by Frank Ruczynski
What do you picture when you think about the fall run? If you're a surfcaster, you probably think about bent rods, drag-screaming runs, slammer bluefish and blitzing striped bass. Backwater anglers likely picture linesiders blowing up on top-water plugs, jigging soft-plastic baits for weakfish and stripers around structure, and a chance to tangle with unicorns: South Jersey redfish and spotted sea trout. Whatever your quarry, it's a magnificent time of year to be on the water.
The season's first cold front and subsequent chilly northwest wind is usually enough to get most of our wheels spinning. While it may feel like fall in our backyards, warm ocean temperatures usually hold steady until Columbus Day. With nighttime lows sinking into the 40's this week, it's hard to believe my family and I were swimming and boogie boarding in Cape May just ten days ago. Currently, the ocean water temperature is 66 degrees at Atlantic City and 69 degrees at Cape May. Summer is over my friends. The sun sets on the summer season
In my experiences, the mullet run marks the changing of the seasons. Most years, mullet pour from our backwater estuaries, through the inlet, and down along the beachfront. Depending on a number of variables, our mullet runs can range from boom to bust. Ill-timed coastal storms and flood tides can end a mullet run before it even starts. By my observations, this season seems to be an average run with good numbers of mullet showing at the inlets and usual beachfront pockets. Mullet Run in Cape May
As we transition from summer to autumn, the mullet run helps to kick-start the fall feeding frenzy. While some early migrating and resident striped bass may be found chasing the mullet schools, it can be difficult to get under the small bluefish that seem to inundate our waterways. Growing up in South Jersey, I associate the mullet run with snapper bluefish more so than any other species. Once the water temperature drops a few more degrees and the snapper bluefish thin out, the real action begins!
Right now, mullet can be found along the beachfront and schools of peanut bunker carpet our backwaters. Most of us know striped bass can be caught in our waters throughout the summer months, but there has been a noticeable upswing in action since the water temps dropped a few degrees from their summertime highs. We seem to be right on track; the ingredients seem to be in place for a great fall run.
When the weather permits, you'll find me spending my days chasing redfish along the backwater shell beds and out front along sandbars. After a few decent seasons in a row, last year's redfish run was the best I've seen in my lifetime. I had high expectations for this fall, but redfish reports have been slim to nil so far this season. My first few attempts at redfish have come up empty, but it's early still. After last season's showing, I'm not throwing in the towel yet.
My nighttime backwater trips have been much more worthwhile as striped bass and weakfish have put on the feedbag. Getting through the relentless snapper bluefish can be difficult, but their presence often signals productive waters. As much as I despise the little eating machines, I'll gladly sacrifice a few soft-plastic tails in order to find a feeding school of weakfish and stripers. On more than one occasion, I found bluefish, striped bass, and weakfish feeding on schools of young-of-the-year weakfish. You can't help but feel bad when a bluefish tosses a half of a still-wiggling weakfish at your feet; those poor little weakfish don't stand a chance. I'm glad I'm not a little weakfish!
While we may not be in full fall-run mode just yet, please don't overlook the variety of opportunities this transitional period offers. What our waters currently lack in trophy-sized fish, they make up for with a variety of fish we only see during this time of year. As I scroll through my Facebook feed, I see pictures of everything from blowfish to striped bass. It's a great time of year to be an angler in South Jersey.Life on the rocks