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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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October 28, 2016

Waiting for Striped Bass

by Frank Ruczynski

A chilly northwest wind, nighttime air temperatures dipping into the 30's, morning frost on the pumpkins, multicolored leaves covering the ground and the sun is setting a little earlier each evening – are you thinking the same thing I am? It's striper time!


I'm Ready for Linesiders!

While South Jersey anglers are not so patiently waiting for the migratory fall run of big bluefish and striped bass, I have some good news: they are heading our way! Reports up in Rhode Island and New York waters sound outstanding and some of the great action is beginning to trickle down towards Northern New Jersey. I expect to hear some better action towards Island Beach State Park and Long Beach Island by sometime next week.

Fishing conditions have been rather difficult lately. Air temperatures seem to be on a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs – one day it's 80 degrees, the next its 50 degrees. The erratic weather conditions are definitely taking a toll on water temperatures. Right now the Cape May Monitoring Station is reporting 58.8 degrees while the Atlantic City Station reads 59.7 degrees. Strong northwest winds aren't helping either. Winds from the northwest direction usually bring very cold air and sometimes blowout conditions. A look at the long-range forecast seems promising with more stable weather moving in by the weekend and highs for most of next week in the 60s and 70s. Once the dust settles, I expect water temperatures to recover slightly and fishing action to become a little more predictable.

Since the cold snap, our resident striped bass have really put on the feedbag. Most are on the smaller side, but there are enough decent-sized fish around to keep it interesting. In the last week, I've noticed more fall-type fishing and less summer species with what seems like each passing tide. Weakfish and snapper bluefish catches seem to be dwindling while schoolie striped bass and herring catches are on the rise. Fishing has been fun, but it's not the action that keeps most of us up all night either.


An Average South Jersey Resident Striped Bass

The South Jersey striper run seems to take place much later than it used to. I remember expecting full-on blitz conditions by mid-October. Those days seem to be gone, but our late-season runs are enjoyable too – last year, I had good-sized stripers feeding in the backwaters right up until the season's closure on January 1. If you're dying to try for stripers, you can get by with the resident bass or you can head about 50 to 80 miles north and extend your striper season by a full month. In recent years, I find myself heading north a little more frequently each season.

If you decide to stay local and tempt the resident linesiders, there are some added incentives. The first one that comes to mind is the red drumfish aka redfish. Over the last ten days, a handful of redfish were caught from Corson's Inlet to Cape May Point. Last year was oddly slow, especially after 2013 and 2014 had many anglers believing redfish were returning to our waters for good. Each year seems to differ, but overall trends seem promising. Another southern visitor is the spotted or speckled sea trout – many of us reference them as "specks". A few of my fishing pals dedicate much of October and November to these beautiful sea trout. Much like the redfish, the runs seem to fluctuate from year to year. Last year was slow as I heard of just a few specks caught in Cape May County. There hasn't been much talk about specks yet this season, but I did see a photo from an acquaintance a few days ago. To many anglers, the southern species are a real trophy as catching any number of these fish would take a fair amount of skill and a lot of luck.


South Jersey "Specks"

With stripers and saltwater fishing on my mind, freshwater fishing adventures are limited. After last week's unbelievable trout fishing, I couldn't help but hit some of the locally stocked waters again this week. The rainbows were a little more spread out, but just as willing to hit a spinner. I love having the big trout to myself but I feel like I have to share such a great experience. If you enjoy trout fishing, make sure to get out there soon!


Fall Trout Fishing is a Blast!

Last but not least a first for me – I caught my first warmouth. I was hooked into a giant rainbow when I noticed what I thought was a crappie, than a perch shoot from the bank behind me. I was in my waders and fishing in gin-clear water when I noticed the oddly patterned fish stalking around me. At first, my mind was on the big trout, but after landing and releasing the trout, I went back to look for the strangely colored perch or crappie. When I waded back, the fish seemed more curious than afraid of my presence. Not expecting much, I casted my spinner and the fish annihilated it. After a short, scrappy fight, I reeled in the fish and admired the odd color pattern – I was certain it was a warmouth. As I went to take a photo with my phone, I dropped the fish and it swam about five feet away. I figured I blew my shot at a picture, but I tossed my spinner at it again and the warmouth nailed it. Apparently these fish are very aggressive, but not very intelligent. I snapped a few photos and let it swim away. When I came home, I did some research and found the State of New Jersey considers warmouth an invasive species. I made a few phone calls and sent an email or two, but I'm still waiting for a response. I'll make sure to pass along any interesting information.


My First Warmouth

October 21, 2016

Get out for TROUT!

by Frank Ruczynski

The fall trout stocking is complete. Many of our local ponds, lakes and rivers are teeming with big, beautiful rainbow trout. Over the last two weeks, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife stocked more than 21,000 trout throughout state waters. These aren't the little trout we see in the spring on Opening Day; the average-sized, fall trout is about 15 inches with many larger specimens up to 22 inches. Trout fishing in October is nothing short of remarkable – some of these fish look like salmon!


South Jersey Salmon?

With great weather and literally truckloads of trout riding through South Jersey, I felt like I was in heaven. I fished lakes, ponds and rivers and had giant trout swimming in every direction. The Pequest Trout Hatchery does a wonderful job raising these trout and I'd like to thank them for making the most of our trout stamp fees. It feels strange thanking a state agency, but I definitely got my $10.50's worth.


How much is this fish worth?

This paragraph is my asterisk - I'm not going to pretend that fishing for stocked trout is the same experience as fishing a pristine, native trout stream in Northern New Jersey, Pennsylvania or New York, but the big trout are dropped right in our backyards and are put there for the sole purpose of fishing enjoyment. Some may consider this "fishing in a barrel" and for good reason, but I wonder how many people actually tried to catch a fish in a barrel? I can tell you from experience, these fish aren't as easy to catch as some may think. While fishing for stocked trout may not be as prestigious as some other types of fishing, it is fun – lots of fun! Catch rates are usually high, you don't have to feel guilty when taking a fish or four home and the odds of battling a trophy fish are likely higher in your own backyard than they would be just about anywhere else on the planet.


Trout like this are swimming in your backyard right now!

I've been fishing for stocked trout for years and I've learned a few things during my time on the water. The hatchery fish usually seem to be a little sluggish at first, as the trout need some time to acclimate to their new surroundings. The larger fish seem to take a little longer than the younger, smaller fish. In my experiences, rainbow trout seem a little easier to catch and a lot less particular than brook and brown trout – maybe that's another reason the state only stocks rainbow trout now? The stocked trout set up and behave differently depending on the location. At ponds, it seems like they roam around drop offs, points and lay downs. On the larger lakes, the trout seem to head straight for dams and spillways – the concrete spillways are like trout magnets. When fishing on creeks and rivers, undercut banks and deep pools seem to be likely fish holding areas. Years ago, I thought of trout as more of an open water roaming fish, but the state stockies often seem to prefer cover. I've lost quite a few fish in lay downs and log jams.


This one didn't get away!

There are many effective techniques used to catch trout. Fly-fishing, casting lures and bait fishing seem to work well. In my opinion, Berkley PowerBait Trout Bait is one of the most effective way to catch trout, but it's not as much fun as tossing inline spinners. If water temperatures are very low, I'll yield and use PowerBait, but if temps are above 50, I'll be tossing spinners. I came across a certain spinner a few years back and it's been my go-to for the stocked rainbow trout. It's a spinner named the Double Spinn, made by Thomas and I prefer the Nickel/Gold color pattern. The spinner is heavy enough to cover a lot of water when casting. The twin blades offer a tremendous amount of flash, which catches the attention of any nearby trout. The double blades also allow for a slow sink rate so I can impart a little more action into the spinner. After having many follows by trout without strikes, I learned that a little jig every once in a while would trigger a strike. I can accomplish the same action with smaller, lighter spinners, but they don't put off the same flash and I can't cover water with the smaller spinners like I can with the Double Spinn. If you're going out for trout, do yourself a favor and make sure to have a couple of these in your bag.


The Thomas Double Spinn strikes again!

The fall trout stocking days are like holidays in my family. I asked Jake if he wanted to take two days off from school to fish for trout and he couldn't have been happier. Before I get reprimanded, don't teachers get a few vacation days? Well, I think the kids should too. I wasn't quite sure how to write a note excusing his absence - trout fever? Looking back, I'm sure the memories we made over the last few days will last a lifetime.


I gave Jake an A+

Jake and I had a great time trying for the stocked rainbows this week. We even had a few of the locations all to ourselves. Imagine Opening Day of Trout Season, but with much larger trout, better weather and no crowds – yes, that's it. I am a little surprised the big fall trout don't receive a little more attention from South Jersey anglers. If you knew what you're missing out on, you may choose to celebrate the Opening Day of Trout Season in October from now on!

October 11, 2016

Fall Kayaking - An Escape From Election 2016

by Frank Ruczynski

Fall is here! The smoky scent of backyard bonfires, multicolored landscapes, harvest celebrations, hayrides, falling leaves, scarecrows, apple cider and pumpkin-spice flavored foods and drinks are just a few of the welcoming signs. While I enjoy everything the fall season has to offer, the great fishing action tops my list. Freshwater fishing opportunities are among the best of the year as our resident sweetwater fishing turns up a notch with an influx of super-sized rainbow trout. Coastal anglers spend their days and nights chasing the almighty striped bass as the fall migration kicks into high gear. It's a great time to be living and fishing in South Jersey!


Kayak fishing on a brilliant October afternoon.

Water and weather conditions look favorable for fishing over the next few weeks. Freshwater rivers, ponds and lakes are running a little low, but the waters are clear and cool. Saltwater conditions also look promising as Hurricane Matthew skirted our area to the south and than pushed further out to sea. Over the last ten days, coastal water temperatures dropped by almost 10 degrees. The Cape May station is presently reporting 63.9 degrees while the Atlantic City monitoring station reads 63.3 degrees. The resident schoolie stripers have been much more active since the water temp drop. With a stable weather forecast, I expect water temps to rebound and hold in the mid 60s for a few weeks. Our backwater estuaries are exploding with a plethora of baitfish so the table is set for a great fall run.


The recent drop in water temp triggered some better-sized fish this week.

The recent coastal storm and what seemed like an unending northeast wind forced me to step away from the great weakfish action and take on some new fishing opportunities closer to home. After a few days of rain, being stuck inside watching, reading and listening to political news, commercials and opinions, I couldn't wait to get as far away from society as I could. I looked over the map on my iPhone and searched for some of the most remote waters in my area. I needed an escape from "Election 2016."

After a little research on the new fishing locations, we loaded the kayaks and headed out to get away from it all. Fortunately, we had a beautiful lake to ourselves, the launch area was perfect and the fishing action was steady. It was exactly the escape I needed to feel sane again. Paddling out onto a serene lake on a warm October afternoon felt like paradise. While politics have a way of reminding me of everything that's wrong with the world, kayak fishing has a way of reminding me of everything that's right with the world.


This is my happy place!

My son, Jake, spends far less time fishing with me since school started, but his first four-day weekend (Columbus Day) came at the perfect time. We loaded up the kayaks and had a father/son trip that couldn't have been more enjoyable. Our Wilderness Systems kayaks are outstanding fishing platforms and we have them rigged to the max for enjoyment on the water. Jake paddles my old Tarpon 120 and I love my new ATAK 140. We usually fish all the likely areas such as docks, bulkheads, drop offs, stump beds and lily pad fields. I've been especially fond of the Rapala Shadow Rap Shad lately – the perch-colored pattern gets a lot of attention from our finned friends.


Rapala Shadow Rap Strikes Again!

Once we're done working over the lake, we usually paddle upstream to fish, have lunch and explore. The creek mouths and pockets are good for a few fish and the trek upstream is always enjoyable. Kayaking on lakes and ponds is great, but there is something special about paddling into the untouched areas that other boaters cannot access. We've found some great fishing spots, viewed a tremendous amount of wildlife and even found a couple out-of-the-way swimming holes. Kayaking through these types of areas is a lot like hiking on the water.


