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.
The fall trout stocking is complete. Many of our local ponds, lakes and rivers are teeming with big, beautiful rainbow trout. Over the last two weeks, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife stocked more than 21,000 trout throughout state waters. These aren't the little trout we see in the spring on Opening Day; the average-sized, fall trout is about 15 inches with many larger specimens up to 22 inches. Trout fishing in October is nothing short of remarkable – some of these fish look like salmon!
South Jersey Salmon?
With great weather and literally truckloads of trout riding through South Jersey, I felt like I was in heaven. I fished lakes, ponds and rivers and had giant trout swimming in every direction. The Pequest Trout Hatchery does a wonderful job raising these trout and I'd like to thank them for making the most of our trout stamp fees. It feels strange thanking a state agency, but I definitely got my $10.50's worth.
How much is this fish worth?
This paragraph is my asterisk - I'm not going to pretend that fishing for stocked trout is the same experience as fishing a pristine, native trout stream in Northern New Jersey, Pennsylvania or New York, but the big trout are dropped right in our backyards and are put there for the sole purpose of fishing enjoyment. Some may consider this "fishing in a barrel" and for good reason, but I wonder how many people actually tried to catch a fish in a barrel? I can tell you from experience, these fish aren't as easy to catch as some may think. While fishing for stocked trout may not be as prestigious as some other types of fishing, it is fun – lots of fun! Catch rates are usually high, you don't have to feel guilty when taking a fish or four home and the odds of battling a trophy fish are likely higher in your own backyard than they would be just about anywhere else on the planet.
Trout like this are swimming in your backyard right now!
I've been fishing for stocked trout for years and I've learned a few things during my time on the water. The hatchery fish usually seem to be a little sluggish at first, as the trout need some time to acclimate to their new surroundings. The larger fish seem to take a little longer than the younger, smaller fish. In my experiences, rainbow trout seem a little easier to catch and a lot less particular than brook and brown trout – maybe that's another reason the state only stocks rainbow trout now? The stocked trout set up and behave differently depending on the location. At ponds, it seems like they roam around drop offs, points and lay downs. On the larger lakes, the trout seem to head straight for dams and spillways – the concrete spillways are like trout magnets. When fishing on creeks and rivers, undercut banks and deep pools seem to be likely fish holding areas. Years ago, I thought of trout as more of an open water roaming fish, but the state stockies often seem to prefer cover. I've lost quite a few fish in lay downs and log jams.
This one didn't get away!
There are many effective techniques used to catch trout. Fly-fishing, casting lures and bait fishing seem to work well. In my opinion, Berkley PowerBait Trout Bait is one of the most effective way to catch trout, but it's not as much fun as tossing inline spinners. If water temperatures are very low, I'll yield and use PowerBait, but if temps are above 50, I'll be tossing spinners. I came across a certain spinner a few years back and it's been my go-to for the stocked rainbow trout. It's a spinner named the Double Spinn, made by Thomas and I prefer the Nickel/Gold color pattern. The spinner is heavy enough to cover a lot of water when casting. The twin blades offer a tremendous amount of flash, which catches the attention of any nearby trout. The double blades also allow for a slow sink rate so I can impart a little more action into the spinner. After having many follows by trout without strikes, I learned that a little jig every once in a while would trigger a strike. I can accomplish the same action with smaller, lighter spinners, but they don't put off the same flash and I can't cover water with the smaller spinners like I can with the Double Spinn. If you're going out for trout, do yourself a favor and make sure to have a couple of these in your bag.
The Thomas Double Spinn strikes again!
The fall trout stocking days are like holidays in my family. I asked Jake if he wanted to take two days off from school to fish for trout and he couldn't have been happier. Before I get reprimanded, don't teachers get a few vacation days? Well, I think the kids should too. I wasn't quite sure how to write a note excusing his absence - trout fever? Looking back, I'm sure the memories we made over the last few days will last a lifetime.
I gave Jake an A+
Jake and I had a great time trying for the stocked rainbows this week. We even had a few of the locations all to ourselves. Imagine Opening Day of Trout Season, but with much larger trout, better weather and no crowds – yes, that's it. I am a little surprised the big fall trout don't receive a little more attention from South Jersey anglers. If you knew what you're missing out on, you may choose to celebrate the Opening Day of Trout Season in October from now on!
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.
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!
I thought it would be a good idea to talk about some of the fishing programs offered by the state of New Jersey. Believe it or not, the Division of Fish and Wildlife wants to make our fishing adventures as enjoyable as possible. I'm going to revisit the new and improved Skillful Angler Recognition Program along with a few other great programs that should get your attention.
