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.
Fishing opportunities in our area couldn't be much better than they are right now! Despite fluctuating water temperatures and what seems like a never-ending south wind, fishing action remains solid. Not only are striped bass, weakfish, summer flounder, and bluefish more than willing to bend a rod, but in the last few weeks, we've seen kingfish, croakers, spot, sea bass, and blowfish join the party. Throw in some amazing freshwater fishing opportunities and I'm left wondering, what more could you ask for?
According to NOAA, the current water temperature in Atlantic City is 56.3 degrees while the Cape May station is reporting a balmy 69.3 degrees. The weekend heat wave was a little taste of summer, but the long-range forecasts have our area in the 70s for much of the rest of the month. Perhaps the water-temperature roller coaster will slow down and we'll experience some cooler, stable weather that should make fishing action much more predictable.
In spite of the persistent south wind, the spring weakfish run continues to impress anglers. Many of our young anglers are experiencing those head-shaking, drag-pulling runs for their very first time. After some down years, it's great to see good numbers of weakfish around again.
Most of my free time has been spent chasing weakfish and I haven't been disappointed. I've found the speckled beauties in all of their old haunts. Kayaking creek mouths for weakies continues to be productive, especially during the outgoing tides. Action along the ocean and bayside rock piles has been outstanding; the early-morning/late-afternoon bite continues to be predictable and worthwhile. During the night tides, good numbers of weakfish are gathering around sod banks, mussel beds, fishing piers, bridge pilings, and other types of hard structure.
When I'm targeting weakfish, I usually start with a ¼ to ½ ounce jig head and a bubblegum-colored soft plastic. While I find the light, lead-head and pink plastic work most of the time, there are some areas where I'll switch it up. In dirty water, I've had more success tossing rattling plugs and paddle-tail soft plastics. Dark-colored swimming plugs work well when fishing at night along the sod banks. When I'm fishing from the rock piles, it's tough to beat a bucktail: a small, white bucktail tipped with a pink plastic or a purple, fire-tail worm is deadly when fished from the Cape May County rock piles. When talking about weakfish at the rock piles, I'd be foolish not to mention bobbers and bloodworms. As hard as it may be to believe, the bobber and bloodworm combination is incredibly simple and extremely effective.
Weakfish at the Rock Piles
It's been tough to pull myself away from the weakfish, but I made my first attempt at ocean kayaking last Friday, May 31. With reports of monster striped bass and bluefish under acres of bunker, I couldn't help accepting an offer from a good friend. We met at sunrise at Ortley Beach and began scanning the horizon for signs of life. With calm conditions, we continued north stopping every few blocks to look for action. We covered some ground and finally found what we were looking for just north of Shark River Inlet. The water was chilly and launching our kayaks into the waves was definitely a lot more invigorating than my freshwater and backwater adventures. After paddling through a substantial wave, I found myself out in a good swell surrounded by acres of bunker. Snagging bunker was incredibly easy; however, we couldn't find anything willing to eat our impaled bunker. After a couple hours without any action we decided to head back, but not before two humpback whales sounded off about 20 yards from our kayaks! As a backwater angler for most of my life, the whale sighting gave me an incredible adrenaline rush; it was an experience I'll never forget. The pair of whales came up a few more times before they continued south down along the beachfront. Although we didn't find any bass or blues, I still consider my first ocean kayak trip a success. I'm already looking forward to calm seas and my next ocean adventure.
Acres of Bunker
With so much to do and so little time, I've been neglecting the flatfish. I've been catching a few here and there while fishing for weakfish, but I have plans to drift the back bays later this week. Reports have been good and I expect the flatties to hang around in the skinny water for at least a few more weeks before they start heading towards the inlets. The weather forecast looks favorable for backwater trips all week and I plan on taking advantage of it.
That's Not a Weakie!
While I've been busy chasing weakfish and playing in my kayak, some of my South Jersey surfcaster buddies have been clamming up some trophy striped bass. The bite hasn't been easy, but diehard anglers continue to make impressive catches. Sean Hillegass stole the spotlight with his 52.2-pound trophy striped bass. I watched Sean grow up: even though it was years ago, it seems like just yesterday I was watching him ride his BMX up onto the bridge for the late-night bass bite. Congratulations buddy, you deserved that fish!
Sean's 52.2-pound Beast
In between my saltwater fishing adventures, I still manage to find time to hit the local sweet-water fishing holes. The other day, I had the pleasure of fishing with my youngest son, Jake, and his buddy, Joey. It was Joey's first fishing trip so we wanted to show him how much fun fishing can be. We dug some worms in the backyard and then headed over to Wilson Lake at Scotland Run Park. The boys caught tons of sunfish and a few nice-sized largemouth bass. Joey had a blast and I think Jake might have a new fishing buddy. I'm looking forward to spending lots of time on the water with the boys this summer.