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.
Reports of weakfish are pouring in from as far south as Delaware and to the north up in New York waters. Fortunately, it seems like we're right in the middle of the resurgence as our local waters are exploding with weakfish action, especially from Cape May to Barnegat Bay. Many of the speckled beauties are on the small side, but some better-sized fish moved in recently. I'm not ready to call it a comeback, but it's beginning to feel like the good old days when weakfish were common in our waters.
It's good to see these beautiful fish around in numbers again!
After years of decline, there are signs that weakfish could be making a comeback. We had some promising runs between 2010 and 2012, but the action tailed off a little between 2013 and 2015. The 2016 season started with a great spring run as big weakfish were found in some areas that haven't surrendered numbers of tiderunners in more than a decade. This spring, I found better numbers and sizes of weakfish than I've witnessed in at least eight to ten years. With limited fishing pressure and daily bag limits at one fish per person, per day, it is reasonable to think that many of those large weakfish spawned successfully.
In my opinion, no one can predict the future of a fishery. With so many variables, predicting fish stocks is nearly impossible. Weakfish seem to have a boom-to-bust history that cannot be easily explained. The best we can do is continue research, watch trends and hope to learn from our observations. As anglers, we tend to base the health of a fishery on our catch rates. I believe catch rate numbers are about as useful as any other factor, but not always a determining factor in the overall health of a fishery. For example, I've noted better catch trends during warmer-than-average years with little rainfall. Most of my fishing time is spent in the South Jersey back bays where factors such as freshwater influence, water clarity and water temperature can have a huge bearing on my success. If we have a particularly cold winter, cool summer, frequent coastal storms or a lot of rain, my catch rate may be down due to the conditions rather than a lack of fish. The weakfish bite seems a little more susceptible to poor conditions than other fish like striped bass and bluefish – I think that's one of the reasons I enjoy catching them so much. In the big picture, I understand my observations are miniscule, but it's all I have and it works for me.
Enough with the theories and opinions, lets talk about the great fishing action. After spending much of summer in the sweetwater chasing largemouth bass, it sure felt good to return to saltwater action. On my first trip, I wasn't expecting much, but found some decent striped bass action. Since that early-August trip, I've been out often and the weakfish bite has been outstanding. The bite has been so good that I've been out almost every night – I'm thrilled to see so many fish around again!
The fanged fish are back!
We refer to the late-season run of weakfish as the summer spikes. The little spike weakfish seem to be showing up everywhere. The small 8 to 16-inch weakfish used to show in good numbers every August and gorge themselves on the bait balls that flood our estuaries each season. The young, one to two-year-old weakfish would stay in our backwaters until late October/early November before migrating to their offshore wintering grounds. Many anglers question the whereabouts of these fish after their first year or two in our waters and for good reason – there have been many years in which we've had tremendous numbers of spike weakfish leave our waters never to be seen again. Where do these weakfish end up? Some believe they end up as bycatch in Carolina shrimp trawls while others claim some type of natural predation. I'm not certain what happens to these fish, but I'm sure the two factors mentioned above take their toll on the fishery.
Not only are the summer spikes back, some bigger weakfish are showing too! On my last few trips, I caught a bunch of spikes and some larger, headshaking weakfish between 22 and 25 inches. The big weakfish are ripping through massive schools of peanuts bunker and silversides. Topwater weakfish action usually involves a swipe and a small dimple or swirl on the water's surface, but they've been blowing through the bait balls and exploding on the water's surface. I pride myself on recognizing specific patterns and I've rarely witnessed weakfish attack baitfish on the surface so aggressively. Much to my enjoyment, they are attacking my jigs and soft-plastic baits with the same reckless abandon.
I'm usually pretty quick to set the hook, but they have been inhaling baits.
I'm not certain if this is the beginning of a great comeback story or just a little bright spot in the downward cycle, but whatever the case, I'm going to ride this run until the end. The September full moon bite was amazing and I can't wait to get back out there. With summer flounder season coming to a close on September 25 and striper season still a few weeks away, this year's run of spike weakfish should fill in nicely.
I can almost hear the buses rolling down the road. In our neighborhood, school starts in two days on Tuesday, September 6. Our kids will be back to the daily grind of getting up early, shuffling from class to class and coming home with plenty of homework. Sounds like fun right? Not to me, I dreaded the first day of school. As a boy, I was always outside; I played sports, fished or hunted until I needed to eat or sleep. After a summer of outdoor fun, I felt like going back to school was the equivalent of a nine-month jail sentence.
According to today's youth, most schools are much more user friendly. It seems like many of the "walls" have been broken down over the years – for better or worse. Sadly, it seems like time spent outdoors is not high on list of most educational institutions. I'm not sure why administrators don't put more emphasis on learning outside of the school building – perhaps a few more walls still need to be broken down?
Fortunately, there are a few programs that offer outdoor learning to children (and adults in some cases) outside of school buildings. Our community offers programs such as guided nature walks, kids fishing contest, bird walks, kayaking and canoeing trips, Nature Tots program, Hooked on Fishing – Not On Drugs (HOFNOD) meetings and a bunch of other free outdoor learning experiences.
Over the years, my family enjoyed many of the community-based outdoor programs. I grew up on Wilson Lake which in now usually referred to as Scotland Run Park. The cedar-lined lake is a great place to cast a line, view wildlife, kayak and learn about the outdoors. Jill Taylor, the Senior Park Naturalist, can usually be found in the Nature Center and is a wealth of information. If you're wondering if your community has similar opportunities, try contacting your county's Park and Recreation Committee.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a Hooked On Fishing – Not On Drugs Kids Fishing Tournament at Corson Park in Millville, NJ. The contest was open to a couple of local HOFNOD groups and the public. Joe Haase leads one of the groups and planned on stocking and tagging some fish before the big event. I met Joe a couple of years ago at a HOFNOD training class – he's a great guy and is always looking for new and exciting ways to keep the kids interested in outdoor learning activities.
The fish stocking and tagging went off without a hitch. In just a few minutes, the kids and adult volunteers had the fish tagging process down to a science. I worked the camera as the group completed tagging and stocking the fish into the lake with machine-like efficacy. I was thoroughly impressed by the entire process. Even the younger kids seemed incredibly capable.
A Tagged Sunfish Ready for Release
Soon after the fish were released, the fishing tournament started. The kids went all in and fished hard for a solid two hours. I walked around the lake and watched as families fished together, kids helped each other out and everyone caught fish. It was a beautiful day and everyone seemed to have a great time. During the two-hour tournament, I didn't see one child lose interest in fishing. This morning was full of sunshine, fish and smiles!
After the final horn, the kids met up and had lunch. Hot dogs, chips and water bottles were given out to each participate and their families. Winners were announced and given tackle boxes, trophies and rod and reel combos. I was especially proud of my own son, Jake, as he caught a ton of fish and helped out with the younger anglers.
That's My Boy!
Having experienced this event first hand made me want to start my own group even more. My wife and I have gone back and forth with some ideas, but it's not easy to get things off the ground. I have a great respect for people like Joe Haase – he put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into his group and asks for nothing in return. The kids had a great time because a few big-hearted adults volunteered their time to make it happen - these people are an asset to our community.
If you're looking for something to do with your kids this weekend, I'd like to suggest a visit to New Jersey's Annual Wild Outdoor Expo. The big event is happening this Saturday and Sunday, September 10 and 11 from 10 AM to 5 PM – rain or shine. Admission and parking are FREE! Some of the activities include: fishing, kayaking, shooting sports, camping skills, hiking, rock climbing, compass navigation and wildlife watching. Programs will include fish and wildlife conservation, reptile and raptors, sporting and tracking dogs, historical reenactments, SCUBA dives, nature photography and much more. It sounds like a great way for our kids to unwind after their first week back in the big house.
