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.
Fall is here! The smoky scent of backyard bonfires, multicolored landscapes, harvest celebrations, hayrides, falling leaves, scarecrows, apple cider and pumpkin-spice flavored foods and drinks are just a few of the welcoming signs. While I enjoy everything the fall season has to offer, the great fishing action tops my list. Freshwater fishing opportunities are among the best of the year as our resident sweetwater fishing turns up a notch with an influx of super-sized rainbow trout. Coastal anglers spend their days and nights chasing the almighty striped bass as the fall migration kicks into high gear. It's a great time to be living and fishing in South Jersey!
Kayak fishing on a brilliant October afternoon.
Water and weather conditions look favorable for fishing over the next few weeks. Freshwater rivers, ponds and lakes are running a little low, but the waters are clear and cool. Saltwater conditions also look promising as Hurricane Matthew skirted our area to the south and than pushed further out to sea. Over the last ten days, coastal water temperatures dropped by almost 10 degrees. The Cape May station is presently reporting 63.9 degrees while the Atlantic City monitoring station reads 63.3 degrees. The resident schoolie stripers have been much more active since the water temp drop. With a stable weather forecast, I expect water temps to rebound and hold in the mid 60s for a few weeks. Our backwater estuaries are exploding with a plethora of baitfish so the table is set for a great fall run.
The recent drop in water temp triggered some better-sized fish this week.
The recent coastal storm and what seemed like an unending northeast wind forced me to step away from the great weakfish action and take on some new fishing opportunities closer to home. After a few days of rain, being stuck inside watching, reading and listening to political news, commercials and opinions, I couldn't wait to get as far away from society as I could. I looked over the map on my iPhone and searched for some of the most remote waters in my area. I needed an escape from "Election 2016."
After a little research on the new fishing locations, we loaded the kayaks and headed out to get away from it all. Fortunately, we had a beautiful lake to ourselves, the launch area was perfect and the fishing action was steady. It was exactly the escape I needed to feel sane again. Paddling out onto a serene lake on a warm October afternoon felt like paradise. While politics have a way of reminding me of everything that's wrong with the world, kayak fishing has a way of reminding me of everything that's right with the world.
This is my happy place!
My son, Jake, spends far less time fishing with me since school started, but his first four-day weekend (Columbus Day) came at the perfect time. We loaded up the kayaks and had a father/son trip that couldn't have been more enjoyable. Our Wilderness Systems kayaks are outstanding fishing platforms and we have them rigged to the max for enjoyment on the water. Jake paddles my old Tarpon 120 and I love my new ATAK 140. We usually fish all the likely areas such as docks, bulkheads, drop offs, stump beds and lily pad fields. I've been especially fond of the Rapala Shadow Rap Shad lately – the perch-colored pattern gets a lot of attention from our finned friends.
Rapala Shadow Rap Strikes Again!
Once we're done working over the lake, we usually paddle upstream to fish, have lunch and explore. The creek mouths and pockets are good for a few fish and the trek upstream is always enjoyable. Kayaking on lakes and ponds is great, but there is something special about paddling into the untouched areas that other boaters cannot access. We've found some great fishing spots, viewed a tremendous amount of wildlife and even found a couple out-of-the-way swimming holes. Kayaking through these types of areas is a lot like hiking on the water.
The time Jake and I spend together on the water is always memorable. The experiences range from almost magical on some days to just really good on others. If our trips were a game, we'd always win. Between fishing action, our conversations and the beautiful surroundings, how could we lose? I watch as friends and family spend large amounts of money to fly to other states or countries to get away from it all while I just load up my kayaks and paddle off into the sunset.
If you haven't tried kayaking, I suggest giving it a shot. Maybe you tried kayaking a few years ago and the unstable little sit-in kayak didn't feel safe or comfortable? Kayaks have come a long way in the last few years. I'm not a young man anymore; certainly not the surfer type and I can stand and fish on my kayak very comfortably. The seats are more like a Lazy Boy recliner than the old wooden slats I sat on in my canoe. Creature comforts continue to reach new highs as new and useful products pop up on a daily basis. Items such as lightweight motors, pedal drives, carbon fiber paddles, high-end fish-finders, stereo systems, adjustable rod holders, charging ports for your phone, live wells, solar charging systems, remote-controlled anchors systems, and tackle storage options are just a few of the innovative new improvements made for kayaking. It sure is a great time to be a kayak angler!
By this time next year, I'll be dancing on my ATAK 140!
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
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.
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!
In South Jersey, our warmest weather usually occurs between late July and early August. With recent air temperatures approaching triple digits, it's safe to say the "dog days" are upon us. Fishing during this time of year can be quite difficult and in some cases even dangerous. When air temperatures are forecast to reach the 90s, it's 90+ degrees in the shade and quite a bit warmer in the sun. The unbearable heat isn't just uncomfortable for anglers; it also takes a toll on most species of fish. With a little planning, you can feel much more comfortable on the water and continue to keep those rods bent.
When trying to beat the heat, a few options quickly come to mind: fish during the early morning, evening and nighttime hours. These simple choices will offer the most enjoyable fishing conditions – it's also likely the fish will be a bit more cooperative during these times, too. If you're fishing during lowlight conditions, you can leave the sunscreen at home, but remember to bring the bug spray – those South Jersey mosquitos will carry you away!
As a kayaker, this time of year can be especially daunting. Loading your kayak and paddling requires a little more physical effort, which can exacerbate the effects of the hot, summer sun. To combat the heat, I usually don't push my limits, dress in light-colored clothing and pack lots of cold water.
The simple items listed above are usually enough to enjoy the hottest of days on the water, however there are a few extra steps to make summer fishing trips even more comfortable. I've found a few other cooling options that work wonders. Some of the new fabric technologies are mind blowing. One of these products is the Columbia Freezer Zero Neck Gaiter. The neck sleeve is extremely versatile as it can be worn in a variety of ways, provides sun protection, comfort, and cooling properties. A little sweat actually makes the Omni-Freeze Zero material feel cool against your skin. I was one of those guys that said, "I'd never where on of those face buffs." Now, I don't leave home with out it.
Feeling cool on a hot July day.
Armed with my hot-weather gear and enough bottled water to fill a swimming pool, I hit a bunch of lakes this week. I took the kayaks out to a few of my favorite venues and visited a couple new bodies of water. The unfamiliar waters looked fishy, but my efforts came up small with just a few fish for the day. Fortunately, my go-to waters have been much more productive. Fishing action has been great despite the height of the summer heat.
The heat hasn't slowed the fishing action!
