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.
It's early November and I'm already tired of " Waiting for Striped Bass" – see last week's blog title. I continue to hear promising reports from Rhode Island and New York coastal waters, but those fish just don't seem to be in a hurry to move down into New Jersey waters. We've had some flashes, mostly a short-lived blitz of 20-pound stripers that happened right around Halloween, but for the most part, the 2016 fall run has been far from steady or predictable.
I decided it was time to shake things up a little. When I fish, I don't sit and wait for the fish - I go to them. I packed up my surf gear and headed north in hopes of kick starting the fall run. Armed with an arsenal of high-end surf rods, indestructible surf reels and hundreds of dollars in plugs, I teamed up with a few buddies to cover some ground in the central and northern portion of New Jersey. At 5 AM, Metallica was playing in the truck. The "Seek and Destroy" song seemed to set a perfect backdrop for our "battle plan."
Sunrise at Bradley Beach, NJ
Our plan was simple: fish sunrise and then spread out to find some action. The sunrise bite was nonexistent. We split up and scouted the oceanfront like gulls looking for meal. After a little driving, we spotted some bunker just out of casting range. The bunker seemed unbothered until three whales exploded out of the water. It was a magical experience. The way the whales erupted into the air with their gigantic mouths open gulping down bunker by the bucketful was truly an amazing spectacle.
We watched the whales play cat and mouse with the bunker for close to two hours without any sign of striped bass or bluefish. Once again, we decided to split up in hopes of finding some action. We started the morning just north of Belmar and drove through Asbury Park, Allenhurst, Deal, Long Branch and finally Monmouth Beach. The landscape is very much different than what I'm used to in South Jersey, but it definitely had a "fishy" feel to it. After much searching, we returned to the bunker pods and watched as the bunker flipped happily on the water's surface. We made a few more halfhearted casts as the morning slowly turned into afternoon. Feeling defeated, we packed up for the long ride home.
Sightseeing in Northern New Jersey
This was my second trip up north in the last ten days. The first trip was similar, but without the whale sightings and I mostly concentrated from Island State Beach Park north up to Mantoloking. The commute isn't much different than my normal South Jersey stops, but I just can't get used to being skunked. When I'm fishing my home waters, usually the back bays, I can always manage a few schoolies to make my trip seem a little more worthwhile.
Between the combination of my surf fishing skunks and continued poor fishing reports, I decided to return to my roots – South Jersey backwater fishing. Our back bays are hardly in full fall run striper mode, but there are always enough back bay linesiders to keep a smile on my face. I hit some of my local haunts just after a midnight high tide and found steady action right off the bat. The stripers I caught seemed like resident fish, mostly between 18 and 26 inches, but I did manage one 28-inch keeper. After the back-to-back surf skunks, I enjoyed catching those small stripers a little more than usual.
Home Sweet Home
The next night, I headed a little further south and was a little surprised to catch a few 12 to 15-inch bluefish and some 12 to 16-inch weakfish. Other than cooler air and water temperatures, it doesn't seem like much has changed in our local waters. Fishing during the first week of November sure felt a lot like fishing during the first week of September. I remember a time when things would turn on just after Labor Day with the mullet run, then around Columbus Day with the cooler weather, then around Halloween with daylight waning each day, now I'm thinking maybe by Thanksgiving?
As of this writing, 1:30 PM on Tuesday, November 11, coastal water temperatures in Cape May and Atlantic City are an identical 57 degrees. The weather forecast for the remainder of the week looks breezy and chilly with a real cold shot scheduled for the weekend. Maybe this colder air is what we need to get the stripers moving south?
Whatever happens, I'm looking forward to the coming weeks. At our house, fall equals family, fishing and football. My son, Jake, has off from school the next few days for the annual NJEA Convention and my dad is flying up from Texas this weekend. We're looking forward to some serious fishing time, but I'm starting to feel a little pressure. This same time last year, we had steady action with fish ranging from 26 to 42 inches - something has to give!
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.
The fall trout stocking is complete. Many of our local ponds, lakes and rivers are teeming with big, beautiful rainbow trout. Over the last two weeks, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife stocked more than 21,000 trout throughout state waters. These aren't the little trout we see in the spring on Opening Day; the average-sized, fall trout is about 15 inches with many larger specimens up to 22 inches. Trout fishing in October is nothing short of remarkable – some of these fish look like salmon!
South Jersey Salmon?
With great weather and literally truckloads of trout riding through South Jersey, I felt like I was in heaven. I fished lakes, ponds and rivers and had giant trout swimming in every direction. The Pequest Trout Hatchery does a wonderful job raising these trout and I'd like to thank them for making the most of our trout stamp fees. It feels strange thanking a state agency, but I definitely got my $10.50's worth.
How much is this fish worth?
This paragraph is my asterisk - I'm not going to pretend that fishing for stocked trout is the same experience as fishing a pristine, native trout stream in Northern New Jersey, Pennsylvania or New York, but the big trout are dropped right in our backyards and are put there for the sole purpose of fishing enjoyment. Some may consider this "fishing in a barrel" and for good reason, but I wonder how many people actually tried to catch a fish in a barrel? I can tell you from experience, these fish aren't as easy to catch as some may think. While fishing for stocked trout may not be as prestigious as some other types of fishing, it is fun – lots of fun! Catch rates are usually high, you don't have to feel guilty when taking a fish or four home and the odds of battling a trophy fish are likely higher in your own backyard than they would be just about anywhere else on the planet.
Trout like this are swimming in your backyard right now!
I've been fishing for stocked trout for years and I've learned a few things during my time on the water. The hatchery fish usually seem to be a little sluggish at first, as the trout need some time to acclimate to their new surroundings. The larger fish seem to take a little longer than the younger, smaller fish. In my experiences, rainbow trout seem a little easier to catch and a lot less particular than brook and brown trout – maybe that's another reason the state only stocks rainbow trout now? The stocked trout set up and behave differently depending on the location. At ponds, it seems like they roam around drop offs, points and lay downs. On the larger lakes, the trout seem to head straight for dams and spillways – the concrete spillways are like trout magnets. When fishing on creeks and rivers, undercut banks and deep pools seem to be likely fish holding areas. Years ago, I thought of trout as more of an open water roaming fish, but the state stockies often seem to prefer cover. I've lost quite a few fish in lay downs and log jams.
This one didn't get away!
There are many effective techniques used to catch trout. Fly-fishing, casting lures and bait fishing seem to work well. In my opinion, Berkley PowerBait Trout Bait is one of the most effective way to catch trout, but it's not as much fun as tossing inline spinners. If water temperatures are very low, I'll yield and use PowerBait, but if temps are above 50, I'll be tossing spinners. I came across a certain spinner a few years back and it's been my go-to for the stocked rainbow trout. It's a spinner named the Double Spinn, made by Thomas and I prefer the Nickel/Gold color pattern. The spinner is heavy enough to cover a lot of water when casting. The twin blades offer a tremendous amount of flash, which catches the attention of any nearby trout. The double blades also allow for a slow sink rate so I can impart a little more action into the spinner. After having many follows by trout without strikes, I learned that a little jig every once in a while would trigger a strike. I can accomplish the same action with smaller, lighter spinners, but they don't put off the same flash and I can't cover water with the smaller spinners like I can with the Double Spinn. If you're going out for trout, do yourself a favor and make sure to have a couple of these in your bag.
The Thomas Double Spinn strikes again!
The fall trout stocking days are like holidays in my family. I asked Jake if he wanted to take two days off from school to fish for trout and he couldn't have been happier. Before I get reprimanded, don't teachers get a few vacation days? Well, I think the kids should too. I wasn't quite sure how to write a note excusing his absence - trout fever? Looking back, I'm sure the memories we made over the last few days will last a lifetime.
I gave Jake an A+
Jake and I had a great time trying for the stocked rainbows this week. We even had a few of the locations all to ourselves. Imagine Opening Day of Trout Season, but with much larger trout, better weather and no crowds – yes, that's it. I am a little surprised the big fall trout don't receive a little more attention from South Jersey anglers. If you knew what you're missing out on, you may choose to celebrate the Opening Day of Trout Season in October from now on!
Fall is here! The smoky scent of backyard bonfires, multicolored landscapes, harvest celebrations, hayrides, falling leaves, scarecrows, apple cider and pumpkin-spice flavored foods and drinks are just a few of the welcoming signs. While I enjoy everything the fall season has to offer, the great fishing action tops my list. Freshwater fishing opportunities are among the best of the year as our resident sweetwater fishing turns up a notch with an influx of super-sized rainbow trout. Coastal anglers spend their days and nights chasing the almighty striped bass as the fall migration kicks into high gear. It's a great time to be living and fishing in South Jersey!
Kayak fishing on a brilliant October afternoon.
Water and weather conditions look favorable for fishing over the next few weeks. Freshwater rivers, ponds and lakes are running a little low, but the waters are clear and cool. Saltwater conditions also look promising as Hurricane Matthew skirted our area to the south and than pushed further out to sea. Over the last ten days, coastal water temperatures dropped by almost 10 degrees. The Cape May station is presently reporting 63.9 degrees while the Atlantic City monitoring station reads 63.3 degrees. The resident schoolie stripers have been much more active since the water temp drop. With a stable weather forecast, I expect water temps to rebound and hold in the mid 60s for a few weeks. Our backwater estuaries are exploding with a plethora of baitfish so the table is set for a great fall run.
The recent drop in water temp triggered some better-sized fish this week.
The recent coastal storm and what seemed like an unending northeast wind forced me to step away from the great weakfish action and take on some new fishing opportunities closer to home. After a few days of rain, being stuck inside watching, reading and listening to political news, commercials and opinions, I couldn't wait to get as far away from society as I could. I looked over the map on my iPhone and searched for some of the most remote waters in my area. I needed an escape from "Election 2016."
After a little research on the new fishing locations, we loaded the kayaks and headed out to get away from it all. Fortunately, we had a beautiful lake to ourselves, the launch area was perfect and the fishing action was steady. It was exactly the escape I needed to feel sane again. Paddling out onto a serene lake on a warm October afternoon felt like paradise. While politics have a way of reminding me of everything that's wrong with the world, kayak fishing has a way of reminding me of everything that's right with the world.
This is my happy place!
My son, Jake, spends far less time fishing with me since school started, but his first four-day weekend (Columbus Day) came at the perfect time. We loaded up the kayaks and had a father/son trip that couldn't have been more enjoyable. Our Wilderness Systems kayaks are outstanding fishing platforms and we have them rigged to the max for enjoyment on the water. Jake paddles my old Tarpon 120 and I love my new ATAK 140. We usually fish all the likely areas such as docks, bulkheads, drop offs, stump beds and lily pad fields. I've been especially fond of the Rapala Shadow Rap Shad lately – the perch-colored pattern gets a lot of attention from our finned friends.
