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.
Can you believe we're halfway through the 2016 fishing season? The first six months flew by, but not without some decent catches. A mild winter and early spring gave way to a dreary and cool May followed by an average June. According to my logs, fishing action was average to above average. The first half of the 2016 fishing season is off to a good start!
I started the year plying the local sweetwater venues. Chain pickerel, crappie and yellow perch accounted for the little action I had in January. There seemed to be just enough snow and cold air to keep the fishing action to a minimum, but after the prior two years of bone-chilling winter weather, it was great to be fishing open water again. January fishing was a little on the slow side, but I was fishing and catching so I'm leaning towards above average.
My son, Jake, started February off with a bang. After a slow day at the crappie pond, I decided to catch up on chores while Jake walked down to our lake to give it his best. About ten minutes after he left the house, I received a phone call asking me to come down to see the largemouth bass he just caught. It was a good fish, especially for early February. As the month progressed, fishing action picked up and we experienced a solid crappie bite. February is usually my toughest month – between winter storms and cabin fever, I'm always glad to flip the calendar to March. All things considered, I have to say February was a little better than average.
February Bonus Bass!
March ushered in warmer weather and some great fishing opportunities. Looking back, I see myself on March 8, 2016 fishing from my Tarpon 120 in shorts and a t-shirt. The next day, Jake and I returned to catch a bunch of crappie and pickerel in 70-degree temperatures. As March continued, we fished Rapala Shadow Raps and caught tons of largemouth bass and pickerel. By mid-March, it was time to hit the coastal backwaters where I found better striped bass action than I've seen in years. March can be hit or miss, but this year was a definite hit - clearly above average.
Spring Striped Bass
Fishing in April was amazing! Freshwater action was great and the South Jersey back bays were full of life. The local lakes and ponds offered largemouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch, crappies and tons of freshly stocked rainbow trout. Summer flounder, tiderunner weakfish and an insane amount of big bluefish joined the striped bass in our coastal waters. Once I found the weakfish, it was difficult to fish for anything else. It was great to see so many large weakfish around again! The last few years were promising, but most of the fish were in the 3 to 6 pound class. This spring, there was a good showing of 8 to 12 pound weakfish – I was in heaven! Towards the end of the month, a steady coastal flow began, dropped backwater temps and killed the great bite. Despite the late-April east winds, fishing action was well-above average.
Tiderunner weakfish made my spring!
May is usually my favorite time to fish. I wait all year for the month of May. This year I was thoroughly disappointed. A seemingly unending east wind made for poor fishing conditions for the first three weeks of the month. Backwater fishing action suffered the most as water temps dropped and then held steady in the mid 50s. Striped bass and bluefish didn't seem to mind the constant east wind and flood tides, but the weakfish and summer flounder bite took a nosedive. Because of the poor conditions, I spent more time freshwater fishing than usual. Fortunately, the easterly flow didn't hurt the largemouth bass bite. While fishing for largemouth bass, I caught a few monster chain pickerel. The weather and water temps moderated towards the end of the month, but I never found the kind of action I experienced in April. Fishing in May was worthwhile, but not the great action I look forward to every year – definitely below average.
Great freshwater action almost made up for poor conditions along the coast.
Thankfully, the weather and fishing action returned to normal in June. A few tries for flatfish ended with a decent amount of 17-inch flatfish, but I was still left feeling a little salty about missed opportunities in May and releasing 20 to 24-inch summer flounder in April. Smaller summer weakfish showed in Cape May County so I'm hoping they hang around for the next few months. After spending a little more time fishing the sweetwater ponds and lakes in May, I found a decent largemouth bass bite and had more fun freshwater fishing than I've had in years. In just the last few days, it seems like the pattern changed again and I may have to start fishing the nightshift to find any decent action. Overall, June's fishing action was average.
I'm hoping to find more bass like this one this summer.
The long, hot summer months can make for some difficult fishing. While I enjoy summer fishing, a part of me is already looking forward to cooler weather and good fishing action. I'm hoping for a repeat of the 2015 fall run. I'm excited to see what the rest of the 2016 fishing season has to offer. Please feel free to share your halftime report below in the comments section.
