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.
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.
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!
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.
South Jersey fishing action is off the charts! Striped bass, big bluefish, drumfish, tiderunner weakfish and summer flounder are here and they're hungry! While largemouth bass, chain pickerel, and truckloads of rainbow trout are making headlines at many of our local freshwater venues. Whether you choose saltwater or sweetwater is up to you, but it's time to get out there - fishing in South Jersey is as good as it gets!
From the rivers to the bays and along the beachfront, striped bass have us surrounded! Delaware River anglers reported one of the best spring striper runs in years, with numbers of quality fish taken on bait and plugs. With the recent passing of the late-April full moon, the big girls should be heading south and out of the river soon. The resident backwater bass are a little smaller, but they can be found in good numbers. The oceanfront bite is just starting to heat up and should continue to improve as the breeding stock pours out of the Delaware River, makes the U-turn and heads north for cooler waters. I have a feeling the action down along the Cape May beaches is really going to heat up as we head into the month of May.
News of the bluefish invasion is second only to the almighty striper. Even if you think bluefish aren't your thing, it's difficult not to enjoy this kind of action. Over the last few years, we've been spoiled by an amazing run of gigantic bluefish. The slammers are accessible to just about everyone as they can be found almost everywhere. A heavy leader is usually required when playing with the toothy beasts, but they are a real blast on light tackle – your drag will definitely be tested!
The big bluefish are a blast!
Anglers fishing with fresh clam reported the season's first black drumfish. The big boomers are a blast from the surf! I expect the drumfish action to pick up through May and peak right around the next full moon stage on May 21, 2016.
Tiderunner weakfish are back! I've been out early and often looking for my fanged friends. My first few trips were a little discouraging as I had just about everything except weakfish, but when I did find them, it was awesome! After paddling around a few spots, I found a solid bite with weakfish in the 8 to 10 pound range! It's been a few years since we had fish of this size around. Many of the weakfish I caught were large females and full of eggs. The big girls were inhaling my jigs - unfortunately, one of the big girls took my jig deep in the gill and I couldn't revive her. I'll be out chasing tiderunners for at least the next month so expect more details in next week's report.
A beautiful 10.46-pound true tiderunner weakfish.
While searching for tiderunners, I found the mother load of summer flounder. Most of the big flatties were over the legal 18-inch size minimum, but about a month early. It sure is difficult releasing keeper-sized fluke! I wonder how many South Jersey anglers know what they're missing out on? Our best time for backwater summer flounder action is now and we have to throw them back. By the time the season opens on Saturday, May 21, many of the larger flatfish will be moving out of the inlets in search of cooler ocean waters. Meanwhile, Delaware's 2016 summer flounder regulations are as follows; four fish daily, 16-inch minimum size and the no closed season!
Flatties are here and they're hungry!
While I wasn't targeting summer flounder, I have to admit, they were a welcome bycatch. The big flatties absolutely crushed my jigs. While pink soft-plastics are my "go-to" bait for backwater striped bass and weakfish, I feel like I catch many more fluke on a white bucktail and a long strip of fresh meat. I couldn't help to think about how much better the bite might be if I was actually targeting them.
Fluke have a reputation as a food fish, but they offer game fish qualities as well, especially on light tackle. I find summer flounder to be quite interesting - they are so much different than most of the other species in our waters. The flatfish move, feed and fight so much differently than most other finfish. Maybe they'd get a little more respect if they didn't taste so good.
When I'm not fishing along the coast, I'm enjoying great action close to home. I'm surrounded by trout-stocked waters and find myself spending an hour here and there at the local lakes and ponds. The rainbow trout provide steady action and make for a great meal when baked in foil. The hatchery trucks will be delivering another load of trout this week so they'll be plenty for everyone.
This beautiful rainbow trout is destined for the dinner plate.
My son, Jake, has developed a case of largemouth bass fever. He has been out daily and just can't get enough. The bass bite has been steady, but the fish are starting their spawning rituals so expect some tough fishing over the next few weeks. It's difficult for me to do it all so I'll catch up with the bigmouth bass when the saltwater action slows down.
Chunky largemouth are super aggressive before the spawn.
The next few weeks offer some of the best fishing our area has to offer. Many anglers wait all year for the variety of fishing opportunities available through the month of May. Fishing action blooms much like our landscape – one day nothing and the next flowers, shrubs and trees are in full colors. Much like the colorful blooms, the fish won't be around for long so get out and enjoy the action while you can!
Did you ever have one of those fishing trips where you could do no wrong? The kind of trip that lure selection, casting location and retrieve just doesn't matter – every cast is a fish? The kind of trip where you catch fish after fish for hours straight - you know, the kind of trip you remember forever? I call these types of trips homeruns and these are the trips I live for!
People fish for different reasons. Some fish to relax, some fish to enjoy their surroundings while others fish to socialize. While I enjoy all of the great perks that make a fishing trip experience great, when it comes down to it, I fish to catch fish! Catching a few fish here and there is always better than catching nothing, but those all out fish-slaying trips are what keep me going. Hitting singles is fun, but smacking homeruns feels great!
Last Thurday night, March 31, just after midnight, I had one of those trips. Jake and I were dialed into a steady bite, but a persistent 20 to 25-MPH south wind had me concerned that our string of good trips could be in jeopardy – boy, was I wrong! We got out of the truck, walked down to the water and were welcomed by a stiff wind and acres of striped bass popping in every direction.
I had the idea that catching fish on plugs would be fun and a little more enjoyable than my go-to lead-head and soft-plastic jigs. I started by tossing a 5-inch, bronze Yo-zuri Mag Darter and it got annihilated on the first cast. After a few fish, I wondered if the lure was that effective or if the fish were just in full-tilt feeding mode. I switched up to a MirrOlure 52 MPD otherwise known as the "Purple Demon." The linesiders killed it! Fish after fish on the purple demon – it took me longer to reel in and unhook a fish than to catch one.