Rapala Shadow Rap Strikes Again!
Once we're done working over the lake, we usually paddle upstream to fish, have lunch and explore. The creek mouths and pockets are good for a few fish and the trek upstream is always enjoyable. Kayaking on lakes and ponds is great, but there is something special about paddling into the untouched areas that other boaters cannot access. We've found some great fishing spots, viewed a tremendous amount of wildlife and even found a couple out-of-the-way swimming holes. Kayaking through these types of areas is a lot like hiking on the water.
The time Jake and I spend together on the water is always memorable. The experiences range from almost magical on some days to just really good on others. If our trips were a game, we'd always win. Between fishing action, our conversations and the beautiful surroundings, how could we lose? I watch as friends and family spend large amounts of money to fly to other states or countries to get away from it all while I just load up my kayaks and paddle off into the sunset.
If you haven't tried kayaking, I suggest giving it a shot. Maybe you tried kayaking a few years ago and the unstable little sit-in kayak didn't feel safe or comfortable? Kayaks have come a long way in the last few years. I'm not a young man anymore; certainly not the surfer type and I can stand and fish on my kayak very comfortably. The seats are more like a Lazy Boy recliner than the old wooden slats I sat on in my canoe. Creature comforts continue to reach new highs as new and useful products pop up on a daily basis. Items such as lightweight motors, pedal drives, carbon fiber paddles, high-end fish-finders, stereo systems, adjustable rod holders, charging ports for your phone, live wells, solar charging systems, remote-controlled anchors systems, and tackle storage options are just a few of the innovative new improvements made for kayaking. It sure is a great time to be a kayak angler!
By this time next year, I'll be dancing on my ATAK 140!
There are not many things I enjoy more than catching weakfish during the night tides. After many years of tough fishing, it's great to have the weakies back again! My nights have been filled with solid strikes, bent rods, lots of croaking/drumming and some awesome drag pulling, headshaking battles. This year's weakfish run continues to be one of my best seasons in close to a decade.
I love it when they talk to me!
Over the last few weeks, I've experienced a consistent bite that just seems to be getting better. The speckled beauties are showing up in good numbers and sizes in many of their old haunts. While I enjoy catching the spike weakfish this time of year, the bigger weakfish are a welcome unexpected bonus. Since September's full moon, schools of 20 to 26-inch weakfish have been mixed in with the spike weakfish. These fish filled in nicely as we transitioned from the recent closure of the summer flounder season to the beginning of the striped bass fall run. Weakfish anglers tend to keep to themselves more than most so I guess it's not surprising that even though weakfish reports are picking up, they aren't quite on par with what I'm experiencing on the water.
This 25-inch weakfish slammed a bubblegum-colored Zoom Super Fluke
Did you even wonder why most weakfish sharpies are so tight lipped? While most of us enjoy a little elbow space, it's mostly due to the fact that when the fishing action is good, weakfish are among the most predictable fish that swim in the ocean. This may sound pretentious, but I've spent twenty-five years chasing weakfish and I think I know where these fish will be before they do. It may be hard to believe, but I'd wager that ten years from now, I could set up on a particular rock, on a specific day, time, tide stage and not only catch weakfish, but probably predict the size within a few inches – however, the wager would have to be rather sizable for me to give up such a predictable location. It may come as a surprise to some, but when weakfish are around in good numbers, they are almost as predictable as the sun rising each morning.
I'll never tell!
To break it down even more, weakfish not only tend to have seasonal habits, but they tend to feed on the same tide stage night after night. The old saying, "You could set your watch to the bite," couldn't be more true. High and low tides change about fifty minutes a day so if I had a good bite from 11 PM to 1 AM on an outgoing tide, chances are the next night the bite would take place from 11:50 PM to 1:50 AM. Lately, the fish seem to be most active during the last few hours of the outgoing tide, but each location has it's own windows of opportunity depending on bait, structure and current. Time spent learning weakfish habits will pay off for years to come.
20 years later - same place, same tide, same bait, same result!
Unfortunately, it looks like my weakfish train might be coming to a screeching halt. The recent northeast wind and rain is a real bite killer. I think we could withstand a couple days of coastal flooding, but with constant 20 to 30-MPH NE winds combined with an influx of freshwater into our back bays, things aren't looking good in the near future. With talk of Hurricane Matthew working its way up the east coast early next week, things aren't looking great in the long-range forecast either. Events like these combined with tomorrow night's new moon have a way of flushing our back bays prematurely – say goodbye to the mullet!
Coastal storms and mullet runs seem to occur at the same time each year.
I don't give up easily so I'll be trying for weakfish as soon as the weather breaks. Weakfish seem to be a little more sensitive to weather and water conditions than most other fish so I'm hoping that Hurricane Matthew tracks east and heads out to open water or it could be a long two weeks. If the hurricane brings more coastal flooding and wind, it may take a while for our waters to clean up. If this scenario plays out, it will likely be time to switch from weakfish to striped bass.
In the meantime, it's probably a good time to get back to some sweetwater action. Our ponds and lakes should benefit from the heavy rain. Some of our local waters were as low as I've seen them in a long time. I've spent most of my free time chasing weakfish, but when I did stop at my local fishing holes, action seemed to be on the slow side – little largemouth bass and a few small pickerel. Hopefully, the cooler weather and extra water trigger some better action. I'm looking forward to spending October mornings and afternoons in my kayak chasing largemouth bass, crappie, pickerel, perch and rainbow trout.
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.
Somebody pinch me – I feel like I'm dreaming. We're into mid-December and it just keeps getting warmer! The weekend forecast looks incredible with daytime highs pushing well into the 60s. Coastal monitoring stations are reporting ocean temperatures ranging from 50.7 degrees at Atlantic City to 52.3 degrees at Cape May. With nearly perfect fishing conditions, action remains solid and I don't expect it to tail off anytime soon.
In my experiences, the biggest benefit of a warm winter is a shortened offseason. Striped bass action should keep us busy until the end of the month. After some fun with the linesiders, I'm hoping to get in some more freshwater trips before our waterways begin to ice over. If we're real lucky, maybe we'll have a mild January/February and our waterways won't ice over at all. One more bonus – warm winters usually mean early spring runs!
No more looking ahead, there is plenty of action going on right now to talk about. As usual, the almighty striped bass is stealing the spotlight, but there's a good number of big bluefish around, too. The backwater schoolie striper bite has been as steady as I can remember. Surf fishing action is a little more hit-and-miss, but when it's a hit, it's likely to be a trip you'll never forget. Oceanfront boaters seem to be into the best action as massive schools of adult bunker are yielding 20 to 30-pound linesiders. The big bait balls also seem to be attracting a few humpback whales. I've spotted them with some regularity from the beach, but boaters are enjoying some almost magical up-close-and-personal encounters.
I'm still fishing around the clock and enjoying every bit of the late-season action. My nighttime backwater excursions have been a lot of fun. I've been fishing the same two locations since October and they continue to produce. At this point, I can set the bite to my watch as the fishing has been as steady and predictable as I've experienced in at least a few years. The stripers aren't big, most range from 20 to 26 inches, but catching a bunch in a couple hours is enough for me. "Magic time" lasts about two hours and usually starts about a half-hour after high tide. Pink plastics on ¼ to ½ ounce jig heads work well for me, but I'm fairly certain these fish would hit just about anything put in front of them.
Right on Schedule!
The early-morning hours are for surf fishing. After spending most of my life fishing the overnight shift on the backwaters, I can't explain how much I enjoy fishing along the surf at sunrise. The surf bite has been more hit-and-miss as I'm averaging one good day for every bad day – a bad day consists of not catching while watching a beautiful sunrise and casting into the waves. The good days have been remarkable with lots of National Geographic, bait-and-birds-everywhere moments.
A Beautiful December Morning
Last Saturday, December 5, I woke Jake up early and headed for the beach. The poor kid had to come home from school and hear my stories all week – he was ready to join in the fun. We arrived right before sunrise and peaked over the dune only to see birds and bait everywhere. We couldn't put our waders on and grab our gear quick enough. We ran out to the surf and casted into the melee. My Daiwa SP plug got hammered and my rod doubled, I looked over to check on Jake and he was bent, too. The linesiders were a little smaller than our prior surf trips, but it didn't take away from experience. The bass had peanut bunker pushed right up onto the beach, birds were screeching in excitement, the sun was rising and it was exactly the perfect picture I'd drawn in my mind. We had blitz-like action for about a half-hour before the birds, bait and fish dissipated.
"Take the picture Dad, I want to get my line back out there!"
After Saturday's trip, we had to return again on Sunday morning. We started at the same location, but came up empty. We drove a few towns north stopping to fish a bunch of promising-looking areas without a sniff. It turns out; the bite was a little to the south on Sunday morning. Even though we zigged when we should have zagged, we had a great time trying, talking about fishing and grabbing breakfast on the way home.
We manage to have fun even when the fish don't cooperate.
At this point in the year, I look at each trip as bonus time. Jake and I have been very fortunate this season and any additional trips will just be the icing on the cake. With 60's forecast for the weekend, I have a feeling we'll be up early again this weekend. A quick glance at my logbook shows that I usually hang up my saltwater gear on or near an average date of December 10 – that's not going to happen this year! The factors responsible for ending my season usually consist of a combination of a slow bite due to cold water, cold weather and the added pressure of getting ready for the holidays. During the warmer years, I fished well into the New Year and have fond memories of catching stripers while listening to Christmas carols. Tis' the season to be jolly.
I can't believe it's December. I woke up this morning, flipped the calendar and thought to myself, "where did the year go?" It seems like just yesterday I was out on my kayak catching fish in shorts and a t-shirt – actually it was Saturday and I had a blast catching crappie, perch, largemouth bass and pickerel. Between the days flying by and the stretch of warmer weather, it sure doesn't feel like December.
11/28/15 A little dreary, but 65 degrees!
Fortunately, this fall we've been blessed with mild temperatures and the fishing action has been great. While air temperatures are no longer close to 70 degrees, a look at the long-range forecasts shows daytime highs in the mid-50s for most of the month. Coastal water temperatures are hovering in the low 50s. My Lowrance recorded similar water temperatures (52-54) while kayaking the local freshwater lakes. After the last couple years of frigid temperatures and too much talk about polar vortexes, I feel like I have some making up to do!
