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Frank Ruczynski

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

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June 17, 2016

Here Comes Summer!

by Frank Ruczynski

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.


Big Mouth

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.


Mr Whiskers

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!


A Stunning Redbreast Sunfish

August 11, 2015

A Weekend at Parvin State Park

by Frank Ruczynski

Looking to get away from it all? I was, so I did a little research on nearby campgrounds. I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I haven't planned a family-camping trip in close to ten years. I wanted a venue that offered a campsite on or near water, hiking trails, kayaking opportunities and good fishing action. A Google search made viewing and comparing campgrounds a breeze. Things sure have changed a lot since our last family camping trip!

I started my search at some of the South Jersey shore-point campgrounds, but to my surprise, many of the coastal campground sites are charging hotel-room like rates to set up a tent for the night. My attention quickly shifted to the New Jersey State Parks where $20 a night ($25 for non-residents) seemed much more reasonable. My choices were quickly narrowed down to Bass River, Belleplain, Parvin, and Wharton State Parks. Each location seems to offer fun and exciting adventures so I decided to choose the closest to home, Parvin State Park.

Our State Parks use a website called ReserveAmerica.com to provide information, maps and payment options for campground reservations. Parvin State Park offers fifty-six tent and trailer campsites with fire rings, picnic tables and lantern hooks. Up to six people and two vehicles are allowed per site. Four group campsites capable of accommodating twenty-five people are available for $50 a night or $100 for non-residents. If sleeping on the ground isn't your thing, the park also offers eighteen furnished cabins with running water and electric. Each cabin offers a living room with fireplace or wood-burning stove; two bedrooms to accommodate four people; a kitchen equipped with an electric stove and refrigerator; a bathroom with sinks, toilets and showers; outdoor campfire ring, a brick patio with table and grill. Two of the cabins are accessible for persons with disabilities and offer accommodations for six people. Cabin rates are $55 a night, but the park requires a minimum of a week stay between Memorial Day and Labor Day – a week's stay will cost you $385. Cabin fees for non-residents are $65 a night and $455 a week. Six-bunk cabins are $75 a night and $525 a week while nonresidents will be charged $85 a night and $595 per week.

With fishing and kayaking high on our priority list, campsites 013 and 015 at Jaggers Point were our top choices. Site 013 was reserved so we took 015 – both campsites back up to a common ground in which a canoe or kayak can be carried about 50 yards to the waters edge. For those trailering a small boat, the park has a boat ramp available for a $12 fee. If you're travelling light, you can always visit Al's and Sam's Canoes, Boats, and Kayaks on the other side of the lake. Their rates were reasonable for an hour or two on the water and the dockhands seemed friendly and knowledgeable.

Jake and I set up camp on Friday afternoon while the ladies were due in later that evening. It took us a little longer than expected, but we made sure our site was perfect for our weekend getaway. After we set up camp, gathered wood and hiked a few trails, we took the kayaks out for a quick tour of the lake. A stiff northeast wind made paddling around the lake a little more difficult than I hoped, but we managed to scout out some likely fish-holding areas for the next morning.


Our Weekend Retreat

Sleeping on the ground at 30 years of age was a lot more enjoyable than sleeping on the ground at 40 years of age. After a long, almost sleepless night, Jake poked his head into my tent and whispered, "Dad it's time to wake up and fish." I responded with something like give me a few minutes. A few minutes passed and Jake returned with, "Dad big bass are jumping all over!" The kid knows how to get me up.

