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.
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!
It's hard to believe there are only a few days left in the 2015 calendar year. Usually, at this point in the season, I'd be writing a wrapping-up-another-fishing-season report, but not this year! Yesterday's blitz reports were some of the best of the season. Whether you're a saltwater or freshwater angler, fishing action remains outstanding and it really doesn't show any signs of slowing down anytime soon!
In my opinion, the main factors to the great coastal fishing action are mild weather and a lack of any prolonged coastal storms. With 60 and 70 degree daytime highs and coastal-water temperatures holding in the low to mid 50s, fish and anglers alike are much more active. Baitfish and stripers aren't in a hurry to continue south if conditions don't warrant a migration – much like anglers are less likely to migrate to their couches this late fall/winter. The last two fall and winter seasons were frigid and the fishing action along with angler participation dropped off soon after Thanksgiving. This year's mild trend is similar to the 2011 fall/winter run – remember the outstanding fishing action that season?
These fish aren't going anywhere soon!
Between holiday gatherings and the recent rainstorms, I've been fishing mostly at night in the back bays. The backwater striper bite remains as solid and predictable as I can remember. About two hours on either side of high water, the stripers show up and turn on the feedbag. I've been tossing ¼-oz jigs and pink soft-plastic baits at them with great results. Many of the linesiders are in the 22 to 26-inch range, but they are a lot of fun on freshwater bass gear.
Backwater stripers are lots of fun on light-duty gear.
Moving forward, as of midnight on Friday, January 1, 2016, New Jersey coastal backwaters will be off limits for striped bass anglers – this includes inlets, sounds, estuary waters and rivers. I can't say I understand the reasoning for this regulation and as an avid backwater angler it should come as no surprise to hear I'm not very fond of it. I was told the closed-season regulation was put in place to limit anglers from snagging semi-dormant stripers in some of the deep-water holes – I don't know the severity of this type of fishing, but I would assume it was miniscule. Regardless, sadly, my back bay striper trips will end in about sixty hours.
I'll miss my backwater bass!
On the bright side, the backwater closure will force me to fish more out front and by the sounds of it, I've been missing out. The surf bite has been steady, but it seems like the first day of an east wind really gets them going. Yesterday, striped bass and bluefish went crazy a little to the north around Seaside Heights, NJ. During my recent surf trips, I've had much more success during the backend of the outgoing tides – being able to get out on those bars can make or break a trip. I'm looking forward to landing my first striped bass of the New Year in January instead of March of the 2016 season.
When I'm not chasing striped bass, I've been hitting the neighborhood lakes and ponds for crappies, largemouth bass, pickerel and yellow perch. The freshwater action has been exceptional. Whether by foot from the banks or out in my kayak, I've been pleased with the bite on every trip. Usually by this time of year, live baits or downsized artificial offerings are required to catch consistently, but we aren't limited on techniques yet as the fish remain quite active. On Christmas Eve day, we had largemouth bass and pickerel blowing up on shiners while we were fishing top-water plugs in shorts and a t-shirt!
Topwater Pickerel from the Kayak
Over the last few days, Jake and I have targeted crappies and yellow perch - Santa brought Jake lots of new fishing tackle to test out. We've been much more successful this season than in years past. I'm sure the warm weather is helping, but I believe another factor is the time I spent in my kayak with a good down-imaging fishfinder. Earlier this season, I marked some great underwater structure areas and took note of specific areas that I could reach from land - it's paying off big time!
Jake is having a blast with his new gear.
A beautiful 14-inch yellow perch.
The 2015 calendar year may be coming to an end, but the fishing season is far from over. Whether you prefer to chase striped bass and bluefish along the coast or if you're staying close to home and targeting freshwater species, it sure will feel good to start the New Year with a bent rod!
Wherever you look, autumn is in the air. Sunrises are occurring a little later each morning while sunsets are a little earlier each evening. Squirrels are going crazy, stocking up on walnuts and acorns. Our skies are filled with migrating birds and monarch butterflies. Mosquitos and other bugs are dispersing. While many of us enjoy our pumpkin-flavored foods and drinks, I'm looking forward to the harvest festivals, bonfires on chilly nights, color-filled landscapes and some of the best fishing action of the year.
Water temperatures are dropping right on schedule and I believe this weekend's northwest blow should really getting things going. As of 1 PM on October 15, 2015, the Atlantic City monitoring station checked in at 64.6 degrees while Cape May's station reported 67.3 degrees. Some of the coastal backwaters and many of our freshwater lakes and ponds have already dipped into the 50s.
