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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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September 05, 2016

Back to School Doesn't Mean Kids Have to Stop Fishing

by Frank Ruczynski

I can almost hear the buses rolling down the road. In our neighborhood, school starts in two days on Tuesday, September 6. Our kids will be back to the daily grind of getting up early, shuffling from class to class and coming home with plenty of homework. Sounds like fun right? Not to me, I dreaded the first day of school. As a boy, I was always outside; I played sports, fished or hunted until I needed to eat or sleep. After a summer of outdoor fun, I felt like going back to school was the equivalent of a nine-month jail sentence.

According to today's youth, most schools are much more user friendly. It seems like many of the "walls" have been broken down over the years – for better or worse. Sadly, it seems like time spent outdoors is not high on list of most educational institutions. I'm not sure why administrators don't put more emphasis on learning outside of the school building – perhaps a few more walls still need to be broken down?

Fortunately, there are a few programs that offer outdoor learning to children (and adults in some cases) outside of school buildings. Our community offers programs such as guided nature walks, kids fishing contest, bird walks, kayaking and canoeing trips, Nature Tots program, Hooked on Fishing – Not On Drugs (HOFNOD) meetings and a bunch of other free outdoor learning experiences.

Over the years, my family enjoyed many of the community-based outdoor programs. I grew up on Wilson Lake which in now usually referred to as Scotland Run Park. The cedar-lined lake is a great place to cast a line, view wildlife, kayak and learn about the outdoors. Jill Taylor, the Senior Park Naturalist, can usually be found in the Nature Center and is a wealth of information. If you're wondering if your community has similar opportunities, try contacting your county's Park and Recreation Committee.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a Hooked On Fishing – Not On Drugs Kids Fishing Tournament at Corson Park in Millville, NJ. The contest was open to a couple of local HOFNOD groups and the public. Joe Haase leads one of the groups and planned on stocking and tagging some fish before the big event. I met Joe a couple of years ago at a HOFNOD training class – he's a great guy and is always looking for new and exciting ways to keep the kids interested in outdoor learning activities.

The fish stocking and tagging went off without a hitch. In just a few minutes, the kids and adult volunteers had the fish tagging process down to a science. I worked the camera as the group completed tagging and stocking the fish into the lake with machine-like efficacy. I was thoroughly impressed by the entire process. Even the younger kids seemed incredibly capable.

A Tagged Sunfish Ready for Release

Soon after the fish were released, the fishing tournament started. The kids went all in and fished hard for a solid two hours. I walked around the lake and watched as families fished together, kids helped each other out and everyone caught fish. It was a beautiful day and everyone seemed to have a great time. During the two-hour tournament, I didn't see one child lose interest in fishing. This morning was full of sunshine, fish and smiles!

After the final horn, the kids met up and had lunch. Hot dogs, chips and water bottles were given out to each participate and their families. Winners were announced and given tackle boxes, trophies and rod and reel combos. I was especially proud of my own son, Jake, as he caught a ton of fish and helped out with the younger anglers.

That's My Boy!

Having experienced this event first hand made me want to start my own group even more. My wife and I have gone back and forth with some ideas, but it's not easy to get things off the ground. I have a great respect for people like Joe Haase – he put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into his group and asks for nothing in return. The kids had a great time because a few big-hearted adults volunteered their time to make it happen - these people are an asset to our community.

If you're looking for something to do with your kids this weekend, I'd like to suggest a visit to New Jersey's Annual Wild Outdoor Expo. The big event is happening this Saturday and Sunday, September 10 and 11 from 10 AM to 5 PM – rain or shine. Admission and parking are FREE! Some of the activities include: fishing, kayaking, shooting sports, camping skills, hiking, rock climbing, compass navigation and wildlife watching. Programs will include fish and wildlife conservation, reptile and raptors, sporting and tracking dogs, historical reenactments, SCUBA dives, nature photography and much more. It sounds like a great way for our kids to unwind after their first week back in the big house.