Paddling Upstream

The time Jake and I spend together on the water is always memorable. The experiences range from almost magical on some days to just really good on others. If our trips were a game, we'd always win. Between fishing action, our conversations and the beautiful surroundings, how could we lose? I watch as friends and family spend large amounts of money to fly to other states or countries to get away from it all while I just load up my kayaks and paddle off into the sunset.

If you haven't tried kayaking, I suggest giving it a shot. Maybe you tried kayaking a few years ago and the unstable little sit-in kayak didn't feel safe or comfortable? Kayaks have come a long way in the last few years. I'm not a young man anymore; certainly not the surfer type and I can stand and fish on my kayak very comfortably. The seats are more like a Lazy Boy recliner than the old wooden slats I sat on in my canoe. Creature comforts continue to reach new highs as new and useful products pop up on a daily basis. Items such as lightweight motors, pedal drives, carbon fiber paddles, high-end fish-finders, stereo systems, adjustable rod holders, charging ports for your phone, live wells, solar charging systems, remote-controlled anchors systems, and tackle storage options are just a few of the innovative new improvements made for kayaking. It sure is a great time to be a kayak angler!


By this time next year, I'll be dancing on my ATAK 140!

August 16, 2016

Summer Swelter

by Frank Ruczynski

Not long ago, I remember a time when I looked forward to the summer season. That time is gone. With recent air temperatures in the mid 90s and heat indexes between 105 and 115 degrees, I'm putting up the white flag – bring on September and those cool nights!

To most of us, the oppressive heat is like a smack in the face, but it also seems to be taking a toll on the local fishing action. Most species of fish, especially the largest of the species, usually become lethargic when water temperatures approach 90 degrees. Water temperatures vary depending on which body of water you're fishing, but we're running well above average in most locations. Yesterday, I logged 89 degrees at a nearby freshwater lake; on Saturday my Lowrance unit recorded 87 degrees in a coastal, backwater creek and last week, we set a record-high ocean temperature in Atlantic City where the mercury soared to a sultry 83.3 degrees – the previous record was 83.1 degrees, set five years ago.

Despite the stifling weather conditions, I continue to plug away on my summer fishing trips. Last Tuesday, August 9, my Dad flew up from Texas – when he visits, fishing is always on the agenda. Many of my go-to lakes are a bit slow now so we decided to hit a couple of farm ponds that my daughter's boyfriend frequents. John, Jake and I fished the ponds on Tuesday and tallied over 100 largemouth bass in just a couple hours. 100 degrees and 100 fish – you have to love farm ponds! Most of the bass were between 8 and 15 inches, but John did manage to catch a few better fish including one that was pushing 3 pounds.


Farm Pond Bass Thumb

On Wednesday, we returned to the farm ponds, but this time we brought my Dad along to get in on the action. Getting to the fishing hole is a little bit of work as this particular farm is off the beaten path. Access to one of the best ponds on the property requires one to crawl under an electrified fence – John has permission to fish the farm ponds, but there is a ton of land and the walk to the gate would take some time away from fishing.


Slipping Under the Electrified Fence

After navigating through the obstacle course, we arrived at the promise land and were into fish right away. It didn't seem to matter what we threw at those hungry little bass - they were going to hit it. I started with a Rapala Shadow Rap Shad and then switched over to a small jig. The farm pond bass seem a little more like piranhas than largemouth bass – it's hard to believe that many fish can live in what looks like a big, brown puddle.


Jake With a Farm Pond Bass

While we didn't catch any trophy fish, we still managed to have a great afternoon. We caught a ton of 1-pound fish, busted each other's chops for a while and then stopped at Mood's Farm Market for a refreshing apple crush. Under the harsh conditions, I think it's fair to say we made the most of the day.


Sometimes the Smiles Are Bigger Than the Fish!

After a few days of sitting by the air conditioner, I was ready to get back outside. On Sunday, August 14, I attended a Demo Day at West Creek Kayak and Canoe. I was there to represent Wilderness Systems and to help customers with any questions about kayaking. Glenn Collins is the shop's owner and one of the nicest guys I've ever met. Right behind the shop is a small feeder creek that connects to Little Egg Harbor – it is a perfect location for kayaking.


A Perfect Day for a Paddle

As an avid paddler, it's great to see the industry continue to grow by leaps and bounds. If your idea of kayaking is only based on an experience in an old sit-in kayak, you do not know what you're missing out on. The new line of sit-on kayaks offer so many amenities that your head will spin! For most of us, safety and comfort are of utmost importance. Some of the new kayaks are so stable that you can stand up on them comfortably and I'm not just talking about the young, strong surfer types – us older people can get in on the fun, too. The new seats are so incredibly adjustable and comfortable that you won't want to leave the water.


The New Kayaks Are Amazing!

When I'm not fishing or kayaking, I enjoy spending time with young anglers. There are two local kid's tournaments coming up in the next few weeks and I plan on attending both. If you're in the area, come on out and bring the kids along – it's always a good time!

Joe Haase and the Cumberland County Hooked On Fishing – Not On Drugs Fishing Program will be having their Tournament on Sunday, August 28 at Corson Park in Millville, NJ from 9 AM to 1 PM. Come on out to catch some fish and see what this wonderful program is all about.


Hooked On Fishing - Not On Drugs Tournament Flyer

On Saturday, September 10, the 2016 Kid's Fishing Contest will take place at Scotland Run Park in Clayton, NJ from 8:30 AM to 11:30 AM. This tourney is one of my favorites as I grew up fishing at Wilson Lake and participated in the very same contest when I was a teenager. I've seen some impressive catches over the years. Gloucester County Parks and Recreation and Sportsmen's Outpost do an outstanding job with the kids.


2016 Kid's Fishing Contest at Scotland Run Park Flyer

August 08, 2016

A Week in the Wilderness

by Frank Ruczynski

After waiting nearly a month for a break in the mid-summer heat, a perfect weather window opened for our fish-camp trip to Parvin State Park. With weather forecasters calling for daytime highs in the low 80s and nighttime temperatures dipping down to the mid-to-low 60s, I couldn't book our reservations fast enough! A week in the wilderness would include spending most of our time fishing from our Wilderness Systems kayaks and the remainder eating, sleeping, and exploring the park. We camped at Parvin State Park a couple times last summer and had such a good time, we couldn't wait to get back down there.

Fortunately, our favorite campsite, lucky number 013 was available and we set up for a week of living in the great outdoors - campsite #013 is the best site for kayakers as it backs right up to the water. As luck would have it, I was driving in the last tent stake when I saw a shiny, little circle. At first glance, I thought it was an old rivet from a tarp, but after digging the rest of it out of the ground, it turned out to be a gold band. Upon further inspection, it was clearly marked with 14K and a 1908 stamped on the inside of the ring. I don't have any idea how much it's worth, but it was a great way to start our trip!


We're off to a good start!

After setting up our gear, we slid our kayaks into the water and got down to business. Big crappies were our target and it didn't take us long to find them! We found good numbers of big summer slabs at the same little cove that put out great numbers of fish last year. I started by fishing two rods: one rigged with a float and the other with a 1/32-ounce jighead and a Berkley PowerBait 2-inch Power Minnow in the emerald shiner color. A steady east wind provided a good drift and it didn't take long for the rods to bend.


Super-sized crappies are a blast on light tackle!

The size of the crappies in Parvin Lake is beyond impressive! At most lakes, an average crappie usually tapes out around 10 inches, but at Parvin most of the crappies we caught were between 12 and 15 inches and extra thick. If you're into crappies, this lake should be on your list!


This one taped out at a little over 15 inches!

Jake and I caught fish until sunset and then headed back to camp with smiles on our faces. We ate dinner by the campfire and went to bed early, as we wanted to get in a good night's sleep before heading back onto the water at sunrise.


Sunset at Parvin State Park

The next morning, we woke up at 5:45 AM and were on the water by 5:50 AM. We were greeted by a beautiful sunrise and much calmer conditions. There is something almost magical about watching the sunrise on the water. Fish were surfacing all over the lake and it didn't take long for us to get back into the action. The steady crappie action continued right where it left off the evening before. To add to the fun, a few big sunfish, white perch and largemouth bass decided to join the party.


Sunrise Over South Jersey

By 10 AM, that east wind was picking up again. We boated a good number of fish and our stomachs were looking forward to breakfast. We brought a little propane grill to cook meals and I was seriously looking forward to pancakes and grilled breakfast sausages. With the thought of food on our minds, I think we may have paddled a little faster on the way back to camp than we did on our way out. It was a perfect morning!


Finishing off a great morning with pancakes and sausage.

With our bellies full, we decided to settle down for a while. It was great just sitting around, talking about our fishing trip and taking in our surroundings. Many of life's complications and stressors seem to disappear when you're spending time in the wilderness. Whether it's camping, hiking, fishing, kayaking or just sitting under a tree by the lake, there is something soothing about being surrounded by shades of blues and greens that have a way of melting away all of life's troubles.

After we decompressed, we decided to take the kayaks out to our swimming hole. The park has a small area of the lake roped off with a lifeguard present for swimming, but we decided to paddle upstream and swim in the cooler, cleaner feeder creek. The feeder creek is aptly called Muddy Run and the water seemed especially stained during our stay. While the water wasn't very clear, it was cool and quite refreshing, especially on a warm, sunny August afternoon.


Fun in the Sun

Soon after our swim, we decided to explore Muddy Run and the many little offshoots that can only be navigated by a kayak or canoe. We spotted some wildlife, paddled over logjams, under tree branches, and through inches of water all while soaking in our beautiful surroundings. Kayaking these areas is like hiking on the water.


I don't think those turtles are playing leap frog?

Jake, John and I paddled back to the main lake just before sunset to catch a few more crappies. The bite was steady and we picked away at crappies until dinnertime. The open-water bite is a ton of fun and doubles are a usual occurrence. We usually keep a few fish for a camp fish fry, but we had plenty of food packed and John was thoughtful enough to bring sandwiches for everyone – John, as much as we appreciated those hoagies, I'm sure those crappies were even more thankful.


Doubled Up!

Having spent much of the time in my Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K 140, I have to admit; I've fallen even more in love with it. My ATAK sheds the wind like no other kayak, it offers unbelievable stability and the raised AirPro Max seat combine to make for an awesome fishing machine. Sitting in that chair on that kayak with a rod and reel in my hand is truly my happy place!


My Happy Place

We spent the next few days repeating the same events: fishing, kayaking, exploring, roasting marshmallows by the campfire, enjoying life and each other's company. On Friday morning, I was woken up by the sound of a hot air balloon that hovered over our tent and then just a few feet off the water – the smell of propane was thick in the air. I thought I was dreaming – how many people can say they were woken up by the sound of a hot air balloon?


Up, Up and Away!

Our time at Parvin State Park was an incredible experience and I suspect the memories will last a lifetime. Do yourself a favor and take the time to enjoy what's left of the summer season and make sure to spend it with the people you truly care about – you'll be happy you did!

July 31, 2016

Surviving the Dog Days

by Frank Ruczynski

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!

July 10, 2016

Repeat Customers

by Frank Ruczynski

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!

June 28, 2016

Halftime Report

by Frank Ruczynski

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.


Winter Crappies

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.

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

June 08, 2016

National Fishing and Boating Week

by Frank Ruczynski

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.

May 23, 2016

What Happened to May?

by Frank Ruczynski

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.

April 16, 2016

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

by Frank Ruczynski

Can you believe we had a few inches of snow on the ground just a week ago? Fortunately, last Saturday's snowfall didn't have a lasting effect on the fishing action. Since the snowfall, the Delaware River striped bass bite exploded, many of our freshwater ponds and lakes were stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout, largemouth bass put on the feedbag and the saltwater action is picking up as the season's first bluefish, weakfish, and summer flounder were reported this week. Everywhere you look things are blooming and coming back to life – it really is the most wonderful time of the year!


