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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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May 31, 2016

A Memorable Memorial Day

by Frank Ruczynski

What do you do when you're favorite coastal fishing holes are inundated by countless numbers of holiday weekend vacationers? I don't know about you, but I stay as far away as possible! Before Memorial Day, I picture myself floating along in my kayak with the company of striped bass, weakfish, summer flounder and bluefish. After Memorial Day, I picture overcrowded roadways, hundreds of boats and of course those wonderful jet skiers. Maybe I'm a bit spoiled, but I fish to get away from the masses, not to be a part of the crowd. From now until Labor Day, it looks like my coastal fishing trips will be limited to weekdays and nights.

I already miss having the water to myself.

A making-the-most-of-it attitude goes a long way in life, but to stay on topic, I'll focus on the fishing aspects. It's Memorial Day weekend and I'd love to be chasing striped bass, weakfish and summer flounder, but the odds of having a successful trip and enjoying myself seem fairly low – see the overcrowded roadways, hundreds of boats and wonderful jet skiers reference above. I could make the most of it and fight through the traffic, crowds and everything that comes with it to catch a few fish or I could stay closer to home and make the most out of fishing my local lakes and ponds for largemouth bass, crappies and chain pickerel.

As it turns out, my decision to stay closer to home paid off, as the weather was much better inland than along the beach. While some may argue that fishing in the rain is a good time, I'd prefer to stay dry whenever possible. Warming waters and cloud cover would make for perfect fishing conditions at our local lake. Our commute took all of about five minutes and I didn't even pass a traffic signal. When Jake and I arrived, we had most of the lake to ourselves and began working the flats with Rapala Shad Raps.

It's not raining here!

The resident largemouth bass and chain pickerel didn't disappoint. Jake and I caught a ton of 1 to 2-pound bass and pickerel. Jake was using a light-colored Rapala Shad Rap while I was tossing a perch-colored Shad Rap Shad. The lake was just treated with an aquatic herbicide so the weeds weren't a problem. Fishing action was good as we rarely went a few minutes without a strike. We had double hookups often and enjoyed our time on the water.

Doubled Up on the Shad Raps

Just after lunchtime, things got a little more interesting. A monster pickerel left a tremendous wake as it rocketed across the flat to strike my bait. Once hooked, the pike-sized pickerel went airborne and then made a bunch of sustained drag-pulling runs. A few minutes into the battle, I began to wonder if my 10-pound leader would hold, especially after I got a good look at the beast's impressive teeth. After some tense moments of back and forth, I finally slid my hand under her gigantic gill plate. She shredded my 10-pound leader, but it held – thank you Seaguar! She taped out at a little over 27 inches. After a few photos, she swam off strong.

What big teeth you have!

After a good catch, I like to sit back and appreciate the moment. I thought to myself, "Somehow a great holiday weekend just got better." While I'd prefer to catch trophy striped bass and weakfish, I don't think I'd trade my time with Jake, my catch or our peaceful surroundings for the hustle and bustle of the shore towns on Memorial Day Weekend. For the record, I heard some great reports of striped bass and tiderunner weakfish in Cape May County waters. Years ago, I would have raced down to get in on the bite, no matter the circumstances. Fishing isn't any less a part of my life, but I'm learning to appreciate fishing for everything that it offers.

A great fish!

While many anglers put striped bass or largemouth bass on some higher level, I find similar enjoyment fishing for what some may consider lesser species such as sunfish, pickerel, bowfin, snakeheads, crappies, catfish and carp. Now, I fish on my own terms and I find myself enjoying time on the water ten times more than I did when I was chasing fish and reports up and down the New Jersey coastline.

This Memorial Day weekend is one I won't soon forget. Not just because of the solid fishing action, but because I was fortunate to spend the weekend with the people I care about the most. Family barbeques, kisses from our 9-month-old granddaughter, Addison and teaming up with my daughter-in-law in a crazy game of horseshoes will all make the list of things I remember about this weekend – it was Amanda's first time throwing horseshoes and she threw two ringers including the game winner! I think the boys are still a little salty.