Chilly Morning on the Water
Striped bass reports are picking up in our area as many of the resident fish become more active. The bulk of the migratory fish were last reported working their way down from Montauk and towards the South Shore of Long Island, New York. Sandy Hook, New Jersey reports are beginning to trickle in and should continue to improve as the weekend approaches. Further south, from Island Beach State Park to Cape May, fishing action has been a little slower, but a few quality fish are beginning to show up. The resident stripers will keep me busy for another week or two before I take the ride north to look for some blitz-like action. As each season passes, it seems like the South Jersey striper season occurs a little later in the year – look for more widespread, serious action to take place in November.
While waiting for numbers of striped bass to return to our local waters, there are many other great fishing opportunities available. The trout trucks will be visiting our portion of the state early next week. Even though the state doesn't stock as many waterways as they do in the spring, the quality of the trout more than makes up for it. These big, beautiful rainbow trout aren't receiving the attention they deserve. I understand they're stocked fish, but fooling the big rainbows can be both challenging and rewarding. The fall stocking information below was copied from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife's website:
Tuesday, October 20
ATLANTIC & CUMBERLAND COUNTIES • Giampetro Park Pond - 170 • Hammonton Lake - 340 • Mary Elmer Lake - 170 • Maurice River - 400
BURLINGTON, CAMDEN & GLOUCESTER COUNTIES • Crystal Lake - 170 • Grenloch Lake - 170 • Oak Pond - 170 • Sylvan Lake - 170
Wednesday, October 21
GLOUCESTER & SALEM COUNTIES • Greenwich Lake - 170 • Iona Lake - 170 • Schadlers Sand Wash Pond - 170 • Swedesboro Lake - 170
MIDDLESEX & MERCER COUNTIES • Colonial Lake - 170 • Roosevelt Park Pond - 170 • Rosedale Lake – 170
A Fall of 2014 South Jersey Rainbow Trout
I'm looking forward to next week's trout delivery, however I don't know if it can compare to the crazy panfish action I've experienced over the last two weeks. The bite has been so good it is almost unbelievable. Crappies and yellow perch are beginning to school up and if you can find a good piece of underwater structure, be prepared to catch fish all day long.
Having fished the nightshift for most of my life, I'm enjoying and appreciating fishing during daylight hours. While the nightshift certainly has its benefits, early-morning kayak trips provide both great visuals and fishing action. I arrive at the lake and paddle through a steam or water vapor that I refer to as smoke on the water. Mirror-calm conditions magnify the beautifully colored trees that surround many of our local waterways now. A curious and likely hungry eagle circles my kayak each morning as I pull fish after fish in from submerged structure. As I take in the entire experience, I can only explain it as magical.
Mirror Calm Mornings Are Especially Beautiful
After years of lugging around all kinds of fancy, expensive gear, I've streamlined my approach. On my last trip to the lake, I loaded my kayak, two fishing rods, a life vest, a paddle, a water bottle and a very small utility box of small jigs, floats and soft-plastic baits. Very little effort is needed for this simple type of fishing and it makes the experience even more enjoyable.
All Smiles on a Perfect Fall Morning
Fishing for crappie and yellow perch isn't very complicated, as they seem to hit just about any small bait selection. I've experimented with a bunch of different tactics and continue to learn on each and every trip. While you can learn from trips in which no fish were caught, I find I learn much more when lots of fish are present. I've experimented with retrieves, colors, lure selections, and floats over the last few trips. I found that I can catch fish on just about any offering, but some offerings worked better than others. Of all the techniques I tried, my go-to weightless Berkley Gulp 3 and 4-inch minnows provided the best results. Small, brightly colored jigs (I like using Trout Magnets) in sizes 1/32 to 1/64 also worked extremely well, especially fished under a float.
This Slab Crappie Fell for a Trout Magnet
The key to catching wasn't so much about what type of retrieve I chose or what type or color offering I selected. It was all about location. If there was some type of structure in more than three-feet of water, fish would be there and in many cases, they'd be schooled up in impressive numbers. Fine tuning my lure selections and retrieves allowed me to boat a few more fish, but I'm certain I could have caught some fish with a bare hook.
This Yellow Perch Qualifies for the State's Skillful Angler Award and Completes My Panfish Slam
There are times when I appreciate a challenge, but sometimes it's nice to sit back and just have fun. If your idea of a good time is simply catching loads of fish on a beautiful day, it's time to hit the water!
Let's face it: unless you're out at the canyons or offshore wreck and reef sites, the dog days of August don't exactly offer the best fishing opportunities. The long, hot days and warm water temperatures take a toll on many of our favorite freshwater and saltwater species. I'm not saying it's impossible to put together a decent catch, but the odds are stacked against us when water temps are in the low to mid 80s. September is fast approaching and with it will come cooler nights and the much-anticipated mullet run. In the meantime, I suggest hitting your favorite panfish holes and having some fun with the scrappy crappies, perch and sunfish that are more than willing to bend a rod.