Pickerel in the Snow

With better weather and good fishing conditions, I can't spend enough time by the water. In the last week, I've fished the night tides for striped bass, kayaked the early-morning hours in search of weakfish, fished the local stocked lakes for rainbow trout and tried for largemouth bass and pickerel at the local farm ponds. Even though I've spent a great deal of time fishing, I feel like I just can't get enough. South Jersey residents are truly blessed to have so many great fishing opportunities so close to home.

Stable weather patterns and rising water temperatures are exactly what I like to see during the spring season. Coastal-water temperatures vary from 50.5 degrees in Atlantic City to 56.7 degrees in Cape May at the Ferry Jetty. Backwater temperatures are ranging from the mid 50s to the low 60s - depending on location and time of day. I don't want to jinx it, but the wind has finally backed off too. The long-range forecast is looking good so I expect the fishing action to continue to improve.

I'll start this week's report in the sweetwater. Jake and I decided to skip the trout day opener and hit our favorite venues throughout the week. With another truckload of trout stocked on Tuesday, April 12, there is certainly no shortage of fish. We caught a ton of rainbow trout on nickel/gold-colored Thomas Double Spinns. The double-bladed spinner flutters and falls a little slower than most other spinners, which make them the perfect selection for many of our shallow-water lakes and ponds.


Those Thomas Double Spinns Are Deadly!

While I haven't caught or seen any large, breeder trout yet this season, I did manage to make a special catch on Tuesday afternoon at Harrisonville Lake. One of the trout I caught came with a little piece of jewelry! This particular rainbow trout was jaw-tagged as part of the state's Hook-A-Winner Program – 1,000 trout are tagged and distributed throughout the state's waters each year. Winners must submit their name, address, fish tag number and catch location to the Pequest Trout Hatchery to receive an award certificate and patch.


Hook-A-Winner Rainbow Trout

With the recent stretch of warm, sunny days, I find myself looking for any excuse to stop by the water's edge. That lake on the way to the supermarket, the pond by the mall or the little farm pond across from my mother-in-laws house – you know, ten minute stops here and there just to wet a line. Lately, those little stops have been paying off as largemouth bass and big chain pickerel seem to be strapping on the feedbag. I'm on a Rapala Shadow Rap binge; both the Shadow Rap and the Shadow Rap Shad have been extremely effective recently – the pickerel just can't keep their mouths off them. The size of the fish at some of the local "puddles" will surprise you!


This Afternoon's Pit Stop

When I have a little more free time, I'm making the hour-long commute to fish the coastal backwaters. Nightshift trips have been worthwhile, as 20 to 30-inch striped bass seem to be just about everywhere. We've put up some numbers over the last few nights and had a lot of fun with the little linesiders. I tagged a few fish for the Littoral Society and look forward to learning more about the habits and migration patterns of our local back-bay bass.


Tagging Striped Bass

On calm mornings, you will find my plying the local creeks and skinny-water flats in my A.T.A.K. kayak for spring tiderunner weakfish. A few have been caught, but I've only come up with striped bass and bluefish so far. The new kayak continues to impress me; the performance on the water and stability is simply amazing. My sunrise kayak sessions seem almost surreal – now if I could only find a few willing weakfish.


Heaven on Earth

At least the bluefish are cooperating. Those bluefish seem to move in earlier each season. I have a feeling the yellow-eyed eating machines will be invading our waters in full force over the next few days. Hopefully, I can find a few weakfish before the big bluefish arrive in numbers and wreak havoc. I caught a handful of 6 to 8-pound blues the other morning while trying for weakfish. They really put a toll on my jigs and soft-plastic baits as I was unprepared for the toothy demons and didn't have any heavy leader material on my kayak – I won't make that mistake again.


This one made it to the kayak!

Whether you're a long-time angler or just beginning, it's a wonderful time to hit the water. With so many options, that old, familiar saying seems entirely appropriate – "So many fish, so little time." I'm going to make the most of the spring run and I hope you do too. Good luck on the water!

March 11, 2016

Signs of Spring

by Frank Ruczynski

Wow, what a warm up! It's hard to believe we had a couple inches of snow on the ground a week ago and now I'm sunburnt from head to toe! The recent stretch of 70 and 80-degree sunny days almost seems too good to be true; it is early March in South Jersey right? Birds are singing during the day while chorus frogs screams can be heard throughout the night. One thing is for sure: warm, sunny days will kick start fishing action all over the area so expect fishing reports to pick up greatly in the coming week.



After years of logging fishing trips, it didn't take long to see how much weather and water conditions influence fishing action. Air temperatures, water temperatures, wind speed, wind direction, cloudy days versus sunny days, rainfall or lack of rainfall and a myriad of other weather-related factors have at least some impact on most species of fish. Water temperature is certainly one of the main factors to consider when fishing. Cold water temperatures may not always dictate movement, as in migration, but it does play a major role when it comes to feeding habits. Knowing your quarries preferences will help increase the odds of a successful day on the water.

Unlike air temperatures, water temperatures usually change gradually; however, big swings in air temperatures, like the unseasonal warm-up we're experiencing now, can speed up the process dramatically. Dark-colored mud flats and a strong March sun are a perfect combination to warm up chilly waters. Smaller, shallow bodies of water can vary by as much as twenty degrees in just a few hours. In tidal areas, the back-bay flats will warm up much more on a sunny day, especially towards low tide. An incoming tide can drop temperatures and an angler's odds at finding active fish considerably as cold ocean water flushes over the flats.


USGS Current Water Temperature Chart

Last week's snowfall put a littler damper on my hopes of an early-season striped bass. I haven't fished the backwaters for striped bass since opening day, but after the last few days and a glance at the water temperature, I believe it's time to start making plans. The long-range forecast looks good with average to above average daytime highs. Back bay water temperatures are already flirting with that magical 50-degree mark. Reports along the Delaware River are trickling in and I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot more about striped bass over the upcoming weekend.

Even though I didn't get out for stripers, I tried to make the most of the beautiful weather by spending some time in my kayak on the local waters. On Tuesday, my daughter, Julia, and I stopped by Wilson Lake at Scotland Run Park. We arrived at the lake around 10 AM and it was already approaching 70 degrees. First step into the water quickly reminded me that the recent snow had melted just days before: the water was so cold; it felt like it was cutting you! I tried my normal go-to fishing holes, but the chilly water seemed to be working against me.

With just a small pickerel to show for my efforts, I decided to head towards the shallow flats at the back of the lake. After a quick paddle onto the flats, I could see the sun's effect on the skinny water as tiny baitfish were being pushed along a weed line by a school of hungry pickerel. I poked around in skinny-water areas that would be unreachable by any other means other than a kayak and it was perfect. Only a week into March and I'm on the lake in my kayak in shorts and a t-shirt catching fish after fish.


Skinny-water Action

I told Jake about our trip that evening and decided to let him play hooky on Wednesday – what can I say, 80 degrees in March is a holiday at our house. We had plans to hit a nearby lake that had been on our radar for years, but we just never got around to fishing it. Fishing is allowed but kayak access would be difficult as would parking my trailer. Whatever the case, we were going to make it happen.

We got to the lake a little later this time – you know to let the sun work its magic. I pulled up to lake and we quickly unloaded the kayaks. Our only access was from a small, backwoods road and we had to slide the kayaks under a guardrail. Once we unloaded our gear, I parked the car a short distance away and took off my shoes and left them in the car. The walk back to the kayaks was fine, but loading the kayaks from land to the water would be an issue: hundreds of little spiked balls (we call them monkey balls) properly known as sweet gum balls made the barefoot carrying and rigging a real nightmare – I might have preferred walking on glass.

Once we finished navigating our way through the treacherous monkey balls, we slid the kayaks into the water and felt like we finally arrived in paradise. The warm sunshine, crystal-clear water (which was noticeable warmer than the day before) and light breeze set the table for a great afternoon on the water. I hooked a pickerel on my third cast and never looked back. The grass beds are just coming to life and were quite a spectacle as shades of greens and gold blended into each other. As luck would have it, the best fishing took place right on these shallow grass beds.


A pickerel's colors camogflage perfectly into the green and gold weeds.

Jake and I spent hours catching bass and pickerel on small jigs and soft-plastic baits. After exploring the lake, we decided that it has some serious potential. We didn't take the day lightly as this type of weather should be appreciated for all its worth. Towards the end of the day, neither of us wanted to go home: mostly because the weather was so beautiful, but also because we knew we'd have to pass the monkey-ball gauntlet again.


Chain Pickerel

Honestly, if I could picture heaven, it would be very similar to my experiences this week – well, maybe the fish could be a little bigger. Spending a beautiful day on the water with the people you care the most about; how can it get any better? I hope everyone has an opportunity to enjoy the spring season as much as I plan to.


Jake gets it!

January 19, 2016

Wrapping Up the 2015 Fishing Season

by Frank Ruczynski

A couple weeks ago, I had high hopes to fish right through the winter months, but that's becoming increasingly difficult with each reinforcing shot of cold air. As I write this, the air temperature is in the mid 20s, the wind is blowing out of the northwest at 25 to 30 MPH, the lakes are freezing over and winter storm Jonas seems to have us in the crosshairs for the coming weekend. I'm as diehard as most other 40-year old anglers, but I think it's time to wrap it up – another season in the books.

Fortunately, the 2015 fishing season ended a lot better than it started. If you remember, last winter was especially frigid and "cabin fever" was at an all time high. Many of my normal early-season fishing routines were put off weeks because of unusually cold temperatures and ice-covered waterways. Looking back through my logs, I see we were walking on many of the iced-over ponds and lakes I usually fish during late-February into early-March. If I remember right, we endured one last shot of winter with a substantial snowstorm on the first day of spring.



The long, cold winter certainly took its toll on the first portion of spring, but by April, the ice melted and the fishing action slowly improved. After a few ice-out pickerel and crappie, we spent the first week of April chasing rainbow trout. Speaking of trout, I can't say enough about how great the trout fishing is in South Jersey – whether you're looking for quality or quantity, the state does a great job filling our lakes with lots of hungry rainbow trout. I've taken more trophy-sized stocked trout in the last few years than I thought was possible in a lifetime.



After the water warmed up a little, we hit the Delaware River a few times for striped bass. The "Big D" is usually on fire by April 10, but with below-average water temperatures, the stripers seemed a little less hungry than normal. We caught a bunch of small striped bass, but the cows were few and far between.



With the river action a little on the slow side, I decided to hit the back bays and thankfully found some decent striper action on the flats. The resident backwater striped bass seemed to provide a little more enjoyment this spring - I don't think the bite was any better than usual, but it sure felt good to have them bending my rod again after what seemed like a never-ending winter.



By late April, the fishing action exploded! If I could bottle a time to fish in South Jersey it would be the few weeks between late April and early May when freshwater and saltwater opportunities are amazing in South Jersey. As you might imagine, during this time of year, I'm in my glory and spend every free moment either on the water or by the water's edge. If conditions are good, I prefer to fish the back bays for striped bass, weakfish, bluefish and summer flounder, but if the wind is up, I'll usually stay closer to home and chase largemouth bass, trout, pickerel, snakeheads, crappies or bowfin.

I spent much of May paddling around the back bays in search of tiderunner weakfish, but all of my favorite weakfish holes were inundated with big bluefish. At times, the schools of big blues made fishing for anything else impossible. We've had similar bluefish runs, but these weren't the normal-sized (4 to 6-pound) bluefish. The big slammer blues (8 to 15 pounds) took over our backwaters and took a toll on my light-spinning gear. Not only did it seem like they were everywhere, but they hung around for close to a month. I usually don't target bluefish, but those big slammers were a blast! I remember most trips ending with tired arms and a big smile.



When a cast managed to get past the bluefish, summer flounder were quick to grab my jigs meant for weakfish. The fluke bite was great until the summer flounder season opened and the wind blew straight for what seemed like a month! It seems to happen almost every year - the best flounder action takes place from mid-April until mid-May and then the season opens a few days before the Memorial Day weekend circus comes to town. I miss the old days!



