A Pumpkinseed's Colors Rival Any Fish
Fresh, Salt, Tropical or Temperate

I wish I could fly fish for trout more often. Unfortunately, good trout fishing isn't nearby. On top of that, the summer is my time to fish. And during July and August, New Jersey's major trout rivers push 70 degrees and it's best to lay off.

That's why a lot of my summer fly fishing is on local lakes and ponds. I love casting to panfish, bass, and if I can find them - carp. I fish from the bank, from my SUP, or from a belly boat.

No matter what I'm fishing for, I keep the striped bass work ethic alive.

Getting up in the dark and fishing first light is common when chasing striped bass. But many anglers don't do the same on trout streams or when fishing local freshwater ponds and lakes. Dawn patrol fishing, combined with a midweek morning, provides solitude and a better shot at fish. Not to mention beautiful sights and sounds. The world is a different place at dawn.

Here are some of my catches and takeaways.

A Summer Fly: Dave Whitlock's Hopper

Terrestrials, like hoppers, ants, and beetles, are a major food source for trout in the summer. They're also eaten by panfish and largemouth along the shoreline of lakes and ponds. Plus, they're a lot more fun to cast than big, air resistant bass poppers. Dropping a hopper next to a grass-lined bank and twitching it slightly to imitate a panicked grasshopper can result in some incredibly fun visual fishing.

Summer Largemouth
Egg Eater, Maybe This Fish Took It For A Berry
Closer Look

Across the street from my home is a lake with water quality issues. It's victim to a large population of geese and receives a tremendous amount of storm-water runoff. With minimal water flow, it sits stagnant throughout the summer. Water temps are high and visibility is low.

I love urban fishing, but I don't think this lake can support bluegill or largemouth. The only fish I've ever seen are carp. They're tough as nails.

This Carp Turned and Ate A Black Bead Head Mini Bugger

The lake was recently dredged to hold more water and prevent flooding. Now the only shallow areas are along the shoreline, many times underneath overhanging trees. That's where I find carp rooting around in the mud for food, usually on calm mornings or evenings. If the wind is up, they seem to be either deep or just difficult to see.

Although bait fishing for carp is popular, if you're after them with a fly rod, it's a sight fishing game. Blind casting is a waste of time. I haven't caught many, but I've had success with small streamers like mini buggers. Another option is fishing an egg pattern. Carp are known to be omnivorous. They eat mulberries and cottonwood seeds. So an egg fished under a tree is probably mistaken for a berry or seed.

Carp are known to be selective and spooky, but the fish near my home are not pressured. When fishing, I've learned to lookout for reaction strikes. A reasonable fly, dropped in front of their nose, can result in a quick take.

Closer Look

It's cliche, but time flies. And the older I get, the faster the flight.

We're halfway through August. Soon I'll be going back to school to prep and grind my brain back to bells and lesson plans.

Rubber Legged Popper Eater
Keep 'Em Wet - All Fish Like It

But it ain't over yet. There's still time for a few more dawn patrol sessions, fueled by strong coffee and visions of big fish on a long rod.

Keep 'Em Wet - All Fish Like It

So proud to have another piece appear in the July 2019 New Jersey issue of On The Water magazine.

The fish gods must've picked up a copy because kingfish have shown in good numbers for surf anglers this summer.

I hope my story put readers in "grin and nod mode" and helped them connect to a few more fish.

Date: 7/2/19  

Time: 4:45 - 8:45 am

Location: New Jersey Beachfront

Tide and Weather: Dead High 7:34 am, Sunny Skies, Air Temperature 70-75, Water Temperature 72, Water Very Clear, Light WSW Wind and Flat Surf, New Moon 1%, Pressure 29.88 and Falling

Catch: This was a really fun morning. The beach was full of life. Schools of rainfish were in the water and both calico and mole crab molts littered the wrack line. July 2nd marked a New Moon.

