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.
In South Jersey, our warmest weather usually occurs between late July and early August. With recent air temperatures approaching triple digits, it's safe to say the "dog days" are upon us. Fishing during this time of year can be quite difficult and in some cases even dangerous. When air temperatures are forecast to reach the 90s, it's 90+ degrees in the shade and quite a bit warmer in the sun. The unbearable heat isn't just uncomfortable for anglers; it also takes a toll on most species of fish. With a little planning, you can feel much more comfortable on the water and continue to keep those rods bent.
When trying to beat the heat, a few options quickly come to mind: fish during the early morning, evening and nighttime hours. These simple choices will offer the most enjoyable fishing conditions – it's also likely the fish will be a bit more cooperative during these times, too. If you're fishing during lowlight conditions, you can leave the sunscreen at home, but remember to bring the bug spray – those South Jersey mosquitos will carry you away!
As a kayaker, this time of year can be especially daunting. Loading your kayak and paddling requires a little more physical effort, which can exacerbate the effects of the hot, summer sun. To combat the heat, I usually don't push my limits, dress in light-colored clothing and pack lots of cold water.
The simple items listed above are usually enough to enjoy the hottest of days on the water, however there are a few extra steps to make summer fishing trips even more comfortable. I've found a few other cooling options that work wonders. Some of the new fabric technologies are mind blowing. One of these products is the Columbia Freezer Zero Neck Gaiter. The neck sleeve is extremely versatile as it can be worn in a variety of ways, provides sun protection, comfort, and cooling properties. A little sweat actually makes the Omni-Freeze Zero material feel cool against your skin. I was one of those guys that said, "I'd never where on of those face buffs." Now, I don't leave home with out it.
Feeling cool on a hot July day.
Armed with my hot-weather gear and enough bottled water to fill a swimming pool, I hit a bunch of lakes this week. I took the kayaks out to a few of my favorite venues and visited a couple new bodies of water. The unfamiliar waters looked fishy, but my efforts came up small with just a few fish for the day. Fortunately, my go-to waters have been much more productive. Fishing action has been great despite the height of the summer heat.
The heat hasn't slowed the fishing action!
I've put together a pretty successful routine and I'm going to stick with it for as long as it lasts. My day starts early – usually, I'm on the water by 6:30 AM. I begin fishing the flats and weed edges with a yellow perch-colored Rapala Shadow Rap Shad. Largemouth bass, chain pickerel, crappies, sunfish and yellow perch seem to love the Shadow Rap Shad. Rapala lists the Shadow Rap Shad at 3/8 ounce, 3.5 inches in length, and a diving depth of 3 to 4 feet. I fish the lure with an erratic, jerky retrieve and it seems to hang around a depth of 1 to 3 feet, which is perfect for many of our weedy, shallow South Jersey waters. Rapala describes the Shadow Rap Shad's action as, "Swims with horizontal struggle. Slow rise on the pause. Perfectly mimics a shad in trouble." Their description is dead on – the action on this lure is remarkable and it drives fish crazy!
The Rapala Shadow Rap Shad getting it done!
Around 10 AM, the lily pads draw my attention as largemouth bass begin to explode on the many types of dragonflies that flutter just above the water's surface. Usually by this time, I've had my fun with the little, yellow perch-colored Rapala and I'm ready to switch it up. I used to fish frogs, but lately, I've been throwing the Doomsday Turtles with great results. I rig the turtle with a small, lightweight hook so it sinks slowly on the pause. It skitters across the water perfectly as the four curly legs ripple the surface of the water. If the fish aren't aggressive, I'll slow down my retrieve and pause in the open pockets of water just long enough for the turtle to sink a little and the bass crush it! By the time I'm done working over the lily pad fields, the sun is high and I'm paddling back to my car with a smile on my face.
It's a bad day to be a bass!
My son, Jake, has been out with me often. On our last trip, he hooked a decent largemouth bass on his very first cast. It's a joy watching him improve his knowledge and techniques. Now, Jake goes his own way and works over waters that look fishy to him. He was rewarded with a beautiful 24-inch pickerel – a new personal best for my little fishing buddy! We had a great trip even though it was 90 degrees.
Jake had his hands full with this one!
August looks like it's going to begin with a little break from the extreme heat. Midweek highs are forecast in the low to mid 80s and Jake and I are planning a three-day fish camp at Parvin State Park. We fished at Parvin about the same time last year and had one of the best open-water crappie bites I've ever experienced. We're hoping for a repeat and a couple bass wouldn't hurt either. Don't let the "dog days" get the best of you – there are plenty of fish to catch!
The new Pokémon Go app seems to be taking the world by storm. Just in case you're not up on the latest craze, Wikipedia states, "Pokémon Go is a free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile game developed by Niantic for iOS and Android devices. It was released in most regions of the world in July of 2016. Making use of the GPS and the camera of compatible devices, the game allows players to capture, battle, and train virtual creatures, call Pokémon, who appear on device screens as though in the real world." Sounds like a blast right?
Admittedly, my little knowledge of Pokémon comes from my children. My oldest son, Frankie, absolutely loved all things Pokémon. I'd like to thank him for engraving Pikachu, Poké balls and the cartoon's theme song into my brain forever…
"I wanna be the very best Like no one ever was To catch them is my real test To train them is my cause
I will travel across the land Searching far and wide Teach Pokémon to understand The power that's inside
Pokemon! (Gotta catch ‘em all), it's you and me I know it's my destiny (Pokémon!) Ooh, you're my best friend In a world we must defend Pokémon (Gotta catch ‘em all), a heart so true Our courage will pull us through You teach me, and I'll teach you Po-ké-mon (Gotta catch ‘em all!) Gotta catch ‘em all! Pokémon!"
It's the kind of jingle that you just can't shake – even fifteen years later. Thanks Frankie!
Wanting to see what the hubbub was about, I downloaded the new Pokémon Go app - more out of curiosity than anything else. A few minutes later, I captured a Charmander in my living room. I learned a little more about the game and decided it wasn't for me. I understand why some people may enjoy the game, but I have some of my own very real Pokémon to catch. It just so happens that all my characters have fins!
Even though I'm not into the new fad, I can appreciate the many ways the pocket monster's game relates to fishing. Right off the bat, the tag line in the chorus "Gotta catch ‘em all" is right up our alley – as anglers we can appreciate that. The Poké balls strangely resemble bobbers and both are used as an aid in catching our quarry – the Poké balls are red on top and white on the bottom while many of our plastic floats are white on top and red on the bottom. In most scenarios, each of us is searching for the largest, strongest and most rare of Pokémon/fish species. Many of our targets require an intimate knowledge of the Pokémon/fish species in order to be successful. The more you think about it, catching fish is a lot more like catching Pokémon than not. Maybe we can make fishing the new craze?