This year, I decided to spend most of the summer months concentrating on freshwater ponds and lakes in search of trophy largemouth bass, crappies and pickerel. I landed some real beauties and had a great time exploring new waters. Fishing stump fields, laydowns, lily pads and weed mats from my kayak was a blast, but I'm looking forward to breathing in some salty air, watching mullet spray through the waves and hooking into weakfish, summer flounder, bluefish and striped bass!
During the summer months, fishing along the coast is worthwhile, however I don't think it compares to fishing during the spring and fall seasons. When back bay water temperatures approach or exceed 80 degrees, many of the largest species head for the ocean and deeper, cooler waters. Throw in thousands of summer vacationers with their speed boats, sail boats and jet skis and you may understand my decision to spend most of the summer season inland on a quiet pond in the woods.
Summer Is Drifting Away
While our shore towns are still filled to capacity, I couldn't help myself – it's like a little voice in my head wouldn't stop until I went down to check out some of my favorite late-summer fishing holes. Wanting to avoid the masses, I planned accordingly. The weather and tides were perfect for a late-night backwater trip: a light west wind and air temperatures in the lower 60s with high tide slated for 1 AM. I planned to fish two hours before and two hours after high tide.
Our first stop was a small causeway bridge that is usually choked with baitfish. As soon as we walked up onto the bridge, we spotted a big, black cloud of peanut bunker. Snapper bluefish were tearing through the school, many of which weren't much bigger than the bait they were attacking. After a few casts in the bunker school, I walked up a little higher and spotted two, 28 to 30-inch striped bass working the surface of the shadow line. On the first cast, I missed the mark. The second cast got hammered, but somehow I missed the fish. The third cast would have been it if not for the knot that formed in my freshly spooled braid - the fish hit and as I set the hook the line broke at the knot. This is not how I planned on starting off my night!
I muttered to myself as I tied on another ¼-ounce jig and grabbed a bubblegum Zoom Super Fluke from my bag. I tossed a few more casts, but I blew my chance. As I walked down the bridge headed to the next location, I thought to myself, "I can't believe I blew it, but it sure was nice to see some fish at our first stop."
Our next stop would be a small marina where I usually find striped bass working over baitfish under dock lights. By the time I arrived, the incoming current had slowed down considerably and the snapper blues had the bait balls all to themselves. Over the years, I've noticed striped bass and weakfish seldom compete with the hoards of small bluefish – if stripers or weakfish are present, they'll usually set up below the snappers and clean up the leftovers. I worked high and low at the docks, but only came up with a couple snapper blues and a few half eaten Zooms.
At slack tide, we headed over to another small bridge and were a little surprised to see baitfish stacked on both sides of the bridge. Large schools of peanut bunker swarmed to the lights like moths to a flame. Watching thousands of baitfish circle under the lights is hypnotic. Unfortunately, other than a few snapper bluefish, action was slow. With so much bait present in our waters, it's easy to find bait balls, but not so easy to find bigger fish working them over.
Catching bait in the cast net doesn't get much easier.
We checked a few more likely areas before we found some active fish. The tide just started moving when we heard the telltale "pop" sound made by a surface feeding striped bass. We could hear the stripers feeding from a couple hundred yards down the Intracoastal Waterway. We pinpointed the sound to a well-lit pier that I call the fish bowl. Upon arrival, I noticed a large school of peanut bunker under the lights, but the stripers were only feeding on the stray baitfish that were swept past the dock pilings by the falling tide. Even though there were thousands of peanut bunker inches away, the stripers were keyed onto the small crabs and silversides that were carried by the tide. I made a few well-placed casts and landed a small striper.
This one was hungry!
To most, the catching aspect of fishing is always paramount. While I enjoy the catching as much as anyone, I find watching and learning about my quarry to be equally gratifying. Fishing under bridge or dock lights isn't much different than watching fish swim around in an aquarium. Seeing how and figuring out why fish behave as they do is a gigantic plus, especially for those other times when you can't see what's happening beneath the water's surface. The way I look at it, the time I invest learning about fish behavior will result in more fish on the end of my line.
The striper bite at the pier lasted about fifteen minutes. With late summer backwater temperatures hovering around 80 degrees, the fish are relatively lazy and usually only feed during the most opportune times – typically, the same type of behavior occurs when temperatures are at the lower end of the spectrum, too.
The final stop on our scouting trip would be a small bridge that usually lights up with action on an outgoing tide. It was close to 3 AM and by this time the outgoing current increased a great deal. Mullet, peanut bunker and silversides were holding up in the shallower water where the current was much slower. I watched as snapper bluefish and needlefish slashed through the bait balls. I made a few casts, but only came back with half-eaten soft-plastic baits.
A little frustrated, I thought about our prior stop at the pier and how the striped bass related to it. While the bridge was much larger than the pier, the set up wasn't much different: lights, current, baitfish and pilings. A few casts across the pilings and I was hooked into another summer schoolie striper. Once I figured out their location, I found steady action. The bass didn't want to fight the current, snapper bluefish, and needlefish for food; they decided to sit, almost effortlessly, beside and behind the pilings to pick off the easy meals the current provided.
While the fish we caught that night weren't very big, I learned a little more about fish behavior and the areas I fish. The big schools of baitfish aren't always the best place to fish? How many times do you read that in a book? In the few hours we fished, we covered a small area and saw lots of fish. I'll be down at least a couple times a week until things really start to heat up. If you have a chance, get down to the back bays and set up at a well-lit municipal pier or bridge – it's quite a show!
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!
The new Pokémon Go app seems to be taking the world by storm. Just in case you're not up on the latest craze, Wikipedia states, "Pokémon Go is a free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile game developed by Niantic for iOS and Android devices. It was released in most regions of the world in July of 2016. Making use of the GPS and the camera of compatible devices, the game allows players to capture, battle, and train virtual creatures, call Pokémon, who appear on device screens as though in the real world." Sounds like a blast right?
Admittedly, my little knowledge of Pokémon comes from my children. My oldest son, Frankie, absolutely loved all things Pokémon. I'd like to thank him for engraving Pikachu, Poké balls and the cartoon's theme song into my brain forever…
"I wanna be the very best Like no one ever was To catch them is my real test To train them is my cause
I will travel across the land Searching far and wide Teach Pokémon to understand The power that's inside
Pokemon! (Gotta catch ‘em all), it's you and me I know it's my destiny (Pokémon!) Ooh, you're my best friend In a world we must defend Pokémon (Gotta catch ‘em all), a heart so true Our courage will pull us through You teach me, and I'll teach you Po-ké-mon (Gotta catch ‘em all!) Gotta catch ‘em all! Pokémon!"
It's the kind of jingle that you just can't shake – even fifteen years later. Thanks Frankie!
Wanting to see what the hubbub was about, I downloaded the new Pokémon Go app - more out of curiosity than anything else. A few minutes later, I captured a Charmander in my living room. I learned a little more about the game and decided it wasn't for me. I understand why some people may enjoy the game, but I have some of my own very real Pokémon to catch. It just so happens that all my characters have fins!
Even though I'm not into the new fad, I can appreciate the many ways the pocket monster's game relates to fishing. Right off the bat, the tag line in the chorus "Gotta catch ‘em all" is right up our alley – as anglers we can appreciate that. The Poké balls strangely resemble bobbers and both are used as an aid in catching our quarry – the Poké balls are red on top and white on the bottom while many of our plastic floats are white on top and red on the bottom. In most scenarios, each of us is searching for the largest, strongest and most rare of Pokémon/fish species. Many of our targets require an intimate knowledge of the Pokémon/fish species in order to be successful. The more you think about it, catching fish is a lot more like catching Pokémon than not. Maybe we can make fishing the new craze?
