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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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October 15, 2012

Working the Weak Nights

by Frank Ruczynski

The recent stretch of cool days and chilly nights has striped bass fever surging through South Jersey. While just about everyone I know is trying for striped bass, we're sitting back and enjoying one of the best late-summer/early-fall weakfish runs in at least five years. Like everyone else, I'm looking forward to the fall run, but I'm not in a hurry. Once the striped bass arrive in numbers, we'll have them around well into December; maybe later, if this year's push is anything close to last season's run. One good storm or a string of strong cold fronts could end the outstanding weakfish bite in a heartbeat, so I'm going to enjoy this weakfish run for all its worth!


Enjoying the Weak Nights!

Just a few days ago, ocean temperatures from Atlantic City to Cape May were in the seventies. As of today, the Atlantic City station is reporting 62.8 degrees while Cape May is a little higher at 66.4 degrees. I rarely check the backwater temperatures, but I'd bet they're hovering in the mid to high-fifties. With another cold front swinging through today, we may see the water temperatures drop a few more degrees before they stabilize later in the week.

As expected, the recent drop in water temperature slowed the weakfish bite slightly and increased the striped bass action at most of the areas we frequent. Fortunately, weather forecasters are predicting day-time air temps around 70 degrees later this week, so I don't think those weakies are going anywhere in the immediate future. Years ago, we had weakfish in the back bays until Thanksgiving, but most years we see them thin out right around Halloween. I'm hoping our little head-shaking, spike-toothed friends hang around for at least a few more weeks.


Northwest Wind Equals Bass

Our recent trips have been spent fishing around lighted structure: bridges, bulkheads, fishing piers, and docks. Schools of baitfish are thick everywhere, but they're especially abundant under the lights. More times than not, when you see snapper bluefish or hickory shad feeding on the surface, it's likely that weakfish are holding in the same areas. While we do see weakfish join in on the surface action from time to time, they usually seem to prefer to hold a little deeper in the water column. I usually fish with light-action-spinning gear and rarely throw more than ¼ to ½-ounce jigs - sometimes I have to get creative to keep my offering close to bottom, especially in areas with a lot of current.


Light-Tackle Weakfish

Over the last few weeks, my buddy, Dave and I experienced one of the best fall weakfish bites we've seen in a while. We've been hitting a few of our favorite lights and pulling out weakfish after weakfish on just about every trip. Our best night happened about a week ago when we teamed up for close to fifty weakfish up to 22 inches. On more than one night, it literally took seconds before we had weakfish on the end of the line. First cast, second cast, third cast – they all came back with fish on the end of the line and this would go on for hours most nights!

The unbelievable action became so predictable that I had to get my kids in on the great bite. Jake and Julia have been on night trips with me before, but it's always been with peanut bunker or mullet on the end of the line; fishing with soft-plastic baits is a lot more work and requires some feel. I took Jake with me the first night and told him exactly what do to; thankfully, he seemed to catch on quickly. I figured a worst-case scenario would have him reeling in some of the fish I hooked. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw him concentrating and working the lure through the water column. In this particular fishing spot, it's more about flipping your jig out into the current and quickly getting to the bottom. Once you've contacted the bottom, you need to start jigging and hope for a bite before you've passed the hole and your lure is swept away and towards the surface in the strong current. It took him a little while to get his first bite, but when he did he was hooked! He ended his first trip with a bunch of weakfish, a striper, and a couple of bluefish. As luck would have it, he caught the biggest weakfish of the night and I'm still hearing about it!


Jake's Learning!

The next night, we returned with Julia in hopes that she would hook her first weakfish and we weren't disappointed. Jake enjoyed showing his big sister the ropes and it wasn't long before she was hooked up. We had a great time with a bunch of weakfish and the kids experienced a few of the great sights and sounds our backwaters offer: we had a massive school of peanut bunker out in front of us, schools of spearing in the lights that were under attack by hungry bluefish, and in the distance, we could hear a lonely owl.


Good Times!

The way I look at it, you can only catch what's in the water and lets face it, there's a lot more weakfish around right now than there are striped bass. I'm going to enjoy what we have while we have it. Each and every one of our trips has been short and uncomplicated. We make a stop or two, catch weakfish to our hearts delight and leave with smiles on our faces. Isn't that what it's all about?