Gotta Catch 'Em All!
Can you imagine if fishing was as popular as the new Pokémon Go app? There seems to be a lot of pros and cons to anything that becomes so wildly popular. Most of us are aware of the pros – entertainment value and monetary benefits quickly come to mind, but some of the cons include some real horror stories. Over the last week, some of the news stories are mind blowing: trespassing, robberies, and assaults – all while hunting for virtual pocket monsters? To top it off, I just read a story about an 18-year-old shot dead while playing the Pokémon Go game near Guatemala City – police found twenty bullet casings at the scene of the murder. Maybe we're better off if fishing doesn't become the next craze?
Meanwhile, back in my little part of the world, it seems like the dog days of summer are here to stay. With air temperatures nearing triple digits, fishing action has slowed down considerably. We're still catching fish, but mostly 14 to 16-inch bass - the big girls just aren't eating like they were a few weeks ago.
When I'm not looking for trophy fish, I like to take my kayak out into the lily pad fields. July's bright sunshine and intolerable heat sends the bass looking for cover and the pads offer shade much like the umbrellas we use on the beach. Sometimes the bass can be a little sluggish, but they still have a difficult time passing up a well-placed cast.
Summer Fun On My Wilderness Systems ATAK
Recently, I've been on a bit of a top-water fishing kick. I started with frogs as I've always enjoyed froggin' the pads. The only complaint I have about the frogs is the amount of missed hits – some days, my blowup-to-hookup ratio is unacceptable. I needed to change it up.
Topwater fishing in the pads is a blast!
A few weeks back, my daughter's boyfriend, John, passed along a pack of Doomsday Turtles and I was dying to use them – thanks John! To tell you the truth, I thought they were a little gimmicky, but I wanted to test them out to see how well they worked. To my surprise, my hook-up ratio soared and I landed nearly all of the fish that blew up on the turtle. The Doomsday Turtle is mostly flat so it rides over the pads easily and if I want to drop it into open water areas, between the pads, it sinks just slow enough to trigger the less-aggressive fish. So far, I am thoroughly impressed with the turtles. Another great tool added to my "Gotta catch ‘em all" quest!
Did you ever wonder if you caught the same fish more than once, twice, three times or more? If you fish the same waters enough, wouldn't you think it's likely to come across the same fish at least a few times during their lifetimes? For years, I suspected I had been catching at least a few fish over and over again, but without any identifiers, I had no hard proof.
Wanting to understand fish behavior a little more, I became a member of the American Littoral Society's Fish Tagging Program - the largest volunteer, saltwater fish-tagging program in the United States. I don't tag every fish I catch, as circumstances aren't always conducive to fish tagging, but I tag my share. Most of the fish I tag are striped bass. As you may imagine, receiving my first tag return made my day. With tag returns coming from as far as Maine, I thought the odds of me recapturing a saltwater fish with access to the Atlantic Ocean would be much less than recapturing a largemouth bass in a small pond.
From the Delaware River to Maine!
As luck would have it, last fall while fishing a midnight tide, it happened - I caught a small resident striped bass with a bright yellow tag attached. It turned out it was a fish I tagged just a few weeks ago. I finally had my proof! If I could catch the same fish in a backwater channel with access to the ocean, surely I could catch the same largemouth bass in a small neighborhood pond.
On December 11, 2015 I caught this striped bass for the second time.
Flash forward to June 8, 2016. I caught a beautiful 20-inch largemouth bass with a distinguishable spot on its tail. Last Tuesday, July 5, I caught the same 20-inch fish in the same location with the same spot on its tail. I wondered if I had caught this fish before. After comparing the recent photo, I had my proof.
A largemouth bass with a spot on its tail was caught on June 8, 2016
The same spot-tail bass was caught again on July 5, 2016
I fish a lot and I think about fishing even more. If you're like me, you know what I'm talking about. If not, feel free to call me a fishing geek. With the recent recapture of a fish I caught a little less than a month ago, I began wondering how many times I could catch the same fish in a lifetime, year, month, week or day? Without some type of identifier, it would be nearly impossible for me to distinguish one 16-inch bass from another.
A couple days passed before I received a daily update from Timehop – an app on my iPhone that shows me pictures and posts from the same date of prior years. Technology is great right? As it turns out, on July 8, 2015, I see myself holding the very same, but somewhat smaller spot-tail bass in the same location. This photo put me over the top and my wheels have been spinning ever since.
The same spot-tail bass was caught almost exactly a year before.
The saltwater fish-tagging programs offer a ton of valuable information so why aren't we doing the same with freshwater species? With the current technology available to most anglers, we could do amazing things to improve our understanding of many types of fisheries. The possibilities I'm considering seem endless!
In my opinion, fish tagging promotes catch and release practices even more. It is through these types of experiences that we can truly appreciate catch and release fishing - a fish can only be caught a second time if it was released the first time. I also see fish tagging as another tactic to introduce young anglers to fishing – a fish with your tag in it gives you a vested interest in that particular fish.
I'll see you again soon!
With little information available regarding freshwater fish tagging in New Jersey, my first hurdle will be acquiring a fish-tagging permit from the state. After some research, I found this paragraph in the 2016 Freshwater Fishing Digest concerning fish tagging "No person may tag or mark and then release a fish without first obtaining a fish stocking permit or by special permit issued by Fish and Wildlife. Contact the bureau of Freshwater Fisheries for application information." I'm hoping to meet whatever requirements the state has for issuing permits for fish tagging. I'll follow up with a phone call or two to the state early next week and keep you posted. Wish me luck!
Can you believe we're halfway through the 2016 fishing season? The first six months flew by, but not without some decent catches. A mild winter and early spring gave way to a dreary and cool May followed by an average June. According to my logs, fishing action was average to above average. The first half of the 2016 fishing season is off to a good start!
I started the year plying the local sweetwater venues. Chain pickerel, crappie and yellow perch accounted for the little action I had in January. There seemed to be just enough snow and cold air to keep the fishing action to a minimum, but after the prior two years of bone-chilling winter weather, it was great to be fishing open water again. January fishing was a little on the slow side, but I was fishing and catching so I'm leaning towards above average.
My son, Jake, started February off with a bang. After a slow day at the crappie pond, I decided to catch up on chores while Jake walked down to our lake to give it his best. About ten minutes after he left the house, I received a phone call asking me to come down to see the largemouth bass he just caught. It was a good fish, especially for early February. As the month progressed, fishing action picked up and we experienced a solid crappie bite. February is usually my toughest month – between winter storms and cabin fever, I'm always glad to flip the calendar to March. All things considered, I have to say February was a little better than average.
February Bonus Bass!