I've put together a pretty successful routine and I'm going to stick with it for as long as it lasts. My day starts early – usually, I'm on the water by 6:30 AM. I begin fishing the flats and weed edges with a yellow perch-colored Rapala Shadow Rap Shad. Largemouth bass, chain pickerel, crappies, sunfish and yellow perch seem to love the Shadow Rap Shad. Rapala lists the Shadow Rap Shad at 3/8 ounce, 3.5 inches in length, and a diving depth of 3 to 4 feet. I fish the lure with an erratic, jerky retrieve and it seems to hang around a depth of 1 to 3 feet, which is perfect for many of our weedy, shallow South Jersey waters. Rapala describes the Shadow Rap Shad's action as, "Swims with horizontal struggle. Slow rise on the pause. Perfectly mimics a shad in trouble." Their description is dead on – the action on this lure is remarkable and it drives fish crazy!
The Rapala Shadow Rap Shad getting it done!
Around 10 AM, the lily pads draw my attention as largemouth bass begin to explode on the many types of dragonflies that flutter just above the water's surface. Usually by this time, I've had my fun with the little, yellow perch-colored Rapala and I'm ready to switch it up. I used to fish frogs, but lately, I've been throwing the Doomsday Turtles with great results. I rig the turtle with a small, lightweight hook so it sinks slowly on the pause. It skitters across the water perfectly as the four curly legs ripple the surface of the water. If the fish aren't aggressive, I'll slow down my retrieve and pause in the open pockets of water just long enough for the turtle to sink a little and the bass crush it! By the time I'm done working over the lily pad fields, the sun is high and I'm paddling back to my car with a smile on my face.
It's a bad day to be a bass!
My son, Jake, has been out with me often. On our last trip, he hooked a decent largemouth bass on his very first cast. It's a joy watching him improve his knowledge and techniques. Now, Jake goes his own way and works over waters that look fishy to him. He was rewarded with a beautiful 24-inch pickerel – a new personal best for my little fishing buddy! We had a great trip even though it was 90 degrees.
Jake had his hands full with this one!
August looks like it's going to begin with a little break from the extreme heat. Midweek highs are forecast in the low to mid 80s and Jake and I are planning a three-day fish camp at Parvin State Park. We fished at Parvin about the same time last year and had one of the best open-water crappie bites I've ever experienced. We're hoping for a repeat and a couple bass wouldn't hurt either. Don't let the "dog days" get the best of you – there are plenty of fish to catch!
Can you believe we had a few inches of snow on the ground just a week ago? Fortunately, last Saturday's snowfall didn't have a lasting effect on the fishing action. Since the snowfall, the Delaware River striped bass bite exploded, many of our freshwater ponds and lakes were stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout, largemouth bass put on the feedbag and the saltwater action is picking up as the season's first bluefish, weakfish, and summer flounder were reported this week. Everywhere you look things are blooming and coming back to life – it really is the most wonderful time of the year!
Pickerel in the Snow
With better weather and good fishing conditions, I can't spend enough time by the water. In the last week, I've fished the night tides for striped bass, kayaked the early-morning hours in search of weakfish, fished the local stocked lakes for rainbow trout and tried for largemouth bass and pickerel at the local farm ponds. Even though I've spent a great deal of time fishing, I feel like I just can't get enough. South Jersey residents are truly blessed to have so many great fishing opportunities so close to home.
Stable weather patterns and rising water temperatures are exactly what I like to see during the spring season. Coastal-water temperatures vary from 50.5 degrees in Atlantic City to 56.7 degrees in Cape May at the Ferry Jetty. Backwater temperatures are ranging from the mid 50s to the low 60s - depending on location and time of day. I don't want to jinx it, but the wind has finally backed off too. The long-range forecast is looking good so I expect the fishing action to continue to improve.
I'll start this week's report in the sweetwater. Jake and I decided to skip the trout day opener and hit our favorite venues throughout the week. With another truckload of trout stocked on Tuesday, April 12, there is certainly no shortage of fish. We caught a ton of rainbow trout on nickel/gold-colored Thomas Double Spinns. The double-bladed spinner flutters and falls a little slower than most other spinners, which make them the perfect selection for many of our shallow-water lakes and ponds.
Those Thomas Double Spinns Are Deadly!
While I haven't caught or seen any large, breeder trout yet this season, I did manage to make a special catch on Tuesday afternoon at Harrisonville Lake. One of the trout I caught came with a little piece of jewelry! This particular rainbow trout was jaw-tagged as part of the state's Hook-A-Winner Program – 1,000 trout are tagged and distributed throughout the state's waters each year. Winners must submit their name, address, fish tag number and catch location to the Pequest Trout Hatchery to receive an award certificate and patch.
Hook-A-Winner Rainbow Trout
With the recent stretch of warm, sunny days, I find myself looking for any excuse to stop by the water's edge. That lake on the way to the supermarket, the pond by the mall or the little farm pond across from my mother-in-laws house – you know, ten minute stops here and there just to wet a line. Lately, those little stops have been paying off as largemouth bass and big chain pickerel seem to be strapping on the feedbag. I'm on a Rapala Shadow Rap binge; both the Shadow Rap and the Shadow Rap Shad have been extremely effective recently – the pickerel just can't keep their mouths off them. The size of the fish at some of the local "puddles" will surprise you!
This Afternoon's Pit Stop
When I have a little more free time, I'm making the hour-long commute to fish the coastal backwaters. Nightshift trips have been worthwhile, as 20 to 30-inch striped bass seem to be just about everywhere. We've put up some numbers over the last few nights and had a lot of fun with the little linesiders. I tagged a few fish for the Littoral Society and look forward to learning more about the habits and migration patterns of our local back-bay bass.
Tagging Striped Bass
On calm mornings, you will find my plying the local creeks and skinny-water flats in my A.T.A.K. kayak for spring tiderunner weakfish. A few have been caught, but I've only come up with striped bass and bluefish so far. The new kayak continues to impress me; the performance on the water and stability is simply amazing. My sunrise kayak sessions seem almost surreal – now if I could only find a few willing weakfish.
Heaven on Earth
At least the bluefish are cooperating. Those bluefish seem to move in earlier each season. I have a feeling the yellow-eyed eating machines will be invading our waters in full force over the next few days. Hopefully, I can find a few weakfish before the big bluefish arrive in numbers and wreak havoc. I caught a handful of 6 to 8-pound blues the other morning while trying for weakfish. They really put a toll on my jigs and soft-plastic baits as I was unprepared for the toothy demons and didn't have any heavy leader material on my kayak – I won't make that mistake again.
This one made it to the kayak!
Whether you're a long-time angler or just beginning, it's a wonderful time to hit the water. With so many options, that old, familiar saying seems entirely appropriate – "So many fish, so little time." I'm going to make the most of the spring run and I hope you do too. Good luck on the water!
With a mild winter, I had high hopes for an early spring run, but every time conditions began to look promising, we'd get just enough of a cold blast to shut down any hopes of serious action. Fortunately, the latest warm-up put us over the top and the fishing action blew wide open. Striped bass reports seem to be coming in from all over South Jersey. Over the weekend, solid reports of striped bass came from anglers fishing the rivers, bays, inlets and even out front along our southern beaches. Many of the striped bass are on the small side, but there are enough keepers around to make it interesting. The big girls can't be far behind!