October 01, 2012

A Day with the Boys

by Frank Ruczynski

It's a great time of year to get the family down to the beach. Daytime air temperatures are hovering around 75 degrees and the water temperature is close to the same. A baited hook isn't safe anywhere: the back-bay sounds, inlets, and ocean front are full of life!

After a long summer of freshwater fishing, I'm finally settling back into my regularly-scheduled night fishing routine and I haven't been disappointed. Schools of bait seem to be everywhere and there's been no shortage of weakfish, bluefish, summer flounder, or small striped bass. The weakfish action has been nothing short of amazing. All of my old weakfish holes are holding good numbers of 12 to 24-inch fish and we're even finding some weakies in places we never caught them before.


Fresh Weakfish Fillets

On the way home from one of our night-shift weakfish trips, my buddy, Dave, and I talked about getting our boys down to get in on the fun. A midnight trip would likely be frowned upon by their moms so we planned an all-day crabbing/fishing trip. We talked about these kinds of trips before, but this time we were going to make it happen.

On Saturday, Dave showed up at my house at 6AM; we packed up and headed for Stone Harbor. My son, Jake and Dave's son, Nate, were full of excitement and ready to go. On the way down, we visited The Girls Place for some fresh bunker and made a quick stop at Wawa for some snacks. We arrived at the pier around 7AM and immediately rigged up our crab traps.

One by one, we baited the cages with half of a fresh bunker and lowered them into the water. Dave showed me a little trick to keep the bunker attached to the cage. He used wire ties to fasten the bait to the cage. Two slits were cut into each bunker and then a wire tie was passed through each slit and fastened to the bottom of the cage. The baits stayed in place and lasted us the entire trip. The wire ties were extremely efficient; it was a great tip that I will surely remember on future trips.

Before long, the boys put their first keeper in the basket and we had a slow pick of small and keeper-sized crabs. Action started a little slow, probably because the proximity of high tide created very little water current. We could see the boys needed a little pick-me-up so Dave grabbed the cast net and started catching some small fish to keep them interested.


Little Boys with some Big Crabs

By the time they were done with the cast net, the water started moving out and the crabs were on the move. The boys had their hands full as they had a dozen cages to attend to. Besides crabs, they pulled up all kinds of things in the cages: tons of 4 to 6-inch spot, a handful of small sea bass, three juvenile black drumfish, a pair of oyster crackers, and a small fluke. The morning flew by and it was lunchtime before we knew it. We ended our morning crabbing trip with a little over two-dozen large blue claws and some big smiles.


A Great Morning

As you might imagine, we worked up quite an appetite so we headed up to Avalon to grab lunch at Brady's Hoagie Dock – Home of the Humongous Hoagie. I pass this place all the time on my overnight fishing trips and that humongous hoagie sign gets me every time. It was nice to finally be in the area during normal business hours. The service and sandwiches were great. I just wish I could have talked them into staying open for our late-night trips.

On the way to North Wildwood, we stopped at a few back bay and inlet areas to cast net some mullet, but we couldn't find any in the perennial hot spots; I'm sure low tide wasn't helping our efforts much either. After a quick stop to Jersey Bait and Tackle for some bloodworms and mullet, we headed for Hereford Inlet.

When we pulled up to seawall, I was surprised to see so many people fishing. After a minute of observation, I could see why it was so crowded, everyone was hooked up! No one was catching any large fish, but spot, kingfish, bluefish, blowfish, and summer flounder were keeping rods bent.

We rigged up and didn't waste any time getting in on the action. The boys didn't have to wait long before they were reeling in some nice-sized kingfish. Those bait-stealing spot made it tough to fish for anything else as they hit our bloodworm baits as soon as they hit the water. We threw out some cut mullet and the bluefish were all over it. A few minutes later, Dave and Nate found a school of hungry flatties right in the wash.


Nate with a Feisty Flatfish

As the sun was setting, I took a few minutes to soak it all in. I couldn't help but think about how lucky I was to be in this place sharing these experiences with my family and friends. It was certainly much more memorable than an afternoon at the park or in some movie theater. To me, this is what fishing is all about!


A Day We Will Never Forget
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