March ushered in warmer weather and some great fishing opportunities. Looking back, I see myself on March 8, 2016 fishing from my Tarpon 120 in shorts and a t-shirt. The next day, Jake and I returned to catch a bunch of crappie and pickerel in 70-degree temperatures. As March continued, we fished Rapala Shadow Raps and caught tons of largemouth bass and pickerel. By mid-March, it was time to hit the coastal backwaters where I found better striped bass action than I've seen in years. March can be hit or miss, but this year was a definite hit - clearly above average.
Spring Striped Bass
Fishing in April was amazing! Freshwater action was great and the South Jersey back bays were full of life. The local lakes and ponds offered largemouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch, crappies and tons of freshly stocked rainbow trout. Summer flounder, tiderunner weakfish and an insane amount of big bluefish joined the striped bass in our coastal waters. Once I found the weakfish, it was difficult to fish for anything else. It was great to see so many large weakfish around again! The last few years were promising, but most of the fish were in the 3 to 6 pound class. This spring, there was a good showing of 8 to 12 pound weakfish – I was in heaven! Towards the end of the month, a steady coastal flow began, dropped backwater temps and killed the great bite. Despite the late-April east winds, fishing action was well-above average.
Tiderunner weakfish made my spring!
May is usually my favorite time to fish. I wait all year for the month of May. This year I was thoroughly disappointed. A seemingly unending east wind made for poor fishing conditions for the first three weeks of the month. Backwater fishing action suffered the most as water temps dropped and then held steady in the mid 50s. Striped bass and bluefish didn't seem to mind the constant east wind and flood tides, but the weakfish and summer flounder bite took a nosedive. Because of the poor conditions, I spent more time freshwater fishing than usual. Fortunately, the easterly flow didn't hurt the largemouth bass bite. While fishing for largemouth bass, I caught a few monster chain pickerel. The weather and water temps moderated towards the end of the month, but I never found the kind of action I experienced in April. Fishing in May was worthwhile, but not the great action I look forward to every year – definitely below average.
Great freshwater action almost made up for poor conditions along the coast.
Thankfully, the weather and fishing action returned to normal in June. A few tries for flatfish ended with a decent amount of 17-inch flatfish, but I was still left feeling a little salty about missed opportunities in May and releasing 20 to 24-inch summer flounder in April. Smaller summer weakfish showed in Cape May County so I'm hoping they hang around for the next few months. After spending a little more time fishing the sweetwater ponds and lakes in May, I found a decent largemouth bass bite and had more fun freshwater fishing than I've had in years. In just the last few days, it seems like the pattern changed again and I may have to start fishing the nightshift to find any decent action. Overall, June's fishing action was average.
I'm hoping to find more bass like this one this summer.
The long, hot summer months can make for some difficult fishing. While I enjoy summer fishing, a part of me is already looking forward to cooler weather and good fishing action. I'm hoping for a repeat of the 2015 fall run. I'm excited to see what the rest of the 2016 fishing season has to offer. Please feel free to share your halftime report below in the comments section.
It's hard to believe the summer season begins in two short days on Monday, June 20. All the signs are there: the kids are finished another school year, shore traffic is picking up on Route 55 and everyone is heading for the beach. I love summer, but I'm going to miss my peaceful, backwater kayak trips. The spring season was good to me; I'm going to be sad to see it go.
With the weakfish run slowing down, much of the striped bass heading north and the summer flounder heading towards the inlets, my best saltwater days are behind me. I'll enjoy the summer season, but when it comes to fishing, spring and fall are tops in my book. Not wanting to fight through traffic and jet skis, I'll probably only fish the salt on weeknights until Labor Day.
Fortunately, I can usually find solitude on the nearby rural waters through the summer months. Freshwater fishing in South Jersey isn't a bad trade for the saltwater action. Whether it's frogging the pads from my kayak, exploring Delaware River tributaries for bowfin and snakeheads, or wet-wading the small backwater creeks, I plan on enjoying great fishing action right through the summer months.
Lately, I've been on a largemouth bass binge. I fish for bass often, but I've taken it a little more seriously over the last few weeks. I'm considering signing up for some of the local kayak bass fishing tournaments and want to work on my game. I used to fish for largemouth bass seriously when I was younger, but over the years, I found myself leaning towards saltwater species. The largemouth bass action is a lot better than I remember it.
One of four fish from this afternoon's trip.
After months of packing up the kayak and commuting an hour to the bay, it feels great to be fishing so close to home. Living just a few hundred yards from a small lake has its perks as I can walk to the lake in less than five minutes. The neighborhood lake has clear water and a good bass population – it's a great place to study my new quarry.
It's nice to have fish like this so close to home!
After a few days of solid action, I decided to mix it up a little. My goal wasn't to catch bass, but to watch them. I want to learn more about their behavior and how they feed in their natural habitat. I took two rods a can of worms and my GoPro. I could've fished with lures, but I figured I'd get a better response by using something the bass normally feed on: a sunfish.
The bass reacted to the sunfish a little better than I thought they would. Even with a rod over them and a camera pole under them, they attacked that poor sunfish with reckless abandon. At one time, I had five bass fighting for position to grab the sunfish. My GoPro only picked up a few of the fish – I'll improve content as I continue to experiment with camera angles.
Having the luxury of watching the carnage with my own eyes, I couldn't help but think of piranhas or sharks drawn to blood. If bass had teeth, those poor sunfish wouldn't stand a chance. After watching the video, I knew my selection of lures, no matter how lifelike, couldn't compare to a nervous, live baitfish. If I could bottle whatever stressors those nervous baitfish are emitting, I'd be living on easy street. I have so much to learn.
While chasing largemouth bass, we came across some other great fishing opportunities. The first thing that comes to mind is bullhead catfish. I grew up in Philadelphia and spent hours catching bullhead catfish in Darby Creek, Cobbs Creek and over at Tinicum. It's been a while since I've caught a bullhead catfish, but they seem extra aggressive this year. Jake hasn't caught many catfish so it was a treat for him when a few bullheads tracked down our Rapala Shadow Raps.
While walking along the bank, I noticed a ball of young catfish and then another – they look like tadpoles, but with tiny little whiskers. Having seen catfish young before, I had a feeling mom or dad would be nearby as the parents often shepherd their young for a few weeks. Sure enough, one of the parents was nearby and went into guard mode while I was filming. The adult catfish came into the shallows and stirred up the mud in an effort to protect its young. I was impressed by the display and left thinking much more of the "lowly" catfish after my experience.
To mix it up a bit, Jake and I spent an afternoon exploring a few of the local spillway creeks. If you've never fished a South Jersey spillway, you're missing out. The amount of fish in these small waters is almost inconceivable. I believe it's possible to catch a variety of fish on each and every cast for hours! We rarely catch redbreast sunfish in the ponds and lakes, but they seem to be prevalent in our local tailwaters. While most of these fish don't get very large, the pure numbers and variety of colorful fish are enough to keep us coming back. It's going to be a fun summer!
