August 31, 2014

2014 New Jersey Inshore Fun (Day 3)

We had planned to start the day earlier, but the lure of a free hot breakfast and some time to sleep in was too tempting to get up early.

Luckily, we were able to find a parking spot at Sandy Hook even with our late arrival. Although the 15 minute hike isn't very long, the heat and humidity made our journey felt longer and much more strenuous.

When we arrived at the beach, there were already two groups set up in the area we wanted to fish. We moved to the left of the group in the same location where Michael and I had fished on the last trip. I helped Eli set up so he can target Summer Flounder. In the meantime, Michael strung up some mackerel and other baits to toss into the water to attract perhaps a shark or ray into our area.

When Eli was all set up and fishing, I took a look at the soaking bait stringer and saw a lot of Atlantic Silverside swarmed over the bait. On the bottom, there were some fish that I thought might be goby species. With the potential of a new species, I rigged up a tanago hook on my 9' surf rod (the lightest rod I brought that morning) and caught an Atlantic Silverside.

Fishing was very slow for the first hour or two with zero bites. I continued to try for the "goby" in the wash until something a little bigger took my bait. It was a Striped Killifish!

Since fishing was slow, I put the Striped Killifish on one of Eli's rod to make a squid/minnow combo. Later, Eli would received a hit on that combo as he was reeling in his line to check his bait.

Meanwhile, as I was helping Eli check his rods and putting on fresh wait, Michael rigged his rod with a tanago hook to target the Striped Killifish. It took a while before he caught something other than Atlantic Silverside, but it wasn't a Striped Killifish. It was a Northern Kingcroaker!

We finally figured out what those "goby" were. It made sense now since I saw those Kingcroaker swimming up onto the beach as the wave wash in, and swimming out as the wave receded. It was typical Kingcroaker behaviour.

I turned my attention again to these Kingcroaker. While Eli was checking bait, I caught an Atlantic Silverside so I put the silverside on Eli's rod. Summer Flounder loves these silversides and this one is as fresh as you can get. It wasn't long before I noticed the rod was bending over and Eli reeled in his lifer Summer Flounder.

Although I can see the Kingcroaker swimming about, they were simply not attracted to my bait. I took off the little washed out bit of clam and put on a fresh bit. Using fresh bait, I was immediately swarmed by Atlantic Silverside. I placed the bait on the bottom so that I can be washed by the waves. After a 5 minute wait, Michael and I simultaneously hooked up.

Northern Kingcroaker (Menticirrhus saxatilis) - Species #410

This was the smallest Kingcroaker I had ever caught!

Fishing was really slow except for the Atlantic Silverside. Eli did catch two Summer Flounder but no Striped Searobin. Everyone that passed by reported very poor fishing. By 1:30pm, we decided to end the session.

Initially, I planned to pick up some rods from the Tackle Direct retail store. However, the GPS took us on a long, roundabout route and we couldn't get to the store before closing. Instead, we grabbed dinner early and proceeded to spend the afternoon/evening at Longport Pier to try for sharks and Tautog.

After getting two dozen of Green Crabs and a couple of frozen mackerel, we arrived at Longport Pier just before sunset. The wind was really howling and whitecaps were in the bay. The water was brown and it did not look promising for shark fishing. But we bought bait and we were the least we could do was try to fish in the poor condition.

The entire evening was basically a bust. None of us had a bite at all. The rough water and wind brought along piles of sea lettuce. We had thought about fishing in a protected bay, but since it would take at least an hour to arrive at our new location and it was in the opposite direction from our hotel, we decided to cut our loss and end the night early at 10pm.

This was basically the end of our fishing. Originally, we had planned some fishing on Monday morning as well as a quick stop on our way home for Cutlip Minnow and Tessellated Darter, but since we had to pick up my rods from Tackle Direct in the morning, it eliminated our fishing time.

Overall, the weekend was so-so with slow fishing from shore. I was extremely fortunate to experienced good lifer hunting that morning on the party boat. But everyone caught a few lifers so it was not entirely a lost cause. There was so much potential that never materialized for Eli and I felt a bit ashamed I couldn't be a better guide. Hopefully Eli will have a chance to fish the area for Flathead Catfish, Tautog and other species that is high on his list.

August 30, 2014

2014 New Jersey Inshore Fun (Day 2)

The 5:30am alarm came too quickly. Since it was the Labour Day weekend, I was expecting a lot of people fishing on the party boats and I wanted to get to get in line early for a spot. After getting my gear ready, I parted with Eli and Michael and walked over to the marina. I arranged for Eli and Michael to fish Manasquan Inlet while I partake on the party boat fishing. I've read reports of Tautog, Grey Triggerfish and Striped Bass caught at Manasquan Inlet. All three targets would be lifers for both Eli and Michael.

