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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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April 30, 2014

Out for Trout and Tiderunner Weakfish

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


Wonderful
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!

April 11, 2014

Spring Fever

by Frank Ruczynski

I don't know about you, but I have a serious case of spring fever. It was extremely difficult for me to stay in today to catch up on the things I've put off due to two weeks' worth of fishing trips, but I guess I can be an adult for a day. Lately, it's tough to do anything other than think about fishing with the amazing amount of fishing opportunities available in our area. Largemouth bass, pickerel, crappies and literally truckloads of trout have my head spinning. Saltwater action is also picking up as striped bass action seems to be improving daily. Believe it or not, I'm glad the stripers are a little late; otherwise, I probably wouldn't have slept at all this week. As soon as I finish writing, I'm picking up some "select" bloodworms and spending the weekend chasing striped bass on the banks of the Delaware River.

I guess I'll start with striped bass and get to the freshwater report a little later. By most accounts, the striped bass action has been a little slow to start, but it seems like the recent warm-up was enough to get things going. Over the last two days, it's like somebody flipped the switch: reports of striped bass are coming in from the rivers, bays, inlets, and oceanfront. My Facebook news feed looks more like a Fishbook news feed as it's filled with happy anglers holding linesiders. Most of the striped bass are running on the small side, but a few cows are beginning to show up in the Delaware River.


TJ Messick Delaware River 4/10/14

Just a few days ago, I made my first striper trip of the season. Yes, I know, I can't remember ever starting so late. I'm usually out there trying for stripers on March 1st, but with frigid water temps, I didn't like my odds until recently. I arrived at one of my favorite early-season spots just after midnight as the tide started out. Honestly, I expected to see stripers busting on spearing and grass shrimp, but it was quiet and my retrieves came back untouched.

After a half hour, I decided to hit another back bay location that usually warms quickly and provides solid action. As I walked towards the water, I could hear the tell-tale "pop" sound made by striped bass feeding on the surface. The bass weren't holding in their normal areas; they were a little further out and difficult to pinpoint in the darkness. I cast soft-plastic baits into the night and picked away at short stripers for most of the night. I tagged a few fish and ended the trip with eight bass to 25 inches. It wasn't an outstanding trip by any means, but it's a start.


First bass of 2014

Even though striped bass action seems to be off to a slow start, there have been a few reports of weakfish and summer flounder catches already this season. I found the reports a little hard to believe at first, but there were pictures to back up the reports. With water temps in the high 40s, who would expect weakfish and fluke to be taking baited hooks? Hopefully, it's a sign of promising fishing action as we approach the month of May.


Tracie Lynn with a 30-inch beauty caught on 4/5/14
Photo by Robert Conroy

I cannot express in words how good the freshwater fishing is in South Jersey right now! The warming waters have big, pre-spawn largemouth bass looking for their first meal of the season. Monster chain pickerel and slab crappies seem even more willing than normal to strike a bait and the state has dumped thousands of trout into many of our ponds, lakes, and rivers.


Colin Steward represents the Hooked on Fishing - Not on Drugs kids well with this 6-pound lunker

The week before the opening of trout season, I had one of the best big crappie bites I've ever experienced. Day after day, it didn't seem to matter what I threw at them; they were taking everything. I started with live minnows, but ended up catching what seemed like 100s of 12 to 15-inch slab crappies on soft-plastic baits, top-water plugs, and spinners.


That's a slab!

At 8 AM on Saturday, April 5th, trout season officially started. By 8:01 AM, my son, Jake had his first trout on the stringer! The trout were hungry and we had a steady bite for two hours before the wind kicked up to 25 mph. I caught a bunch on spinners, while Jake was feeding them chartreuse power bait. We landed twenty rainbows and ended the trip with our limit of trout.


Trout Day 2014

Before Saturday, I haven't attended an opening day of trout season in at least five years. I grew tired of the crowds and the whole scene. This year, Jake asked to go on opening day, so I figured we'd give it a shot. To my surprise, the lake wasn't very crowded and the few anglers that were fishing with us were very polite and courteous. While we enjoyed a little elbow room and some great fishing action, I did find myself wondering why interest in trout fishing seems to be much lower today than it was a few years ago.

The trip with Jake rejuvenated my interest in trout fishing. Over the years, I've caught lots of big brook and rainbow trout, but I wanted a big brown trout this season. I watched them stock a few of the nearby lakes and there was one fish in particular I had in my sights. On Tuesday, I spent the afternoon hunting for my trophy. The brown trout were killing spinners, but I couldn't find one over 14 inches. It was fun, but on the drive home, I couldn't stop thinking about the "one."


Fun-sized brown trout

I woke up early the next morning, grabbed my gear and headed back to the lake. When I arrived, there was one boat out on the lake; otherwise, I had the entire shoreline to myself. With the wind at my back, I could cover half the lake with my big yellow spinner. On my second cast, I had a hit and reeled in another normal-sized stocked brown trout. The morning action was steady as I caught about fifteen more trout before another angler showed up. We started talking and I found out the older gentleman just got back into fishing and this was his first time out in years. I filled him in about the bite and as I was showing him how to work a spinner, the big brownie hit! She took me through a submerged bush and then up and down the shoreline a few times before I slid her hefty body onto the bank. My new buddy seemed just as excited as I was and was nice enough to snap a few pictures before he tied on a spinner.


My big brown trout!

After landing the big brown, I was done for the day. I took my limit down to the creek and shot a few pictures. I thought about how lucky I was to have such great fishing opportunities just minutes from my home. It's hard not to feel blessed when you're sitting by a backwoods creek with a limit of brown trout on a gorgeous spring day.

On my way out, I noticed a familiar family of four; they fish at the lake frequently, but never seem to catch much. They made such a big deal about my catch that I offered it to them. When I asked them if they wanted the trout, they responded like they just won the lottery. In my mind, it was the perfecting ending to a perfect day.


The perfect day!

Tons of trout will continue to be stocked in our local waters for the next two weeks so get out and enjoy the great action while it lasts. After what seemed like a never-ending winter, 70 degrees and sunshine never felt better! The weekend weather forecast looks amazing. Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming and the fish are biting. If you haven't wet a line yet, it's time to get out there!
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