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.
Wow, we've come a long way since two weeks ago when I posted my last blog entry. Before the recent warm up, most of us were beginning to wonder if winter would ever end as we set record lows and struggled to reach 40 degrees for daytime highs. I don't think anyone could have imagined such a change in the weather pattern: from 30s and 40s to 80s and 90s? I still have a hard time believing the mercury hit 90 degrees on Wednesday afternoon. This type of up-and-down weather rollercoaster usually makes for unpredictable fishing action, but the recent spike in air temps may have been just the kick start we needed to get things going!
Like most anglers, I have striped bass on my mind, but I've been spending most of my free time chasing pre-spawn largemouth bass and brook trout. Over the last few days, freshwater action exploded and it's been tough to pull myself away from the great action. The warm up has been much more noticeable for inland residents than it has for our coastal residents. On Wednesday afternoon, a little sea breeze dropped air temps into the low 50's while it was close to 90 degrees in most of our inland towns. I choose to enjoy the summer-like weather at my local lakes and ponds in shorts and t-shirts versus throwing on a hooded sweatshirt and heading to the chilly coast in search of linesiders.
Inland versus Coastal Temperature
Last Saturday, April 6, marked the opening day of trout season in New Jersey. Trout season is in full swing as many of our local lakes, ponds, and rivers have been inundated with brook, rainbow, and brown trout. Since the initial preseason stocking, many of the same bodies of water have already received their second round of fish. Some of my favorite venues will be stocked again next week, April 15 - 19 and then one more time during week 3, April 22 – 26. There's plenty of trout for everyone!
NJ Trout Stocking
John Jones with a Big Brown Trout
Fortunately, I live in an area that's surrounded by lakes and ponds, many of which are stocked by the state. The same waters that resembled a mob scene on opening day are often quiet and peaceful on the restocking dates. I enjoyed fishing at three different lakes in the last three days and the trout action was great at each stop. To be honest, most of the recently stocked fish are on the small side, but I truly enjoy tossing spinners to those beautiful, little brook trout.
Brook Trout - Speckled Jewels
Before the trout stole my attention, I kept busy with largemouth bass and chain pickerel. After years of bugging my buddy, Dave, to try a kayak trip, we finally made it happen. On Monday, we loaded up the little plastic boats and made our way to Black Water Sports Center to pick up some minnows. I had plans to hit Willow Grove Lake as I figured the shallow water would warm quickly making it a great time to fish the massive stump fields.
Just minutes from the shop, we arrived at the lake and readied the yaks for a day on the water. I had fished Willow Grove from the shoreline, but never from a kayak, so I didn't have any experience to share with Dave about the lake. As we entered the lake, neither of us could believe how cold the water felt, but we continued on with high hopes. Dave paddled around for a few minutes and quickly got the feel of the kayak. We paddled up one side of the lake and never found more than a foot of water, but we did see lots of small pickerel shooting along the flats. We caught a few toothy chains and then moved along in hopes of finding deeper water and some largemouth bass.
Plenty of Pickerel
As it turned out, we never found deeper water, but we did find plenty of hungry bass! Dave and I placed our kayaks on the edge of the stump field and watched as hungry bass and pickerel exploded on 6 to 8-inch shiners. Hooking 2 to 5-pound bass in inches of water makes for a great fight and some incredible visuals: when you're sitting in a kayak and a bass jumps, its right at eye level. As the day went on, the wind picked up a little, but we continued to catch fish steadily throughout the afternoon.
Hefty Largemouth Bass
Dave handled the kayak like a pro and we caught lots of fish, but that was only part of the experience. While on the water, we witnessed some great sites: turtles sunned themselves, great egrets and blue herons stalked the shallows, ospreys dove into the water to grab pickerel, and a small flock of swans flew overhead for most of the day. It was a trip neither of us will soon forget and a sure sign that spring has sprung!
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