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Frank Ruczynski

I've spent the last twenty-five years chasing the fish that swim in our local waters and I've enjoyed every minute of it! During that time, I've made some remarkable friends and together we've learned a great deal by spending loads of time on the water.

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October 28, 2016

Waiting for Striped Bass

by Frank Ruczynski

A chilly northwest wind, nighttime air temperatures dipping into the 30's, morning frost on the pumpkins, multicolored leaves covering the ground and the sun is setting a little earlier each evening – are you thinking the same thing I am? It's striper time!


I'm Ready for Linesiders!

While South Jersey anglers are not so patiently waiting for the migratory fall run of big bluefish and striped bass, I have some good news: they are heading our way! Reports up in Rhode Island and New York waters sound outstanding and some of the great action is beginning to trickle down towards Northern New Jersey. I expect to hear some better action towards Island Beach State Park and Long Beach Island by sometime next week.

Fishing conditions have been rather difficult lately. Air temperatures seem to be on a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs – one day it's 80 degrees, the next its 50 degrees. The erratic weather conditions are definitely taking a toll on water temperatures. Right now the Cape May Monitoring Station is reporting 58.8 degrees while the Atlantic City Station reads 59.7 degrees. Strong northwest winds aren't helping either. Winds from the northwest direction usually bring very cold air and sometimes blowout conditions. A look at the long-range forecast seems promising with more stable weather moving in by the weekend and highs for most of next week in the 60s and 70s. Once the dust settles, I expect water temperatures to recover slightly and fishing action to become a little more predictable.

Since the cold snap, our resident striped bass have really put on the feedbag. Most are on the smaller side, but there are enough decent-sized fish around to keep it interesting. In the last week, I've noticed more fall-type fishing and less summer species with what seems like each passing tide. Weakfish and snapper bluefish catches seem to be dwindling while schoolie striped bass and herring catches are on the rise. Fishing has been fun, but it's not the action that keeps most of us up all night either.


An Average South Jersey Resident Striped Bass

The South Jersey striper run seems to take place much later than it used to. I remember expecting full-on blitz conditions by mid-October. Those days seem to be gone, but our late-season runs are enjoyable too – last year, I had good-sized stripers feeding in the backwaters right up until the season's closure on January 1. If you're dying to try for stripers, you can get by with the resident bass or you can head about 50 to 80 miles north and extend your striper season by a full month. In recent years, I find myself heading north a little more frequently each season.

If you decide to stay local and tempt the resident linesiders, there are some added incentives. The first one that comes to mind is the red drumfish aka redfish. Over the last ten days, a handful of redfish were caught from Corson's Inlet to Cape May Point. Last year was oddly slow, especially after 2013 and 2014 had many anglers believing redfish were returning to our waters for good. Each year seems to differ, but overall trends seem promising. Another southern visitor is the spotted or speckled sea trout – many of us reference them as "specks". A few of my fishing pals dedicate much of October and November to these beautiful sea trout. Much like the redfish, the runs seem to fluctuate from year to year. Last year was slow as I heard of just a few specks caught in Cape May County. There hasn't been much talk about specks yet this season, but I did see a photo from an acquaintance a few days ago. To many anglers, the southern species are a real trophy as catching any number of these fish would take a fair amount of skill and a lot of luck.


South Jersey "Specks"

With stripers and saltwater fishing on my mind, freshwater fishing adventures are limited. After last week's unbelievable trout fishing, I couldn't help but hit some of the locally stocked waters again this week. The rainbows were a little more spread out, but just as willing to hit a spinner. I love having the big trout to myself but I feel like I have to share such a great experience. If you enjoy trout fishing, make sure to get out there soon!


Fall Trout Fishing is a Blast!

Last but not least a first for me – I caught my first warmouth. I was hooked into a giant rainbow when I noticed what I thought was a crappie, than a perch shoot from the bank behind me. I was in my waders and fishing in gin-clear water when I noticed the oddly patterned fish stalking around me. At first, my mind was on the big trout, but after landing and releasing the trout, I went back to look for the strangely colored perch or crappie. When I waded back, the fish seemed more curious than afraid of my presence. Not expecting much, I casted my spinner and the fish annihilated it. After a short, scrappy fight, I reeled in the fish and admired the odd color pattern – I was certain it was a warmouth. As I went to take a photo with my phone, I dropped the fish and it swam about five feet away. I figured I blew my shot at a picture, but I tossed my spinner at it again and the warmouth nailed it. Apparently these fish are very aggressive, but not very intelligent. I snapped a few photos and let it swim away. When I came home, I did some research and found the State of New Jersey considers warmouth an invasive species. I made a few phone calls and sent an email or two, but I'm still waiting for a response. I'll make sure to pass along any interesting information.