National Fishing and Boating Week takes place from Saturday, June 4 to Sunday, June 12, 2016. This national event was created to highlight the importance of recreational fishing and boating across America. The nine-day celebration is a great time to introduce children, adults and families to the sport of fishing and all of the joys that come with it. You may find out that fishing is about much more than fish.
During National Fishing and Boating Week, there are numerous opportunities for anglers and outdoor enthusiasts. Many states offer free fishing days - a day or days when a fishing license is not required to fish state waters. In New Jersey, the first of two free fishing days is this Saturday, June 11. As of this writing, the weather forecast for Saturday looks outstanding: mostly sunny, a high of 80 degrees and light winds out of the southeast at 5 to 10 mph. The second free fishing day takes place on Saturday, October 15 and is scheduled later in the season so anglers can take advantage of the fall trout stocking. I love catching those big rainbow trout!
Free fishing days are the perfect time to invite non-fishing friends and family members onto the water to try fishing with little to no investment. Personally, I plan on inviting a few of my out-of-state buddies over to get a little taste of South Jersey freshwater fishing. Many anglers from Delaware and Pennsylvania already make the trek through the state to fish our coastal waters, but I have a feeling they are a little less aware of our amazing freshwater fishing opportunities.
Besides the free fishing days, there are all kinds of events coinciding with National Fishing and Boating week. Last Sunday, June 5, we spent the day in Clayton, NJ at Scotland Run Park's Water Fest. It was a great afternoon as the park offered many great outdoor activities. We enjoyed a live animal show by Wild World of Animals and then spent most of the day kayaking, canoeing and fishing at the lake. It was great to see so many people enjoy themselves outdoors. Kids put down their smart phones and video games for an afternoon and picked up fishing rods, crayfish, tadpoles, toads and frogs.
Fun at Scotland Run Park's Water Fest
If you missed out on last weekend, don't feel bad; there are plenty of great outdoor activities coming up this weekend. The Hooked On Fishing – Not On Drugs Program is sponsoring a statewide Youth Fishing Challenge. Registration is free and anglers do not require fishing licenses on Saturday, June 11. Programs held at the Pequest Trout Hatchery include Fly Casting and Fishing for Beginners at 10 AM on Saturday, June 11 and Take Dad Fishing at 10:30 AM on Sunday, June 12. Please visit www.njfishandwildlife.com for details.
When I'm not busy chasing tiderunner weakfish and summer flounder along the coastal backwaters, I've been enjoying some great local freshwater action. In my last four freshwater trips, I've caught over 100 fish some of which were good enough to qualify for New Jersey's Skillful Angler recognition Program. Largemouth bass, pickerel, yellow perch and crappie fishing is on fire. I usually stick to the waters I know best, buy every once in a while, I like to venture out to some new waters. Alloway Lake has been on my radar for years so I decided it was time to check it out. I fished the lake by kayak while my daughter and her new boyfriend, John, worked the lake in a small aluminum boat – finally a guy that likes fishing! While we didn't catch any trophy fish, the action was steady. I had a bunch of bass and pickerel on Rapala Shadow Rap Shads and Berkley Gulp baits. I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of white crappies and yellow perch in the lake. I rarely catch white crappies in my local cedar-water lakes.
I don't see many white crappies, but this one hammered my Shadow Rap Shad.
Short trips to the lakes around my home have also been worthwhile. Jake and I hit a small lake on Saturday morning and we couldn't keep them off our lines. We had a good mix of largemouth bass, pickerel and big crappies. The bass and pickerel were holding in open water on weed lines while the crappies were in big schools around the docks.
This big crappie was just one of many holding close to the docks.
On Monday, I had to drop my wife's truck off at the shop. She took my car to work so I was grounded for day. It was a beautiful day and after catching up on some household chores, Jake and I decided to get in a few casts at our local lake. As luck would have it, out of all the places I fished and the miles logged over the last few weeks, I would find the fish I was looking for literally in my own backyard!
That's what I'm talking about!
Our local lake has some decent largemouth bass, but we're used to catching a few pickerel and a handful on 1 to 2-pound bass. I worked the area by the dam with a silver Shadow Rap Shad. After a few casts, I aimed right down the face of the dam, I jerked the plug twice and it got creamed! I set the hook and could tell right away that this was a special fish. She pulled a ton of drag and ran for the center of the lake. I played it cool, but yelled over to Jake that I had a beast fish on. Jake came running over and said something along the lines of, "That looks like a Florida bass!"
This one had shoulders and a belly!
After a few minutes of back and forth, I landed the big girl. Jake and I high-fived and admired the big, beautiful bass. I didn't have my scale, but I did get a measurement and a few pictures before we placed her back into the water. She was a little slow to swim off, but she seemed fine after a couple minutes.
It was a great experience to share with Jake – that's how memories are made! For some reason, I have a feeling Jake will be fishing at our lake every day for the rest of the summer. Make sure to take advantage of this weekend's free fishing day. It's the perfect time to get out on the water and make some memories with your loved ones.
I wait all year for the month of May. I pictured myself drifting along in my kayak and catching fish after fish on warm, sunny days. That doesn't seem to be the case this year. Dreary days with a chilly east wind seem to be the new normal. It's a backwater angler's worst nightmare. Dealing with a lack of sunshine and its non-warming effects on the backwater flats is one thing, but the relentless east wind that continues to push colder ocean water into our backwaters is a real mood killer.
High, cold and dirty water is never good for a flatfish bite.
It's hard to believe that our backwater temperatures increased just a few degrees since late March. As of this writing, the Atlantic City monitoring station is reporting 57 degrees while the Cape May station checks in at 61 degrees. Full moon tides and winds from the east have backwater temperatures in the mid to high 50s. During a normal May, I'd expect some back bay locales to be as much as 10 to 15 degrees higher than ocean temperatures. A steady 58 degrees seems to be a good all-around number for dependable action with most species. Unfortunately, we've been stuck in the mid 50's for most of the last two months.
On a brighter note, it looks like we're about to bust out of the current trend. The local forecast for the next few weeks have highs in the 70s and 80s – one outlet is even forecasting 90s later this week! Fortunately, there are plenty of fish around and an increase in water temperatures should really get things going. Maybe I should start looking forward to June from now on?
Despite the crummy weather pattern, fishing action has been pretty good. Big bluefish seem to be the main attraction. The big slammers can be found in our backwater sounds, inlets and along the beachfront. The blues are a blast on just about any type of gear as some of the yellow-eyed eating machines are pushing 15 to 20 pounds! Top-water plugs, metals, jigs and cut baits seem to be working well – those big bluefish usually aren't picky. The cooler water temperatures may help keep them around a little longer than normal.
