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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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August 26, 2016

Getting Salty Again

by Frank Ruczynski

This year, I decided to spend most of the summer months concentrating on freshwater ponds and lakes in search of trophy largemouth bass, crappies and pickerel. I landed some real beauties and had a great time exploring new waters. Fishing stump fields, laydowns, lily pads and weed mats from my kayak was a blast, but I'm looking forward to breathing in some salty air, watching mullet spray through the waves and hooking into weakfish, summer flounder, bluefish and striped bass!

During the summer months, fishing along the coast is worthwhile, however I don't think it compares to fishing during the spring and fall seasons. When back bay water temperatures approach or exceed 80 degrees, many of the largest species head for the ocean and deeper, cooler waters. Throw in thousands of summer vacationers with their speed boats, sail boats and jet skis and you may understand my decision to spend most of the summer season inland on a quiet pond in the woods.


Summer Is Drifting Away

While our shore towns are still filled to capacity, I couldn't help myself – it's like a little voice in my head wouldn't stop until I went down to check out some of my favorite late-summer fishing holes. Wanting to avoid the masses, I planned accordingly. The weather and tides were perfect for a late-night backwater trip: a light west wind and air temperatures in the lower 60s with high tide slated for 1 AM. I planned to fish two hours before and two hours after high tide.

Our first stop was a small causeway bridge that is usually choked with baitfish. As soon as we walked up onto the bridge, we spotted a big, black cloud of peanut bunker. Snapper bluefish were tearing through the school, many of which weren't much bigger than the bait they were attacking. After a few casts in the bunker school, I walked up a little higher and spotted two, 28 to 30-inch striped bass working the surface of the shadow line. On the first cast, I missed the mark. The second cast got hammered, but somehow I missed the fish. The third cast would have been it if not for the knot that formed in my freshly spooled braid - the fish hit and as I set the hook the line broke at the knot. This is not how I planned on starting off my night!

I muttered to myself as I tied on another ¼-ounce jig and grabbed a bubblegum Zoom Super Fluke from my bag. I tossed a few more casts, but I blew my chance. As I walked down the bridge headed to the next location, I thought to myself, "I can't believe I blew it, but it sure was nice to see some fish at our first stop."

Our next stop would be a small marina where I usually find striped bass working over baitfish under dock lights. By the time I arrived, the incoming current had slowed down considerably and the snapper blues had the bait balls all to themselves. Over the years, I've noticed striped bass and weakfish seldom compete with the hoards of small bluefish – if stripers or weakfish are present, they'll usually set up below the snappers and clean up the leftovers. I worked high and low at the docks, but only came up with a couple snapper blues and a few half eaten Zooms.

At slack tide, we headed over to another small bridge and were a little surprised to see baitfish stacked on both sides of the bridge. Large schools of peanut bunker swarmed to the lights like moths to a flame. Watching thousands of baitfish circle under the lights is hypnotic. Unfortunately, other than a few snapper bluefish, action was slow. With so much bait present in our waters, it's easy to find bait balls, but not so easy to find bigger fish working them over.


Catching bait in the cast net doesn't get much easier.

We checked a few more likely areas before we found some active fish. The tide just started moving when we heard the telltale "pop" sound made by a surface feeding striped bass. We could hear the stripers feeding from a couple hundred yards down the Intracoastal Waterway. We pinpointed the sound to a well-lit pier that I call the fish bowl. Upon arrival, I noticed a large school of peanut bunker under the lights, but the stripers were only feeding on the stray baitfish that were swept past the dock pilings by the falling tide. Even though there were thousands of peanut bunker inches away, the stripers were keyed onto the small crabs and silversides that were carried by the tide. I made a few well-placed casts and landed a small striper.


This one was hungry!