Once school let out, I spent most of my free time freshwater fishing with my son, Jake. Largemouth bass and big, toothy chain pickerel were our target. Summer days at the lake consisted of working top-water plugs and frogs over the pads – if things were slow, we'd fish rubber worms around the docks. We had some great days and Jake learned a great deal – he turned 14 years old and finally graduated from live bait. Many of our South Jersey ponds and lakes offer great top-water fishing opportunities over the summer months. If I didn't have such a passion for saltwater fishing, I'd freshwater fish a lot more often – those top-water explosions are awesome!





The dog days of summer kicked in around the end of July and lasted into August. Action at our local lakes slowed down and I was looking for a change of scenery. I decided to schedule a family camping trip at Parvin State Park. Largemouth bass were our target, but it turned out to be a panfish palooza. We had so much fun fishing, kayaking and camping at Parvin that we decided to work it into our seasonal routine.



Before we knew it summer was over, we flipped the calendar to September and the kids returned to school. I played around at Parvin a little more and fished the mullet run. The 2015 mullet run was decent, but rather short-lived. I had hopes of some redfish and southern sea trout, but I only came up with small stripers, short fluke and snapper bluefish. Steady and constant northeast winds took over towards the end of the month and ended the mullet run and my hopes prematurely.



October usually means striped bass, but summer-like coastal-water temperatures had things rather slow along the shore towns. I spent some more time playing with crappies and perch at Parvin before cashing in on the fall trout stocking. The weather was mild and the fish were hungry. If the stripers weren't going to cooperate, I'm glad I had such great freshwater fishing opportunities to fall back on.





By November, I wanted stripers. Even with the great freshwater action, I needed to get my fill of linsiders. The back bays were full of bait and I found small schools of stripers almost every night. Reports of some serious surf action came from a little north and were too good to pass up. November quickly turned into a striped blur – back bay stripers all night and daytime stripers in the surf. Warm weather and massive schools of adult and juvenile bunker made for a great fall run. After a couple bad fall runs, this push of striped bass was long overdue!



December offered more of the same as mild temperatures and hoards of baitfish kept the striped bass action going right up until a couple weeks ago. I spent most of December in the backwaters and had solid action on every single trip. It's been a few years since I've experienced a consistent bite like we had this year. It felt a little odd fishing the December nightshift in t-shirt, but I'd trade anything for a return to those days now.



2015 started slow, but ended with a bang. The big blues combined with a good fall run made up for the slow start. Having steady striper action right up until the end of the year should go a long way in helping many of us get through this winter. Even though I hoped to fish through the winter months, it will be nice to catch up on the things I put off to go fishing – maybe I'll even get a little ahead of schedule to free up some time for next spring. For now, it looks like I'll be trading in my fishing rod for snow shovel.

January 08, 2016

Back to Reality

by Frank Ruczynski

It was a great ride, but it looks like we're back to the reality of winter in South Jersey. After an unseasonably mild November and December, I had high hopes for at least the first half of January. A three-day stretch of below freezing temperatures and nighttime lows flirting with single digits proved to be a bit of a mood killer. Over the last few days, coastal water temperatures dropped by nearly 10 degrees and many of our local sweetwater venues have just enough ice to making fishing nearly impossible. The 2015 fishing season started at a zero-to-one-hundred pace so I guess it's only fitting it would end much the same way.

I don't plan on throwing in the towel just yet, but one more cold shot will likely be the knockout punch. The coming weekend actually looks promising – a little rain, but temperatures in the 50s on Saturday and 60s on Sunday. Long-range weather forecasts don't look as favorable and I'm thinking this weekend could be our last shot at any serious action.

Before the cold blast, anglers were making the most of the great late-season striped bass opportunities. Striped bass fishing was steady on all fronts. The backwater bite stayed strong right up until the closure at midnight on January 1. The surf bite was great before the cold shot, but slowed considerably over the last few days. A little east wind and some warmer weather could give the local surfcasters one more shot this weekend. The best striper bite seems to be happening just off the beach where private and charter boats continue to report blitz-like conditions. Yesterday, January 7, Captain Skip Jastremski of the Cape May-based Stalker reported good numbers of striped bass to 40 pounds!

I continued to work the skinny waters for striped bass until the New Year. I had back-bay stripers blowing up on grass shrimp and spearing at 2 AM on Thursday, December 31. The fish showed no signs of slowing down as they annihilated my pink soft-plastic baits and would throw head-shaking fits on every hook set. If the cold weather didn't move in, I'd surely be tempted to make a few more backwater trips. I'm going to miss my line-sided backwater buddies. March 1, 2016 can't come soon enough!


Goodbye backwater stripers and 2015!

With the saltwater season nearing its end, I'm looking forward to spending time closer to home and some serious freshwater fishing. I never completely stop fishing freshwater, but it takes somewhat of a backseat when there are good saltwater fishing opportunities. Over the last few days, freshwater action came to a crashing halt as artic air moved in and covered many of our local waterways with a thin layer of ice. One day, I had new lily pads emerging from the warm mudflats and the next they were covered in ice. I believe the fish knew the change was coming as they put on the feedbag and we had some unbelievable action right before the deep freeze.

Before the cold snap, Jake and I were fishing just about every afternoon. Action was good as we caught lots of crappies, yellow perch, pickerel and small largemouth bass on jigs and soft-plastic baits. The crappie bite seemed to provide the best action so we concentrated on them and had a blast. A small float and a little crappie jig is about as simple as it gets. Rigged properly, I doubt there is a more efficient way to catch winter crappies.


Jake and I had doubles for most of the afternoon.

Speaking of floats, those little plastic bobbers seem to get a bad rap. Fishing with a float may seem juvenile to some, but they work well for a bunch of reasons – besides being a brightly colored strike indicator, the weighted floats I use allow me to cast 1-inch grubs rigged on 1/64-ounce jigs great distances and they keep the bait strategically suspended in the strike zone which is especially important when fishing in chilly waters. When properly utilized, a bobber becomes more than a float - it becomes another useful tool in an angler's arsenal.


Bobber Down!

If our waterways don't ice over, I plan on fishing for pickerel, yellow perch and crappies right through winter. The pineland bogs are on my radar this winter – I'm wondering how they compare to some of my favorite local pickerel hot spots. As I grow older, my sense of reason seems to outrank my sense of adventure. I find myself asking, "Why drive an hour to fish new waters where I'm uncertain of the outcome when I know I can catch tons of fish closer to home?" It's a difficult battle, but one that I believe is worth fighting as I find myself learning much more on unfamiliar waters. My resolution for the 2016 fishing season isn't a new or trophy species – it's to get out of my old routine and add more adventure to the sport I enjoy so much. Whatever your goals are for the 2016 season, I wish you the best!


I'm looking forward to 2016 and big pickerel like this one!

December 29, 2015

Don't Put Those Rods Away Yet!

by Frank Ruczynski

It's hard to believe there are only a few days left in the 2015 calendar year. Usually, at this point in the season, I'd be writing a wrapping-up-another-fishing-season report, but not this year! Yesterday's blitz reports were some of the best of the season. Whether you're a saltwater or freshwater angler, fishing action remains outstanding and it really doesn't show any signs of slowing down anytime soon!

In my opinion, the main factors to the great coastal fishing action are mild weather and a lack of any prolonged coastal storms. With 60 and 70 degree daytime highs and coastal-water temperatures holding in the low to mid 50s, fish and anglers alike are much more active. Baitfish and stripers aren't in a hurry to continue south if conditions don't warrant a migration – much like anglers are less likely to migrate to their couches this late fall/winter. The last two fall and winter seasons were frigid and the fishing action along with angler participation dropped off soon after Thanksgiving. This year's mild trend is similar to the 2011 fall/winter run – remember the outstanding fishing action that season?


These fish aren't going anywhere soon!

Between holiday gatherings and the recent rainstorms, I've been fishing mostly at night in the back bays. The backwater striper bite remains as solid and predictable as I can remember. About two hours on either side of high water, the stripers show up and turn on the feedbag. I've been tossing ¼-oz jigs and pink soft-plastic baits at them with great results. Many of the linesiders are in the 22 to 26-inch range, but they are a lot of fun on freshwater bass gear.


Backwater stripers are lots of fun on light-duty gear.

Moving forward, as of midnight on Friday, January 1, 2016, New Jersey coastal backwaters will be off limits for striped bass anglers – this includes inlets, sounds, estuary waters and rivers. I can't say I understand the reasoning for this regulation and as an avid backwater angler it should come as no surprise to hear I'm not very fond of it. I was told the closed-season regulation was put in place to limit anglers from snagging semi-dormant stripers in some of the deep-water holes – I don't know the severity of this type of fishing, but I would assume it was miniscule. Regardless, sadly, my back bay striper trips will end in about sixty hours.


I'll miss my backwater bass!

On the bright side, the backwater closure will force me to fish more out front and by the sounds of it, I've been missing out. The surf bite has been steady, but it seems like the first day of an east wind really gets them going. Yesterday, striped bass and bluefish went crazy a little to the north around Seaside Heights, NJ. During my recent surf trips, I've had much more success during the backend of the outgoing tides – being able to get out on those bars can make or break a trip. I'm looking forward to landing my first striped bass of the New Year in January instead of March of the 2016 season.

When I'm not chasing striped bass, I've been hitting the neighborhood lakes and ponds for crappies, largemouth bass, pickerel and yellow perch. The freshwater action has been exceptional. Whether by foot from the banks or out in my kayak, I've been pleased with the bite on every trip. Usually by this time of year, live baits or downsized artificial offerings are required to catch consistently, but we aren't limited on techniques yet as the fish remain quite active. On Christmas Eve day, we had largemouth bass and pickerel blowing up on shiners while we were fishing top-water plugs in shorts and a t-shirt!


Topwater Pickerel from the Kayak

Over the last few days, Jake and I have targeted crappies and yellow perch - Santa brought Jake lots of new fishing tackle to test out. We've been much more successful this season than in years past. I'm sure the warm weather is helping, but I believe another factor is the time I spent in my kayak with a good down-imaging fishfinder. Earlier this season, I marked some great underwater structure areas and took note of specific areas that I could reach from land - it's paying off big time!


Jake is having a blast with his new gear.


A beautiful 14-inch yellow perch.

The 2015 calendar year may be coming to an end, but the fishing season is far from over. Whether you prefer to chase striped bass and bluefish along the coast or if you're staying close to home and targeting freshwater species, it sure will feel good to start the New Year with a bent rod!

December 01, 2015

A December to Remember?

by Frank Ruczynski

I can't believe it's December. I woke up this morning, flipped the calendar and thought to myself, "where did the year go?" It seems like just yesterday I was out on my kayak catching fish in shorts and a t-shirt – actually it was Saturday and I had a blast catching crappie, perch, largemouth bass and pickerel. Between the days flying by and the stretch of warmer weather, it sure doesn't feel like December.


11/28/15 A little dreary, but 65 degrees!

Fortunately, this fall we've been blessed with mild temperatures and the fishing action has been great. While air temperatures are no longer close to 70 degrees, a look at the long-range forecasts shows daytime highs in the mid-50s for most of the month. Coastal water temperatures are hovering in the low 50s. My Lowrance recorded similar water temperatures (52-54) while kayaking the local freshwater lakes. After the last couple years of frigid temperatures and too much talk about polar vortexes, I feel like I have some making up to do!

With so many fishing opportunities, I've been fishing day and night. Largemouth bass, chain pickerel, crappie, yellow perch, white perch and sunfish are providing steady action. My daytime fishing trips consist of working the shorelines, either by foot or in my kayak and tossing small jigs and soft-plastic baits to a variety of species. Panfish (crappie, perch and sunfish) seem to prefer a small brightly colored Trout Magnet while the bass and pickerel bite has been on natural-colored (dark top/light bottom) 3 and 4-inch soft plastics such as Berkley Gulp Minnows. While most of the freshwater species are small to average size, the action has been hard to beat.


