOAA Coastal Water Temperature
Despite less-than-favorable conditions, more than a few striped bass have been caught this season. Most of the reports are coming from anglers fishing at the warm-water discharge, but there has been some action in our backwaters, too. Shallow bays and river mouths are yielding linesiders, even though most of the action has been fairly inconsistent. The Delaware River water temperature at Philadelphia is currently below 40 degrees, yet anglers are catching striped bass on bloodworms. The ball's rolling; we just need a little warm up to initiate some serious action.
Between the recent weather and a nasty virus that went through the family, my time on the water has been limited. I have a couple of trips under my belt, but I have a lot of making up to do! As usual, we started at midnight on March 1. My son, Frankie, and his friend, Kyle, joined me in hopes of returning with our first linesider of the year. As it turned out, we did more driving than fishing and ended up with nothing to show for the night but some laughs. We enjoyed our time together, but it was a bit of a disappointment after the great start we experienced last season.
I waited what seemed like forever (about two weeks) before heading out again. I saw a weather window last Friday night (3/15) and made the most of it. I fished the dropping tide with soft-plastic baits and caught three stripers up to 26 inches. The fish weren't very aggressive and I only saw one pop on the surface, so I felt lucky to land the three I did. With water temperatures in the low 40s, catching bass on artificial lures is never a sure thing. A keeper would have been nice, but I went home with numb fingers and a smile on my face.
First Striper of 2013!
Just because I haven't spent much time on the water doesn't mean I haven't been busy with fishing-related duties. Planning my assault is a never-ending task. I researched a ton of fishing gear, ordered a bunch of new tackle, rigged and polished two kayaks, and learned how to use my new GoPro: the remote control feature and iPhone app are great, even if they are still working out the bugs. I've spent a great deal of time preparing for the season so I won't have to waste time when the fishing action really picks up.
Bass Pro Delivery
One of the things I'm looking forward to the most this season is fishing new areas. I've studied my nautical charts and zoomed in on Google Earth enough to make me cross-eyed. As a land-based angler for most of my life, access to most of the fishy looking areas was always restricted. Having a kayak and feeling comfortable in it will allow me to explore areas that few others fish. I can't tell you how many times I heard thunderous splashes in the distance while stuck on a distant sod bank, bridge, or pier. If nothing else, I'm sure it'll be an adventure.
Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking, but the title of this week's blog doesn't have anything to do with the recent air temperatures or wind-chill factors. Despite the ongoing cold and windy weather pattern, we're just days away from a new fishing season: at midnight on March 1, striped bass season opens in our bays, rivers, and inlets. Even though fishing action usually starts off a little on the slow side, it will sure feel good to be back in the game!
The recent stretch of winter weather has kept me from hitting the local lakes and ponds. Instead, I've used my free time to prepare for the 2013 fishing season. Over the last few weeks, I've serviced and re-spooled reels, cleaned rods, organized tackle boxes, patched waders, tied rigs, practiced knots, studied charts, sharpened knives, set goals, purchased permits, registrations, and licenses. Believe it or not, I even have my iPhone tricked out to improve my time on the water. I am more prepared this season than I've been in my twenty-plus years of fishing and it feels good.
During the offseason, one of the things I look forward to the most is buying new gear. I do a lot of research before purchasing equipment. This season, I was fortunate enough to be enrolled in an Elite Purchase Program offered by Shimano, G.Loomis, and Power Pro. I ordered lots of new gear, but I'm especially looking forward to breaking in my new Stella/NRX and Sustain/GLX rod-and-reel combos. I'm also very happy with the new pair of Kennebec waders I purchased from LL Bean. I can't wait to test all my new gear out on the water!
As you may recall, last winter was one of the warmest on record and many of us ended up fishing straight through the winter months. A good number of striped bass remained active throughout the winter months. With my favorite backwater holes closed for striped bass, I chose to stay close to home and take advantage of some great freshwater action. By March, I changed over to stripers and had them popping up in all of my favorite early-season locales.
Things are a little different this season. Last winter was much warmer: I believe more than half of the days in February were over 50 degrees last year, while I'm pretty sure we've reached the 50-degree mark three times this month. I just checked the long-range forecast and I'm seeing a lot more 40's in our future. I think it's safe to say, it's not going to be so easy this season.
During the first week of the season, I'm sure we'll hear about a few linesiders caught by anglers plying the warm-water discharges, but most areas won't yield any solid action until mid-to-late March. I usually give the backwaters a shot or two before I head over to the Delaware River to catch some schoolies on bloodworms. By mid-March, the odds become much more favorable and by the end of the month, we usually have bass popping up all over.
Soaking Bloodworms in the Delaware River
This spring run is going to be special to me. After Superstorm Sandy, I realized that I took the fall run and coastal fishing in general for granted. I enjoy my time along the shorelines as much as anyone and it was, for the most part, taken away from us by one storm. I haven't visited my favorite places since last October and it feels like forever. I may live fifty miles inland, but those oceanfront beaches and back-bay sod banks are where I belong. The first fish of the year will mean a little more to me this season.
Usually by mid-January, I'm feeling the effects of cabin fever, but not this year! The recent warm-up has done wonders for the local fishing action and my soul. Our area lakes, ponds, and rivers are yielding good numbers of chain pickerel, yellow perch, black crappie, and largemouth bass. At the same time, coastal anglers continue to enjoy a fairly-consistent striped bass bite along the beachfront. As I see it, this is January fishing in South Jersey at its finest!
As one might expect, fishing took a backseat to family obligations during the holiday season. Once I had some free time to check out the nearby waterways, I was greeted with a coating of skim ice. Skim ice is an angler's worst enemy: you can't stand on it and you can't cast through it. When we were younger, we'd take the canoe out and break through the ice with our paddles, but I'm much older and not nearly as adventurous now. I ended up fishing a few of the local spillways, with limited success.
Thankfully, a week into the new year brought a little sunshine and some much warmer air temperatures. The skim ice quickly melted and I was able to hit my favorite fishing holes. I was greeted with some great action, especially on the flats. Believe it or not, the January sunshine can warm those mud-bottomed flats in just a few hours. After a few sun-filled afternoons, I began seeing baitfish jumping and predatory fish boiling on the surface: game on!
Some January Fun in the Sun
The mid-January bite was much better than I expected. While chain pickerel and yellow perch always seem to be willing participants, I was surprised to see largemouth bass and black crappies so active. Usually in cold water, a painfully-slow retrieve is required to draw a strike, so I couldn't believe how these fish were chasing down my 3-inch Berkley Gulp Minnow. I moved up to 5-inch Zoom Super Flukes and continued with great results.
Lots of Action
A few days into a steady bite, I received word that Blackwater Sports Center acquired a fresh shipment of lively minnows and I haven't put my rod down since! My son, Jake, and I took four-dozen minnows out over the weekend and had a blast, despite the dense fog and lower-than-forecasted air temperatures. The action has been fast and furious and to top it off, some monster crappies have joined the party.
Jake had his hands full with this slab crappie!
While I've been busy at the neighborhood hot spots, some of my fishing pals continue to beat up on the state-stocked rainbow trout. Spinners and mealworms took a few fish, but Berkley Powerbait is the go-to bait when the water temperature approaches 40 degrees. Those pretty rainbows should keep anglers busy right through the winter.
Jimmy Jones with a January Rainbow Trout
If freshwater fishing isn't your thing, it sounds like there are lots of saltwater options now, too. Party and charter boats are fishing over the deepwater wrecks and loading up on sea bass and tog. Closer to home, a few of my diehard, surf-fishing buddies are catching stripers on clams in Cape May County. Further north, rock-hopping anglers are catching striped bass on small plugs, teasers, and bucktails. According to the National Oceanographic Data Center, surf water temperatures are just about 44 degrees at Atlantic City and a balmy 48 degrees in Cape May.
As I write this, more-seasonable air temperatures have returned and the long-range forecast is looking rather grim. This weekend may be a little windy, but daytime high temperatures should be close to 50 degrees; if you want to get out and bend a rod, get out while you can! I have a feeling it won't be long before old man winter returns and freezes over our waterways again.
I'm not going to pretend that my recent freshwater trips compare to last year's epic striper run, but I've enjoyed my time at the local ponds and lakes a lot more than I could have ever imagined. Fortunately, rainbow trout, largemouth bass, chain pickerel, black crappie, and yellow perch have been more than willing to tug on the line. Over the last month, I've been fishing just about every day and much of the time with a bent rod.
My Morning Workout
Since Hurricane Sandy and the following nor'easter, I've decided to write off this season's fall run and stick close to home. I considered heading down a few times, but it just never felt right. The ocean water temperature dropped like a rock after the storms and I guess a part of me felt like I'd be in the way of people trying to put their lives back together. I keep telling myself next year's first striper will taste that much sweeter.