MirrOlure 52 M Purple Demon
After some fun with plugs, I switched back over to jigs. The striped bass didn't seem to care what I threw; if it was in the water and moving, it was going to be attacked. As it turned out, fishing with light jigs was a lot easier on the fish and me. Trying to remove up to nine hooks from a bunch of 5 to 15-pound striped bass on a dark sod bank isn't exactly my idea of fun. During the melee, removing the multiple treble hooks ended with me hooking myself more than a few times. That doesn't seem to happen with jigs - the hook sets are clean, the jig head gives me a little leverage to remove the hook and I feel like it's especially efficient when practicing catch and release.
Removing a single hook is a lot easier than removing three sets of treble hooks.
As the night continued, Jake and I continued to catch on almost every cast. I lost count after thirty-something stripers. At one point the fish were so thick, I could cast over my back, walk a few steps and have my rod double over. Some call this "stupid fishing" as you don't have to be very intelligent to catch – whatever the case, the crazy back bay bite has been a blast.
Jake with a good backwater striped bass.
Totally spent, Jake and I packed up just before sunrise with the bass still blowing up all around us. We drove home with sore thumbs and big smiles. The resident South Jersey back bay stripers are far from trophy fish, but the 25 to 35-inch striped bass are here in numbers and a lot of fun on light tackle.
Fun on Light Tackle!
We have a few more trips under our belts since our crazy night and while fishing action remains steady, it's nothing like the "stupid fishing" we experienced last week. One thing is for sure: the weather rollercoaster surely isn't helping any, especially the wind! We went from east winds and flood tides to strong west winds and blowout tides to south winds at 30 MPH. Air temperatures are in the 70s one day and the 30s the next. As I write this, it's 3 PM and 42 degrees with a north wind at 20 MPH – it feels a lot more like February than early April!
While we've been having fun with the little backwater fish, some of my river-rat buddies are making impressive catches from the banks of the Delaware River. Some true trophy striped bass have been yanked out of the river this week. The big girls are making their way up the river to spawn so please use care when landing and releasing these beautiful linesiders.
This may be hard to believe, but it's not all about stripers as the season's first weakfish has already been reported in South Jersey. Mike Crudele nailed the year's first weakfish behind Sea Isle City while fishing from his boat with silver-fleck colored Mister Twister. I think last week's warm-up opened a small window of opportunity as water temps rose into the mid to high 50s in a few locales. With the recent stretch of colder weather, I believe that window has closed. I'll be out trying for weakfish as soon as the weather stabilizes. I'm hoping for a good spring showing!
I can't forget to mention Trout Day! Our trout season opens this Saturday, April 9 at 8 AM. Jake and I are heading up to the Pequest Trout Hatchery to fish the trout pond on opening day. We'll be back to hit our favorite South Jersey trout venues on Sunday morning. Right now, Saturday's forecast isn't looking great: a high of 44 degrees and a low of 24 degrees with afternoon showers and a 15 to 25-MPH northwest wind. If you're going to chase rainbows, make sure to bundle up.
With a mild winter, I had high hopes for an early spring run, but every time conditions began to look promising, we'd get just enough of a cold blast to shut down any hopes of serious action. Fortunately, the latest warm-up put us over the top and the fishing action blew wide open. Striped bass reports seem to be coming in from all over South Jersey. Over the weekend, solid reports of striped bass came from anglers fishing the rivers, bays, inlets and even out front along our southern beaches. Many of the striped bass are on the small side, but there are enough keepers around to make it interesting. The big girls can't be far behind!
Conditions are prime for serious action. With daytime highs forecast in the 50s and 60s, it looks like we've finally turned the corner. Ocean water temperatures are running well-above average as the NOAA monitoring station in Cape May is reporting 51.8 degrees while the Atlantic City station checks in at 47.8 degrees. Backwater temperatures are finally stable and holding in the low to mid 50's.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey
The recent stretch of warm weather pushed the back bay water temperatures into the 50s and the striped bass bite went from zero to hundred in what seemed like seconds. The last few days and nights have been a blur. Between holiday family gatherings, modifying my trailer, rigging my new Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K. and striper fishing the overnight shift, time for sleep has been few and far between. With a great striper bite, who has time for sleep?
Jake's spring break couldn't have come at a better time. Earlier in the week, we put off a few fishing trips to get some household chores and yard work done in order to bank fishing time for this week. We started our weeklong fishing spree on Saturday at Wilson Lake at Scotland Run Park. Jake met up with a school buddy to fish from his bass boat, while Jen and I paddled our kayaks around the lake. It was my maiden trip on the new ATAK and it was great – I never imagined I'd be standing in a kayak, but I did and the platform was very stable. The adjustable Air Pro Max seat is amazing - in the high position, my viewpoint of the flats was much improved, yet I didn't feel like I gave up much, if any, stability. I caught a bunch of pickerel and few largemouth bass on Rapala Shadow Raps. Our boys in the bass boat didn't fare as well. After my first trip, I have some outfitting to do, but one thing is for sure: my ATAK is going to be one bad fishing machine!
My New Fishing Machine
After ribbing Jake about his uneventful day on the water, he wanted redemption. Even though we were both tired, we decided to head down to the backwaters to catch the late-night high tide. When I pulled up to one of our favorite early-season hot spots, I noticed the wind was blowing a lot more than it was back at home - I started feeling like it may not be our night.
My hopes were soon restored as I watched a striper swipe at my jig on the first cast! As I looked over to tell Jake, I watched his rod double over and he screamed out, "I'm on!" My second cast got annihilated and the fun began. Doubled up, we battled our pair of 26-inch stripers up onto the bank. As Jake held both bass for a quick photo, the top-water popping began. We could hear bass after bass exploding on baitfish – if you've never been fortunate enough to experience this, it sounds and looks like someone is throwing bowling balls into the water.
It turned into one of those nights where we could do no wrong. Stripers were popping at our feet to as far out as we could see. Our retrieval styles and cast location didn't seem to matter - it was an all out feeding frenzy and we hooked up on just about every cast for almost three hours. I couldn't imagine kicking off the spring striper season in a better way!
During the wee hours of the morning, I think delirium set in as Jake began mumbling incoherently. With an hour ride home, we decided to pack it up even though the fish were still biting, but between us, we tallied close to fifty stripers on the night. Most of the stripers were in the 23 to 26-inch range, however we did manage to box a pair of keepers for the dinner table. I fished the entire night with a bubblegum-colored Zoom Super Fluke on a ¼-ounce jig head while Jake fished with the same Zoom, but on a ½-ounce lead head.