August 08, 2016

A Week in the Wilderness

by Frank Ruczynski

After waiting nearly a month for a break in the mid-summer heat, a perfect weather window opened for our fish-camp trip to Parvin State Park. With weather forecasters calling for daytime highs in the low 80s and nighttime temperatures dipping down to the mid-to-low 60s, I couldn't book our reservations fast enough! A week in the wilderness would include spending most of our time fishing from our Wilderness Systems kayaks and the remainder eating, sleeping, and exploring the park. We camped at Parvin State Park a couple times last summer and had such a good time, we couldn't wait to get back down there.

Fortunately, our favorite campsite, lucky number 013 was available and we set up for a week of living in the great outdoors - campsite #013 is the best site for kayakers as it backs right up to the water. As luck would have it, I was driving in the last tent stake when I saw a shiny, little circle. At first glance, I thought it was an old rivet from a tarp, but after digging the rest of it out of the ground, it turned out to be a gold band. Upon further inspection, it was clearly marked with 14K and a 1908 stamped on the inside of the ring. I don't have any idea how much it's worth, but it was a great way to start our trip!

We're off to a good start!

After setting up our gear, we slid our kayaks into the water and got down to business. Big crappies were our target and it didn't take us long to find them! We found good numbers of big summer slabs at the same little cove that put out great numbers of fish last year. I started by fishing two rods: one rigged with a float and the other with a 1/32-ounce jighead and a Berkley PowerBait 2-inch Power Minnow in the emerald shiner color. A steady east wind provided a good drift and it didn't take long for the rods to bend.

Super-sized crappies are a blast on light tackle!

The size of the crappies in Parvin Lake is beyond impressive! At most lakes, an average crappie usually tapes out around 10 inches, but at Parvin most of the crappies we caught were between 12 and 15 inches and extra thick. If you're into crappies, this lake should be on your list!

This one taped out at a little over 15 inches!

Jake and I caught fish until sunset and then headed back to camp with smiles on our faces. We ate dinner by the campfire and went to bed early, as we wanted to get in a good night's sleep before heading back onto the water at sunrise.

Sunset at Parvin State Park

The next morning, we woke up at 5:45 AM and were on the water by 5:50 AM. We were greeted by a beautiful sunrise and much calmer conditions. There is something almost magical about watching the sunrise on the water. Fish were surfacing all over the lake and it didn't take long for us to get back into the action. The steady crappie action continued right where it left off the evening before. To add to the fun, a few big sunfish, white perch and largemouth bass decided to join the party.

Sunrise Over South Jersey

By 10 AM, that east wind was picking up again. We boated a good number of fish and our stomachs were looking forward to breakfast. We brought a little propane grill to cook meals and I was seriously looking forward to pancakes and grilled breakfast sausages. With the thought of food on our minds, I think we may have paddled a little faster on the way back to camp than we did on our way out. It was a perfect morning!

Finishing off a great morning with pancakes and sausage.

With our bellies full, we decided to settle down for a while. It was great just sitting around, talking about our fishing trip and taking in our surroundings. Many of life's complications and stressors seem to disappear when you're spending time in the wilderness. Whether it's camping, hiking, fishing, kayaking or just sitting under a tree by the lake, there is something soothing about being surrounded by shades of blues and greens that have a way of melting away all of life's troubles.

After we decompressed, we decided to take the kayaks out to our swimming hole. The park has a small area of the lake roped off with a lifeguard present for swimming, but we decided to paddle upstream and swim in the cooler, cleaner feeder creek. The feeder creek is aptly called Muddy Run and the water seemed especially stained during our stay. While the water wasn't very clear, it was cool and quite refreshing, especially on a warm, sunny August afternoon.

Fun in the Sun

Soon after our swim, we decided to explore Muddy Run and the many little offshoots that can only be navigated by a kayak or canoe. We spotted some wildlife, paddled over logjams, under tree branches, and through inches of water all while soaking in our beautiful surroundings. Kayaking these areas is like hiking on the water.

I don't think those turtles are playing leap frog?