We gathered our fishing equipment and carried the kayaks out to the lake. The sunrise was beautiful, but that pesky northeast wind made fishing for bass by the lily pads quite difficult. After a half hour without a strike, I started to worry that it may not be our day. We left the fishy-looking structure on the south shore and headed to the other side of the lake to a beautiful cove where the trees blocked the wind. A few minutes in and we could see fish surfacing all over the cove. I tossed a 3-inch Berkley Gulp minnow while Jake decided to use a tiny portion of a leftover rubber worm. Within minutes our rods were bent over and we were into some of the best big panfish action I've ever experienced. We caught a mixed bag of sunfish, crappies, yellow perch, largemouth bass and pickerel, but the numbers and sizes of the sunfish and crappies were impressive – countless sunfish from 8 to 10 inches and crappies from 12 to 14 inches. We finished our morning with big smiles and a return to camp for breakfast around 10 AM.


Great Morning!

After a great breakfast, we decided to check out the lake's swimming area. The kids drove to the other side while Jen and I took the kayaks over. I stopped for a few casts on the way and had a tough time pulling myself away from those monster crappies. About a half-hour later, we made our way over to the swimming beach. The beach area was nice, but many of the children were unruly and that's being polite. The lifeguards had their hands full and were continuously yelling at the kids. It was not enjoyable for any of us so we packed up and headed back for camp.


Swimming or crappies?

At sunset, Jake and I returned for the evening bite and found the same great action we had during our morning session. A few other boats were out on the water, but we felt like we had the lake to ourselves. The wind had settled a little and the experience was perfect as we caught fish well into darkness. Roasting marshmallows over a campfire completed a great day.


Perfect Night!

I slept a little better on Saturday night. I'm not sure if my body adjusted to the surroundings or if I was just too tired to care. Whatever the case, I was ready to go and had drag Jake out of bed on Sunday morning. We paddled back over to
"our spot" and were immediately back into solid action. The pure numbers and variety of fish in that cove was amazing – cast after cast with largemouth bass, sunfish, crappies, yellow perch, pickerel and I lost a small carp at the side of my kayak. This action lasted for about three hours before we left them biting and decided to head in for breakfast.


Great Action!

Instead of a visit to the swimming beach, we decided to kayak up Muddy Run – the creek that feeds Parvin Lake. Jen and I took our kayaks while the kids rented an extra kayak from Al's and Sam's. Just a little ways upstream from the lake we came across a perfect little swimming hole. We stuck our paddles in the sand to anchor our kayaks and enjoyed a peaceful and refreshing swim – the water seemed much cooler than the lake water. We played in the water for hours. It was an experience I doubt any of us will soon forget.


Jake jumped right in.

We returned to camp for lunch and then headed back out in the kayaks to explore Muddy Run. We paddled for more than an hour upstream and covered at least a few miles. Some stretches were perfect and serene, while a few others turned out to be a little more adventurous – it was exactly what I was hoping for!


Julia and Craig heading upstream.


Julia and Craig having fun on the water.

As we paddled further upstream, the current felt stronger, but maybe it was just fatigue. We spotted all kinds of small fish, turtles, birds, frogs and even some wild grapes growing alongside the creek. We paddled over and through logjams, in inches of water, under a bridge and through some areas too narrow to paddle through – we had to paddle hard enough to gain momentum to carry us past the narrowest sections. Exhausted from hours of fishing and paddling miles upstream, it sure felt good to drift back to the lake.


This turtle was quite the climber.



Not being one to leave a good bite, Jake and I fished again on Sunday night and again on Monday morning before we had to break camp. I didn't think the great action could last, but it did. It's difficult to find a public lake that fishes like a private lake, but that's how I would describe Parvin Lake. Perhaps anglers are so enamored with the largemouth bass they overlook the outstanding panfish bite? Either way, Jake and I can't wait to fish the lake again. We had a blast!

To make the experience perfect, they could tighten up the rules in the swimming area and clean the bathhouses a little more frequently. To be fair – I believe the pros outweigh the cons 100 to 1, but I will be calling to complain about the bathhouses and the rowdy swimming area patrons – most of which aren't campers as the park offers swimming passes for a $2 daily fee.

If you're into fishing, this one should be put on the to-do list. Parvin State Park is a great asset to South Jersey. It offers a beautiful setting for all kinds of outdoor activities.
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