Freshwater Fun

If the great freshwater action wasn't enough, last week, the state trout wagon made their "Winter Stocking" rounds and dropped off a truckload of rainbow trout to sweeten the pot a little more. I spent a couple of days at the trout ponds and had a great time landing a bunch of 14 to 18-inch rainbow trout. Spinners, Trout Magnets and Berkley PowerBait Trout Bait should put some fish on the end of your line. As far as I can tell, the freshly stocked trout have not been receiving much attention so they should provide a good fishery for at least the next few weeks.


Winter Trout Stocking

As soon as it gets dark, my thoughts quickly shift to striped bass and saltwater fishing. While daytime surf reports seem more hit or miss lately, the nighttime backwater bite has been as steady as I can remember. Night after night, the same areas continue to provide good numbers of 20 to 28-inch linesiders. Bubblegum-colored Zoom Super Flukes on ¼ to ½-ounce lead heads are working well.

On Friday night, I took Jake down to get in on the action. High tide was right around 11 PM so we timed our arrival with the falling tide. The tide took a little while to get going, but as soon as it did, the striped bass cooperated. Imagine a warm night, a falling tide and stripers breaking all around you – can it get any better? Jake and I had a great time as we caught bass after bass through most of the night. Just after 3 AM we looked at each other and decided we had enough and it was time to head for home. We tagged a bunch of fish with American Littoral Society (ALS) tags and brought home a 28-inch fish for the dinner table. After a night like that, even the ride home was enjoyable.


Good Times!

Over the next few nights, I returned to the same locations during the same tide stages and experienced similar results. It appears as though new schools of fish continue to enter our estuary waters each day as I've caught many fish covered in sea lice. Most of the areas I'm fishing are miles away from any inlets so I'm hoping they stick around for a while. Most of the linesiders aren't very big as many seem to fall into the 22 to 26-inch range, but they are a lot of fun on my light G.Loomis and Shimano spinning gear.


11/30/15 Sea Lice Striper

After some down years, it feels good to feel good about striped bass again. By no means am I saying we are out of the woods, but this fall run seems promising. Most of my trips have been short and sweet. While the action barely compares to the striped bass heydays, it is much better than the last few seasons. I'm hoping the better action turns into a trend.

My recent backwater trips ranged from Ocean City north towards Long Beach Island. I haven't heard many promising reports from anglers fishing south of Ocean City, other than some boaters trolling a couple miles off the coast – some of my boat buddies have been posting solid reports with many of the fish in the 20 to 30-pound class. The lack of fish along the South Jersey beaches may have a lot more to do with circumstances other than a problem with the striped bass biomass – only time will tell.

October 21, 2015

New Jersey's Fall Rainbow Trout

by Frank Ruczynski

The 2015 New Jersey fall stocking season is complete as thousands of big, beautiful rainbow trout are now swimming in our South Jersey lakes, ponds, and rivers. The trout-stocking trucks made frequent stops in which they unloaded tons of hefty 14 to 22-inch rainbow trout. Usually, angler participation is low compared to the spring trout fishery, so these big trout should be swimming in our waters well into the winter season and maybe as long as next spring. If you enjoy the spring trout action, you'll love the bigger fall trout.


An Average Fall Rainbow Trout

After twenty-five years of fishing for trout in South Jersey, the fall stocking is clearly my favorite time to fish, as the state only puts in two sizes of trout – big and bigger. More times than not, your biggest spring trout will be smaller than your smallest fall trout. The bigger fish fight a lot better and seem to fit the dinner plate perfectly. Throw in daytime highs around 70 degrees and a backdrop of beautiful fall foliage and it's difficult to find a reason not to fish for these brawny rainbow trout.


A Day at the Trout Pond

I guess I need to write a disclaimer - fishing for stocked trout is not the same as fishing for wild trout; we're certainly not fishing gin-clear, mountain streams in Montana. This is New Jersey and the trout are strategically placed by the state to offer the best chance for anglers to capture them. The South Jersey trout fishery is often referenced as a "put-and-take" fishery. The truth is most if not all trout would die in many of our waterways as summer water temperatures rise well into the 80s. Think about it like a fish market where we're allowed to fish for our meals. The words glamorous or sporting don't usually come to mind when talking about stocked fish, but it sure can be a lot of fun!


Jake is having fun!

Fishing for stocked trout isn't always as easy as some may think. The trout take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to acclimate to their new waters. In my experiences, rainbow trout are far more aggressive and take much less time to adapt to their new surroundings. Sometimes, it seemed like the brown and brook trout took weeks before they really starting biting. Since the furunculosis outbreak at the Pequest Hatchery, the Division has decided to stock only rainbow trout, which should bode well for anglers.

When the trout truck visits our area, I usually go on a two to three day trout-fishing binge. I let my son, Jake, take a day or two off of school and we chase trout all over South Jersey. It's about as close as either of us will get to trout fishing in Montana. We fish ponds, lakes and rivers for no other reason than we like catching lots of big trout. Sometimes the fishing action is fast and furious, while other times, it's a very specific bite that can be quite challenging.

Over the last two days, we've hit three different waterways – a lake, a river and a pond. The fishing action was good at each venue, however the trout responded a little differently at each location. In the shallow lake, the trout were rather lethargic and difficult to tempt with any offerings. I believe many of the trout we caught at the lake struck our spinners more out of aggravation than hunger. After some time, I switched over to a Trout Magnet and a slower, jigging presentation and the trout responded nicely.


This big male rainbow trout hit a gold Trout Magnet.

After we had fun at the lake, we headed over to the river. When we arrived, I could see trout zipping in and out of the deeper pools. These trout seemed spooky and full of energy. Many of the larger trout were holding along the banks in the deeper cuts. These fish would only hit if we presented from upstream and we let our spinners sit almost still in the current – the spinner would sit in place with only the blades spinning. While the bite was a little more specific at the river, the current and surroundings felt much more trout-like.


Jake with a River Rainbow

This afternoon, we visited a small sand wash pond. Crystal-clear water with nice drop-offs presented lots of visuals. We found big schools of trout holding wherever we saw down trees. I was a bit surprised, as I always believed trout preferred open waters, especially when no current is present. I tried my go-to Trout Magnet as I could jig it in and around the underwater branches, but I couldn't buy a hit. I switched back to a double-bladed spinner and I had trout on almost every cast. My best catch of the day put up a real fight, as it seemed to swim through every underwater branch on our side of the pond. I was happy when the big male trout finally came to the net.


Another Big Rainbow Trout from This Afternoon's Trip

Looking back at our two-day trout-a-thon, Jake and I had a tremendous amount of fun. It wasn't the most challenging type of fishing or the most glamorous, but we had a good time. I'm sure some will scoff at our super-sized stocked trout – it's ok, we know all about the stocked trout and enjoy it for everything it's worth!

October 15, 2015

Fishing Action Heats Up As Temperatures Fall

by Frank Ruczynski

Wherever you look, autumn is in the air. Sunrises are occurring a little later each morning while sunsets are a little earlier each evening. Squirrels are going crazy, stocking up on walnuts and acorns. Our skies are filled with migrating birds and monarch butterflies. Mosquitos and other bugs are dispersing. While many of us enjoy our pumpkin-flavored foods and drinks, I'm looking forward to the harvest festivals, bonfires on chilly nights, color-filled landscapes and some of the best fishing action of the year.

Water temperatures are dropping right on schedule and I believe this weekend's northwest blow should really getting things going. As of 1 PM on October 15, 2015, the Atlantic City monitoring station checked in at 64.6 degrees while Cape May's station reported 67.3 degrees. Some of the coastal backwaters and many of our freshwater lakes and ponds have already dipped into the 50s.


Chilly Morning on the Water

Striped bass reports are picking up in our area as many of the resident fish become more active. The bulk of the migratory fish were last reported working their way down from Montauk and towards the South Shore of Long Island, New York. Sandy Hook, New Jersey reports are beginning to trickle in and should continue to improve as the weekend approaches. Further south, from Island Beach State Park to Cape May, fishing action has been a little slower, but a few quality fish are beginning to show up. The resident stripers will keep me busy for another week or two before I take the ride north to look for some blitz-like action. As each season passes, it seems like the South Jersey striper season occurs a little later in the year – look for more widespread, serious action to take place in November.

While waiting for numbers of striped bass to return to our local waters, there are many other great fishing opportunities available. The trout trucks will be visiting our portion of the state early next week. Even though the state doesn't stock as many waterways as they do in the spring, the quality of the trout more than makes up for it. These big, beautiful rainbow trout aren't receiving the attention they deserve. I understand they're stocked fish, but fooling the big rainbows can be both challenging and rewarding. The fall stocking information below was copied from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife's website:

Tuesday, October 20

ATLANTIC & CUMBERLAND COUNTIES
• Giampetro Park Pond - 170
• Hammonton Lake - 340
• Mary Elmer Lake - 170
• Maurice River - 400

BURLINGTON, CAMDEN & GLOUCESTER COUNTIES
• Crystal Lake - 170
• Grenloch Lake - 170
• Oak Pond - 170
• Sylvan Lake - 170

Wednesday, October 21

GLOUCESTER & SALEM COUNTIES
• Greenwich Lake - 170
• Iona Lake - 170
• Schadlers Sand Wash Pond - 170
• Swedesboro Lake - 170

MIDDLESEX & MERCER COUNTIES
• Colonial Lake - 170
• Roosevelt Park Pond - 170
• Rosedale Lake – 170



A Fall of 2014 South Jersey Rainbow Trout

I'm looking forward to next week's trout delivery, however I don't know if it can compare to the crazy panfish action I've experienced over the last two weeks. The bite has been so good it is almost unbelievable. Crappies and yellow perch are beginning to school up and if you can find a good piece of underwater structure, be prepared to catch fish all day long.


Fish Fry

Having fished the nightshift for most of my life, I'm enjoying and appreciating fishing during daylight hours. While the nightshift certainly has its benefits, early-morning kayak trips provide both great visuals and fishing action. I arrive at the lake and paddle through a steam or water vapor that I refer to as smoke on the water. Mirror-calm conditions magnify the beautifully colored trees that surround many of our local waterways now. A curious and likely hungry eagle circles my kayak each morning as I pull fish after fish in from submerged structure. As I take in the entire experience, I can only explain it as magical.


Mirror Calm Mornings Are Especially Beautiful

After years of lugging around all kinds of fancy, expensive gear, I've streamlined my approach. On my last trip to the lake, I loaded my kayak, two fishing rods, a life vest, a paddle, a water bottle and a very small utility box of small jigs, floats and soft-plastic baits. Very little effort is needed for this simple type of fishing and it makes the experience even more enjoyable.


All Smiles on a Perfect Fall Morning

Fishing for crappie and yellow perch isn't very complicated, as they seem to hit just about any small bait selection. I've experimented with a bunch of different tactics and continue to learn on each and every trip. While you can learn from trips in which no fish were caught, I find I learn much more when lots of fish are present. I've experimented with retrieves, colors, lure selections, and floats over the last few trips. I found that I can catch fish on just about any offering, but some offerings worked better than others. Of all the techniques I tried, my go-to weightless Berkley Gulp 3 and 4-inch minnows provided the best results. Small, brightly colored jigs (I like using Trout Magnets) in sizes 1/32 to 1/64 also worked extremely well, especially fished under a float.


This Slab Crappie Fell for a Trout Magnet

The key to catching wasn't so much about what type of retrieve I chose or what type or color offering I selected. It was all about location. If there was some type of structure in more than three-feet of water, fish would be there and in many cases, they'd be schooled up in impressive numbers. Fine tuning my lure selections and retrieves allowed me to boat a few more fish, but I'm certain I could have caught some fish with a bare hook.