Conditions are prime for serious action. With daytime highs forecast in the 50s and 60s, it looks like we've finally turned the corner. Ocean water temperatures are running well-above average as the NOAA monitoring station in Cape May is reporting 51.8 degrees while the Atlantic City station checks in at 47.8 degrees. Backwater temperatures are finally stable and holding in the low to mid 50's.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey
The recent stretch of warm weather pushed the back bay water temperatures into the 50s and the striped bass bite went from zero to hundred in what seemed like seconds. The last few days and nights have been a blur. Between holiday family gatherings, modifying my trailer, rigging my new Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K. and striper fishing the overnight shift, time for sleep has been few and far between. With a great striper bite, who has time for sleep?
Jake's spring break couldn't have come at a better time. Earlier in the week, we put off a few fishing trips to get some household chores and yard work done in order to bank fishing time for this week. We started our weeklong fishing spree on Saturday at Wilson Lake at Scotland Run Park. Jake met up with a school buddy to fish from his bass boat, while Jen and I paddled our kayaks around the lake. It was my maiden trip on the new ATAK and it was great – I never imagined I'd be standing in a kayak, but I did and the platform was very stable. The adjustable Air Pro Max seat is amazing - in the high position, my viewpoint of the flats was much improved, yet I didn't feel like I gave up much, if any, stability. I caught a bunch of pickerel and few largemouth bass on Rapala Shadow Raps. Our boys in the bass boat didn't fare as well. After my first trip, I have some outfitting to do, but one thing is for sure: my ATAK is going to be one bad fishing machine!
My New Fishing Machine
After ribbing Jake about his uneventful day on the water, he wanted redemption. Even though we were both tired, we decided to head down to the backwaters to catch the late-night high tide. When I pulled up to one of our favorite early-season hot spots, I noticed the wind was blowing a lot more than it was back at home - I started feeling like it may not be our night.
My hopes were soon restored as I watched a striper swipe at my jig on the first cast! As I looked over to tell Jake, I watched his rod double over and he screamed out, "I'm on!" My second cast got annihilated and the fun began. Doubled up, we battled our pair of 26-inch stripers up onto the bank. As Jake held both bass for a quick photo, the top-water popping began. We could hear bass after bass exploding on baitfish – if you've never been fortunate enough to experience this, it sounds and looks like someone is throwing bowling balls into the water.
It turned into one of those nights where we could do no wrong. Stripers were popping at our feet to as far out as we could see. Our retrieval styles and cast location didn't seem to matter - it was an all out feeding frenzy and we hooked up on just about every cast for almost three hours. I couldn't imagine kicking off the spring striper season in a better way!
During the wee hours of the morning, I think delirium set in as Jake began mumbling incoherently. With an hour ride home, we decided to pack it up even though the fish were still biting, but between us, we tallied close to fifty stripers on the night. Most of the stripers were in the 23 to 26-inch range, however we did manage to box a pair of keepers for the dinner table. I fished the entire night with a bubblegum-colored Zoom Super Fluke on a ¼-ounce jig head while Jake fished with the same Zoom, but on a ½-ounce lead head.
I returned to the same locale last night and found the stripers feeding on top again. I got in a good hour of action before the skies opened and the rain came down. People say that fish don't mind the rain, but that's not the case in my experiences, especially when I'm fishing on the flats. The fishing action didn't completely die, but it slowed down considerably - enough that I determined it wasn't worth getting soaked over. I decided to pack it up to catch up on sleep so I can be ready for my next trip.
Before the Rain
If you're still wondering when it's worth getting your gear out and hitting the water, the answer is now! The freshwater action is great, our resident striped bass are active, and the bigger migratory striped bass are moving up into the rivers to spawn. Trout Day is less than two weeks away and bluefish, weakfish and summer flounder will be here before you know it. Good luck out there - it's time for me to hit the water.
Wow, what a warm up! It's hard to believe we had a couple inches of snow on the ground a week ago and now I'm sunburnt from head to toe! The recent stretch of 70 and 80-degree sunny days almost seems too good to be true; it is early March in South Jersey right? Birds are singing during the day while chorus frogs screams can be heard throughout the night. One thing is for sure: warm, sunny days will kick start fishing action all over the area so expect fishing reports to pick up greatly in the coming week.
After years of logging fishing trips, it didn't take long to see how much weather and water conditions influence fishing action. Air temperatures, water temperatures, wind speed, wind direction, cloudy days versus sunny days, rainfall or lack of rainfall and a myriad of other weather-related factors have at least some impact on most species of fish. Water temperature is certainly one of the main factors to consider when fishing. Cold water temperatures may not always dictate movement, as in migration, but it does play a major role when it comes to feeding habits. Knowing your quarries preferences will help increase the odds of a successful day on the water.
Unlike air temperatures, water temperatures usually change gradually; however, big swings in air temperatures, like the unseasonal warm-up we're experiencing now, can speed up the process dramatically. Dark-colored mud flats and a strong March sun are a perfect combination to warm up chilly waters. Smaller, shallow bodies of water can vary by as much as twenty degrees in just a few hours. In tidal areas, the back-bay flats will warm up much more on a sunny day, especially towards low tide. An incoming tide can drop temperatures and an angler's odds at finding active fish considerably as cold ocean water flushes over the flats.
USGS Current Water Temperature Chart
Last week's snowfall put a littler damper on my hopes of an early-season striped bass. I haven't fished the backwaters for striped bass since opening day, but after the last few days and a glance at the water temperature, I believe it's time to start making plans. The long-range forecast looks good with average to above average daytime highs. Back bay water temperatures are already flirting with that magical 50-degree mark. Reports along the Delaware River are trickling in and I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot more about striped bass over the upcoming weekend.
Even though I didn't get out for stripers, I tried to make the most of the beautiful weather by spending some time in my kayak on the local waters. On Tuesday, my daughter, Julia, and I stopped by Wilson Lake at Scotland Run Park. We arrived at the lake around 10 AM and it was already approaching 70 degrees. First step into the water quickly reminded me that the recent snow had melted just days before: the water was so cold; it felt like it was cutting you! I tried my normal go-to fishing holes, but the chilly water seemed to be working against me.
With just a small pickerel to show for my efforts, I decided to head towards the shallow flats at the back of the lake. After a quick paddle onto the flats, I could see the sun's effect on the skinny water as tiny baitfish were being pushed along a weed line by a school of hungry pickerel. I poked around in skinny-water areas that would be unreachable by any other means other than a kayak and it was perfect. Only a week into March and I'm on the lake in my kayak in shorts and a t-shirt catching fish after fish.
