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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 21, 2015

New Jersey's Fall Rainbow Trout

by Frank Ruczynski

The 2015 New Jersey fall stocking season is complete as thousands of big, beautiful rainbow trout are now swimming in our South Jersey lakes, ponds, and rivers. The trout-stocking trucks made frequent stops in which they unloaded tons of hefty 14 to 22-inch rainbow trout. Usually, angler participation is low compared to the spring trout fishery, so these big trout should be swimming in our waters well into the winter season and maybe as long as next spring. If you enjoy the spring trout action, you'll love the bigger fall trout.


An Average Fall Rainbow Trout

After twenty-five years of fishing for trout in South Jersey, the fall stocking is clearly my favorite time to fish, as the state only puts in two sizes of trout – big and bigger. More times than not, your biggest spring trout will be smaller than your smallest fall trout. The bigger fish fight a lot better and seem to fit the dinner plate perfectly. Throw in daytime highs around 70 degrees and a backdrop of beautiful fall foliage and it's difficult to find a reason not to fish for these brawny rainbow trout.


A Day at the Trout Pond

I guess I need to write a disclaimer - fishing for stocked trout is not the same as fishing for wild trout; we're certainly not fishing gin-clear, mountain streams in Montana. This is New Jersey and the trout are strategically placed by the state to offer the best chance for anglers to capture them. The South Jersey trout fishery is often referenced as a "put-and-take" fishery. The truth is most if not all trout would die in many of our waterways as summer water temperatures rise well into the 80s. Think about it like a fish market where we're allowed to fish for our meals. The words glamorous or sporting don't usually come to mind when talking about stocked fish, but it sure can be a lot of fun!


Jake is having fun!

Fishing for stocked trout isn't always as easy as some may think. The trout take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to acclimate to their new waters. In my experiences, rainbow trout are far more aggressive and take much less time to adapt to their new surroundings. Sometimes, it seemed like the brown and brook trout took weeks before they really starting biting. Since the furunculosis outbreak at the Pequest Hatchery, the Division has decided to stock only rainbow trout, which should bode well for anglers.

When the trout truck visits our area, I usually go on a two to three day trout-fishing binge. I let my son, Jake, take a day or two off of school and we chase trout all over South Jersey. It's about as close as either of us will get to trout fishing in Montana. We fish ponds, lakes and rivers for no other reason than we like catching lots of big trout. Sometimes the fishing action is fast and furious, while other times, it's a very specific bite that can be quite challenging.

Over the last two days, we've hit three different waterways – a lake, a river and a pond. The fishing action was good at each venue, however the trout responded a little differently at each location. In the shallow lake, the trout were rather lethargic and difficult to tempt with any offerings. I believe many of the trout we caught at the lake struck our spinners more out of aggravation than hunger. After some time, I switched over to a Trout Magnet and a slower, jigging presentation and the trout responded nicely.


This big male rainbow trout hit a gold Trout Magnet.

After we had fun at the lake, we headed over to the river. When we arrived, I could see trout zipping in and out of the deeper pools. These trout seemed spooky and full of energy. Many of the larger trout were holding along the banks in the deeper cuts. These fish would only hit if we presented from upstream and we let our spinners sit almost still in the current – the spinner would sit in place with only the blades spinning. While the bite was a little more specific at the river, the current and surroundings felt much more trout-like.


Jake with a River Rainbow

This afternoon, we visited a small sand wash pond. Crystal-clear water with nice drop-offs presented lots of visuals. We found big schools of trout holding wherever we saw down trees. I was a bit surprised, as I always believed trout preferred open waters, especially when no current is present. I tried my go-to Trout Magnet as I could jig it in and around the underwater branches, but I couldn't buy a hit. I switched back to a double-bladed spinner and I had trout on almost every cast. My best catch of the day put up a real fight, as it seemed to swim through every underwater branch on our side of the pond. I was happy when the big male trout finally came to the net.


Another Big Rainbow Trout from This Afternoon's Trip

Looking back at our two-day trout-a-thon, Jake and I had a tremendous amount of fun. It wasn't the most challenging type of fishing or the most glamorous, but we had a good time. I'm sure some will scoff at our super-sized stocked trout – it's ok, we know all about the stocked trout and enjoy it for everything it's worth!