Jake, John and I paddled back to the main lake just before sunset to catch a few more crappies. The bite was steady and we picked away at crappies until dinnertime. The open-water bite is a ton of fun and doubles are a usual occurrence. We usually keep a few fish for a camp fish fry, but we had plenty of food packed and John was thoughtful enough to bring sandwiches for everyone – John, as much as we appreciated those hoagies, I'm sure those crappies were even more thankful.

Doubled Up!

Having spent much of the time in my Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K 140, I have to admit; I've fallen even more in love with it. My ATAK sheds the wind like no other kayak, it offers unbelievable stability and the raised AirPro Max seat combine to make for an awesome fishing machine. Sitting in that chair on that kayak with a rod and reel in my hand is truly my happy place!

My Happy Place

We spent the next few days repeating the same events: fishing, kayaking, exploring, roasting marshmallows by the campfire, enjoying life and each other's company. On Friday morning, I was woken up by the sound of a hot air balloon that hovered over our tent and then just a few feet off the water – the smell of propane was thick in the air. I thought I was dreaming – how many people can say they were woken up by the sound of a hot air balloon?

Up, Up and Away!

Our time at Parvin State Park was an incredible experience and I suspect the memories will last a lifetime. Do yourself a favor and take the time to enjoy what's left of the summer season and make sure to spend it with the people you truly care about – you'll be happy you did!

June 18, 2015

Sometimes It's More Than Fishing

by Frank Ruczynski

There isn't much I enjoy more than fishing. It's fair to say that I like catching a lot more than fishing, but as I grow older, the fishing experience has turned into much more than casting and catching. More times than not, I believe most of us measure our fishing success strictly by the size and number of the fish caught per trip. While catching should never be underestimated, I thought it would be nice to share some of the other unforgettable sights, smells and sounds that add to the fishing experience.

A Foggy Fall Morning at Lake Lenape

It wasn't long ago that I measured the value of each fishing trip only by results. My goal was to catch as many fish as I could on each and every trip. I guess I looked at fishing as a game in which winning could only be achieved by topping my personal best. By pushing myself, I learned and accomplished a great deal, but looking back, it was a lot more business than pleasure. If I caught sixty-two striped bass one night, I wanted sixty-three the next. I remember beaching a 36-inch weakfish and instead of enjoying the fish and the moment, I rushed back into the water in hopes of a 37-inch weakfish. I'm sure I could have enjoyed those trips and catches a lot more, but I wonder if I would have learned as much?

I don't want to send the wrong message here - I will never be of the, "If I catch a fish, I catch a fish," ilk, but I'm learning there is much more to fishing than catching fish. Years ago, I remember reading something concerning the "Stages of a Fisherman." It went something like:

Stage 1 – I want to catch a fish!
Stage 2 – I want to catch a lot of fish!
Stage 3 – I want to catch big fish!
Stage 4 – I'm just happy to be fishing.
Stage 5 – I want to share my passion and knowledge of fishing with others.

When I read the article, I thought to myself, "There will never be a time when I'll just be happy to be fishing." Today, when I think of this article, it seems spot on. I am happy just to be fishing and there is little that brings me more joy than sharing the sport of fishing with my family and friends.

Looking back, there is much more to fishing than casting a line and catching fish. The sky, sunrises and sunsets immediately come to mind – the beautiful yellow, orange, red, pink and purple colors are mirrored and twice as stunning on the water. I guess most would think one wouldn't be as likely to experience great views at night in complete darkness, but that's simply not true. If you've never seen a super-sized, orange full moon come up over the horizon, you're missing out! It appears like something out of a Star Wars movie as the moon seems ten-times larger than normal and the reflection off the water magnifies the experience. I can't tell you how many shooting stars and meteor showers I've witnessed over the years – many light up the night as bright, green fireballs streaks across the sky.

Sunrise from the North Wildwood Rock Pile

Have you heard of phosphorescence? If not, it is described as a bioluminescence of organisms in the surface layers of the sea – small organisms light up or glow when stimulated by mechanical irritation, such as the movement of water. The glowing organisms create unbelievable nighttime landscapes. Waves, wind, current and fish movement are just a few of the triggers to bioluminescence. Anglers sometimes refer to this as "fire in the water." While catch rates may suffer some during these occurrences, the visuals are nothing short of amazing.