Calico Crab Molt

It felt like gamefish were on the prowl. And fish hunting crabs along the beach lip were willing to take a popper.

I love trout fishing in running water. I've read that trout holding in shallow water are more likely to rise to a dry fly than fish holding in deep water. Here's why. In shallow water, all a fish has to do is tip its fins slightly to rise to the surface and eat. But any fish in a deep pool may have to move 4 or 5 feet to reach the surface. That's a bigger ask.

I think you can apply the same logic to striped bass in the surf. Any bass feeding along the beach lip or in the nearshore trough is still in relatively shallow water. Even if that fish is looking for crabs in the sand, it doesn't take much to dart up and eat a surface plug.

During this session, I caught a striped bass and a bluefish on a popper. I also had a ton of other swipes that got my heart going.

First Fish Of The Morning
This Fish Hit The Plug Less Than 3 Feet From The Dry Sand
Little Blue

Then I switched over to a slim metal and hooked a fluke. This pushed me to fish a fluke rig with Gulp! and I caught several more.

Finally, while fluking, a kingfish grabbed my jig. I switched up again and attached a kingfish rig to the end of my line. I threaded small pieces of Gulp! Sandworm on each hook. Using this rig I wrapped up the morning with three or four kingfish.

Fly-fishing isn't as hard as some make it out to be, but it does demand your full attention, so if you're worried that your investments are going south or that your wife is cheating on you, chances are you won't fish well. It sounds like heresy, but there really are days when you should have stayed home to take care of business instead of going fishing.

-John Gierach, A Fly Rod of Your Own

I'm considering framing this quotation and putting it up in my office.

Spring is tough. 2019 was no different. As a teacher, by April I'm running on a quarter tank and my students are itching to run out the door. It's not an ideal combo. I have to work extra hard to remain patient, plan good lessons, and have productive days. This makes fishing sessions, especially during the week, tough. Like Gierach said, some days it's best to stay home and take care of business.

My dad put it to us another way: First things first.

Anyway, I still managed to complete a few springtime rituals.

I caught my first striped bass of 2019 on April 7. I was next to my brother on the sod banks of Raritan Bay. Catching that first fish by fishing bait on the bay's mudflats is a ritual I've grown to love. It marks the start of a new season. On April 22, I coaxed a few beachfront stripers to eat a new lure. And on May 16, I traveled back up to the bayshore hunting for bluefish. I scored. That didn't happen for me last year.

April 7 Screenshot

In my area, the first striped bass each season are caught in Raritan Bay. The drill is to wait for the bay to reach 45 degrees and then fish bait on the mudflats. Above is a screenshot from the night my brother and I fished, April 7. I threw sandworms using a rig I learned about at Surf Day a few years back. Here's a simple sketch of the rig from my notebook.

Raritan Bay Bait Rig: I learned about this rig by attending a seminar at Surf Day that focused on fishing Raritan Bay. The presenters were a father and son team of Raritan Bay locals.

There are a few benefits to this rig. First, the weight is on the bottom, so it casts well. Also, once the sinker settles and you get tight, you're in direct contact with the baits. Meaning, there's no weight between you and the baits. This makes feeling subtle hits, which are common in the spring, much easier. But the best thing, and this was explained to us at Surf Day, is that both baits are held off the bottom a bit. This keeps the baits from getting buried in the mud bottom. Instead, each bait is held up and in the face of cruising fish. It worked.

My First Striped Bass of 2019

Then on April 22, Earth Day, I caught a few small striped bass in my local surf. I hooked these fish using a new lure that I'm really excited about, the 360GT Searchbait. It comes in a wide variety of sizes and colors.

Storm 360GT Searchbait

The 4.5" size is my favorite. The 4.5" paddle tail body fits both the 1/4 and 3/8 oz. Storm 360GT jigheads.