I told Jake about our trip that evening and decided to let him play hooky on Wednesday – what can I say, 80 degrees in March is a holiday at our house. We had plans to hit a nearby lake that had been on our radar for years, but we just never got around to fishing it. Fishing is allowed but kayak access would be difficult as would parking my trailer. Whatever the case, we were going to make it happen.
We got to the lake a little later this time – you know to let the sun work its magic. I pulled up to lake and we quickly unloaded the kayaks. Our only access was from a small, backwoods road and we had to slide the kayaks under a guardrail. Once we unloaded our gear, I parked the car a short distance away and took off my shoes and left them in the car. The walk back to the kayaks was fine, but loading the kayaks from land to the water would be an issue: hundreds of little spiked balls (we call them monkey balls) properly known as sweet gum balls made the barefoot carrying and rigging a real nightmare – I might have preferred walking on glass.
Once we finished navigating our way through the treacherous monkey balls, we slid the kayaks into the water and felt like we finally arrived in paradise. The warm sunshine, crystal-clear water (which was noticeable warmer than the day before) and light breeze set the table for a great afternoon on the water. I hooked a pickerel on my third cast and never looked back. The grass beds are just coming to life and were quite a spectacle as shades of greens and gold blended into each other. As luck would have it, the best fishing took place right on these shallow grass beds.
A pickerel's colors camogflage perfectly into the green and gold weeds.
Jake and I spent hours catching bass and pickerel on small jigs and soft-plastic baits. After exploring the lake, we decided that it has some serious potential. We didn't take the day lightly as this type of weather should be appreciated for all its worth. Towards the end of the day, neither of us wanted to go home: mostly because the weather was so beautiful, but also because we knew we'd have to pass the monkey-ball gauntlet again.
Honestly, if I could picture heaven, it would be very similar to my experiences this week – well, maybe the fish could be a little bigger. Spending a beautiful day on the water with the people you care the most about; how can it get any better? I hope everyone has an opportunity to enjoy the spring season as much as I plan to.
Our backwater striped bass season opens in less than a week! If you're looking forward to the season as much as I am, it's exactly six days, eight hours and fifty-two minutes until midnight on March 1, 2016. The last few striped bass season openers were tough, but this year, conditions seem to be favorable for some great early-season action. If you're not ready for the new season, it's time to get moving!
When it comes to being prepared, I'm usually quite the Boy Scout, but this season I'm running a little behind schedule. I finished up a lot of my offseason chores this week, but I still need to order a new kayak and send a couple reels in for service. After what seemed like a few never-ending off-seasons, this winter season flew by.
I love this time of year. Even though it's still cold and I haven't wet a line in a couple weeks, there are so many things to look forward to - between great freshwater fishing opportunities, receiving new fishing equipment deliveries almost daily and planning next week's backwater assault, I'm psyched for a new fishing season.
Usually, our warm-water outflows offer anglers the best shot at opening day striped bass action, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear striped bass action coming from other local backwater areas too. Current coastal water temperatures are still marginal as many of the reporting stations are hovering right around 40 degrees. A look at the long-range weather forecast shows above-average temperatures with daytime highs ranging from the high 40s to the mid 50s. A few sunny afternoons should get those dark-colored mud flats warmed up enough to provide a decent early-season striper bite.
Spring Warm-Water Striper
I plan on heading out for the midnight opener this year. I have a few firsthand reports that the resident striped bass are already actively feeding in our backwaters. My favorite early-season flats will be covered with plenty of water, as high tide will occur just after 1 AM. If "plan A" doesn't pan out, I'll run a round a little scouting for any signs of life. If I don't find any action, I'll probably head up to the outflow and spend opening day in my kayak. After two months, that first striper sure will feel good!
An Average South Jersey Resident Backwater Bass
In the meantime, after much research, I finally decided on a new kayak for the 2016 season. I plan on ordering an A.T.A.K. 140 from Wilderness Systems later this week. The ATAK should provide the perfect platform for my dream fish-catching machine. The kayak world has grown by leaps and bounds since I purchased my Tarpon 120 five years ago. Not only are they incredibly stable fishing platforms, the customization possibilities are seemingly endless. With conveniences such as lightweight electric motors, built in fish-finder/battery/transducer pod options, Power-Pole Micro Anchor systems and much, much more, the possibilities are unlimited. I've always considered myself to be more of a streamlined, practical paddler, but some of the great new offerings have me seriously reconsidering.
A.T.A.K. 140 - Isn't She Pretty?
I'm not the only one excited about my new kayak. Jake is looking forward to swapping out his old Tarpon 100 for a fully rigged Tarpon 120 – complete with everything a 14-year-old angler could dream about. Jake and I have fished together since he could walk, but he turned the corner last season. He made some impressive catches and recently received a letter from the State Of New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife regarding a fishing photo contest award and an invitation to fish at the Pequest Trout Hatchery on the opening day of trout season. Kayaks aren't allowed on the education pond, but dads are allowed to fish too!
We're going to try and do it all this season – freshwater, brackish and saltwater – from striped bass to snakeheads. Striped bass season begins next week, trout season is a little over a month away, and lots of fish to chase in between. Get your gear ready – it's time to hit the water!
A couple weeks ago, I had high hopes to fish right through the winter months, but that's becoming increasingly difficult with each reinforcing shot of cold air. As I write this, the air temperature is in the mid 20s, the wind is blowing out of the northwest at 25 to 30 MPH, the lakes are freezing over and winter storm Jonas seems to have us in the crosshairs for the coming weekend. I'm as diehard as most other 40-year old anglers, but I think it's time to wrap it up – another season in the books.
Fortunately, the 2015 fishing season ended a lot better than it started. If you remember, last winter was especially frigid and "cabin fever" was at an all time high. Many of my normal early-season fishing routines were put off weeks because of unusually cold temperatures and ice-covered waterways. Looking back through my logs, I see we were walking on many of the iced-over ponds and lakes I usually fish during late-February into early-March. If I remember right, we endured one last shot of winter with a substantial snowstorm on the first day of spring.
The long, cold winter certainly took its toll on the first portion of spring, but by April, the ice melted and the fishing action slowly improved. After a few ice-out pickerel and crappie, we spent the first week of April chasing rainbow trout. Speaking of trout, I can't say enough about how great the trout fishing is in South Jersey – whether you're looking for quality or quantity, the state does a great job filling our lakes with lots of hungry rainbow trout. I've taken more trophy-sized stocked trout in the last few years than I thought was possible in a lifetime.
After the water warmed up a little, we hit the Delaware River a few times for striped bass. The "Big D" is usually on fire by April 10, but with below-average water temperatures, the stripers seemed a little less hungry than normal. We caught a bunch of small striped bass, but the cows were few and far between.
With the river action a little on the slow side, I decided to hit the back bays and thankfully found some decent striper action on the flats. The resident backwater striped bass seemed to provide a little more enjoyment this spring - I don't think the bite was any better than usual, but it sure felt good to have them bending my rod again after what seemed like a never-ending winter.