My First Warmouth

October 04, 2013

One Fish, Two Fish, Redfish, Bluefish

by Frank Ruczynski

Does it get any better than late summer - early fall in Cape May County? The seasonal crowds are long gone, daytime highs are usually around 80 degrees, water temperatures hover just a little above 70 degrees, you can fish while barefoot in shorts and a t-shirt and to top it all off, you never know what's going to end up on the end of your line.


Cape May Point

What started off as plans for a family camping trip in the Pine Barrens quickly turned into a motel stay in North Wildwood as I just couldn't pass up the unbelievably-low offseason rates. With summerlike weather forecast for the weekend, I figured we'd put off the camping trip until a little later in October and sneak in one more summer weekend. Fishing was fairly low on the family's priority list, but I knew we'd manage at least a little time on the water.

After bike rides on the boardwalk, sightseeing, a Monster Truck Show, and some time spent in the heated pool, we hit the beach. Our motel was right on Hereford Inlet, but the constant northeast wind made sitting on the beach a little uncomfortable. My trusty fishing experience kicked in and I decided we'd head south to Cape May Point where I figured the wind would be much less of a factor.


North Wildwood Surf

Fifteen minutes later, we parked the car right under the Cape May Point Lighthouse and headed over the dunes to the beach. It was like another planet as the ocean was flat, it felt twenty degrees warmer, and dolphins were jumping out of the water. We set up our beach chairs and blanket and were content with the world.

As the afternoon passed and the tide started coming in, I noticed a few birds working the nearby rips. I thought nothing of it as its common for small schools of snapper bluefish to feed on the plethora of baitfish in the area. I continued to watch as the birds were moving closer to the beach and growing in numbers. As luck would have it, a full-on feeding frenzy took place right in front of me and I didn't have my fishing gear!


BLITZ!

The blitz lasted about twenty minutes, but it felt like an hour without a rod in my hand. As it turned out, we enjoyed an incredible day with some amazing scenery, but it could have been so much better if I could have made just a few casts! Most of the action seemed like snapper blues, but you never know what's going to show up when big schools of baitfish are present. With one more day of vacation and the forecast calling for a continued northeast blow, we'd have no choice but to return to the Point again and I'd make sure to pack my equipment this time.

We returned to the Point again on Sunday and experienced similar conditions, but the birds were gone. I know how blitzes work and the odds of repeating the prior day's action was probably close to one in a million. I figured I'd work the rock piles as I used to catch a ton of weakfish around them. I started with a ¼-ounce lead head and a bubblegum-colored Zoom Super Fluke. Low tide passed and the water just started to move. I worked the current seams at each rock pile and found tons of bluefish and a few small flatties. Right across from the lighthouse, I had something hit my Zoom hard and take a few runs before it shook the hook and left me questioning if I might have had one of the few redfish that seem to be showing up in better numbers each season. Soon after, I came to my senses and told myself I was silly to think I just lost a redfish.

As the tide continued in, the bluefish became so thick that my soft-plastic baits didn't stand a chance. Those little bluefish have a way of chomping off most of the bait without getting the hook. With only a small stock of lures packed, it was time to break out the cast net. After a few blind casts came back empty, I walked the Point jetties and found small pods of mullet in each pocket. Before long, I had more than enough bait in the bucket and it was time to have some fun.


Finger Mullet

I set up a rod for my son, Jake, and we started working the jetty pockets. Every cast ended in a strike. We caught tons of bluefish, a bunch of weakfish, croakers, kingfish, and a couple more summer flounder. Jake just turned twelve so it was a joy explaining why the fish were in the areas they were and as the day continued on I had him showing me where the fish would be holding. I didn't think it could get any better.


Jake with a Weakfish

Believe it or not, catching a bunch of 12 to 15-inch fish was a lot of fun on my 6'8" light-duty G.Loomis NRX and Shimano Stella 3000; even the small blues pull a little drag. After I had my fill of snapper blues, I figured I'd try throwing a lively mullet into the hole where I lost a larger fish earlier in the afternoon.


Snapper Bluefish

Soon after my bait hit the water, I felt the snappers chomping at the tail so I let it sink and worked what I'm assuming was half a mullet back along the current seam towards the rock pile. Right before my retrieve was complete I got whacked and my drag started peeling. By this time, the tide had risen considerably and it probably wasn't in my best interest to be fishing on the rocks barefooted. The fish on the end of the line took me around the tip of the jetty and I was having problems maneuvering on the wet rocks. After a few good runs, I gained control and saw the fish surface just a few feet away from the rock pile: it was a redfish! I didn't want to chance losing it on the rocks, so I walked it down to the pocket and landed it on the beach.