With so many fishing opportunities, I've been fishing day and night. Largemouth bass, chain pickerel, crappie, yellow perch, white perch and sunfish are providing steady action. My daytime fishing trips consist of working the shorelines, either by foot or in my kayak and tossing small jigs and soft-plastic baits to a variety of species. Panfish (crappie, perch and sunfish) seem to prefer a small brightly colored Trout Magnet while the bass and pickerel bite has been on natural-colored (dark top/light bottom) 3 and 4-inch soft plastics such as Berkley Gulp Minnows. While most of the freshwater species are small to average size, the action has been hard to beat.
If the great freshwater action wasn't enough, last week, the state trout wagon made their "Winter Stocking" rounds and dropped off a truckload of rainbow trout to sweeten the pot a little more. I spent a couple of days at the trout ponds and had a great time landing a bunch of 14 to 18-inch rainbow trout. Spinners, Trout Magnets and Berkley PowerBait Trout Bait should put some fish on the end of your line. As far as I can tell, the freshly stocked trout have not been receiving much attention so they should provide a good fishery for at least the next few weeks.
Winter Trout Stocking
As soon as it gets dark, my thoughts quickly shift to striped bass and saltwater fishing. While daytime surf reports seem more hit or miss lately, the nighttime backwater bite has been as steady as I can remember. Night after night, the same areas continue to provide good numbers of 20 to 28-inch linesiders. Bubblegum-colored Zoom Super Flukes on ¼ to ½-ounce lead heads are working well.
On Friday night, I took Jake down to get in on the action. High tide was right around 11 PM so we timed our arrival with the falling tide. The tide took a little while to get going, but as soon as it did, the striped bass cooperated. Imagine a warm night, a falling tide and stripers breaking all around you – can it get any better? Jake and I had a great time as we caught bass after bass through most of the night. Just after 3 AM we looked at each other and decided we had enough and it was time to head for home. We tagged a bunch of fish with American Littoral Society (ALS) tags and brought home a 28-inch fish for the dinner table. After a night like that, even the ride home was enjoyable.
Over the next few nights, I returned to the same locations during the same tide stages and experienced similar results. It appears as though new schools of fish continue to enter our estuary waters each day as I've caught many fish covered in sea lice. Most of the areas I'm fishing are miles away from any inlets so I'm hoping they stick around for a while. Most of the linesiders aren't very big as many seem to fall into the 22 to 26-inch range, but they are a lot of fun on my light G.Loomis and Shimano spinning gear.
11/30/15 Sea Lice Striper
After some down years, it feels good to feel good about striped bass again. By no means am I saying we are out of the woods, but this fall run seems promising. Most of my trips have been short and sweet. While the action barely compares to the striped bass heydays, it is much better than the last few seasons. I'm hoping the better action turns into a trend.
My recent backwater trips ranged from Ocean City north towards Long Beach Island. I haven't heard many promising reports from anglers fishing south of Ocean City, other than some boaters trolling a couple miles off the coast – some of my boat buddies have been posting solid reports with many of the fish in the 20 to 30-pound class. The lack of fish along the South Jersey beaches may have a lot more to do with circumstances other than a problem with the striped bass biomass – only time will tell.
For some of us, striped bass season is in full swing, yet many of New Jersey's southernmost anglers are left wondering when or if the striped bass season will begin at all. By many accounts, reports of striped bass and bluefish from New York to Long Beach Island (LBI) have been outstanding, while anglers fishing south of Atlantic City are left questioning the health of the fishery. This pattern seems to be more of a reoccurring trend than an anomaly and I think it's about time we addressed it.
Is it time to worry or should South Jersey anglers remain patient and hope the big schools of striped bass eventually make their way towards Cape May? As a longtime South Jersey angler, I can tell you for certain things aren't like they used to be. Stop waiting for the fish and do yourself a favor - migrate north!
Over the last few fall seasons, it's almost like the Garden State Parkway exits could be used as a striped-bass meter in which the exit numbers equate your chances at landing decent-sized striped bass: Exit 0 down in Cape May, Exit 38 to Atlantic City, Exit 63 at LBI, Exit 82 takes you to Island Beach State Park and Exit 100 will put you into the Asbury Park area. From LBI to the north, most anglers are happy catching 20 to 30-pound striped bass, while most South Jersey anglers are happy catching 20 to 30-inch stripers. About 50 to 80 miles separates world-class striped bass fishing versus dogfish city.
In my own experiences, I have spent less than 5% of my fishing time north of LBI, yet over the last five years many of my best catching trips, in both numbers and sizes, have taken place to the north. I grew up fishing just about every nook and cranny of South Jersey and I've grown to love and appreciate all that the area has to offer, but the fall runs just aren't cutting it anymore. My familiarity with the local waters keeps me coming back in hopes of finding the action that I once knew, but I consider myself lucky to have a handful of memorable trips per season. I'm beginning to question my want to fish south of LBI at all.
I joke with many of my northern friends, "Anything north of LBI is New York to me." There seems to be an imaginary line that cuts along the Route 72 Causeway in which the state transforms into a completely different and unfamiliar area, especially along the coast. Rooting interest for professional sports teams change from Philly-based teams to NJ/NY teams; hoagies are called subs; minnows are referred to as killies and most importantly the coastline changes. If you look at a map of New Jersey, Barnegat Inlet and to the south is the point where the coastline begins to recede towards the west. This one feature alone could be enough to explain the difference in fishing action results for North and South Jersey anglers.
While geographical features cannot be underestimated, there are many more questions to ask – many of which I'm not sure anyone can answer. Are the big schools of striped bass currently off our northern/central coast Hudson or Raritan Bay fish? How many of them actually retreat northward back into deep-water holes to wait out the winter months? Do most of the fish continue south from Barnegat Inlet and follow a straight line south and stay miles off the South Jersey Coast? What happened to the Delaware Bay fishery? Is climate change and warming ocean waters to blame? Despite lots of research and our best science, many of us are left with more questions than answers.
My thoughts on the subject are relatively simple. The range of striped bass is clearly shrinking due to a dwindling biomass. Much like the weakfish, I witnessed the best fishing action move a few inlets north almost every season – it started in the Delaware Bay, moved up and around Cape May and before you know it, most of the South Jersey coast loses another solid fishery. I watched the weakfish collapse happen and denied it at the time, mostly because I was catching some of the largest weakfish of my lifetime – albeit in a smaller area and a little further north than I was used to fishing. Sounds familiar right?
With all that said, I've had a lot of fun with the striped bass this fall. The northern fishery is as good as it's been in years and I'm finding good numbers of smaller striped bass in a lot of my backwater holes. However, I cannot ignore the fact that fishing in South Jersey has been dismal. My range used to consist of Atlantic City to Cape May. Lately, I find myself fishing from Avalon to Seaside Park, but my trips south of Ocean City have been few and far between. I haven't completely given up as I plan on fishing south tonight. I'm trying to keep hope alive, but it's becoming increasingly difficult.
At this point, it would almost be some type of small miracle if the striped bass moved down into our neighborhood just in time for the holiday season. It wouldn't be the first time South Jersey fishing lit up after the Thanksgiving holiday - some years the action lasted well into the New Year. Regardless, I'd like to wish everyone a great Thanksgiving. Enjoy time with your family and friends and if you can do it on the water that's even better. It's time for me to go chase some linesiders.
It's early, but this season's fall run seems to be shaping up as one of the best in the last few years. Just to the north, massive schools of big bluefish are working their way down the Jersey coast. Striped bass continue to show up in both good numbers and sizes. Whether you're a surfcaster, boater or backwater angler, it's time to hit the water – the stripers are here and they're hungry!
Fall Run Fun!
Weather and fishing conditions seem to be nearly perfect for an extended fall run. Mild November days and nights seem to be keeping our coastal water temperatures right around 60 degrees – some may consider 60 degrees a little on the warm side, but the fish don't seem to mind. A look at the ten-day forecast shows daytime highs in the mid to upper 60s for all of next week. The long-range forecast predicts more seasonable temperatures, but for the first time in a few years, it looks like we're going to ease into the winter season. Tons of bunker and other baitfish can be found out front, in the back bays and everywhere between. The variety of bait is also very impressive. The fish are here and they have no reason to leave!
I missed some fishing time as I tweaked something in my back and was laid up for close to a week. For a bunch of reasons, the timing couldn't have been worse. Fortunately, I'm feeling better now and I'm fishing around the clock trying to make up for lost time. In my experiences, adrenalin overloads from hooking into sizable striped bass are much more effective at killing pain than any prescription medications ordered by the doctor. Fishing has an odd way of curing any troubles.
Up and around again, I started with a night trip in the South Jersey backwaters. I found striped bass popping at my first stop and had a blast casting soft-plastic baits at them. What the little linesiders lacked in size, they made up for in numbers. At times, it seemed like every cast ended with an 18 to 26-inch striped bass. After I had my fun, I moved to another area and had similar action with small, but feisty stripers. Snapper bluefish, spike weakfish and summer flounder added to my catch - proving that water temperatures are still a little on the mild side.
Having fun with the little fish was just what I needed, but I couldn't pass up the reports of bigger fish coming from the north at Long Beach Island and Island Beach State Park. After debating on whether or not to make the trip north, I arrived at IBSP a little late, but walked the beach until I found a perfect cut between the sandbars. In the first few casts bass were swiping at my Daiwa SP Minnow. I landed a few good fish and dropped more than I'd like to admit. Even though I had a good day, I couldn't help wonder how many more fish I might have caught if I arrived before sunrise.
I went home and asked Jake if he'd like to get in on the action. His first experience plugging the surf came just a few weeks ago in which he was lucky enough to land a keeper-sized striper. I told him our odds wouldn't get much better as lots of fish were around and it seemed like the "stars were aligned" for a perfect trip.
Jake's first striper on a plug.
The next morning, we left extra early and arrived at IBSP about an hour before sunrise. As we gathered our gear and put our waders on, Jake looked up and said, "Dad you weren't kidding about the stars being aligned!" As luck would have it, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and the Moon were lined up almost perfectly. We both laughed for a minute before we hurried off towards the water.
As we hiked in over the dunes, you could smell bunker in the air. I told Jake this was going to be our day. We set up and started casting into the darkness. We fished for a good hour before the sun came up without a touch. Some doubt started creeping in and I wondered if yesterday's fish moved along.