This Yellow Perch Qualifies for the State's Skillful Angler Award and Completes My Panfish Slam

There are times when I appreciate a challenge, but sometimes it's nice to sit back and just have fun. If your idea of a good time is simply catching loads of fish on a beautiful day, it's time to hit the water!

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.

July 15, 2015

Moving Right Along

by Frank Ruczynski

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.


7/6 - A local dock surrendered this chunky bass.


7/6 - Big Bluegills


7/8 - Jake nailed this bass on a live sunfish.

July 03, 2015

Green Monsters

by Frank Ruczynski

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!

June 01, 2015

Gone with the Wind

by Frank Ruczynski

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!

December 02, 2014

December in South Jersey

by Frank Ruczynski

Don't hang up those rods and reels yet! If you don't mind riding the weather rollercoaster, there are still plenty of fishing opportunities in our area. After waking up to a coating of snow on my car this morning, it's hard to believe we hit 70 degrees yesterday afternoon. After a warm October and frigid November, I think it's fair to say the local fishing action was anything but predictable. After lots of ups and downs, it appears as though we have some normal weather heading our way and hopefully a few more fish to catch before the end of the season.

By most accounts, striped bass action along our stretch of the state, from LBI to Cape May, was especially poor for land-based anglers. Surfcasters caught a few fish, but action was nothing like it was a few years ago. Backwater anglers haven't fared much better. Lots of factors come into play: lack of fish, different migratory routes, and weather patterns are usually tops on the list. Whatever the case, my eyes tell me striper fishing just isn't what it used to be.

On the bright side, over the last few years, the month of December has offered some of the best striper action of the season. While most of the bait and tackle shops are wrapping it up, diehard anglers are cashing in on the late-season action. I've had some of my best fall outings during the first half of December. The bulk of the migrating fish are just off our coast; we just need a few schools to move in along the beachfront.

Boaters seem to be painting a much brighter picture of the fall run. The Delaware Bay striper bite may not have been record setting, but when the weather allowed, most of my bunker-chunking buddies returned to port with their limit of big bass. While the bay bite seems to be slowing down, trolling out front has been worthwhile for many anglers. Stretch 30s were hot this weekend as many anglers cashed in on the great late-season action.


Cameron Koshland with a pair of stripers he trolled up on 12/1/14.

Over the holiday weekend, I spent lots of time with family and still managed to sneak in a little fishing. Jake and I worked the nightshift on the back bays in search of stripers. Even though conditions were prime, many of my old honey holes just weren't holding fish. We fished a bunch of areas just before high water and had nothing to show for it. After covering a little ground, our last stop paid off. As soon as the water starting falling, the stripers started popping. The bass were schooled up in just inches of water along a shadow line. We tossed small jigs on light spinning gear and had a blast catching 18 to 28-inch stripers. The fish weren't as big as I'm used to and we had to work a little harder to find a bite, but the end result was the same: driving home with smiles on our faces.


Good times with Jake

Before the holidays, my experiences on the back bays weren't much different. Most of my trips consist of driving around to find a school or two of mostly 18 to 24-inch fish. After years of outstanding fishing, it's not easy to appreciate the new normal. I've tried to make the best of it by joining the American Littoral Society's tagging program. Tagging the small stripers is easy and I enjoy the feedback when another angler returns a tag. I'll cover a little more about tagging over the winter months.


I've been busy tagging short stripers

When I didn't have time to make the ride to the coast, I hit the local lakes and ponds. With skim ice present a few times, I wondered how long my freshwater fishing opportunities would last, but with the recent warm up it looks like I'll be fishing well into the new year. Fishing for largemouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch and crappie has been very good. The state also stocked a few of the local lakes with good numbers of 10 to 12-inch trout. The smaller trout haven't received much attention so they should provide some action-packed fishing opportunities throughout the winter months.

On Monday, I spent most of the day fishing with my daughter, Julia. With a forecast high near 70 degrees, it was a perfect day to hit the local waterways. Julia is 18 and usually very busy so we don't get to spend as much time together as we used to. It was great having my little redheaded fishing buddy back even though I'm pretty sure I'll be suckered into some time at the mall in the very near future. We stopped by Blackwater Sports Center and picked up a few dozen minnows. On our way back from the shop we fished a bunch of lakes and ponds until we ran out of bait. Pickerel and crappie provided most of the action, but we caught a few small bass too. I prefer to fish the salt, but the freshwater action is tough to beat, especially during the winter months.


"This is so much better than the mall!"

On a side note, I'd like to mention a little about our weekend training for the Hooked on Fishing – Not on Drugs Program at the Lighthouse Center for Natural Resources in Waretown. My wife, Jen, and I plan on starting our own program to get kids outside and away from drugs. The state's Hooked on Fishing – Not on Drugs (HOFNOD) Program offers the public a tremendous amount of resources to get started. We had a great time and learned a lot during our weekend stay. If you have a little free time and would like to help some of the neighborhood kids, please consider starting your own HOFNOD group.


Good luck to the big-hearted people we met at the HOFNOD Training Program!

March 13, 2014

Hooked on Fishing - Not on Drugs

by Frank Ruczynski

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.


They're here!

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!


3/12/14 Pickerel


November 24, 2013

It's Our Turn, Right?

by Frank Ruczynski

Wow, what can you say about the lovely weather we had this weekend? The sad truth is that it's not looking much better as we head into the end of November. After today's 40-mph winds, a nor'easter is due to blast our coastline on Tuesday and continues into Wednesday, followed by another shot of hard northwest wind and more frigid temperatures. To top it off, the December long-range forecast looks to be filled with additional below-average air temperatures. If the current trend continues, I think the South Jersey fall run may come to an end before it ever really started. I hope I'm wrong, but it's not looking good.

I think most anglers would agree that it's been slow for those of us that fish from Long Beach Island to Cape May. About ten days ago, we had some strong blowout tides and things have been slow to recover ever since. I've been out day and night and while I'm finding some fish here and there, it's been far from what we've come to expect from our fall striper run. In areas where I'm used to catching five to ten bass in a few hours, I feel lucky to have two or three on the end of the line.

On the bright side, a little further to the north, boaters and surfcasters reported some better action. Earlier this week, anglers fishing around Island Beach State Park enjoyed some solid action. I, like many anglers, grew tired of waiting for the stripers to visit our area so I headed up to IBSP to get in on the hot bite.

With a tip from a friend, I walked on to the beach at 5 AM and had birds and stripers busting on sand eels in front of me for hours. I caught a bunch of fish in a short amount of time and enjoyed every moment of it. Does it get any better than watching the sunrise over the ocean with a bent rod and a school of hungry stripers in front of you? Not for me, I was in heaven! I caught most of my fish on metals and teasers, but needlefish plugs and Daiwa SP Minnows worked well, too.


First bass on my new Van Staal

By the next day, word of the great bite was out and most of the beach was shoulder to shoulder with surfcasters. Even with 100s of surfcasters on the beach, I still managed to put together a decent catch of solid striped bass. I thought to myself, this is what I've been waiting for!


Word of the hot bite spread quickly!

A return trip on Thursday morning saw more anglers and less fish. A stiff, east wind provided some beautiful white water, but it also cut into my casting distance. I felt lucky to land the one that I did. Since my last visit, the weather and fishing reports have gone downhill quickly.


A fall fatty, full of sand eels

Recently, one or two sources were laughed at for tossing the idea of, ‘The season might be over." out there. While I wouldn't go that far, I have to admit, I'm certainly concerned. A cold shot or two is normal for this time of year, but an extended cold period with a coastal storm mixed in could be a death blow. I sure hope my feeling is wrong; I was just starting to have fun.

With poor conditions for the weekend expected, I hit the South Jersey backwaters on Friday night as I thought it might be my last shot for any decent backwater action. I waited out the rain and hit a bunch of my favorite backwater fishing holes. Conditions were good, but I had to make a few moves before I found any action. I picked away at schoolie stripers during the falling tide and tagged a few more fish. You really have to work at it to put together any decent numbers of fish. I made the best of it and jigged up eight small stripers and drove home wondering if things were going to get much better from here on out? Over the last few season's some of our best action comes in December so I'm not giving up hope just yet.


A tagged fish right before release

My experience with tagging fish continues. I finished up my shipment of twenty lock-on tags and I'm trying the same number of spaghetti-style tags from the American Littoral Society. I've found the lock-on tags to be ten times more convenient. It's amazing how quickly you can apply a tag and release a fish with a little practice. The spaghetti-style tags require a little more effort, so once this batch is used, I'll be sticking with the lock-on tags. I'm still looking forward to receiving my first tag return.

Spaghetti-style tags from the ALS

Don't forget some of our local waters will receive a visit from the trout truck this week. I've included the stocking schedule below. For more information, please visit the NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife's website at http://www.njfishandwildlife.com.


Rainbow
trout will be here this week!

WINTER TROUT STOCKING SCHEDULE 2013

Monday, November 25

Middlesex County
Hook's Creek Lake - CANCELED due to lingering high salinity levels resulting from Superstorm Sandy

Monmouth County
Spring Lake - 190
Topenemus Lake - 180

Ocean County
Lake Shenandoah - 220

Passaic County
Green Turtle Pond - 300

Sussex County
Little Swartswood Lake - 390
Lake Aeroflex - 390
Lake Ocquittunk - 190
Silver Lake - 230

Tuesday, November 26

Atlantic County
Birch Grove Park Pond - 180

Bergen County
Mill Pond - 150

Camden County
Haddon Lake - 190
Rowands Pond - 100

Cape May County
Ponderlodge Pond (Cox Hall WMA) - 160

Cumberland County
Shaws Mill Pond - 200
South Vineland Park Pond - 160

Essex County
Verona Park Lake - 190

Hudson County
Woodcliff Lake - 200

Passaic County
Barbour's Pond - 160

Wednesday, November 27

Hunterdon County
Amwell Lake - 160

Morris County
Mt. Hope Pond - 160
Speedwell Lake - 200

Union County
Lower Echo Lake - 160

Warren County
Furnace Lake - 350

April 12, 2013

Spring Has Sprung!

by Frank Ruczynski

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!


Dave McKinney's First Kayak Bass

December 20, 2012

Freshwater Fun

by Frank Ruczynski

I'm not going to pretend that my recent freshwater trips compare to last year's epic striper run, but I've enjoyed my time at the local ponds and lakes a lot more than I could have ever imagined. Fortunately, rainbow trout, largemouth bass, chain pickerel, black crappie, and yellow perch have been more than willing to tug on the line. Over the last month, I've been fishing just about every day and much of the time with a bent rod.


My Morning Workout

Since Hurricane Sandy and the following nor'easter, I've decided to write off this season's fall run and stick close to home. I considered heading down a few times, but it just never felt right. The ocean water temperature dropped like a rock after the storms and I guess a part of me felt like I'd be in the way of people trying to put their lives back together. I keep telling myself next year's first striper will taste that much sweeter.

As it turns out, I think I made the right decision as I've learned much about our local waters and spent lots of time fishing with my family. Most of my prior freshwater experiences were based around the striper run: I'd fish the ponds and lakes in January through February and then again in July and August. Most seasons, we're striper fishing right up until the end of the year and then I start hitting the sweetwater soon after. I really didn't know what to expect from my local fishing holes as I'd usually be striper fishing in December. So I headed out with low expectations figuring if all else fails, I should be able to fool a few chain pickerel with soft-plastic baits and minnows.

On my first trip to a nearby, public lake, I was hooked! Largemouth bass, pickerel, crappie, and perch inhaled my offerings like they hadn't eaten in a month. To tell you the truth, I didn't think this kind of action was possible on public waters. Open-water fishing was a pleasure as I'm used to dealing with thick weed beds and lots of other anglers, but those weed beds are gone and on most days, I've got the whole lake to myself.


Hooked Up on My Rock

I've taken the kayak out a few times, but most of the time, I put on my waders and work the perimeter of the ponds and lakes. The flats warm up quickly on sunny days and seem to be holding some fish, but they're really schooled up along channel edges. Soft-plastic baits and small plugs accounted for a few fish, but live minnows can't be beat. Finding minnows in December isn't easy, but Blackwater Sports Center in Vineland always has them when I stop by.


