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.
Can you believe we're halfway through the 2016 fishing season? The first six months flew by, but not without some decent catches. A mild winter and early spring gave way to a dreary and cool May followed by an average June. According to my logs, fishing action was average to above average. The first half of the 2016 fishing season is off to a good start!
I started the year plying the local sweetwater venues. Chain pickerel, crappie and yellow perch accounted for the little action I had in January. There seemed to be just enough snow and cold air to keep the fishing action to a minimum, but after the prior two years of bone-chilling winter weather, it was great to be fishing open water again. January fishing was a little on the slow side, but I was fishing and catching so I'm leaning towards above average.
My son, Jake, started February off with a bang. After a slow day at the crappie pond, I decided to catch up on chores while Jake walked down to our lake to give it his best. About ten minutes after he left the house, I received a phone call asking me to come down to see the largemouth bass he just caught. It was a good fish, especially for early February. As the month progressed, fishing action picked up and we experienced a solid crappie bite. February is usually my toughest month – between winter storms and cabin fever, I'm always glad to flip the calendar to March. All things considered, I have to say February was a little better than average.
February Bonus Bass!
March ushered in warmer weather and some great fishing opportunities. Looking back, I see myself on March 8, 2016 fishing from my Tarpon 120 in shorts and a t-shirt. The next day, Jake and I returned to catch a bunch of crappie and pickerel in 70-degree temperatures. As March continued, we fished Rapala Shadow Raps and caught tons of largemouth bass and pickerel. By mid-March, it was time to hit the coastal backwaters where I found better striped bass action than I've seen in years. March can be hit or miss, but this year was a definite hit - clearly above average.
Spring Striped Bass
Fishing in April was amazing! Freshwater action was great and the South Jersey back bays were full of life. The local lakes and ponds offered largemouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch, crappies and tons of freshly stocked rainbow trout. Summer flounder, tiderunner weakfish and an insane amount of big bluefish joined the striped bass in our coastal waters. Once I found the weakfish, it was difficult to fish for anything else. It was great to see so many large weakfish around again! The last few years were promising, but most of the fish were in the 3 to 6 pound class. This spring, there was a good showing of 8 to 12 pound weakfish – I was in heaven! Towards the end of the month, a steady coastal flow began, dropped backwater temps and killed the great bite. Despite the late-April east winds, fishing action was well-above average.
Tiderunner weakfish made my spring!
May is usually my favorite time to fish. I wait all year for the month of May. This year I was thoroughly disappointed. A seemingly unending east wind made for poor fishing conditions for the first three weeks of the month. Backwater fishing action suffered the most as water temps dropped and then held steady in the mid 50s. Striped bass and bluefish didn't seem to mind the constant east wind and flood tides, but the weakfish and summer flounder bite took a nosedive. Because of the poor conditions, I spent more time freshwater fishing than usual. Fortunately, the easterly flow didn't hurt the largemouth bass bite. While fishing for largemouth bass, I caught a few monster chain pickerel. The weather and water temps moderated towards the end of the month, but I never found the kind of action I experienced in April. Fishing in May was worthwhile, but not the great action I look forward to every year – definitely below average.
Great freshwater action almost made up for poor conditions along the coast.
Thankfully, the weather and fishing action returned to normal in June. A few tries for flatfish ended with a decent amount of 17-inch flatfish, but I was still left feeling a little salty about missed opportunities in May and releasing 20 to 24-inch summer flounder in April. Smaller summer weakfish showed in Cape May County so I'm hoping they hang around for the next few months. After spending a little more time fishing the sweetwater ponds and lakes in May, I found a decent largemouth bass bite and had more fun freshwater fishing than I've had in years. In just the last few days, it seems like the pattern changed again and I may have to start fishing the nightshift to find any decent action. Overall, June's fishing action was average.
I'm hoping to find more bass like this one this summer.
The long, hot summer months can make for some difficult fishing. While I enjoy summer fishing, a part of me is already looking forward to cooler weather and good fishing action. I'm hoping for a repeat of the 2015 fall run. I'm excited to see what the rest of the 2016 fishing season has to offer. Please feel free to share your halftime report below in the comments section.
It's hard to believe the summer season begins in two short days on Monday, June 20. All the signs are there: the kids are finished another school year, shore traffic is picking up on Route 55 and everyone is heading for the beach. I love summer, but I'm going to miss my peaceful, backwater kayak trips. The spring season was good to me; I'm going to be sad to see it go.