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.
I love everything about spring in South Jersey. The sights, smells and sounds are nothing short of heavenly. Colorful flowers blend into a beautiful, bright, spring-green backdrop. The sweet smell of budding blooms fills the air with a delightful scent while the birds and frogs sing a lovely tune. It's as though all is right in the world.
Spring in South Jersey
As an avid angler, there are some other great sights, smell and sounds that make the spring season amazing. Some of the sights include the brilliant purple hues of a tiderunner weakfish at sunrise, slammer bluefish blitzing along an inlet jetty and a hefty, cow striped bass at the end of a bent rod. I find the smell of the salty marsh and fresh bunker oddly pleasant and perhaps the most satisfying sound on the earth: a screaming drag!
Our coastal waters are coming back to life and blossoming much like the acres of peach trees that surround my home. The month of May offers some of the best fishing opportunities of the year as a variety of large fish move into and out of our rivers, backwater estuaries, inlets and beachfront waters. Head east or west and you'll find a great striped bass bite - as the big breeding linesiders finish their mating rituals, I expect the fishing action to turn up a notch in the Cape May County area, especially as we head into next weekend's new moon stage. Big slammer bluefish have inundated our local waters and are wreaking havoc on fishing equipment – the tackle shops must love those big bluefish! Waves of big weakfish are showing from time to time and the summer flounder are here in good numbers – just three more weeks until the 2016 summer flounder season opens!
Tackle shops must love those big bluefish!
With so many fishing opportunities, I've been out early and often. To be honest, I'd prefer to catch big weakfish all day every day, but with so many other great fisheries, I find myself attempting to do it all. After years of fishing the area, I've learned it's best to plan my trips according to conditions. On days when the winds are light, you'll find me paddling the backwaters in my kayak looking for trophy tiderunners. The April run of spring weakfish coincided with a great stretch of calm, warm and stable weather.
Trophy Tiderunners Are Back!
When the wind picks up, presenting lightweight jigs in a strong current becomes extremely difficult. Depending on weather conditions, especially wind direction, I'll switch it up and target striped bass or bluefish. If the wind is over 20 MPH, I'll resort to staying closer to home and pond hopping for largemouth bass. Since I've decided to let conditions dictate my target species, I've noticed my trips are much more successful.
The recent steady dose of east wind certainly doesn't seems to be helping my backwater efforts – the onshore flow brings an influx of cold ocean water and the extra water usually creates poor water clarity. With high, cold, dirty water infiltrating the backwater sounds, the odds of finding willing weakfish drops to almost nil. Knowing this, I decided to change things up and fish for big bluefish. The first day of east wind was great; the big blues would hit just about anything. On the second day, the water temperature dropped a couple degrees and the bluefish bite became a little more specific – they preferred plugs fished towards the end of the tide. By the third day of east wind, it seemed like the blues would only hit bait. Planning for weather conditions and their likely effects on your target species will go a long way in making or breaking a trip. With a few more days of east wind in the forecast, I think my best bet is to fish with bunker or clams along the beachfront and along the Delaware Bay shores.
The big bluefish will give you a workout.
As soon as the weather pattern changes, I'll be back out on my kayak in search of weakfish. This year's run has been one of the best in many years. Waves of 8 to 10-pound weakfish are showing up in many of the perennial early-season hot spots. In the last few days, reports of big weakies have come from South Jersey to as far as New York. Typically, the month of May offers some of the best weakfish action of the year so I have high hopes for the coming weeks. I just hope the weather cooperates!
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!
Can you believe we had a few inches of snow on the ground just a week ago? Fortunately, last Saturday's snowfall didn't have a lasting effect on the fishing action. Since the snowfall, the Delaware River striped bass bite exploded, many of our freshwater ponds and lakes were stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout, largemouth bass put on the feedbag and the saltwater action is picking up as the season's first bluefish, weakfish, and summer flounder were reported this week. Everywhere you look things are blooming and coming back to life – it really is the most wonderful time of the year!