There were two others that had arrived already, but luckily I managed to get the port stern corner spot. Yes! The person on the starboard corner had 5 rods ranging from a trolling rig to a light spinning outfit. He was a regular on the boat. After exchanging a few pleasantries, we chatted about lures and rigs needed to target Atlantic Bonito and Little Tunny. Bert is very knowledgeable and he had a whole tackle bag of lures and jigs for anything that you may encounter on the Queen Mary party boat. Diamond jig and Swedish Pimple in the 1-1.5oz sizes were the staples, while he also had a mix of swimbaits, dropshot plastics and bucktails that he could pitch to any fish breezing through.

I only had smaller diamond jigs, so when the deckhands were free, I asked one of them to bring me a couple of the 1.5oz hammered diamond jigs. For $4 each, they were well worth the price if I can catch my targets with them.

The Queen Mary had been catching limits Bluefish, numerous Atlantic Chub Mackerel and some Atlantic Bonito in August. On some days, anglers may be able to catch a handful of Atlantic Bonito each. Since I had already caught Bluefish in the past, Atlantic Bonito was my top target on this trip despite the greater uncertainty of the catch, while Atlantic Chub Mackerel was a good "fall back" species. The bite had slowed down a lot in the past two days, so I was quite worried whether I would catch any fish, nevermind any new species, at all.

There was a sign that warned against the use of braided line on the boat. Not only was braid a nightmare to untangle, the keen eyed Bonito and Little Tunny could also avoid baits tied to braid. So I added a topshot of 15lb mono followed by 4 feet of 15lb fluoro. I had two rods with me and was conflicted about which lures to tie onto each rod. At the end, I settled for a 1.5oz diamond jig for the slightly heavier UglyStik/Baitrunner 4500 combo, while I tied on a swimbait on the lighter 9' rod. I figured this is a good mix of subtle and aggressive presentation on hand.

The boat was scheduled to depart at 7:30am. However the boat was still relatively empty, which was a big surprise for a long weekend. Finally, we departed with around 30 anglers on the boat, leaving lots of room for everyone to fish.

It was about a 45min boat ride until the Captain Dave slowed down and set anchor. Low tide was at 6am, so the tide was moving a little now. The fish were slow to respond, since no one hooked into any fish in the first few minutes. Finally Bert landed a Bluefish, and another person landed a Striped Searobin. Hm...searobin, eh?

I didn't have any weights or baits that I could use to catch searobin, since I was geared up for bonito and mackerel. We had planned to fish for searobin at Sandy Hook the next day, so I ignored the temptation and focused on zipping jigs for the bonito. Basically, I was casting the jigs out 20 feet from the boat, waited for the jigs to hit bottom, and reel as fast as I could while twitching the rod tip here and there to impart a bit of darting motion.

Two drops later, something hit my jig at mid depth. It gave up a nice little fight and I was expecting a Bluefish when I saw the wing like pectoral fin. No way...

Striped Searobin (Prionotus evolans) - Species #405

I honest can't remember how deep we were fishing...perhaps in 30 to 40 feet of water. It was a complete surprise that a searobin would follow a fast moving jig and hit it so far off bottom. Well, at least at the time I thought it was strange.

After the nice bonus lifer, I focused on the bonito again. Since the fishing was rather slow, the captain signaled for everyone to reel up and we made a little move.

At the second spot, it was just a little bit bettter. A few people brought in Bluefish. My jig was largely ignored for a few drops except for a Bluefish that followed to the surface. Just as I was debating whether to change jigs or not, I had just dropped the lure on the bottom and made two cranks of the handle when a fish grabbed the jig. Initially, the fish came up fairly easily and I had deep colour within seconds...until the fish decided to sound deep and gave a pretty good run. I thought I hooked into a larger Bluefish after the first run, but the fish made a second strong run, and then a third, and a fourth, and a fifth. This was no Bluefish. I didn't want to get too excited since the fish was running all over the place and I had to follow it around the stern. At last, after a little 5min battle, I had the fish on the surface. In typical fashion, this fish did a few circles before we could get it into the net. YES!!! I did it!

Atlantic Bonito (Sarda sarda) - Species #406

Freaking awesome mini tuna!!!

Atlantic Bonito was my top target for this trip. Now that I caught it, a huge weight simply melted away off my shoulders. Added to the fact that the Striped Searobin was my second top target, I was in disbelief. It wasn't even 9am yet and I'm completely happy if I don't catch another new species for the rest of the trip. From here onwards, it was simply fishing for the sake of fun...lifer hunting was officially a secondary objective.

On some trips, I have species that resisted capture the whole way. Despite admirable efforts, sacrificing sleep, water and food to put all my energy and time into the pursuit, I would end up utterly frustrated and defeated. And then there are days like this day...where it seems I could simply do no wrong.