In an attempt to broaden interest, the Division of Fish and Wildlife revamped last year's Skillful Angler Awards Program and changed the name to the Skillful Angler Recognition Program. The new program offers anglers everything the old program offered and a lot more. The three main divisions remain the same (Adult, Junior, and Catch and Release) but now there are a bunch of new categories offered to anglers.
The new catagories include:
Specialist Angler – catch five qualifying fish of the same species within one year Master Angler – catch five qualifying fish of different species (saltwater and/or freshwater) within one year Elite Angler – catch ten or more qualifying fish of different species (saltwater and/or freshwater) within one year First Fish – catch your first fish of any species
Freshwater Slams Trout Slam – catch one each of a qualifying rainbow, brook amd brown trout within one year Bass Slam – catch one each of a qualifying small and largemouth within one year Panfish Slam – catch one each of a qualifying sunfish, crappie and yellow perch within one year
Saltwater Slams Inshore Slam I – catch one each of a qualifying striped bass, bluefish and fluke within one year Inshore Slam II – catch one each of a qualifying black sea bass, tautog and weakfish within one year Offshore Pelagics Slam – catch one each of a qualifying bluefin tuna, bigeye tuna, yellowfin tuna and dolphin within one year Marlin Slam – catch one each of a qualifying whaite and blue marlin within one year
Minimum Size Requirements
Anglers that meet the required criteria will be awarded a certificate suitable for framing, but the state also receives valuable information from each participating angler. Information such as a fish's length, weight, girth, and location should help us understand our fisheries a little better. At the end of the year, the winner of each category will receive a customized certificate to commemorate their achievement as the best of New Jersey's Skillful Anglers.
Skillful Angler Recognition Program Certificates
I like the new format and think the program is heading in the right direction. I often hear my surf-fishing buddies talk about citation fish from Virginia and North Carolina, but few participate or even know that their home state of New Jersey has its own program. According to the state, the program started in 1983 and began with thirty-one applicants. Last year, the program received fifty-three applications. I think the program deserves more attention. The size limits set by the state are attainable, the information gathered helps everyone, and we're paying for this program so we might as well use it. Applications can be printed online at www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/skflang.htm
Another perk offered by the state is a program called Free Fishing Days. The first of the two Free Fishing days takes place this Saturday, June 13. It's a great time of year to introduce a family member or friend to freshwater fishing in New Jersey. The second Free Fishing Day takes place on October 17, 2015. The October date was chosen to allow the public to take advantage of the state's great fall trout fishing opportunities.
The Hook-A-Winner Program has been in place since 1998. The state jaw tags trout before stocking them into our waterways. If you are lucky or skilled enough to catch a tagged trout and send in your contact information, you'll receive a certificate and an award patch. I like this program and wish the state would consider tagging other species of stocked fish.
Speaking of stocked fish – it's not all about the trout! The Division of Fish and Wildlife stocks many warm-water fish throughout the state. Muskellunge, northern pike, tiger muskellunge, walleye, hybrid striped bass, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, landlocked salmon, channel catfish, black crappie, sunfish, and brown bullhead catfish are placed into New Jersey waters. The Hackettstown Hatchery distributes over 2,5000,000 fish each year! A breakdown of stocked waters seems heavily skewed to the north and I'll make sure to bring that up at the next fisheries meeting. Fishing in South Jersey is great, but I'd like to see us get a little bigger piece of the pie.
Another worthwhile program is Hooked On Fishing – Not On Drugs (HOFNOD.) Big-hearted volunteers are trained and certified by state workers to offer neighborhood-fishing programs to school-aged children. My wife and I took the certification class last fall and hope to start our own group soon. The state provides informative materials and fishing supplies to program leaders to get kids interested in fishing instead of drugs. The people we met at the training class were great and I admire each one of them. Robert Johnson and Joe Haase are actively running HOFNOD programs in South Jersey and doing a great job. People like this are a true asset to the community. The weekly meetings offer many interesting adventures for the kids to get excited about and to top it off, the classes and field trips are free!
The Fishing Fun Photo Contest is another program that is rarely talked about. The program was put into place to encourage children between the ages of 6 to 15 years old to have fun fishing. The state awards prizes to the top three places in several categories. Winning entrants are honored at the Pequest Trout Hatchery and Natural Resource Center on the opening day of trout season.
As anglers and residents of New Jersey our tax dollars fund these programs so we might as well get our monies worth out of them. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of the New Jersey Freshwater and/or Marine Digest and familiarize yourself with some of the great opportunities available to us. For more information on New Jersey fishing programs, please visit the Division of Fish and Wildlife's homepage at www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/index.htm