Pickerel in the Snow
With better weather and good fishing conditions, I can't spend enough time by the water. In the last week, I've fished the night tides for striped bass, kayaked the early-morning hours in search of weakfish, fished the local stocked lakes for rainbow trout and tried for largemouth bass and pickerel at the local farm ponds. Even though I've spent a great deal of time fishing, I feel like I just can't get enough. South Jersey residents are truly blessed to have so many great fishing opportunities so close to home.
Stable weather patterns and rising water temperatures are exactly what I like to see during the spring season. Coastal-water temperatures vary from 50.5 degrees in Atlantic City to 56.7 degrees in Cape May at the Ferry Jetty. Backwater temperatures are ranging from the mid 50s to the low 60s - depending on location and time of day. I don't want to jinx it, but the wind has finally backed off too. The long-range forecast is looking good so I expect the fishing action to continue to improve.
I'll start this week's report in the sweetwater. Jake and I decided to skip the trout day opener and hit our favorite venues throughout the week. With another truckload of trout stocked on Tuesday, April 12, there is certainly no shortage of fish. We caught a ton of rainbow trout on nickel/gold-colored Thomas Double Spinns. The double-bladed spinner flutters and falls a little slower than most other spinners, which make them the perfect selection for many of our shallow-water lakes and ponds.
Those Thomas Double Spinns Are Deadly!
While I haven't caught or seen any large, breeder trout yet this season, I did manage to make a special catch on Tuesday afternoon at Harrisonville Lake. One of the trout I caught came with a little piece of jewelry! This particular rainbow trout was jaw-tagged as part of the state's Hook-A-Winner Program – 1,000 trout are tagged and distributed throughout the state's waters each year. Winners must submit their name, address, fish tag number and catch location to the Pequest Trout Hatchery to receive an award certificate and patch.
Hook-A-Winner Rainbow Trout
With the recent stretch of warm, sunny days, I find myself looking for any excuse to stop by the water's edge. That lake on the way to the supermarket, the pond by the mall or the little farm pond across from my mother-in-laws house – you know, ten minute stops here and there just to wet a line. Lately, those little stops have been paying off as largemouth bass and big chain pickerel seem to be strapping on the feedbag. I'm on a Rapala Shadow Rap binge; both the Shadow Rap and the Shadow Rap Shad have been extremely effective recently – the pickerel just can't keep their mouths off them. The size of the fish at some of the local "puddles" will surprise you!
This Afternoon's Pit Stop
When I have a little more free time, I'm making the hour-long commute to fish the coastal backwaters. Nightshift trips have been worthwhile, as 20 to 30-inch striped bass seem to be just about everywhere. We've put up some numbers over the last few nights and had a lot of fun with the little linesiders. I tagged a few fish for the Littoral Society and look forward to learning more about the habits and migration patterns of our local back-bay bass.
Tagging Striped Bass
On calm mornings, you will find my plying the local creeks and skinny-water flats in my A.T.A.K. kayak for spring tiderunner weakfish. A few have been caught, but I've only come up with striped bass and bluefish so far. The new kayak continues to impress me; the performance on the water and stability is simply amazing. My sunrise kayak sessions seem almost surreal – now if I could only find a few willing weakfish.
Heaven on Earth
At least the bluefish are cooperating. Those bluefish seem to move in earlier each season. I have a feeling the yellow-eyed eating machines will be invading our waters in full force over the next few days. Hopefully, I can find a few weakfish before the big bluefish arrive in numbers and wreak havoc. I caught a handful of 6 to 8-pound blues the other morning while trying for weakfish. They really put a toll on my jigs and soft-plastic baits as I was unprepared for the toothy demons and didn't have any heavy leader material on my kayak – I won't make that mistake again.
This one made it to the kayak!
Whether you're a long-time angler or just beginning, it's a wonderful time to hit the water. With so many options, that old, familiar saying seems entirely appropriate – "So many fish, so little time." I'm going to make the most of the spring run and I hope you do too. Good luck on the water!
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.