Gotta Catch 'Em All!
Can you imagine if fishing was as popular as the new Pokémon Go app? There seems to be a lot of pros and cons to anything that becomes so wildly popular. Most of us are aware of the pros – entertainment value and monetary benefits quickly come to mind, but some of the cons include some real horror stories. Over the last week, some of the news stories are mind blowing: trespassing, robberies, and assaults – all while hunting for virtual pocket monsters? To top it off, I just read a story about an 18-year-old shot dead while playing the Pokémon Go game near Guatemala City – police found twenty bullet casings at the scene of the murder. Maybe we're better off if fishing doesn't become the next craze?
Meanwhile, back in my little part of the world, it seems like the dog days of summer are here to stay. With air temperatures nearing triple digits, fishing action has slowed down considerably. We're still catching fish, but mostly 14 to 16-inch bass - the big girls just aren't eating like they were a few weeks ago.
When I'm not looking for trophy fish, I like to take my kayak out into the lily pad fields. July's bright sunshine and intolerable heat sends the bass looking for cover and the pads offer shade much like the umbrellas we use on the beach. Sometimes the bass can be a little sluggish, but they still have a difficult time passing up a well-placed cast.
Summer Fun On My Wilderness Systems ATAK
Recently, I've been on a bit of a top-water fishing kick. I started with frogs as I've always enjoyed froggin' the pads. The only complaint I have about the frogs is the amount of missed hits – some days, my blowup-to-hookup ratio is unacceptable. I needed to change it up.
Topwater fishing in the pads is a blast!
A few weeks back, my daughter's boyfriend, John, passed along a pack of Doomsday Turtles and I was dying to use them – thanks John! To tell you the truth, I thought they were a little gimmicky, but I wanted to test them out to see how well they worked. To my surprise, my hook-up ratio soared and I landed nearly all of the fish that blew up on the turtle. The Doomsday Turtle is mostly flat so it rides over the pads easily and if I want to drop it into open water areas, between the pads, it sinks just slow enough to trigger the less-aggressive fish. So far, I am thoroughly impressed with the turtles. Another great tool added to my "Gotta catch ‘em all" quest!
Can you believe we're halfway through the 2016 fishing season? The first six months flew by, but not without some decent catches. A mild winter and early spring gave way to a dreary and cool May followed by an average June. According to my logs, fishing action was average to above average. The first half of the 2016 fishing season is off to a good start!
I started the year plying the local sweetwater venues. Chain pickerel, crappie and yellow perch accounted for the little action I had in January. There seemed to be just enough snow and cold air to keep the fishing action to a minimum, but after the prior two years of bone-chilling winter weather, it was great to be fishing open water again. January fishing was a little on the slow side, but I was fishing and catching so I'm leaning towards above average.
My son, Jake, started February off with a bang. After a slow day at the crappie pond, I decided to catch up on chores while Jake walked down to our lake to give it his best. About ten minutes after he left the house, I received a phone call asking me to come down to see the largemouth bass he just caught. It was a good fish, especially for early February. As the month progressed, fishing action picked up and we experienced a solid crappie bite. February is usually my toughest month – between winter storms and cabin fever, I'm always glad to flip the calendar to March. All things considered, I have to say February was a little better than average.
February Bonus Bass!
March ushered in warmer weather and some great fishing opportunities. Looking back, I see myself on March 8, 2016 fishing from my Tarpon 120 in shorts and a t-shirt. The next day, Jake and I returned to catch a bunch of crappie and pickerel in 70-degree temperatures. As March continued, we fished Rapala Shadow Raps and caught tons of largemouth bass and pickerel. By mid-March, it was time to hit the coastal backwaters where I found better striped bass action than I've seen in years. March can be hit or miss, but this year was a definite hit - clearly above average.
Spring Striped Bass
Fishing in April was amazing! Freshwater action was great and the South Jersey back bays were full of life. The local lakes and ponds offered largemouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch, crappies and tons of freshly stocked rainbow trout. Summer flounder, tiderunner weakfish and an insane amount of big bluefish joined the striped bass in our coastal waters. Once I found the weakfish, it was difficult to fish for anything else. It was great to see so many large weakfish around again! The last few years were promising, but most of the fish were in the 3 to 6 pound class. This spring, there was a good showing of 8 to 12 pound weakfish – I was in heaven! Towards the end of the month, a steady coastal flow began, dropped backwater temps and killed the great bite. Despite the late-April east winds, fishing action was well-above average.
Tiderunner weakfish made my spring!
May is usually my favorite time to fish. I wait all year for the month of May. This year I was thoroughly disappointed. A seemingly unending east wind made for poor fishing conditions for the first three weeks of the month. Backwater fishing action suffered the most as water temps dropped and then held steady in the mid 50s. Striped bass and bluefish didn't seem to mind the constant east wind and flood tides, but the weakfish and summer flounder bite took a nosedive. Because of the poor conditions, I spent more time freshwater fishing than usual. Fortunately, the easterly flow didn't hurt the largemouth bass bite. While fishing for largemouth bass, I caught a few monster chain pickerel. The weather and water temps moderated towards the end of the month, but I never found the kind of action I experienced in April. Fishing in May was worthwhile, but not the great action I look forward to every year – definitely below average.
Great freshwater action almost made up for poor conditions along the coast.
Thankfully, the weather and fishing action returned to normal in June. A few tries for flatfish ended with a decent amount of 17-inch flatfish, but I was still left feeling a little salty about missed opportunities in May and releasing 20 to 24-inch summer flounder in April. Smaller summer weakfish showed in Cape May County so I'm hoping they hang around for the next few months. After spending a little more time fishing the sweetwater ponds and lakes in May, I found a decent largemouth bass bite and had more fun freshwater fishing than I've had in years. In just the last few days, it seems like the pattern changed again and I may have to start fishing the nightshift to find any decent action. Overall, June's fishing action was average.
I'm hoping to find more bass like this one this summer.
The long, hot summer months can make for some difficult fishing. While I enjoy summer fishing, a part of me is already looking forward to cooler weather and good fishing action. I'm hoping for a repeat of the 2015 fall run. I'm excited to see what the rest of the 2016 fishing season has to offer. Please feel free to share your halftime report below in the comments section.
It's hard to believe the summer season begins in two short days on Monday, June 20. All the signs are there: the kids are finished another school year, shore traffic is picking up on Route 55 and everyone is heading for the beach. I love summer, but I'm going to miss my peaceful, backwater kayak trips. The spring season was good to me; I'm going to be sad to see it go.
With the weakfish run slowing down, much of the striped bass heading north and the summer flounder heading towards the inlets, my best saltwater days are behind me. I'll enjoy the summer season, but when it comes to fishing, spring and fall are tops in my book. Not wanting to fight through traffic and jet skis, I'll probably only fish the salt on weeknights until Labor Day.
Fortunately, I can usually find solitude on the nearby rural waters through the summer months. Freshwater fishing in South Jersey isn't a bad trade for the saltwater action. Whether it's frogging the pads from my kayak, exploring Delaware River tributaries for bowfin and snakeheads, or wet-wading the small backwater creeks, I plan on enjoying great fishing action right through the summer months.
Lately, I've been on a largemouth bass binge. I fish for bass often, but I've taken it a little more seriously over the last few weeks. I'm considering signing up for some of the local kayak bass fishing tournaments and want to work on my game. I used to fish for largemouth bass seriously when I was younger, but over the years, I found myself leaning towards saltwater species. The largemouth bass action is a lot better than I remember it.
One of four fish from this afternoon's trip.
After months of packing up the kayak and commuting an hour to the bay, it feels great to be fishing so close to home. Living just a few hundred yards from a small lake has its perks as I can walk to the lake in less than five minutes. The neighborhood lake has clear water and a good bass population – it's a great place to study my new quarry.