I returned to the same locale last night and found the stripers feeding on top again. I got in a good hour of action before the skies opened and the rain came down. People say that fish don't mind the rain, but that's not the case in my experiences, especially when I'm fishing on the flats. The fishing action didn't completely die, but it slowed down considerably - enough that I determined it wasn't worth getting soaked over. I decided to pack it up to catch up on sleep so I can be ready for my next trip.
Before the Rain
If you're still wondering when it's worth getting your gear out and hitting the water, the answer is now! The freshwater action is great, our resident striped bass are active, and the bigger migratory striped bass are moving up into the rivers to spawn. Trout Day is less than two weeks away and bluefish, weakfish and summer flounder will be here before you know it. Good luck out there - it's time for me to hit the water.
Our backwater striped bass season opens in less than a week! If you're looking forward to the season as much as I am, it's exactly six days, eight hours and fifty-two minutes until midnight on March 1, 2016. The last few striped bass season openers were tough, but this year, conditions seem to be favorable for some great early-season action. If you're not ready for the new season, it's time to get moving!
When it comes to being prepared, I'm usually quite the Boy Scout, but this season I'm running a little behind schedule. I finished up a lot of my offseason chores this week, but I still need to order a new kayak and send a couple reels in for service. After what seemed like a few never-ending off-seasons, this winter season flew by.
I love this time of year. Even though it's still cold and I haven't wet a line in a couple weeks, there are so many things to look forward to - between great freshwater fishing opportunities, receiving new fishing equipment deliveries almost daily and planning next week's backwater assault, I'm psyched for a new fishing season.
Usually, our warm-water outflows offer anglers the best shot at opening day striped bass action, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear striped bass action coming from other local backwater areas too. Current coastal water temperatures are still marginal as many of the reporting stations are hovering right around 40 degrees. A look at the long-range weather forecast shows above-average temperatures with daytime highs ranging from the high 40s to the mid 50s. A few sunny afternoons should get those dark-colored mud flats warmed up enough to provide a decent early-season striper bite.
Spring Warm-Water Striper
I plan on heading out for the midnight opener this year. I have a few firsthand reports that the resident striped bass are already actively feeding in our backwaters. My favorite early-season flats will be covered with plenty of water, as high tide will occur just after 1 AM. If "plan A" doesn't pan out, I'll run a round a little scouting for any signs of life. If I don't find any action, I'll probably head up to the outflow and spend opening day in my kayak. After two months, that first striper sure will feel good!
An Average South Jersey Resident Backwater Bass
In the meantime, after much research, I finally decided on a new kayak for the 2016 season. I plan on ordering an A.T.A.K. 140 from Wilderness Systems later this week. The ATAK should provide the perfect platform for my dream fish-catching machine. The kayak world has grown by leaps and bounds since I purchased my Tarpon 120 five years ago. Not only are they incredibly stable fishing platforms, the customization possibilities are seemingly endless. With conveniences such as lightweight electric motors, built in fish-finder/battery/transducer pod options, Power-Pole Micro Anchor systems and much, much more, the possibilities are unlimited. I've always considered myself to be more of a streamlined, practical paddler, but some of the great new offerings have me seriously reconsidering.
A.T.A.K. 140 - Isn't She Pretty?
I'm not the only one excited about my new kayak. Jake is looking forward to swapping out his old Tarpon 100 for a fully rigged Tarpon 120 – complete with everything a 14-year-old angler could dream about. Jake and I have fished together since he could walk, but he turned the corner last season. He made some impressive catches and recently received a letter from the State Of New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife regarding a fishing photo contest award and an invitation to fish at the Pequest Trout Hatchery on the opening day of trout season. Kayaks aren't allowed on the education pond, but dads are allowed to fish too!
We're going to try and do it all this season – freshwater, brackish and saltwater – from striped bass to snakeheads. Striped bass season begins next week, trout season is a little over a month away, and lots of fish to chase in between. Get your gear ready – it's time to hit the water!
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.
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!
Somebody pinch me – I feel like I'm dreaming. We're into mid-December and it just keeps getting warmer! The weekend forecast looks incredible with daytime highs pushing well into the 60s. Coastal monitoring stations are reporting ocean temperatures ranging from 50.7 degrees at Atlantic City to 52.3 degrees at Cape May. With nearly perfect fishing conditions, action remains solid and I don't expect it to tail off anytime soon.
In my experiences, the biggest benefit of a warm winter is a shortened offseason. Striped bass action should keep us busy until the end of the month. After some fun with the linesiders, I'm hoping to get in some more freshwater trips before our waterways begin to ice over. If we're real lucky, maybe we'll have a mild January/February and our waterways won't ice over at all. One more bonus – warm winters usually mean early spring runs!
No more looking ahead, there is plenty of action going on right now to talk about. As usual, the almighty striped bass is stealing the spotlight, but there's a good number of big bluefish around, too. The backwater schoolie striper bite has been as steady as I can remember. Surf fishing action is a little more hit-and-miss, but when it's a hit, it's likely to be a trip you'll never forget. Oceanfront boaters seem to be into the best action as massive schools of adult bunker are yielding 20 to 30-pound linesiders. The big bait balls also seem to be attracting a few humpback whales. I've spotted them with some regularity from the beach, but boaters are enjoying some almost magical up-close-and-personal encounters.
I'm still fishing around the clock and enjoying every bit of the late-season action. My nighttime backwater excursions have been a lot of fun. I've been fishing the same two locations since October and they continue to produce. At this point, I can set the bite to my watch as the fishing has been as steady and predictable as I've experienced in at least a few years. The stripers aren't big, most range from 20 to 26 inches, but catching a bunch in a couple hours is enough for me. "Magic time" lasts about two hours and usually starts about a half-hour after high tide. Pink plastics on ¼ to ½ ounce jig heads work well for me, but I'm fairly certain these fish would hit just about anything put in front of them.
Right on Schedule!
The early-morning hours are for surf fishing. After spending most of my life fishing the overnight shift on the backwaters, I can't explain how much I enjoy fishing along the surf at sunrise. The surf bite has been more hit-and-miss as I'm averaging one good day for every bad day – a bad day consists of not catching while watching a beautiful sunrise and casting into the waves. The good days have been remarkable with lots of National Geographic, bait-and-birds-everywhere moments.