To most, the catching aspect of fishing is always paramount. While I enjoy the catching as much as anyone, I find watching and learning about my quarry to be equally gratifying. Fishing under bridge or dock lights isn't much different than watching fish swim around in an aquarium. Seeing how and figuring out why fish behave as they do is a gigantic plus, especially for those other times when you can't see what's happening beneath the water's surface. The way I look at it, the time I invest learning about fish behavior will result in more fish on the end of my line.

The striper bite at the pier lasted about fifteen minutes. With late summer backwater temperatures hovering around 80 degrees, the fish are relatively lazy and usually only feed during the most opportune times – typically, the same type of behavior occurs when temperatures are at the lower end of the spectrum, too.

The final stop on our scouting trip would be a small bridge that usually lights up with action on an outgoing tide. It was close to 3 AM and by this time the outgoing current increased a great deal. Mullet, peanut bunker and silversides were holding up in the shallower water where the current was much slower. I watched as snapper bluefish and needlefish slashed through the bait balls. I made a few casts, but only came back with half-eaten soft-plastic baits.

A little frustrated, I thought about our prior stop at the pier and how the striped bass related to it. While the bridge was much larger than the pier, the set up wasn't much different: lights, current, baitfish and pilings. A few casts across the pilings and I was hooked into another summer schoolie striper. Once I figured out their location, I found steady action. The bass didn't want to fight the current, snapper bluefish, and needlefish for food; they decided to sit, almost effortlessly, beside and behind the pilings to pick off the easy meals the current provided.


Summer Stripers

While the fish we caught that night weren't very big, I learned a little more about fish behavior and the areas I fish. The big schools of baitfish aren't always the best place to fish? How many times do you read that in a book? In the few hours we fished, we covered a small area and saw lots of fish. I'll be down at least a couple times a week until things really start to heat up. If you have a chance, get down to the back bays and set up at a well-lit municipal pier or bridge – it's quite a show!

August 16, 2016

Summer Swelter

by Frank Ruczynski

Not long ago, I remember a time when I looked forward to the summer season. That time is gone. With recent air temperatures in the mid 90s and heat indexes between 105 and 115 degrees, I'm putting up the white flag – bring on September and those cool nights!

To most of us, the oppressive heat is like a smack in the face, but it also seems to be taking a toll on the local fishing action. Most species of fish, especially the largest of the species, usually become lethargic when water temperatures approach 90 degrees. Water temperatures vary depending on which body of water you're fishing, but we're running well above average in most locations. Yesterday, I logged 89 degrees at a nearby freshwater lake; on Saturday my Lowrance unit recorded 87 degrees in a coastal, backwater creek and last week, we set a record-high ocean temperature in Atlantic City where the mercury soared to a sultry 83.3 degrees – the previous record was 83.1 degrees, set five years ago.

Despite the stifling weather conditions, I continue to plug away on my summer fishing trips. Last Tuesday, August 9, my Dad flew up from Texas – when he visits, fishing is always on the agenda. Many of my go-to lakes are a bit slow now so we decided to hit a couple of farm ponds that my daughter's boyfriend frequents. John, Jake and I fished the ponds on Tuesday and tallied over 100 largemouth bass in just a couple hours. 100 degrees and 100 fish – you have to love farm ponds! Most of the bass were between 8 and 15 inches, but John did manage to catch a few better fish including one that was pushing 3 pounds.


Farm Pond Bass Thumb

On Wednesday, we returned to the farm ponds, but this time we brought my Dad along to get in on the action. Getting to the fishing hole is a little bit of work as this particular farm is off the beaten path. Access to one of the best ponds on the property requires one to crawl under an electrified fence – John has permission to fish the farm ponds, but there is a ton of land and the walk to the gate would take some time away from fishing.


Slipping Under the Electrified Fence

After navigating through the obstacle course, we arrived at the promise land and were into fish right away. It didn't seem to matter what we threw at those hungry little bass - they were going to hit it. I started with a Rapala Shadow Rap Shad and then switched over to a small jig. The farm pond bass seem a little more like piranhas than largemouth bass – it's hard to believe that many fish can live in what looks like a big, brown puddle.