Big Blues for Everyone!
Weakfish action has been decent. While the action is certainly not widespread, anglers willing to put in the time have been rewarded with some impressive catches. Much of the action has been in the backwater sounds, but I expect the inlet rock piles to turn on as soon as the weather warms up. With subpar water temperatures, the tiderunner bite has been a little more particular. My best experiences have been during an hour window on either side of low tide when the current is relatively slow and the water temperature is at its highest. It's been great to see so many large weakfish around again!
I can't get enough of those big yellow-mouthed tiderunners!
Striped bass action has been good in the area although not as predictable as the bluefish. There are plenty of schoolie striped bass in the backwaters. Some better-sized bass are staging around the inlet rock piles as they prepare to head north on their summer migration. With the passing of May's full moon on Saturday, May 21, I expect the striper bite to pick up as we head into the Memorial Day weekend. Hopefully, the lower water temperatures will keep them from moving along too quickly.
Jake got a bunch of small stripers while searching for weakfish.
I haven't been out much in the last week. A case of bronchitis took its toll on me and kept me laid up over the weekend. Thankfully, I'm beginning to feel a little better and hoping to get out sometime later this week. I'd usually be kicking myself for missing out on the summer flounder opener, but the lousy weather took a little of the sting away. Some flatfish were caught, but by most accounts, it was a slow weekend.
Earlier this season, summer flounder were stacked in many of my favorite weakfish holes. I noticed the bite slowed down since the influx of cooler ocean water took its toll and dropped backwater temperatures a few degrees. If we can string together a few sunny days, I'm sure the flatfish will begin to cooperate. I can't wait to put a few fresh flounder fillets on the grill.
I can't wait to get back out there!
Between the poor weather conditions and not feeling well, I did manage to hit a few of my favorite freshwater lakes. Usually, the month of May offers some unbelievable largemouth bass fishing opportunities, but it's been tough so far. I'm assuming we're a week or two behind now, at least as far as water temperatures are concerned, and the bite will pick up shortly. I hooked one decent largemouth, but I have a feeling most of the big girls are still sitting on their beds.
Hoping to find a few more like this in the coming weeks.
I'm beginning to feel a little like a broken record, "Next week has to be better." Whatever Mother Nature throws at us, God knows I'll be out there trying my best. Looking back, I'm having a pretty good year despite the less than ideal weather conditions. Imagine how good it could be if we could string together a few days of pleasant weather? The holiday weekend would be a great time to get things back on track. Good luck and stay safe.
Whether you're a fair-weather fisherman or a diehard angler, I think most of us would agree that getting through the month of February is rarely considered fun. Bone-chilling cold fronts, weekly coastal storms and half-frozen waterways aren't exactly my idea of a good time, but it seems a little easier this year. Fortunately, my offseason schedule was delayed a few weeks by some great late-season fishing action. Now, I'm beginning to wonder if I'll have enough downtime to finish off my offseason chores. One thing is certain: you'll never hear me complaining about not having a long enough offseason.
As I write this, a fresh coating of snowfall is on the ground and we're expecting the coldest air of the winter by the weekend - sounds like fun right? On the bright side, the long-range forecast looks good as above-average temperatures are expected during the second half or the month. Our coastal water temperatures are running a little above normal too – 42.8 degrees at Atlantic City and 41.5 degrees at Cape May. After two long, cold winter seasons, the 2016 season should start right on time.
At least a little of my good mood can be attributed to our recent midweek getaway and a couple afternoons at the Atlantic City Boat Show. Last year, my wife and I decided to take advantage of the great hotel rates and we had such a good time that we agreed to make it an annual routine. This year, I was really looking forward to our three-day trip to Atlantic City to help break up the winter blues. I'm not much of a gambler, so we opted to stay poolside at Harrah's Resort. It was everything we hoped for and we'll definitely be back next February.
Palm Trees and 82 degrees in Atlantic City?
When I wasn't hanging out at the pool, I was at the Boat Show talking fishing and kayaking with Jim Markel from Bel Haven Paddlesports. It was my first show representing Wilderness Systems and I really enjoyed my time working the booth and getting to know Jim a little better – he's a wealth of knowledge, especially with all things relating to canoeing, paddle boarding and kayaking. Bel Haven Paddlesports offers a perfect location for test rides on the Mullica River and is just minutes from Batsto Village.
Bel Haven Paddlesports Booth at the Atlantic City Boat Show
After our fun-filled getaway was over, I figured I'd fall back into winter mode, but that doesn't seem to be the case. While I was in Atlantic City, I received a letter from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. As it turns out, I earned a Specialist Angler Award, a Master Angler Award, a Panfish Slam and tied for a top spot in a Catch-and-Release Category of the 2015 Skillful Angler Recognition Program. It was a good year!
While winter seems to be flying by for me – it had the potential to be a long offseason for Jake – in case you couldn't tell, we're very competitive and enjoy ribbing each other whenever possible. After giving Jake a hard time about my recent accomplishments, he was chomping at the bit to hit the water. Against my better judgment, we took a ride to the crappie pond and as I expected, it was iced over. We made a few half-hearted casts along a sliver of open water by the spillway, but we couldn't buy a hit. A few minutes later, we decided to head for home as I had some things to catch up on after our recent trip. Jake decided to grab his gear and walk down to our local lake – I laughed to myself and told Jake, "Good luck!"
Approximately ten minutes passed before my phone rang – Jake caught a pickerel. He was pretty pumped, a little more so than normal, probably because he wasn't expecting much as the weather was terrible and the water temperature was just a few degrees above freezing. About five minutes later, my phone rang again – this time, Jake was ecstatic and asked me to come down to the lake to take a picture of the big bass he just caught. I dropped everything and shot down to the lake. When I pulled up to the lake, Jake was holding a beautiful bass and had a grin from ear to ear. I took a few photos and videoed Jake releasing his prized catch. I congratulated Jake and told him that he had about as much fun as you could have on a cold February afternoon – it was an impressive catch for sure.
Later on that evening, Jake shared the story of his catch at the dinner table. When he was done, he looked over at me and said, "Hey Dad, who has the biggest bass of the year?" I just shook my head and gave Jake the answer he was looking for, "You do Jake." I better catch a few fish soon or the next few weeks are going to seem like forever!
Is it me or is the fishing season flying by? After a late start to a short, but sweet spring run, it seems as though the summer season arrived right on schedule. I was hoping for an extended spring run, but it seems we've transitioned into our summer fishing patterns as the striped bass and big bluefish continue their northward migration. Summer flounder action seems a little slow as the back-bay flatfish are heading towards the inlets, but the wreck and reef action isn't on fire yet. As far as I can tell, the spotlight appears to be shifting over to sharks and rays. Coastal-water temperatures range from close to 75 degrees at Atlantic City to almost 80 degrees down in Cape May.
