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Frank Ruczynski

I've spent the last twenty-five years chasing the fish that swim in our local waters and I've enjoyed every minute of it! During that time, I've made some remarkable friends and together we've learned a great deal by spending loads of time on the water.

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January 29, 2016

Winter Show Season

by Frank Ruczynski

With a fresh 12 to 24 inches of snow and most of our waterways iced over, it's the perfect time to get ready for the upcoming fishing season. I don't know about you, but I'm already feeling a slight case of cabin fever so I've started checking off some of the chores on my offseason laundry list. Lubing reels and organizing tackle does little to lift my spirits, but I do look forward to the winter fishing shows – catching up with old friends and buying new fishing equipment is almost as good as being on the water.

This winter, I won't just be walking around the shows; I'll be working a few of them. I'm happy to announce I just signed on with the great staff at Wilderness Systems. Kayak fishing is growing by leaps and bounds and I couldn't be more excited to represent such a great company. There in no place I'd rather be than in my kayak and I have big plans this season. As one might expect, I'm looking forward to the winter shows more than ever!

Look for me at the Atlantic City Boat Show next Thursday and Friday, February 4 and 5. I'll be at booth #724 with Jim Markel from Bel Haven Paddlesports – we'll be ready to talk about kayaks and fishing the local waters. I'm looking forward to an Atlantic City mid-winter getaway more than I thought I would – between the AC Boat Show, Bass Pro Shops, great hotel rates ($39 weeknights at Harrah's) and a beautiful heated pool, what's not to like? If I could just find a way to get Bass Pro Shops to let me drop my kayak in their over-sized aquarium.

With so many shows coming up, I thought it would be useful to put together a list of winter shows within an hour or two ride from South Jersey. The venues offer a little of everything – from top local-angler seminars to great deals on boats, kayaks, rods, reels and all kinds of fishing tackle. If you would like to add an event, please feel free to comment in the box below.

January 29 – 31, 2016
The Fly Fishing Show
Garden State Exhibit Center
50 Atrium Drive
Somerset, NJ 08873
Admission $18

30, 2016
Southern Ocean County Chapter of the Sunshine Foundation Fishing Flea Market
Little Egg Harbor Community Center
319 West Cala Breeze Drive
Little Egg Harbor, NJ 08087
Admission $3

February 3 – 7, 2016
Progressive Atlantic City Boat Show
Atlantic City Convention Center
1 Convention Boulevard
Atlantic City, NJ 08401
Admission $16

6 – 7, 2016
Kayak Fishing and Outdoor Adventure Expo
Parsippany Pal Center
33 Baldwin Road
Parsippany, NJ 07054
Admission $7

13, 2016
Southern Regional High School Fishing Flea Market
Southern Regional Middle School (Cafeteria)
75 Cedar Bridge Road
Manahawkin, NJ 08050
Admission $4

13, 2016
Hi-Mar Striper Club Fishing Flea Market and Seminar Series
Middletown VFW Post 2179
1 Veterans Lane
Port Monmouth, NJ 07758
Admission $5

14, 2016
Palmyra Fire Department's Annual Fisherman's Flea Market
Charles Street School
100 West Charles Street
Palmyra, NJ 08065
Admission $3 at the door - $10 early admission

18 – 21, 2016
New Jersey Boat Sale & Expo
New Jersey Convention and Expo Center
97 Sunfield Avenue
Edison, NJ 08837
Admission $8

20, 2016
Surf Day
Brookdale Community College
765 Newman Springs Road
Lincroft, NJ 07738
Admission $10

25 – 28, 2016
Greater Philadelphia Outdoor Sports Show
Greater Philadelphia Expo Center
100 Station Avenue
Oaks, PA 19456
Admission $12

28, 2016
Ocean Fire Company's Annual Point Pleasant Fishing Flea Market
Antrim School
401 Niblick Street
Point Pleasant Beach, NJ 08742
Admission $3

5, 2016
Saltwater Anglers of Bergen County Fisherman's Flea Market
American Legion Post #170
33 West Passaic Street
Rochelle Park, NJ 07662
Admission $3

5, 2016
Ocean City Intermediate School Annual Fishing Flea Market
Ocean City Intermediate School
1801 Bay Avenue
Ocean City, NJ 08226
Admission $4

5, 2016
The South Jersey Bass Club's Annual Indoor Fisherman's Flea Market
Millville Elks Lodge
1815 East Broad Street
Millville, NJ 08332
Admission $2

6, 2016
Berkeley Striper Club's Annual Fisherman's Flea Market
Toms River Intermediate School North
150 Intermediate North Way
Toms River, NJ 08753
Admission $4

11 – 13, 2016
Greater Philadelphia Annual Boat Show
Greater Philadelphia Expo Center
100 Station Avenue
Oaks, PA 19456
Admission $8

12, 2016
Kayak Rigging Party
West Creek Kayak and Canoe
224 Main Street
West Creek, NJ 08092
Admission is free

13, 2016
Asbury Park Fishing Club's Annual Flea Market
Convention Hall
1300 Ocean Drive
Asbury Park, NJ 07712
Admission $4

18 - 20, 2016
The Saltwater Fishing Expo
Garden State Exhibit Center
50 Atrium Drive
Somerset, NJ 08873
Admission $12

20, 2016
Sergeantsville Volunteer Fire Company's Annual Fishing Flea Market
Sergeantsville Volunteer Fire Company
761 Sergeantsville Road
Stockton, NJ 08557
Admission $4

2 - 3, 2016
Pequest Open House and Sportsmen's Flea Market
Pequest Trout Hatchery and Natural Resource Education Center
605 Pequest Road
Oxford, NJ 07863
Admission is free

10, 2016
Cape May Fishing Flea Market
Cape May Elementary School
921 Lafayette Street
Cape May, NJ 08204
Admission $4!cape-may/c4y9

January 19, 2016

Wrapping Up the 2015 Fishing Season

by Frank Ruczynski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 08, 2016

Back to Reality

by Frank Ruczynski

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

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

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

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

Goodbye backwater stripers and 2015!

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

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

Jake and I had doubles for most of the afternoon.

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

Bobber Down!

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

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