After our fun-filled weekend, I couldn't help but think about the real meaning of Memorial Day. I cannot express the level of gratitude I have for the men and women that fought for our freedoms and never made it back to eat a hotdog, cast a line, throw horseshoes or spend time with their loved ones. I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday weekend as much as our family did, but please take a moment to remember those that made it all possible.

May 23, 2016

What Happened to May?

by Frank Ruczynski

I wait all year for the month of May. I pictured myself drifting along in my kayak and catching fish after fish on warm, sunny days. That doesn't seem to be the case this year. Dreary days with a chilly east wind seem to be the new normal. It's a backwater angler's worst nightmare. Dealing with a lack of sunshine and its non-warming effects on the backwater flats is one thing, but the relentless east wind that continues to push colder ocean water into our backwaters is a real mood killer.

High, cold and dirty water is never good for a flatfish bite.

It's hard to believe that our backwater temperatures increased just a few degrees since late March. As of this writing, the Atlantic City monitoring station is reporting 57 degrees while the Cape May station checks in at 61 degrees. Full moon tides and winds from the east have backwater temperatures in the mid to high 50s. During a normal May, I'd expect some back bay locales to be as much as 10 to 15 degrees higher than ocean temperatures. A steady 58 degrees seems to be a good all-around number for dependable action with most species. Unfortunately, we've been stuck in the mid 50's for most of the last two months.

On a brighter note, it looks like we're about to bust out of the current trend. The local forecast for the next few weeks have highs in the 70s and 80s – one outlet is even forecasting 90s later this week! Fortunately, there are plenty of fish around and an increase in water temperatures should really get things going. Maybe I should start looking forward to June from now on?

Despite the crummy weather pattern, fishing action has been pretty good. Big bluefish seem to be the main attraction. The big slammers can be found in our backwater sounds, inlets and along the beachfront. The blues are a blast on just about any type of gear as some of the yellow-eyed eating machines are pushing 15 to 20 pounds! Top-water plugs, metals, jigs and cut baits seem to be working well – those big bluefish usually aren't picky. The cooler water temperatures may help keep them around a little longer than normal.

Big Blues for Everyone!

Weakfish action has been decent. While the action is certainly not widespread, anglers willing to put in the time have been rewarded with some impressive catches. Much of the action has been in the backwater sounds, but I expect the inlet rock piles to turn on as soon as the weather warms up. With subpar water temperatures, the tiderunner bite has been a little more particular. My best experiences have been during an hour window on either side of low tide when the current is relatively slow and the water temperature is at its highest. It's been great to see so many large weakfish around again!

I can't get enough of those big yellow-mouthed tiderunners!

Striped bass action has been good in the area although not as predictable as the bluefish. There are plenty of schoolie striped bass in the backwaters. Some better-sized bass are staging around the inlet rock piles as they prepare to head north on their summer migration. With the passing of May's full moon on Saturday, May 21, I expect the striper bite to pick up as we head into the Memorial Day weekend. Hopefully, the lower water temperatures will keep them from moving along too quickly.

Jake got a bunch of small stripers while searching for weakfish.

I haven't been out much in the last week. A case of bronchitis took its toll on me and kept me laid up over the weekend. Thankfully, I'm beginning to feel a little better and hoping to get out sometime later this week. I'd usually be kicking myself for missing out on the summer flounder opener, but the lousy weather took a little of the sting away. Some flatfish were caught, but by most accounts, it was a slow weekend.

Earlier this season, summer flounder were stacked in many of my favorite weakfish holes. I noticed the bite slowed down since the influx of cooler ocean water took its toll and dropped backwater temperatures a few degrees. If we can string together a few sunny days, I'm sure the flatfish will begin to cooperate. I can't wait to put a few fresh flounder fillets on the grill.

I can't wait to get back out there!

Between the poor weather conditions and not feeling well, I did manage to hit a few of my favorite freshwater lakes. Usually, the month of May offers some unbelievable largemouth bass fishing opportunities, but it's been tough so far. I'm assuming we're a week or two behind now, at least as far as water temperatures are concerned, and the bite will pick up shortly. I hooked one decent largemouth, but I have a feeling most of the big girls are still sitting on their beds.