As it turns out, I think I made the right decision as I've learned much about our local waters and spent lots of time fishing with my family. Most of my prior freshwater experiences were based around the striper run: I'd fish the ponds and lakes in January through February and then again in July and August. Most seasons, we're striper fishing right up until the end of the year and then I start hitting the sweetwater soon after. I really didn't know what to expect from my local fishing holes as I'd usually be striper fishing in December. So I headed out with low expectations figuring if all else fails, I should be able to fool a few chain pickerel with soft-plastic baits and minnows.
On my first trip to a nearby, public lake, I was hooked! Largemouth bass, pickerel, crappie, and perch inhaled my offerings like they hadn't eaten in a month. To tell you the truth, I didn't think this kind of action was possible on public waters. Open-water fishing was a pleasure as I'm used to dealing with thick weed beds and lots of other anglers, but those weed beds are gone and on most days, I've got the whole lake to myself.
Hooked Up on My Rock
I've taken the kayak out a few times, but most of the time, I put on my waders and work the perimeter of the ponds and lakes. The flats warm up quickly on sunny days and seem to be holding some fish, but they're really schooled up along channel edges. Soft-plastic baits and small plugs accounted for a few fish, but live minnows can't be beat. Finding minnows in December isn't easy, but Blackwater Sports Center in Vineland always has them when I stop by.
Jen and I Having Fun in Our Waders
The size of the fish seems to depend on the species: most of the largemouth bass and crappies have been on the small side, but I've landed some very large perch and pickerel over the last few weeks. I took my personal-best pickerel the other day from a small, public lake. It took a big minnow and ran me up and down the shoreline before I finally pulled it onto the mudflat. It taped out at 31 inches and beat my previous best by a full inch. I felt like it was a real accomplishment, especially on 6-pound test monofilament.
Big Pickerel and Perch Are Available Throughout the Winter
Not only are there some trophy-sized fish available, but the number of fish landed per trip has been astonishing. On a two to three-hour trip, I've been averaging between twenty and fifty fish, most of which are pickerel and bass. There are a few locations that I can guarantee a fish on the first cast. I've shared the great action with all of my family members and a few friends. There are no tricks or tips, you just have to cast a minnow in the right location and wait for the line to start going out; with action like this, everyone has fun. I certainly wasn't expecting a predictable and dependable bite like this in late-December!
To top it off, there's still plenty of trout swimming in our local waters. The state-stocked trout always grab my attention even though they're just a bonus to some other great fishing opportunities. Beautiful rainbow trout have kept me busy since late November. The big trout have been chasing down spinners and small crank baits. If things get a little slow, a well-placed ball of Berkley PowerBait quickly gets the action going again. The winter stocking took place right before Thanksgiving, but the trout haven't received a lot of attention from anglers so they should be available throughout the winter months. The state hatchery does a great job and needs some feed back to continue improving the fishery. Please take a few minutes to fill out the New Jersey Trout Angler Survey - https://www.research.net/s/NJFishandWildlife2012troutsurvey
Trout fishing in South Jersey isn't like it used to be! Not long ago, if someone mentioned trout fishing, thoughts of 10 to 12-inch trout, overcrowded lakes, ponds, and streams came to mind. If you've fished on the opening day of trout season, you know what I'm talking about. I'm not knocking the spring fishery, but comparing the spring fishery to the fall fishery would be like comparing mice to men.
An Average Fall Brook Trout
The months of October and November offer South Jersey anglers incredible opportunities as super-sized trout are stocked into many of our local waterways. The fall and winter stockings consist of tackle-testing 14 to 24-inch brutes. Go ahead, bring your ultra-light combos loaded with 4-pound mono; these hook-jawed monsters will surely test your angling skills!
A Drag-Pulling Rainbow Trout
During the fall, I usually prefer saltwater fishing for striped bass, but with the recent coastal storms, I've decided to stay close to home at the local fishing holes. Whether I'm pounding the banks or out in the kayak, my time on the water has been incredibly enjoyable. Fishing for largemouth bass has been tough since the snow storm, but the trout fishing has been nothing short of outstanding.
The Calm After the Storm
I've enjoyed the great, fall-trout fishery since 2006, so I always make sure to circle the stocking dates on my calendar. As soon as I saw the date, I asked my 11-year-old son, Jake, if he'd like to tag along. He looked at me with the, "do you even have to ask" look and then came the difficult task of smoothing it over with mom as the stocking date fell on a school day. Not only did my lovely wife agree to let Jake play hookie, she decided to join us at the lake, too.
On the big day, we headed over to Hammonton Lake around 9:30 AM as the trout truck usually shows up between 10 and 11 AM. When we pulled up, I was happy to see just a few other anglers along the bank. Jake and I gathered our equipment and set up in a prime location. Over the next half-hour, we kicked around some rocks and talked about some of our other recent fishing trips. Before we knew it, the hatchery truck pulled up behind us and we watched in awe as the guys threw in trout after trout.
Raised with Pride!
Watching the big trout being tossed into the water was amazing, but we didn't waste any time; Jake and I started casting right away and it didn't take long for us to hook up. Usually, the trout are a little wary as they need to acclimate to the water, but not today! They were nailing spinners like they hadn't been fed in weeks. Big brookies, rainbows, and brown trout were swarming right in front of us and attacking just about anything we cast into the water. It was the best trout fishing action I've ever experienced and the fact that my son was there with me made it ten times more enjoyable! Watching Jake reel in those big brook trout will forever be etched in my memory.
Jake Had His Hands Full with This Brook Trout
A little later into the day, we were visited by NBC 40's reporter Sam Sweeney. He asked us a few questions about fishing and informed Jake and I that we'd likely be on the evening news. I fish often so I've seen my share of newspaper reporters while out on the water, but it was the first time I saw a television-news channel covering a local fishing event.
Soon after the reporter and cameraman left, I sat on the bank and thought to myself, "Could today get any better? Here I am enjoying a beautiful fall day with my wife and son, catching big trout after big trout, and now we're going to share our day on the news!" By the way, I set my DVR to record the 5:00, 5:30, 6:00, and 11:00 PM news and the "Gone Fishing" segment was a little different every time, but we had lots of face time; I still call Jake superstar.
The trout have thinned out a little since the fall stocking, but the trout trucks will be visiting our area again next week! Don't miss your chance to get in on the action! I know I'm looking forward to seeing those big rainbow trout. The 2012 winter trout stocking schedule for our area is as follows:
Tuesday, November 20
Atlantic County Birch Grove Park Pond - 180
Camden County Haddon Lake - 190 Rowands Pond - 100
Cape May County Ponderlodge Pond (Cox Hall WMA) - 160
Cumberland County Shaws Mill Pond - 200 South Vineland Park Pond - 160
The recent stretch of cool days and chilly nights has striped bass fever surging through South Jersey. While just about everyone I know is trying for striped bass, we're sitting back and enjoying one of the best late-summer/early-fall weakfish runs in at least five years. Like everyone else, I'm looking forward to the fall run, but I'm not in a hurry. Once the striped bass arrive in numbers, we'll have them around well into December; maybe later, if this year's push is anything close to last season's run. One good storm or a string of strong cold fronts could end the outstanding weakfish bite in a heartbeat, so I'm going to enjoy this weakfish run for all its worth!
Enjoying the Weak Nights!
Just a few days ago, ocean temperatures from Atlantic City to Cape May were in the seventies. As of today, the Atlantic City station is reporting 62.8 degrees while Cape May is a little higher at 66.4 degrees. I rarely check the backwater temperatures, but I'd bet they're hovering in the mid to high-fifties. With another cold front swinging through today, we may see the water temperatures drop a few more degrees before they stabilize later in the week.
As expected, the recent drop in water temperature slowed the weakfish bite slightly and increased the striped bass action at most of the areas we frequent. Fortunately, weather forecasters are predicting day-time air temps around 70 degrees later this week, so I don't think those weakies are going anywhere in the immediate future. Years ago, we had weakfish in the back bays until Thanksgiving, but most years we see them thin out right around Halloween. I'm hoping our little head-shaking, spike-toothed friends hang around for at least a few more weeks.
Northwest Wind Equals Bass
Our recent trips have been spent fishing around lighted structure: bridges, bulkheads, fishing piers, and docks. Schools of baitfish are thick everywhere, but they're especially abundant under the lights. More times than not, when you see snapper bluefish or hickory shad feeding on the surface, it's likely that weakfish are holding in the same areas. While we do see weakfish join in on the surface action from time to time, they usually seem to prefer to hold a little deeper in the water column. I usually fish with light-action-spinning gear and rarely throw more than ¼ to ½-ounce jigs - sometimes I have to get creative to keep my offering close to bottom, especially in areas with a lot of current.