Jake With a Farm Pond Bass

While we didn't catch any trophy fish, we still managed to have a great afternoon. We caught a ton of 1-pound fish, busted each other's chops for a while and then stopped at Mood's Farm Market for a refreshing apple crush. Under the harsh conditions, I think it's fair to say we made the most of the day.


Sometimes the Smiles Are Bigger Than the Fish!

After a few days of sitting by the air conditioner, I was ready to get back outside. On Sunday, August 14, I attended a Demo Day at West Creek Kayak and Canoe. I was there to represent Wilderness Systems and to help customers with any questions about kayaking. Glenn Collins is the shop's owner and one of the nicest guys I've ever met. Right behind the shop is a small feeder creek that connects to Little Egg Harbor – it is a perfect location for kayaking.


A Perfect Day for a Paddle

As an avid paddler, it's great to see the industry continue to grow by leaps and bounds. If your idea of kayaking is only based on an experience in an old sit-in kayak, you do not know what you're missing out on. The new line of sit-on kayaks offer so many amenities that your head will spin! For most of us, safety and comfort are of utmost importance. Some of the new kayaks are so stable that you can stand up on them comfortably and I'm not just talking about the young, strong surfer types – us older people can get in on the fun, too. The new seats are so incredibly adjustable and comfortable that you won't want to leave the water.


The New Kayaks Are Amazing!

When I'm not fishing or kayaking, I enjoy spending time with young anglers. There are two local kid's tournaments coming up in the next few weeks and I plan on attending both. If you're in the area, come on out and bring the kids along – it's always a good time!

Joe Haase and the Cumberland County Hooked On Fishing – Not On Drugs Fishing Program will be having their Tournament on Sunday, August 28 at Corson Park in Millville, NJ from 9 AM to 1 PM. Come on out to catch some fish and see what this wonderful program is all about.


Hooked On Fishing - Not On Drugs Tournament Flyer

On Saturday, September 10, the 2016 Kid's Fishing Contest will take place at Scotland Run Park in Clayton, NJ from 8:30 AM to 11:30 AM. This tourney is one of my favorites as I grew up fishing at Wilson Lake and participated in the very same contest when I was a teenager. I've seen some impressive catches over the years. Gloucester County Parks and Recreation and Sportsmen's Outpost do an outstanding job with the kids.


2016 Kid's Fishing Contest at Scotland Run Park Flyer

August 08, 2016

A Week in the Wilderness

by Frank Ruczynski

After waiting nearly a month for a break in the mid-summer heat, a perfect weather window opened for our fish-camp trip to Parvin State Park. With weather forecasters calling for daytime highs in the low 80s and nighttime temperatures dipping down to the mid-to-low 60s, I couldn't book our reservations fast enough! A week in the wilderness would include spending most of our time fishing from our Wilderness Systems kayaks and the remainder eating, sleeping, and exploring the park. We camped at Parvin State Park a couple times last summer and had such a good time, we couldn't wait to get back down there.

Fortunately, our favorite campsite, lucky number 013 was available and we set up for a week of living in the great outdoors - campsite #013 is the best site for kayakers as it backs right up to the water. As luck would have it, I was driving in the last tent stake when I saw a shiny, little circle. At first glance, I thought it was an old rivet from a tarp, but after digging the rest of it out of the ground, it turned out to be a gold band. Upon further inspection, it was clearly marked with 14K and a 1908 stamped on the inside of the ring. I don't have any idea how much it's worth, but it was a great way to start our trip!


We're off to a good start!

After setting up our gear, we slid our kayaks into the water and got down to business. Big crappies were our target and it didn't take us long to find them! We found good numbers of big summer slabs at the same little cove that put out great numbers of fish last year. I started by fishing two rods: one rigged with a float and the other with a 1/32-ounce jighead and a Berkley PowerBait 2-inch Power Minnow in the emerald shiner color. A steady east wind provided a good drift and it didn't take long for the rods to bend.


