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.
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.
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!
In South Jersey, our warmest weather usually occurs between late July and early August. With recent air temperatures approaching triple digits, it's safe to say the "dog days" are upon us. Fishing during this time of year can be quite difficult and in some cases even dangerous. When air temperatures are forecast to reach the 90s, it's 90+ degrees in the shade and quite a bit warmer in the sun. The unbearable heat isn't just uncomfortable for anglers; it also takes a toll on most species of fish. With a little planning, you can feel much more comfortable on the water and continue to keep those rods bent.
When trying to beat the heat, a few options quickly come to mind: fish during the early morning, evening and nighttime hours. These simple choices will offer the most enjoyable fishing conditions – it's also likely the fish will be a bit more cooperative during these times, too. If you're fishing during lowlight conditions, you can leave the sunscreen at home, but remember to bring the bug spray – those South Jersey mosquitos will carry you away!
As a kayaker, this time of year can be especially daunting. Loading your kayak and paddling requires a little more physical effort, which can exacerbate the effects of the hot, summer sun. To combat the heat, I usually don't push my limits, dress in light-colored clothing and pack lots of cold water.
The simple items listed above are usually enough to enjoy the hottest of days on the water, however there are a few extra steps to make summer fishing trips even more comfortable. I've found a few other cooling options that work wonders. Some of the new fabric technologies are mind blowing. One of these products is the Columbia Freezer Zero Neck Gaiter. The neck sleeve is extremely versatile as it can be worn in a variety of ways, provides sun protection, comfort, and cooling properties. A little sweat actually makes the Omni-Freeze Zero material feel cool against your skin. I was one of those guys that said, "I'd never where on of those face buffs." Now, I don't leave home with out it.
Feeling cool on a hot July day.
Armed with my hot-weather gear and enough bottled water to fill a swimming pool, I hit a bunch of lakes this week. I took the kayaks out to a few of my favorite venues and visited a couple new bodies of water. The unfamiliar waters looked fishy, but my efforts came up small with just a few fish for the day. Fortunately, my go-to waters have been much more productive. Fishing action has been great despite the height of the summer heat.
The heat hasn't slowed the fishing action!
I've put together a pretty successful routine and I'm going to stick with it for as long as it lasts. My day starts early – usually, I'm on the water by 6:30 AM. I begin fishing the flats and weed edges with a yellow perch-colored Rapala Shadow Rap Shad. Largemouth bass, chain pickerel, crappies, sunfish and yellow perch seem to love the Shadow Rap Shad. Rapala lists the Shadow Rap Shad at 3/8 ounce, 3.5 inches in length, and a diving depth of 3 to 4 feet. I fish the lure with an erratic, jerky retrieve and it seems to hang around a depth of 1 to 3 feet, which is perfect for many of our weedy, shallow South Jersey waters. Rapala describes the Shadow Rap Shad's action as, "Swims with horizontal struggle. Slow rise on the pause. Perfectly mimics a shad in trouble." Their description is dead on – the action on this lure is remarkable and it drives fish crazy!
The Rapala Shadow Rap Shad getting it done!
Around 10 AM, the lily pads draw my attention as largemouth bass begin to explode on the many types of dragonflies that flutter just above the water's surface. Usually by this time, I've had my fun with the little, yellow perch-colored Rapala and I'm ready to switch it up. I used to fish frogs, but lately, I've been throwing the Doomsday Turtles with great results. I rig the turtle with a small, lightweight hook so it sinks slowly on the pause. It skitters across the water perfectly as the four curly legs ripple the surface of the water. If the fish aren't aggressive, I'll slow down my retrieve and pause in the open pockets of water just long enough for the turtle to sink a little and the bass crush it! By the time I'm done working over the lily pad fields, the sun is high and I'm paddling back to my car with a smile on my face.
It's a bad day to be a bass!
My son, Jake, has been out with me often. On our last trip, he hooked a decent largemouth bass on his very first cast. It's a joy watching him improve his knowledge and techniques. Now, Jake goes his own way and works over waters that look fishy to him. He was rewarded with a beautiful 24-inch pickerel – a new personal best for my little fishing buddy! We had a great trip even though it was 90 degrees.
Jake had his hands full with this one!
August looks like it's going to begin with a little break from the extreme heat. Midweek highs are forecast in the low to mid 80s and Jake and I are planning a three-day fish camp at Parvin State Park. We fished at Parvin about the same time last year and had one of the best open-water crappie bites I've ever experienced. We're hoping for a repeat and a couple bass wouldn't hurt either. Don't let the "dog days" get the best of you – there are plenty of fish to catch!