Speaking about things flying by and moving along, I received a letter from the American Littoral Society (ALS) the other day regarding a fish I tagged at the Delaware River this spring. I tagged and released an 18-inch striper on 4/9/15 and it was recaptured fifty-five days later on 6/3/15 at Kittery Point, near the New Hampshire/Maine border – that's nearly 400 miles as the crow flies and much longer for a striped bass considering it had to swim south out of the river, down through the Delaware Bay and then north along the beachfront to Maine. I had no idea the smaller fish travelled so far so quickly. I shared the news with my Dad and Jake, as they were present when I tagged the fish. It seems like that little striped bass wanted to get as far away from us as it could!
Tag #850417 Ready for Release
From the Delaware River to Maine in 55 days!
I'm still fairly new to the fish-tagging scene, but I've found the experience to be incredibly enjoyable. I started tagging in late October of 2013 and my only regret is I wish I started years ago. To date, I tagged forty-one (thirty-nine striped bass and two summer flounder) fish and I received four (three stripers and one summer flounder) returned tags. I do not take my tagging gear with me on most trips as tagging fish does require a little extra time and effort so I usually plan my fish-tagging trips in the spring and fall when I'm most likely to find numbers of migrating fish. For more information on the American Littoral Society's Fish Tagging Program, please contact Jeff Dement at Jeff@LittoralSociety.org or (732) 291-0055 ext. 106.
I love getting mail from the American Littoral Society!
On Sunday, July 12, we had a family get together in North Wildwood. I traded my fishing rods and tackle bag for beach blankets, picnic baskets, chairs, sunscreen, bug spray, coolers, beach bags, Frisbees and footballs. We arrived early and set up just a few blocks south of Hereford Inlet. I have to admit, I felt a little out of place being near the water without my fishing rods, but we were packed for a day of fun in the sun. As luck would have it, while lugging way too many items over the dune towards the beach, I looked out towards the water and saw two gigantic schools of bunker about 100 yards off the beach. As I set up what seemed like a small town on the beach, Jake headed for the water and said he saw two sharks just a few feet in front of him. I headed out to see for myself and sure enough, I spotted a few sharks working the backside of the sandbar. As far as I could tell, they were small (3 to 4 foot) brown sharks, otherwise known as sandbar sharks and very common in our waters. The bunker schools quickly pushed offshore as they were worked over by what I assume were more sharks. We spotted a few more sharks and a ton of dolphins throughout the day. We had a great time, but I wish I packed a rod!
I haven't spent much time targeting sharks or rays, but I have caught a few while fishing for other species such as summer flounder, weakfish and late-season striped bass. Over the years, I tussled with a few smaller brown sharks, a couple southern rays, a gigantic butterfly ray and countless cownose rays. The sharks and rays provide a great sport, especially on light tackle, but I just never got into them. After reading some recent reports and seeing a ton of big fish beach photos, maybe it's time to reconsider?
While I may be tempted to try a trip or two for sharks, it's going to be difficult to pull myself from the recent stretch of great freshwater action. The largemouth bass bite has been outstanding, as Jake and I continue to experience quantity and quality on most of the nearby lakes and ponds. Top-water plugs, frogs, plastic worms and big, live baits are working well. The recent storms have the water a little off color, but the fish don't seem to mind. Docks, bridges, dams and patches of lily pads are yielding good numbers of quality fish. Big bluegills, crappie, yellow perch and pickerel just add to the fun. If you have a chance to visit a neighborhood pond or lake one evening, I promise it will be worth your while.
Just minutes after completing my last blog entry, I grabbed my pole and walked down to the lake. As luck would have it, on my very first cast, I battled a 5+ pound largemouth bass to the bank. After all my writing about how it's not all about catching, it's funny how pumped I was after landing this beauty. While it may not be all about catching, it sure is exhilarating when that big girl strikes, bends the rod, starts pulling drag and goes airborne!
6/18 Adrenaline-pumping Beauty!
Late June into July offers some of the best freshwater fishing opportunities of the year, especially for largemouth bass anglers. Big, post-spawn largemouth bass are coming off their nests and extremely hungry. While targeting largemouth bass, you're very likely to come across some other types of green monsters such as gator chain pickerel and slab black crappies. After years of fishing in South Jersey, I'm still amazed at the size of some of the fish that live in our local "puddles."
As back-bay saltwater opportunities for large striped bass and weakfish continue to dwindle, the freshwater action for largemouth and pickerel fills in nicely. Options for catching bass and pickerel are almost limitless, as we've caught fish on everything from plastic frogs, rubber worms, buzz baits, and plugs to blades of grass, hot dogs, bread and banana peels. Whatever you choose, it's likely that if you present your offering well, a fish will end up on the end of your line.
When fishing for bass and pickerel, there are two types of fishing that I prefer: one is for numbers of fish while the other is for big fish. Top-water fishing is tough to beat, especially in many of our weed-choked waterways. If you fish the local waters, make sure to include some frogs, poppers, and top-water plugs like a Heddon Zara Spook – the walk-the-dog retrieve is deadly around lily pads. Make sure to have a rubber worm or jig rigged on another rod to throw as a follow up to any missed top-water strikes. Summer evenings are primetime to throw top-water offerings, but if you can cast close enough to cover, chances are you'll tempt fish at any time of day. Jake and I have been fishing the afternoon shift and killing them on Spooks. Some of the hits are mind blowing - you can see a v-shaped wake accelerate towards your lure and then explode on it!
6/14 Big Pickerel exploded on a Zara Spook
While top-water action provides great action and visuals, nothing compares to live lining big baits for green monsters. As much as I enjoy fooling largemouth bass on artificial lures, watching a 20-inch + bass inhale a 6 to 8-inch golden shiner or a hand-sized sunfish is thrilling. I've spent hours working over an area of the lake with artificial lures with nothing to show for it and then tossed in a shiner, sunfish or perch and had groups of 2 to 6-pound fish appear immediately at my feet as if by magic. If I could bottle whatever action/scent those baitfish put off, I'm sure I'd be a millionaire.
Big Baits = Big Fish!
I came across the use of big live baits many years ago as a boy and purely by accident. I was fishing with night crawlers in front of a spillway when a big bluegill took my hook. Halfway through the battle, the bluegill felt like it got snagged. I tugged and tugged until it pulled free. As I pulled the bluegill towards my feet, I saw a big bass dart in after it. Shocked by what happened, I tossed the sunfish back out and it was grabbed immediately by the green monster. Again I played the fish, but in the end, I pulled the sunfish from the big fish's mouth. Looking back, with a little hook in the sunfish's mouth, I had little to no chance of hooking the big bass, but my adrenaline was pumping and I couldn't get the bait back in the water quick enough. I'm not sure I slept that night.