Many of us enjoy viewing wildlife, but when you're out fishing, you not only get to view nature, you interact with it! I've had my share of memorable experiences with wildlife. One night, what I thought was a small dog following me down the beach turned out to be a very friendly and hungry fox - I have a 100 other fox stories. On another trip, a curious skunk followed me onto the bridge and decided to watch me fish for a while. In Stone Harbor, I decided to fish a few backwater docks for weakfish when something popped its head out of the water and barked at me. A few seconds later, another otter approached from the back of the dock and didn't seem happy about my trespassing on "their" dock. The "cute" otters didn't seem so cute when I was corned on the end of the dock at 2 AM. After a few minutes of back and forth, I pushed through and went on to tell the story to my pal that was up fishing on the bridge. When we returned to the dock the two otters were on their backs cuddled up in the middle of the dock and he just laughed at me. I didn't both to argue. I have stories about dolphins, whales, sharks, turtles, deer, birds, insects, snakes and all kinds of other animals that helped make my fishing trips more memorable and enjoyable.

This mountain deer greeted us on the way to the pond.

This week's blog topic came to mind after an experience I had with the family while fishing over the weekend. On Saturday, we drove to Avis Mill Pond otherwise known as Camp Crockett. My son, Jake, and I were planning to fish while my wife took a few photographs and relaxed by the water. We never catch much at the pond, but the surrounding wildflowers and wildlife makes the trip worthwhile.

Jake and I decided to start in the small lagoon on the backside of the spillway. I made a cast or two before I noticed what looked like a dead owl in the water. A few seconds later, the owl's head moved and it looked over at me. Of all the animals I've seen and photographed over the years, I've yet to come across a great horned owl – their loud hooting has woken me up on cold winter nights, but viewing them after midnight high in our pine trees is nearly impossible. This was my chance. The circumstances weren't exactly what I hoped for as I could tell something was wrong with this owl.

I spent a few minutes watching the owl before I made the decision that it needed immediate assistance. I wasn't sure if it was tangled in fishing line, exhausted from trying to climb out of the water or ill. I made the decision to help in any way I could. I grabbed a stick and got into the water. Surprisingly, the owl grabbed onto the stick and I got him into shallow water. My next step was to grab the owl and place it onto land. The poor bird was so exhausted it didn't put up much of a fight. I carried it over to the bank that we were fishing from and laid it up against a branch as it was to weak to hold it's head up. My wife and I made a bunch of phone calls to state and county wildlife agencies, but answering machines are far more likely than reaching a real person, especially on a Saturday afternoon. After a bunch of calls and voice messages, we received a call back from the Salem County Animal Control. Ned would be out in an hour and rendezvous with a wildlife rehabilitation center a little later that evening.

Great Horned Owl

Waiting for Animal Control seemed like forever as we watched the owl struggle to stay alive. At times, it perked up some and then would sit with its head down. When I carried the owl to the road to wait for help, it looked at me with its big eyes and let out a few faint hoots. It was a moment I'll never forget. A few minutes later, Ned from Animal Control showed up and placed the owl into a carrier for transport. I knew the owl's chance at survival was slim, but we thanked Ned and wished our feathered friend the best.

Ned is far more than a dog catcher.

I called the rehabilitation center a couple days later and they told me the owl didn't make it. I was sad at first, but then thought about the people that were willing to go to great lengths to help injured animals. We did all we could do and I guess that's all anyone can hope for.

Our experience with the owl was just one of many we encountered because we were out fishing. When we talk about great times on and near the water, the first thing that usually comes to mind is a memorable catch. Stories of huge fish have been told for centuries and I'm sure we've all heard and told our share of "epic" catches. I think it would be interesting to hear some of the other things that make your fishing experiences great. Please feel free to share any of your own stories in the comments box below.

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