October 15, 2015

Fishing Action Heats Up As Temperatures Fall

by Frank Ruczynski

Wherever you look, autumn is in the air. Sunrises are occurring a little later each morning while sunsets are a little earlier each evening. Squirrels are going crazy, stocking up on walnuts and acorns. Our skies are filled with migrating birds and monarch butterflies. Mosquitos and other bugs are dispersing. While many of us enjoy our pumpkin-flavored foods and drinks, I'm looking forward to the harvest festivals, bonfires on chilly nights, color-filled landscapes and some of the best fishing action of the year.

Water temperatures are dropping right on schedule and I believe this weekend's northwest blow should really getting things going. As of 1 PM on October 15, 2015, the Atlantic City monitoring station checked in at 64.6 degrees while Cape May's station reported 67.3 degrees. Some of the coastal backwaters and many of our freshwater lakes and ponds have already dipped into the 50s.


Chilly Morning on the Water

Striped bass reports are picking up in our area as many of the resident fish become more active. The bulk of the migratory fish were last reported working their way down from Montauk and towards the South Shore of Long Island, New York. Sandy Hook, New Jersey reports are beginning to trickle in and should continue to improve as the weekend approaches. Further south, from Island Beach State Park to Cape May, fishing action has been a little slower, but a few quality fish are beginning to show up. The resident stripers will keep me busy for another week or two before I take the ride north to look for some blitz-like action. As each season passes, it seems like the South Jersey striper season occurs a little later in the year – look for more widespread, serious action to take place in November.

While waiting for numbers of striped bass to return to our local waters, there are many other great fishing opportunities available. The trout trucks will be visiting our portion of the state early next week. Even though the state doesn't stock as many waterways as they do in the spring, the quality of the trout more than makes up for it. These big, beautiful rainbow trout aren't receiving the attention they deserve. I understand they're stocked fish, but fooling the big rainbows can be both challenging and rewarding. The fall stocking information below was copied from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife's website:

Tuesday, October 20

ATLANTIC & CUMBERLAND COUNTIES
• Giampetro Park Pond - 170
• Hammonton Lake - 340
• Mary Elmer Lake - 170
• Maurice River - 400

BURLINGTON, CAMDEN & GLOUCESTER COUNTIES
• Crystal Lake - 170
• Grenloch Lake - 170
• Oak Pond - 170
• Sylvan Lake - 170

Wednesday, October 21

GLOUCESTER & SALEM COUNTIES
• Greenwich Lake - 170
• Iona Lake - 170
• Schadlers Sand Wash Pond - 170
• Swedesboro Lake - 170

MIDDLESEX & MERCER COUNTIES
• Colonial Lake - 170
• Roosevelt Park Pond - 170
• Rosedale Lake – 170



A Fall of 2014 South Jersey Rainbow Trout

I'm looking forward to next week's trout delivery, however I don't know if it can compare to the crazy panfish action I've experienced over the last two weeks. The bite has been so good it is almost unbelievable. Crappies and yellow perch are beginning to school up and if you can find a good piece of underwater structure, be prepared to catch fish all day long.


Fish Fry

Having fished the nightshift for most of my life, I'm enjoying and appreciating fishing during daylight hours. While the nightshift certainly has its benefits, early-morning kayak trips provide both great visuals and fishing action. I arrive at the lake and paddle through a steam or water vapor that I refer to as smoke on the water. Mirror-calm conditions magnify the beautifully colored trees that surround many of our local waterways now. A curious and likely hungry eagle circles my kayak each morning as I pull fish after fish in from submerged structure. As I take in the entire experience, I can only explain it as magical.


Mirror Calm Mornings Are Especially Beautiful

After years of lugging around all kinds of fancy, expensive gear, I've streamlined my approach. On my last trip to the lake, I loaded my kayak, two fishing rods, a life vest, a paddle, a water bottle and a very small utility box of small jigs, floats and soft-plastic baits. Very little effort is needed for this simple type of fishing and it makes the experience even more enjoyable.


All Smiles on a Perfect Fall Morning

Fishing for crappie and yellow perch isn't very complicated, as they seem to hit just about any small bait selection. I've experimented with a bunch of different tactics and continue to learn on each and every trip. While you can learn from trips in which no fish were caught, I find I learn much more when lots of fish are present. I've experimented with retrieves, colors, lure selections, and floats over the last few trips. I found that I can catch fish on just about any offering, but some offerings worked better than others. Of all the techniques I tried, my go-to weightless Berkley Gulp 3 and 4-inch minnows provided the best results. Small, brightly colored jigs (I like using Trout Magnets) in sizes 1/32 to 1/64 also worked extremely well, especially fished under a float.