Over the last few weeks, my buddy, Dave and I experienced one of the best fall weakfish bites we've seen in a while. We've been hitting a few of our favorite lights and pulling out weakfish after weakfish on just about every trip. Our best night happened about a week ago when we teamed up for close to fifty weakfish up to 22 inches. On more than one night, it literally took seconds before we had weakfish on the end of the line. First cast, second cast, third cast – they all came back with fish on the end of the line and this would go on for hours most nights!
The unbelievable action became so predictable that I had to get my kids in on the great bite. Jake and Julia have been on night trips with me before, but it's always been with peanut bunker or mullet on the end of the line; fishing with soft-plastic baits is a lot more work and requires some feel. I took Jake with me the first night and told him exactly what do to; thankfully, he seemed to catch on quickly. I figured a worst-case scenario would have him reeling in some of the fish I hooked. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw him concentrating and working the lure through the water column. In this particular fishing spot, it's more about flipping your jig out into the current and quickly getting to the bottom. Once you've contacted the bottom, you need to start jigging and hope for a bite before you've passed the hole and your lure is swept away and towards the surface in the strong current. It took him a little while to get his first bite, but when he did he was hooked! He ended his first trip with a bunch of weakfish, a striper, and a couple of bluefish. As luck would have it, he caught the biggest weakfish of the night and I'm still hearing about it!
The next night, we returned with Julia in hopes that she would hook her first weakfish and we weren't disappointed. Jake enjoyed showing his big sister the ropes and it wasn't long before she was hooked up. We had a great time with a bunch of weakfish and the kids experienced a few of the great sights and sounds our backwaters offer: we had a massive school of peanut bunker out in front of us, schools of spearing in the lights that were under attack by hungry bluefish, and in the distance, we could hear a lonely owl.
The way I look at it, you can only catch what's in the water and lets face it, there's a lot more weakfish around right now than there are striped bass. I'm going to enjoy what we have while we have it. Each and every one of our trips has been short and uncomplicated. We make a stop or two, catch weakfish to our hearts delight and leave with smiles on our faces. Isn't that what it's all about?
It's a great time of year to get the family down to the beach. Daytime air temperatures are hovering around 75 degrees and the water temperature is close to the same. A baited hook isn't safe anywhere: the back-bay sounds, inlets, and ocean front are full of life!
After a long summer of freshwater fishing, I'm finally settling back into my regularly-scheduled night fishing routine and I haven't been disappointed. Schools of bait seem to be everywhere and there's been no shortage of weakfish, bluefish, summer flounder, or small striped bass. The weakfish action has been nothing short of amazing. All of my old weakfish holes are holding good numbers of 12 to 24-inch fish and we're even finding some weakies in places we never caught them before.
Fresh Weakfish Fillets
On the way home from one of our night-shift weakfish trips, my buddy, Dave, and I talked about getting our boys down to get in on the fun. A midnight trip would likely be frowned upon by their moms so we planned an all-day crabbing/fishing trip. We talked about these kinds of trips before, but this time we were going to make it happen.
On Saturday, Dave showed up at my house at 6AM; we packed up and headed for Stone Harbor. My son, Jake and Dave's son, Nate, were full of excitement and ready to go. On the way down, we visited The Girls Place for some fresh bunker and made a quick stop at Wawa for some snacks. We arrived at the pier around 7AM and immediately rigged up our crab traps.
One by one, we baited the cages with half of a fresh bunker and lowered them into the water. Dave showed me a little trick to keep the bunker attached to the cage. He used wire ties to fasten the bait to the cage. Two slits were cut into each bunker and then a wire tie was passed through each slit and fastened to the bottom of the cage. The baits stayed in place and lasted us the entire trip. The wire ties were extremely efficient; it was a great tip that I will surely remember on future trips.
Before long, the boys put their first keeper in the basket and we had a slow pick of small and keeper-sized crabs. Action started a little slow, probably because the proximity of high tide created very little water current. We could see the boys needed a little pick-me-up so Dave grabbed the cast net and started catching some small fish to keep them interested.
Little Boys with some Big Crabs
By the time they were done with the cast net, the water started moving out and the crabs were on the move. The boys had their hands full as they had a dozen cages to attend to. Besides crabs, they pulled up all kinds of things in the cages: tons of 4 to 6-inch spot, a handful of small sea bass, three juvenile black drumfish, a pair of oyster crackers, and a small fluke. The morning flew by and it was lunchtime before we knew it. We ended our morning crabbing trip with a little over two-dozen large blue claws and some big smiles.
A Great Morning
As you might imagine, we worked up quite an appetite so we headed up to Avalon to grab lunch at Brady's Hoagie Dock – Home of the Humongous Hoagie. I pass this place all the time on my overnight fishing trips and that humongous hoagie sign gets me every time. It was nice to finally be in the area during normal business hours. The service and sandwiches were great. I just wish I could have talked them into staying open for our late-night trips.
On the way to North Wildwood, we stopped at a few back bay and inlet areas to cast net some mullet, but we couldn't find any in the perennial hot spots; I'm sure low tide wasn't helping our efforts much either. After a quick stop to Jersey Bait and Tackle for some bloodworms and mullet, we headed for Hereford Inlet.
When we pulled up to seawall, I was surprised to see so many people fishing. After a minute of observation, I could see why it was so crowded, everyone was hooked up! No one was catching any large fish, but spot, kingfish, bluefish, blowfish, and summer flounder were keeping rods bent.
We rigged up and didn't waste any time getting in on the action. The boys didn't have to wait long before they were reeling in some nice-sized kingfish. Those bait-stealing spot made it tough to fish for anything else as they hit our bloodworm baits as soon as they hit the water. We threw out some cut mullet and the bluefish were all over it. A few minutes later, Dave and Nate found a school of hungry flatties right in the wash.
Nate with a Feisty Flatfish
As the sun was setting, I took a few minutes to soak it all in. I couldn't help but think about how lucky I was to be in this place sharing these experiences with my family and friends. It was certainly much more memorable than an afternoon at the park or in some movie theater. To me, this is what fishing is all about!
The month of September marks the end of the summer season and the beginning of autumn. Sweltering days spent sunbathing on the beach, attending family cookouts, and lounging by the pool quickly transitioned into early mornings on the school bus, hayrides, football games, and cool fall nights.
Back to School
Our three children started school last week. My oldest son, Frankie, just started college – boy, do I feel old! Julia is a sophomore in high school and Jake is enjoying his last year at the little, elementary school down the street.
I was privileged to spend much of the summer with our kids at the lake so they asked how I'd be spending my free time while they were attending school. I told them that I was going back to school, too! Of course, they looked at me like I had three eyes. I went on to explain that my school was about an hour away from home and I wouldn't need any teachers or text books: my school could be found along the coastal waters that surround Southern New Jersey and I had much to learn.
Weakies Gone Wild
My first class was up in Barnegat Bay where I had a weakfish assignment to complete. Fortunately, I'm very familiar with the waters and had a good plan to start my first day back on the right track. A stop at some hard structure looked promising as schools of bait fish were under attack. Usually, when I come across this type of visual activity, snapper bluefish will be feeding on the surface while weakfish, striped bass, and summer flounder can be found a little closer to the bottom. As luck would have it, I hooked into a beautiful 15-inch weakfish on my second cast. A buddy and I continued to work the area over with 3-inch Berkley Gulp baits attached to a 1/4-ounce jigs. We had a blast catching weakies in the 12 to 22-inch range as the bite continued well into the night. If this trip was a test, I aced it!
We returned to the same location over the next few nights and found similar results each time. Feeling confident that we could catch fish, we branched out a little more into Barnegat Bay to see if the weakfish were as thick as we suspected. A few stops along unfamiliar areas revealed that the weakfish were thick all over the bay: each location was choked with bait and hoards of spike weakfish, along with school striped bass, snapper bluefish, and undersized fluke. In my opinion, the bay looks as healthy as I've ever seen it and the weakfish numbers seem to rival those of the old glory days.
Dave McKinney with a Barnegat Bay Beauty
After a day off to catch up on sleep, my next class was scheduled a little further south to see how the fishing action was behind Seven-Mile Island. At first sight, I knew we would be just as pleased as we were during our Barnegat Bay trips. Enormous schools of peanut bunker were churning water in what seemed like every direction. Bluefish worked the top of the water column while 12 to 20-inch weakfish waited below and eagerly attacked our jigs. Hungry, spike weakfish seem to be just about everywhere now and I'm captivated by the potential of the fishery. After years of decline, it's great to see good numbers of weakfish again!
I learned much over the last few days, much more than I could have in any classroom. The weakfish bite is far better than I could have possibly imagined. Small 3-inch baits received much more attention than my old-standby, 5-inch, soft-plastic baits. The outgoing tide seems to produce a little more action at most locations and the weakfish bite was a little more subtle during the new moon phase. Massive schools of bait fish should keep plenty of fish around over the next few weeks and make for an action-packed fall run. Why couldn't school be this much fun?