A Beautiful December Morning
Last Saturday, December 5, I woke Jake up early and headed for the beach. The poor kid had to come home from school and hear my stories all week – he was ready to join in the fun. We arrived right before sunrise and peaked over the dune only to see birds and bait everywhere. We couldn't put our waders on and grab our gear quick enough. We ran out to the surf and casted into the melee. My Daiwa SP plug got hammered and my rod doubled, I looked over to check on Jake and he was bent, too. The linesiders were a little smaller than our prior surf trips, but it didn't take away from experience. The bass had peanut bunker pushed right up onto the beach, birds were screeching in excitement, the sun was rising and it was exactly the perfect picture I'd drawn in my mind. We had blitz-like action for about a half-hour before the birds, bait and fish dissipated.
"Take the picture Dad, I want to get my line back out there!"
After Saturday's trip, we had to return again on Sunday morning. We started at the same location, but came up empty. We drove a few towns north stopping to fish a bunch of promising-looking areas without a sniff. It turns out; the bite was a little to the south on Sunday morning. Even though we zigged when we should have zagged, we had a great time trying, talking about fishing and grabbing breakfast on the way home.
We manage to have fun even when the fish don't cooperate.
At this point in the year, I look at each trip as bonus time. Jake and I have been very fortunate this season and any additional trips will just be the icing on the cake. With 60's forecast for the weekend, I have a feeling we'll be up early again this weekend. A quick glance at my logbook shows that I usually hang up my saltwater gear on or near an average date of December 10 – that's not going to happen this year! The factors responsible for ending my season usually consist of a combination of a slow bite due to cold water, cold weather and the added pressure of getting ready for the holidays. During the warmer years, I fished well into the New Year and have fond memories of catching stripers while listening to Christmas carols. Tis' the season to be jolly.
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.
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.
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.
For some of us, striped bass season is in full swing, yet many of New Jersey's southernmost anglers are left wondering when or if the striped bass season will begin at all. By many accounts, reports of striped bass and bluefish from New York to Long Beach Island (LBI) have been outstanding, while anglers fishing south of Atlantic City are left questioning the health of the fishery. This pattern seems to be more of a reoccurring trend than an anomaly and I think it's about time we addressed it.
Is it time to worry or should South Jersey anglers remain patient and hope the big schools of striped bass eventually make their way towards Cape May? As a longtime South Jersey angler, I can tell you for certain things aren't like they used to be. Stop waiting for the fish and do yourself a favor - migrate north!
Over the last few fall seasons, it's almost like the Garden State Parkway exits could be used as a striped-bass meter in which the exit numbers equate your chances at landing decent-sized striped bass: Exit 0 down in Cape May, Exit 38 to Atlantic City, Exit 63 at LBI, Exit 82 takes you to Island Beach State Park and Exit 100 will put you into the Asbury Park area. From LBI to the north, most anglers are happy catching 20 to 30-pound striped bass, while most South Jersey anglers are happy catching 20 to 30-inch stripers. About 50 to 80 miles separates world-class striped bass fishing versus dogfish city.
In my own experiences, I have spent less than 5% of my fishing time north of LBI, yet over the last five years many of my best catching trips, in both numbers and sizes, have taken place to the north. I grew up fishing just about every nook and cranny of South Jersey and I've grown to love and appreciate all that the area has to offer, but the fall runs just aren't cutting it anymore. My familiarity with the local waters keeps me coming back in hopes of finding the action that I once knew, but I consider myself lucky to have a handful of memorable trips per season. I'm beginning to question my want to fish south of LBI at all.
I joke with many of my northern friends, "Anything north of LBI is New York to me." There seems to be an imaginary line that cuts along the Route 72 Causeway in which the state transforms into a completely different and unfamiliar area, especially along the coast. Rooting interest for professional sports teams change from Philly-based teams to NJ/NY teams; hoagies are called subs; minnows are referred to as killies and most importantly the coastline changes. If you look at a map of New Jersey, Barnegat Inlet and to the south is the point where the coastline begins to recede towards the west. This one feature alone could be enough to explain the difference in fishing action results for North and South Jersey anglers.
While geographical features cannot be underestimated, there are many more questions to ask – many of which I'm not sure anyone can answer. Are the big schools of striped bass currently off our northern/central coast Hudson or Raritan Bay fish? How many of them actually retreat northward back into deep-water holes to wait out the winter months? Do most of the fish continue south from Barnegat Inlet and follow a straight line south and stay miles off the South Jersey Coast? What happened to the Delaware Bay fishery? Is climate change and warming ocean waters to blame? Despite lots of research and our best science, many of us are left with more questions than answers.
My thoughts on the subject are relatively simple. The range of striped bass is clearly shrinking due to a dwindling biomass. Much like the weakfish, I witnessed the best fishing action move a few inlets north almost every season – it started in the Delaware Bay, moved up and around Cape May and before you know it, most of the South Jersey coast loses another solid fishery. I watched the weakfish collapse happen and denied it at the time, mostly because I was catching some of the largest weakfish of my lifetime – albeit in a smaller area and a little further north than I was used to fishing. Sounds familiar right?
With all that said, I've had a lot of fun with the striped bass this fall. The northern fishery is as good as it's been in years and I'm finding good numbers of smaller striped bass in a lot of my backwater holes. However, I cannot ignore the fact that fishing in South Jersey has been dismal. My range used to consist of Atlantic City to Cape May. Lately, I find myself fishing from Avalon to Seaside Park, but my trips south of Ocean City have been few and far between. I haven't completely given up as I plan on fishing south tonight. I'm trying to keep hope alive, but it's becoming increasingly difficult.
At this point, it would almost be some type of small miracle if the striped bass moved down into our neighborhood just in time for the holiday season. It wouldn't be the first time South Jersey fishing lit up after the Thanksgiving holiday - some years the action lasted well into the New Year. Regardless, I'd like to wish everyone a great Thanksgiving. Enjoy time with your family and friends and if you can do it on the water that's even better. It's time for me to go chase some linesiders.