It's nice to have fish like this so close to home!
After a few days of solid action, I decided to mix it up a little. My goal wasn't to catch bass, but to watch them. I want to learn more about their behavior and how they feed in their natural habitat. I took two rods a can of worms and my GoPro. I could've fished with lures, but I figured I'd get a better response by using something the bass normally feed on: a sunfish.
The bass reacted to the sunfish a little better than I thought they would. Even with a rod over them and a camera pole under them, they attacked that poor sunfish with reckless abandon. At one time, I had five bass fighting for position to grab the sunfish. My GoPro only picked up a few of the fish – I'll improve content as I continue to experiment with camera angles.
Having the luxury of watching the carnage with my own eyes, I couldn't help but think of piranhas or sharks drawn to blood. If bass had teeth, those poor sunfish wouldn't stand a chance. After watching the video, I knew my selection of lures, no matter how lifelike, couldn't compare to a nervous, live baitfish. If I could bottle whatever stressors those nervous baitfish are emitting, I'd be living on easy street. I have so much to learn.
While chasing largemouth bass, we came across some other great fishing opportunities. The first thing that comes to mind is bullhead catfish. I grew up in Philadelphia and spent hours catching bullhead catfish in Darby Creek, Cobbs Creek and over at Tinicum. It's been a while since I've caught a bullhead catfish, but they seem extra aggressive this year. Jake hasn't caught many catfish so it was a treat for him when a few bullheads tracked down our Rapala Shadow Raps.
While walking along the bank, I noticed a ball of young catfish and then another – they look like tadpoles, but with tiny little whiskers. Having seen catfish young before, I had a feeling mom or dad would be nearby as the parents often shepherd their young for a few weeks. Sure enough, one of the parents was nearby and went into guard mode while I was filming. The adult catfish came into the shallows and stirred up the mud in an effort to protect its young. I was impressed by the display and left thinking much more of the "lowly" catfish after my experience.
To mix it up a bit, Jake and I spent an afternoon exploring a few of the local spillway creeks. If you've never fished a South Jersey spillway, you're missing out. The amount of fish in these small waters is almost inconceivable. I believe it's possible to catch a variety of fish on each and every cast for hours! We rarely catch redbreast sunfish in the ponds and lakes, but they seem to be prevalent in our local tailwaters. While most of these fish don't get very large, the pure numbers and variety of colorful fish are enough to keep us coming back. It's going to be a fun summer!
National Fishing and Boating Week takes place from Saturday, June 4 to Sunday, June 12, 2016. This national event was created to highlight the importance of recreational fishing and boating across America. The nine-day celebration is a great time to introduce children, adults and families to the sport of fishing and all of the joys that come with it. You may find out that fishing is about much more than fish.
During National Fishing and Boating Week, there are numerous opportunities for anglers and outdoor enthusiasts. Many states offer free fishing days - a day or days when a fishing license is not required to fish state waters. In New Jersey, the first of two free fishing days is this Saturday, June 11. As of this writing, the weather forecast for Saturday looks outstanding: mostly sunny, a high of 80 degrees and light winds out of the southeast at 5 to 10 mph. The second free fishing day takes place on Saturday, October 15 and is scheduled later in the season so anglers can take advantage of the fall trout stocking. I love catching those big rainbow trout!
Free fishing days are the perfect time to invite non-fishing friends and family members onto the water to try fishing with little to no investment. Personally, I plan on inviting a few of my out-of-state buddies over to get a little taste of South Jersey freshwater fishing. Many anglers from Delaware and Pennsylvania already make the trek through the state to fish our coastal waters, but I have a feeling they are a little less aware of our amazing freshwater fishing opportunities.
Besides the free fishing days, there are all kinds of events coinciding with National Fishing and Boating week. Last Sunday, June 5, we spent the day in Clayton, NJ at Scotland Run Park's Water Fest. It was a great afternoon as the park offered many great outdoor activities. We enjoyed a live animal show by Wild World of Animals and then spent most of the day kayaking, canoeing and fishing at the lake. It was great to see so many people enjoy themselves outdoors. Kids put down their smart phones and video games for an afternoon and picked up fishing rods, crayfish, tadpoles, toads and frogs.
Fun at Scotland Run Park's Water Fest
If you missed out on last weekend, don't feel bad; there are plenty of great outdoor activities coming up this weekend. The Hooked On Fishing – Not On Drugs Program is sponsoring a statewide Youth Fishing Challenge. Registration is free and anglers do not require fishing licenses on Saturday, June 11. Programs held at the Pequest Trout Hatchery include Fly Casting and Fishing for Beginners at 10 AM on Saturday, June 11 and Take Dad Fishing at 10:30 AM on Sunday, June 12. Please visit www.njfishandwildlife.com for details.
When I'm not busy chasing tiderunner weakfish and summer flounder along the coastal backwaters, I've been enjoying some great local freshwater action. In my last four freshwater trips, I've caught over 100 fish some of which were good enough to qualify for New Jersey's Skillful Angler recognition Program. Largemouth bass, pickerel, yellow perch and crappie fishing is on fire. I usually stick to the waters I know best, buy every once in a while, I like to venture out to some new waters. Alloway Lake has been on my radar for years so I decided it was time to check it out. I fished the lake by kayak while my daughter and her new boyfriend, John, worked the lake in a small aluminum boat – finally a guy that likes fishing! While we didn't catch any trophy fish, the action was steady. I had a bunch of bass and pickerel on Rapala Shadow Rap Shads and Berkley Gulp baits. I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of white crappies and yellow perch in the lake. I rarely catch white crappies in my local cedar-water lakes.
I don't see many white crappies, but this one hammered my Shadow Rap Shad.
Short trips to the lakes around my home have also been worthwhile. Jake and I hit a small lake on Saturday morning and we couldn't keep them off our lines. We had a good mix of largemouth bass, pickerel and big crappies. The bass and pickerel were holding in open water on weed lines while the crappies were in big schools around the docks.
This big crappie was just one of many holding close to the docks.
On Monday, I had to drop my wife's truck off at the shop. She took my car to work so I was grounded for day. It was a beautiful day and after catching up on some household chores, Jake and I decided to get in a few casts at our local lake. As luck would have it, out of all the places I fished and the miles logged over the last few weeks, I would find the fish I was looking for literally in my own backyard!
That's what I'm talking about!
Our local lake has some decent largemouth bass, but we're used to catching a few pickerel and a handful on 1 to 2-pound bass. I worked the area by the dam with a silver Shadow Rap Shad. After a few casts, I aimed right down the face of the dam, I jerked the plug twice and it got creamed! I set the hook and could tell right away that this was a special fish. She pulled a ton of drag and ran for the center of the lake. I played it cool, but yelled over to Jake that I had a beast fish on. Jake came running over and said something along the lines of, "That looks like a Florida bass!"
This one had shoulders and a belly!
After a few minutes of back and forth, I landed the big girl. Jake and I high-fived and admired the big, beautiful bass. I didn't have my scale, but I did get a measurement and a few pictures before we placed her back into the water. She was a little slow to swim off, but she seemed fine after a couple minutes.
It was a great experience to share with Jake – that's how memories are made! For some reason, I have a feeling Jake will be fishing at our lake every day for the rest of the summer. Make sure to take advantage of this weekend's free fishing day. It's the perfect time to get out on the water and make some memories with your loved ones.
What do you do when you're favorite coastal fishing holes are inundated by countless numbers of holiday weekend vacationers? I don't know about you, but I stay as far away as possible! Before Memorial Day, I picture myself floating along in my kayak with the company of striped bass, weakfish, summer flounder and bluefish. After Memorial Day, I picture overcrowded roadways, hundreds of boats and of course those wonderful jet skiers. Maybe I'm a bit spoiled, but I fish to get away from the masses, not to be a part of the crowd. From now until Labor Day, it looks like my coastal fishing trips will be limited to weekdays and nights.