We're heading into late August and the tide is slowly turning. Those long, hot summer afternoons are slowly moderating as we continue to lose a minute or two of daylight every day. On June 20, sunrise took place at 5:34 AM and sunset at 8:28 PM. Today, the sun came up at 6:18 AM and set at 7:47 PM. Since the first day of summer, we've lost 44 minutes of daylight in the morning and 41 minutes in the evening for a total of an hour and 25 minutes. By the first day of autumn, we'll lose another hour and 20 minutes of daylight. If you're like me and prefer to fish at night, well, we're not losing anything, but gaining darkness and more productive fishing time.
Back Bay Sunset
I've spent countless hours plying the South Jersey backwaters and the late-summer/early-fall time period is one of my favorite times of the year. When I think of late-summer nights on the water, I think of peanut bunker flipping on the surface and the gamefish I'm searching for beneath them. At this time of year, trophy fish often seem few and far between; however, what the fish lack in size, they make up for in variety. There are so many possibilities on any given cast. The usual suspects such as striped bass, weakfish, summer flounder, and snapper bluefish provide most of the action; however there are enough speckled sea trout and red drumfish around to keep things interesting.
South Jersey Surprises
As enjoyable as the fishing action can be, the late-summer pattern can also be very frustrating for anglers. If you think about it for a minute, it makes sense that this time period would be one of the most difficult times to catch fish: the warm back-bay waters are boiling with a plethora of baitfish and there hasn't been any real trigger to put the gamefish into blitz mode. A single gamefish could swim through thousands of baitfish in just a few minutes; what are the odds that it will take your bait?
Most of the time, I prefer to fish with small jigs and soft-plastic baits, but there are occasions when my offerings go untouched. I've thrown small plugs, bucktails, and everything else in my bag to feeding fish with no results. That's when it's time to break out the cast net and wrangle up some live bait. Peanut bunker are usually quite easy to find. Keeping peanuts alive can be difficult, but I've experimented with some fresh-dead bunker and found they seem to work well threaded onto the same jigs that I use when I'm tossing soft-plastic baits. The weakfish really seem to love them. A fish-less night can be quickly turned around with just one well-placed toss of a cast net.
Tossing the Cast Net
The recent return of weakfish should make for some great late-season action. We've had nights when we've caught well over fifty weakies per night. While most of the weakfish are usually in the 12 to 18-inch range, we see enough fish in the mid-20-inch range to keep us entertained. Years ago, when weakfish stocks were strong, we caught them right through the Thanksgiving weekend. Barring any severe coastal storms, I expect some of the best action to occur in early October as blitzing weakfish will be gorging themselves before making their way towards the inlet and out to sea.
Unfortunately, keeping up with life has put a serious dent in my fishing time. I thought life would be a little easier as my children grew up, boy, was I wrong! Fun time with a rod in our hand has been replaced with car shopping and applying to colleges with my oldest son, tennis practice and school shopping with my daughter, and it's always an adventure trying to keep up with my 10-year-old son. We hit the local lakes and ponds from time to time and we always enjoy ourselves, but it's just not the same.
On the bright side, I'm taking care of business and school starts in two weeks! I'll miss the little ones, but my schedule will allow me much more free time and I can get back to doing what I love to do. I better get going; I can already hear those weakies calling my name.
Where has the summer gone? August is creeping up and I can't help but wonder what happened to June and July. I've spent much of the last two weeks close to home on our local waterways. During those two weeks, I've hit a bunch of sweet-water venues and enjoyed the company of at least one of my family members on each trip. I guess the old adage rings true, "Time flies when you're having fun!"
Kayaking with Jen at Lake Narraticon
My family is very fortunate to live in an area that is surrounded by small lakes and ponds; we have at least a dozen lakes within a ten minute ride of our house. One of these lakes is named Lake Garrison; chances are good that you'll find us fishing, swimming, or sunbathing here on a hot summer day. The lake is open to the public for a small fee: $6 on weekdays, $8 on weekends and holidays or you may choose to take advantage of their discounted season passes, as we did. For more detailed information, check out their website.
Fun in the Sun at Lake Garrison
There are tons of things to do at Lake Garrison, but I don't know if any of its other attributes can top the outstanding fishing opportunities this gem offers. Fishing from land is very limited, but the friendly staff rents rowboats, kayaks, and paddle-boats to get out onto the water. If I'm going out with the family, we'll usually take a rowboat, but when I'm by myself, I really enjoy fishing from the kayak. The shallow, cedar-colored water with lots of lily pads and docks resembles most of the other nearby lakes, but the fishing action here is head and shoulders above the rest.
Jake Has His Hands Full
On the last few trips with the crew, the fishing action was unbelievable; it almost seemed too easy. Usually, I spend a great deal of time and energy planning out our fishing trips as I want to make sure the kids have a great time, but this was as easy as it gets. A bucket of minnows, a few hooks, and a couple of rods is all we needed. The kids reeled in fish after fish and giggled the whole time, while I sat in the back of the boat with my GoPro and a big smile on my face.
With little ones on-board, I find myself fishing less as most of the time I'm busy watching, teaching, or helping them in any way I can. Every once in a while, I manage to sneak in a few casts and as luck would have it, I ended up taking my personal-best pickerel this week. The kids cheered for me the whole time as they watched me battle my trophy next to the boat. I've caught thousands of pickerel in my lifetime, but this 30-inch beast topped them all. An already great day just got better!
Once we got back onto land, I told a few of the patrons about our successful fishing trip. Some of the responses I got were funny. One of the residents told me he fished the lake often and never caught anything. A nearby patron heard us talking and was shocked to learn that he was swimming in a lake that had fish in it. On my way home, I showed the girl at the gatehouse a picture on my phone and she told me she had no idea that fish like that lived in the lake and that she would think twice before swimming in there again. Looking back, maybe I shouldn't have said anything; those teeth are intimidating!
Look at Those Teeth!
Julia and Jake are already bugging me about our next trip. Before you know it, summer will be over and the kids will be heading back to school. I'll miss our days on the lake, but I'll have lots of memories to remember; I hope you will too. You know where we'll be.
Is it me or did summer used to be a lot more fun? The last two summer seasons have really taken a toll on South Jersey. Last summer, we had multiple-record-rainfall events that caused sinkholes, breached dams, historic floods, and extensive property damage. This summer isn't looking much better.
Soon after the 2011 floods, I drove down to Bridgeton to spend some time at Sunset Lake and the Cohanzick Zoo. I was devastated when I arrived and noticed that the once beautiful lake was nothing more than a massive mud flat. Just up the road, I stopped by Seeley's Mill Pond which had breached the roadway and was no longer the picturesque little waterway that I remembered. Dams failed at lakes in Atlantic and Salem counties too.
Seeley's Mill Pond 2011
This summer is shaping up to be another memorable one. Last week's storms caused widespread damage and headaches for hundreds of thousands of people living in our area. Many of us learned a new weather term: derecho – a wide-ranging, long-lived, straight-line wind storm that is associated with a fast-moving line of severe thunderstorms. Fallen trees caused fatalities at Parvin State Park – my thoughts and prayers go out to the two young boys and their families. Others in the area were fortunate enough to escape with their lives, but had major damage from dangerous lightning and 70+ mph winds. Some of the worst hit areas were without power for days and all this just happened to occur during our second and worst heat wave of the summer. I was one of the lucky ones, we only had a few limbs down, but I witnessed much of the severe damage to the east in Atlantic County and to the south in Cumberland County. Not quite my idea of fun in the sun!
Summer Storm Nightmare
On the bright side, the cleanup is well underway, they'll be no shortage of firewood this winter, just about everyone's power has been restored, and the heat wave is over. I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to spending the rest of the summer on the water with my family and friends.
After a great winter fishery and a decent spring run, I needed a little time off to recharge my batteries. For anyone that fishes as much as I do, you know what I'm talking about. Lately, I've spent much of my free time rigging my wife's new kayak, turning my utility trailer into a kayak trailer, and getting my fishing gear back into shape. With no real off-season this winter, I neglected some of my usual winter-checklist responsibilities. I have to admit, cleaning and re-spooling reels in an air-conditioned house is almost enjoyable when it's 100 degrees outside.
Jen's New Kayak
With a favorable weather forecast and a little time away from my rod and reel, I'm dying to get back on the water. The local lakes and ponds offer some great action during the early-morning and late-afternoons hours and the backwater night bite should be worthwhile. I continue to hear a good deal about weakfish, so I have high hopes for the latter part of the summer season. Traditionally, the late-summer weakfish run provides some of the best action of the year.