It's early, but this season's fall run seems to be shaping up as one of the best in the last few years. Just to the north, massive schools of big bluefish are working their way down the Jersey coast. Striped bass continue to show up in both good numbers and sizes. Whether you're a surfcaster, boater or backwater angler, it's time to hit the water – the stripers are here and they're hungry!
Fall Run Fun!
Weather and fishing conditions seem to be nearly perfect for an extended fall run. Mild November days and nights seem to be keeping our coastal water temperatures right around 60 degrees – some may consider 60 degrees a little on the warm side, but the fish don't seem to mind. A look at the ten-day forecast shows daytime highs in the mid to upper 60s for all of next week. The long-range forecast predicts more seasonable temperatures, but for the first time in a few years, it looks like we're going to ease into the winter season. Tons of bunker and other baitfish can be found out front, in the back bays and everywhere between. The variety of bait is also very impressive. The fish are here and they have no reason to leave!
I missed some fishing time as I tweaked something in my back and was laid up for close to a week. For a bunch of reasons, the timing couldn't have been worse. Fortunately, I'm feeling better now and I'm fishing around the clock trying to make up for lost time. In my experiences, adrenalin overloads from hooking into sizable striped bass are much more effective at killing pain than any prescription medications ordered by the doctor. Fishing has an odd way of curing any troubles.
Up and around again, I started with a night trip in the South Jersey backwaters. I found striped bass popping at my first stop and had a blast casting soft-plastic baits at them. What the little linesiders lacked in size, they made up for in numbers. At times, it seemed like every cast ended with an 18 to 26-inch striped bass. After I had my fun, I moved to another area and had similar action with small, but feisty stripers. Snapper bluefish, spike weakfish and summer flounder added to my catch - proving that water temperatures are still a little on the mild side.
Having fun with the little fish was just what I needed, but I couldn't pass up the reports of bigger fish coming from the north at Long Beach Island and Island Beach State Park. After debating on whether or not to make the trip north, I arrived at IBSP a little late, but walked the beach until I found a perfect cut between the sandbars. In the first few casts bass were swiping at my Daiwa SP Minnow. I landed a few good fish and dropped more than I'd like to admit. Even though I had a good day, I couldn't help wonder how many more fish I might have caught if I arrived before sunrise.
I went home and asked Jake if he'd like to get in on the action. His first experience plugging the surf came just a few weeks ago in which he was lucky enough to land a keeper-sized striper. I told him our odds wouldn't get much better as lots of fish were around and it seemed like the "stars were aligned" for a perfect trip.
Jake's first striper on a plug.
The next morning, we left extra early and arrived at IBSP about an hour before sunrise. As we gathered our gear and put our waders on, Jake looked up and said, "Dad you weren't kidding about the stars being aligned!" As luck would have it, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and the Moon were lined up almost perfectly. We both laughed for a minute before we hurried off towards the water.
As we hiked in over the dunes, you could smell bunker in the air. I told Jake this was going to be our day. We set up and started casting into the darkness. We fished for a good hour before the sun came up without a touch. Some doubt started creeping in and I wondered if yesterday's fish moved along.
As the sun came up, the tide started out and our luck was about to change. My SP Minnow got hammered and the fish went airborne. I thought I had a bluefish, but it turned out to be an acrobatic 32-inch striped bass. I had a few bass on the sand before Jake hooked up. With another good fish on, I looked over at Jake to tell him to come over, but his rod was already bent. The action was fast and furious! After a few minutes of back and forth, I landed my fish and headed over to help Jake. He battled the fish for at least five minutes. When I saw the big bass in the surf, I went nuts. The only thing better than catching good fish is having your kids catch one! He played it like a pro and slid his first sizable plug bass onto the beach.
Jake with his big bass and a proud papa!
The next half hour was a blur that seemed to last about 30 seconds. Jake and I got into a great bite with multiple fish over 40 inches. While Jake was unhooking his fish, I hooked into another mid-twenty pound bass and couldn't believe how great the bite was. I don't fish the surf often so trips like this would be extra memorable, especially with Jake getting on the action.
As quickly as the great bite started, it ended. We continued to work the cut and walked down to hit another fishy-looking area, but our casts came back untouched. It's funny how no matter how long you spend on the water a half hour stretch can make a day. At that moment, I looked at Jake and told him I didn't care if we didn't catch another fish all season – it would still be worth it!
It's that wonderful time of year when schools of striped bass return to our coastal waters in numbers. Over the weekend, reports of striped bass came from our oceanfront beaches, inlets and backwater sounds. Fishing for striped bass may not be as easy as it was just a few short years ago, but there are some great opportunities available for those willing to put in a little time.
Over the last few fall seasons, figuring out striped bass staging/feeding patterns seemed a little more difficult then it used to be. I think it's fair to blame at least some of the problem on the fact that there seems to be less striped bass around than there were a few years ago. I believe another factor is the weather - the last few fall seasons we went from one extreme to the other – extremely-high water temperatures in October were followed by a coastal storm or two and a frigid crash in November. Big swings in weather patterns and temperature changes usually don't bode well for fishing action in general, especially pattern-oriented anglers.
So far, this season seems different. We battled through an early coastal storm and now the water temperatures seem to be dropping gradually – perfect conditions for predictable fishing patterns. I couldn't help but smile when looking at the long-range forecast – it looks that good! This week promises daytime highs in the low to mid 70s with an average cooling trend continuing right through early December. It looks like the table is set for a good fall run!
We're off to a good start!
With perfect weather conditions and so many opportunities available to us, it can be a hectic time of year for outdoor enthusiasts. I'm splitting time between freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing, kayaking, hiking and hunting and I love every minute of it! The recent freshwater rainbow trout action was some of the best I've ever experienced. I'm fairly new to hunting, but Jake and I had an incredible morning last Saturday, October 31, at Peaslee Wildlife Management Area's Youth Pheasant Day Event – he aimed a shotgun while I aimed a camera.
The boys had a great morning at Peaslee WMA!
Even with so much going on, I have a feeling that it's about time to make the fulltime switch over to striped bass. During my recent backwater trips, I've experienced fast-paced action with schoolie-sized striped bass – numbers seem far better than I've seen in at least the last five years. Keeper-sized fish (28 inches or better) are a little more difficult to come by, but chances are with a little more effort, you'll find a few fish for the table.
