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.
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.
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!
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!
Can you believe we're halfway through the 2016 fishing season? The first six months flew by, but not without some decent catches. A mild winter and early spring gave way to a dreary and cool May followed by an average June. According to my logs, fishing action was average to above average. The first half of the 2016 fishing season is off to a good start!
I started the year plying the local sweetwater venues. Chain pickerel, crappie and yellow perch accounted for the little action I had in January. There seemed to be just enough snow and cold air to keep the fishing action to a minimum, but after the prior two years of bone-chilling winter weather, it was great to be fishing open water again. January fishing was a little on the slow side, but I was fishing and catching so I'm leaning towards above average.
My son, Jake, started February off with a bang. After a slow day at the crappie pond, I decided to catch up on chores while Jake walked down to our lake to give it his best. About ten minutes after he left the house, I received a phone call asking me to come down to see the largemouth bass he just caught. It was a good fish, especially for early February. As the month progressed, fishing action picked up and we experienced a solid crappie bite. February is usually my toughest month – between winter storms and cabin fever, I'm always glad to flip the calendar to March. All things considered, I have to say February was a little better than average.
February Bonus Bass!
March ushered in warmer weather and some great fishing opportunities. Looking back, I see myself on March 8, 2016 fishing from my Tarpon 120 in shorts and a t-shirt. The next day, Jake and I returned to catch a bunch of crappie and pickerel in 70-degree temperatures. As March continued, we fished Rapala Shadow Raps and caught tons of largemouth bass and pickerel. By mid-March, it was time to hit the coastal backwaters where I found better striped bass action than I've seen in years. March can be hit or miss, but this year was a definite hit - clearly above average.
Spring Striped Bass
Fishing in April was amazing! Freshwater action was great and the South Jersey back bays were full of life. The local lakes and ponds offered largemouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch, crappies and tons of freshly stocked rainbow trout. Summer flounder, tiderunner weakfish and an insane amount of big bluefish joined the striped bass in our coastal waters. Once I found the weakfish, it was difficult to fish for anything else. It was great to see so many large weakfish around again! The last few years were promising, but most of the fish were in the 3 to 6 pound class. This spring, there was a good showing of 8 to 12 pound weakfish – I was in heaven! Towards the end of the month, a steady coastal flow began, dropped backwater temps and killed the great bite. Despite the late-April east winds, fishing action was well-above average.
Tiderunner weakfish made my spring!
May is usually my favorite time to fish. I wait all year for the month of May. This year I was thoroughly disappointed. A seemingly unending east wind made for poor fishing conditions for the first three weeks of the month. Backwater fishing action suffered the most as water temps dropped and then held steady in the mid 50s. Striped bass and bluefish didn't seem to mind the constant east wind and flood tides, but the weakfish and summer flounder bite took a nosedive. Because of the poor conditions, I spent more time freshwater fishing than usual. Fortunately, the easterly flow didn't hurt the largemouth bass bite. While fishing for largemouth bass, I caught a few monster chain pickerel. The weather and water temps moderated towards the end of the month, but I never found the kind of action I experienced in April. Fishing in May was worthwhile, but not the great action I look forward to every year – definitely below average.
Great freshwater action almost made up for poor conditions along the coast.
Thankfully, the weather and fishing action returned to normal in June. A few tries for flatfish ended with a decent amount of 17-inch flatfish, but I was still left feeling a little salty about missed opportunities in May and releasing 20 to 24-inch summer flounder in April. Smaller summer weakfish showed in Cape May County so I'm hoping they hang around for the next few months. After spending a little more time fishing the sweetwater ponds and lakes in May, I found a decent largemouth bass bite and had more fun freshwater fishing than I've had in years. In just the last few days, it seems like the pattern changed again and I may have to start fishing the nightshift to find any decent action. Overall, June's fishing action was average.
I'm hoping to find more bass like this one this summer.