Hoping to find a few more like this in the coming weeks.

I'm beginning to feel a little like a broken record, "Next week has to be better." Whatever Mother Nature throws at us, God knows I'll be out there trying my best. Looking back, I'm having a pretty good year despite the less than ideal weather conditions. Imagine how good it could be if we could string together a few days of pleasant weather? The holiday weekend would be a great time to get things back on track. Good luck and stay safe.

May 01, 2016

Spring in South Jersey

by Frank Ruczynski

I love everything about spring in South Jersey. The sights, smells and sounds are nothing short of heavenly. Colorful flowers blend into a beautiful, bright, spring-green backdrop. The sweet smell of budding blooms fills the air with a delightful scent while the birds and frogs sing a lovely tune. It's as though all is right in the world.

Spring in South Jersey

As an avid angler, there are some other great sights, smell and sounds that make the spring season amazing. Some of the sights include the brilliant purple hues of a tiderunner weakfish at sunrise, slammer bluefish blitzing along an inlet jetty and a hefty, cow striped bass at the end of a bent rod. I find the smell of the salty marsh and fresh bunker oddly pleasant and perhaps the most satisfying sound on the earth: a screaming drag!

Backwater Beauty

Our coastal waters are coming back to life and blossoming much like the acres of peach trees that surround my home. The month of May offers some of the best fishing opportunities of the year as a variety of large fish move into and out of our rivers, backwater estuaries, inlets and beachfront waters. Head east or west and you'll find a great striped bass bite - as the big breeding linesiders finish their mating rituals, I expect the fishing action to turn up a notch in the Cape May County area, especially as we head into next weekend's new moon stage. Big slammer bluefish have inundated our local waters and are wreaking havoc on fishing equipment – the tackle shops must love those big bluefish! Waves of big weakfish are showing from time to time and the summer flounder are here in good numbers – just three more weeks until the 2016 summer flounder season opens!

Tackle shops must love those big bluefish!

With so many fishing opportunities, I've been out early and often. To be honest, I'd prefer to catch big weakfish all day every day, but with so many other great fisheries, I find myself attempting to do it all. After years of fishing the area, I've learned it's best to plan my trips according to conditions. On days when the winds are light, you'll find me paddling the backwaters in my kayak looking for trophy tiderunners. The April run of spring weakfish coincided with a great stretch of calm, warm and stable weather.

Trophy Tiderunners Are Back!

When the wind picks up, presenting lightweight jigs in a strong current becomes extremely difficult. Depending on weather conditions, especially wind direction, I'll switch it up and target striped bass or bluefish. If the wind is over 20 MPH, I'll resort to staying closer to home and pond hopping for largemouth bass. Since I've decided to let conditions dictate my target species, I've noticed my trips are much more successful.

The recent steady dose of east wind certainly doesn't seems to be helping my backwater efforts – the onshore flow brings an influx of cold ocean water and the extra water usually creates poor water clarity. With high, cold, dirty water infiltrating the backwater sounds, the odds of finding willing weakfish drops to almost nil. Knowing this, I decided to change things up and fish for big bluefish. The first day of east wind was great; the big blues would hit just about anything. On the second day, the water temperature dropped a couple degrees and the bluefish bite became a little more specific – they preferred plugs fished towards the end of the tide. By the third day of east wind, it seemed like the blues would only hit bait. Planning for weather conditions and their likely effects on your target species will go a long way in making or breaking a trip. With a few more days of east wind in the forecast, I think my best bet is to fish with bunker or clams along the beachfront and along the Delaware Bay shores.

The big bluefish will give you a workout.

As soon as the weather pattern changes, I'll be back out on my kayak in search of weakfish. This year's run has been one of the best in many years. Waves of 8 to 10-pound weakfish are showing up in many of the perennial early-season hot spots. In the last few days, reports of big weakies have come from South Jersey to as far as New York. Typically, the month of May offers some of the best weakfish action of the year so I have high hopes for the coming weeks. I just hope the weather cooperates!

I can't wait to get back into my kayak!
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