What's important is that these jig weights are just the jighead alone. When you thread the body on the jig, the overall weight jumps up considerably. The 1/4 oz. jig with the 4.5" body weighs over 1/2 oz. and the 3/8 oz. jig with the 4.5" body weighs over 3/4 oz. I can easily throw both of these lures with my summer surf rod that is rated 1/2 oz. - 2 oz. These are great little lures and some fish fully inhaled them.

Small Striped Bass That Inhaled The Storm 360GT Searchbait
(I was able to pop it free with pliers.)

Finally, on May 16, I got my bluefish fix.

When Raritan Bay's water temperature reaches 55 degrees and stays there, there's a good chance the blues will arrive in force. What's interesting is that mid-May seems to be the time everything comes together. Looking back, I've experienced really memorable Raritan Bay bluefish bites on 5/15/14, 5/16/15, and now 5/16/19.

High Tide Raritan Bay Bluefish
High Tide Raritan Bay Bluefish

What made the 5/16/19 trip unique is that I was wetsuiting. It was dead high tide and my suit allowed me to frog kick across a creek mouth and fully separate myself from the crowd. Above are some of the fish I managed to catch and the photos below show what I saw to the right and left of me.

Looking To My Right
Looking To My Left

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So proud to have my writing in a magazine I've read for years. On The Water Magazine's Angler's Almanac for 2019 is out and will be on shelves until the end of March. Consider picking one up!

Angler's Almanac Cover
A Fly-Fisher's Panfish Defense

To celebrate and honor these fish, I took advantage of a warm Saturday (1/5) and threw a soft hackle at a local pond. It felt great to cast and a few little jewels came to hand.

Remember, ice fishermen connect through the ice. So if we get a warm day and there's open water, you can panfish with a fly rod all winter long.

Those fin rays remind me of the summer sun.

Date: 12/1/18

Time: 1:00 - 4:00 pm

Location: New Jersey Beachfront

Tide and Weather: Dead High 2:05 pm, Partly Cloudy Skies, Air Temperature 44, Water Temperature 48, Light NNE Wind and Small Surf, Moon: 41 %, Pressure 30.15 and Stable 

Catch: Sometimes you get what you ask for. I started this trip mumbling to myself, "All I want is one fish." That's what I got. A small, healthy striped bass that shot off when I put him back. The body shape of a striper is beautiful. This fish was handsome and full.

I started south of the stretch I usually fish. For three hours I fished and walked, and fished and walked, and fished and walked, north. I worked through one shore town and into the next.

Then I noticed three surfcasters a few beaches north. They were on top of each other and focussed. This meant fish. When I reached them, they welcomed me to get in on the action. I gave them a wide berth and started casting. I eventually had a solid grab and landed one. After fishing a bit more, I looked up and noticed they left. The bite had clearly slowed. I caught the tail end of it, but I'm so glad I did.           

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My last four trips have been skunks. I fished my local beach and rocks on 10/15, 10/21, 11/8, and 11/21. This time of year I plug for striped bass. I'd be happy to hook anything that'll eat.

On Monday, 10/15, I scouted during the late afternoon. Then I came back and fished at night. Nothing. One highlight is below. During the afternoon scout, I saw this small blitz. Birds were so packed and distant they looked like bugs. Unfortunately, they never moved to the beach and broke up in minutes.

10/21, 11/8, and 11/21 were all morning trips. I fished in the dark into first light. On 10/21, I did find a dead bunker on the beach. While surfing this fall, I've shared the lineup with single, belly up bunker more than once. This fall, a friend has caught huge fish snagging and dropping bunker from boats, so it all lines up.

Like a lot of surfcasters, I fish teaser rigs in the fall. It hasn't happened recently, but I've caught plenty of fish on them.

I've been tying for years. And after tying trout flies down to size 22, tying bucktail teasers on 1/0 and 2/0 hooks feels like a vacation.

In this post, I wanted to share my philosophy when tying teasers and also highlight a material that's vital, but often taken for granted.

