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.
It's difficult to put the recent bluefish invasion into words. I've been fishing for close to thirty years and I've never seen anything like it. Spring backwater bluefish runs happen most years, but these weren't the average 4 to 6-pound racers we see each season. Over the last two weeks, an exceptional amount of drag-burning, tackle-testing, voracious 8 to 18-pound bluefish have taken over our waters. The big blues were so thick in many locations that it made fishing for any other species nearly impossible.
Back Bay Brutes
Up until this season, I considered bluefish an unwanted by-catch while in search of spring stripers and tiderunner weakfish. Most of the time, the blues were half the size of the stripers and weakfish I was fishing for and those yellow-eyed eating machines have a way of ripping through my jigs and soft-plastic supplies like no other. Catching a bluefish or two was enjoyable, but after landing a few and losing a fair share of lead-head jigs and soft-plastic baits, I wanted to get back to chasing striped bass and weakfish.
Releasing Another Big Bluefish
This season is different. Although I'm certainly not happy about the lack of weakfish, the big blues offer an incredible battle on light tackle. My Shimano Stella 3000 drag reached notes I've never heard while my light-duty G-Loomis NRX rod got a serious workout!
With so many large bluefish in our waters, it makes great fishing opportunities available to everyone. I spent a lot of time fishing in my kayak, but the backwater bridges, piers, and sod banks were just as worthwhile. The inlet rock hoppers and beachfront surfcasters even got in on the great action. Most days, it didn't matter what you threw at the big blues: bunker chunks, plugs, metals, soft-plastic baits, bucktails and just about anything else pulled through the water would likely attract the attention of nearby blues.
The big blues kept surfcasters busy for weeks!
The only con to this spring's unprecedented bluefish run is the lack of weakfish at my regular stops. Some of these locales have put out weakfish year after year for decades and I couldn't tempt a single one. I have been fishing a lot more during the day which I'm certain has at least a little relevance in my poor showing. Just recently, it seems as though a few more weakfish have been reported, especially around the inlet rock piles, so I'm not giving up yet.
On the bright side, an added bonus to fishing during the day is the tremendous amount of summer flounder taking my jig meant for weakfish. When I manage to get past the bluefish and down to the bottom, the flatfish are quick to take a hook. I've played catch and release with more sizable flatfish already this season than I have in the last five together. Big fluke are lined up along the channel edges and hungry. My best catches came in 12 to 15 feet of water this week. Opening day should be a good one; Friday, May 22 can't come soon enough!
It isn't easy letting big summer flounder go!
With so much great action happening in our backwaters, I figured it was a great time to get my son, Jake, out for his first saltwater kayaking trip. Safety is always of utmost importance and I didn't take the decision of bringing my 13-year-old son lightly. Calm wind and a well-planned tide made for a great first trip. Jake handled the kayak like a pro and was attentive to his surroundings at all times. Soon after we drifted out to the fishing grounds, Jake's rod was bent. We had a great time and have already been out two more times. There's not much better than making memories with your kids!
This kid gets it!
One final note: on Saturday, May 16, I had the pleasure of attending a Heroes On the Water (HOW) Event at Scotland Run Park on Wilson Lake as a volunteer fishing guide. The HOW's mission is to empower our Nation's warriors by rehabilitating kayak fishing outings that are physically and mentally therapeutic through their nationwide community of volunteer and donors. I heard great things about the program and having grown up on the lake, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to check it out for myself. I arrived a little before 7 AM and there was already a good crowd of volunteers busy prepping for the day. Everything was top notch: the volunteers were knowledgeable and helpful, the kayaks, life vests and fishing equipment were of high quality, and I can't forget to mention the great donuts, coffee and lunch. As it turned out, we ended up with more volunteers than veterans, but I have a feeling that had more to do with the questionable weather forecast – we did get caught in a downpour, but it only lasted a few minutes. Fishing action was a little slow, but there were a few largemouth bass, pickerel, and crappies caught. I had the chance to talk to a few veterans and it was great to see them enjoying themselves on the water. It was a great time and I will be volunteering again for any of their Southern Jersey outings. For more information on the Heroes On the Water program, please visit www.heroesonthewater.org/chapters/new-jersey-chapter/.