The long, hot summer months can make for some difficult fishing. While I enjoy summer fishing, a part of me is already looking forward to cooler weather and good fishing action. I'm hoping for a repeat of the 2015 fall run. I'm excited to see what the rest of the 2016 fishing season has to offer. Please feel free to share your halftime report below in the comments section.
What do you do when you're favorite coastal fishing holes are inundated by countless numbers of holiday weekend vacationers? I don't know about you, but I stay as far away as possible! Before Memorial Day, I picture myself floating along in my kayak with the company of striped bass, weakfish, summer flounder and bluefish. After Memorial Day, I picture overcrowded roadways, hundreds of boats and of course those wonderful jet skiers. Maybe I'm a bit spoiled, but I fish to get away from the masses, not to be a part of the crowd. From now until Labor Day, it looks like my coastal fishing trips will be limited to weekdays and nights.
I already miss having the water to myself.
A making-the-most-of-it attitude goes a long way in life, but to stay on topic, I'll focus on the fishing aspects. It's Memorial Day weekend and I'd love to be chasing striped bass, weakfish and summer flounder, but the odds of having a successful trip and enjoying myself seem fairly low – see the overcrowded roadways, hundreds of boats and wonderful jet skiers reference above. I could make the most of it and fight through the traffic, crowds and everything that comes with it to catch a few fish or I could stay closer to home and make the most out of fishing my local lakes and ponds for largemouth bass, crappies and chain pickerel.
As it turns out, my decision to stay closer to home paid off, as the weather was much better inland than along the beach. While some may argue that fishing in the rain is a good time, I'd prefer to stay dry whenever possible. Warming waters and cloud cover would make for perfect fishing conditions at our local lake. Our commute took all of about five minutes and I didn't even pass a traffic signal. When Jake and I arrived, we had most of the lake to ourselves and began working the flats with Rapala Shad Raps.
It's not raining here!
The resident largemouth bass and chain pickerel didn't disappoint. Jake and I caught a ton of 1 to 2-pound bass and pickerel. Jake was using a light-colored Rapala Shad Rap while I was tossing a perch-colored Shad Rap Shad. The lake was just treated with an aquatic herbicide so the weeds weren't a problem. Fishing action was good as we rarely went a few minutes without a strike. We had double hookups often and enjoyed our time on the water.
Doubled Up on the Shad Raps
Just after lunchtime, things got a little more interesting. A monster pickerel left a tremendous wake as it rocketed across the flat to strike my bait. Once hooked, the pike-sized pickerel went airborne and then made a bunch of sustained drag-pulling runs. A few minutes into the battle, I began to wonder if my 10-pound leader would hold, especially after I got a good look at the beast's impressive teeth. After some tense moments of back and forth, I finally slid my hand under her gigantic gill plate. She shredded my 10-pound leader, but it held – thank you Seaguar! She taped out at a little over 27 inches. After a few photos, she swam off strong.
What big teeth you have!
After a good catch, I like to sit back and appreciate the moment. I thought to myself, "Somehow a great holiday weekend just got better." While I'd prefer to catch trophy striped bass and weakfish, I don't think I'd trade my time with Jake, my catch or our peaceful surroundings for the hustle and bustle of the shore towns on Memorial Day Weekend. For the record, I heard some great reports of striped bass and tiderunner weakfish in Cape May County waters. Years ago, I would have raced down to get in on the bite, no matter the circumstances. Fishing isn't any less a part of my life, but I'm learning to appreciate fishing for everything that it offers.
A great fish!
While many anglers put striped bass or largemouth bass on some higher level, I find similar enjoyment fishing for what some may consider lesser species such as sunfish, pickerel, bowfin, snakeheads, crappies, catfish and carp. Now, I fish on my own terms and I find myself enjoying time on the water ten times more than I did when I was chasing fish and reports up and down the New Jersey coastline.