In his striped bass fly fishing book, Stripers and Streamers, Ray Bondorew points out that many baitfish are translucent. Because of this fact, he warns to not overdress the fly. Meaning, go light on the bucktail. I've taken that to heart. He also notes that most fish, whether bait or gamefish, have a dark back and a light belly.Those two points guide my teaser tying. The only thing I'll add is this: I tie them short to imitate small bait like rainfish, and long to imitate larger, slimmer baits like sand eels. All I'm going for is a general match. I think that's enough.

The smaller teasers.

The materials, going from the top/back of the fly to the bottom/belly: 3-4 peacock herls, olive bucktail, a few strands of crystal flash and finally, white bucktail. After whip finishing the head, I stick on eyes and coat the head in UV resin and cure it. If I can, I also put them out in the sun for a bit.

The longer version.

The longer version wet. Not a bad sand eel.

The vital but overlooked material I mentioned earlier is thread. You gotta admit, after a hook, it's the most important fly tying material. And when tying big flies, using thick thread is a game changer. 

When starting the fly, heavier thread helps you cover those big hook shanks quicker. And when tying, you can really crank down on materials with confidence. Heavy thread won't snap like the light stuff. It really helps.

On the flip side, it's also a good idea to go with a thinner thread when tying tiny flies, like midges for trout. The thin thread helps minimize thread bulk. Something that can become a problem when you're tying the really small stuff, like 20s and smaller.     

Anyway, most of my trout flies are tied with 70 denier thread. My streamers and saltwater teasers are tied with 140 denier thread. If I had heavier, I'd use it. But owning 140 denier thread in white, olive, and black covers most of my streamer and teaser bases.

As you can see, the higher the denier number, the heavier the thread. The ought sizes are a bit more confusing. 10/0 is lighter than 8/0 and so on. 8/0 is equivalent to 70 denier. I attached a video that explains it better than I ever could. As usual, New Jersey's own Tim Flagler and Tightlines nail it. To me, his videos are literally perfect.

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I've found a new tradition. An annual, 9th inning keeper hunt from the sand and rocks.

Hurricane Florence had come and gone. We had powerful surf and northeast wind for days, but thankfully, the Jersey Shore was largely spared.

The idea came to me while surfing.

I found myself in the lineup checking my watch. I had to get home. Waiting for one last ride wasn't happening. I ended up bodyboarding in and got off on the sandbar. The water on the bar was waist deep. With my hand on my board floating next to me, I waded towards the sand. Eventually, I stepped off the sandbar and into the nearshore trough. That step put me in almost neck-deep water. Keeping my chin up, I slogged west and finally stepped up the soft beach lip and onto the sand.

My fish brain activated. It was clear that a lot of sand had been moved by the recent swell. The ocean had carved out new, deep holes and drops. Holes that would hold fluke.

I knew the upcoming week was the last week of fluke season. I also knew that dead high tide fell in the afternoon or evening all week long.

Think of it, I was looking at a week filled with warm air and water, a deep trough running right next to the beach, and afternoon flood tides. This would be prime time to stick a late-season keeper fluke from the beach. And all I'd have to wear on my bottom half were boardies.

I ended up fishing three different days. On average, each trip was 90 minutes or less. There was swell running every trip which made for a lot of current and whitewater to fish.

On the first day, a small bass ate my Tinman Wobble Jig and Gulp! Mullet in an out-suck. I also caught a few short fluke and they coughed up the summer menu.

The menu consisted of calico and mole crabs. The mole crab pictured had spent some time in a fluke belly.

I did stick that keeper fluke. It came on the second trip. This fish ate the jig and the teaser. This was a first for me. When I landed the fish, I unhooked the teaser and looked for my jig. Then I realized the jig was down his throat. Luckily, he was 18.5 inches long. At the end of my third trip, I found myself at a local inlet. The wind was honking out of the south. I watched as a fisherman, standing on the south jetty, fought and landed a false albacore. They were popping up here and there and a handful of guys were on them.