I already miss having the water to myself.
A making-the-most-of-it attitude goes a long way in life, but to stay on topic, I'll focus on the fishing aspects. It's Memorial Day weekend and I'd love to be chasing striped bass, weakfish and summer flounder, but the odds of having a successful trip and enjoying myself seem fairly low – see the overcrowded roadways, hundreds of boats and wonderful jet skiers reference above. I could make the most of it and fight through the traffic, crowds and everything that comes with it to catch a few fish or I could stay closer to home and make the most out of fishing my local lakes and ponds for largemouth bass, crappies and chain pickerel.
As it turns out, my decision to stay closer to home paid off, as the weather was much better inland than along the beach. While some may argue that fishing in the rain is a good time, I'd prefer to stay dry whenever possible. Warming waters and cloud cover would make for perfect fishing conditions at our local lake. Our commute took all of about five minutes and I didn't even pass a traffic signal. When Jake and I arrived, we had most of the lake to ourselves and began working the flats with Rapala Shad Raps.
It's not raining here!
The resident largemouth bass and chain pickerel didn't disappoint. Jake and I caught a ton of 1 to 2-pound bass and pickerel. Jake was using a light-colored Rapala Shad Rap while I was tossing a perch-colored Shad Rap Shad. The lake was just treated with an aquatic herbicide so the weeds weren't a problem. Fishing action was good as we rarely went a few minutes without a strike. We had double hookups often and enjoyed our time on the water.
Doubled Up on the Shad Raps
Just after lunchtime, things got a little more interesting. A monster pickerel left a tremendous wake as it rocketed across the flat to strike my bait. Once hooked, the pike-sized pickerel went airborne and then made a bunch of sustained drag-pulling runs. A few minutes into the battle, I began to wonder if my 10-pound leader would hold, especially after I got a good look at the beast's impressive teeth. After some tense moments of back and forth, I finally slid my hand under her gigantic gill plate. She shredded my 10-pound leader, but it held – thank you Seaguar! She taped out at a little over 27 inches. After a few photos, she swam off strong.
What big teeth you have!
After a good catch, I like to sit back and appreciate the moment. I thought to myself, "Somehow a great holiday weekend just got better." While I'd prefer to catch trophy striped bass and weakfish, I don't think I'd trade my time with Jake, my catch or our peaceful surroundings for the hustle and bustle of the shore towns on Memorial Day Weekend. For the record, I heard some great reports of striped bass and tiderunner weakfish in Cape May County waters. Years ago, I would have raced down to get in on the bite, no matter the circumstances. Fishing isn't any less a part of my life, but I'm learning to appreciate fishing for everything that it offers.
A great fish!
While many anglers put striped bass or largemouth bass on some higher level, I find similar enjoyment fishing for what some may consider lesser species such as sunfish, pickerel, bowfin, snakeheads, crappies, catfish and carp. Now, I fish on my own terms and I find myself enjoying time on the water ten times more than I did when I was chasing fish and reports up and down the New Jersey coastline.
This Memorial Day weekend is one I won't soon forget. Not just because of the solid fishing action, but because I was fortunate to spend the weekend with the people I care about the most. Family barbeques, kisses from our 9-month-old granddaughter, Addison and teaming up with my daughter-in-law in a crazy game of horseshoes will all make the list of things I remember about this weekend – it was Amanda's first time throwing horseshoes and she threw two ringers including the game winner! I think the boys are still a little salty.
After our fun-filled weekend, I couldn't help but think about the real meaning of Memorial Day. I cannot express the level of gratitude I have for the men and women that fought for our freedoms and never made it back to eat a hotdog, cast a line, throw horseshoes or spend time with their loved ones. I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday weekend as much as our family did, but please take a moment to remember those that made it all possible.
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.
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 official: I'm in a slump. It happens almost every year, usually between the last week of July and first week of August. I used to fight it, but I've accepted it's a difficult time to fish most of our local waterways. I call it a summer slowdown. Most days, air temperatures range from 90 to 95 degrees and the fishing action just isn't what it used to be. This time of year, I'd much rather be in the water than on the water.
Over the last few days, our great freshwater bite really slowed down. Areas that yielded decent-sized fish since April have all but dried up. On our last trip, we caught a bunch of bass, but none over 14 inches – many weren't much bigger than the baits we used to tempt them. I don't expect an improvement in the near future as a glance at the long-range weather forecast looks like we'll be in the 90s for at least the next week. Well, it was fun while it lasted, but I guess it's time for me to make the change to the night shift.
Other than a few beach trips with the family, I've been away from the saltwater scene for a few weeks. You think I would have learned to bring a rod and reel after my last encounter with the sharks? As luck would have it, we returned to the same spot on the beach and instead of sharks working over large bunker schools, this time it was birds working over schools of peanut bunker and snapper bluefish. I felt like the yappy birds were laughing at me, but it was good to see some signs of life. In my experiences, the back bay and surf bite usually drops off during the dog days, but the summer night bite can be lots of fun.
According to reports, the summer flounder action is starting to heat up on our wreck and reef sites. While short fluke seem to inundate our shallow backwaters, the bigger flatfish usually head for cooler, deeper waters as we head into August. I don't fish on party/head boats often, but I usually manage a trip or two each summer for some deep-water fluke. I'm looking forward to a trip in the next few weeks.
Speaking of summer flounder, I was recently contacted by NBC 4 New York's reporter, Brian Thompson, regarding one of my YouTube fluke videos. Brian was reporting on more looming fluke cuts and wanted to use some of my underwater video footage for his spot on the evening news. I was happy to oblige, but I'm not happy to hear about more cuts to our summer flounder quota. According to sources, the latest scientific assessments are calling for a 43-percent reduction in next year's catches. A 43-percent reduction could mean an even shorter season, higher minimum-size limits and a smaller daily bag limit. Legislators may attempt to loosen the noose a little by spreading the reduction out over a few years, but either way, things are not looking good for flounder-pounders or the businesses that depend on the summer fishery. I'll keep current with the situation and update my blog accordingly.
NBC 4 Summer Flounder Cuts
In other news, according to the NJDEP Fish and Wildlife's web site, the Striped Bass Bonus Program will reopen on Tuesday, September 1, 2015. The party/charter boat facet of the program will also be reinstated. Applications for individuals, as well as party/charter boats, are now being accepted. Former 2015 permit holders will automatically receive a new permit prior to the September reopening. Striped Bass Bonus Program participants will be allowed to harvest one striped bass between 24 and 28 inches. If you've been around as long as I have we used to call this a "slot fish." The SBBP uses the New Jersey commercial harvest quota of 215,912 pounds. If that SBBP surpasses the commercial quota, reductions will be made to the program in 2016. To review, the New Jersey recreational striped bass regulations are as follows: one fish at 28 inches to less than 43 inches and one fish greater than 43 inches. Striped Bass Bonus Program permit holders can keep an additional fish between 24 and 28 inches.
The reopening of the Striped Bass Bonus Program (SBBP) will be at least slightly controversial. Many anglers feel like the striped bass stocks are in decline and the State of New Jersey may have already pushed a little too far with their choice of a two-fish daily bag limit, especially when many of the migration states decided to drop to a one fish bag limit. In my opinion, the state is doing little to protect our striped bass stocks. When you add the new SBBP "slot fish" to the state's striped bass daily possession regulations, only striped bass measuring less than 24 inches are protected. In what could be a critical time to determine the future of the striped bass stocks do we really want to continue keeping three fish of various sizes per day?