This Memorial Day weekend is one I won't soon forget. Not just because of the solid fishing action, but because I was fortunate to spend the weekend with the people I care about the most. Family barbeques, kisses from our 9-month-old granddaughter, Addison and teaming up with my daughter-in-law in a crazy game of horseshoes will all make the list of things I remember about this weekend – it was Amanda's first time throwing horseshoes and she threw two ringers including the game winner! I think the boys are still a little salty.
After our fun-filled weekend, I couldn't help but think about the real meaning of Memorial Day. I cannot express the level of gratitude I have for the men and women that fought for our freedoms and never made it back to eat a hotdog, cast a line, throw horseshoes or spend time with their loved ones. I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday weekend as much as our family did, but please take a moment to remember those that made it all possible.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
The spring season is just days away and we're already riding the weather roller-coaster. Yesterday, I was fishing along the banks of a local lake in shorts and a T-shirt. This morning, I woke up to a power outage, house-shaking wind, and an air temperature of 22 degrees. After a long, cold winter, I'm not going to complain about ups and downs; at least we have some ups now, right? The weekend forecast looks promising and the fish are biting!
I'll get to the fishing report a little later, but first, I'd like to share some information about the Hooked on Fishing - Not on Drugs Program. If you've never heard of the Hooked on Fishing - Not on Drugs Program (HOFNOD), it is a nationally-recognized program created by the Future Fisherman Foundation. This worthwhile program has been around for twenty years, but has recently been updated. The curriculum uses angling to teach our youth about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and how to deal with life's daily challenges. The HOFNOD network includes trained-aquatic-education professionals in over thirty states with thousands of programs nationwide.
Jake is hooked on fishing!
The state of New Jersey seems to be jumping into the revamped program with both feet. Some of you may find this hard to believe, but it appears the state is putting at least a little of our tax dollars to good use. HOFNOD programs are popping up all over and I think the kids are going to love it!
The kids loved these cupcakes!
My son, Jake, and I had the pleasure of attending a Hooked on Fishing – Not on Drugs orientation meeting last Saturday at Lake Mathilde in Sicklerville, NJ. The Gloucester Township-based program is run by Bob Johnston and he's put together an impressive twenty-eight week course highlighted by field trips including: kayaking on Barnegat Bay, fishing on the Bodacious, overnight camping, and a group bus trip to Bay Day. Sounds like fun and get this: the program is free!
Is someone telling fish stories?
During the orientation, we met lots of great kids and friendly adults. Bob did an excellent job preparing the grounds and curriculum. While the kids walked along the wooded paths and looked over the mostly-frozen lake, I took the opportunity to talk with the state-appointed HOFNOD Coordinator, Liz Jackson. We talked about the program for a while and the more I heard, the more I liked the program. There are no strings: the purpose of the program is to get kids back outside and to keep them away from tobacco products, alcohol, and drugs.
An ice-covered Lake Mathilde
I have many passions, but my family and outdoor activities are tops on the list. If I can incorporate the two, I will, and I'm going to love every minute of it. While some of us may not need a program to enjoy time outdoors with our loved ones, there are lots of kids that don't have the same opportunities. If you'd like to help, please contact Liz Jackson at (908)637-4125 x122 Liz.Jackson@dep.state.nj.us
OK, back to fishing! It seems like a little sunshine was enough to get some fish moving. Reports are far from on fire, but the season's first few striped bass were taken over the weekend. The warm-water outflow and tributary rivers are always early-season hot spots. If you're just looking for action, I suggest grabbing some grass shrimp or bloodworms and trying for white perch. The perch bite seems like the best thing going and it only takes a few perch to make a tasty dinner. Look for the striped bass action to pick up near the end of the month. I'm sure I'll be poking around soon.
I haven't hit the salt yet, but I did get to spend the last few days fishing the neighborhood lakes and ponds. Even though it's been warm, ice is still covering a few of the backwoods ponds, but most of the larger bodies of water are open. It sure did feel good to soak up some sun and bend the rod again. Chain pickerel are on full tilt and waiting for just about anything to cross their path. If you can get minnows, expect some easy fishing. Some of the largest bass are taken in March, so get out there this weekend; it was a long winter and the fish are hungry!