With the weakfish run slowing down, much of the striped bass heading north and the summer flounder heading towards the inlets, my best saltwater days are behind me. I'll enjoy the summer season, but when it comes to fishing, spring and fall are tops in my book. Not wanting to fight through traffic and jet skis, I'll probably only fish the salt on weeknights until Labor Day.
Fortunately, I can usually find solitude on the nearby rural waters through the summer months. Freshwater fishing in South Jersey isn't a bad trade for the saltwater action. Whether it's frogging the pads from my kayak, exploring Delaware River tributaries for bowfin and snakeheads, or wet-wading the small backwater creeks, I plan on enjoying great fishing action right through the summer months.
Lately, I've been on a largemouth bass binge. I fish for bass often, but I've taken it a little more seriously over the last few weeks. I'm considering signing up for some of the local kayak bass fishing tournaments and want to work on my game. I used to fish for largemouth bass seriously when I was younger, but over the years, I found myself leaning towards saltwater species. The largemouth bass action is a lot better than I remember it.
One of four fish from this afternoon's trip.
After months of packing up the kayak and commuting an hour to the bay, it feels great to be fishing so close to home. Living just a few hundred yards from a small lake has its perks as I can walk to the lake in less than five minutes. The neighborhood lake has clear water and a good bass population – it's a great place to study my new quarry.
It's nice to have fish like this so close to home!
After a few days of solid action, I decided to mix it up a little. My goal wasn't to catch bass, but to watch them. I want to learn more about their behavior and how they feed in their natural habitat. I took two rods a can of worms and my GoPro. I could've fished with lures, but I figured I'd get a better response by using something the bass normally feed on: a sunfish.
The bass reacted to the sunfish a little better than I thought they would. Even with a rod over them and a camera pole under them, they attacked that poor sunfish with reckless abandon. At one time, I had five bass fighting for position to grab the sunfish. My GoPro only picked up a few of the fish – I'll improve content as I continue to experiment with camera angles.
Having the luxury of watching the carnage with my own eyes, I couldn't help but think of piranhas or sharks drawn to blood. If bass had teeth, those poor sunfish wouldn't stand a chance. After watching the video, I knew my selection of lures, no matter how lifelike, couldn't compare to a nervous, live baitfish. If I could bottle whatever stressors those nervous baitfish are emitting, I'd be living on easy street. I have so much to learn.
While chasing largemouth bass, we came across some other great fishing opportunities. The first thing that comes to mind is bullhead catfish. I grew up in Philadelphia and spent hours catching bullhead catfish in Darby Creek, Cobbs Creek and over at Tinicum. It's been a while since I've caught a bullhead catfish, but they seem extra aggressive this year. Jake hasn't caught many catfish so it was a treat for him when a few bullheads tracked down our Rapala Shadow Raps.
While walking along the bank, I noticed a ball of young catfish and then another – they look like tadpoles, but with tiny little whiskers. Having seen catfish young before, I had a feeling mom or dad would be nearby as the parents often shepherd their young for a few weeks. Sure enough, one of the parents was nearby and went into guard mode while I was filming. The adult catfish came into the shallows and stirred up the mud in an effort to protect its young. I was impressed by the display and left thinking much more of the "lowly" catfish after my experience.
To mix it up a bit, Jake and I spent an afternoon exploring a few of the local spillway creeks. If you've never fished a South Jersey spillway, you're missing out. The amount of fish in these small waters is almost inconceivable. I believe it's possible to catch a variety of fish on each and every cast for hours! We rarely catch redbreast sunfish in the ponds and lakes, but they seem to be prevalent in our local tailwaters. While most of these fish don't get very large, the pure numbers and variety of colorful fish are enough to keep us coming back. It's going to be a fun summer!
National Fishing and Boating Week takes place from Saturday, June 4 to Sunday, June 12, 2016. This national event was created to highlight the importance of recreational fishing and boating across America. The nine-day celebration is a great time to introduce children, adults and families to the sport of fishing and all of the joys that come with it. You may find out that fishing is about much more than fish.
During National Fishing and Boating Week, there are numerous opportunities for anglers and outdoor enthusiasts. Many states offer free fishing days - a day or days when a fishing license is not required to fish state waters. In New Jersey, the first of two free fishing days is this Saturday, June 11. As of this writing, the weather forecast for Saturday looks outstanding: mostly sunny, a high of 80 degrees and light winds out of the southeast at 5 to 10 mph. The second free fishing day takes place on Saturday, October 15 and is scheduled later in the season so anglers can take advantage of the fall trout stocking. I love catching those big rainbow trout!