I think I'm going to see how the fall run pans out and make my own regs this season – within the legal-limit options of course. To be honest, I miss the "slot limit" fish as the little stripers were tasty, easy to clean and fairly easy to catch in the South Jersey backwaters I frequent. However, if I don't see some improvements during the fall run, I'm not sure those little striped bass will taste as good as I remember.
Is it me or is the fishing season flying by? After a late start to a short, but sweet spring run, it seems as though the summer season arrived right on schedule. I was hoping for an extended spring run, but it seems we've transitioned into our summer fishing patterns as the striped bass and big bluefish continue their northward migration. Summer flounder action seems a little slow as the back-bay flatfish are heading towards the inlets, but the wreck and reef action isn't on fire yet. As far as I can tell, the spotlight appears to be shifting over to sharks and rays. Coastal-water temperatures range from close to 75 degrees at Atlantic City to almost 80 degrees down in Cape May.
Speaking about things flying by and moving along, I received a letter from the American Littoral Society (ALS) the other day regarding a fish I tagged at the Delaware River this spring. I tagged and released an 18-inch striper on 4/9/15 and it was recaptured fifty-five days later on 6/3/15 at Kittery Point, near the New Hampshire/Maine border – that's nearly 400 miles as the crow flies and much longer for a striped bass considering it had to swim south out of the river, down through the Delaware Bay and then north along the beachfront to Maine. I had no idea the smaller fish travelled so far so quickly. I shared the news with my Dad and Jake, as they were present when I tagged the fish. It seems like that little striped bass wanted to get as far away from us as it could!
Tag #850417 Ready for Release
From the Delaware River to Maine in 55 days!
I'm still fairly new to the fish-tagging scene, but I've found the experience to be incredibly enjoyable. I started tagging in late October of 2013 and my only regret is I wish I started years ago. To date, I tagged forty-one (thirty-nine striped bass and two summer flounder) fish and I received four (three stripers and one summer flounder) returned tags. I do not take my tagging gear with me on most trips as tagging fish does require a little extra time and effort so I usually plan my fish-tagging trips in the spring and fall when I'm most likely to find numbers of migrating fish. For more information on the American Littoral Society's Fish Tagging Program, please contact Jeff Dement at Jeff@LittoralSociety.org or (732) 291-0055 ext. 106.
I love getting mail from the American Littoral Society!
On Sunday, July 12, we had a family get together in North Wildwood. I traded my fishing rods and tackle bag for beach blankets, picnic baskets, chairs, sunscreen, bug spray, coolers, beach bags, Frisbees and footballs. We arrived early and set up just a few blocks south of Hereford Inlet. I have to admit, I felt a little out of place being near the water without my fishing rods, but we were packed for a day of fun in the sun. As luck would have it, while lugging way too many items over the dune towards the beach, I looked out towards the water and saw two gigantic schools of bunker about 100 yards off the beach. As I set up what seemed like a small town on the beach, Jake headed for the water and said he saw two sharks just a few feet in front of him. I headed out to see for myself and sure enough, I spotted a few sharks working the backside of the sandbar. As far as I could tell, they were small (3 to 4 foot) brown sharks, otherwise known as sandbar sharks and very common in our waters. The bunker schools quickly pushed offshore as they were worked over by what I assume were more sharks. We spotted a few more sharks and a ton of dolphins throughout the day. We had a great time, but I wish I packed a rod!
I haven't spent much time targeting sharks or rays, but I have caught a few while fishing for other species such as summer flounder, weakfish and late-season striped bass. Over the years, I tussled with a few smaller brown sharks, a couple southern rays, a gigantic butterfly ray and countless cownose rays. The sharks and rays provide a great sport, especially on light tackle, but I just never got into them. After reading some recent reports and seeing a ton of big fish beach photos, maybe it's time to reconsider?
While I may be tempted to try a trip or two for sharks, it's going to be difficult to pull myself from the recent stretch of great freshwater action. The largemouth bass bite has been outstanding, as Jake and I continue to experience quantity and quality on most of the nearby lakes and ponds. Top-water plugs, frogs, plastic worms and big, live baits are working well. The recent storms have the water a little off color, but the fish don't seem to mind. Docks, bridges, dams and patches of lily pads are yielding good numbers of quality fish. Big bluegills, crappie, yellow perch and pickerel just add to the fun. If you have a chance to visit a neighborhood pond or lake one evening, I promise it will be worth your while.
Just minutes after completing my last blog entry, I grabbed my pole and walked down to the lake. As luck would have it, on my very first cast, I battled a 5+ pound largemouth bass to the bank. After all my writing about how it's not all about catching, it's funny how pumped I was after landing this beauty. While it may not be all about catching, it sure is exhilarating when that big girl strikes, bends the rod, starts pulling drag and goes airborne!
6/18 Adrenaline-pumping Beauty!
Late June into July offers some of the best freshwater fishing opportunities of the year, especially for largemouth bass anglers. Big, post-spawn largemouth bass are coming off their nests and extremely hungry. While targeting largemouth bass, you're very likely to come across some other types of green monsters such as gator chain pickerel and slab black crappies. After years of fishing in South Jersey, I'm still amazed at the size of some of the fish that live in our local "puddles."
As back-bay saltwater opportunities for large striped bass and weakfish continue to dwindle, the freshwater action for largemouth and pickerel fills in nicely. Options for catching bass and pickerel are almost limitless, as we've caught fish on everything from plastic frogs, rubber worms, buzz baits, and plugs to blades of grass, hot dogs, bread and banana peels. Whatever you choose, it's likely that if you present your offering well, a fish will end up on the end of your line.
When fishing for bass and pickerel, there are two types of fishing that I prefer: one is for numbers of fish while the other is for big fish. Top-water fishing is tough to beat, especially in many of our weed-choked waterways. If you fish the local waters, make sure to include some frogs, poppers, and top-water plugs like a Heddon Zara Spook – the walk-the-dog retrieve is deadly around lily pads. Make sure to have a rubber worm or jig rigged on another rod to throw as a follow up to any missed top-water strikes. Summer evenings are primetime to throw top-water offerings, but if you can cast close enough to cover, chances are you'll tempt fish at any time of day. Jake and I have been fishing the afternoon shift and killing them on Spooks. Some of the hits are mind blowing - you can see a v-shaped wake accelerate towards your lure and then explode on it!
6/14 Big Pickerel exploded on a Zara Spook
While top-water action provides great action and visuals, nothing compares to live lining big baits for green monsters. As much as I enjoy fooling largemouth bass on artificial lures, watching a 20-inch + bass inhale a 6 to 8-inch golden shiner or a hand-sized sunfish is thrilling. I've spent hours working over an area of the lake with artificial lures with nothing to show for it and then tossed in a shiner, sunfish or perch and had groups of 2 to 6-pound fish appear immediately at my feet as if by magic. If I could bottle whatever action/scent those baitfish put off, I'm sure I'd be a millionaire.
Big Baits = Big Fish!
I came across the use of big live baits many years ago as a boy and purely by accident. I was fishing with night crawlers in front of a spillway when a big bluegill took my hook. Halfway through the battle, the bluegill felt like it got snagged. I tugged and tugged until it pulled free. As I pulled the bluegill towards my feet, I saw a big bass dart in after it. Shocked by what happened, I tossed the sunfish back out and it was grabbed immediately by the green monster. Again I played the fish, but in the end, I pulled the sunfish from the big fish's mouth. Looking back, with a little hook in the sunfish's mouth, I had little to no chance of hooking the big bass, but my adrenaline was pumping and I couldn't get the bait back in the water quick enough. I'm not sure I slept that night.