Jen and I Having Fun in Our Waders

The size of the fish seems to depend on the species: most of the largemouth bass and crappies have been on the small side, but I've landed some very large perch and pickerel over the last few weeks. I took my personal-best pickerel the other day from a small, public lake. It took a big minnow and ran me up and down the shoreline before I finally pulled it onto the mudflat. It taped out at 31 inches and beat my previous best by a full inch. I felt like it was a real accomplishment, especially on 6-pound test monofilament.


Big Pickerel and Perch Are Available Throughout the Winter

Not only are there some trophy-sized fish available, but the number of fish landed per trip has been astonishing. On a two to three-hour trip, I've been averaging between twenty and fifty fish, most of which are pickerel and bass. There are a few locations that I can guarantee a fish on the first cast. I've shared the great action with all of my family members and a few friends. There are no tricks or tips, you just have to cast a minnow in the right location and wait for the line to start going out; with action like this, everyone has fun. I certainly wasn't expecting a predictable and dependable bite like this in late-December!


Winter Rainbows

To top it off, there's still plenty of trout swimming in our local waters. The state-stocked trout always grab my attention even though they're just a bonus to some other great fishing opportunities. Beautiful rainbow trout have kept me busy since late November. The big trout have been chasing down spinners and small crank baits. If things get a little slow, a well-placed ball of Berkley PowerBait quickly gets the action going again. The winter stocking took place right before Thanksgiving, but the trout haven't received a lot of attention from anglers so they should be available throughout the winter months. The state hatchery does a great job and needs some feed back to continue improving the fishery. Please take a few minutes to fill out the New Jersey Trout Angler Survey - https://www.research.net/s/NJFishandWildlife2012troutsurvey

November 16, 2012

Big, Beautiful Trout

by Frank Ruczynski




Trout fishing in South Jersey isn't like it used to be! Not long ago, if someone mentioned trout fishing, thoughts of 10 to 12-inch trout, overcrowded lakes, ponds, and streams came to mind. If you've fished on the opening day of trout season, you know what I'm talking about. I'm not knocking the spring fishery, but comparing the spring fishery to the fall fishery would be like comparing mice to men.


An Average Fall Brook Trout

The months of October and November offer South Jersey anglers incredible opportunities as super-sized trout are stocked into many of our local waterways. The fall and winter stockings consist of tackle-testing 14 to 24-inch brutes. Go ahead, bring your ultra-light combos loaded with 4-pound mono; these hook-jawed monsters will surely test your angling skills!


A Drag-Pulling Rainbow Trout

During the fall, I usually prefer saltwater fishing for striped bass, but with the recent coastal storms, I've decided to stay close to home at the local fishing holes. Whether I'm pounding the banks or out in the kayak, my time on the water has been incredibly enjoyable. Fishing for largemouth bass has been tough since the snow storm, but the trout fishing has been nothing short of outstanding.


The Calm After the Storm

I've enjoyed the great, fall-trout fishery since 2006, so I always make sure to circle the stocking dates on my calendar. As soon as I saw the date, I asked my 11-year-old son, Jake, if he'd like to tag along. He looked at me with the, "do you even have to ask" look and then came the difficult task of smoothing it over with mom as the stocking date fell on a school day. Not only did my lovely wife agree to let Jake play hookie, she decided to join us at the lake, too.

On the big day, we headed over to Hammonton Lake around 9:30 AM as the trout truck usually shows up between 10 and 11 AM. When we pulled up, I was happy to see just a few other anglers along the bank. Jake and I gathered our equipment and set up in a prime location. Over the next half-hour, we kicked around some rocks and talked about some of our other recent fishing trips. Before we knew it, the hatchery truck pulled up behind us and we watched in awe as the guys threw in trout after trout.


Raised with Pride!

Watching the big trout being tossed into the water was amazing, but we didn't waste any time; Jake and I started casting right away and it didn't take long for us to hook up. Usually, the trout are a little wary as they need to acclimate to the water, but not today! They were nailing spinners like they hadn't been fed in weeks. Big brookies, rainbows, and brown trout were swarming right in front of us and attacking just about anything we cast into the water. It was the best trout fishing action I've ever experienced and the fact that my son was there with me made it ten times more enjoyable! Watching Jake reel in those big brook trout will forever be etched in my memory.


Jake Had His Hands Full with This Brook Trout

A little later into the day, we were visited by NBC 40's reporter Sam Sweeney. He asked us a few questions about fishing and informed Jake and I that we'd likely be on the evening news. I fish often so I've seen my share of newspaper reporters while out on the water, but it was the first time I saw a television-news channel covering a local fishing event.


TV Time

Soon after the reporter and cameraman left, I sat on the bank and thought to myself, "Could today get any better? Here I am enjoying a beautiful fall day with my wife and son, catching big trout after big trout, and now we're going to share our day on the news!" By the way, I set my DVR to record the 5:00, 5:30, 6:00, and 11:00 PM news and the "Gone Fishing" segment was a little different every time, but we had lots of face time; I still call Jake superstar.



The trout have thinned out a little since the fall stocking, but the trout trucks will be visiting our area again next week! Don't miss your chance to get in on the action! I know I'm looking forward to seeing those big rainbow trout. The 2012 winter trout stocking schedule for our area is as follows:

Tuesday, November 20

Atlantic County
Birch Grove Park Pond - 180

Camden County
Haddon Lake - 190
Rowands Pond - 100

Cape May County
Ponderlodge Pond (Cox Hall WMA) - 160

Cumberland County
Shaws Mill Pond - 200
South Vineland Park Pond - 160

July 30, 2012

Sweetwater Summer Fun

by Frank Ruczynski

Where has the summer gone? August is creeping up and I can't help but wonder what happened to June and July. I've spent much of the last two weeks close to home on our local waterways. During those two weeks, I've hit a bunch of sweet-water venues and enjoyed the company of at least one of my family members on each trip. I guess the old adage rings true, "Time flies when you're having fun!"


Kayaking with Jen at Lake Narraticon

My family is very fortunate to live in an area that is surrounded by small lakes and ponds; we have at least a dozen lakes within a ten minute ride of our house. One of these lakes is named Lake Garrison; chances are good that you'll find us fishing, swimming, or sunbathing here on a hot summer day. The lake is open to the public for a small fee: $6 on weekdays, $8 on weekends and holidays or you may choose to take advantage of their discounted season passes, as we did. For more detailed information, check out their website.


Fun in the Sun at Lake Garrison

There are tons of things to do at Lake Garrison, but I don't know if any of its other attributes can top the outstanding fishing opportunities this gem offers. Fishing from land is very limited, but the friendly staff rents rowboats, kayaks, and paddle-boats to get out onto the water. If I'm going out with the family, we'll usually take a rowboat, but when I'm by myself, I really enjoy fishing from the kayak. The shallow, cedar-colored water with lots of lily pads and docks resembles most of the other nearby lakes, but the fishing action here is head and shoulders above the rest.


Jake Has His Hands Full

On the last few trips with the crew, the fishing action was unbelievable; it almost seemed too easy. Usually, I spend a great deal of time and energy planning out our fishing trips as I want to make sure the kids have a great time, but this was as easy as it gets. A bucket of minnows, a few hooks, and a couple of rods is all we needed. The kids reeled in fish after fish and giggled the whole time, while I sat in the back of the boat with my GoPro and a big smile on my face.





With little ones on-board, I find myself fishing less as most of the time I'm busy watching, teaching, or helping them in any way I can. Every once in a while, I manage to sneak in a few casts and as luck would have it, I ended up taking my personal-best pickerel this week. The kids cheered for me the whole time as they watched me battle my trophy next to the boat. I've caught thousands of pickerel in my lifetime, but this 30-inch beast topped them all. An already great day just got better!


30-Inch Pickerel

Once we got back onto land, I told a few of the patrons about our successful fishing trip. Some of the responses I got were funny. One of the residents told me he fished the lake often and never caught anything. A nearby patron heard us talking and was shocked to learn that he was swimming in a lake that had fish in it. On my way home, I showed the girl at the gatehouse a picture on my phone and she told me she had no idea that fish like that lived in the lake and that she would think twice before swimming in there again. Looking back, maybe I shouldn't have said anything; those teeth are intimidating!


Look at Those Teeth!

Julia and Jake are already bugging me about our next trip. Before you know it, summer will be over and the kids will be heading back to school. I'll miss our days on the lake, but I'll have lots of memories to remember; I hope you will too. You know where we'll be.

July 09, 2012

Dog Days

by Frank Ruczynski

Is it me or did summer used to be a lot more fun? The last two summer seasons have really taken a toll on South Jersey. Last summer, we had multiple-record-rainfall events that caused sinkholes, breached dams, historic floods, and extensive property damage. This summer isn't looking much better.

Soon after the 2011 floods, I drove down to Bridgeton to spend some time at Sunset Lake and the Cohanzick Zoo. I was devastated when I arrived and noticed that the once beautiful lake was nothing more than a massive mud flat. Just up the road, I stopped by Seeley's Mill Pond which had breached the roadway and was no longer the picturesque little waterway that I remembered. Dams failed at lakes in Atlantic and Salem counties too.


Seeley's Mill Pond 2011

This summer is shaping up to be another memorable one. Last week's storms caused widespread damage and headaches for hundreds of thousands of people living in our area. Many of us learned a new weather term: derecho – a wide-ranging, long-lived, straight-line wind storm that is associated with a fast-moving line of severe thunderstorms. Fallen trees caused fatalities at Parvin State Park – my thoughts and prayers go out to the two young boys and their families. Others in the area were fortunate enough to escape with their lives, but had major damage from dangerous lightning and 70+ mph winds. Some of the worst hit areas were without power for days and all this just happened to occur during our second and worst heat wave of the summer. I was one of the lucky ones, we only had a few limbs down, but I witnessed much of the severe damage to the east in Atlantic County and to the south in Cumberland County. Not quite my idea of fun in the sun!


Summer Storm Nightmare

On the bright side, the cleanup is well underway, they'll be no shortage of firewood this winter, just about everyone's power has been restored, and the heat wave is over. I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to spending the rest of the summer on the water with my family and friends.

After a great winter fishery and a decent spring run, I needed a little time off to recharge my batteries. For anyone that fishes as much as I do, you know what I'm talking about. Lately, I've spent much of my free time rigging my wife's new kayak, turning my utility trailer into a kayak trailer, and getting my fishing gear back into shape. With no real off-season this winter, I neglected some of my usual winter-checklist responsibilities. I have to admit, cleaning and re-spooling reels in an air-conditioned house is almost enjoyable when it's 100 degrees outside.


Jen's New Kayak

With a favorable weather forecast and a little time away from my rod and reel, I'm dying to get back on the water. The local lakes and ponds offer some great action during the early-morning and late-afternoons hours and the backwater night bite should be worthwhile. I continue to hear a good deal about weakfish, so I have high hopes for the latter part of the summer season. Traditionally, the late-summer weakfish run provides some of the best action of the year.

I'd like to remind our readers that it's a great time of year to get the kids out on the water. I take my little crew out frequently and plan on getting them out often over the next few weeks. Whether you fish freshwater or saltwater, the summer months offer a tremendous amount of fishing opportunities. A bobber and a baited hook should provide lots of action in most of our lakes and ponds. Sunfish and catfish are plentiful in our waters and will usually provide steady action until you run out of bait. In saltwater, a plethora of species are available to our coastal anglers. It's tough to beat snapper bluefish, but croakers, kingfish, and little sea bass can usually be found in good numbers.


My Little Fishing Buddies

Over the years, I've learned a few things while fishing with my kids. My best advice: Make sure to never forget the snacks and keep the trips as action-packed as possible. Kids don't care what they're catching as long as they're catching something. You'll find that sand sharks, stingrays, and turtles are much more admirable than any striped bass, summer flounder, or largemouth bass. I can promise you one thing, they'll never forget the time they spent with you on the water!


