by Frank Ruczynski
It's hard to believe there are only a few days left in the 2015 calendar year. Usually, at this point in the season, I'd be writing a wrapping-up-another-fishing-season report, but not this year! Yesterday's blitz reports were some of the best of the season. Whether you're a saltwater or freshwater angler, fishing action remains outstanding and it really doesn't show any signs of slowing down anytime soon!
In my opinion, the main factors to the great coastal fishing action are mild weather and a lack of any prolonged coastal storms. With 60 and 70 degree daytime highs and coastal-water temperatures holding in the low to mid 50s, fish and anglers alike are much more active. Baitfish and stripers aren't in a hurry to continue south if conditions don't warrant a migration – much like anglers are less likely to migrate to their couches this late fall/winter. The last two fall and winter seasons were frigid and the fishing action along with angler participation dropped off soon after Thanksgiving. This year's mild trend is similar to the 2011 fall/winter run – remember the outstanding fishing action that season? These fish aren't going anywhere soon!
Between holiday gatherings and the recent rainstorms, I've been fishing mostly at night in the back bays. The backwater striper bite remains as solid and predictable as I can remember. About two hours on either side of high water, the stripers show up and turn on the feedbag. I've been tossing ¼-oz jigs and pink soft-plastic baits at them with great results. Many of the linesiders are in the 22 to 26-inch range, but they are a lot of fun on freshwater bass gear. Backwater stripers are lots of fun on light-duty gear.
Moving forward, as of midnight on Friday, January 1, 2016, New Jersey coastal backwaters will be off limits for striped bass anglers – this includes inlets, sounds, estuary waters and rivers. I can't say I understand the reasoning for this regulation and as an avid backwater angler it should come as no surprise to hear I'm not very fond of it. I was told the closed-season regulation was put in place to limit anglers from snagging semi-dormant stripers in some of the deep-water holes – I don't know the severity of this type of fishing, but I would assume it was miniscule. Regardless, sadly, my back bay striper trips will end in about sixty hours. I'll miss my backwater bass!
On the bright side, the backwater closure will force me to fish more out front and by the sounds of it, I've been missing out. The surf bite has been steady, but it seems like the first day of an east wind really gets them going. Yesterday, striped bass and bluefish went crazy a little to the north around Seaside Heights, NJ. During my recent surf trips, I've had much more success during the backend of the outgoing tides – being able to get out on those bars can make or break a trip. I'm looking forward to landing my first striped bass of the New Year in January instead of March of the 2016 season.
When I'm not chasing striped bass, I've been hitting the neighborhood lakes and ponds for crappies, largemouth bass, pickerel and yellow perch. The freshwater action has been exceptional. Whether by foot from the banks or out in my kayak, I've been pleased with the bite on every trip. Usually by this time of year, live baits or downsized artificial offerings are required to catch consistently, but we aren't limited on techniques yet as the fish remain quite active. On Christmas Eve day, we had largemouth bass and pickerel blowing up on shiners while we were fishing top-water plugs in shorts and a t-shirt!Topwater Pickerel from the Kayak
Over the last few days, Jake and I have targeted crappies and yellow perch - Santa brought Jake lots of new fishing tackle to test out. We've been much more successful this season than in years past. I'm sure the warm weather is helping, but I believe another factor is the time I spent in my kayak with a good down-imaging fishfinder. Earlier this season, I marked some great underwater structure areas and took note of specific areas that I could reach from land - it's paying off big time! Jake is having a blast with his new gear.A beautiful 14-inch yellow perch.
The 2015 calendar year may be coming to an end, but the fishing season is far from over. Whether you prefer to chase striped bass and bluefish along the coast or if you're staying close to home and targeting freshwater species, it sure will feel good to start the New Year with a bent rod!