I returned to the lake more times than I can remember and I had that fish on for what seemed like a 100 times, but I just couldn't land it. I remember one day I had her to my feet before she spit the hook and sat in inches of water staring at me – my buddy, Andre, jumped into the water to grab it, but with one swoosh of her big tail she returned to the depths. Attempt after attempt, I just couldn't get her mouth into my hand. After snapping my 8-pound mono more than few times, I even brought my surf rod down to the lake. I had her on my surf rod, but she managed to spit the hook. Before the younger generation starts laughing, just remember we didn't have braided line, Google, YouTube, and all the other great info you're fortunate enough to have today – we learned on our own and sometimes it took us a while.
July 6, 1995 will always be a special day in my memory. It was the day before I was to marry my beautiful wife and the day I finally caught the green monster! I remember my fishing buddy laughing at me for tossing out a hand-sized bluegill. He joked, "Are you fishing for sharks?" Soon after he said that, the sunfish jumped put of the water followed by a big dorsal fin – my buddy had stopped laughing by now. The sunfish went crazy and then I felt the telltale bump of the largemouth grabbing its meal. I let her run for what seemed like five minutes, before setting the hook and driving it home. After a long back and forth battle and knowledge gained from prior mistakes, I pulled the gigantic bass onto the bank. My buddy, Glenn and I stood and stared in amazement. The fish was enormous and I remember Glenn saying, "Its eyes are bigger than yours!" I put the fish on a stringer, as I was sure I wanted to mount this beast. Glenn caught a sunfish and quickly had it rigged for live lining – if I remember right, he caught a nice 3-pounder a few minutes later. The park ranger and just about everyone else at the lake admired my trophy. As she sat there in the water, Glenn asked if I felt bad killing her. I thought about it for a few minutes and decided to let her go – we didn't have iPhones or digital cameras on us back then so I couldn't even take a picture of my prize. After I revived her and she swam away, Glenn said, " There is no way I would have let that fish go." We laughed about it and packed up to get ready for my big day. That was almost twenty years ago and I remember it like yesterday – that was my biggest bass to date and I have nothing other than a memory, but that's enough.
For some reason, live lining seems to be considered "cheating" by many of today's bass anglers. I assume some of the "pros" would mention (and rightly so) that the chances of gut-hooking a big fish are increased greatly when fishing with live baits, but after twenty years, I've figured out a few ways to minimalize the damage. First, I use big hooks - the larger the hook the better the odds that a big bass or pickerel will not ingest the hook – 6/0, 8/0 and even 10/0 size hooks are good choices. I hook the baitfish as far back towards the end of the dorsal fin as I can – many, if not all, big baits are consumed from the headfirst – having the hook further back into the bait will result in less deep hook sets. If the hook is swallowed and cannot be removed somewhat easily, cut the line and minimalize the stress on the fish. Finally, the big girls fight with everything they have so make sure to spend a good amount of time reviving them properly.
6/25 A live-lined shiner took this nice bass.
It's time for me to head to the lake to visit our local green monsters – lately it's been tougher to catch the shiners than the bass. If everything works out as I'm hoping, the fish will provide some fireworks this afternoon. I hope everyone enjoys some time on the water this holiday weekend. Good luck and stay safe!
As coastal anglers, it's safe to say that most of us are anticipating a great fall run, but why rush it? The truth is, many of the summer species remain in our waters and will continue to hang around for at least another month. No matter how much we want the striped bass run to begin, it's at the very least, a solid month away. Sure, the mullet are beginning to make their way towards the inlets, but for every striped bass chasing those mullet, there are a 1000 snapper bluefish. With a little over a week left in the summer flounder season and a solid showing of 12 to 26-inch weakfish, I'm not in any rush to say goodbye to the summer season.
A late-summer sunrise over Cape May Harbor
I hope anglers plan on taking advantage of the unexpected, extra eight days added to this year's summer flounder season. It's rare to receive bonus time on any type of species, so I'm looking forward to at least another trip or two. Flatfish action remains good at many of the local wreck and reef sites. For those of us that are old enough to remember a time before summer flounder had a season, we know that those wrecks and reefs hold fluke well into October. Ocean conditions look a little sporty for much of the week, but the forecasters are expecting calmer seas by the weekend. If the weather prediction is right, I may spend the next few days live-lining some mullet around some of my favorite inlet rock piles. Those big flatties love mullet! I'm hoping to be back out on the wrecks and reefs by Friday or Saturday.
The party boat fun isn't over yet!
Once I'm done with the flatfish, I would be a fool not to take advantage of some of the best weakfish action of the season. Late-September and October nights offer incredible weakfish action. Our backwaters are chock-full of peanut bunker, spearing, and mullet and those speckled beauties are hot on their tails. Most seasons, the late-summer/early-fall push of weakfish run on the small side, but over the last few seasons, numbers of 3 to 5-pound weakfish seem to be increasing steadily. If we happen to find some decent striper action while targeting weakies and I'm certain we will, no one will be complaining.
I spent last Tuesday, September 10, enjoying a summer day at Hereford Inlet. I did some scouting around and everything I experienced felt like summer. I fished a few of my favorite fishing holes and caught tons of small spot, sea robins, sea bass, bluefish, and kingfish. I took in a little sun and enjoyed a few hours boogie-boarding in the 75-degree surf. The day was incredibly enjoyable as fishing action was great, even if they were on the small side. There were quite a few anglers out and about and most seemed content with the small bluefish and kingfish they were catching.
A Hereford Inlet kingfish
On the way home, I stopped in a few of the local bait and tackle shops and heard some talk about mullet. Since my visit a few days ago, talk about mullet has increased and should continue to do so as we approach the full moon on September 19. With a cold front passing today and a little NE wind forecast for tomorrow, things could get interesting along our inlet jetties. As great as all this sounds, we can't ignore the fact that water temperatures are above 70 degrees along much of our coastline. I'm sure some resident bass will take advantage of the departing mullet, but I seriously doubt that we'll be experiencing any monumental fishing action in our area. In my opinion, most of the mullet leave a little too early to expect any real widespread striper action. There was a time when a September mullet run meant something in our area, but it's been years since we've seen newsworthy striped bass action in September. If only those mullet could hang around into October and November, then, we'd have something to talk about.
Honestly, I don't blame anyone for looking forward to the fall run, especially after last season's unforgettable Super-storm Sandy. Many anglers, including yours truly, hung up the gear after Sandy and the nor'easters that followed. A fall without fishing just didn't feel right, but I felt lucky as missing a fall's fishing run was minuscule when compared to some of the devastation others had to endure. Just days before Sandy rolled through, we were into an incredible weakfish bite. After the storm hit, fishing was the furthest thing from my mind as I watched friends struggle to get their lives back in order.
Mornings we all dream about
Looking back, not fishing last fall has allowed me to appreciate the sport I cherish much more. I find myself enjoying each fishing trip, even if the results aren't impressive. Thoughts of blitz-type fishing with schools of bass and blues on mullet, peanut bunker, or sand eels is every anglers dream. My heart rate increases just thinking about it, but as much as I'm looking forward to the fall run, I'm going to enjoy every bit of summer that I can!
Summer flounder action is heating up along our reef and wreck sites! Fishing reports are pouring in from all over as bottom-bouncing anglers fill their fish boxes with tasty fillets. The season has been extended an extra eight days until September 24, so there's still plenty of time to plan a trip or two. With a little luck and some decent weather, the last few weeks of the 2013 summer flounder season could be magical.
As a backwater angler, I take a little time away from the saltwater scene during most of July and August. The fishing action generally seems to be a little slower and to tell you the truth, the thought of beach-going crowds makes me cringe. Usually, local freshwater action holds my interest, but I needed an escape from largemouth bass and lily pads.