By late April, the fishing action exploded! If I could bottle a time to fish in South Jersey it would be the few weeks between late April and early May when freshwater and saltwater opportunities are amazing in South Jersey. As you might imagine, during this time of year, I'm in my glory and spend every free moment either on the water or by the water's edge. If conditions are good, I prefer to fish the back bays for striped bass, weakfish, bluefish and summer flounder, but if the wind is up, I'll usually stay closer to home and chase largemouth bass, trout, pickerel, snakeheads, crappies or bowfin.
I spent much of May paddling around the back bays in search of tiderunner weakfish, but all of my favorite weakfish holes were inundated with big bluefish. At times, the schools of big blues made fishing for anything else impossible. We've had similar bluefish runs, but these weren't the normal-sized (4 to 6-pound) bluefish. The big slammer blues (8 to 15 pounds) took over our backwaters and took a toll on my light-spinning gear. Not only did it seem like they were everywhere, but they hung around for close to a month. I usually don't target bluefish, but those big slammers were a blast! I remember most trips ending with tired arms and a big smile.
When a cast managed to get past the bluefish, summer flounder were quick to grab my jigs meant for weakfish. The fluke bite was great until the summer flounder season opened and the wind blew straight for what seemed like a month! It seems to happen almost every year - the best flounder action takes place from mid-April until mid-May and then the season opens a few days before the Memorial Day weekend circus comes to town. I miss the old days!
Once school let out, I spent most of my free time freshwater fishing with my son, Jake. Largemouth bass and big, toothy chain pickerel were our target. Summer days at the lake consisted of working top-water plugs and frogs over the pads – if things were slow, we'd fish rubber worms around the docks. We had some great days and Jake learned a great deal – he turned 14 years old and finally graduated from live bait. Many of our South Jersey ponds and lakes offer great top-water fishing opportunities over the summer months. If I didn't have such a passion for saltwater fishing, I'd freshwater fish a lot more often – those top-water explosions are awesome!
The dog days of summer kicked in around the end of July and lasted into August. Action at our local lakes slowed down and I was looking for a change of scenery. I decided to schedule a family camping trip at Parvin State Park. Largemouth bass were our target, but it turned out to be a panfish palooza. We had so much fun fishing, kayaking and camping at Parvin that we decided to work it into our seasonal routine.
Before we knew it summer was over, we flipped the calendar to September and the kids returned to school. I played around at Parvin a little more and fished the mullet run. The 2015 mullet run was decent, but rather short-lived. I had hopes of some redfish and southern sea trout, but I only came up with small stripers, short fluke and snapper bluefish. Steady and constant northeast winds took over towards the end of the month and ended the mullet run and my hopes prematurely.
October usually means striped bass, but summer-like coastal-water temperatures had things rather slow along the shore towns. I spent some more time playing with crappies and perch at Parvin before cashing in on the fall trout stocking. The weather was mild and the fish were hungry. If the stripers weren't going to cooperate, I'm glad I had such great freshwater fishing opportunities to fall back on.
By November, I wanted stripers. Even with the great freshwater action, I needed to get my fill of linsiders. The back bays were full of bait and I found small schools of stripers almost every night. Reports of some serious surf action came from a little north and were too good to pass up. November quickly turned into a striped blur – back bay stripers all night and daytime stripers in the surf. Warm weather and massive schools of adult and juvenile bunker made for a great fall run. After a couple bad fall runs, this push of striped bass was long overdue!
December offered more of the same as mild temperatures and hoards of baitfish kept the striped bass action going right up until a couple weeks ago. I spent most of December in the backwaters and had solid action on every single trip. It's been a few years since I've experienced a consistent bite like we had this year. It felt a little odd fishing the December nightshift in t-shirt, but I'd trade anything for a return to those days now.
2015 started slow, but ended with a bang. The big blues combined with a good fall run made up for the slow start. Having steady striper action right up until the end of the year should go a long way in helping many of us get through this winter. Even though I hoped to fish through the winter months, it will be nice to catch up on the things I put off to go fishing – maybe I'll even get a little ahead of schedule to free up some time for next spring. For now, it looks like I'll be trading in my fishing rod for snow shovel.
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.
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!
Looking to get away from it all? I was, so I did a little research on nearby campgrounds. I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I haven't planned a family-camping trip in close to ten years. I wanted a venue that offered a campsite on or near water, hiking trails, kayaking opportunities and good fishing action. A Google search made viewing and comparing campgrounds a breeze. Things sure have changed a lot since our last family camping trip!
I started my search at some of the South Jersey shore-point campgrounds, but to my surprise, many of the coastal campground sites are charging hotel-room like rates to set up a tent for the night. My attention quickly shifted to the New Jersey State Parks where $20 a night ($25 for non-residents) seemed much more reasonable. My choices were quickly narrowed down to Bass River, Belleplain, Parvin, and Wharton State Parks. Each location seems to offer fun and exciting adventures so I decided to choose the closest to home, Parvin State Park.
Our State Parks use a website called ReserveAmerica.com to provide information, maps and payment options for campground reservations. Parvin State Park offers fifty-six tent and trailer campsites with fire rings, picnic tables and lantern hooks. Up to six people and two vehicles are allowed per site. Four group campsites capable of accommodating twenty-five people are available for $50 a night or $100 for non-residents. If sleeping on the ground isn't your thing, the park also offers eighteen furnished cabins with running water and electric. Each cabin offers a living room with fireplace or wood-burning stove; two bedrooms to accommodate four people; a kitchen equipped with an electric stove and refrigerator; a bathroom with sinks, toilets and showers; outdoor campfire ring, a brick patio with table and grill. Two of the cabins are accessible for persons with disabilities and offer accommodations for six people. Cabin rates are $55 a night, but the park requires a minimum of a week stay between Memorial Day and Labor Day – a week's stay will cost you $385. Cabin fees for non-residents are $65 a night and $455 a week. Six-bunk cabins are $75 a night and $525 a week while nonresidents will be charged $85 a night and $595 per week.
With fishing and kayaking high on our priority list, campsites 013 and 015 at Jaggers Point were our top choices. Site 013 was reserved so we took 015 – both campsites back up to a common ground in which a canoe or kayak can be carried about 50 yards to the waters edge. For those trailering a small boat, the park has a boat ramp available for a $12 fee. If you're travelling light, you can always visit Al's and Sam's Canoes, Boats, and Kayaks on the other side of the lake. Their rates were reasonable for an hour or two on the water and the dockhands seemed friendly and knowledgeable.
Jake and I set up camp on Friday afternoon while the ladies were due in later that evening. It took us a little longer than expected, but we made sure our site was perfect for our weekend getaway. After we set up camp, gathered wood and hiked a few trails, we took the kayaks out for a quick tour of the lake. A stiff northeast wind made paddling around the lake a little more difficult than I hoped, but we managed to scout out some likely fish-holding areas for the next morning.
