by Frank Ruczynski
Freshwater or saltwater, it's spring in South Jersey and I'm on the hunt for trophy trout. While most anglers are busy chasing striped bass, I'm perfectly happy chasing rainbows, bruiser browns, and my favorite, tiderunner weakfish. It's been a magical two-week stretch: I tallied well over 100 freshwater trout and nearly fifty weakfish.They're Back!
I'll begin with weakfish as I'm still giddy about the great action. It all started last Monday, April 21: I woke up at 3 AM with thoughts of landing my first weakfish of the season. To tell you the truth, my brain was telling me, "It's too early and the water is still too cold," but the weather looked great and I needed to assure myself I wasn't missing anything.
After the hour-long commute, I unloaded my kayak and paddled out just before sunrise. As I took in the beautiful morning colors, my second cast got nailed. The tell-tale headshakes brought a smile to my face that remains until this moment. Following a well-spirited battle, I pulled a beautiful 26-inch weakfish alongside my kayak. Weakfish are true backwater beauties, but they're even more stunning at sunrise.Backwater Beauty
I picked up a few more weakfish over the next hour before I decided to check out some other areas. Usually, the best weakfish bite takes place at night and during the first hour or two of daylight so my expectations for the rest of the day were low. I thought to myself, "Anything more would just be the icing on the cake."
After fishing a few other areas, I came back to my morning hot spot and worked the area over with ¼ and ½-oz jigs and bubblegum-colored Zoom Super Flukes. After some experimenting, I found the mother load and had fish for a solid two hours. I was in heaven: 20 to 30-inch weakfish after weakfish crushing my jig and towing me around. My back and arms weren't in fishing shape yet, so I pulled up to a nearby sodbank and caught a few more in my waders. It was an amazing day that I'll never forget. I'm glad I didn't listen to my brain!Sodbank Weakfish
Ok, the fish catching stories are great, but let's get to conditions, tactics, and techniques. The weather and water conditions were perfect: it was sunny, light winds, clear water, and a falling tide. I usually prefer overcast days, but when the water is cold a little sunshine can warm up the backwater flats just enough to put the fish on the feed. Looking back, the best bite occurred about two hours before low tide which makes sense as the water temp is usually at its highest during low tide on sunny, early-spring days. After varying my casts and retrieves, I found that working the jig aggressively worked best as it seemed like a jerky, upward-jigging motion drew their attention while a slow fall enticed them to strike. This type of retrieve works best when you're right over the fish in a boat or when your jig is directly in front of you when casting from a bank. I've found a jig can be worked much better when the tide is pulling away from you as it's easier to control the fall speed of the jig by slowly lowering your rod tip until you feel bottom. The bite varies from day to day, but the two-jigs-up-followed-by-a-slow-fall technique has worked well for me over the years. Jigging for Weakfish
Since my first outing, I've been back out more than a few times. While none of my recent excursions have been as good as the first, I've had a low of four and a high of eleven fish per trip, with an average of about six fish per trip. Weakfish catches have ranged between 18 and 30 inches; however, most fish seem to be between 22 and 26 inches. Not bad for April, I'm looking forward to May and some better weather. If you share an appreciation for tiderunner weakfish, please feel free to visit my Facebook page: Wonderful World of Weakfish - https://www.facebook.com/tiderunnerweakfish
World of Weakfish
On the freshwater scene, the state-stocked trout action couldn't get much better at our local ponds, lakes, and rivers. I keep busy fishing freshwater when conditions are not optimum along the coast. Believe it or not, a few of the trout they stocked this year rival some of the tiderunners I caught recently. The little trout are fun, but once you catch a big, breeder trout, you want more. Freshwater Fun
By only fishing for freshwater trout on bad weather days, I think I've stumbled onto something. More times than not, the wind is the biggest factor when I decide to forego a weakfish trip and decide to stay local. With the wind blowing at 20 to 25mph, it's difficult to throw tiny spinners to trout. With that being said, I've been forced to use heavy spinners to combat the wind and I've had tremendous results. A 1/4-oz Rooster Tail has been my go-to spinner. I can cover twice the amount of water as other anglers, the little fish hit it just as much as they would the down-sized versions, and the big fish love them!Big Spinners = Big Brown Trout!
The state inundated many of our waterways with trout this season and by my account, participation has been marginal. With so many trout still swimming around, they should provide rod-bending action for anglers well into May.4/24/14 Rainbow Trout
I can't totally dismiss our striped bass run, but it doesn't seem to be off to a great start. Some good fish were landed in the Delaware River and in the upper Delaware Bay recently, but according to most anglers, it's nothing to write home about. Water temperatures are still marginal, so let's hope May brings better weather, warmer waters, and big linesiders. In the meantime, you know where I'll be. I'm out like a trout!