by Frank Ruczynski
Somebody pinch me – I feel like I'm dreaming. We're into mid-December and it just keeps getting warmer! The weekend forecast looks incredible with daytime highs pushing well into the 60s. Coastal monitoring stations are reporting ocean temperatures ranging from 50.7 degrees at Atlantic City to 52.3 degrees at Cape May. With nearly perfect fishing conditions, action remains solid and I don't expect it to tail off anytime soon.
In my experiences, the biggest benefit of a warm winter is a shortened offseason. Striped bass action should keep us busy until the end of the month. After some fun with the linesiders, I'm hoping to get in some more freshwater trips before our waterways begin to ice over. If we're real lucky, maybe we'll have a mild January/February and our waterways won't ice over at all. One more bonus – warm winters usually mean early spring runs!
No more looking ahead, there is plenty of action going on right now to talk about. As usual, the almighty striped bass is stealing the spotlight, but there's a good number of big bluefish around, too. The backwater schoolie striper bite has been as steady as I can remember. Surf fishing action is a little more hit-and-miss, but when it's a hit, it's likely to be a trip you'll never forget. Oceanfront boaters seem to be into the best action as massive schools of adult bunker are yielding 20 to 30-pound linesiders. The big bait balls also seem to be attracting a few humpback whales. I've spotted them with some regularity from the beach, but boaters are enjoying some almost magical up-close-and-personal encounters.
I'm still fishing around the clock and enjoying every bit of the late-season action. My nighttime backwater excursions have been a lot of fun. I've been fishing the same two locations since October and they continue to produce. At this point, I can set the bite to my watch as the fishing has been as steady and predictable as I've experienced in at least a few years. The stripers aren't big, most range from 20 to 26 inches, but catching a bunch in a couple hours is enough for me. "Magic time" lasts about two hours and usually starts about a half-hour after high tide. Pink plastics on ¼ to ½ ounce jig heads work well for me, but I'm fairly certain these fish would hit just about anything put in front of them.Right on Schedule!
The early-morning hours are for surf fishing. After spending most of my life fishing the overnight shift on the backwaters, I can't explain how much I enjoy fishing along the surf at sunrise. The surf bite has been more hit-and-miss as I'm averaging one good day for every bad day – a bad day consists of not catching while watching a beautiful sunrise and casting into the waves. The good days have been remarkable with lots of National Geographic, bait-and-birds-everywhere moments. A Beautiful December Morning
Last Saturday, December 5, I woke Jake up early and headed for the beach. The poor kid had to come home from school and hear my stories all week – he was ready to join in the fun. We arrived right before sunrise and peaked over the dune only to see birds and bait everywhere. We couldn't put our waders on and grab our gear quick enough. We ran out to the surf and casted into the melee. My Daiwa SP plug got hammered and my rod doubled, I looked over to check on Jake and he was bent, too. The linesiders were a little smaller than our prior surf trips, but it didn't take away from experience. The bass had peanut bunker pushed right up onto the beach, birds were screeching in excitement, the sun was rising and it was exactly the perfect picture I'd drawn in my mind. We had blitz-like action for about a half-hour before the birds, bait and fish dissipated. "Take the picture Dad, I want to get my line back out there!"
After Saturday's trip, we had to return again on Sunday morning. We started at the same location, but came up empty. We drove a few towns north stopping to fish a bunch of promising-looking areas without a sniff. It turns out; the bite was a little to the south on Sunday morning. Even though we zigged when we should have zagged, we had a great time trying, talking about fishing and grabbing breakfast on the way home. We manage to have fun even when the fish don't cooperate.
At this point in the year, I look at each trip as bonus time. Jake and I have been very fortunate this season and any additional trips will just be the icing on the cake. With 60's forecast for the weekend, I have a feeling we'll be up early again this weekend. A quick glance at my logbook shows that I usually hang up my saltwater gear on or near an average date of December 10 – that's not going to happen this year! The factors responsible for ending my season usually consist of a combination of a slow bite due to cold water, cold weather and the added pressure of getting ready for the holidays. During the warmer years, I fished well into the New Year and have fond memories of catching stripers while listening to Christmas carols. Tis' the season to be jolly.