I'd like to remind our readers that it's a great time of year to get the kids out on the water. I take my little crew out frequently and plan on getting them out often over the next few weeks. Whether you fish freshwater or saltwater, the summer months offer a tremendous amount of fishing opportunities. A bobber and a baited hook should provide lots of action in most of our lakes and ponds. Sunfish and catfish are plentiful in our waters and will usually provide steady action until you run out of bait. In saltwater, a plethora of species are available to our coastal anglers. It's tough to beat snapper bluefish, but croakers, kingfish, and little sea bass can usually be found in good numbers.
My Little Fishing Buddies
Over the years, I've learned a few things while fishing with my kids. My best advice: Make sure to never forget the snacks and keep the trips as action-packed as possible. Kids don't care what they're catching as long as they're catching something. You'll find that sand sharks, stingrays, and turtles are much more admirable than any striped bass, summer flounder, or largemouth bass. I can promise you one thing, they'll never forget the time they spent with you on the water!
What seemed like a week-long stretch of northeast wind followed by the recent push of near triple-digit air temperatures complicated most of my back-bay fishing plans. I know there are still some fish around the backwater sounds and inlets, but I feel like my fishing time may be a little more productive by spending time on my kayak at some of South Jersey's finest freshwater fishing holes. I'm still fairly new at this whole kayaking thing, but there is one thing I can tell you for sure: it's incredibly enjoyable!
Freshwater Fun in the Kayak
I picked up my kayak last July after much research. Making a decision on which kayak would best fit my needs was much more involved than one may think; with so many types of kayaks on the market today, choosing between them can become a daunting task. My first decision was sit in vs. sit on top. For fishing purposes, just about every pro pointed me towards a sit-on-top kayak. The next decision was a little more difficult; did I want to pedal or paddle? The new line of Hobie Kayaks offers some great pedal drives, but they come with a premium price tag. I fish in a lot of weedy, shallow water and thought the Hobie MirageDrive may not be in my best interest.
Once I narrowed down the type and style of kayak I wanted, it was time for some field testing. I spent the better part of the day getting in and out of all kinds of kayaks. I quickly learned the difference between primary stability and secondary stability - primary stability is a term used to explain how much a kayak rocks back and forth when a paddler shifts their weight and secondary stability describes how readily a kayak capsizes. After many years of canoeing, I was expecting most of the kayaks to flip over rather easily when pushed to the limit. As it turned out, most of the kayaks I tested were very difficult to flip.
With a few safe fishing platforms to choose from, my final decision would be based on comfort. I stopped canoeing a few years back, mostly because after a few hours on the water, my back just couldn't take anymore. I planned on spending lots of time in my new fishing machine so it was important that the seat offered proper support. The new seats on some of these kayaks are unbelievably comfortable and make spending eight hours or more on the water entirely possible. After much time and thought, I chose to go with the Tarpon 120 – Wilderness Systems Kayak.
My Fishing Machine
From the day my kayak was delivered, there's been no turning back. I started fishing in some of the smaller lakes and ponds and couldn't get over how enjoyable and rewarding fishing from such a small vessel could be. From tossing nearly-frozen minnows in two-inches of water for early-season pickerel to froggin' on the lily pads for largemouth bass, I feel like I can do it all. Many of the places I fish, I couldn't access in anything other than a kayak. I find myself tweaking little things here and there to make the most of my time on the water, but that just adds to the fun.
Just recently, I added smallmouth bass fishing onto my to-do list. I had plans to fish Lake Audrey for smallies, but before I got down there, I accidentally stumbled onto a terrific smallmouth bite at Union Lake. I knew the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife stocked smallmouth bass into Union Lake, but I had no idea that the fishery was so far along. Since discovering the great smallmouth fishery, I've spent countless hours chasing them in my kayak. If you haven't fished for smallies, you have no idea what you've been missing. They attack top-water baits with reckless abandon and then put on an acrobatic display that would rival any circus performer.
On my last trip, it took a little longer than I expected, but after a few drifts, I found the mother lode of smallies just off an island point. For a solid two hours, every drift provided an explosive strike followed by another airborne smallie; when you're sitting at water level in the kayak, the jumps seem even more dramatic! At the end of my trip, I couldn't help noticing the gargantuan explosions coming from the nearby lily pads. I paddled over, but realized I left all my frogs back in the car and it was getting late. I won't forget them next time.
Union Lake Smallmouth Bass
As if the smallmouth bass weren't enough to keep me out there, I found that Union Lake offers a tremendous fishery that could only be rivaled by our northern New Jersey waters. While drifting for smallmouth bass, I've hooked into largemouth bass, crappie, yellow perch, sunfish, shiners, white perch, pickerel, and channel catfish.
Kayaking Around South Jersey
I'll never forget my first encounter with a Union Lake channel catfish. I was drifting for smallies with light-spinning gear spooled with 6-pound test when my rod doubled over. At first, I thought I was snagged, but quickly noticed that whatever grabbed my bait was pulling me and my kayak against the wind. Being a land-based angler for a good portion of my life, I have to admit, it felt odd being towed around the lake. I couldn't believe this thing was capable of pulling me and my kayak wherever it wanted to; for the first time in my life, the fish was pulling me around! After a long battle, I finally pulled a very tired 12-pound channel cat beside the yak. When I saw that it was a catfish, I have to admit, I was a little disappointed as I was hoping for a trophy smallmouth or largemouth bass. I would have never guessed that a catfish could provide such excitement. Since that trip, I've caught a bunch of big channel cats while fishing for smallmouth bass and I've enjoyed the fight so much that I'm planning a trip specifically for them sometime in the next few weeks.
A Hefty Union Lake Channel Cat
With summer in full swing, I'm going to be spending most of my time exploring some more of the nearby waterways. Over the last few weeks, I've heard a lot of talk about snakeheads in our local waters. Hopefully, I'll have some useful information about them in my next entry.
At first, I thought it was just me, but after looking at the regional fishing reports, I think it's safe to say that most of the big, spring stripers have pulled out of our local waterways and are heading north for cooler waters. Reports from Cape May to Ocean City have slowed down considerably over the last few days. At the same time, some remarkable catches have been made a little to the north around Long Beach Island. The long-range weather forecast is calling for spring-like air temperatures, so let's hope those big girls hang around LBI for a couple of weeks; I'm not ready to give up on them yet!
Our back-bay waters also appear to be making the transition to the summer season. Striped bass and herring seem to be thinning out a little more on each trip, while snapper bluefish are invading the inlets and wreaking havoc in the skinny waters. Regional water temperatures are well-above normal and surely play a big role in my recent observations.
Current Water Temperatures
Before the holiday weekend, some monster bass were caught on the Cape May beaches and between Ocean City and Atlantic City. The Cape May bite was best during the incoming tides and especially good towards slack tide; fresh clams continue to be the choice bait along the beachfront. The striper bite in the OC to AC area took place at night and lots of big fish were caught on plugs. Since the weekend, things have quieted down. I'm hoping that the full moon (Monday, June 4) tide stages will spark the bite again.
Rob Woolfort with a Beauty from Cape May
I had quite a streak of fishing time going on until about two weeks ago. It started last fall with that incredible run of striped bass off of Island Beach State Park and continued right through the winter months. By mid-January I fell into some great freshwater-fishing action. Between the great sweetwater action and an early start to the 2012 striper season, I just couldn't get enough. I felt like I was making all the right decisions and scoring great catches on just about every trip. I guess it couldn't last forever.
Like many other anglers, I read the reports and use them as a barometer of the general fishing action for a particular area. I usually do my own thing and find that it's the best way to go, however there are times when the big fish reports get to me and I join the masses at the perennial hot spots. Between the fishing message boards and the never-ending newsfeed on my Facebook account, my backwater 30+ inch bass and spring weakfish eventually get trumped by 30 to 50-pound striped bass. You would think surf fishing for 30 to 50-pound bass would take precedence over everything else, but not for me. I prefer to catch monster tiderunner weakfish, however after years of catching 10 to 15-pound weakfish, the 12 to 24-inch fish just don't seem to bring me the same joy. Don't get me wrong, I still love being out there and fishing for tiderunner weakfish and I think it's great that we're seeing good numbers of smaller weakies, but it's just not like those glory days. Throw in a passion for backwater doormat fluke, plugging the rock piles and sod banks, and freshwater fishing for bass and trout and it's tough to squeeze it all into about a month's worth of fishing time.
As it turns out, I tried to do it all and fell into a bit of a slump. It started at my local lake when I lost an absolute giant largemouth bass right at my feet. Since then, I've been catching fish here and there, but I've made a bunch of poor decisions and with some of the largest striped bass of the season around, the timing couldn't have been much worse. I've fished long enough to know that it happens to everyone from time to time. I'm sure when I think back about the last six-months of great fishing, my two-week slump won't seem like such a big deal.