A couple weeks ago, I had high hopes to fish right through the winter months, but that's becoming increasingly difficult with each reinforcing shot of cold air. As I write this, the air temperature is in the mid 20s, the wind is blowing out of the northwest at 25 to 30 MPH, the lakes are freezing over and winter storm Jonas seems to have us in the crosshairs for the coming weekend. I'm as diehard as most other 40-year old anglers, but I think it's time to wrap it up – another season in the books.
Fortunately, the 2015 fishing season ended a lot better than it started. If you remember, last winter was especially frigid and "cabin fever" was at an all time high. Many of my normal early-season fishing routines were put off weeks because of unusually cold temperatures and ice-covered waterways. Looking back through my logs, I see we were walking on many of the iced-over ponds and lakes I usually fish during late-February into early-March. If I remember right, we endured one last shot of winter with a substantial snowstorm on the first day of spring.
The long, cold winter certainly took its toll on the first portion of spring, but by April, the ice melted and the fishing action slowly improved. After a few ice-out pickerel and crappie, we spent the first week of April chasing rainbow trout. Speaking of trout, I can't say enough about how great the trout fishing is in South Jersey – whether you're looking for quality or quantity, the state does a great job filling our lakes with lots of hungry rainbow trout. I've taken more trophy-sized stocked trout in the last few years than I thought was possible in a lifetime.
After the water warmed up a little, we hit the Delaware River a few times for striped bass. The "Big D" is usually on fire by April 10, but with below-average water temperatures, the stripers seemed a little less hungry than normal. We caught a bunch of small striped bass, but the cows were few and far between.
With the river action a little on the slow side, I decided to hit the back bays and thankfully found some decent striper action on the flats. The resident backwater striped bass seemed to provide a little more enjoyment this spring - I don't think the bite was any better than usual, but it sure felt good to have them bending my rod again after what seemed like a never-ending winter.
By late April, the fishing action exploded! If I could bottle a time to fish in South Jersey it would be the few weeks between late April and early May when freshwater and saltwater opportunities are amazing in South Jersey. As you might imagine, during this time of year, I'm in my glory and spend every free moment either on the water or by the water's edge. If conditions are good, I prefer to fish the back bays for striped bass, weakfish, bluefish and summer flounder, but if the wind is up, I'll usually stay closer to home and chase largemouth bass, trout, pickerel, snakeheads, crappies or bowfin.
I spent much of May paddling around the back bays in search of tiderunner weakfish, but all of my favorite weakfish holes were inundated with big bluefish. At times, the schools of big blues made fishing for anything else impossible. We've had similar bluefish runs, but these weren't the normal-sized (4 to 6-pound) bluefish. The big slammer blues (8 to 15 pounds) took over our backwaters and took a toll on my light-spinning gear. Not only did it seem like they were everywhere, but they hung around for close to a month. I usually don't target bluefish, but those big slammers were a blast! I remember most trips ending with tired arms and a big smile.
When a cast managed to get past the bluefish, summer flounder were quick to grab my jigs meant for weakfish. The fluke bite was great until the summer flounder season opened and the wind blew straight for what seemed like a month! It seems to happen almost every year - the best flounder action takes place from mid-April until mid-May and then the season opens a few days before the Memorial Day weekend circus comes to town. I miss the old days!
Once school let out, I spent most of my free time freshwater fishing with my son, Jake. Largemouth bass and big, toothy chain pickerel were our target. Summer days at the lake consisted of working top-water plugs and frogs over the pads – if things were slow, we'd fish rubber worms around the docks. We had some great days and Jake learned a great deal – he turned 14 years old and finally graduated from live bait. Many of our South Jersey ponds and lakes offer great top-water fishing opportunities over the summer months. If I didn't have such a passion for saltwater fishing, I'd freshwater fish a lot more often – those top-water explosions are awesome!
The dog days of summer kicked in around the end of July and lasted into August. Action at our local lakes slowed down and I was looking for a change of scenery. I decided to schedule a family camping trip at Parvin State Park. Largemouth bass were our target, but it turned out to be a panfish palooza. We had so much fun fishing, kayaking and camping at Parvin that we decided to work it into our seasonal routine.
Before we knew it summer was over, we flipped the calendar to September and the kids returned to school. I played around at Parvin a little more and fished the mullet run. The 2015 mullet run was decent, but rather short-lived. I had hopes of some redfish and southern sea trout, but I only came up with small stripers, short fluke and snapper bluefish. Steady and constant northeast winds took over towards the end of the month and ended the mullet run and my hopes prematurely.