When I think about fishing for panfish, it's usually because options for other more desirable species are limited – usually during the mid-summer and mid-winter periods. However, over the last few years, I've gained an appreciation for panfish, especially black crappies and yellow perch. Our local waters offer some great panfish opportunities and because of our climate, the crappies, perch and sunfish have a longer growing season than up north or out in the Midwest. While a trophy crappie may not compare to a trophy striped bass, you won't find me complaining about any type of world-class fishery.
Before you dismiss fishing for panfish, there are a few things I'd like you to take into consideration. Panfish are schooling fish and can provide hours of insane rod-bending action. The variety of yellow perch, white perch, crappies, and sunfish always keeps things interesting and if a stray largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, pickerel or catfish decides to join the party, all the better. Daily bag limits are fairly liberal when keeping crappies (8-inch minimum and 10 fish), perch and sunfish (no minimum size and 25 combined). While most panfish are bony, they are fairly easy to clean and offer sweet, firm, delicious, white fillets.
I'm sure at least a few readers are asking themselves, "Can you eat fish from our local waters?" According to the State of New Jersey's General Freshwater Advisories and the 2013 Fish Smart, Eat Smart Guide, there are "no restrictions" for the general population when consuming sunfish. While specific bodies of water do have more stringent consumption guidelines, panfish seem to be one of the least affected by pollutants. I'm assuming a sunfish's diet and shorter life span don't allow them to accumulate toxins as easily as some of the other species listed such as largemouth bass and striped bass. From much of the literature I read, generally, I would say that eating panfish is likely less harmful than eating striped bass. Surprising huh? For more detailed information, visit http://www.state.nj.us/dep/dsr/njmainfish.htm.
After our great family outing at Parvin State Park last weekend, Jake and I decided to return this weekend and set up our fish camp. We packed light and trailered the kayaks down to Parvin on Friday, August 14. It took just a few minutes to set up the tent and get our campsite in order – we checked in around noon and were carrying the loaded kayaks to the water's edge by 12:30 PM. Our plan was to fill a cooler with some tasty panfish to cook over our campfire each night.
After a short paddle, we returned to the same little cove that surrendered so many fish last weekend. Just a few casts in and we located a school of gigantic crappies. Cast after cast ended with 12 to 14-inch crappies, 10 to 12-inch white and yellow perch and 8 to 10-inch sunfish. I was tossing a 3-inch Berkley Gulp Minnow on a bare hook while Jake was jigging small, brightly colored tubes from a crappie kit we picked up at Wal-Mart. The crappies seemed to hit closer to the surface while the perch preferred our offerings a little closer to the bottom. We attached a small, ice-filled cooler to Jake's kayak and had it filled in no time. This wasn't a fishing trip – it was a catching trip.
Filling the Cooler
On our return to camp, we pulled our kayaks and compared notes about the great fishing action. We kept our limit of crappies, a few perch and released a bunch of other fish. It wasn't until it was time to clean our catch that I noticed preparing these fish wasn't going to be as easy as it is at home where we have a hose and a fish-cleaning table. I didn't think the next campers would appreciate us using the campsite picnic table as a fish-cleaning station so I decided to use the next best thing – and old tree stump. Cleaning twenty-five or so fish on a tree stump in the wilderness is quite an experience. Jake helped by bagging the fillets, tossing the discards and filling the bucket with clean water when needed. About an hour later, I had a sore back and big bag of tasty fillets.
Our Camp Fish Cleaning Station
Later that evening, after we showered and cleaned up, we prepared the fish for dinner. We packed aluminum foil, cracked pepper, a little butter and some locally grown squash and zucchini to cook with our fillets. A few minutes over the fire and our tasty meals were complete. Jake and I talked about how great the fish tasted and how much fun we had catching them. I thought about the many great fishing experiences I've had over the years and how this panfish trip somehow ended up right there with any of them.
We hit the lake early the next morning and fished the weekend away. It was a great trip as the fish cooperated the whole time. We practiced catch and release for the rest of the weekend as Friday afternoon's trip provided plenty of fillets for us. Now that my back is feeling better, I can't wait to get back out there again.
Do yourself a favor and don't overlook those puny, little panfish. They are a lot of fun to catch on light tackle and make for delicious table fair. With such liberal regulations, I'd like to remind everyone to make their own sensible limits. Just because we can keep so many fish per day doesn't mean we have to keep a limit on every trip. Responsible practices will allow us to enjoy great fisheries for years to come.