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!
New Jersey's Striped Bass Bonus Program (SBBP) was reinstated on Tuesday, September 1, 2015. According to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, "Permits have been issued to replace permits purchased prior to May 1, 2015. Anyone who purchased a permit prior to May 1, 2015 and has not received a replacement permit by September 14, 2015 should call (609) 748-2020 and leave a message with their name and a phone number where you can be reached during business hours."
I purchased my SBBP permit this spring and have not received my new tag. Some other anglers have received their tags and forwarded me information they received from the Division of Fish and Wildlife that is not currently included on the Division's website. I'll list some of the important changes below, but new permits will be limited so if you'd like to participate in the program, please visit www.njfishandwildlife.com to print and complete a 2015 SBBP Individual Participant Application and Child Support Application. The program appears to be free for the remainder of the 2015 season, but the Division requires applicants enclose a self-addressed, stamped, #10 business envelope per application.
SBBP Individual Application Form
The revamped SBBP has changed in quite a few ways, some of which will come as a surprise to many anglers. The new regulations are as follows: one striped bass from 24 inches to less than 28 inches – if you remember back a few years, we called this size range our "slot fish." The old SBBP paper permit has been replaced by a red plastic tie that must be securely attached to the fish through the mouth and gill immediately upon capture and prior to transportation. Harvest reporting is mandatory and must be reported online or by leaving a voice message at (609) 748-2074. Only one bonus permit will be issued per person in 2015 – you read that right, you may only take one bonus striped bass for the remainder of the 2015 season. Anyone failing to submit logs to the Division will not be considered for the 2016 Striped Bass Bonus Program. Logs must be submitted by mail or online by January 15, 2016 – the Division's website has a link to complete logs online by using participants' nine-digit conservation identification numbers as their user names and participants' date of birth as their passwords.
I'm not certain how I feel about the changes yet, but I believe the old SBBP needed some improvement. I can't figure out how adding a red plastic tag will result in any advancements to the program, but I do like that submitting log information is now a necessity to be considered for continued participation in the program. I look at the SBBP as a privilege and believe the information gathered is extremely beneficial. However, when it comes down to regulations, I think the State has it backwards - I'd much rather see our general, state-wide regulations include some type of slot fish and our SBBP turn into a trophy tag of say one fish over 40 inches.
An average South Jersey backwater striped bass.
The party/charter boat facet of the SBBP allows customers to use a permit each day. Party and charter boats captains are required to submit daily logbooks and weekly reports of striped bass harvest to ensure the quota is not exceeded. I feel for the party and charter boat captains, but I dislike the fact that if I fish on a "for hire" boat, I can take a bonus fish every single day, yet as an individual recreation angler, I am only allowed to use one permit for the remainder of the 2015 season. I never liked the fact that as an individual recreational angler I have to follow strict bag and size limits, but if I want to buy commercially harvested fish, I can buy as much as I want - I can't count the days I had to let go big, beautiful summer flounder while the commercial guys fished right next to me and could kept every fish they caught. I understand that hook and line commercial fishermen provide a much less harmful way of harvesting fish, but at the end of the day it just rubs me the wrong way. The state claims the allocation of commercial harvest has been transferred to the recreational sector, but with the current SBBP regulations I think it's fair to consider party/charter boats as commercial vessels. We have one set of regulations for average anglers and another set for those willing to pay a price.
I'll keep up-to-date with the SBBP and continue to update the blog accordingly. I hope everyone enjoys what's left of the summer season and the holiday weekend. Stay safe and good luck out on the water!
The Division released another statement regarding the delivery date of our SBBP tags. 2015 SBBP permit holders should receive their SBBP tag no later than October 1, 2015. According to sources, some post offices claimed the Division did not include enough postage for the tag envelopes to be delivered. The tags were returned to the Division and the proper adjustments were made. I received my tag on Wednesday, September 23.
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.