NJ Redfish!

I picked up the 25-inch red and admired its beauty. The copper-colored drumfish had a distinct black dot and a brilliant blue tail. I've caught redfish in New Jersey before, but it's always special to cross paths with this great game fish. They put up a great battle, are pleasing to look at, and taste great on the dinner table. After a few pictures, I couldn't help but to think it was a redfish that I lost earlier in the day.


Brilliant Blue

New Jersey regulations on red drum are one fish per day between 18 and 27 inches with no closed season. You read that right, if you're fortunate enough to catch a 50-inch red drum, you cannot keep it! I guess the state record is safe. While the regulations might seem tight, I believe they are one of the main reasons we're beginning to see reds return to our waters. Reports of redfish are increasing each season and it's not just in Cape May County. Just in the last few days, I heard reports of multiple redfish catches in Long Beach Island waters.

Looking back, we managed to squeeze a week's worth of fun into a three-day weekend. The wife and kids had a great time and everything worked out perfectly; well, I guess I could have had my rod with me during the blitz, but the redfish helped me get over that. Our summer definitely went out with a bang!

August 20, 2012

Longer, Cooler Nights

by Frank Ruczynski

We're heading into late August and the tide is slowly turning. Those long, hot summer afternoons are slowly moderating as we continue to lose a minute or two of daylight every day. On June 20, sunrise took place at 5:34 AM and sunset at 8:28 PM. Today, the sun came up at 6:18 AM and set at 7:47 PM. Since the first day of summer, we've lost 44 minutes of daylight in the morning and 41 minutes in the evening for a total of an hour and 25 minutes. By the first day of autumn, we'll lose another hour and 20 minutes of daylight. If you're like me and prefer to fish at night, well, we're not losing anything, but gaining darkness and more productive fishing time.


Back Bay Sunset

I've spent countless hours plying the South Jersey backwaters and the late-summer/early-fall time period is one of my favorite times of the year. When I think of late-summer nights on the water, I think of peanut bunker flipping on the surface and the gamefish I'm searching for beneath them. At this time of year, trophy fish often seem few and far between; however, what the fish lack in size, they make up for in variety. There are so many possibilities on any given cast. The usual suspects such as striped bass, weakfish, summer flounder, and snapper bluefish provide most of the action; however there are enough speckled sea trout and red drumfish around to keep things interesting.


South Jersey Surprises

As enjoyable as the fishing action can be, the late-summer pattern can also be very frustrating for anglers. If you think about it for a minute, it makes sense that this time period would be one of the most difficult times to catch fish: the warm back-bay waters are boiling with a plethora of baitfish and there hasn't been any real trigger to put the gamefish into blitz mode. A single gamefish could swim through thousands of baitfish in just a few minutes; what are the odds that it will take your bait?


Peanut Bunker

Most of the time, I prefer to fish with small jigs and soft-plastic baits, but there are occasions when my offerings go untouched. I've thrown small plugs, bucktails, and everything else in my bag to feeding fish with no results. That's when it's time to break out the cast net and wrangle up some live bait. Peanut bunker are usually quite easy to find. Keeping peanuts alive can be difficult, but I've experimented with some fresh-dead bunker and found they seem to work well threaded onto the same jigs that I use when I'm tossing soft-plastic baits. The weakfish really seem to love them. A fish-less night can be quickly turned around with just one well-placed toss of a cast net.


Tossing the Cast Net

The recent return of weakfish should make for some great late-season action. We've had nights when we've caught well over fifty weakies per night. While most of the weakfish are usually in the 12 to 18-inch range, we see enough fish in the mid-20-inch range to keep us entertained. Years ago, when weakfish stocks were strong, we caught them right through the Thanksgiving weekend. Barring any severe coastal storms, I expect some of the best action to occur in early October as blitzing weakfish will be gorging themselves before making their way towards the inlet and out to sea.


Hungry Weakfish

Unfortunately, keeping up with life has put a serious dent in my fishing time. I thought life would be a little easier as my children grew up, boy, was I wrong! Fun time with a rod in our hand has been replaced with car shopping and applying to colleges with my oldest son, tennis practice and school shopping with my daughter, and it's always an adventure trying to keep up with my 10-year-old son. We hit the local lakes and ponds from time to time and we always enjoy ourselves, but it's just not the same.

On the bright side, I'm taking care of business and school starts in two weeks! I'll miss the little ones, but my schedule will allow me much more free time and I can get back to doing what I love to do. I better get going; I can already hear those weakies calling my name.
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