Our Weekend Retreat
Sleeping on the ground at 30 years of age was a lot more enjoyable than sleeping on the ground at 40 years of age. After a long, almost sleepless night, Jake poked his head into my tent and whispered, "Dad it's time to wake up and fish." I responded with something like give me a few minutes. A few minutes passed and Jake returned with, "Dad big bass are jumping all over!" The kid knows how to get me up.
We gathered our fishing equipment and carried the kayaks out to the lake. The sunrise was beautiful, but that pesky northeast wind made fishing for bass by the lily pads quite difficult. After a half hour without a strike, I started to worry that it may not be our day. We left the fishy-looking structure on the south shore and headed to the other side of the lake to a beautiful cove where the trees blocked the wind. A few minutes in and we could see fish surfacing all over the cove. I tossed a 3-inch Berkley Gulp minnow while Jake decided to use a tiny portion of a leftover rubber worm. Within minutes our rods were bent over and we were into some of the best big panfish action I've ever experienced. We caught a mixed bag of sunfish, crappies, yellow perch, largemouth bass and pickerel, but the numbers and sizes of the sunfish and crappies were impressive – countless sunfish from 8 to 10 inches and crappies from 12 to 14 inches. We finished our morning with big smiles and a return to camp for breakfast around 10 AM.
After a great breakfast, we decided to check out the lake's swimming area. The kids drove to the other side while Jen and I took the kayaks over. I stopped for a few casts on the way and had a tough time pulling myself away from those monster crappies. About a half-hour later, we made our way over to the swimming beach. The beach area was nice, but many of the children were unruly and that's being polite. The lifeguards had their hands full and were continuously yelling at the kids. It was not enjoyable for any of us so we packed up and headed back for camp.
Swimming or crappies?
At sunset, Jake and I returned for the evening bite and found the same great action we had during our morning session. A few other boats were out on the water, but we felt like we had the lake to ourselves. The wind had settled a little and the experience was perfect as we caught fish well into darkness. Roasting marshmallows over a campfire completed a great day.
I slept a little better on Saturday night. I'm not sure if my body adjusted to the surroundings or if I was just too tired to care. Whatever the case, I was ready to go and had drag Jake out of bed on Sunday morning. We paddled back over to "our spot" and were immediately back into solid action. The pure numbers and variety of fish in that cove was amazing – cast after cast with largemouth bass, sunfish, crappies, yellow perch, pickerel and I lost a small carp at the side of my kayak. This action lasted for about three hours before we left them biting and decided to head in for breakfast.
Instead of a visit to the swimming beach, we decided to kayak up Muddy Run – the creek that feeds Parvin Lake. Jen and I took our kayaks while the kids rented an extra kayak from Al's and Sam's. Just a little ways upstream from the lake we came across a perfect little swimming hole. We stuck our paddles in the sand to anchor our kayaks and enjoyed a peaceful and refreshing swim – the water seemed much cooler than the lake water. We played in the water for hours. It was an experience I doubt any of us will soon forget.
Jake jumped right in.
We returned to camp for lunch and then headed back out in the kayaks to explore Muddy Run. We paddled for more than an hour upstream and covered at least a few miles. Some stretches were perfect and serene, while a few others turned out to be a little more adventurous – it was exactly what I was hoping for!
Julia and Craig heading upstream.
Julia and Craig having fun on the water.
As we paddled further upstream, the current felt stronger, but maybe it was just fatigue. We spotted all kinds of small fish, turtles, birds, frogs and even some wild grapes growing alongside the creek. We paddled over and through logjams, in inches of water, under a bridge and through some areas too narrow to paddle through – we had to paddle hard enough to gain momentum to carry us past the narrowest sections. Exhausted from hours of fishing and paddling miles upstream, it sure felt good to drift back to the lake.
This turtle was quite the climber.
Not being one to leave a good bite, Jake and I fished again on Sunday night and again on Monday morning before we had to break camp. I didn't think the great action could last, but it did. It's difficult to find a public lake that fishes like a private lake, but that's how I would describe Parvin Lake. Perhaps anglers are so enamored with the largemouth bass they overlook the outstanding panfish bite? Either way, Jake and I can't wait to fish the lake again. We had a blast!
To make the experience perfect, they could tighten up the rules in the swimming area and clean the bathhouses a little more frequently. To be fair – I believe the pros outweigh the cons 100 to 1, but I will be calling to complain about the bathhouses and the rowdy swimming area patrons – most of which aren't campers as the park offers swimming passes for a $2 daily fee.
If you're into fishing, this one should be put on the to-do list. Parvin State Park is a great asset to South Jersey. It offers a beautiful setting for all kinds of outdoor activities.
It's difficult to put the recent bluefish invasion into words. I've been fishing for close to thirty years and I've never seen anything like it. Spring backwater bluefish runs happen most years, but these weren't the average 4 to 6-pound racers we see each season. Over the last two weeks, an exceptional amount of drag-burning, tackle-testing, voracious 8 to 18-pound bluefish have taken over our waters. The big blues were so thick in many locations that it made fishing for any other species nearly impossible.
Back Bay Brutes
Up until this season, I considered bluefish an unwanted by-catch while in search of spring stripers and tiderunner weakfish. Most of the time, the blues were half the size of the stripers and weakfish I was fishing for and those yellow-eyed eating machines have a way of ripping through my jigs and soft-plastic supplies like no other. Catching a bluefish or two was enjoyable, but after landing a few and losing a fair share of lead-head jigs and soft-plastic baits, I wanted to get back to chasing striped bass and weakfish.
Releasing Another Big Bluefish
This season is different. Although I'm certainly not happy about the lack of weakfish, the big blues offer an incredible battle on light tackle. My Shimano Stella 3000 drag reached notes I've never heard while my light-duty G-Loomis NRX rod got a serious workout!
With so many large bluefish in our waters, it makes great fishing opportunities available to everyone. I spent a lot of time fishing in my kayak, but the backwater bridges, piers, and sod banks were just as worthwhile. The inlet rock hoppers and beachfront surfcasters even got in on the great action. Most days, it didn't matter what you threw at the big blues: bunker chunks, plugs, metals, soft-plastic baits, bucktails and just about anything else pulled through the water would likely attract the attention of nearby blues.
The big blues kept surfcasters busy for weeks!
The only con to this spring's unprecedented bluefish run is the lack of weakfish at my regular stops. Some of these locales have put out weakfish year after year for decades and I couldn't tempt a single one. I have been fishing a lot more during the day which I'm certain has at least a little relevance in my poor showing. Just recently, it seems as though a few more weakfish have been reported, especially around the inlet rock piles, so I'm not giving up yet.