It's official: I'm in a slump. It happens almost every year, usually between the last week of July and first week of August. I used to fight it, but I've accepted it's a difficult time to fish most of our local waterways. I call it a summer slowdown. Most days, air temperatures range from 90 to 95 degrees and the fishing action just isn't what it used to be. This time of year, I'd much rather be in the water than on the water.
Over the last few days, our great freshwater bite really slowed down. Areas that yielded decent-sized fish since April have all but dried up. On our last trip, we caught a bunch of bass, but none over 14 inches – many weren't much bigger than the baits we used to tempt them. I don't expect an improvement in the near future as a glance at the long-range weather forecast looks like we'll be in the 90s for at least the next week. Well, it was fun while it lasted, but I guess it's time for me to make the change to the night shift.
Other than a few beach trips with the family, I've been away from the saltwater scene for a few weeks. You think I would have learned to bring a rod and reel after my last encounter with the sharks? As luck would have it, we returned to the same spot on the beach and instead of sharks working over large bunker schools, this time it was birds working over schools of peanut bunker and snapper bluefish. I felt like the yappy birds were laughing at me, but it was good to see some signs of life. In my experiences, the back bay and surf bite usually drops off during the dog days, but the summer night bite can be lots of fun.
According to reports, the summer flounder action is starting to heat up on our wreck and reef sites. While short fluke seem to inundate our shallow backwaters, the bigger flatfish usually head for cooler, deeper waters as we head into August. I don't fish on party/head boats often, but I usually manage a trip or two each summer for some deep-water fluke. I'm looking forward to a trip in the next few weeks.
Speaking of summer flounder, I was recently contacted by NBC 4 New York's reporter, Brian Thompson, regarding one of my YouTube fluke videos. Brian was reporting on more looming fluke cuts and wanted to use some of my underwater video footage for his spot on the evening news. I was happy to oblige, but I'm not happy to hear about more cuts to our summer flounder quota. According to sources, the latest scientific assessments are calling for a 43-percent reduction in next year's catches. A 43-percent reduction could mean an even shorter season, higher minimum-size limits and a smaller daily bag limit. Legislators may attempt to loosen the noose a little by spreading the reduction out over a few years, but either way, things are not looking good for flounder-pounders or the businesses that depend on the summer fishery. I'll keep current with the situation and update my blog accordingly.
NBC 4 Summer Flounder Cuts
In other news, according to the NJDEP Fish and Wildlife's web site, the Striped Bass Bonus Program will reopen on Tuesday, September 1, 2015. The party/charter boat facet of the program will also be reinstated. Applications for individuals, as well as party/charter boats, are now being accepted. Former 2015 permit holders will automatically receive a new permit prior to the September reopening. Striped Bass Bonus Program participants will be allowed to harvest one striped bass between 24 and 28 inches. If you've been around as long as I have we used to call this a "slot fish." The SBBP uses the New Jersey commercial harvest quota of 215,912 pounds. If that SBBP surpasses the commercial quota, reductions will be made to the program in 2016. To review, the New Jersey recreational striped bass regulations are as follows: one fish at 28 inches to less than 43 inches and one fish greater than 43 inches. Striped Bass Bonus Program permit holders can keep an additional fish between 24 and 28 inches.
The reopening of the Striped Bass Bonus Program (SBBP) will be at least slightly controversial. Many anglers feel like the striped bass stocks are in decline and the State of New Jersey may have already pushed a little too far with their choice of a two-fish daily bag limit, especially when many of the migration states decided to drop to a one fish bag limit. In my opinion, the state is doing little to protect our striped bass stocks. When you add the new SBBP "slot fish" to the state's striped bass daily possession regulations, only striped bass measuring less than 24 inches are protected. In what could be a critical time to determine the future of the striped bass stocks do we really want to continue keeping three fish of various sizes per day?
I think I'm going to see how the fall run pans out and make my own regs this season – within the legal-limit options of course. To be honest, I miss the "slot limit" fish as the little stripers were tasty, easy to clean and fairly easy to catch in the South Jersey backwaters I frequent. However, if I don't see some improvements during the fall run, I'm not sure those little striped bass will taste as good as I remember.