As the sun came up, the tide started out and our luck was about to change. My SP Minnow got hammered and the fish went airborne. I thought I had a bluefish, but it turned out to be an acrobatic 32-inch striped bass. I had a few bass on the sand before Jake hooked up. With another good fish on, I looked over at Jake to tell him to come over, but his rod was already bent. The action was fast and furious! After a few minutes of back and forth, I landed my fish and headed over to help Jake. He battled the fish for at least five minutes. When I saw the big bass in the surf, I went nuts. The only thing better than catching good fish is having your kids catch one! He played it like a pro and slid his first sizable plug bass onto the beach.
Jake with his big bass and a proud papa!
The next half hour was a blur that seemed to last about 30 seconds. Jake and I got into a great bite with multiple fish over 40 inches. While Jake was unhooking his fish, I hooked into another mid-twenty pound bass and couldn't believe how great the bite was. I don't fish the surf often so trips like this would be extra memorable, especially with Jake getting on the action.
As quickly as the great bite started, it ended. We continued to work the cut and walked down to hit another fishy-looking area, but our casts came back untouched. It's funny how no matter how long you spend on the water a half hour stretch can make a day. At that moment, I looked at Jake and told him I didn't care if we didn't catch another fish all season – it would still be worth it!
It's that wonderful time of year when schools of striped bass return to our coastal waters in numbers. Over the weekend, reports of striped bass came from our oceanfront beaches, inlets and backwater sounds. Fishing for striped bass may not be as easy as it was just a few short years ago, but there are some great opportunities available for those willing to put in a little time.
Over the last few fall seasons, figuring out striped bass staging/feeding patterns seemed a little more difficult then it used to be. I think it's fair to blame at least some of the problem on the fact that there seems to be less striped bass around than there were a few years ago. I believe another factor is the weather - the last few fall seasons we went from one extreme to the other – extremely-high water temperatures in October were followed by a coastal storm or two and a frigid crash in November. Big swings in weather patterns and temperature changes usually don't bode well for fishing action in general, especially pattern-oriented anglers.
So far, this season seems different. We battled through an early coastal storm and now the water temperatures seem to be dropping gradually – perfect conditions for predictable fishing patterns. I couldn't help but smile when looking at the long-range forecast – it looks that good! This week promises daytime highs in the low to mid 70s with an average cooling trend continuing right through early December. It looks like the table is set for a good fall run!
We're off to a good start!
With perfect weather conditions and so many opportunities available to us, it can be a hectic time of year for outdoor enthusiasts. I'm splitting time between freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing, kayaking, hiking and hunting and I love every minute of it! The recent freshwater rainbow trout action was some of the best I've ever experienced. I'm fairly new to hunting, but Jake and I had an incredible morning last Saturday, October 31, at Peaslee Wildlife Management Area's Youth Pheasant Day Event – he aimed a shotgun while I aimed a camera.
The boys had a great morning at Peaslee WMA!
Even with so much going on, I have a feeling that it's about time to make the fulltime switch over to striped bass. During my recent backwater trips, I've experienced fast-paced action with schoolie-sized striped bass – numbers seem far better than I've seen in at least the last five years. Keeper-sized fish (28 inches or better) are a little more difficult to come by, but chances are with a little more effort, you'll find a few fish for the table.
This one made the mark, but we practiced catch and release.
What the little linesiders lack in size, they make up for in action and predictability. An average trip consists of about fifteen to twenty stripers between 18 and 28 inches. Tagging the short stripers also adds to my enjoyment. It's not the good old days, but it does seem promising, especially after some very dismal fall runs. My best action seems to be happening at night and away from the inlets and any dredging or beach replenishments projects. I expect the inlet areas to pick up soon, but the backcountry action has been on fire. Schools of peanut bunker, hoards of silversides and some leftover pods of mullet should keep things interesting well into December.
Tagging short stripers and a few summer flounder add to the experience.
It looks like I have lots of paperwork to catch up on.
I've fished a bunch of areas from as far north as Island Beach State Park to the south down in Cape May and many of the areas in between. The best action seems to be taking place a little to the north. The backwaters of Barnegat Bay to about Avalon seem to be providing the best action – there are fish behind Stone Harbor, Wildwood and Cape May, but it's just not the same. The run usually seems a little later down in the southernmost portion of our area so I'm not too concerned yet.
Julia caught this micro-sized bass behind Stone Harbor.
I've witnessed feeding stations set up at places such as bridges, piers, docks, creek mouths and shell beds – watching striped bass, even schoolie striped bass, feed on top-water baits never gets old! By concentrating on these types of areas, your production should improve, especially if you fish during a high outgoing tide. My go-to bubblegum-colored soft plastics on ¼ to ½-ounce jig heads haven't let me down, but there were a few nights the little bass were picky and preferred a 1/8-ounce jig with a natural-colored soft plastic bait – dark top/light bottom baits work well.
Jake had his hands full with this backwater striper.
I'm hoping that the recent back-bay action is just a precursor to a great fall run. It sounds like a fresh body of fish just moved down from New York/North Jersey into the northern portion of our area (IBSP) so action should continue to improve as we progress further into November. Fishing for stripers may not be as easy as it was ten years ago, but it might not be as bad as some of us thought either. I'm anticipating a striped bass season to remember!
The 2015 New Jersey fall stocking season is complete as thousands of big, beautiful rainbow trout are now swimming in our South Jersey lakes, ponds, and rivers. The trout-stocking trucks made frequent stops in which they unloaded tons of hefty 14 to 22-inch rainbow trout. Usually, angler participation is low compared to the spring trout fishery, so these big trout should be swimming in our waters well into the winter season and maybe as long as next spring. If you enjoy the spring trout action, you'll love the bigger fall trout.
An Average Fall Rainbow Trout
After twenty-five years of fishing for trout in South Jersey, the fall stocking is clearly my favorite time to fish, as the state only puts in two sizes of trout – big and bigger. More times than not, your biggest spring trout will be smaller than your smallest fall trout. The bigger fish fight a lot better and seem to fit the dinner plate perfectly. Throw in daytime highs around 70 degrees and a backdrop of beautiful fall foliage and it's difficult to find a reason not to fish for these brawny rainbow trout.
A Day at the Trout Pond
I guess I need to write a disclaimer - fishing for stocked trout is not the same as fishing for wild trout; we're certainly not fishing gin-clear, mountain streams in Montana. This is New Jersey and the trout are strategically placed by the state to offer the best chance for anglers to capture them. The South Jersey trout fishery is often referenced as a "put-and-take" fishery. The truth is most if not all trout would die in many of our waterways as summer water temperatures rise well into the 80s. Think about it like a fish market where we're allowed to fish for our meals. The words glamorous or sporting don't usually come to mind when talking about stocked fish, but it sure can be a lot of fun!
Jake is having fun!
Fishing for stocked trout isn't always as easy as some may think. The trout take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to acclimate to their new waters. In my experiences, rainbow trout are far more aggressive and take much less time to adapt to their new surroundings. Sometimes, it seemed like the brown and brook trout took weeks before they really starting biting. Since the furunculosis outbreak at the Pequest Hatchery, the Division has decided to stock only rainbow trout, which should bode well for anglers.
When the trout truck visits our area, I usually go on a two to three day trout-fishing binge. I let my son, Jake, take a day or two off of school and we chase trout all over South Jersey. It's about as close as either of us will get to trout fishing in Montana. We fish ponds, lakes and rivers for no other reason than we like catching lots of big trout. Sometimes the fishing action is fast and furious, while other times, it's a very specific bite that can be quite challenging.
Over the last two days, we've hit three different waterways – a lake, a river and a pond. The fishing action was good at each venue, however the trout responded a little differently at each location. In the shallow lake, the trout were rather lethargic and difficult to tempt with any offerings. I believe many of the trout we caught at the lake struck our spinners more out of aggravation than hunger. After some time, I switched over to a Trout Magnet and a slower, jigging presentation and the trout responded nicely.
This big male rainbow trout hit a gold Trout Magnet.
After we had fun at the lake, we headed over to the river. When we arrived, I could see trout zipping in and out of the deeper pools. These trout seemed spooky and full of energy. Many of the larger trout were holding along the banks in the deeper cuts. These fish would only hit if we presented from upstream and we let our spinners sit almost still in the current – the spinner would sit in place with only the blades spinning. While the bite was a little more specific at the river, the current and surroundings felt much more trout-like.
Jake with a River Rainbow
This afternoon, we visited a small sand wash pond. Crystal-clear water with nice drop-offs presented lots of visuals. We found big schools of trout holding wherever we saw down trees. I was a bit surprised, as I always believed trout preferred open waters, especially when no current is present. I tried my go-to Trout Magnet as I could jig it in and around the underwater branches, but I couldn't buy a hit. I switched back to a double-bladed spinner and I had trout on almost every cast. My best catch of the day put up a real fight, as it seemed to swim through every underwater branch on our side of the pond. I was happy when the big male trout finally came to the net.
Another Big Rainbow Trout from This Afternoon's Trip
Looking back at our two-day trout-a-thon, Jake and I had a tremendous amount of fun. It wasn't the most challenging type of fishing or the most glamorous, but we had a good time. I'm sure some will scoff at our super-sized stocked trout – it's ok, we know all about the stocked trout and enjoy it for everything it's worth!
Wherever you look, autumn is in the air. Sunrises are occurring a little later each morning while sunsets are a little earlier each evening. Squirrels are going crazy, stocking up on walnuts and acorns. Our skies are filled with migrating birds and monarch butterflies. Mosquitos and other bugs are dispersing. While many of us enjoy our pumpkin-flavored foods and drinks, I'm looking forward to the harvest festivals, bonfires on chilly nights, color-filled landscapes and some of the best fishing action of the year.
Water temperatures are dropping right on schedule and I believe this weekend's northwest blow should really getting things going. As of 1 PM on October 15, 2015, the Atlantic City monitoring station checked in at 64.6 degrees while Cape May's station reported 67.3 degrees. Some of the coastal backwaters and many of our freshwater lakes and ponds have already dipped into the 50s.
Chilly Morning on the Water
Striped bass reports are picking up in our area as many of the resident fish become more active. The bulk of the migratory fish were last reported working their way down from Montauk and towards the South Shore of Long Island, New York. Sandy Hook, New Jersey reports are beginning to trickle in and should continue to improve as the weekend approaches. Further south, from Island Beach State Park to Cape May, fishing action has been a little slower, but a few quality fish are beginning to show up. The resident stripers will keep me busy for another week or two before I take the ride north to look for some blitz-like action. As each season passes, it seems like the South Jersey striper season occurs a little later in the year – look for more widespread, serious action to take place in November.