Wow, what a warm up! It's hard to believe we had a couple inches of snow on the ground a week ago and now I'm sunburnt from head to toe! The recent stretch of 70 and 80-degree sunny days almost seems too good to be true; it is early March in South Jersey right? Birds are singing during the day while chorus frogs screams can be heard throughout the night. One thing is for sure: warm, sunny days will kick start fishing action all over the area so expect fishing reports to pick up greatly in the coming week.
After years of logging fishing trips, it didn't take long to see how much weather and water conditions influence fishing action. Air temperatures, water temperatures, wind speed, wind direction, cloudy days versus sunny days, rainfall or lack of rainfall and a myriad of other weather-related factors have at least some impact on most species of fish. Water temperature is certainly one of the main factors to consider when fishing. Cold water temperatures may not always dictate movement, as in migration, but it does play a major role when it comes to feeding habits. Knowing your quarries preferences will help increase the odds of a successful day on the water.
Unlike air temperatures, water temperatures usually change gradually; however, big swings in air temperatures, like the unseasonal warm-up we're experiencing now, can speed up the process dramatically. Dark-colored mud flats and a strong March sun are a perfect combination to warm up chilly waters. Smaller, shallow bodies of water can vary by as much as twenty degrees in just a few hours. In tidal areas, the back-bay flats will warm up much more on a sunny day, especially towards low tide. An incoming tide can drop temperatures and an angler's odds at finding active fish considerably as cold ocean water flushes over the flats.
USGS Current Water Temperature Chart
Last week's snowfall put a littler damper on my hopes of an early-season striped bass. I haven't fished the backwaters for striped bass since opening day, but after the last few days and a glance at the water temperature, I believe it's time to start making plans. The long-range forecast looks good with average to above average daytime highs. Back bay water temperatures are already flirting with that magical 50-degree mark. Reports along the Delaware River are trickling in and I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot more about striped bass over the upcoming weekend.
Even though I didn't get out for stripers, I tried to make the most of the beautiful weather by spending some time in my kayak on the local waters. On Tuesday, my daughter, Julia, and I stopped by Wilson Lake at Scotland Run Park. We arrived at the lake around 10 AM and it was already approaching 70 degrees. First step into the water quickly reminded me that the recent snow had melted just days before: the water was so cold; it felt like it was cutting you! I tried my normal go-to fishing holes, but the chilly water seemed to be working against me.
With just a small pickerel to show for my efforts, I decided to head towards the shallow flats at the back of the lake. After a quick paddle onto the flats, I could see the sun's effect on the skinny water as tiny baitfish were being pushed along a weed line by a school of hungry pickerel. I poked around in skinny-water areas that would be unreachable by any other means other than a kayak and it was perfect. Only a week into March and I'm on the lake in my kayak in shorts and a t-shirt catching fish after fish.
I told Jake about our trip that evening and decided to let him play hooky on Wednesday – what can I say, 80 degrees in March is a holiday at our house. We had plans to hit a nearby lake that had been on our radar for years, but we just never got around to fishing it. Fishing is allowed but kayak access would be difficult as would parking my trailer. Whatever the case, we were going to make it happen.
We got to the lake a little later this time – you know to let the sun work its magic. I pulled up to lake and we quickly unloaded the kayaks. Our only access was from a small, backwoods road and we had to slide the kayaks under a guardrail. Once we unloaded our gear, I parked the car a short distance away and took off my shoes and left them in the car. The walk back to the kayaks was fine, but loading the kayaks from land to the water would be an issue: hundreds of little spiked balls (we call them monkey balls) properly known as sweet gum balls made the barefoot carrying and rigging a real nightmare – I might have preferred walking on glass.
Once we finished navigating our way through the treacherous monkey balls, we slid the kayaks into the water and felt like we finally arrived in paradise. The warm sunshine, crystal-clear water (which was noticeable warmer than the day before) and light breeze set the table for a great afternoon on the water. I hooked a pickerel on my third cast and never looked back. The grass beds are just coming to life and were quite a spectacle as shades of greens and gold blended into each other. As luck would have it, the best fishing took place right on these shallow grass beds.
A pickerel's colors camogflage perfectly into the green and gold weeds.