Lost a Good One
It's a big weekend in South Jersey for outdoor enthusiasts. The 20th Annual Delaware Bay Day will take place from noon – 9 PM at Bivalve on Saturday, June 2. The Bayshore Discovery Project and the township are inviting everyone to come out for food, fun, and a shared appreciation of South Jersey's maritime and natural heritage. I take the family every year and we always have a good time. My little one loves the blue-claw crab races! http://www.nj.com/cumberland/index.ssf/2012/05/bay_day_brings_back_fireworks.html
Whether you call them fluke, flounder, or flatfish, they're here and they're hungry! Our South Jersey backwaters are loaded with flatties and anglers are taking full advantage of the new regulations. The decrease in the minimum-size limit from 18 inches to 17.5 inches should allow flounder pounders to put a lot more flatfish in the box. The 2012 size reduction came with a price though as the daily-bag limit dropped from eight fish in 2011 to five fish this season.
The New Size Limit Puts More Flatfish on the Table
It looks like the federal government is finally coming around with what some of us local anglers have thought for years: the summer flounder stocks are rebuilt. On Monday, NOAA released the 2011 Status of the Stocks Report. It's an interesting read and the status of the summer flounder fishery can be found on page 9. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/stories/2012/05/docs/status_of_stocks_2011_report.pdf
Years of Tough Regulations Are Paying Off
Usually, our maiden voyage for summer flounder provides some of the best action we experience all season. My buddy, Dave McKinney and I woke up early and headed down to Stone Harbor to rent a small boat from Lou at Smuggler's Cove. A flood tide and stiff southeast wind was forecasted for the day; even though we knew our drifts would be tough, we had high hopes.
We loaded up the boat and made our way to one of our favorite creek mouths along the Intracoastal Waterway. After a few drifts without a bite, we reeled in our bucktails and teaser rigs and headed straight for Paddy's Hole. It usually takes us a good half-hour to get from the marina to Paddy's, but with the super-moon incoming tide and a 15-mph southeast wind at our back, we flew back there in our 13-foot dingy powered by a mighty 8-horsepower outboard engine.
When we arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to see just a handful of boats fishing along the ICW. On most days, Paddy's Hole looks more like a parking lot than a fishing hole, but on this windy Monday morning we had plenty of room to drift wherever we pleased.
Soon after we cut the engine, Dave had a bite and hooked into a short fluke. It took a little while to figure out the best drift lines, but once we did, we started hooking up regularly. White bucktails in sizes ranging from half to one-ounce in weight and teaser rigs sweetened with mackerel strips and minnows did the trick. Dave started with the hot hand, but I caught up by the end of the trip, numbers wise at least.
I Finally Got a Good One
Despite the decreased size limit, keeper-sized fish seemed tough to come by for me, but not so much for Dave. We were fishing the same baits on the same rigs on the same boat and neither of us was using any special technique, yet Dave somehow managed to go seven-for-eight on keepers while I netted one legal flatfish and six throwbacks. Either the back of the boat was presenting a better drift presentation or it was just his day, I'll never know for sure. I can tell you one thing though, I'll be in the back next time!
A Good Flounder Fishing Trip Ends with a Great Meal
It's a great time to be an angler in South Jersey! The month of May offers some of the best fishing opportunities in our area. The last few days/weeks have been a blur as I've spent every free minute fishing the local ponds, lakes, backwaters, inlets, and rock piles. I've been trying to do it all, but I just can't keep up with all of the fishing opportunities that are available in our area now.
Trout fishing is a tradition in our family. We used to get up early and fish with the masses on opening day, but the in-season weekday stockings are just so much more enjoyable. Even though I have monster striped bass and tiderunner weakfish on my mind, I make time to hit the trout pond at least a few times each spring. Every year, I let the boys take a day off from school to go trout fishing. Frankie had a high-school tennis match, so Jake had my undivided attention. We got to the pond soon after the hatchery truck stopped by and we were into fish right away. We had an incredible day that ended with Jake taking his first limit of rainbow trout. The smile on his face makes it all worthwhile!
Jake's Limit of Rainbow Trout
As usual, most of my time has been spent in the back bays chasing striped bass and weakfish. The skinny-water bite has been steady and for the most part, predictable. The falling tide has been action-packed as the bass have been active during the beginning and middle of the outgoing tide; while the weakfish show up a little later towards low water. The fish I've been catching haven't been anything to brag about, but the action has been steady and I'm enamored with the amount of 12 to 20-inch weakfish that have invaded our backwaters. Those back-bay beauties seem to be around in better numbers than I've seen in the last five years.
Back Bay Beauty
On Tuesday night, I was lucky enough to catch a tagged striped bass. This particular tag was from the American Littoral Society. I called in the tag number on Wednesday morning and I can't wait to hear back from them. I've been fortunate enough to catch a bunch of tagged fish over the years and it's always a pleasure to learn more about the fish we pursue. The location and date of the tag are always interesting, but it's also worthy of note to see how much the fish has grown. The prizes and certificates offered by the tagging agencies are also an added bonus.
Tagged Fish Prizes
We're just hours away from the 2012 summer flounder season. The flatfish have become much more aggressive over the last few days. We're starting to catch them regularly at night, so I'd imagine the daytime bite has to be very good. I have a trip planned on Monday, so I'll have some more information to share in my next blog entry. I'm glad the season opens in a few short hours; it's been tough playing catch and release with those hefty flatfish.
Thanks to a little prodding from my pals, I finally pulled myself away from the backwaters and spent a day on the rock pile. We fished a popular, Cape May jetty on a very windy day and managed to score a few striped bass. Action was far from fast and furious; nevertheless, we did catch a few decent linesiders on plugs. Dark-colored Bombers are a favorite at this location, although we caught most of our fish on Yo-Zuri Mag Darters. I didn't give up on my Bombers easily, but I ultimately gave in and tied on a Mag Darter after some more prodding by my buddy, Rob; after all, he already had a few fish under his belt. Just a few casts later and I was into a decent striper.
Jetty Bass with Rob Woolfort
With so much going on, I haven't spent much time with my feet in the sand. Up until recently, surf-fishing reports seemed rather inconsistent. Just over the last few days, I've heard about some real monsters coming out of the Delaware Bay and up along the Cape May beachfront. A long-time friend, John Jones and his son Jimmy were fishing clams at a well-known hot spot on Thursday evening when one of the rods doubled over. After a well-spirited battle, Jimmy slid the 44-inch, 33-pound cow up onto the beach. This weekend's full-moon tides should keep the big girls on the move. I have my 11-foot Lami's all rigged; I know where I'll be on Sunday morning!
Rainy days are perfect for catching up. This nor'easter should provide some much-needed rain and allow me to complete some of the tasks that I've been putting off: starting with my blog. To say I've been fishing a lot over the last two weeks would be a colossal understatement. Striped bass and weakfish have kept me busy on the nightshift while state-stocked brookies and rainbow trout fill my days. I love this time of year; this is what I live for!
Dock Light Backwater Stripers
A couple of weeks ago, I planned to switch from back-bay fishing to fishing out front and over in the river, but the skinny-water action just keeps me coming back for more. I had the pleasure of fishing with my oldest son, Frankie, last week and our late-night backwater trip turned out to be a memorable one. Striped bass were blowing up on spearing and grass shrimp and were readily slamming our soft-plastic baits. Frankie's a senior in high school and has a busy schedule so he doesn't get to fish with the old man like he used to, but he picked a perfect night to tag along. We caught a bunch of fish and ended up taking home a pair of beautiful 36-inch fish. These fish were a blast on our light spinning gear.
A Great Father and Son Moment
Since that great night with my son, the bass bite has steadily slowed down and I've had to work a little harder to find quality fish. They've been around, but I've had to cover some ground and put in some hours. In my experiences, this back-bay slow down happens each season as much of the striped bass population makes their way into our rivers to spawn a new generation. I have a feeling that once this storm passes, ravenous striped bass are going to pour out of the rivers. We're going to have a lot of fun in the next few weeks!
Backwater Bassin' with Dave McKinney
As luck would have it, just as most of the bass moved up into the rivers, weakfish moved into the back bays. While we haven't come across any of the big tiderunners yet, we have been catching good numbers of 12 to 20-inch fish. Usually, we don't see the spike weakfish until later in the season, but I'm not complaining. The weakies have been especially aggressive towards the end of the falling tide.
Back Bay Weakfish
This storm might be good for striper fishing, but it's not going to help the weakfish bite. I have a feeling it will be at least three days before things start to settle down and the weakies become active again. When the weakfish were active, they were spewing out young-of-the-year herring, which seem to be plentiful in our back-bay waters now. By midweek, I'll be playing the tides and spending lots of time fishing between Cape May County and Barnegat Bay.