This one made the mark, but we practiced catch and release.
What the little linesiders lack in size, they make up for in action and predictability. An average trip consists of about fifteen to twenty stripers between 18 and 28 inches. Tagging the short stripers also adds to my enjoyment. It's not the good old days, but it does seem promising, especially after some very dismal fall runs. My best action seems to be happening at night and away from the inlets and any dredging or beach replenishments projects. I expect the inlet areas to pick up soon, but the backcountry action has been on fire. Schools of peanut bunker, hoards of silversides and some leftover pods of mullet should keep things interesting well into December.
Tagging short stripers and a few summer flounder add to the experience.
It looks like I have lots of paperwork to catch up on.
I've fished a bunch of areas from as far north as Island Beach State Park to the south down in Cape May and many of the areas in between. The best action seems to be taking place a little to the north. The backwaters of Barnegat Bay to about Avalon seem to be providing the best action – there are fish behind Stone Harbor, Wildwood and Cape May, but it's just not the same. The run usually seems a little later down in the southernmost portion of our area so I'm not too concerned yet.
Julia caught this micro-sized bass behind Stone Harbor.
I've witnessed feeding stations set up at places such as bridges, piers, docks, creek mouths and shell beds – watching striped bass, even schoolie striped bass, feed on top-water baits never gets old! By concentrating on these types of areas, your production should improve, especially if you fish during a high outgoing tide. My go-to bubblegum-colored soft plastics on ¼ to ½-ounce jig heads haven't let me down, but there were a few nights the little bass were picky and preferred a 1/8-ounce jig with a natural-colored soft plastic bait – dark top/light bottom baits work well.
Jake had his hands full with this backwater striper.
I'm hoping that the recent back-bay action is just a precursor to a great fall run. It sounds like a fresh body of fish just moved down from New York/North Jersey into the northern portion of our area (IBSP) so action should continue to improve as we progress further into November. Fishing for stripers may not be as easy as it was ten years ago, but it might not be as bad as some of us thought either. I'm anticipating a striped bass season to remember!
With another fall run just around the corner, I think it's the perfect time to talk about our beloved striped bass. The plain truth is fishing for striped bass isn't nearly as good as it was just a few years ago. For many of us in South Jersey, the fall run almost seems like a dream now. I don't know about you, but I find myself driving a little further north every fall season to get in on the type of action I desire and even when I'm fortunate enough to I find it, the bite is usually short lived and unpredictable.
Heaven on Earth
As concerned anglers, the first thing we need to do is decide if we have a problem. Those booming striper years were great, but is it really supposed to be like that every season? While fishing for stripers may not be what it was a few years ago, it seems far from a crash. Our best science tells us there has been a slight drop in biomass numbers, but the Chesapeake's 2011 spawning year class is the 5th highest on record; this strong year class should mature by 2019 at the latest. I question much of our "best science" and usually feel more comfortable relying on my own eyes.
Before 2011, I felt comfortable with our seemingly modest two-fish bag limit and protected federal waters. Honestly, not that long ago, I wondered if we we're actually erring on the side of extreme conservation. That time passed when I saw the massacre of the 2011 fall season. I spent my days and nights fishing a little further north at Island Beach State Park (IBSP.) Clouds of sand eels had what seemed like every striper in the ocean off IBSP. The fishing action was unbelievable with as many 26 to 38-inch linesiders as you wanted. As word got out, the normally peaceful, natural beach turned into a traffic-jammed nightmare. Surfcasters were COMING DOWN from MONTUAK. Rods lined miles of beachfront; at times it was difficult to squeeze in anywhere along the park. As if that wasn't enough, you could walk on the boats lined up from Manasquan to Long Beach Island even on the weekdays. Everyone caught fish and many took home their limit including yours truly.
Limits for everyone!
By the time the holidays came and the bite died off, I sat back and reflected on the great fishing action. At first, I felt privileged to take part in such an amazing bite. If you could put that type of action in a bottle, I'd be happy for the rest of my years. Part of me began to wonder if I'd ever be fortunate enough to experience another fall run like that. Then, I started to wonder about how many fish were removed from the biomass that fall season. Hundreds, if not thousands, of fish were removed everyday for at least a month. How could this bode well for the future?
To me, the 2011 season at IBSP is a microcosm of the bigger coast-wide fishery. Whenever a fishery does well, it attracts attention. The better the fishing action, the higher the number of angler participation. Years ago, when striper fishing was poor, angler participation was low which allowed the fishery to gain some momentum. Today, angler participation seems to be at an all-time high and I'm concerned that a two-fish bag limit may actually be hurting the fishery. Other than a week or two here and there, my experiences tell me we're in trouble.
How do they stand a chance?
Personally, when I'm faced with a problem, I ask myself a few questions. First, how can I fix the problem? If I can't solve the problem, I'd like to make the situation a little better and if I cant figure that out, at the very least, I'll come up with a way to not allow the situation to get worse. If I can figure out the problem, I'll follow up with: how can we stop the problem from happening again? This seems reasonable to me.
I've come to the conclusion that fishing for striped bass could be better and I'm ready to do something about it. I attended the hearing in Galloway concerning the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Draft Addendum IV to Amendment 6 to the Atlantic Striped Bass Interstate Fishery Management Plan. It was nice to run into a few old friends, but I was disappointed by the small turnout. We spoke about benchmarks, fishing mortality and things like the spawning stock biomass. After the presentation, the general consensus seemed in favor of cutting our total harvest by 25%. Several anglers preferred the selections in the Option B Section, some of which allow a one fish bag limit for the 2015 season. I'm going on record in favor of Option B1, which calls for a one fish bag limit and a 28-inch minimum size limit; this selection is expected to reduce the 2013 harvest by 31%.
It's not too late to be heard! You have a variety of options. For NJ anglers, there is a meeting on September 15 from 7 to 9 PM at Toms River Town Hall, L. M. Hirshblond Room, 33 Washington Street, Toms River, NJ. For more information call Russ Allen at (609) 748-2020. If you're from PA, you can attend a meeting on September 17 at 6 PM at the Silver Lake Nature Center, 1306 Bath Road, Bristol, PA. For more information, call Eric Levis at (717) 705-7806. If you cant make the meetings, public comment will be accepted until 5 PM on September 30, 2014. Forward comments to Mike Waine, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland Street, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201 or you can fax Mike at (703) 842-0741, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (703) 842-0740.