Salty air and a trip on a head boat to fish over some rough bottom is just what I needed. Believe it or not, I have a lot of fond memories about fishing along the party boat rails. It's been a couple of years since I fished on a head boat, but the Cape May-based Porgy IV came to mind as I feel like Captain Paul is one of the best in the business.
My buddy, Dave, and I agreed to head out on Friday, August 16 as the weather and ocean conditions looked superb. We arrived in Cape May at 6:30 AM and were a little surprised to see so many anglers already lined up, especially in the bow and stern. When we were a little younger, we would put our rods on the boat around midnight and fish the back bays until sunrise, but we're a little older and softer now. We grabbed our gear and set up on the starboard side just a few feet from the stern.
Early-morning full boat
With our rods tied to the rail, we walked over to the Lobster House and ordered breakfast. The eggs, toast, potatoes, and orange juice hit the spot. I've had breakfast at all the local eateries, but the Lobster House's Luncheonette gets my vote. After our meal, we walked across the street to Jim's Bait and Tackle to pick up a few rigs and some ice for our cooler. Before we knew it, it was closing in on 8 AM, the boat was full, and we could hear the roar of the engine.
Rigged and ready
When we fish for fluke with Captain Paul, we're used to making a hard right at the inlet with a south heading set for the Old Grounds, but on this day, we headed almost straight east to fish what I assume was the Cape May Reef – head-boat captains never seem to like talking about their fishing spots. With word of good fishing action at the Wildwood and Cape May reef sites, I wasn't too surprised that we headed east – if nothing else, at least the ride was a little shorter.
As Cape May slowly disappeared along the horizon, we double checked our rigs and shared a few fishing stories with some of the other patrons while the mates collected fares and prepared bait for our day on the water. I always enjoy watching the old-timers break out their secret rigs and magic baits. Everyone was pleasant and a joy to be around; it was a good crowd.
Well-prepared bait boats
When we approached the fishing grounds, we could make out what looked like a small city. It turned out to be a fleet of boats that were already into a good pull of flatties. Our captain decided to fish alone, just a little south of the fleet. The boat provided an ample amount of squid, fluke belly, and mackerel strips to bait our hooks. I dropped my green, mylar rig down to the bottom and was into fluke right from the first drop. We caught so many short fluke, I wondered if a keeper-sized flatfish would ever get a shot at our baits. I saw a few other patrons land keepers, but I was stuck in shortyville. The action was great, but reeling up 8-ounces of lead and 16 to 17-inch fluke from the depths soon began to feel like work.
A few drifts and about a dozen throwbacks later, I finally had a better fish on. I got it about halfway up before it shook the hook. About ten minutes later, I had another solid take and put a near 20-inch fluke in the net. I continued to catch a bunch of short flatfish as I watched most of the boat pick away at keepers.
Finally a keeper!
Dave was busy with throwbacks for most of the morning. Right around lunchtime, he set the hook on what looked like a monster. After a well-spirited battle, we saw a belly-hooked, 20-inch flatfish on the surface. It wasn't the doormat we were hoping for, but it was another solid keeper. We played the throwback game for a little longer before Dave nailed two keepers on back-to-back drops on our last drift of the day.
Dave with a pair of his three keepers
When the final horn sounded most of the patrons had a flattie or two. I think high hook had four, but I'm not sure if that was a catch made by a couple of anglers. I didn't see any true doormats, but most of the keepers were thick 20-inch fish and the pool winner was pushing 5 pounds.
Our box of flatties
The mates made the rounds looking for pool fish, but we didn't have any quality fish to challenge the 5-pounder that was already on the hook. A few others were close and as it turned out, one was so close that two anglers split the pool money.
We drug our cooler to the cleaning table and watched as the mates filleted flounder after flounder. It's been a while since I had someone clean fish for me and it was a real treat. The guys were good and made quick work of the flatfish.
Looking back, there was nothing truly memorable about this trip, yet I found it incredibly enjoyable. My catch was far from spectacular; Dave did a little better, but we've experienced 100s of trips with better action. I guess part of it was the incredible weather and ocean conditions: air temps were about 75 degrees with a light breeze and wave heights were never more than two feet. The patrons came from all walks of life; yet, we got along like we knew each other for years. Tangles were at a minimum, even with a full boat, so it seemed like everyone knew at least enough to not ruin anyone's trip. Everyone was there to have a good time and that's just what we did. I have a feeling I'll be back out on the big boat again later this week.
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.
Is it me or did summer used to be a lot more fun? The last two summer seasons have really taken a toll on South Jersey. Last summer, we had multiple-record-rainfall events that caused sinkholes, breached dams, historic floods, and extensive property damage. This summer isn't looking much better.
Soon after the 2011 floods, I drove down to Bridgeton to spend some time at Sunset Lake and the Cohanzick Zoo. I was devastated when I arrived and noticed that the once beautiful lake was nothing more than a massive mud flat. Just up the road, I stopped by Seeley's Mill Pond which had breached the roadway and was no longer the picturesque little waterway that I remembered. Dams failed at lakes in Atlantic and Salem counties too.
Seeley's Mill Pond 2011
This summer is shaping up to be another memorable one. Last week's storms caused widespread damage and headaches for hundreds of thousands of people living in our area. Many of us learned a new weather term: derecho – a wide-ranging, long-lived, straight-line wind storm that is associated with a fast-moving line of severe thunderstorms. Fallen trees caused fatalities at Parvin State Park – my thoughts and prayers go out to the two young boys and their families. Others in the area were fortunate enough to escape with their lives, but had major damage from dangerous lightning and 70+ mph winds. Some of the worst hit areas were without power for days and all this just happened to occur during our second and worst heat wave of the summer. I was one of the lucky ones, we only had a few limbs down, but I witnessed much of the severe damage to the east in Atlantic County and to the south in Cumberland County. Not quite my idea of fun in the sun!
Summer Storm Nightmare
On the bright side, the cleanup is well underway, they'll be no shortage of firewood this winter, just about everyone's power has been restored, and the heat wave is over. I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to spending the rest of the summer on the water with my family and friends.
After a great winter fishery and a decent spring run, I needed a little time off to recharge my batteries. For anyone that fishes as much as I do, you know what I'm talking about. Lately, I've spent much of my free time rigging my wife's new kayak, turning my utility trailer into a kayak trailer, and getting my fishing gear back into shape. With no real off-season this winter, I neglected some of my usual winter-checklist responsibilities. I have to admit, cleaning and re-spooling reels in an air-conditioned house is almost enjoyable when it's 100 degrees outside.
Jen's New Kayak
With a favorable weather forecast and a little time away from my rod and reel, I'm dying to get back on the water. The local lakes and ponds offer some great action during the early-morning and late-afternoons hours and the backwater night bite should be worthwhile. I continue to hear a good deal about weakfish, so I have high hopes for the latter part of the summer season. Traditionally, the late-summer weakfish run provides some of the best action of the year.
I'd like to remind our readers that it's a great time of year to get the kids out on the water. I take my little crew out frequently and plan on getting them out often over the next few weeks. Whether you fish freshwater or saltwater, the summer months offer a tremendous amount of fishing opportunities. A bobber and a baited hook should provide lots of action in most of our lakes and ponds. Sunfish and catfish are plentiful in our waters and will usually provide steady action until you run out of bait. In saltwater, a plethora of species are available to our coastal anglers. It's tough to beat snapper bluefish, but croakers, kingfish, and little sea bass can usually be found in good numbers.
My Little Fishing Buddies
Over the years, I've learned a few things while fishing with my kids. My best advice: Make sure to never forget the snacks and keep the trips as action-packed as possible. Kids don't care what they're catching as long as they're catching something. You'll find that sand sharks, stingrays, and turtles are much more admirable than any striped bass, summer flounder, or largemouth bass. I can promise you one thing, they'll never forget the time they spent with you on the water!