Historically, the month of May provides us with the best weakfish action, but everything seems to be running a little early this season due to the mild weather and warmer-than-average water temperature. My heart is hoping that we'll see a return of the big tiderunner weakfish this year; however, my brain tells me that it's going to be at least a few seasons until we start seeing good numbers of big weakfish again. Hopefully, the spike weakfish that we're catching now will make it to tiderunner status in the coming years.
As a writer and an angler, I often check the fishing reports for my own area and other areas to see if I can find trends. I've been fishing too much lately to read through all the reports, but when I do look, I rarely see any information about weakfish. I know how tight-lipped anglers can be, especially when it comes to weakfish. I'm hoping that the fish we're seeing in Cape May County are a sign of things to come and not just an anomaly.
I woke up this morning and flipped the page on my calendar; it's hard to believe that we're just entering the month of April. Since my last blog entry, I've logged a ton of hours on the water and lipped quite a few striped bass. Friends and family have joined in the fun and we've already had some memorable trips. I feel like we're halfway through the spring-fishing season, when in reality it's only just begun!
Over the last two weeks, the fishing action has really picked up. Local anglers are catching good numbers of striped bass in the back bays, rivers, inlets, and out front in the surf. Action has been far from consistent, but we're still well ahead of schedule.
Believe it or not striped bass aren't the only game in town. Bluefish and summer flounder are here and they're hungry. Bluefish showed up out front last week and a few have pushed into the backwaters over the last few days. Summer flounder invaded the inlets about a week ago and seem to be around in good numbers, especially at the perennial early-season hot spots. A good friend has been nailing flatties behind Seven-Mile Island all week while tossing jigs for striped bass. I saw my first flatfish the other night when my buddy, Rob, landed one while we were fishing for stripers; if they're biting at night, you know they're aggressive. May 5 seems so far away!
My buddies and I have been spending a great deal of time fishing in the shallow backwaters. Even though we've managed to put together some good catches, finding any type of pattern has been difficult. Things were just about to get interesting when adult bunker moved into the Great Egg Harbor Bay last week and then a strong cold front with gusty northwest winds sent them packing. Just when we begin to think that we've got the bite figured out, the fish throw us a changeup.
The nightshift bass bite has been productive, although most of the fish have been on the short-side of the 28-inch-legal-size limit. We've been tossing soft-plastic baits on ¼ to ½-ounce jig heads with good results. One night, the fish will be blowing up on grass shrimp and spearing and inhaling our soft-plastic baits and the next they're on the bottom and only halfheartedly striking our jigs. While it seems that we can't keep a bite at one location for more than a night or two, I have noticed that our best action usually takes place on either side of high water.
I've had my fun with the little fish, but it's time to switch gears. It's time to start chasing some better fish. The bite on the Delaware River is picking up and the big girls are moving in to do their thing. This week, I'll dust off the big rods and make a trip to my river hot spots. After a few trips tossing bloodworms along the riverbanks, I'll switch over to chunking bunker and clams along the bay shores and down around Cape May Point. By month's end, I'll be back out front looking for bass busting on bunker.
I'm a back-bay skinny-water angler by nature, but I'll be making the rounds over the next few weeks. Fishing opportunities seem endless as our waters become inundated with striped bass, summer flounder, and bluefish; a stray weakfish would be nice too. It's hard to do it all, but I'm going to try my best to spend as much time as I can on the water this season. If the bite gets real good, eat, sleep, fish will turn into fish, fish, fish!
Well, I guess it's safe to say goodbye to the winter that wasn't and you won't be hearing any complaints from me. The mild winter was much appreciated, but the month of March has been nothing short of outstanding. Lately, it's been feeling more like May than March in South Jersey and I've been taking advantage of this glorious weather. After the harsh 2010 and 2011 winter seasons, it's hard to believe, but thoughts of rock salt, snow shovels, and heavy winter coats now seem like nothing more than distant memories.
By most accounts, spring has sprung: bright-yellow daffodils are popping up all over; maple trees are budding; lily pads are emerging from the lake's bottom; painted turtles are climbing onto logs and sunning themselves; spring peepers are singing in the bogs; canadian geese are pairing off, and the mosquitoes are already buzzing. From my experiences, the perennial signs of spring tell me that we're at least two weeks ahead of schedule.
Generally, by this time of year, I'm content with a few pickerel, black crappies, and yellow perch to start off the season. Later on into March, I begin to spend more time chasing striped bass. This season, I already have hundreds of fish under my belt and I don't see things slowing down any time in the near future. Freshwater fishing action has been off the charts and my nighttime striped bass trips just keep getting better!
Every morning I wake up and think about how lucky I am to spend as much time on the water as I do. Over the last few days, the toughest decision I've had to make was whether or not to stay close to home and fish the sweet-water lakes and ponds or to make the ride down to the back-bay waters for striped bass. If it's really nice out and the tides are lined up right at my favorite fishing holes, I usually do both.
I spent much of the last week fishing at the neighborhood lakes and ponds catching largemouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch, and black crappies. The pickerel, perch, and crappies have been active throughout the winter months, but the largemouth bass bite really turned on over the last few days. I've been getting most of my fish on soft-plastic baits and live minnows, but jigs and crank baits worked well, too. The big girls are on the prowl and super aggressive.
As much as I've enjoyed the great freshwater action, my heart belongs to the sea. It may sound a little corny, but when I'm driving over those causeway bridges, I feel like I'm home. As I was driving on the causeway the other night, I pulled over to take a peek under the bridge lights. The incoming tide was rising and I could see and hear little pops and splashes on the water's surface; I knew it was going to be a good night!
I ran back to the car and grabbed my gear. I started fishing with a baby-bass-colored Zoom Super Fluke attached to a ¼-ounce jig head. I didn't see or hear any evidence of striped bass, but with so much bait around, I felt good about my chances. I worked the small channel for about ten minutes before I got my first hit. It was a small striper, but a good sign for the rest of the night. After another ten minutes, I moved over to the other side of the bridge and quickly caught another 20-inch striper. I worked the area a little longer without a strike before I decided to move on to another nearby fishing spot.
After striking out at a bunch of other areas, I decided to head back to the same place that I had fish on my last trip. This particular area is as close to a sure thing as you can get and always comes to mind when other locations are slow. As I approached the water's edge, I heard those little pops and splashes again, a sure sign of baitfish and herring. Everything was right and I had a feeling that it wouldn't be long before I found some action. After a few casts in the likely areas came up empty, I was starting to feel a little less confident. Then it happened, I heard a bass pop in an unusual place. If you haven't heard a striped bass "pop" before, I can only describe it as an unmistakable, loud popping noise that a striper makes when it sucks down a baitfish from the surface of the water. Bass feed on top in many ways: sometimes, they quietly leave a boil on the water's surface, other times they sip or slurp bait from the top, but when they "pop" it usually means they're hungry and willing to chase down just about anything in the vicinity.
By the time I moved into position to reach the fish, there were multiple fish popping on the surface. I had a strike on my first cast, but I missed it. I casted again and had a solid strike before I turned the handle on my reel. These fish were a class up from my last trip and lots of fun on my light-spinning gear. The steady bite lasted for about an hour before the rising tide slowed down and the fishing action dwindled. Once the tide started out, I worked the water column and landed three more stripers.
Right before the sun came up, I decided to pack it up for the night with a total of sixteen fish up to 30 inches. The 30-inch linesider took the ride home with me. Does anything taste better than a fresh-caught broiled striped bass?
The 2012 striped bass season started off with a bang as word of keeper-sized stripers spread like wildfire. As expected, a great deal was made about the season's first legal linesiders. The perennial hot spots paid off again: Oyster Creek and the Mullica River are two of the more productive early-season waters and I'm fairly certain that the reported fish were taken from these areas.
News of the first fish of the year always gets the blood pumping, but don't get too excited yet. For every fish that makes headlines, there are probably a 100 anglers that returned home with nothing more than cold fingers. Even though water temperatures are well-above normal, the migratory fish are most likely a few weeks away. Sure, there are plenty of resident fish around, but they generally don't make the minimum-legal-length of 28 inches.
After a long day of radar watching, a persistent rainstorm forced me to cancel any plans of fishing at midnight on March 1. Hold on, before any of you comment, "The fish are already wet" or "Some of my best fishing trips took place on rainy days," let it be known that I've never taken my first few fish of the season in the rain and God knows I've tried. Most of my early-season trips take place on shallow flats or around lighted structure and in my experiences, the baitfish just don't seem to school up in these areas like they do when it's not raining. To be totally honest, I try to put myself into the best possible situation to achieve success and after years of practice on the water, I've learned that your success ratio will soar if you play the odds.
The rain delay made my choice to fish the South Jersey backwaters a little more questionable as I learned of confirmed reports of keeper-sized stripers in the river and at the power-plant outflow, but I felt like I had a good plan and I was going to stick to it. With water temperatures pushing the 50-degree mark, I thought it might be a good idea to start at the inlet bridges. Those bridges yielded good numbers of bass on my last trip of the 2011 season (December 29) and it was possible, maybe even likely, that the fish stayed active throughout January and February. If plan A failed, plan B was to head back into the bay and fish some skinny water.