As I walked back to my car, it was the perfect ending to the summer. It was a clear signal. The fall is here.

Date: 8/24/18

Time: 3:30 - 5:30 pm

Location: Local Lake

Weather: Sunny and Warm, Air Temperature 80 - 85, Water Temperature 75+, Water Was Cloudy Brown, Maybe a Foot of Visibility or a Little More, Wind SSE 7 mph, Moon 93% Visible, Pressure 30.21 and Rising

Catch and Thoughts: After fumbling, losing flies, and feeding my feet to local mosquitoes, this turned out to be a great trip.

These largemouth were a year in the making. Last summer I hooked a bluegill on this lake. When it was close to me and my SUP, a solid bass came straight up from the bottom and took a swipe. That fish got burned in my brain.

I'm not surprised that quality largemouth bass are in this spot, but they're tough to reach with a fly rod and floating line. This lake is large, deep, and dark. The water's never clear. And even though there's ample shoreline structure, I believe the bass stay deep, especially in the heat of summer. For example, when fishing panfish poppers first thing in the morning, you'd expect a bass every once in a while. That has yet to happen. 

On this trip I left the 5 weight at home. The floating line stayed back too. I committed to an 8 weight, a full sinking line, and a 6 foot 1X tapered leader. My plan was to use unweighted streamers and strip them deep. After struggling for a solid hour or more, I found some structure and had a take.

I'm really excited about this presentation. Mostly because I know I'm showing fish something they rarely, if ever, see.

It's the line that's sinking the fly, not the fly itself. When retrieved, these unweighted streamers track basically straight. When stripped, they're not jigging up and down because of dumbbell eyes, a bead or a conehead. And the fly isn't getting constantly pulled to the surface by a floating line. Also, with no weight on the shank, the feathers and bucktail are left to breathe and flow. These flies scream life. That's a different look compared to a crankbait or a jointed plastic plug that you'd throw on spinning or baitcasting gear.

The two fish pictured ate a fly that was given to me by my friend and coworker Kevin Freeman. His flies are beautiful. He knows nature and has a really artistic eye. I'm totally into his color combinations. This particular fly was a dead ringer for a small bluegill. I dig it. So did the fish. Mission accomplished.

Date: 8/14/18

Time: 5:45 - 8 am

Location: New Jersey Beachfront

Tide and Weather: Dead Low 4:08 am, Partly Cloudy, Air Temperature 69, Water Temperature 75, Light SW Wind, Clear Water, Clean Knee to Waist High Surf, Moon 8% Visible

Catch: I was up and out before 5. My plan was to surf. After pulling up to the beach, I jumped out of the car and went down to the water's edge. In the false dawn light, the surf looked less than knee high. I debated what to do. Restless, I decided to scrap my original plan and fish. I texted my surfing buddy, shot home, and switched up my gear.

I ended up regretting that call. As the sun rose and the tide filled in, the surf looked better and better. Maybe it was the tide push or maybe my eyes were just off, but man, clean knee to waist high surf broke throughout my fishing session.Anyway, since I got a late start, I decided to fluke the beach and jetties. I ended up with 3 fluke. All shorts. The biggest measured 15.5 inches. I fished a simple teaser rig. The main lure is a favorite of mine for surf fluking - a TinMan 3/8 oz. Wobble Jig with a 4" white Gulp! mullet threaded on it. You can see it below the fish above. The fish pictured ate the teaser. The teaser is 15" above the jig and is just a baitholder hook with another Gulp! mullet threaded on it.

The third baitfish on the rock is an actual fish the fluke coughed up. It looks like a common killifish and shows this fluke may have recently spent time in a back bay or tidal creek before getting hooked in the surf. I don't believe fluke are that picky, but when looking at the picture you can't help but notice that 4" Gulp! mullets are a pretty good match.