Jake and I spent hours catching bass and pickerel on small jigs and soft-plastic baits. After exploring the lake, we decided that it has some serious potential. We didn't take the day lightly as this type of weather should be appreciated for all its worth. Towards the end of the day, neither of us wanted to go home: mostly because the weather was so beautiful, but also because we knew we'd have to pass the monkey-ball gauntlet again.
Honestly, if I could picture heaven, it would be very similar to my experiences this week – well, maybe the fish could be a little bigger. Spending a beautiful day on the water with the people you care the most about; how can it get any better? I hope everyone has an opportunity to enjoy the spring season as much as I plan to.
It feels great to be back in the swing of things! Getting off the couch and back out by the water's edge with a bent rod was exactly what I needed. Even though fishing action isn't quite in full swing yet, some impressive catches have been made over the last few days. Freshwater action is very good and the season's first striped bass have already hit the scales. We have a lot to look forward to, as fishing action should continue to improve with each passing day.
Let's start with striped bass – Tuesday, March 1 marked the beginning of a new fishing season for many of us as New Jersey's back bay and inlet waters opened to striped bass fishing. A few South Jersey tackle shops offer "bounties" for the first legal striped bass of the season. Captain Dave Showell, from Absecon Bay Sportsman Center, offers one of the most-generous bounties around. Anglers can claim a variety of prizes, up to a $200 gift certificate. On Tuesday afternoon, Matthew Calabria made the long ride from Raritan Bay with a 28.5-inch striper to claim the title of the season's first striped bass and earned two $100 gift certificate prizes.
Matthew Calabria with the Season's First Striper! Photo courtesy of Absecon Bay Sportsman Center
Minutes after Matthew claimed his prize, local angler, Trevor Daniels, stopped by the shop with his own striped bass - taken from the Mullica River. Trevor's striped bass pushed the scale down to 23.7 pounds and earned Trevor two $100 store gift certificates of his own. I'd like to congratulate both anglers – catching the season's first striped bass and earning $200 worth of equipment at Absecon Bay is a great way to start the 2016 season!
Trevor Daniels with His Prize-winning 23.7-pound Striped Bass Photo courtesy of Absecon Bay Sportsman Center
I wish I had a great fish story to share, but my season-opening trip was rather uneventful. For the first time in a few years, yours truly drove down to fish for stripers on opening day – well, opening night as I started fishing just after midnight on Tuesday, March 1. I had good conditions, but just didn't come across any signs of life. I made the rounds and gave it an honest effort, but came home empty handed. On the way home, I thought to myself, "we're close but just not there yet." I have a rather odd cue that signals when the striped bass bite begins in earnest: frogs – spring peepers to be exact. I haven't heard the chorus of frogs yet this year. There is one particular area, just about a ¼ mile from my home, where I usually hear the first peepers of the year. After taking my first skunk off the year, I'm nearing home and pull up to the last stop sign intersection before my house. I roll down my window and believe it or not, I heard what sounded like a solo frog doing its thing. I sat at the intersection (I live in a rural area and at 3:30 AM I'm not holding up traffic) and listened to that lone peeper for a few minutes with a big smile on my face. It won't be long before thousands of frogs are singing and screaming through the night and the stripers turn on the feedbag.
I think we have a few more days to wait, but I expect things to pick up later into next week. The weather doesn't look great to end the week as it seems like we're due for a little snow tonight and maybe a few more flakes on Sunday. Fortunately, next week looks to rebound nicely as I saw a bunch of days in the 60's and a couple in the 70s! The water temperature stations are showing a slight improvement since last week as Atlantic City is reporting 43.9 degrees and Cape May shows 44.1 degrees. I'm sure next week's warm afternoons will get those frogs singing and wake up the resident stripers.
While the striped bass seem to be a little slow to start, I've had a little more luck at the nearby lakes and ponds. Largemouth bass, yellow perch, crappies, and pickerel seem to be enjoying the extended daylight and are frequenting the warmer, shallow flats. I used to fish with live baits early in the season, but I feel like I'm holding my own with a variety of soft-plastic baits. Trout Magnets, Berkley Gulp Minnows and rubber worms seem to be on par with live baits. Jake and I haven't caught any big bass this week, but I've seen a few trophy fish taken recently. March is a great time of year to catch quality bucket mouths.