I arrived at the inlet just after midnight and found near-perfect conditions. The wind was calm, the water was clean, and the current was moving just right. While casting soft-plastic baits, I looked and listened, but I just couldn't find any promising signs of life. I made the rounds to check out some other productive areas near the inlets, but each attempt came up empty. I was starting to wonder if I should have headed up north to the power plant, but I continued on to plan B.
After a short ride, I pulled up to the same place that provided my first striper of 2011 (March 23). As I made my way to the water, I looked around and listened for feeding bass. More times than not, if the fish are at this location, you can see and hear them feeding on the surface. I looked and listened for a full five minutes before casting, but there were no signs of life. At this point, I was beginning to think that the first trip of the year was going to be an uneventful one.
My first cast hit the water and about two-seconds later, my baby bass-colored Zoom got thumped and the fight was on! Well, it wasn't much of a fight; the feisty 24-inch striper was far from impressive, but it sure felt good. I continued fishing the last hour of the incoming tide and landed four more bass between 18 and 26 inches. Right before high tide, I heard some thunderous pops on the far sod bank. This area was out of casting range, so you can imagine how torturous that experience was. The fish continued popping along the bank on the falling tide and all I could do was listen to what sounded like bowling bowls being thrown into the water. On the bright side, I picked up two more little bass before the wind picked up and the bite died down.
While it may be true that I didn't come home with any fish, I still consider my first trip a successful one. Seven stripers to 26 inches isn't a bad start to the season, but I still can't shake those earsplitting bowling-ball pops. I'll be back with my kayak!
We're just hours away from the beginning of the 2012 striped bass season! I'm sure some anglers may argue that the 2011 striper season never really ended, but March 1 marks a new season for our inlets, back bays, and rivers and I have a feeling it's going to be a good one!
If you're like me, right about now is when you start feeling like a little kid on Christmas Eve. Your mind starts racing and you start wondering: what will the new season bring? Will this be the year that I catch the monster fish that I've been dreaming about? If that trophy cow takes the hook, will my equipment hold up? Anticipation and excitement grow at the thought of a new season and the endless possibilities it offers.
Fortunately, this winter was as mild as any in recent memory. Ocean water temperatures in South Jersey seldom, if ever, dipped below 40 degrees. The average water temperature for the month of February in Cape May is 37 degrees. By mid-March, the water temperature rises to an average of 42 degrees. Right now, just days before March 1, the National Oceanographic Data Center (NODC) is reporting a balmy 47 degrees! Warmer water should make for some great early-season action.
There are a couple of areas that offer striped bass action year round, but for the most part, fishing action is historically slow during the first-half of the month. The season's first keeper-sized stripers typically come from warm-water outflows via power plants. This year should be different though. Above-average water temps and a favorable long-range forecast could mean that the playing field is a little more even and I have a feeling those warm-waters outflows won't be the only game in town.
In South Jersey, we are blessed with an intricate system of bays, sounds, rivers, and creeks that run from Cape May Harbor up through Barnegat Bay. These large, shallow bodies of water warm quickly and are particularly productive during the spring months. Resident bass will use these flats as feeding stations as small crabs, spearing, minnows, and grass shrimp are plentiful in these waters year round. Ordinarily, the shallow flats begin to turn on as we get closer towards the end of March, but I'm fairly certain that some of those flats are already holding active fish.
This Wednesday night, I plan on continuing my tradition of heading out at midnight on March 1, weather permitting. Usually, I know the chances of catching a fish on the opening day are slim, but this season I feel like my chances have increased tenfold. After a little homework, I found that high tide will be at 1:45 AM and it looks like it's going to be a little breezy at the location I plan on fishing. Another look ahead shows prime conditions, favorable-evening high tides and daytime air temps into the 60's, beginning on March 6, just a couple of days before the full moon. Tides and weather always play a role in fishing, but they're even more significant during the beginning of the season.
Catching the first bass of the new season should be enough of a reward, however there are a handful of bait and tackle shops that have sweetened the pot by putting a bounty on the first keeper-sized striped bass of the year. Some of the contests are location based, while others include the entire state. Absecon Bay Sportsmen's Center offers some of the area's most lucrative prizes such as a $200 gift certificate for the first keeper-sized striper, $100 gift certificate for the second keeper bass, and $50 for the third linesider weighed in at the shop. Dave also anteed up a $100 gift certificate for the first bass over 20 pounds and another for the first striper over 30 pounds. That's a lot of clams!
To start, I'd like to thank Rob Pavlick and the crew at noreast.com for bringing me back and giving me the opportunity to share some of my daily/weekly fishing adventures with such a great community. The new blog format offers unlimited possibilities; we've come a long way since the days of printed magazines and week-old fishing reports.
While many of us are sitting at home eagerly awaiting the return of spring stripers, some anglers never put their fishing equipment away. We're two-thirds of the way through one of the mildest-winter seasons that anyone can recall and savvy anglers are taking full advantage of the spring-like weather conditions. Sure, the fishing flea-markets and outdoor shows help with cabin fever, but there's nothing like the feeling of a bent rod!
Over the last few weeks, I've turned my attention to the local sweet-water venues. That's right, my beloved striped bass, weakfish, bluefish, and summer flounder have been replaced by chain pickerel, largemouth bass, yellow perch, and black crappie. While I'll be the first to admit it's far from an even swap, the smaller freshwater species are incredibly active and more than willing to pull on the other end of the line. Yellow perch and toothy pickerel have been particularly aggressive lately.
Living in South Jersey, we are blessed with a plethora of fishing opportunities. Besides the many saltwater options afforded to us, we have what seems to be an endless array of freshwater waterways. Rivers, creeks, streams, lakes, and ponds carve out much of our otherwise flattened landscape. Of course, many of the waters are private, but there are more than a few overlooked public ponds and lakes that offer unbelievable fishing opportunities.
I reside in Monroeville, NJ which is about five minutes from Route 55 and the town of Glassboro. After making the hour-long commute to the beach on what seemed like a daily basis, hitting the neighborhood fishing holes almost seems too convenient. To top it off, I seldom see another angler at any of the local hot spots, even on the nicest of days. Nice weather, lots of hungry fish, close to home, and no crowds, what's not to like?
If I had to choose one species to fish for during the winter months, it would surely be the chain pickerel. While these slimy, toothy beasts aren't nearly as appreciated as their larger cousins, the northern pike and mighty muskellunge, they offer great sport on light tackle and are abundant in just about all of our local waters. Pickerel will readily hit live baits, soft-plastic baits, plugs, and just about anything else that they can track down and fit into their mouths. Up close, you'll notice that their dentures are quite impressive; those razor-sharp teeth are more than capable of cutting through monofilament and braided lines. You'll have a whole new appreciation for "bass thumb" after you have to remove a top-water plug from a big pickerel's choppers.
Pickerel thrive in our shallow, acidic, timber-filled waters. On sunny days, they can often be found in just inches of water, making for some great visual strikes. That's why I prefer to start my trip with a top-water plug, usually a Rapala Skitter Pop, to see how aggressive the fish are on a particular day. If they're hitting the Skitter Pop, it's going to be a good day. If not, I'll switch up to a soft-plastic bait, Zoom Super Flukes are one of my favorites, and work the lure back with a relatively steady, but jerky retrieve. More times than not, pickerel will hit my artificial offerings. If for some reason the bite is slow, live bait will certainly wake them up. A live minnow casted into the right area is as close to a sure thing as you can get.
On Friday, the weather was perfect for a midwinter fishing trip: sunny, calm, and air temperatures rising to a balmy 50 degrees. It's been a while since I've spent time on the water with my oldest son, so we let him take the day off from school to go fishing. A few weeks ago, I stumbled onto an amazing bite at one of the nearby ponds; the chances of him spending most of the day with a fish on the end of his line were very good.
After a trip to Blackwater Sports Center, we arrived shortly after 9 AM. As we walked up to the water, we could see fish swimming away from the shoreline. It was a little chilly to start, but the warm sunshine felt good on our faces. Frankie tied on a Zoom Super Fluke, while I started Skitter Poppin' the flats. The fishing action started slowly, but as the February sun beat down on the dark-colored flats, the bite picked up. We played around with some different types of retrieves and started catching good numbers of pickerel and yellow perch. By 10 AM, we each had a handful of fish and I knew it was only going to get better.
By lunchtime, it seemed like we were hooking up on just about every cast. We caught a couple of largemouth bass, a few crappies, a bunch of hefty yellow perch, and just about every pickerel that lives in that lake. We spent the remainder of the day talking and laughing while we continued to reel in fish after fish. What more could you ask for?