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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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
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!
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!