On the bright side, an added bonus to fishing during the day is the tremendous amount of summer flounder taking my jig meant for weakfish. When I manage to get past the bluefish and down to the bottom, the flatfish are quick to take a hook. I've played catch and release with more sizable flatfish already this season than I have in the last five together. Big fluke are lined up along the channel edges and hungry. My best catches came in 12 to 15 feet of water this week. Opening day should be a good one; Friday, May 22 can't come soon enough!
It isn't easy letting big summer flounder go!
With so much great action happening in our backwaters, I figured it was a great time to get my son, Jake, out for his first saltwater kayaking trip. Safety is always of utmost importance and I didn't take the decision of bringing my 13-year-old son lightly. Calm wind and a well-planned tide made for a great first trip. Jake handled the kayak like a pro and was attentive to his surroundings at all times. Soon after we drifted out to the fishing grounds, Jake's rod was bent. We had a great time and have already been out two more times. There's not much better than making memories with your kids!
This kid gets it!
One final note: on Saturday, May 16, I had the pleasure of attending a Heroes On the Water (HOW) Event at Scotland Run Park on Wilson Lake as a volunteer fishing guide. The HOW's mission is to empower our Nation's warriors by rehabilitating kayak fishing outings that are physically and mentally therapeutic through their nationwide community of volunteer and donors. I heard great things about the program and having grown up on the lake, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to check it out for myself. I arrived a little before 7 AM and there was already a good crowd of volunteers busy prepping for the day. Everything was top notch: the volunteers were knowledgeable and helpful, the kayaks, life vests and fishing equipment were of high quality, and I can't forget to mention the great donuts, coffee and lunch. As it turned out, we ended up with more volunteers than veterans, but I have a feeling that had more to do with the questionable weather forecast – we did get caught in a downpour, but it only lasted a few minutes. Fishing action was a little slow, but there were a few largemouth bass, pickerel, and crappies caught. I had the chance to talk to a few veterans and it was great to see them enjoying themselves on the water. It was a great time and I will be volunteering again for any of their Southern Jersey outings. For more information on the Heroes On the Water program, please visit www.heroesonthewater.org/chapters/new-jersey-chapter/.
Wow, we've come a long way since two weeks ago when I posted my last blog entry. Before the recent warm up, most of us were beginning to wonder if winter would ever end as we set record lows and struggled to reach 40 degrees for daytime highs. I don't think anyone could have imagined such a change in the weather pattern: from 30s and 40s to 80s and 90s? I still have a hard time believing the mercury hit 90 degrees on Wednesday afternoon. This type of up-and-down weather rollercoaster usually makes for unpredictable fishing action, but the recent spike in air temps may have been just the kick start we needed to get things going!
Like most anglers, I have striped bass on my mind, but I've been spending most of my free time chasing pre-spawn largemouth bass and brook trout. Over the last few days, freshwater action exploded and it's been tough to pull myself away from the great action. The warm up has been much more noticeable for inland residents than it has for our coastal residents. On Wednesday afternoon, a little sea breeze dropped air temps into the low 50's while it was close to 90 degrees in most of our inland towns. I choose to enjoy the summer-like weather at my local lakes and ponds in shorts and t-shirts versus throwing on a hooded sweatshirt and heading to the chilly coast in search of linesiders.
Inland versus Coastal Temperature
Last Saturday, April 6, marked the opening day of trout season in New Jersey. Trout season is in full swing as many of our local lakes, ponds, and rivers have been inundated with brook, rainbow, and brown trout. Since the initial preseason stocking, many of the same bodies of water have already received their second round of fish. Some of my favorite venues will be stocked again next week, April 15 - 19 and then one more time during week 3, April 22 – 26. There's plenty of trout for everyone!
NJ Trout Stocking
John Jones with a Big Brown Trout
Fortunately, I live in an area that's surrounded by lakes and ponds, many of which are stocked by the state. The same waters that resembled a mob scene on opening day are often quiet and peaceful on the restocking dates. I enjoyed fishing at three different lakes in the last three days and the trout action was great at each stop. To be honest, most of the recently stocked fish are on the small side, but I truly enjoy tossing spinners to those beautiful, little brook trout.
Brook Trout - Speckled Jewels
Before the trout stole my attention, I kept busy with largemouth bass and chain pickerel. After years of bugging my buddy, Dave, to try a kayak trip, we finally made it happen. On Monday, we loaded up the little plastic boats and made our way to Black Water Sports Center to pick up some minnows. I had plans to hit Willow Grove Lake as I figured the shallow water would warm quickly making it a great time to fish the massive stump fields.
Just minutes from the shop, we arrived at the lake and readied the yaks for a day on the water. I had fished Willow Grove from the shoreline, but never from a kayak, so I didn't have any experience to share with Dave about the lake. As we entered the lake, neither of us could believe how cold the water felt, but we continued on with high hopes. Dave paddled around for a few minutes and quickly got the feel of the kayak. We paddled up one side of the lake and never found more than a foot of water, but we did see lots of small pickerel shooting along the flats. We caught a few toothy chains and then moved along in hopes of finding deeper water and some largemouth bass.
Plenty of Pickerel
As it turned out, we never found deeper water, but we did find plenty of hungry bass! Dave and I placed our kayaks on the edge of the stump field and watched as hungry bass and pickerel exploded on 6 to 8-inch shiners. Hooking 2 to 5-pound bass in inches of water makes for a great fight and some incredible visuals: when you're sitting in a kayak and a bass jumps, its right at eye level. As the day went on, the wind picked up a little, but we continued to catch fish steadily throughout the afternoon.
Hefty Largemouth Bass
Dave handled the kayak like a pro and we caught lots of fish, but that was only part of the experience. While on the water, we witnessed some great sites: turtles sunned themselves, great egrets and blue herons stalked the shallows, ospreys dove into the water to grab pickerel, and a small flock of swans flew overhead for most of the day. It was a trip neither of us will soon forget and a sure sign that spring has sprung!
Where has the summer gone? August is creeping up and I can't help but wonder what happened to June and July. I've spent much of the last two weeks close to home on our local waterways. During those two weeks, I've hit a bunch of sweet-water venues and enjoyed the company of at least one of my family members on each trip. I guess the old adage rings true, "Time flies when you're having fun!"
Kayaking with Jen at Lake Narraticon
My family is very fortunate to live in an area that is surrounded by small lakes and ponds; we have at least a dozen lakes within a ten minute ride of our house. One of these lakes is named Lake Garrison; chances are good that you'll find us fishing, swimming, or sunbathing here on a hot summer day. The lake is open to the public for a small fee: $6 on weekdays, $8 on weekends and holidays or you may choose to take advantage of their discounted season passes, as we did. For more detailed information, check out their website.