Super-sized crappies are a blast on light tackle!

The size of the crappies in Parvin Lake is beyond impressive! At most lakes, an average crappie usually tapes out around 10 inches, but at Parvin most of the crappies we caught were between 12 and 15 inches and extra thick. If you're into crappies, this lake should be on your list!


This one taped out at a little over 15 inches!

Jake and I caught fish until sunset and then headed back to camp with smiles on our faces. We ate dinner by the campfire and went to bed early, as we wanted to get in a good night's sleep before heading back onto the water at sunrise.


Sunset at Parvin State Park

The next morning, we woke up at 5:45 AM and were on the water by 5:50 AM. We were greeted by a beautiful sunrise and much calmer conditions. There is something almost magical about watching the sunrise on the water. Fish were surfacing all over the lake and it didn't take long for us to get back into the action. The steady crappie action continued right where it left off the evening before. To add to the fun, a few big sunfish, white perch and largemouth bass decided to join the party.


Sunrise Over South Jersey

By 10 AM, that east wind was picking up again. We boated a good number of fish and our stomachs were looking forward to breakfast. We brought a little propane grill to cook meals and I was seriously looking forward to pancakes and grilled breakfast sausages. With the thought of food on our minds, I think we may have paddled a little faster on the way back to camp than we did on our way out. It was a perfect morning!


Finishing off a great morning with pancakes and sausage.

With our bellies full, we decided to settle down for a while. It was great just sitting around, talking about our fishing trip and taking in our surroundings. Many of life's complications and stressors seem to disappear when you're spending time in the wilderness. Whether it's camping, hiking, fishing, kayaking or just sitting under a tree by the lake, there is something soothing about being surrounded by shades of blues and greens that have a way of melting away all of life's troubles.

After we decompressed, we decided to take the kayaks out to our swimming hole. The park has a small area of the lake roped off with a lifeguard present for swimming, but we decided to paddle upstream and swim in the cooler, cleaner feeder creek. The feeder creek is aptly called Muddy Run and the water seemed especially stained during our stay. While the water wasn't very clear, it was cool and quite refreshing, especially on a warm, sunny August afternoon.


Fun in the Sun

Soon after our swim, we decided to explore Muddy Run and the many little offshoots that can only be navigated by a kayak or canoe. We spotted some wildlife, paddled over logjams, under tree branches, and through inches of water all while soaking in our beautiful surroundings. Kayaking these areas is like hiking on the water.


I don't think those turtles are playing leap frog?

Jake, John and I paddled back to the main lake just before sunset to catch a few more crappies. The bite was steady and we picked away at crappies until dinnertime. The open-water bite is a ton of fun and doubles are a usual occurrence. We usually keep a few fish for a camp fish fry, but we had plenty of food packed and John was thoughtful enough to bring sandwiches for everyone – John, as much as we appreciated those hoagies, I'm sure those crappies were even more thankful.


Doubled Up!

Having spent much of the time in my Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K 140, I have to admit; I've fallen even more in love with it. My ATAK sheds the wind like no other kayak, it offers unbelievable stability and the raised AirPro Max seat combine to make for an awesome fishing machine. Sitting in that chair on that kayak with a rod and reel in my hand is truly my happy place!


My Happy Place

We spent the next few days repeating the same events: fishing, kayaking, exploring, roasting marshmallows by the campfire, enjoying life and each other's company. On Friday morning, I was woken up by the sound of a hot air balloon that hovered over our tent and then just a few feet off the water – the smell of propane was thick in the air. I thought I was dreaming – how many people can say they were woken up by the sound of a hot air balloon?


Up, Up and Away!

Our time at Parvin State Park was an incredible experience and I suspect the memories will last a lifetime. Do yourself a favor and take the time to enjoy what's left of the summer season and make sure to spend it with the people you truly care about – you'll be happy you did!
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