by Frank Ruczynski
As I write this, many of us are counting down the minutes to the official opening of striped bass season in our back bay and inlet waters. If you're like me, March 1st doesn't just signify the beginning of striped bass season; it brings high hopes for the beginning of a whole new fishing season. Warmer weather and bent rods are getting closer everyday!It won't be long!
Most years, by March 1st, I'm really amped up and ready to attack the waters with reckless abandon, but I'm not feeling so reckless this season. Maybe a little part of it comes with age, but the frigid weather is definitely taking a toll on my excitement. Right now, NOAA's reporting center in Atlantic City is showing a water temperature of 35.8 degrees while Cape May's water-temp gauge shows 41.2 degrees. Throw in a bone-chilling, ten-day forecast and another winter storm or two and you can see why I'm not overly excited. With the current and predicted weather patterns, I have a feeling some of our early-season hotspots may not start off so hot this season. Fishing for striped bass in waters below 40 degrees isn't usually what I would call worthwhile. While the calendar will soon be flipping over to March, it sure does feel a lot more like January and February.
On the bright side, the March sun is gaining strength and will heat up the muddy flats regardless of air and water temperatures. I've noted temperature differences as much as 20 degrees higher on the flats versus a nearby channel. Sun-warmed, shallow water will attract baitfish and in turn predator species. I spend a lot of time fishing freshwater and saltwater flats and I've seen some amazing things in just inches of water. Skinny-water anglers should expect action to heat up as we near the end of the month. My son, Frankie, with an early-season flats striper
If all else fails, the warm-water outflows offer solid fishing opportunities as water temperatures usually average about 10 degrees warmer than surrounding waters. The warm water not only attracts stripers and other species like a magnet, but the fish residing in the warmer water are much more likely to take a hook. Fishing can be magical at these outflows, but the word is out so if you plan on visiting a warm water area, expect lots of company.
With the number of bounties offered by some of the local tackle shops, I'm sure happy I'm not a striped bass. If you're fortunate enough to land a legal striped bass you could end up with much more than just striper thumb. Here are just a couple of the shops offering prizes for striped bass catches:Absecon Bay Sportsman Center
1st legal striper weighed in wins a $200 gift certificate
2nd legal striper weighed in wins a $100 gift certificate
3rd legal striper weighed in wins a $50 gift certificate
1st striper over 20 pounds wins $100 gift certificate
1st striper over 30 pounds winds $100 gift certificate
In addition, the first boy or girl 12 years old or under to catch and weigh in a striped bass over 28 inches will be awarded a Sea Striker rod and reel combo. The first female angler to weigh in a legal striped bass will win a Shakespeare 7-foot Ladyfish combo.
*If you're an Absecon Bay Sportsman Center Facebook fan, Dave is throwing in an additional $100 gift certificate to the first angler that is registered for the shop's 1st Striper of 2014 "Event" and brings in a legal striped bass.Captain Howard's Bait and Tackle
1st legal striper weighed in wins a Penn Battle rod and reel combo valued at $125
2nd legal striper weighed in winds a Shakespeare combo
3rd legal striper weighed in wins a Shakespeare Breast Cancer Awareness rod and reel combo
The great prizes offered by bait and tackle shops should motivate anglers to stand out in the cold just a little longer this weekend. No matter the weather conditions, I'm certain someone will be weighing in striped bass this weekend. If it's anything like last year, there may even be a line of anglers waiting to cash in their catches on Saturday morning.Midnight Striped Bass
I don't want to send the wrong message here as I'm all for keeping a fish or two for the table, but please keep in mind that this could be a make or break year for striped bass. In recent years, the fishing has dropped off some and I'm hoping the trend doesn't continue again this year. I used to think taking a fish or two wouldn't hurt the population, but the truth is, taking a fish or two isn't helping either. Good luck out there this weekend and stay warm!