While waiting for numbers of striped bass to return to our local waters, there are many other great fishing opportunities available. The trout trucks will be visiting our portion of the state early next week. Even though the state doesn't stock as many waterways as they do in the spring, the quality of the trout more than makes up for it. These big, beautiful rainbow trout aren't receiving the attention they deserve. I understand they're stocked fish, but fooling the big rainbows can be both challenging and rewarding. The fall stocking information below was copied from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife's website:
Tuesday, October 20
ATLANTIC & CUMBERLAND COUNTIES • Giampetro Park Pond - 170 • Hammonton Lake - 340 • Mary Elmer Lake - 170 • Maurice River - 400
BURLINGTON, CAMDEN & GLOUCESTER COUNTIES • Crystal Lake - 170 • Grenloch Lake - 170 • Oak Pond - 170 • Sylvan Lake - 170
Wednesday, October 21
GLOUCESTER & SALEM COUNTIES • Greenwich Lake - 170 • Iona Lake - 170 • Schadlers Sand Wash Pond - 170 • Swedesboro Lake - 170
MIDDLESEX & MERCER COUNTIES • Colonial Lake - 170 • Roosevelt Park Pond - 170 • Rosedale Lake – 170
A Fall of 2014 South Jersey Rainbow Trout
I'm looking forward to next week's trout delivery, however I don't know if it can compare to the crazy panfish action I've experienced over the last two weeks. The bite has been so good it is almost unbelievable. Crappies and yellow perch are beginning to school up and if you can find a good piece of underwater structure, be prepared to catch fish all day long.
Having fished the nightshift for most of my life, I'm enjoying and appreciating fishing during daylight hours. While the nightshift certainly has its benefits, early-morning kayak trips provide both great visuals and fishing action. I arrive at the lake and paddle through a steam or water vapor that I refer to as smoke on the water. Mirror-calm conditions magnify the beautifully colored trees that surround many of our local waterways now. A curious and likely hungry eagle circles my kayak each morning as I pull fish after fish in from submerged structure. As I take in the entire experience, I can only explain it as magical.
Mirror Calm Mornings Are Especially Beautiful
After years of lugging around all kinds of fancy, expensive gear, I've streamlined my approach. On my last trip to the lake, I loaded my kayak, two fishing rods, a life vest, a paddle, a water bottle and a very small utility box of small jigs, floats and soft-plastic baits. Very little effort is needed for this simple type of fishing and it makes the experience even more enjoyable.
All Smiles on a Perfect Fall Morning
Fishing for crappie and yellow perch isn't very complicated, as they seem to hit just about any small bait selection. I've experimented with a bunch of different tactics and continue to learn on each and every trip. While you can learn from trips in which no fish were caught, I find I learn much more when lots of fish are present. I've experimented with retrieves, colors, lure selections, and floats over the last few trips. I found that I can catch fish on just about any offering, but some offerings worked better than others. Of all the techniques I tried, my go-to weightless Berkley Gulp 3 and 4-inch minnows provided the best results. Small, brightly colored jigs (I like using Trout Magnets) in sizes 1/32 to 1/64 also worked extremely well, especially fished under a float.
This Slab Crappie Fell for a Trout Magnet
The key to catching wasn't so much about what type of retrieve I chose or what type or color offering I selected. It was all about location. If there was some type of structure in more than three-feet of water, fish would be there and in many cases, they'd be schooled up in impressive numbers. Fine tuning my lure selections and retrieves allowed me to boat a few more fish, but I'm certain I could have caught some fish with a bare hook.
This Yellow Perch Qualifies for the State's Skillful Angler Award and Completes My Panfish Slam
There are times when I appreciate a challenge, but sometimes it's nice to sit back and just have fun. If your idea of a good time is simply catching loads of fish on a beautiful day, it's time to hit the water!
I'm not going to sugarcoat it; it's been a tough two weeks for coastal anglers. Constant northeast winds continue to take a toll on our seaside fishing, beaches and property owners. While we were fortunate to dodge Hurricane Joaquin, I don't think many of the barrier island's property owners feel so lucky after this weekend's moderate to major flooding event that occurred on multiple high tides. Water in the streets is one thing, but our beaches took a real hit and the back bay flooding was some of the worst we've seen in years, highlighted by a home on Grassy Sound falling into the water and drifting south under the bridge before getting stuck near the mouth of Turtle Creek.
Fortunately, it appears there is light at the end of the tunnel. The sun is out this morning and the winds are beginning to relent. A look at the long-range forecast seems promising, as it appears we're shifting to a more stable weather pattern with winds from the west later this week. Our coastal water temperatures were a little over 70 degrees before the weekend blow, but as of noon today, they've dipped to 63 degrees in Atlantic City and 64 degrees in Cape May. Decent weather and falling water temperatures should allow for things to get back to normal, including our fall fishing.
While I prefer the saltwater scene this time of year, I don't mind retreating to the sweetwater once in a while, especially during long periods of northeast wind. August and September were extraordinarily dry and many of our shallow lakes and ponds were running low and stagnant. Many of the little lakes and ponds I frequent seem unaffected by wind and actually benefitted from the coastal storm. The welcome rain brought life back to many of our local waters and the fish responded on cue.
With my fishing options limited by the weather, I stopped by a few of the nearby waterways I haven't visited since the spring. The lakes and ponds were a little stirred up from the recent rains, but the fish didn't seem to mind. Largemouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch and sunfish cooperated, but the crappie bite was unbelievable. I lost count of crappies after catching one on every cast for fifteen casts. After unsuccessfully chasing South Jersey unicorns (redfish) for the last two weeks, the great crappie bite was much appreciated.
Crappies on every cast!
I can't explain my fondness for crappies, but there's something special about catching them that I enjoy immensely. They certainly aren't the greatest fighters and they don't reach gigantic proportions, but if you can figure them out, the action they provide is unmatched. More than anything else, I appreciate crappies because they fill a niche. In January when there is nothing else going on, I have crappies. In the spring before the striped bass, bluefish and weakfish show up, I have crappies. In the fall while we're waiting for striped bass and bluefish to migrate into our neighborhood, I have crappies. A coastal storm with winds gusting to 50 MPH, I have crappies.
It's always calm at the crappie pond.
Perhaps the biggest draw to crappie fishing is how great of a time you can have with so little time or money invested. For me, it's about an hour commute to the beach. Do I want to drive an hour each way to catch 18 to 26-inch striped bass in snotty conditions? Sometimes, I do, but it is for this reason I appreciate a great bite close to home even more. This afternoon, my son Jake will come home. He'll get his homework done, grab a snack and we'll be fishing five minutes later. Tackle selection is uncomplicated and inexpensive. We each grab a rod, a few small soft-plastic baits, a float or two and we'll have fun bending rods until it gets dark.
Easy and Fun!
Don't get me wrong, I'm really looking forward to this year's fall run, but while things are settling down along the coast, I'll make do with the crappies. Freshwater fishing action in South Jersey is about as good as I can remember and to top it off, we'll be receiving a few truckloads of big rainbow trout in a couple weeks. Whatever you do, get those rods and reels ready - we have a lot to look forward to!
September is a transitional month that marks the end of the summer season and the start of autumn. Despite warm ocean temperatures, cool nights and dwindling daylight hours trigger the beginning of the fall migration. Hoards of baitfish move out of our backwater creeks and channels towards the inlet and out along the beachfront. Most seasons, mullet are one of the first species of baitfish to begin their fall migration and this year they seem to be moving out right on cue.
The mullet run is in full swing!
Timing the mullet migration isn't usually difficult. Mullet begin moving out of our back bays sometime between the end of August and the beginning of September. If calm and stable weather patterns are present, full and new moon phases usually get the mullet moving. This year's September new moon phase took place on Sunday, September 13 and the mullet responded accordingly. I spent the last few days fishing the coast from as far north as Island Beach State Park (IBSP) and to the south at Cape May Point – numbers of mullet were present at almost every jetty pocket along the way. The mullet should remain staged along our beachfront at least until the next full moon, which occurs this Sunday, September 27.
Inlets are a great place to find mullet.
Unfortunately, the recent onshore flow caused by a slow-moving, low-pressure system just off the Carolinas could make spotting any mullet difficult for the foreseeable future. Building seas and an increasing northeast wind will make conditions along our beachfront especially difficult this weekend as northeast winds are forecast to reach 20 to 30 MPH. I have a feeling this coastal storm will end the 2015 mullet run a little prematurely. I hope I'm wrong, but slow-moving, poorly timed coastal storms have a way of killing even the best of runs.
While I'm a little disappointed with the weekend forecast, I'm sure glad I spent the last few days chasing mullet in the surf. I don't know what it is about cast netting bait that I find so enjoyable, but I always feel like a little kid when I'm catching bait – at least until the next day when knee and shoulder pain bring me back to reality.
On a recent trip up to IBSP, balls of small bay anchovies, also known as rain bait, greeted us as soon as we made our way over the dunes. Diving gulls and balls of baitfish under attack really get the blood pumping. I spent a few hours casting into the melee, but only found snapper bluefish, mostly between 8 and 12 inches. The action and environment were great, but I had hopes for some bigger fish.
After playing with the tiny bluefish, we drove south to the inlet jetty. As expected the jetty looked like a small parking lot as cast netters were lined up in search of mullet. I watched as men threw their nets into the jetty pocket and along the inside of the inlet jetty with varied results. I decided to keep my net in the truck, as the amount of netters seemed to outnumber the amount of mullet. A few cast netters filled up while others came back empty time and time again. We fished our way back up the beach and caught a few more snappers before we packed it up for the day. It wasn't a great catching day, but it was a start.
Inlet Jetty Parking Lot
I decided to look for mullet again on Tuesday, September 22. Conditions were far from perfect, but the forecast seemed to be going downhill right through the upcoming weekend. With flood tides and a brisk 15 to 20 MPH northeast wind, I figured Cape May Point would offer the best conditions for fishing and cast netting mullet. As soon as I made my way over the dune, I felt the wind at my back and saw schools of mullet along the beach. I ran down to the beach and loaded up on mullet. The surf was a little higher than normal, but the mullet schools were packed between what's left of the small groins.
When conditions are right, it doesn't take long to fill the bait bucket.
After a few successful tosses of the cast net, I decided to live line a few mullet. Snapper bluefish, skates and tiny sea bass quickly attacked my baits. The snappers would bite the tail off and then the skates and sea bass would finish off the rest. A lone 16-inch summer flounder was my "catch of the day." I had hopes for a possible redfish, weakfish, striped bass or doormat fluke, but I didn't see or hear of much other than snapper blues. With my fill of small blues, I decided to put the rods down and go have some more fun with the cast net.
