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.
Wow, what a warm up! It's hard to believe we had a couple inches of snow on the ground a week ago and now I'm sunburnt from head to toe! The recent stretch of 70 and 80-degree sunny days almost seems too good to be true; it is early March in South Jersey right? Birds are singing during the day while chorus frogs screams can be heard throughout the night. One thing is for sure: warm, sunny days will kick start fishing action all over the area so expect fishing reports to pick up greatly in the coming week.
After years of logging fishing trips, it didn't take long to see how much weather and water conditions influence fishing action. Air temperatures, water temperatures, wind speed, wind direction, cloudy days versus sunny days, rainfall or lack of rainfall and a myriad of other weather-related factors have at least some impact on most species of fish. Water temperature is certainly one of the main factors to consider when fishing. Cold water temperatures may not always dictate movement, as in migration, but it does play a major role when it comes to feeding habits. Knowing your quarries preferences will help increase the odds of a successful day on the water.
Unlike air temperatures, water temperatures usually change gradually; however, big swings in air temperatures, like the unseasonal warm-up we're experiencing now, can speed up the process dramatically. Dark-colored mud flats and a strong March sun are a perfect combination to warm up chilly waters. Smaller, shallow bodies of water can vary by as much as twenty degrees in just a few hours. In tidal areas, the back-bay flats will warm up much more on a sunny day, especially towards low tide. An incoming tide can drop temperatures and an angler's odds at finding active fish considerably as cold ocean water flushes over the flats.
USGS Current Water Temperature Chart
Last week's snowfall put a littler damper on my hopes of an early-season striped bass. I haven't fished the backwaters for striped bass since opening day, but after the last few days and a glance at the water temperature, I believe it's time to start making plans. The long-range forecast looks good with average to above average daytime highs. Back bay water temperatures are already flirting with that magical 50-degree mark. Reports along the Delaware River are trickling in and I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot more about striped bass over the upcoming weekend.
Even though I didn't get out for stripers, I tried to make the most of the beautiful weather by spending some time in my kayak on the local waters. On Tuesday, my daughter, Julia, and I stopped by Wilson Lake at Scotland Run Park. We arrived at the lake around 10 AM and it was already approaching 70 degrees. First step into the water quickly reminded me that the recent snow had melted just days before: the water was so cold; it felt like it was cutting you! I tried my normal go-to fishing holes, but the chilly water seemed to be working against me.
With just a small pickerel to show for my efforts, I decided to head towards the shallow flats at the back of the lake. After a quick paddle onto the flats, I could see the sun's effect on the skinny water as tiny baitfish were being pushed along a weed line by a school of hungry pickerel. I poked around in skinny-water areas that would be unreachable by any other means other than a kayak and it was perfect. Only a week into March and I'm on the lake in my kayak in shorts and a t-shirt catching fish after fish.
I told Jake about our trip that evening and decided to let him play hooky on Wednesday – what can I say, 80 degrees in March is a holiday at our house. We had plans to hit a nearby lake that had been on our radar for years, but we just never got around to fishing it. Fishing is allowed but kayak access would be difficult as would parking my trailer. Whatever the case, we were going to make it happen.
We got to the lake a little later this time – you know to let the sun work its magic. I pulled up to lake and we quickly unloaded the kayaks. Our only access was from a small, backwoods road and we had to slide the kayaks under a guardrail. Once we unloaded our gear, I parked the car a short distance away and took off my shoes and left them in the car. The walk back to the kayaks was fine, but loading the kayaks from land to the water would be an issue: hundreds of little spiked balls (we call them monkey balls) properly known as sweet gum balls made the barefoot carrying and rigging a real nightmare – I might have preferred walking on glass.
Once we finished navigating our way through the treacherous monkey balls, we slid the kayaks into the water and felt like we finally arrived in paradise. The warm sunshine, crystal-clear water (which was noticeable warmer than the day before) and light breeze set the table for a great afternoon on the water. I hooked a pickerel on my third cast and never looked back. The grass beds are just coming to life and were quite a spectacle as shades of greens and gold blended into each other. As luck would have it, the best fishing took place right on these shallow grass beds.
A pickerel's colors camogflage perfectly into the green and gold weeds.
Jake and I spent hours catching bass and pickerel on small jigs and soft-plastic baits. After exploring the lake, we decided that it has some serious potential. We didn't take the day lightly as this type of weather should be appreciated for all its worth. Towards the end of the day, neither of us wanted to go home: mostly because the weather was so beautiful, but also because we knew we'd have to pass the monkey-ball gauntlet again.
Honestly, if I could picture heaven, it would be very similar to my experiences this week – well, maybe the fish could be a little bigger. Spending a beautiful day on the water with the people you care the most about; how can it get any better? I hope everyone has an opportunity to enjoy the spring season as much as I plan to.