I returned to the lake more times than I can remember and I had that fish on for what seemed like a 100 times, but I just couldn't land it. I remember one day I had her to my feet before she spit the hook and sat in inches of water staring at me – my buddy, Andre, jumped into the water to grab it, but with one swoosh of her big tail she returned to the depths. Attempt after attempt, I just couldn't get her mouth into my hand. After snapping my 8-pound mono more than few times, I even brought my surf rod down to the lake. I had her on my surf rod, but she managed to spit the hook. Before the younger generation starts laughing, just remember we didn't have braided line, Google, YouTube, and all the other great info you're fortunate enough to have today – we learned on our own and sometimes it took us a while.
July 6, 1995 will always be a special day in my memory. It was the day before I was to marry my beautiful wife and the day I finally caught the green monster! I remember my fishing buddy laughing at me for tossing out a hand-sized bluegill. He joked, "Are you fishing for sharks?" Soon after he said that, the sunfish jumped put of the water followed by a big dorsal fin – my buddy had stopped laughing by now. The sunfish went crazy and then I felt the telltale bump of the largemouth grabbing its meal. I let her run for what seemed like five minutes, before setting the hook and driving it home. After a long back and forth battle and knowledge gained from prior mistakes, I pulled the gigantic bass onto the bank. My buddy, Glenn and I stood and stared in amazement. The fish was enormous and I remember Glenn saying, "Its eyes are bigger than yours!" I put the fish on a stringer, as I was sure I wanted to mount this beast. Glenn caught a sunfish and quickly had it rigged for live lining – if I remember right, he caught a nice 3-pounder a few minutes later. The park ranger and just about everyone else at the lake admired my trophy. As she sat there in the water, Glenn asked if I felt bad killing her. I thought about it for a few minutes and decided to let her go – we didn't have iPhones or digital cameras on us back then so I couldn't even take a picture of my prize. After I revived her and she swam away, Glenn said, " There is no way I would have let that fish go." We laughed about it and packed up to get ready for my big day. That was almost twenty years ago and I remember it like yesterday – that was my biggest bass to date and I have nothing other than a memory, but that's enough.
For some reason, live lining seems to be considered "cheating" by many of today's bass anglers. I assume some of the "pros" would mention (and rightly so) that the chances of gut-hooking a big fish are increased greatly when fishing with live baits, but after twenty years, I've figured out a few ways to minimalize the damage. First, I use big hooks - the larger the hook the better the odds that a big bass or pickerel will not ingest the hook – 6/0, 8/0 and even 10/0 size hooks are good choices. I hook the baitfish as far back towards the end of the dorsal fin as I can – many, if not all, big baits are consumed from the headfirst – having the hook further back into the bait will result in less deep hook sets. If the hook is swallowed and cannot be removed somewhat easily, cut the line and minimalize the stress on the fish. Finally, the big girls fight with everything they have so make sure to spend a good amount of time reviving them properly.
6/25 A live-lined shiner took this nice bass.
It's time for me to head to the lake to visit our local green monsters – lately it's been tougher to catch the shiners than the bass. If everything works out as I'm hoping, the fish will provide some fireworks this afternoon. I hope everyone enjoys some time on the water this holiday weekend. Good luck and stay safe!
After a long, cold winter, I was looking forward to spring and summer a little more than usual this season. Spring started a little later than I hoped, but I enjoyed a few weeks of good weather conditions and great fishing action. The late-April into mid-May time period provided ideal conditions and a great bite. Life was good. Then came the wind - the dreaded south wind!
I can pinpoint those relentless southerlies to the day - as luck would have it, the same day the 2015 summer flounder season opened: Friday, May 22. It's like someone flipped a switch and the fan has been blowing ever since. The strong south wind has taken a toll on our local fishing. To start, our coastal water temperature plummeted. The NOAA monitoring station in Atlantic City is currently reporting a water temperature of 55.4 degrees – anyone for a swim? Stained, weed-filled water greeted me at the inlet rock piles and drifting for flatfish with 20 to 25-MPH winds is rarely productive or enjoyable.
Returning from a south-wind skunk
As I write this, thunderstorms are moving through. Storm fronts like this usually signify a changing weather pattern. A look at the forecast shows a little more of an easterly pattern. Hopefully, the water temperature comes up a few degrees and stabilizes so we can enjoy what's left of the spring run. I like summer, but I'm not ready to make the switch just yet.
Ok, enough complaining about the weather. While conditions aren't making it easy, there are still plenty of fish to be had. Reports of large, post-spawn striped bass, big bluefish and keeper-sized summer flounder came from many of our local tackle shops this week. Most of the striped bass action seems to be happening out front, especially near the inlet rock piles. Big bluefish are still around and over the last two weeks, numbers of 1 to 3-pound blues moved into our waters. The best summer flounder action seems to be coming from our backwaters. I'm hoping the below-average water temps keep the flatties in the back a little longer this season. It seems the best push of weakfish went a little further north this season, but anglers fishing back-bay structure and the inlet jetties found a few 5 to 7-pound trout. Over the last few days, I heard some decent kingfish reports coming from surfcasters fishing between Ocean City and Wildwood.
The bluefish don't mind the wind.
With questionable coastal forecasts, it's been a lot easier for me to stay close to home and take advantage of the spring freshwater action. While I wouldn't trade stripers and weakfish for largemouth bass and pickerel, the freshwater action is a lot better than casting into a 20-MPH wind and catching weeds. To be honest, the wind has even made my sweet-water fishing a little more difficult than I'm used to. Fortunately, I'm surrounded by a bunch of lakes and ponds and I can always find a place to hide from the wind.
Staying close to home has a bunch of advantages, but the biggest plus is that I can usually fish with my son, Jake. A little part of me misses the saltwater scene, but nothing can top watching my son fall in love with the outdoors. Some days we make trips to our favorite neighborhood lakes and ponds while others we set off to explore new waters. I enjoy casting top-water plugs to largemouth bass and pickerel while Jake is still learning new fish-catching techniques – lately he's been catching on weightless soft-plastic baits.
Who has the bigger mouth?
Once school lets out, I plan on getting Jake a little salty. He made his first few backwater kayak trips with me earlier this season and is dying to get back out there. Maybe the weather will cooperate a little more by then, but even if it doesn't, we'll find a way to make memories.
I'll always remember our days doubled up in the lily pads!
The spring season is just days away and we're already riding the weather roller-coaster. Yesterday, I was fishing along the banks of a local lake in shorts and a T-shirt. This morning, I woke up to a power outage, house-shaking wind, and an air temperature of 22 degrees. After a long, cold winter, I'm not going to complain about ups and downs; at least we have some ups now, right? The weekend forecast looks promising and the fish are biting!