As high tide approached, the mullet were a little more difficult to spot in the big water, but they were thick – even my blind throws were coming back with a dozen or more mullet per throw. It didn't take long to fill a bait bucket with lively, 3 to 7-inch mullet. My bycatch consisted of mole and calico crabs, a couple snapper blues and a bunch of small 10 to 12-inch striped bass.
Cast Net Striper
With my fill of snapper bluefish and a bucketful of mullet, I headed for home. After the hour ride home, I took the bucket of mullet out back to my fish-cleaning table to sort and package for the freezer. The sizes of mullet varied a little more than I'm used to, about 3 to 7 inches. Usually, the mullet are a little more uniformed in size - between 4 and 6 inches. For live or frozen bait, I prefer fishing whole 4 to 5-inch mullet, but the 3-inch mullet should be perfect for the backwaters. I cut the 6-inch and larger baits into chunks for later use. In total, I bagged about twelve dozen, which should get me through most of the fall.
Rinsed and Ready to Pack for Freezing
In closing, I'd like to note that Cape May Point should not be overlooked when searching for mullet. Years ago, Hereford Inlet was my go-to mullet stop, but Cape May has provided a much more consistent catch over the last few seasons. If you think about it, it makes sense that the mullet would stage at the southernmost portion of our state before heading south for the colder months. If you plan on fishing this weekend, the west side of Cape May Point should offer an escape from the wind. I'd also like to take a moment to remind fellow cast netters to be responsible and only take what you need for bait. Let's hope this coastal storm doesn't hang around too long so we can get back on track.
September in South Jersey offers many things, but great fishing action isn't high on the list. Brilliant, sunny days and refreshing, cool nights stir thoughts of great fishing action and the fall run. The backwater creeks and sounds are filled with mullet, peanut bunker, silversides and a plethora of other young-of-the-year species. What more could you ask for?
To start, how about some cooler water temperatures? As of this writing, the coastal water temperature in Atlantic City is 72 degrees while Cape May's monitoring station checked in at balmy 76 degrees. With daytime air temperatures forecasted to be in the mid 80s for most of the upcoming week, I don't expect our water temps to drop anytime soon. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the bulk of the migratory fish are well to the north and if recent trends continue, we're at least a month away, maybe two.
I spent most of last week plying the waters of Cape May County. After a long summer of freshwater fishing, it sure felt good to taste the salt again. Backwater creeks, bridge pilings, fishing piers, shell beds and rock piles – this is where I belong. I started my scouting trip at some of my favorite bait holes and I wasn't disappointed. Peanut bunker was thick at each of my stops. With one toss of the net, I had more bait than I needed for the night. Equipped with live bait and a good outgoing tide, I fished a few bridges without much luck. Small sea bass, snapper bluefish and dogfish wouldn't leave my live baits alone. I switched over to a jig and soft-plastic bait and had to work for a few small striped bass. The action wasn't bad, but with so much bait around, I had high hopes.
The next morning, I drove around in search of mullet. My first few stops came up empty, but I found some good pods way in the back. After a few throws, I had enough mullet and decided to try the Cape May Point rock piles. Action was slow as it was tough to keep bait in the water – the crabs and snapper blues were relentless. I walked the beaches, but only found more of the same.
Searching for Mullet
I fell into the trap – the September in South Jersey trap. You'd think after all these years I'd know better. If you're a South Jersey angler, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about: baitfish all over, the first push of cool nights, social media reports from our northern buddies holding big striped bass – you want the fall run so bad you can taste it, but it's just not happening down here yet. I can remember a time when September offered great striped bass fishing, but the last few years just haven't been the same. I believe the summer-to-fall-fishing transition begins in our area right around Columbus Day weekend. Until then, it's probably best if you fish strictly at night or just enjoy the summer species while they're here. If you just can't wait to get in on the action, a road trip up to Montauk may be in order.
9/9/15 South Jersey Summer Striper
Ok, enough with what's not happening. As mentioned above, the weather is glorious, crowds are gone, baitfish are everywhere and there's still plenty of worthwhile summer-fishing opportunities. Summer flounder season remains open until September 26, 2015. Those big flatfish love mullet and we still have two weeks to bring home some fresh fluke fillets. Snapper bluefish are all over and offer steady action. With a little effort, you could fill a cooler with panfish such as kingfish, croakers, and spot. Late-season crabbing usually provides some of the best action of the year. Freshwater fishing action is also good, especially for largemouth bass and crappies.
We have a lot to look forward to in the coming weeks. Striped bass and big bluefish are the big draw, but freshwater trout fishing should not be overlooked. I miss the big brookies the Division used to stock, but the big rainbows will be fun, too. Approximately 20,000 two-year old rainbow trout, averaging between 14 to 22 inches and 1.5 pounds to 8 pounds, will be stocked into our streams, rivers, ponds and lakes starting on October 13, 2015. Grab some spinners - those big trout are a lot of fun!
2014 Fall Rainbow Trout
Over the next few weeks, I look forward to chasing redfish at Cape May Point. I heard a few more reports of red drum this week and expect the catches to increase as we head towards the end of the month. Hopefully, a few speckled sea trout will show up too.
After last week's trip, I've learned to appreciate what we have, even if the fishing action is a little slow. The weather, water and coastal landscape is beautiful and there is no place I'd rather be.
With daytime highs in the 90s and another heat wave expected for the coming week, it's hard to believe we'll be flipping our calendars to September tomorrow morning. For many, Labor Day marks the unofficial end of the summer season and it's just a week away. Thousand of big, yellow buses will be on the road later this week as the kids head back to school and if you haven't noticed, the sun is setting a little earlier each day. Some of the local wildlife is already shifting gears – several species of birds and fish are already staging in preparation to make their fall migration. The writing is on the wall: enjoy what's left of summer because fall is right around the corner.
Sunsets Are a Little Earlier
As much as I enjoy the summer months, I'm looking forward to fall and everything that comes with it – well, everything but raking the yard. According to many of the long-range weather forecasts, it seems like we could be in store for a warm autumn. A late summer followed by a warm fall usually goes in one of two ways: a late run that last well into the new year or a late run that ends abruptly with coastal storms and frigid temps. In the part of South Jersey I fish the most, Atlantic City to Cape May, summerlike fishing patterns can last well into October. A September mullet run provides a little spark, but for the most part, we're left waiting for the striped bass and bluefish to make their way down from places like Montauk, Sandy Hook and Island Beach State Park.
A slow and calm transition from summer to fall usually bodes well for Cape May County specialty anglers whom target southern species such as speckled sea trout and redfish – my fingers are crossed! A few good sea trout seasons were followed up by a little boom in redfish catches in 2012 and 2013, but the 2014 season turned out to be a big bust – I blame the frequent cold fronts for cutting our season short. If the weather cooperates, the specks and redfish fill a niche for many of us as we wait for the bass and bluefish.
Let's hope some redfish show up for this year's mullet run!
With coastal water temperatures at 74 degrees in Atlantic City and 79 degrees in Cape May, I haven't put much time in lately. However, fishing reports are picking up a little and I plan on making a few scouting trips later this week. Mullet and peanut bunker schools are popping up all over our backwaters so it makes sense that our resident striped bass, weakfish, bluefish and summer flounder are becoming more active.
It's time to dig out the cast nets!
Back at home, I've been busy with end of the summer activities such as fishing with Jake, family reunion barbeques, school shopping and becoming a grandpa! Addison Lee Ruczynski came into the world on August 16th and checked in at 8 pounds, 6 ounces and 20 inches – a keeper for sure! Addison is a real cutie and I'm already looking forward to having another little fishing buddy!
She's a keeper!
In between the excitement of a new family member, Jake and I have been hitting the local ponds and lakes. For the most part, fishing action has been a little slow as many of the local waterways we frequent are low and crystal clear. I believe I heard something in passing about this August being one of the driest on record – we haven't had much rain in quite some time. Small pickerel and largemouth bass are providing some action, but we're working for them. I enjoyed freshwater fishing this summer, but I really miss the salt life. I'm looking forward to mornings on the beachfront and nights in the backwaters.
In other news, I'm expecting my 2015 Striped Bass Bonus Program Permit (SBBP) any day now. The original message from New Jersey's Fish and Wildlife page stated that current 2015 permit holders would receive their new permits by September 1st, however it appears the notice was updated recently and now states, "All current permit holders received notice that the old 2015 permits are no longer valid and will automatically receive a new permit prior to or shortly after September 1, 2015." As of September 1, the new (SBBP) regulations will be: one striped bass between 24 and 28 inches. I'm fairly certain taking a permitted "slot fish" along with regulations allowing the general public one striped bass at 28 inches to less than 43 inches and one striped bass over 43 inches does little to protect our striped bass stocks. I'd feel a lot better about our regulations with the (SBBP) slot fish and one striped bass at 28 inches or greater. At this point, legally killing three stripers a day seems at the very least questionable. Just because our regulators don't use common sense doesn't mean that we can't. Please consider making your own sensible striped bass limits, within the law of course.
Don't hang up those rods and reels yet! If you don't mind riding the weather rollercoaster, there are still plenty of fishing opportunities in our area. After waking up to a coating of snow on my car this morning, it's hard to believe we hit 70 degrees yesterday afternoon. After a warm October and frigid November, I think it's fair to say the local fishing action was anything but predictable. After lots of ups and downs, it appears as though we have some normal weather heading our way and hopefully a few more fish to catch before the end of the season.
By most accounts, striped bass action along our stretch of the state, from LBI to Cape May, was especially poor for land-based anglers. Surfcasters caught a few fish, but action was nothing like it was a few years ago. Backwater anglers haven't fared much better. Lots of factors come into play: lack of fish, different migratory routes, and weather patterns are usually tops on the list. Whatever the case, my eyes tell me striper fishing just isn't what it used to be.
On the bright side, over the last few years, the month of December has offered some of the best striper action of the season. While most of the bait and tackle shops are wrapping it up, diehard anglers are cashing in on the late-season action. I've had some of my best fall outings during the first half of December. The bulk of the migrating fish are just off our coast; we just need a few schools to move in along the beachfront.
Boaters seem to be painting a much brighter picture of the fall run. The Delaware Bay striper bite may not have been record setting, but when the weather allowed, most of my bunker-chunking buddies returned to port with their limit of big bass. While the bay bite seems to be slowing down, trolling out front has been worthwhile for many anglers. Stretch 30s were hot this weekend as many anglers cashed in on the great late-season action.
Cameron Koshland with a pair of stripers he trolled up on 12/1/14.