This Average-sized Spring Bass Couldn't Resist a Berkley Gulp Minnow
After not fishing for a few weeks, it seems like I'm a little more of an action junkie than usual and crappies have a way of filling in nicely. It seems like just about any shallow structure (2 to 4 feet) is holding crappies and the bite continues to get better each day. The wind has been a bit of an issue - catching in 20 to 30 MPH winds is never easy, especially when you're tossing ultra-light lures. Despite the wind, Jake and I are having a ball with the local crappies.
Jake Tempted This Slab Crappie with a Rubber Worm
In the coming weeks, I'm sure I'll forget about those crappies and move on to bigger and better things. To be honest, I'm already looking forward to tiderunner weakfish and striped bass, but for now, those crappies are the best thing going and I'm going to enjoy every minute of it. If you have a chance to hit the water, don't overlook the great crappie bite – they can be found in great numbers and are lot of fun on light tackle.
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.
After a long, cold winter, I was looking forward to spring and summer a little more than usual this season. Spring started a little later than I hoped, but I enjoyed a few weeks of good weather conditions and great fishing action. The late-April into mid-May time period provided ideal conditions and a great bite. Life was good. Then came the wind - the dreaded south wind!
I can pinpoint those relentless southerlies to the day - as luck would have it, the same day the 2015 summer flounder season opened: Friday, May 22. It's like someone flipped a switch and the fan has been blowing ever since. The strong south wind has taken a toll on our local fishing. To start, our coastal water temperature plummeted. The NOAA monitoring station in Atlantic City is currently reporting a water temperature of 55.4 degrees – anyone for a swim? Stained, weed-filled water greeted me at the inlet rock piles and drifting for flatfish with 20 to 25-MPH winds is rarely productive or enjoyable.
Returning from a south-wind skunk
As I write this, thunderstorms are moving through. Storm fronts like this usually signify a changing weather pattern. A look at the forecast shows a little more of an easterly pattern. Hopefully, the water temperature comes up a few degrees and stabilizes so we can enjoy what's left of the spring run. I like summer, but I'm not ready to make the switch just yet.
Ok, enough complaining about the weather. While conditions aren't making it easy, there are still plenty of fish to be had. Reports of large, post-spawn striped bass, big bluefish and keeper-sized summer flounder came from many of our local tackle shops this week. Most of the striped bass action seems to be happening out front, especially near the inlet rock piles. Big bluefish are still around and over the last two weeks, numbers of 1 to 3-pound blues moved into our waters. The best summer flounder action seems to be coming from our backwaters. I'm hoping the below-average water temps keep the flatties in the back a little longer this season. It seems the best push of weakfish went a little further north this season, but anglers fishing back-bay structure and the inlet jetties found a few 5 to 7-pound trout. Over the last few days, I heard some decent kingfish reports coming from surfcasters fishing between Ocean City and Wildwood.
The bluefish don't mind the wind.
With questionable coastal forecasts, it's been a lot easier for me to stay close to home and take advantage of the spring freshwater action. While I wouldn't trade stripers and weakfish for largemouth bass and pickerel, the freshwater action is a lot better than casting into a 20-MPH wind and catching weeds. To be honest, the wind has even made my sweet-water fishing a little more difficult than I'm used to. Fortunately, I'm surrounded by a bunch of lakes and ponds and I can always find a place to hide from the wind.
Staying close to home has a bunch of advantages, but the biggest plus is that I can usually fish with my son, Jake. A little part of me misses the saltwater scene, but nothing can top watching my son fall in love with the outdoors. Some days we make trips to our favorite neighborhood lakes and ponds while others we set off to explore new waters. I enjoy casting top-water plugs to largemouth bass and pickerel while Jake is still learning new fish-catching techniques – lately he's been catching on weightless soft-plastic baits.
Who has the bigger mouth?
