by Frank Ruczynski
I'm not going to sugarcoat it; it's been a tough two weeks for coastal anglers. Constant northeast winds continue to take a toll on our seaside fishing, beaches and property owners. While we were fortunate to dodge Hurricane Joaquin, I don't think many of the barrier island's property owners feel so lucky after this weekend's moderate to major flooding event that occurred on multiple high tides. Water in the streets is one thing, but our beaches took a real hit and the back bay flooding was some of the worst we've seen in years, highlighted by a home on Grassy Sound falling into the water and drifting south under the bridge before getting stuck near the mouth of Turtle Creek.
Fortunately, it appears there is light at the end of the tunnel. The sun is out this morning and the winds are beginning to relent. A look at the long-range forecast seems promising, as it appears we're shifting to a more stable weather pattern with winds from the west later this week. Our coastal water temperatures were a little over 70 degrees before the weekend blow, but as of noon today, they've dipped to 63 degrees in Atlantic City and 64 degrees in Cape May. Decent weather and falling water temperatures should allow for things to get back to normal, including our fall fishing.
While I prefer the saltwater scene this time of year, I don't mind retreating to the sweetwater once in a while, especially during long periods of northeast wind. August and September were extraordinarily dry and many of our shallow lakes and ponds were running low and stagnant. Many of the little lakes and ponds I frequent seem unaffected by wind and actually benefitted from the coastal storm. The welcome rain brought life back to many of our local waters and the fish responded on cue.
With my fishing options limited by the weather, I stopped by a few of the nearby waterways I haven't visited since the spring. The lakes and ponds were a little stirred up from the recent rains, but the fish didn't seem to mind. Largemouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch and sunfish cooperated, but the crappie bite was unbelievable. I lost count of crappies after catching one on every cast for fifteen casts. After unsuccessfully chasing South Jersey unicorns (redfish) for the last two weeks, the great crappie bite was much appreciated.Crappies on every cast!
I can't explain my fondness for crappies, but there's something special about catching them that I enjoy immensely. They certainly aren't the greatest fighters and they don't reach gigantic proportions, but if you can figure them out, the action they provide is unmatched. More than anything else, I appreciate crappies because they fill a niche. In January when there is nothing else going on, I have crappies. In the spring before the striped bass, bluefish and weakfish show up, I have crappies. In the fall while we're waiting for striped bass and bluefish to migrate into our neighborhood, I have crappies. A coastal storm with winds gusting to 50 MPH, I have crappies. It's always calm at the crappie pond.
Perhaps the biggest draw to crappie fishing is how great of a time you can have with so little time or money invested. For me, it's about an hour commute to the beach. Do I want to drive an hour each way to catch 18 to 26-inch striped bass in snotty conditions? Sometimes, I do, but it is for this reason I appreciate a great bite close to home even more. This afternoon, my son Jake will come home. He'll get his homework done, grab a snack and we'll be fishing five minutes later. Tackle selection is uncomplicated and inexpensive. We each grab a rod, a few small soft-plastic baits, a float or two and we'll have fun bending rods until it gets dark. Easy and Fun!
Don't get me wrong, I'm really looking forward to this year's fall run, but while things are settling down along the coast, I'll make do with the crappies. Freshwater fishing action in South Jersey is about as good as I can remember and to top it off, we'll be receiving a few truckloads of big rainbow trout in a couple weeks. Whatever you do, get those rods and reels ready - we have a lot to look forward to!