Over the holiday weekend, I spent lots of time with family and still managed to sneak in a little fishing. Jake and I worked the nightshift on the back bays in search of stripers. Even though conditions were prime, many of my old honey holes just weren't holding fish. We fished a bunch of areas just before high water and had nothing to show for it. After covering a little ground, our last stop paid off. As soon as the water starting falling, the stripers started popping. The bass were schooled up in just inches of water along a shadow line. We tossed small jigs on light spinning gear and had a blast catching 18 to 28-inch stripers. The fish weren't as big as I'm used to and we had to work a little harder to find a bite, but the end result was the same: driving home with smiles on our faces.
Good times with Jake
Before the holidays, my experiences on the back bays weren't much different. Most of my trips consist of driving around to find a school or two of mostly 18 to 24-inch fish. After years of outstanding fishing, it's not easy to appreciate the new normal. I've tried to make the best of it by joining the American Littoral Society's tagging program. Tagging the small stripers is easy and I enjoy the feedback when another angler returns a tag. I'll cover a little more about tagging over the winter months.
I've been busy tagging short stripers
When I didn't have time to make the ride to the coast, I hit the local lakes and ponds. With skim ice present a few times, I wondered how long my freshwater fishing opportunities would last, but with the recent warm up it looks like I'll be fishing well into the new year. Fishing for largemouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch and crappie has been very good. The state also stocked a few of the local lakes with good numbers of 10 to 12-inch trout. The smaller trout haven't received much attention so they should provide some action-packed fishing opportunities throughout the winter months.
On Monday, I spent most of the day fishing with my daughter, Julia. With a forecast high near 70 degrees, it was a perfect day to hit the local waterways. Julia is 18 and usually very busy so we don't get to spend as much time together as we used to. It was great having my little redheaded fishing buddy back even though I'm pretty sure I'll be suckered into some time at the mall in the very near future. We stopped by Blackwater Sports Center and picked up a few dozen minnows. On our way back from the shop we fished a bunch of lakes and ponds until we ran out of bait. Pickerel and crappie provided most of the action, but we caught a few small bass too. I prefer to fish the salt, but the freshwater action is tough to beat, especially during the winter months.
"This is so much better than the mall!"
On a side note, I'd like to mention a little about our weekend training for the Hooked on Fishing – Not on Drugs Program at the Lighthouse Center for Natural Resources in Waretown. My wife, Jen, and I plan on starting our own program to get kids outside and away from drugs. The state's Hooked on Fishing – Not on Drugs (HOFNOD) Program offers the public a tremendous amount of resources to get started. We had a great time and learned a lot during our weekend stay. If you have a little free time and would like to help some of the neighborhood kids, please consider starting your own HOFNOD group.
Good luck to the big-hearted people we met at the HOFNOD Training Program!
With another fall run just around the corner, I think it's the perfect time to talk about our beloved striped bass. The plain truth is fishing for striped bass isn't nearly as good as it was just a few years ago. For many of us in South Jersey, the fall run almost seems like a dream now. I don't know about you, but I find myself driving a little further north every fall season to get in on the type of action I desire and even when I'm fortunate enough to I find it, the bite is usually short lived and unpredictable.
Heaven on Earth
As concerned anglers, the first thing we need to do is decide if we have a problem. Those booming striper years were great, but is it really supposed to be like that every season? While fishing for stripers may not be what it was a few years ago, it seems far from a crash. Our best science tells us there has been a slight drop in biomass numbers, but the Chesapeake's 2011 spawning year class is the 5th highest on record; this strong year class should mature by 2019 at the latest. I question much of our "best science" and usually feel more comfortable relying on my own eyes.
Before 2011, I felt comfortable with our seemingly modest two-fish bag limit and protected federal waters. Honestly, not that long ago, I wondered if we we're actually erring on the side of extreme conservation. That time passed when I saw the massacre of the 2011 fall season. I spent my days and nights fishing a little further north at Island Beach State Park (IBSP.) Clouds of sand eels had what seemed like every striper in the ocean off IBSP. The fishing action was unbelievable with as many 26 to 38-inch linesiders as you wanted. As word got out, the normally peaceful, natural beach turned into a traffic-jammed nightmare. Surfcasters were COMING DOWN from MONTUAK. Rods lined miles of beachfront; at times it was difficult to squeeze in anywhere along the park. As if that wasn't enough, you could walk on the boats lined up from Manasquan to Long Beach Island even on the weekdays. Everyone caught fish and many took home their limit including yours truly.
Limits for everyone!
By the time the holidays came and the bite died off, I sat back and reflected on the great fishing action. At first, I felt privileged to take part in such an amazing bite. If you could put that type of action in a bottle, I'd be happy for the rest of my years. Part of me began to wonder if I'd ever be fortunate enough to experience another fall run like that. Then, I started to wonder about how many fish were removed from the biomass that fall season. Hundreds, if not thousands, of fish were removed everyday for at least a month. How could this bode well for the future?
To me, the 2011 season at IBSP is a microcosm of the bigger coast-wide fishery. Whenever a fishery does well, it attracts attention. The better the fishing action, the higher the number of angler participation. Years ago, when striper fishing was poor, angler participation was low which allowed the fishery to gain some momentum. Today, angler participation seems to be at an all-time high and I'm concerned that a two-fish bag limit may actually be hurting the fishery. Other than a week or two here and there, my experiences tell me we're in trouble.
How do they stand a chance?
Personally, when I'm faced with a problem, I ask myself a few questions. First, how can I fix the problem? If I can't solve the problem, I'd like to make the situation a little better and if I cant figure that out, at the very least, I'll come up with a way to not allow the situation to get worse. If I can figure out the problem, I'll follow up with: how can we stop the problem from happening again? This seems reasonable to me.
I've come to the conclusion that fishing for striped bass could be better and I'm ready to do something about it. I attended the hearing in Galloway concerning the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Draft Addendum IV to Amendment 6 to the Atlantic Striped Bass Interstate Fishery Management Plan. It was nice to run into a few old friends, but I was disappointed by the small turnout. We spoke about benchmarks, fishing mortality and things like the spawning stock biomass. After the presentation, the general consensus seemed in favor of cutting our total harvest by 25%. Several anglers preferred the selections in the Option B Section, some of which allow a one fish bag limit for the 2015 season. I'm going on record in favor of Option B1, which calls for a one fish bag limit and a 28-inch minimum size limit; this selection is expected to reduce the 2013 harvest by 31%.
It's not too late to be heard! You have a variety of options. For NJ anglers, there is a meeting on September 15 from 7 to 9 PM at Toms River Town Hall, L. M. Hirshblond Room, 33 Washington Street, Toms River, NJ. For more information call Russ Allen at (609) 748-2020. If you're from PA, you can attend a meeting on September 17 at 6 PM at the Silver Lake Nature Center, 1306 Bath Road, Bristol, PA. For more information, call Eric Levis at (717) 705-7806. If you cant make the meetings, public comment will be accepted until 5 PM on September 30, 2014. Forward comments to Mike Waine, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland Street, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201 or you can fax Mike at (703) 842-0741, email at email@example.com or call (703) 842-0740.
Wow, what can you say about the lovely weather we had this weekend? The sad truth is that it's not looking much better as we head into the end of November. After today's 40-mph winds, a nor'easter is due to blast our coastline on Tuesday and continues into Wednesday, followed by another shot of hard northwest wind and more frigid temperatures. To top it off, the December long-range forecast looks to be filled with additional below-average air temperatures. If the current trend continues, I think the South Jersey fall run may come to an end before it ever really started. I hope I'm wrong, but it's not looking good.
I think most anglers would agree that it's been slow for those of us that fish from Long Beach Island to Cape May. About ten days ago, we had some strong blowout tides and things have been slow to recover ever since. I've been out day and night and while I'm finding some fish here and there, it's been far from what we've come to expect from our fall striper run. In areas where I'm used to catching five to ten bass in a few hours, I feel lucky to have two or three on the end of the line.
On the bright side, a little further to the north, boaters and surfcasters reported some better action. Earlier this week, anglers fishing around Island Beach State Park enjoyed some solid action. I, like many anglers, grew tired of waiting for the stripers to visit our area so I headed up to IBSP to get in on the hot bite.
With a tip from a friend, I walked on to the beach at 5 AM and had birds and stripers busting on sand eels in front of me for hours. I caught a bunch of fish in a short amount of time and enjoyed every moment of it. Does it get any better than watching the sunrise over the ocean with a bent rod and a school of hungry stripers in front of you? Not for me, I was in heaven! I caught most of my fish on metals and teasers, but needlefish plugs and Daiwa SP Minnows worked well, too.
First bass on my new Van Staal
By the next day, word of the great bite was out and most of the beach was shoulder to shoulder with surfcasters. Even with 100s of surfcasters on the beach, I still managed to put together a decent catch of solid striped bass. I thought to myself, this is what I've been waiting for!
Word of the hot bite spread quickly!
A return trip on Thursday morning saw more anglers and less fish. A stiff, east wind provided some beautiful white water, but it also cut into my casting distance. I felt lucky to land the one that I did. Since my last visit, the weather and fishing reports have gone downhill quickly.
A fall fatty, full of sand eels
Recently, one or two sources were laughed at for tossing the idea of, ‘The season might be over." out there. While I wouldn't go that far, I have to admit, I'm certainly concerned. A cold shot or two is normal for this time of year, but an extended cold period with a coastal storm mixed in could be a death blow. I sure hope my feeling is wrong; I was just starting to have fun.
With poor conditions for the weekend expected, I hit the South Jersey backwaters on Friday night as I thought it might be my last shot for any decent backwater action. I waited out the rain and hit a bunch of my favorite backwater fishing holes. Conditions were good, but I had to make a few moves before I found any action. I picked away at schoolie stripers during the falling tide and tagged a few more fish. You really have to work at it to put together any decent numbers of fish. I made the best of it and jigged up eight small stripers and drove home wondering if things were going to get much better from here on out? Over the last few season's some of our best action comes in December so I'm not giving up hope just yet.
A tagged fish right before release
My experience with tagging fish continues. I finished up my shipment of twenty lock-on tags and I'm trying the same number of spaghetti-style tags from the American Littoral Society. I've found the lock-on tags to be ten times more convenient. It's amazing how quickly you can apply a tag and release a fish with a little practice. The spaghetti-style tags require a little more effort, so once this batch is used, I'll be sticking with the lock-on tags. I'm still looking forward to receiving my first tag return.
Spaghetti-style tags from the ALS
Don't forget some of our local waters will receive a visit from the trout truck this week. I've included the stocking schedule below. For more information, please visit the NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife's website at http://www.njfishandwildlife.com.
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!