October usually means striped bass, but summer-like coastal-water temperatures had things rather slow along the shore towns. I spent some more time playing with crappies and perch at Parvin before cashing in on the fall trout stocking. The weather was mild and the fish were hungry. If the stripers weren't going to cooperate, I'm glad I had such great freshwater fishing opportunities to fall back on.
By November, I wanted stripers. Even with the great freshwater action, I needed to get my fill of linsiders. The back bays were full of bait and I found small schools of stripers almost every night. Reports of some serious surf action came from a little north and were too good to pass up. November quickly turned into a striped blur – back bay stripers all night and daytime stripers in the surf. Warm weather and massive schools of adult and juvenile bunker made for a great fall run. After a couple bad fall runs, this push of striped bass was long overdue!
December offered more of the same as mild temperatures and hoards of baitfish kept the striped bass action going right up until a couple weeks ago. I spent most of December in the backwaters and had solid action on every single trip. It's been a few years since I've experienced a consistent bite like we had this year. It felt a little odd fishing the December nightshift in t-shirt, but I'd trade anything for a return to those days now.
2015 started slow, but ended with a bang. The big blues combined with a good fall run made up for the slow start. Having steady striper action right up until the end of the year should go a long way in helping many of us get through this winter. Even though I hoped to fish through the winter months, it will be nice to catch up on the things I put off to go fishing – maybe I'll even get a little ahead of schedule to free up some time for next spring. For now, it looks like I'll be trading in my fishing rod for snow shovel.
Looking to get away from it all? I was, so I did a little research on nearby campgrounds. I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I haven't planned a family-camping trip in close to ten years. I wanted a venue that offered a campsite on or near water, hiking trails, kayaking opportunities and good fishing action. A Google search made viewing and comparing campgrounds a breeze. Things sure have changed a lot since our last family camping trip!
I started my search at some of the South Jersey shore-point campgrounds, but to my surprise, many of the coastal campground sites are charging hotel-room like rates to set up a tent for the night. My attention quickly shifted to the New Jersey State Parks where $20 a night ($25 for non-residents) seemed much more reasonable. My choices were quickly narrowed down to Bass River, Belleplain, Parvin, and Wharton State Parks. Each location seems to offer fun and exciting adventures so I decided to choose the closest to home, Parvin State Park.
Our State Parks use a website called ReserveAmerica.com to provide information, maps and payment options for campground reservations. Parvin State Park offers fifty-six tent and trailer campsites with fire rings, picnic tables and lantern hooks. Up to six people and two vehicles are allowed per site. Four group campsites capable of accommodating twenty-five people are available for $50 a night or $100 for non-residents. If sleeping on the ground isn't your thing, the park also offers eighteen furnished cabins with running water and electric. Each cabin offers a living room with fireplace or wood-burning stove; two bedrooms to accommodate four people; a kitchen equipped with an electric stove and refrigerator; a bathroom with sinks, toilets and showers; outdoor campfire ring, a brick patio with table and grill. Two of the cabins are accessible for persons with disabilities and offer accommodations for six people. Cabin rates are $55 a night, but the park requires a minimum of a week stay between Memorial Day and Labor Day – a week's stay will cost you $385. Cabin fees for non-residents are $65 a night and $455 a week. Six-bunk cabins are $75 a night and $525 a week while nonresidents will be charged $85 a night and $595 per week.
With fishing and kayaking high on our priority list, campsites 013 and 015 at Jaggers Point were our top choices. Site 013 was reserved so we took 015 – both campsites back up to a common ground in which a canoe or kayak can be carried about 50 yards to the waters edge. For those trailering a small boat, the park has a boat ramp available for a $12 fee. If you're travelling light, you can always visit Al's and Sam's Canoes, Boats, and Kayaks on the other side of the lake. Their rates were reasonable for an hour or two on the water and the dockhands seemed friendly and knowledgeable.
Jake and I set up camp on Friday afternoon while the ladies were due in later that evening. It took us a little longer than expected, but we made sure our site was perfect for our weekend getaway. After we set up camp, gathered wood and hiked a few trails, we took the kayaks out for a quick tour of the lake. A stiff northeast wind made paddling around the lake a little more difficult than I hoped, but we managed to scout out some likely fish-holding areas for the next morning.