Once school lets out, I plan on getting Jake a little salty. He made his first few backwater kayak trips with me earlier this season and is dying to get back out there. Maybe the weather will cooperate a little more by then, but even if it doesn't, we'll find a way to make memories.
I'll always remember our days doubled up in the lily pads!
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, we've come a long way since two weeks ago when I posted my last blog entry. Before the recent warm up, most of us were beginning to wonder if winter would ever end as we set record lows and struggled to reach 40 degrees for daytime highs. I don't think anyone could have imagined such a change in the weather pattern: from 30s and 40s to 80s and 90s? I still have a hard time believing the mercury hit 90 degrees on Wednesday afternoon. This type of up-and-down weather rollercoaster usually makes for unpredictable fishing action, but the recent spike in air temps may have been just the kick start we needed to get things going!
Like most anglers, I have striped bass on my mind, but I've been spending most of my free time chasing pre-spawn largemouth bass and brook trout. Over the last few days, freshwater action exploded and it's been tough to pull myself away from the great action. The warm up has been much more noticeable for inland residents than it has for our coastal residents. On Wednesday afternoon, a little sea breeze dropped air temps into the low 50's while it was close to 90 degrees in most of our inland towns. I choose to enjoy the summer-like weather at my local lakes and ponds in shorts and t-shirts versus throwing on a hooded sweatshirt and heading to the chilly coast in search of linesiders.
Inland versus Coastal Temperature
Last Saturday, April 6, marked the opening day of trout season in New Jersey. Trout season is in full swing as many of our local lakes, ponds, and rivers have been inundated with brook, rainbow, and brown trout. Since the initial preseason stocking, many of the same bodies of water have already received their second round of fish. Some of my favorite venues will be stocked again next week, April 15 - 19 and then one more time during week 3, April 22 – 26. There's plenty of trout for everyone!
NJ Trout Stocking
John Jones with a Big Brown Trout
Fortunately, I live in an area that's surrounded by lakes and ponds, many of which are stocked by the state. The same waters that resembled a mob scene on opening day are often quiet and peaceful on the restocking dates. I enjoyed fishing at three different lakes in the last three days and the trout action was great at each stop. To be honest, most of the recently stocked fish are on the small side, but I truly enjoy tossing spinners to those beautiful, little brook trout.
Brook Trout - Speckled Jewels
Before the trout stole my attention, I kept busy with largemouth bass and chain pickerel. After years of bugging my buddy, Dave, to try a kayak trip, we finally made it happen. On Monday, we loaded up the little plastic boats and made our way to Black Water Sports Center to pick up some minnows. I had plans to hit Willow Grove Lake as I figured the shallow water would warm quickly making it a great time to fish the massive stump fields.
Just minutes from the shop, we arrived at the lake and readied the yaks for a day on the water. I had fished Willow Grove from the shoreline, but never from a kayak, so I didn't have any experience to share with Dave about the lake. As we entered the lake, neither of us could believe how cold the water felt, but we continued on with high hopes. Dave paddled around for a few minutes and quickly got the feel of the kayak. We paddled up one side of the lake and never found more than a foot of water, but we did see lots of small pickerel shooting along the flats. We caught a few toothy chains and then moved along in hopes of finding deeper water and some largemouth bass.
Plenty of Pickerel
As it turned out, we never found deeper water, but we did find plenty of hungry bass! Dave and I placed our kayaks on the edge of the stump field and watched as hungry bass and pickerel exploded on 6 to 8-inch shiners. Hooking 2 to 5-pound bass in inches of water makes for a great fight and some incredible visuals: when you're sitting in a kayak and a bass jumps, its right at eye level. As the day went on, the wind picked up a little, but we continued to catch fish steadily throughout the afternoon.
Hefty Largemouth Bass
Dave handled the kayak like a pro and we caught lots of fish, but that was only part of the experience. While on the water, we witnessed some great sites: turtles sunned themselves, great egrets and blue herons stalked the shallows, ospreys dove into the water to grab pickerel, and a small flock of swans flew overhead for most of the day. It was a trip neither of us will soon forget and a sure sign that spring has sprung!
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?