Trout fishing in South Jersey isn't like it used to be! Not long ago, if someone mentioned trout fishing, thoughts of 10 to 12-inch trout, overcrowded lakes, ponds, and streams came to mind. If you've fished on the opening day of trout season, you know what I'm talking about. I'm not knocking the spring fishery, but comparing the spring fishery to the fall fishery would be like comparing mice to men.
An Average Fall Brook Trout
The months of October and November offer South Jersey anglers incredible opportunities as super-sized trout are stocked into many of our local waterways. The fall and winter stockings consist of tackle-testing 14 to 24-inch brutes. Go ahead, bring your ultra-light combos loaded with 4-pound mono; these hook-jawed monsters will surely test your angling skills!
A Drag-Pulling Rainbow Trout
During the fall, I usually prefer saltwater fishing for striped bass, but with the recent coastal storms, I've decided to stay close to home at the local fishing holes. Whether I'm pounding the banks or out in the kayak, my time on the water has been incredibly enjoyable. Fishing for largemouth bass has been tough since the snow storm, but the trout fishing has been nothing short of outstanding.
The Calm After the Storm
I've enjoyed the great, fall-trout fishery since 2006, so I always make sure to circle the stocking dates on my calendar. As soon as I saw the date, I asked my 11-year-old son, Jake, if he'd like to tag along. He looked at me with the, "do you even have to ask" look and then came the difficult task of smoothing it over with mom as the stocking date fell on a school day. Not only did my lovely wife agree to let Jake play hookie, she decided to join us at the lake, too.
On the big day, we headed over to Hammonton Lake around 9:30 AM as the trout truck usually shows up between 10 and 11 AM. When we pulled up, I was happy to see just a few other anglers along the bank. Jake and I gathered our equipment and set up in a prime location. Over the next half-hour, we kicked around some rocks and talked about some of our other recent fishing trips. Before we knew it, the hatchery truck pulled up behind us and we watched in awe as the guys threw in trout after trout.
Raised with Pride!
Watching the big trout being tossed into the water was amazing, but we didn't waste any time; Jake and I started casting right away and it didn't take long for us to hook up. Usually, the trout are a little wary as they need to acclimate to the water, but not today! They were nailing spinners like they hadn't been fed in weeks. Big brookies, rainbows, and brown trout were swarming right in front of us and attacking just about anything we cast into the water. It was the best trout fishing action I've ever experienced and the fact that my son was there with me made it ten times more enjoyable! Watching Jake reel in those big brook trout will forever be etched in my memory.
Jake Had His Hands Full with This Brook Trout
A little later into the day, we were visited by NBC 40's reporter Sam Sweeney. He asked us a few questions about fishing and informed Jake and I that we'd likely be on the evening news. I fish often so I've seen my share of newspaper reporters while out on the water, but it was the first time I saw a television-news channel covering a local fishing event.
Soon after the reporter and cameraman left, I sat on the bank and thought to myself, "Could today get any better? Here I am enjoying a beautiful fall day with my wife and son, catching big trout after big trout, and now we're going to share our day on the news!" By the way, I set my DVR to record the 5:00, 5:30, 6:00, and 11:00 PM news and the "Gone Fishing" segment was a little different every time, but we had lots of face time; I still call Jake superstar.
The trout have thinned out a little since the fall stocking, but the trout trucks will be visiting our area again next week! Don't miss your chance to get in on the action! I know I'm looking forward to seeing those big rainbow trout. The 2012 winter trout stocking schedule for our area is as follows:
Tuesday, November 20
Atlantic County Birch Grove Park Pond - 180
Camden County Haddon Lake - 190 Rowands Pond - 100
Cape May County Ponderlodge Pond (Cox Hall WMA) - 160
Cumberland County Shaws Mill Pond - 200 South Vineland Park Pond - 160
It's a great time of year to get the family down to the beach. Daytime air temperatures are hovering around 75 degrees and the water temperature is close to the same. A baited hook isn't safe anywhere: the back-bay sounds, inlets, and ocean front are full of life!
After a long summer of freshwater fishing, I'm finally settling back into my regularly-scheduled night fishing routine and I haven't been disappointed. Schools of bait seem to be everywhere and there's been no shortage of weakfish, bluefish, summer flounder, or small striped bass. The weakfish action has been nothing short of amazing. All of my old weakfish holes are holding good numbers of 12 to 24-inch fish and we're even finding some weakies in places we never caught them before.
Fresh Weakfish Fillets
On the way home from one of our night-shift weakfish trips, my buddy, Dave, and I talked about getting our boys down to get in on the fun. A midnight trip would likely be frowned upon by their moms so we planned an all-day crabbing/fishing trip. We talked about these kinds of trips before, but this time we were going to make it happen.
On Saturday, Dave showed up at my house at 6AM; we packed up and headed for Stone Harbor. My son, Jake and Dave's son, Nate, were full of excitement and ready to go. On the way down, we visited The Girls Place for some fresh bunker and made a quick stop at Wawa for some snacks. We arrived at the pier around 7AM and immediately rigged up our crab traps.
One by one, we baited the cages with half of a fresh bunker and lowered them into the water. Dave showed me a little trick to keep the bunker attached to the cage. He used wire ties to fasten the bait to the cage. Two slits were cut into each bunker and then a wire tie was passed through each slit and fastened to the bottom of the cage. The baits stayed in place and lasted us the entire trip. The wire ties were extremely efficient; it was a great tip that I will surely remember on future trips.
Before long, the boys put their first keeper in the basket and we had a slow pick of small and keeper-sized crabs. Action started a little slow, probably because the proximity of high tide created very little water current. We could see the boys needed a little pick-me-up so Dave grabbed the cast net and started catching some small fish to keep them interested.
Little Boys with some Big Crabs
By the time they were done with the cast net, the water started moving out and the crabs were on the move. The boys had their hands full as they had a dozen cages to attend to. Besides crabs, they pulled up all kinds of things in the cages: tons of 4 to 6-inch spot, a handful of small sea bass, three juvenile black drumfish, a pair of oyster crackers, and a small fluke. The morning flew by and it was lunchtime before we knew it. We ended our morning crabbing trip with a little over two-dozen large blue claws and some big smiles.
A Great Morning
As you might imagine, we worked up quite an appetite so we headed up to Avalon to grab lunch at Brady's Hoagie Dock – Home of the Humongous Hoagie. I pass this place all the time on my overnight fishing trips and that humongous hoagie sign gets me every time. It was nice to finally be in the area during normal business hours. The service and sandwiches were great. I just wish I could have talked them into staying open for our late-night trips.
On the way to North Wildwood, we stopped at a few back bay and inlet areas to cast net some mullet, but we couldn't find any in the perennial hot spots; I'm sure low tide wasn't helping our efforts much either. After a quick stop to Jersey Bait and Tackle for some bloodworms and mullet, we headed for Hereford Inlet.
When we pulled up to seawall, I was surprised to see so many people fishing. After a minute of observation, I could see why it was so crowded, everyone was hooked up! No one was catching any large fish, but spot, kingfish, bluefish, blowfish, and summer flounder were keeping rods bent.
We rigged up and didn't waste any time getting in on the action. The boys didn't have to wait long before they were reeling in some nice-sized kingfish. Those bait-stealing spot made it tough to fish for anything else as they hit our bloodworm baits as soon as they hit the water. We threw out some cut mullet and the bluefish were all over it. A few minutes later, Dave and Nate found a school of hungry flatties right in the wash.
Nate with a Feisty Flatfish
As the sun was setting, I took a few minutes to soak it all in. I couldn't help but think about how lucky I was to be in this place sharing these experiences with my family and friends. It was certainly much more memorable than an afternoon at the park or in some movie theater. To me, this is what fishing is all about!
The month of September marks the end of the summer season and the beginning of autumn. Sweltering days spent sunbathing on the beach, attending family cookouts, and lounging by the pool quickly transitioned into early mornings on the school bus, hayrides, football games, and cool fall nights.
Back to School
Our three children started school last week. My oldest son, Frankie, just started college – boy, do I feel old! Julia is a sophomore in high school and Jake is enjoying his last year at the little, elementary school down the street.
I was privileged to spend much of the summer with our kids at the lake so they asked how I'd be spending my free time while they were attending school. I told them that I was going back to school, too! Of course, they looked at me like I had three eyes. I went on to explain that my school was about an hour away from home and I wouldn't need any teachers or text books: my school could be found along the coastal waters that surround Southern New Jersey and I had much to learn.
Weakies Gone Wild
My first class was up in Barnegat Bay where I had a weakfish assignment to complete. Fortunately, I'm very familiar with the waters and had a good plan to start my first day back on the right track. A stop at some hard structure looked promising as schools of bait fish were under attack. Usually, when I come across this type of visual activity, snapper bluefish will be feeding on the surface while weakfish, striped bass, and summer flounder can be found a little closer to the bottom. As luck would have it, I hooked into a beautiful 15-inch weakfish on my second cast. A buddy and I continued to work the area over with 3-inch Berkley Gulp baits attached to a 1/4-ounce jigs. We had a blast catching weakies in the 12 to 22-inch range as the bite continued well into the night. If this trip was a test, I aced it!
We returned to the same location over the next few nights and found similar results each time. Feeling confident that we could catch fish, we branched out a little more into Barnegat Bay to see if the weakfish were as thick as we suspected. A few stops along unfamiliar areas revealed that the weakfish were thick all over the bay: each location was choked with bait and hoards of spike weakfish, along with school striped bass, snapper bluefish, and undersized fluke. In my opinion, the bay looks as healthy as I've ever seen it and the weakfish numbers seem to rival those of the old glory days.
Dave McKinney with a Barnegat Bay Beauty
After a day off to catch up on sleep, my next class was scheduled a little further south to see how the fishing action was behind Seven-Mile Island. At first sight, I knew we would be just as pleased as we were during our Barnegat Bay trips. Enormous schools of peanut bunker were churning water in what seemed like every direction. Bluefish worked the top of the water column while 12 to 20-inch weakfish waited below and eagerly attacked our jigs. Hungry, spike weakfish seem to be just about everywhere now and I'm captivated by the potential of the fishery. After years of decline, it's great to see good numbers of weakfish again!
I learned much over the last few days, much more than I could have in any classroom. The weakfish bite is far better than I could have possibly imagined. Small 3-inch baits received much more attention than my old-standby, 5-inch, soft-plastic baits. The outgoing tide seems to produce a little more action at most locations and the weakfish bite was a little more subtle during the new moon phase. Massive schools of bait fish should keep plenty of fish around over the next few weeks and make for an action-packed fall run. Why couldn't school be this much fun?