Free fishing days are the perfect time to invite non-fishing friends and family members onto the water to try fishing with little to no investment. Personally, I plan on inviting a few of my out-of-state buddies over to get a little taste of South Jersey freshwater fishing. Many anglers from Delaware and Pennsylvania already make the trek through the state to fish our coastal waters, but I have a feeling they are a little less aware of our amazing freshwater fishing opportunities.
Besides the free fishing days, there are all kinds of events coinciding with National Fishing and Boating week. Last Sunday, June 5, we spent the day in Clayton, NJ at Scotland Run Park's Water Fest. It was a great afternoon as the park offered many great outdoor activities. We enjoyed a live animal show by Wild World of Animals and then spent most of the day kayaking, canoeing and fishing at the lake. It was great to see so many people enjoy themselves outdoors. Kids put down their smart phones and video games for an afternoon and picked up fishing rods, crayfish, tadpoles, toads and frogs.
Fun at Scotland Run Park's Water Fest
If you missed out on last weekend, don't feel bad; there are plenty of great outdoor activities coming up this weekend. The Hooked On Fishing – Not On Drugs Program is sponsoring a statewide Youth Fishing Challenge. Registration is free and anglers do not require fishing licenses on Saturday, June 11. Programs held at the Pequest Trout Hatchery include Fly Casting and Fishing for Beginners at 10 AM on Saturday, June 11 and Take Dad Fishing at 10:30 AM on Sunday, June 12. Please visit www.njfishandwildlife.com for details.
When I'm not busy chasing tiderunner weakfish and summer flounder along the coastal backwaters, I've been enjoying some great local freshwater action. In my last four freshwater trips, I've caught over 100 fish some of which were good enough to qualify for New Jersey's Skillful Angler recognition Program. Largemouth bass, pickerel, yellow perch and crappie fishing is on fire. I usually stick to the waters I know best, buy every once in a while, I like to venture out to some new waters. Alloway Lake has been on my radar for years so I decided it was time to check it out. I fished the lake by kayak while my daughter and her new boyfriend, John, worked the lake in a small aluminum boat – finally a guy that likes fishing! While we didn't catch any trophy fish, the action was steady. I had a bunch of bass and pickerel on Rapala Shadow Rap Shads and Berkley Gulp baits. I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of white crappies and yellow perch in the lake. I rarely catch white crappies in my local cedar-water lakes.
I don't see many white crappies, but this one hammered my Shadow Rap Shad.
Short trips to the lakes around my home have also been worthwhile. Jake and I hit a small lake on Saturday morning and we couldn't keep them off our lines. We had a good mix of largemouth bass, pickerel and big crappies. The bass and pickerel were holding in open water on weed lines while the crappies were in big schools around the docks.
This big crappie was just one of many holding close to the docks.
On Monday, I had to drop my wife's truck off at the shop. She took my car to work so I was grounded for day. It was a beautiful day and after catching up on some household chores, Jake and I decided to get in a few casts at our local lake. As luck would have it, out of all the places I fished and the miles logged over the last few weeks, I would find the fish I was looking for literally in my own backyard!
That's what I'm talking about!
Our local lake has some decent largemouth bass, but we're used to catching a few pickerel and a handful on 1 to 2-pound bass. I worked the area by the dam with a silver Shadow Rap Shad. After a few casts, I aimed right down the face of the dam, I jerked the plug twice and it got creamed! I set the hook and could tell right away that this was a special fish. She pulled a ton of drag and ran for the center of the lake. I played it cool, but yelled over to Jake that I had a beast fish on. Jake came running over and said something along the lines of, "That looks like a Florida bass!"
This one had shoulders and a belly!
After a few minutes of back and forth, I landed the big girl. Jake and I high-fived and admired the big, beautiful bass. I didn't have my scale, but I did get a measurement and a few pictures before we placed her back into the water. She was a little slow to swim off, but she seemed fine after a couple minutes.
It was a great experience to share with Jake – that's how memories are made! For some reason, I have a feeling Jake will be fishing at our lake every day for the rest of the summer. Make sure to take advantage of this weekend's free fishing day. It's the perfect time to get out on the water and make some memories with your loved ones.