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.
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!
Whether you're a fair-weather fisherman or a diehard angler, I think most of us would agree that getting through the month of February is rarely considered fun. Bone-chilling cold fronts, weekly coastal storms and half-frozen waterways aren't exactly my idea of a good time, but it seems a little easier this year. Fortunately, my offseason schedule was delayed a few weeks by some great late-season fishing action. Now, I'm beginning to wonder if I'll have enough downtime to finish off my offseason chores. One thing is certain: you'll never hear me complaining about not having a long enough offseason.
As I write this, a fresh coating of snowfall is on the ground and we're expecting the coldest air of the winter by the weekend - sounds like fun right? On the bright side, the long-range forecast looks good as above-average temperatures are expected during the second half or the month. Our coastal water temperatures are running a little above normal too – 42.8 degrees at Atlantic City and 41.5 degrees at Cape May. After two long, cold winter seasons, the 2016 season should start right on time.
At least a little of my good mood can be attributed to our recent midweek getaway and a couple afternoons at the Atlantic City Boat Show. Last year, my wife and I decided to take advantage of the great hotel rates and we had such a good time that we agreed to make it an annual routine. This year, I was really looking forward to our three-day trip to Atlantic City to help break up the winter blues. I'm not much of a gambler, so we opted to stay poolside at Harrah's Resort. It was everything we hoped for and we'll definitely be back next February.
Palm Trees and 82 degrees in Atlantic City?
When I wasn't hanging out at the pool, I was at the Boat Show talking fishing and kayaking with Jim Markel from Bel Haven Paddlesports. It was my first show representing Wilderness Systems and I really enjoyed my time working the booth and getting to know Jim a little better – he's a wealth of knowledge, especially with all things relating to canoeing, paddle boarding and kayaking. Bel Haven Paddlesports offers a perfect location for test rides on the Mullica River and is just minutes from Batsto Village.
Bel Haven Paddlesports Booth at the Atlantic City Boat Show
After our fun-filled getaway was over, I figured I'd fall back into winter mode, but that doesn't seem to be the case. While I was in Atlantic City, I received a letter from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. As it turns out, I earned a Specialist Angler Award, a Master Angler Award, a Panfish Slam and tied for a top spot in a Catch-and-Release Category of the 2015 Skillful Angler Recognition Program. It was a good year!
While winter seems to be flying by for me – it had the potential to be a long offseason for Jake – in case you couldn't tell, we're very competitive and enjoy ribbing each other whenever possible. After giving Jake a hard time about my recent accomplishments, he was chomping at the bit to hit the water. Against my better judgment, we took a ride to the crappie pond and as I expected, it was iced over. We made a few half-hearted casts along a sliver of open water by the spillway, but we couldn't buy a hit. A few minutes later, we decided to head for home as I had some things to catch up on after our recent trip. Jake decided to grab his gear and walk down to our local lake – I laughed to myself and told Jake, "Good luck!"
Approximately ten minutes passed before my phone rang – Jake caught a pickerel. He was pretty pumped, a little more so than normal, probably because he wasn't expecting much as the weather was terrible and the water temperature was just a few degrees above freezing. About five minutes later, my phone rang again – this time, Jake was ecstatic and asked me to come down to the lake to take a picture of the big bass he just caught. I dropped everything and shot down to the lake. When I pulled up to the lake, Jake was holding a beautiful bass and had a grin from ear to ear. I took a few photos and videoed Jake releasing his prized catch. I congratulated Jake and told him that he had about as much fun as you could have on a cold February afternoon – it was an impressive catch for sure.
Later on that evening, Jake shared the story of his catch at the dinner table. When he was done, he looked over at me and said, "Hey Dad, who has the biggest bass of the year?" I just shook my head and gave Jake the answer he was looking for, "You do Jake." I better catch a few fish soon or the next few weeks are going to seem like forever!