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.
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.