Summer Memories


June 01, 2012

Summer-like Slowdown?

by Frank Ruczynski

At first, I thought it was just me, but after looking at the regional fishing reports, I think it's safe to say that most of the big, spring stripers have pulled out of our local waterways and are heading north for cooler waters. Reports from Cape May to Ocean City have slowed down considerably over the last few days. At the same time, some remarkable catches have been made a little to the north around Long Beach Island. The long-range weather forecast is calling for spring-like air temperatures, so let's hope those big girls hang around LBI for a couple of weeks; I'm not ready to give up on them yet!

Our back-bay waters also appear to be making the transition to the summer season. Striped bass and herring seem to be thinning out a little more on each trip, while snapper bluefish are invading the inlets and wreaking havoc in the skinny waters. Regional water temperatures are well-above normal and surely play a big role in my recent observations.


Current Water Temperatures

Before the holiday weekend, some monster bass were caught on the Cape May beaches and between Ocean City and Atlantic City. The Cape May bite was best during the incoming tides and especially good towards slack tide; fresh clams continue to be the choice bait along the beachfront. The striper bite in the OC to AC area took place at night and lots of big fish were caught on plugs. Since the weekend, things have quieted down. I'm hoping that the full moon (Monday, June 4) tide stages will spark the bite again.


Rob Woolfort with a Beauty from Cape May

I had quite a streak of fishing time going on until about two weeks ago. It started last fall with that incredible run of striped bass off of Island Beach State Park and continued right through the winter months. By mid-January I fell into some great freshwater-fishing action. Between the great sweetwater action and an early start to the 2012 striper season, I just couldn't get enough. I felt like I was making all the right decisions and scoring great catches on just about every trip. I guess it couldn't last forever.


Good Times!

Like many other anglers, I read the reports and use them as a barometer of the general fishing action for a particular area. I usually do my own thing and find that it's the best way to go, however there are times when the big fish reports get to me and I join the masses at the perennial hot spots. Between the fishing message boards and the never-ending newsfeed on my Facebook account, my backwater 30+ inch bass and spring weakfish eventually get trumped by 30 to 50-pound striped bass. You would think surf fishing for 30 to 50-pound bass would take precedence over everything else, but not for me. I prefer to catch monster tiderunner weakfish, however after years of catching 10 to 15-pound weakfish, the 12 to 24-inch fish just don't seem to bring me the same joy. Don't get me wrong, I still love being out there and fishing for tiderunner weakfish and I think it's great that we're seeing good numbers of smaller weakies, but it's just not like those glory days. Throw in a passion for backwater doormat fluke, plugging the rock piles and sod banks, and freshwater fishing for bass and trout and it's tough to squeeze it all into about a month's worth of fishing time.

As it turns out, I tried to do it all and fell into a bit of a slump. It started at my local lake when I lost an absolute giant largemouth bass right at my feet. Since then, I've been catching fish here and there, but I've made a bunch of poor decisions and with some of the largest striped bass of the season around, the timing couldn't have been much worse. I've fished long enough to know that it happens to everyone from time to time. I'm sure when I think back about the last six-months of great fishing, my two-week slump won't seem like such a big deal.


Lost a Good One

It's a big weekend in South Jersey for outdoor enthusiasts. The 20th Annual Delaware Bay Day will take place from noon – 9 PM at Bivalve on Saturday, June 2. The Bayshore Discovery Project and the township are inviting everyone to come out for food, fun, and a shared appreciation of South Jersey's maritime and natural heritage. I take the family every year and we always have a good time. My little one loves the blue-claw crab races!
http://www.nj.com/cumberland/index.ssf/2012/05/bay_day_brings_back_fireworks.html


Jake's Ready for the Crab Races

On Sunday, June 3 Scotland Run Park will host the 15th Annual Gloucester County Water Fest. The festivities will begin at 11 AM and wrap up by 4 PM. Entry to the fair is free and offers The Wild World of Animals Show, music, exhibits, crafts, and food. We never miss any of the events at the park. Free face painting, kayaking, and canoeing should make for a great day! http://www.co.gloucester.nj.us/news/displaynews.asp?NewsID=1069&TargetID=1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,8,9,9,0,0


Water Fest Kayaking and Canoeing

May 05, 2012

Catch Me If You Can

by Frank Ruczynski

It's a great time to be an angler in South Jersey! The month of May offers some of the best fishing opportunities in our area. The last few days/weeks have been a blur as I've spent every free minute fishing the local ponds, lakes, backwaters, inlets, and rock piles. I've been trying to do it all, but I just can't keep up with all of the fishing opportunities that are available in our area now.

Trout fishing is a tradition in our family. We used to get up early and fish with the masses on opening day, but the in-season weekday stockings are just so much more enjoyable. Even though I have monster striped bass and tiderunner weakfish on my mind, I make time to hit the trout pond at least a few times each spring. Every year, I let the boys take a day off from school to go trout fishing. Frankie had a high-school tennis match, so Jake had my undivided attention. We got to the pond soon after the hatchery truck stopped by and we were into fish right away. We had an incredible day that ended with Jake taking his first limit of rainbow trout. The smile on his face makes it all worthwhile!


Jake's Limit of Rainbow Trout

As usual, most of my time has been spent in the back bays chasing striped bass and weakfish. The skinny-water bite has been steady and for the most part, predictable. The falling tide has been action-packed as the bass have been active during the beginning and middle of the outgoing tide; while the weakfish show up a little later towards low water. The fish I've been catching haven't been anything to brag about, but the action has been steady and I'm enamored with the amount of 12 to 20-inch weakfish that have invaded our backwaters. Those back-bay beauties seem to be around in better numbers than I've seen in the last five years.


Back Bay Beauty

On Tuesday night, I was lucky enough to catch a tagged striped bass. This particular tag was from the American Littoral Society. I called in the tag number on Wednesday morning and I can't wait to hear back from them. I've been fortunate enough to catch a bunch of tagged fish over the years and it's always a pleasure to learn more about the fish we pursue. The location and date of the tag are always interesting, but it's also worthy of note to see how much the fish has grown. The prizes and certificates offered by the tagging agencies are also an added bonus.


Tagged Fish Prizes

We're just hours away from the 2012 summer flounder season. The flatfish have become much more aggressive over the last few days. We're starting to catch them regularly at night, so I'd imagine the daytime bite has to be very good. I have a trip planned on Monday, so I'll have some more information to share in my next blog entry. I'm glad the season opens in a few short hours; it's been tough playing catch and release with those hefty flatfish.


Midnight Flattie

Thanks to a little prodding from my pals, I finally pulled myself away from the backwaters and spent a day on the rock pile. We fished a popular, Cape May jetty on a very windy day and managed to score a few striped bass. Action was far from fast and furious; nevertheless, we did catch a few decent linesiders on plugs. Dark-colored Bombers are a favorite at this location, although we caught most of our fish on Yo-Zuri Mag Darters. I didn't give up on my Bombers easily, but I ultimately gave in and tied on a Mag Darter after some more prodding by my buddy, Rob; after all, he already had a few fish under his belt. Just a few casts later and I was into a decent striper.


Jetty Bass with Rob Woolfort

With so much going on, I haven't spent much time with my feet in the sand. Up until recently, surf-fishing reports seemed rather inconsistent. Just over the last few days, I've heard about some real monsters coming out of the Delaware Bay and up along the Cape May beachfront. A long-time friend, John Jones and his son Jimmy were fishing clams at a well-known hot spot on Thursday evening when one of the rods doubled over. After a well-spirited battle, Jimmy slid the 44-inch, 33-pound cow up onto the beach. This weekend's full-moon tides should keep the big girls on the move. I have my 11-foot Lami's all rigged; I know where I'll be on Sunday morning!


Jimmy Jones with a Trophy Striped Bass

March 16, 2012

So Many Fish, So Little Time

by Frank Ruczynski

Well, I guess it's safe to say goodbye to the winter that wasn't and you won't be hearing any complaints from me. The mild winter was much appreciated, but the month of March has been nothing short of outstanding. Lately, it's been feeling more like May than March in South Jersey and I've been taking advantage of this glorious weather. After the harsh 2010 and 2011 winter seasons, it's hard to believe, but thoughts of rock salt, snow shovels, and heavy winter coats now seem like nothing more than distant memories.



By most accounts, spring has sprung: bright-yellow daffodils are popping up all over; maple trees are budding; lily pads are emerging from the lake's bottom; painted turtles are climbing onto logs and sunning themselves; spring peepers are singing in the bogs; canadian geese are pairing off, and the mosquitoes are already buzzing. From my experiences, the perennial signs of spring tell me that we're at least two weeks ahead of schedule.



Generally, by this time of year, I'm content with a few pickerel, black crappies, and yellow perch to start off the season. Later on into March, I begin to spend more time chasing striped bass. This season, I already have hundreds of fish under my belt and I don't see things slowing down any time in the near future. Freshwater fishing action has been off the charts and my nighttime striped bass trips just keep getting better!

Every morning I wake up and think about how lucky I am to spend as much time on the water as I do. Over the last few days, the toughest decision I've had to make was whether or not to stay close to home and fish the sweet-water lakes and ponds or to make the ride down to the back-bay waters for striped bass. If it's really nice out and the tides are lined up right at my favorite fishing holes, I usually do both.

I spent much of the last week fishing at the neighborhood lakes and ponds catching largemouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch, and black crappies. The pickerel, perch, and crappies have been active throughout the winter months, but the largemouth bass bite really turned on over the last few days. I've been getting most of my fish on soft-plastic baits and live minnows, but jigs and crank baits worked well, too. The big girls are on the prowl and super aggressive.



As much as I've enjoyed the great freshwater action, my heart belongs to the sea. It may sound a little corny, but when I'm driving over those causeway bridges, I feel like I'm home. As I was driving on the causeway the other night, I pulled over to take a peek under the bridge lights. The incoming tide was rising and I could see and hear little pops and splashes on the water's surface; I knew it was going to be a good night!

I ran back to the car and grabbed my gear. I started fishing with a baby-bass-colored Zoom Super Fluke attached to a ¼-ounce jig head. I didn't see or hear any evidence of striped bass, but with so much bait around, I felt good about my chances. I worked the small channel for about ten minutes before I got my first hit. It was a small striper, but a good sign for the rest of the night. After another ten minutes, I moved over to the other side of the bridge and quickly caught another 20-inch striper. I worked the area a little longer without a strike before I decided to move on to another nearby fishing spot.

After striking out at a bunch of other areas, I decided to head back to the same place that I had fish on my last trip. This particular area is as close to a sure thing as you can get and always comes to mind when other locations are slow. As I approached the water's edge, I heard those little pops and splashes again, a sure sign of baitfish and herring. Everything was right and I had a feeling that it wouldn't be long before I found some action. After a few casts in the likely areas came up empty, I was starting to feel a little less confident. Then it happened, I heard a bass pop in an unusual place. If you haven't heard a striped bass "pop" before, I can only describe it as an unmistakable, loud popping noise that a striper makes when it sucks down a baitfish from the surface of the water. Bass feed on top in many ways: sometimes, they quietly leave a boil on the water's surface, other times they sip or slurp bait from the top, but when they "pop" it usually means they're hungry and willing to chase down just about anything in the vicinity.

By the time I moved into position to reach the fish, there were multiple fish popping on the surface. I had a strike on my first cast, but I missed it. I casted again and had a solid strike before I turned the handle on my reel. These fish were a class up from my last trip and lots of fun on my light-spinning gear. The steady bite lasted for about an hour before the rising tide slowed down and the fishing action dwindled. Once the tide started out, I worked the water column and landed three more stripers.



Right before the sun came up, I decided to pack it up for the night with a total of sixteen fish up to 30 inches. The 30-inch linesider took the ride home with me. Does anything taste better than a fresh-caught broiled striped bass?

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