I don't know about you, but I've had enough of the winter season. I'm tired of hearing about single-digit temperatures, below zero wind-chill factors, snowfall predictions, and that ever-popular catch phrase, "Polar Vortex." I can deal with thirties and forties, but days in the teens and nights around zero are a bit much. The little time I've spent outdoors this week consisted of shoveling the porch and driveway, cleaning off our cars, and freezing my tail off. When I checked the weather the other night, it was 8 degrees in my backyard and 40 degrees in Anchorage, Alaska. You can keep your three layers of clothes, hats, and gloves; I'm done with winter!
Sunny Snow Squall
It may be hard to believe, but this time last week, I was wading at a local lake, tossing soft-plastic baits to largemouth bass and pickerel in nothing more than a hooded sweatshirt. It felt great to land my first few fish of the 2014 season. I definitely made the most of the brief January thaw. You'd think a little rod-bending action would help ease the cabin fever, winter blues, or whatever they call it. The truth is, it did help, but it was short-lived and left me wanting more!
First Fish of 2014
Since my last fishing trip on Monday, January 20, we've had close to a foot of snow and glacial temperatures. All of the local waterways have completely iced over; however, I'm not certain they're safe for ice fishing. With temperatures forecast to be above freezing this weekend and a possible big storm headed our way next week, I'll probably end up poking around for pickerel at a few of the nearby spillways.
Looking for some signs of hope, I checked a couple of the long-range forecasts and it appears that the worst of the frigid temperatures may be over, but there are some very real chances of big snow storms through early March. I keep telling myself, just one more month. Hopefully, a few fishing shows will help pass the time. I'm looking forward to the Atlantic City Boat Show on February 5 to 9, Greater Philadelphia Outdoor Sport Show on February 13 to 16, Southern Regional Fishing Flea Market on February 15, Surf Day on February 22, and the Ocean City Intermediate School Fishing Club Flea Market on March 1.
At times like this, when I can't fish, sometimes shopping for fishing-related gear works as a quick pick-me-up. Over the last couple weeks, I've been in the market for a new pair of Costa sunglasses and found the selection lacking in much of the South Jersey area. It's not like you can order a pair online because you need to try them on before you purchase them. After a bunch of phone calls and a couple of disappointing visits to local optometrists' shops, I was about to give up until a friend told me about Vutt Sunglasses at the Burlington Center Mall. On Sunday, I stopped by Paul's shop and was pleasantly surprised by a great selection of Costas along with many other brands. Paul spent a great deal of time answering my questions and making sure I'd be happy with my choice. I left his shop more knowledgeable about eye care and feeling good about my selection. If you're going to spend a lot of time on the water, it is imperative to have a good pair of polarized sunglasses. Not only do they protect your eyes, but they enable you to catch more fish. They are of utmost importance to me as I spend lots of time sight fishing on shallow flats.
Shopping for Shades
With most of my shopping list completed, I've begun my countdown for the 2014 backwater striped bass season, a little more light at the end of the tunnel. We're only a month away and it looks like we're going to need a substantial warm-up to get things going by March 1. A quick glance at NOAA's coastal water temperatures shows readings of 33 degrees in Atlantic City, 34 degrees in Cape May, and the Delaware River checked in at an icy 31 degrees. I haven't seen water temperatures that low in a few years. I'm looking forward to starting the season off right; even if I have to join the masses at the warm-water discharges.
Striped Bass Countdown
I've tried to make the best of the winter weather, but it's just not good enough. Sledding with the kids was fun for a day or two, but they enjoy being outside when it's 5 degrees even less than I do. Off-season maintenence is complete as my fishing equipment has been thoroughly cleaned and organized. I have a bunch of new toys that I'm dying to try on the water this season. Spring can't come soon enough!