Our Weekend Retreat
Sleeping on the ground at 30 years of age was a lot more enjoyable than sleeping on the ground at 40 years of age. After a long, almost sleepless night, Jake poked his head into my tent and whispered, "Dad it's time to wake up and fish." I responded with something like give me a few minutes. A few minutes passed and Jake returned with, "Dad big bass are jumping all over!" The kid knows how to get me up.
We gathered our fishing equipment and carried the kayaks out to the lake. The sunrise was beautiful, but that pesky northeast wind made fishing for bass by the lily pads quite difficult. After a half hour without a strike, I started to worry that it may not be our day. We left the fishy-looking structure on the south shore and headed to the other side of the lake to a beautiful cove where the trees blocked the wind. A few minutes in and we could see fish surfacing all over the cove. I tossed a 3-inch Berkley Gulp minnow while Jake decided to use a tiny portion of a leftover rubber worm. Within minutes our rods were bent over and we were into some of the best big panfish action I've ever experienced. We caught a mixed bag of sunfish, crappies, yellow perch, largemouth bass and pickerel, but the numbers and sizes of the sunfish and crappies were impressive – countless sunfish from 8 to 10 inches and crappies from 12 to 14 inches. We finished our morning with big smiles and a return to camp for breakfast around 10 AM.
After a great breakfast, we decided to check out the lake's swimming area. The kids drove to the other side while Jen and I took the kayaks over. I stopped for a few casts on the way and had a tough time pulling myself away from those monster crappies. About a half-hour later, we made our way over to the swimming beach. The beach area was nice, but many of the children were unruly and that's being polite. The lifeguards had their hands full and were continuously yelling at the kids. It was not enjoyable for any of us so we packed up and headed back for camp.
Swimming or crappies?
At sunset, Jake and I returned for the evening bite and found the same great action we had during our morning session. A few other boats were out on the water, but we felt like we had the lake to ourselves. The wind had settled a little and the experience was perfect as we caught fish well into darkness. Roasting marshmallows over a campfire completed a great day.
I slept a little better on Saturday night. I'm not sure if my body adjusted to the surroundings or if I was just too tired to care. Whatever the case, I was ready to go and had drag Jake out of bed on Sunday morning. We paddled back over to "our spot" and were immediately back into solid action. The pure numbers and variety of fish in that cove was amazing – cast after cast with largemouth bass, sunfish, crappies, yellow perch, pickerel and I lost a small carp at the side of my kayak. This action lasted for about three hours before we left them biting and decided to head in for breakfast.
Instead of a visit to the swimming beach, we decided to kayak up Muddy Run – the creek that feeds Parvin Lake. Jen and I took our kayaks while the kids rented an extra kayak from Al's and Sam's. Just a little ways upstream from the lake we came across a perfect little swimming hole. We stuck our paddles in the sand to anchor our kayaks and enjoyed a peaceful and refreshing swim – the water seemed much cooler than the lake water. We played in the water for hours. It was an experience I doubt any of us will soon forget.
Jake jumped right in.
We returned to camp for lunch and then headed back out in the kayaks to explore Muddy Run. We paddled for more than an hour upstream and covered at least a few miles. Some stretches were perfect and serene, while a few others turned out to be a little more adventurous – it was exactly what I was hoping for!
Julia and Craig heading upstream.
Julia and Craig having fun on the water.
As we paddled further upstream, the current felt stronger, but maybe it was just fatigue. We spotted all kinds of small fish, turtles, birds, frogs and even some wild grapes growing alongside the creek. We paddled over and through logjams, in inches of water, under a bridge and through some areas too narrow to paddle through – we had to paddle hard enough to gain momentum to carry us past the narrowest sections. Exhausted from hours of fishing and paddling miles upstream, it sure felt good to drift back to the lake.
This turtle was quite the climber.
Not being one to leave a good bite, Jake and I fished again on Sunday night and again on Monday morning before we had to break camp. I didn't think the great action could last, but it did. It's difficult to find a public lake that fishes like a private lake, but that's how I would describe Parvin Lake. Perhaps anglers are so enamored with the largemouth bass they overlook the outstanding panfish bite? Either way, Jake and I can't wait to fish the lake again. We had a blast!
To make the experience perfect, they could tighten up the rules in the swimming area and clean the bathhouses a little more frequently. To be fair – I believe the pros outweigh the cons 100 to 1, but I will be calling to complain about the bathhouses and the rowdy swimming area patrons – most of which aren't campers as the park offers swimming passes for a $2 daily fee.
If you're into fishing, this one should be put on the to-do list. Parvin State Park is a great asset to South Jersey. It offers a beautiful setting for all kinds of outdoor activities.