Fun in the Sun at Lake Garrison
There are tons of things to do at Lake Garrison, but I don't know if any of its other attributes can top the outstanding fishing opportunities this gem offers. Fishing from land is very limited, but the friendly staff rents rowboats, kayaks, and paddle-boats to get out onto the water. If I'm going out with the family, we'll usually take a rowboat, but when I'm by myself, I really enjoy fishing from the kayak. The shallow, cedar-colored water with lots of lily pads and docks resembles most of the other nearby lakes, but the fishing action here is head and shoulders above the rest.
Jake Has His Hands Full
On the last few trips with the crew, the fishing action was unbelievable; it almost seemed too easy. Usually, I spend a great deal of time and energy planning out our fishing trips as I want to make sure the kids have a great time, but this was as easy as it gets. A bucket of minnows, a few hooks, and a couple of rods is all we needed. The kids reeled in fish after fish and giggled the whole time, while I sat in the back of the boat with my GoPro and a big smile on my face.
With little ones on-board, I find myself fishing less as most of the time I'm busy watching, teaching, or helping them in any way I can. Every once in a while, I manage to sneak in a few casts and as luck would have it, I ended up taking my personal-best pickerel this week. The kids cheered for me the whole time as they watched me battle my trophy next to the boat. I've caught thousands of pickerel in my lifetime, but this 30-inch beast topped them all. An already great day just got better!
Once we got back onto land, I told a few of the patrons about our successful fishing trip. Some of the responses I got were funny. One of the residents told me he fished the lake often and never caught anything. A nearby patron heard us talking and was shocked to learn that he was swimming in a lake that had fish in it. On my way home, I showed the girl at the gatehouse a picture on my phone and she told me she had no idea that fish like that lived in the lake and that she would think twice before swimming in there again. Looking back, maybe I shouldn't have said anything; those teeth are intimidating!
Look at Those Teeth!
Julia and Jake are already bugging me about our next trip. Before you know it, summer will be over and the kids will be heading back to school. I'll miss our days on the lake, but I'll have lots of memories to remember; I hope you will too. You know where we'll be.
What seemed like a week-long stretch of northeast wind followed by the recent push of near triple-digit air temperatures complicated most of my back-bay fishing plans. I know there are still some fish around the backwater sounds and inlets, but I feel like my fishing time may be a little more productive by spending time on my kayak at some of South Jersey's finest freshwater fishing holes. I'm still fairly new at this whole kayaking thing, but there is one thing I can tell you for sure: it's incredibly enjoyable!
Freshwater Fun in the Kayak
I picked up my kayak last July after much research. Making a decision on which kayak would best fit my needs was much more involved than one may think; with so many types of kayaks on the market today, choosing between them can become a daunting task. My first decision was sit in vs. sit on top. For fishing purposes, just about every pro pointed me towards a sit-on-top kayak. The next decision was a little more difficult; did I want to pedal or paddle? The new line of Hobie Kayaks offers some great pedal drives, but they come with a premium price tag. I fish in a lot of weedy, shallow water and thought the Hobie MirageDrive may not be in my best interest.
Once I narrowed down the type and style of kayak I wanted, it was time for some field testing. I spent the better part of the day getting in and out of all kinds of kayaks. I quickly learned the difference between primary stability and secondary stability - primary stability is a term used to explain how much a kayak rocks back and forth when a paddler shifts their weight and secondary stability describes how readily a kayak capsizes. After many years of canoeing, I was expecting most of the kayaks to flip over rather easily when pushed to the limit. As it turned out, most of the kayaks I tested were very difficult to flip.
With a few safe fishing platforms to choose from, my final decision would be based on comfort. I stopped canoeing a few years back, mostly because after a few hours on the water, my back just couldn't take anymore. I planned on spending lots of time in my new fishing machine so it was important that the seat offered proper support. The new seats on some of these kayaks are unbelievably comfortable and make spending eight hours or more on the water entirely possible. After much time and thought, I chose to go with the Tarpon 120 – Wilderness Systems Kayak.
My Fishing Machine
From the day my kayak was delivered, there's been no turning back. I started fishing in some of the smaller lakes and ponds and couldn't get over how enjoyable and rewarding fishing from such a small vessel could be. From tossing nearly-frozen minnows in two-inches of water for early-season pickerel to froggin' on the lily pads for largemouth bass, I feel like I can do it all. Many of the places I fish, I couldn't access in anything other than a kayak. I find myself tweaking little things here and there to make the most of my time on the water, but that just adds to the fun.
Just recently, I added smallmouth bass fishing onto my to-do list. I had plans to fish Lake Audrey for smallies, but before I got down there, I accidentally stumbled onto a terrific smallmouth bite at Union Lake. I knew the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife stocked smallmouth bass into Union Lake, but I had no idea that the fishery was so far along. Since discovering the great smallmouth fishery, I've spent countless hours chasing them in my kayak. If you haven't fished for smallies, you have no idea what you've been missing. They attack top-water baits with reckless abandon and then put on an acrobatic display that would rival any circus performer.
On my last trip, it took a little longer than I expected, but after a few drifts, I found the mother lode of smallies just off an island point. For a solid two hours, every drift provided an explosive strike followed by another airborne smallie; when you're sitting at water level in the kayak, the jumps seem even more dramatic! At the end of my trip, I couldn't help noticing the gargantuan explosions coming from the nearby lily pads. I paddled over, but realized I left all my frogs back in the car and it was getting late. I won't forget them next time.
Union Lake Smallmouth Bass
As if the smallmouth bass weren't enough to keep me out there, I found that Union Lake offers a tremendous fishery that could only be rivaled by our northern New Jersey waters. While drifting for smallmouth bass, I've hooked into largemouth bass, crappie, yellow perch, sunfish, shiners, white perch, pickerel, and channel catfish.
Kayaking Around South Jersey
I'll never forget my first encounter with a Union Lake channel catfish. I was drifting for smallies with light-spinning gear spooled with 6-pound test when my rod doubled over. At first, I thought I was snagged, but quickly noticed that whatever grabbed my bait was pulling me and my kayak against the wind. Being a land-based angler for a good portion of my life, I have to admit, it felt odd being towed around the lake. I couldn't believe this thing was capable of pulling me and my kayak wherever it wanted to; for the first time in my life, the fish was pulling me around! After a long battle, I finally pulled a very tired 12-pound channel cat beside the yak. When I saw that it was a catfish, I have to admit, I was a little disappointed as I was hoping for a trophy smallmouth or largemouth bass. I would have never guessed that a catfish could provide such excitement. Since that trip, I've caught a bunch of big channel cats while fishing for smallmouth bass and I've enjoyed the fight so much that I'm planning a trip specifically for them sometime in the next few weeks.
A Hefty Union Lake Channel Cat
With summer in full swing, I'm going to be spending most of my time exploring some more of the nearby waterways. Over the last few weeks, I've heard a lot of talk about snakeheads in our local waters. Hopefully, I'll have some useful information about them in my next entry.