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!
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.
We're heading into late August and the tide is slowly turning. Those long, hot summer afternoons are slowly moderating as we continue to lose a minute or two of daylight every day. On June 20, sunrise took place at 5:34 AM and sunset at 8:28 PM. Today, the sun came up at 6:18 AM and set at 7:47 PM. Since the first day of summer, we've lost 44 minutes of daylight in the morning and 41 minutes in the evening for a total of an hour and 25 minutes. By the first day of autumn, we'll lose another hour and 20 minutes of daylight. If you're like me and prefer to fish at night, well, we're not losing anything, but gaining darkness and more productive fishing time.
Back Bay Sunset
I've spent countless hours plying the South Jersey backwaters and the late-summer/early-fall time period is one of my favorite times of the year. When I think of late-summer nights on the water, I think of peanut bunker flipping on the surface and the gamefish I'm searching for beneath them. At this time of year, trophy fish often seem few and far between; however, what the fish lack in size, they make up for in variety. There are so many possibilities on any given cast. The usual suspects such as striped bass, weakfish, summer flounder, and snapper bluefish provide most of the action; however there are enough speckled sea trout and red drumfish around to keep things interesting.
South Jersey Surprises
As enjoyable as the fishing action can be, the late-summer pattern can also be very frustrating for anglers. If you think about it for a minute, it makes sense that this time period would be one of the most difficult times to catch fish: the warm back-bay waters are boiling with a plethora of baitfish and there hasn't been any real trigger to put the gamefish into blitz mode. A single gamefish could swim through thousands of baitfish in just a few minutes; what are the odds that it will take your bait?
Most of the time, I prefer to fish with small jigs and soft-plastic baits, but there are occasions when my offerings go untouched. I've thrown small plugs, bucktails, and everything else in my bag to feeding fish with no results. That's when it's time to break out the cast net and wrangle up some live bait. Peanut bunker are usually quite easy to find. Keeping peanuts alive can be difficult, but I've experimented with some fresh-dead bunker and found they seem to work well threaded onto the same jigs that I use when I'm tossing soft-plastic baits. The weakfish really seem to love them. A fish-less night can be quickly turned around with just one well-placed toss of a cast net.
Tossing the Cast Net
The recent return of weakfish should make for some great late-season action. We've had nights when we've caught well over fifty weakies per night. While most of the weakfish are usually in the 12 to 18-inch range, we see enough fish in the mid-20-inch range to keep us entertained. Years ago, when weakfish stocks were strong, we caught them right through the Thanksgiving weekend. Barring any severe coastal storms, I expect some of the best action to occur in early October as blitzing weakfish will be gorging themselves before making their way towards the inlet and out to sea.
Unfortunately, keeping up with life has put a serious dent in my fishing time. I thought life would be a little easier as my children grew up, boy, was I wrong! Fun time with a rod in our hand has been replaced with car shopping and applying to colleges with my oldest son, tennis practice and school shopping with my daughter, and it's always an adventure trying to keep up with my 10-year-old son. We hit the local lakes and ponds from time to time and we always enjoy ourselves, but it's just not the same.
On the bright side, I'm taking care of business and school starts in two weeks! I'll miss the little ones, but my schedule will allow me much more free time and I can get back to doing what I love to do. I better get going; I can already hear those weakies calling my name.
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.
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
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.
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!
I woke up this morning and flipped the page on my calendar; it's hard to believe that we're just entering the month of April. Since my last blog entry, I've logged a ton of hours on the water and lipped quite a few striped bass. Friends and family have joined in the fun and we've already had some memorable trips. I feel like we're halfway through the spring-fishing season, when in reality it's only just begun!
Over the last two weeks, the fishing action has really picked up. Local anglers are catching good numbers of striped bass in the back bays, rivers, inlets, and out front in the surf. Action has been far from consistent, but we're still well ahead of schedule.
Believe it or not striped bass aren't the only game in town. Bluefish and summer flounder are here and they're hungry. Bluefish showed up out front last week and a few have pushed into the backwaters over the last few days. Summer flounder invaded the inlets about a week ago and seem to be around in good numbers, especially at the perennial early-season hot spots. A good friend has been nailing flatties behind Seven-Mile Island all week while tossing jigs for striped bass. I saw my first flatfish the other night when my buddy, Rob, landed one while we were fishing for stripers; if they're biting at night, you know they're aggressive. May 5 seems so far away!
My buddies and I have been spending a great deal of time fishing in the shallow backwaters. Even though we've managed to put together some good catches, finding any type of pattern has been difficult. Things were just about to get interesting when adult bunker moved into the Great Egg Harbor Bay last week and then a strong cold front with gusty northwest winds sent them packing. Just when we begin to think that we've got the bite figured out, the fish throw us a changeup.
The nightshift bass bite has been productive, although most of the fish have been on the short-side of the 28-inch-legal-size limit. We've been tossing soft-plastic baits on ¼ to ½-ounce jig heads with good results. One night, the fish will be blowing up on grass shrimp and spearing and inhaling our soft-plastic baits and the next they're on the bottom and only halfheartedly striking our jigs. While it seems that we can't keep a bite at one location for more than a night or two, I have noticed that our best action usually takes place on either side of high water.
I've had my fun with the little fish, but it's time to switch gears. It's time to start chasing some better fish. The bite on the Delaware River is picking up and the big girls are moving in to do their thing. This week, I'll dust off the big rods and make a trip to my river hot spots. After a few trips tossing bloodworms along the riverbanks, I'll switch over to chunking bunker and clams along the bay shores and down around Cape May Point. By month's end, I'll be back out front looking for bass busting on bunker.
I'm a back-bay skinny-water angler by nature, but I'll be making the rounds over the next few weeks. Fishing opportunities seem endless as our waters become inundated with striped bass, summer flounder, and bluefish; a stray weakfish would be nice too. It's hard to do it all, but I'm going to try my best to spend as much time as I can on the water this season. If the bite gets real good, eat, sleep, fish will turn into fish, fish, fish!