Our South Jersey backwaters are exploding with life! Tackle-testing bluefish are popping up all over, striped bass action continues to improve daily, summer flounder are stacked in the skinny water and the season's first few weakfish are just beginning to show up. If you haven't been out yet this season, (in my best Ellie Goulding voice) what are you waiting for?
It's time to hit the water!
I love everything about this time of year – I am in love with the month of May. The sights, sounds and smells make me feel alive. Our dull, brown landscape has been transformed into a vibrant multitude of colors. The air is filled with a sweet, floral perfume while songbirds of all types sing the days away. The warm sunshine feels amazing and some of the world's best skinny-water fishing takes place right in our own backyard. The possibilities are endless and you don't need a $50,000 boat or any other fancy equipment to take advantage of the great fishing action. A well-placed cast from the edge of the water has infinite potential.
With so many opportunities, it's difficult for me to think about anything else but fishing. Over the last few weeks, I've split my time between freshwater and saltwater fishing, but I'm making the fulltime switch over to saltwater starting today. The rainbow trout and largemouth bass were fun, but I'll take tiderunner weakfish and striped bass over them everyday of the week.
Jake and I had fun with the trout.
With each passing season, I find myself spending a little more time in my kayak. After much research, I decided to purchase a chartplotter/fishfinder for my Tarpon 120. With so many mounting options, I decided to take the ride down to North Wildwood to visit Chris Parson at The Kayak Fishing Store. Chris has an unbelievable selection of kayak accessories and is up-to-date and knowledgeable about anything and everything concerning kayaks. He installed my Lowrance unit while we made the short trip to the boardwalk and Sam's Pizza. An hour later, I returned to shop and was extremely pleased with the install - the unit and transducer placement was neat and perfect for my fishing needs.
All ready to go!
When I returned home, I couldn't wait to try out my new toy. A strong and steady northwest wind made any saltwater excursions questionable so I decided to try the new unit at one of the local lakes. It worked exactly as I hoped and I caught a bunch of pickerel, crappie and yellow perch along the channel edge. As a structure-oriented, finesse angler, having eyes below the water should greatly increase my catch rates this year or at least that's what I told my wife.
After waiting a few days for perfect weather conditions, I gave in and decided to fish in the breezy NW conditions. For much of last week, it really felt more like fall than spring. Despite questionable water temperatures, my quarry was weakfish. The new down-imaging unit picked up some great structure and I started marking fish just minutes after sunrise. While I couldn't find weakfish, the striped bass action was worthwhile.
Over the last few days, I've been back to my favorite early-season weakfish spot a few times, but it seems striped bass are holding in all of my old weakfish holes. Some big bluefish are patrolling the area too and they've taken a toll on my jig and soft-plastic bait supplies, but they sure are fun on light tackle. I heard few promising weakfish reports this morning so I'll be back on the hunt next week.
A school of stripers were set up on a small creek edge.
Striking out on weakfish left a bad taste in my mouth so I decided to fish a little further south yesterday. I met up with Patrick Matthews, a Facebook friend, at sunrise. Our passion for fishing and the road-kill shrapnel in the back of my kayak made for easy conversation and after a few minutes, it was like I was talking to an old friend. We loaded our kayaks and launched just before the sun peeked over the horizon. Fortunately, the flood tide and calm winds made paddling effortless - I'm still hurting from paddling against that northwest wind last week.
It was a beautiful morning, as everything seemed to be in our favor. The conditions were prime: the tide just starting trickling out with little to no wind. We concentrated on points and channel edges for weakfish, but we couldn't get past the summer flounder and bluefish. The flatfish weren't part of the plan, but the fast-paced action and size of the flatfish made for a great day. I fished ¼ and ½-ounce jigs with bubblegum-colored Zoom Super Flukes. I never stopped trying for weakfish.
Not a weakfish, but I'll take it!
Even though I struck out on weakfish, I did have a good time with the flatfish. We caught a bunch of 15 to 17-inch fluke and a decent amount of what would be keeper-size fish topped off with a 26-inch beauty. It wasn't easy to let her go, but after a few photos, she shot off like a bullet. One more note: Bill Shillingford otherwise known as "Bucktail Willie" tagged a 22-inch flattie just a few hours before Patrick recaptured it – the flatties sure are hungry! The summer flounder season opens on Friday, May 22, 2015 and it can't get here soon enough!