I'll get to the fishing report a little later, but first, I'd like to share some information about the Hooked on Fishing - Not on Drugs Program. If you've never heard of the Hooked on Fishing - Not on Drugs Program (HOFNOD), it is a nationally-recognized program created by the Future Fisherman Foundation. This worthwhile program has been around for twenty years, but has recently been updated. The curriculum uses angling to teach our youth about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and how to deal with life's daily challenges. The HOFNOD network includes trained-aquatic-education professionals in over thirty states with thousands of programs nationwide.
Jake is hooked on fishing!
The state of New Jersey seems to be jumping into the revamped program with both feet. Some of you may find this hard to believe, but it appears the state is putting at least a little of our tax dollars to good use. HOFNOD programs are popping up all over and I think the kids are going to love it!
The kids loved these cupcakes!
My son, Jake, and I had the pleasure of attending a Hooked on Fishing – Not on Drugs orientation meeting last Saturday at Lake Mathilde in Sicklerville, NJ. The Gloucester Township-based program is run by Bob Johnston and he's put together an impressive twenty-eight week course highlighted by field trips including: kayaking on Barnegat Bay, fishing on the Bodacious, overnight camping, and a group bus trip to Bay Day. Sounds like fun and get this: the program is free!
Is someone telling fish stories?
During the orientation, we met lots of great kids and friendly adults. Bob did an excellent job preparing the grounds and curriculum. While the kids walked along the wooded paths and looked over the mostly-frozen lake, I took the opportunity to talk with the state-appointed HOFNOD Coordinator, Liz Jackson. We talked about the program for a while and the more I heard, the more I liked the program. There are no strings: the purpose of the program is to get kids back outside and to keep them away from tobacco products, alcohol, and drugs.
An ice-covered Lake Mathilde
I have many passions, but my family and outdoor activities are tops on the list. If I can incorporate the two, I will, and I'm going to love every minute of it. While some of us may not need a program to enjoy time outdoors with our loved ones, there are lots of kids that don't have the same opportunities. If you'd like to help, please contact Liz Jackson at (908)637-4125 x122 Liz.Jackson@dep.state.nj.us
OK, back to fishing! It seems like a little sunshine was enough to get some fish moving. Reports are far from on fire, but the season's first few striped bass were taken over the weekend. The warm-water outflow and tributary rivers are always early-season hot spots. If you're just looking for action, I suggest grabbing some grass shrimp or bloodworms and trying for white perch. The perch bite seems like the best thing going and it only takes a few perch to make a tasty dinner. Look for the striped bass action to pick up near the end of the month. I'm sure I'll be poking around soon.
I haven't hit the salt yet, but I did get to spend the last few days fishing the neighborhood lakes and ponds. Even though it's been warm, ice is still covering a few of the backwoods ponds, but most of the larger bodies of water are open. It sure did feel good to soak up some sun and bend the rod again. Chain pickerel are on full tilt and waiting for just about anything to cross their path. If you can get minnows, expect some easy fishing. Some of the largest bass are taken in March, so get out there this weekend; it was a long winter and the fish are hungry!
I don't know about you, but I've had enough of the winter season. I'm tired of hearing about single-digit temperatures, below zero wind-chill factors, snowfall predictions, and that ever-popular catch phrase, "Polar Vortex." I can deal with thirties and forties, but days in the teens and nights around zero are a bit much. The little time I've spent outdoors this week consisted of shoveling the porch and driveway, cleaning off our cars, and freezing my tail off. When I checked the weather the other night, it was 8 degrees in my backyard and 40 degrees in Anchorage, Alaska. You can keep your three layers of clothes, hats, and gloves; I'm done with winter!
Sunny Snow Squall
It may be hard to believe, but this time last week, I was wading at a local lake, tossing soft-plastic baits to largemouth bass and pickerel in nothing more than a hooded sweatshirt. It felt great to land my first few fish of the 2014 season. I definitely made the most of the brief January thaw. You'd think a little rod-bending action would help ease the cabin fever, winter blues, or whatever they call it. The truth is, it did help, but it was short-lived and left me wanting more!
First Fish of 2014
Since my last fishing trip on Monday, January 20, we've had close to a foot of snow and glacial temperatures. All of the local waterways have completely iced over; however, I'm not certain they're safe for ice fishing. With temperatures forecast to be above freezing this weekend and a possible big storm headed our way next week, I'll probably end up poking around for pickerel at a few of the nearby spillways.
Looking for some signs of hope, I checked a couple of the long-range forecasts and it appears that the worst of the frigid temperatures may be over, but there are some very real chances of big snow storms through early March. I keep telling myself, just one more month. Hopefully, a few fishing shows will help pass the time. I'm looking forward to the Atlantic City Boat Show on February 5 to 9, Greater Philadelphia Outdoor Sport Show on February 13 to 16, Southern Regional Fishing Flea Market on February 15, Surf Day on February 22, and the Ocean City Intermediate School Fishing Club Flea Market on March 1.
At times like this, when I can't fish, sometimes shopping for fishing-related gear works as a quick pick-me-up. Over the last couple weeks, I've been in the market for a new pair of Costa sunglasses and found the selection lacking in much of the South Jersey area. It's not like you can order a pair online because you need to try them on before you purchase them. After a bunch of phone calls and a couple of disappointing visits to local optometrists' shops, I was about to give up until a friend told me about Vutt Sunglasses at the Burlington Center Mall. On Sunday, I stopped by Paul's shop and was pleasantly surprised by a great selection of Costas along with many other brands. Paul spent a great deal of time answering my questions and making sure I'd be happy with my choice. I left his shop more knowledgeable about eye care and feeling good about my selection. If you're going to spend a lot of time on the water, it is imperative to have a good pair of polarized sunglasses. Not only do they protect your eyes, but they enable you to catch more fish. They are of utmost importance to me as I spend lots of time sight fishing on shallow flats.
Shopping for Shades
With most of my shopping list completed, I've begun my countdown for the 2014 backwater striped bass season, a little more light at the end of the tunnel. We're only a month away and it looks like we're going to need a substantial warm-up to get things going by March 1. A quick glance at NOAA's coastal water temperatures shows readings of 33 degrees in Atlantic City, 34 degrees in Cape May, and the Delaware River checked in at an icy 31 degrees. I haven't seen water temperatures that low in a few years. I'm looking forward to starting the season off right; even if I have to join the masses at the warm-water discharges.
Striped Bass Countdown
I've tried to make the best of the winter weather, but it's just not good enough. Sledding with the kids was fun for a day or two, but they enjoy being outside when it's 5 degrees even less than I do. Off-season maintenence is complete as my fishing equipment has been thoroughly cleaned and organized. I have a bunch of new toys that I'm dying to try on the water this season. Spring can't come soon enough!
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!