This Slab Crappie Fell for a Trout Magnet

The key to catching wasn't so much about what type of retrieve I chose or what type or color offering I selected. It was all about location. If there was some type of structure in more than three-feet of water, fish would be there and in many cases, they'd be schooled up in impressive numbers. Fine tuning my lure selections and retrieves allowed me to boat a few more fish, but I'm certain I could have caught some fish with a bare hook.


This Yellow Perch Qualifies for the State's Skillful Angler Award and Completes My Panfish Slam

There are times when I appreciate a challenge, but sometimes it's nice to sit back and just have fun. If your idea of a good time is simply catching loads of fish on a beautiful day, it's time to hit the water!

October 05, 2015

I Don't Mind the Crappie Weather

by Frank Ruczynski

I'm not going to sugarcoat it; it's been a tough two weeks for coastal anglers. Constant northeast winds continue to take a toll on our seaside fishing, beaches and property owners. While we were fortunate to dodge Hurricane Joaquin, I don't think many of the barrier island's property owners feel so lucky after this weekend's moderate to major flooding event that occurred on multiple high tides. Water in the streets is one thing, but our beaches took a real hit and the back bay flooding was some of the worst we've seen in years, highlighted by a home on Grassy Sound falling into the water and drifting south under the bridge before getting stuck near the mouth of Turtle Creek.

Fortunately, it appears there is light at the end of the tunnel. The sun is out this morning and the winds are beginning to relent. A look at the long-range forecast seems promising, as it appears we're shifting to a more stable weather pattern with winds from the west later this week. Our coastal water temperatures were a little over 70 degrees before the weekend blow, but as of noon today, they've dipped to 63 degrees in Atlantic City and 64 degrees in Cape May. Decent weather and falling water temperatures should allow for things to get back to normal, including our fall fishing.

While I prefer the saltwater scene this time of year, I don't mind retreating to the sweetwater once in a while, especially during long periods of northeast wind. August and September were extraordinarily dry and many of our shallow lakes and ponds were running low and stagnant. Many of the little lakes and ponds I frequent seem unaffected by wind and actually benefitted from the coastal storm. The welcome rain brought life back to many of our local waters and the fish responded on cue.

With my fishing options limited by the weather, I stopped by a few of the nearby waterways I haven't visited since the spring. The lakes and ponds were a little stirred up from the recent rains, but the fish didn't seem to mind. Largemouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch and sunfish cooperated, but the crappie bite was unbelievable. I lost count of crappies after catching one on every cast for fifteen casts. After unsuccessfully chasing South Jersey unicorns (redfish) for the last two weeks, the great crappie bite was much appreciated.


Crappies on every cast!

I can't explain my fondness for crappies, but there's something special about catching them that I enjoy immensely. They certainly aren't the greatest fighters and they don't reach gigantic proportions, but if you can figure them out, the action they provide is unmatched. More than anything else, I appreciate crappies because they fill a niche. In January when there is nothing else going on, I have crappies. In the spring before the striped bass, bluefish and weakfish show up, I have crappies. In the fall while we're waiting for striped bass and bluefish to migrate into our neighborhood, I have crappies. A coastal storm with winds gusting to 50 MPH, I have crappies.


It's always calm at the crappie pond.

Perhaps the biggest draw to crappie fishing is how great of a time you can have with so little time or money invested. For me, it's about an hour commute to the beach. Do I want to drive an hour each way to catch 18 to 26-inch striped bass in snotty conditions? Sometimes, I do, but it is for this reason I appreciate a great bite close to home even more. This afternoon, my son Jake will come home. He'll get his homework done, grab a snack and we'll be fishing five minutes later. Tackle selection is uncomplicated and inexpensive. We each grab a rod, a few small soft-plastic baits, a float or two and we'll have fun bending rods until it gets dark.


Easy and Fun!

Don't get me wrong, I'm really looking forward to this year's fall run, but while things are settling down along the coast, I'll make do with the crappies. Freshwater fishing action in South Jersey is about as good as I can remember and to top it off, we'll be receiving a few truckloads of big rainbow trout in a couple weeks. Whatever you do, get those rods and reels ready - we have a lot to look forward to!
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