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Frank Ruczynski

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.

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June 09, 2015

NJ Skillful Angler Recognition Program

by Frank Ruczynski

I thought it would be a good idea to talk about some of the fishing programs offered by the state of New Jersey. Believe it or not, the Division of Fish and Wildlife wants to make our fishing adventures as enjoyable as possible. I'm going to revisit the new and improved Skillful Angler Recognition Program along with a few other great programs that should get your attention.

In an attempt to broaden interest, the Division of Fish and Wildlife revamped last year's Skillful Angler Awards Program and changed the name to the Skillful Angler Recognition Program. The new program offers anglers everything the old program offered and a lot more. The three main divisions remain the same (Adult, Junior, and Catch and Release) but now there are a bunch of new categories offered to anglers.

The new catagories include:

Specialist Angler – catch five qualifying fish of the same species within one year
Master Angler – catch five qualifying fish of different species (saltwater and/or freshwater) within one year
Elite Angler – catch ten or more qualifying fish of different species (saltwater and/or freshwater) within one year
First Fish – catch your first fish of any species

Freshwater Slams
Trout Slam – catch one each of a qualifying rainbow, brook amd brown trout within one year
Bass Slam – catch one each of a qualifying small and largemouth within one year
Panfish Slam – catch one each of a qualifying sunfish, crappie and yellow perch within one year

Saltwater Slams
Inshore Slam I – catch one each of a qualifying striped bass, bluefish and fluke within one year
Inshore Slam II – catch one each of a qualifying black sea bass, tautog and weakfish within one year
Offshore Pelagics Slam – catch one each of a qualifying bluefin tuna, bigeye tuna, yellowfin tuna and dolphin within one year
Marlin Slam – catch one each of a qualifying whaite and blue marlin within one year


Minimum Size Requirements

Anglers that meet the required criteria will be awarded a certificate suitable for framing, but the state also receives valuable information from each participating angler. Information such as a fish's length, weight, girth, and location should help us understand our fisheries a little better. At the end of the year, the winner of each category will receive a customized certificate to commemorate their achievement as the best of New Jersey's Skillful Anglers.


Skillful Angler Recognition Program Certificates

I like the new format and think the program is heading in the right direction. I often hear my surf-fishing buddies talk about citation fish from Virginia and North Carolina, but few participate or even know that their home state of New Jersey has its own program. According to the state, the program started in 1983 and began with thirty-one applicants. Last year, the program received fifty-three applications. I think the program deserves more attention. The size limits set by the state are attainable, the information gathered helps everyone, and we're paying for this program so we might as well use it. Applications can be printed online at www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/skflang.htm


Current Leaderboard

Another perk offered by the state is a program called Free Fishing Days. The first of the two Free Fishing days takes place this Saturday, June 13. It's a great time of year to introduce a family member or friend to freshwater fishing in New Jersey. The second Free Fishing Day takes place on October 17, 2015. The October date was chosen to allow the public to take advantage of the state's great fall trout fishing opportunities.

The Hook-A-Winner Program has been in place since 1998. The state jaw tags trout before stocking them into our waterways. If you are lucky or skilled enough to catch a tagged trout and send in your contact information, you'll receive a certificate and an award patch. I like this program and wish the state would consider tagging other species of stocked fish.


Hook-A-Winner Patch


Hook-A-Winner Certificate

Speaking of stocked fish – it's not all about the trout! The Division of Fish and Wildlife stocks many warm-water fish throughout the state. Muskellunge, northern pike, tiger muskellunge, walleye, hybrid striped bass, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, landlocked salmon, channel catfish, black crappie, sunfish, and brown bullhead catfish are placed into New Jersey waters. The Hackettstown Hatchery distributes over 2,5000,000 fish each year! A breakdown of stocked waters seems heavily skewed to the north and I'll make sure to bring that up at the next fisheries meeting. Fishing in South Jersey is great, but I'd like to see us get a little bigger piece of the pie.

Another worthwhile program is Hooked On Fishing – Not On Drugs (HOFNOD.) Big-hearted volunteers are trained and certified by state workers to offer neighborhood-fishing programs to school-aged children. My wife and I took the certification class last fall and hope to start our own group soon. The state provides informative materials and fishing supplies to program leaders to get kids interested in fishing instead of drugs. The people we met at the training class were great and I admire each one of them. Robert Johnson and Joe Haase are actively running HOFNOD programs in South Jersey and doing a great job. People like this are a true asset to the community. The weekly meetings offer many interesting adventures for the kids to get excited about and to top it off, the classes and field trips are free!

The Fishing Fun Photo Contest is another program that is rarely talked about. The program was put into place to encourage children between the ages of 6 to 15 years old to have fun fishing. The state awards prizes to the top three places in several categories. Winning entrants are honored at the Pequest Trout Hatchery and Natural Resource Center on the opening day of trout season.

As anglers and residents of New Jersey our tax dollars fund these programs so we might as well get our monies worth out of them. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of the New Jersey Freshwater and/or Marine Digest and familiarize yourself with some of the great opportunities available to us. For more information on New Jersey fishing programs, please visit the Division of Fish and Wildlife's homepage at www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/index.htm

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