Wow, we've come a long way since two weeks ago when I posted my last blog entry. Before the recent warm up, most of us were beginning to wonder if winter would ever end as we set record lows and struggled to reach 40 degrees for daytime highs. I don't think anyone could have imagined such a change in the weather pattern: from 30s and 40s to 80s and 90s? I still have a hard time believing the mercury hit 90 degrees on Wednesday afternoon. This type of up-and-down weather rollercoaster usually makes for unpredictable fishing action, but the recent spike in air temps may have been just the kick start we needed to get things going!
Like most anglers, I have striped bass on my mind, but I've been spending most of my free time chasing pre-spawn largemouth bass and brook trout. Over the last few days, freshwater action exploded and it's been tough to pull myself away from the great action. The warm up has been much more noticeable for inland residents than it has for our coastal residents. On Wednesday afternoon, a little sea breeze dropped air temps into the low 50's while it was close to 90 degrees in most of our inland towns. I choose to enjoy the summer-like weather at my local lakes and ponds in shorts and t-shirts versus throwing on a hooded sweatshirt and heading to the chilly coast in search of linesiders.
Inland versus Coastal Temperature
Last Saturday, April 6, marked the opening day of trout season in New Jersey. Trout season is in full swing as many of our local lakes, ponds, and rivers have been inundated with brook, rainbow, and brown trout. Since the initial preseason stocking, many of the same bodies of water have already received their second round of fish. Some of my favorite venues will be stocked again next week, April 15 - 19 and then one more time during week 3, April 22 – 26. There's plenty of trout for everyone!
NJ Trout Stocking
John Jones with a Big Brown Trout
Fortunately, I live in an area that's surrounded by lakes and ponds, many of which are stocked by the state. The same waters that resembled a mob scene on opening day are often quiet and peaceful on the restocking dates. I enjoyed fishing at three different lakes in the last three days and the trout action was great at each stop. To be honest, most of the recently stocked fish are on the small side, but I truly enjoy tossing spinners to those beautiful, little brook trout.
Brook Trout - Speckled Jewels
Before the trout stole my attention, I kept busy with largemouth bass and chain pickerel. After years of bugging my buddy, Dave, to try a kayak trip, we finally made it happen. On Monday, we loaded up the little plastic boats and made our way to Black Water Sports Center to pick up some minnows. I had plans to hit Willow Grove Lake as I figured the shallow water would warm quickly making it a great time to fish the massive stump fields.
Just minutes from the shop, we arrived at the lake and readied the yaks for a day on the water. I had fished Willow Grove from the shoreline, but never from a kayak, so I didn't have any experience to share with Dave about the lake. As we entered the lake, neither of us could believe how cold the water felt, but we continued on with high hopes. Dave paddled around for a few minutes and quickly got the feel of the kayak. We paddled up one side of the lake and never found more than a foot of water, but we did see lots of small pickerel shooting along the flats. We caught a few toothy chains and then moved along in hopes of finding deeper water and some largemouth bass.
Plenty of Pickerel
As it turned out, we never found deeper water, but we did find plenty of hungry bass! Dave and I placed our kayaks on the edge of the stump field and watched as hungry bass and pickerel exploded on 6 to 8-inch shiners. Hooking 2 to 5-pound bass in inches of water makes for a great fight and some incredible visuals: when you're sitting in a kayak and a bass jumps, its right at eye level. As the day went on, the wind picked up a little, but we continued to catch fish steadily throughout the afternoon.
Hefty Largemouth Bass
Dave handled the kayak like a pro and we caught lots of fish, but that was only part of the experience. While on the water, we witnessed some great sites: turtles sunned themselves, great egrets and blue herons stalked the shallows, ospreys dove into the water to grab pickerel, and a small flock of swans flew overhead for most of the day. It was a trip neither of us will soon forget and a sure sign that spring has sprung!
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!
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