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?
The 2012 striped bass season started off with a bang as word of keeper-sized stripers spread like wildfire. As expected, a great deal was made about the season's first legal linesiders. The perennial hot spots paid off again: Oyster Creek and the Mullica River are two of the more productive early-season waters and I'm fairly certain that the reported fish were taken from these areas.
News of the first fish of the year always gets the blood pumping, but don't get too excited yet. For every fish that makes headlines, there are probably a 100 anglers that returned home with nothing more than cold fingers. Even though water temperatures are well-above normal, the migratory fish are most likely a few weeks away. Sure, there are plenty of resident fish around, but they generally don't make the minimum-legal-length of 28 inches.
After a long day of radar watching, a persistent rainstorm forced me to cancel any plans of fishing at midnight on March 1. Hold on, before any of you comment, "The fish are already wet" or "Some of my best fishing trips took place on rainy days," let it be known that I've never taken my first few fish of the season in the rain and God knows I've tried. Most of my early-season trips take place on shallow flats or around lighted structure and in my experiences, the baitfish just don't seem to school up in these areas like they do when it's not raining. To be totally honest, I try to put myself into the best possible situation to achieve success and after years of practice on the water, I've learned that your success ratio will soar if you play the odds.
The rain delay made my choice to fish the South Jersey backwaters a little more questionable as I learned of confirmed reports of keeper-sized stripers in the river and at the power-plant outflow, but I felt like I had a good plan and I was going to stick to it. With water temperatures pushing the 50-degree mark, I thought it might be a good idea to start at the inlet bridges. Those bridges yielded good numbers of bass on my last trip of the 2011 season (December 29) and it was possible, maybe even likely, that the fish stayed active throughout January and February. If plan A failed, plan B was to head back into the bay and fish some skinny water.
I arrived at the inlet just after midnight and found near-perfect conditions. The wind was calm, the water was clean, and the current was moving just right. While casting soft-plastic baits, I looked and listened, but I just couldn't find any promising signs of life. I made the rounds to check out some other productive areas near the inlets, but each attempt came up empty. I was starting to wonder if I should have headed up north to the power plant, but I continued on to plan B.
After a short ride, I pulled up to the same place that provided my first striper of 2011 (March 23). As I made my way to the water, I looked around and listened for feeding bass. More times than not, if the fish are at this location, you can see and hear them feeding on the surface. I looked and listened for a full five minutes before casting, but there were no signs of life. At this point, I was beginning to think that the first trip of the year was going to be an uneventful one.
My first cast hit the water and about two-seconds later, my baby bass-colored Zoom got thumped and the fight was on! Well, it wasn't much of a fight; the feisty 24-inch striper was far from impressive, but it sure felt good. I continued fishing the last hour of the incoming tide and landed four more bass between 18 and 26 inches. Right before high tide, I heard some thunderous pops on the far sod bank. This area was out of casting range, so you can imagine how torturous that experience was. The fish continued popping along the bank on the falling tide and all I could do was listen to what sounded like bowling bowls being thrown into the water. On the bright side, I picked up two more little bass before the wind picked up and the bite died down.
While it may be true that I didn't come home with any fish, I still consider my first trip a successful one. Seven stripers to 26 inches isn't a bad start to the season, but I still can't shake those earsplitting bowling-ball pops. I'll be back with my kayak!
We're just hours away from the beginning of the 2012 striped bass season! I'm sure some anglers may argue that the 2011 striper season never really ended, but March 1 marks a new season for our inlets, back bays, and rivers and I have a feeling it's going to be a good one!
If you're like me, right about now is when you start feeling like a little kid on Christmas Eve. Your mind starts racing and you start wondering: what will the new season bring? Will this be the year that I catch the monster fish that I've been dreaming about? If that trophy cow takes the hook, will my equipment hold up? Anticipation and excitement grow at the thought of a new season and the endless possibilities it offers.
Fortunately, this winter was as mild as any in recent memory. Ocean water temperatures in South Jersey seldom, if ever, dipped below 40 degrees. The average water temperature for the month of February in Cape May is 37 degrees. By mid-March, the water temperature rises to an average of 42 degrees. Right now, just days before March 1, the National Oceanographic Data Center (NODC) is reporting a balmy 47 degrees! Warmer water should make for some great early-season action.
There are a couple of areas that offer striped bass action year round, but for the most part, fishing action is historically slow during the first-half of the month. The season's first keeper-sized stripers typically come from warm-water outflows via power plants. This year should be different though. Above-average water temps and a favorable long-range forecast could mean that the playing field is a little more even and I have a feeling those warm-waters outflows won't be the only game in town.
In South Jersey, we are blessed with an intricate system of bays, sounds, rivers, and creeks that run from Cape May Harbor up through Barnegat Bay. These large, shallow bodies of water warm quickly and are particularly productive during the spring months. Resident bass will use these flats as feeding stations as small crabs, spearing, minnows, and grass shrimp are plentiful in these waters year round. Ordinarily, the shallow flats begin to turn on as we get closer towards the end of March, but I'm fairly certain that some of those flats are already holding active fish.
This Wednesday night, I plan on continuing my tradition of heading out at midnight on March 1, weather permitting. Usually, I know the chances of catching a fish on the opening day are slim, but this season I feel like my chances have increased tenfold. After a little homework, I found that high tide will be at 1:45 AM and it looks like it's going to be a little breezy at the location I plan on fishing. Another look ahead shows prime conditions, favorable-evening high tides and daytime air temps into the 60's, beginning on March 6, just a couple of days before the full moon. Tides and weather always play a role in fishing, but they're even more significant during the beginning of the season.
Catching the first bass of the new season should be enough of a reward, however there are a handful of bait and tackle shops that have sweetened the pot by putting a bounty on the first keeper-sized striped bass of the year. Some of the contests are location based, while others include the entire state. Absecon Bay Sportsmen's Center offers some of the area's most lucrative prizes such as a $200 gift certificate for the first keeper-sized striper, $100 gift certificate for the second keeper bass, and $50 for the third linesider weighed in at the shop. Dave also anteed up a $100 gift certificate for the first bass over 20 pounds and another for the first striper over 30 pounds. That's a lot of clams!