On our third stop, I saw someone pulled up an amberjack species. It was a bit far away for me to get a positive ID, but I heard the mates said "Almaco Jack". Well, I've yet to catch one of them. So I started to zip my jig through the water column vertically while twitching the rod tip. This isn't exactly vertically jigging, but close enough I guess.

After a few drops, I was picked up while my jig was about 10 feet off bottom. It was a strong little fish, certainly not as strong as the bonito, but it still gave up a decent struggle. When the fish came up, there was another one following the hooked fish closely. I could see the dark band that crossed the eye and ended just in front of the spiny dorsal fin. It was a amberjack species. The trouble was...which was it?

I've caught Greater Amberjack and Samsonfish before. Anything else would be a new species. Since there is no Samsonfish in the Atlantic, I simply need to rule out Greater Amberjack. A quick look of the maxilla helped to identify the species. Greater Amberjack maxilla is rounded with a sharply angled "boot" which is unique to that species. This fish in question has a flat maxilla. In addition, the maxilla reached the middle of the eye. This fish has 12 gill rakers, a bluish tint on the back, and white caudal fin tips. All of these characteristics indicated I had caught a Banded Rudderfish!

Banded Rudderfish (Seriola zonata) - Species #407

It can't get better than this...or so I thought.

On my last trip to New Jersey, Michael randomly caught two Northern Searobins at a pier where we were fishing for sharks. Despite my efforts to catch one on two separate nights, I simply could not catch any of them. It was rather deflating since Michael caught 5 Striped Searobin and 2 Northern Searobin on the same day...and I was fishing right beside him only to get snubbed by those pesky fish.

Here I was simply fishing for the fun now...and I saw the guy behind me catch a small Northern Searobin. I switch out the swimbait and tied on a 3/4oz diamond jig with a plastic trailer hook. The plastic tube trailer imitates the sandeel which lives on the bottom and the favoured prey for many bottom species. Assuming that these searobin would chase a lure, I worked the lure up the water column in the same manner that caught my Striped Searobin. A few drops later, I hooked a fish. It wasn't what I was looking for, but still fun to catch a Bluefish on this trip. Many others would be happy to simply catch a boat load of these, but I like variety.

Instead of aggressively jigging the lure up the water column, I simply bounced the jig on bottom, just enough to flutter the lure inches off bottom with the occasional hard pound to kick up some sand. This is similar to the way we fished for Lake Whitefish on Lake Simcoe. It took maybe a dozen bounce before the lure was hit. Sometimes, it is amazing how well everything came together as a plan...

Northern Searobin (Prionotus carolinus) - Species #408

This morning of fishing had gone way beyond any expectation!

But I'm still missing one potential target - the Atlantic Chub Mackerel. The mates suggested that I focus on the top 20 feet of the water column for mackerel. I started fishing the lighter diamond jig from mid depth to the surface, but for a long, long while nothing bit.

Then, it was like someone flipped the switch. Actually, it was the tide change. At around 11:30am, the tide had reached slack high and it was all quiet. We made 4-5 moves and nothing really bit on any of the spots. I caught 3 other Banded Rudderfish and one other Northern Searobin, while watching a few bluefish chased my lure up to the surface only to turn around at the last moment. Perhaps the coolest thing was to see two searobin followed another person's jig all the way to the surface, then they came over to circled my jig that was dancing just under the surface.

We were running out of time with about an hour left to the day. On the second last spot, the mates took out a block of frozen silverside to thaw. At our very last stop, they started chumming the water with the silversides and a school of Atlantic Chub Mackerel surround the boat!

Initially, I could not get these fish to hit. I kept switching lures until I finally tied on a small 1" Swedish Pimple. I discovered that the fish would only hit if the lure dropped a few feet below. If the lure was too close to the surface, they were attracted to the flash and vibration but they were too shy to bite. Once I figured it out, it was pretty easy catching these fish.

Altantic Chub Mackerel (Scomber colias) - Species #409

We needed some bait for shark fishing on Sunday night, so I got to work. Tipping the lure with a small chunk of mackerel that the mates had cut up, these mackerel were biting on demand. They pull hard for such a small fish, bending my 9' surf/salmon rod double and burn out a good amount of drag. Yeah, it was really easy fishing, but who wouldn't like fast and furious action like this?

In the midst of all the mackerel, something larger followed one of the lures to the boat. At first, someone yelled "Shark"...but we soon saw a flash of sapphire, emerald and gold. Feeding in the chum was a 20lb dorado...and it was right at my feet!

The few of us now at the stern were frantically trying to pitch something out to the dorado. I had tied my swimbait back onto my UglyStik so I pitched it out in the fish's path. The fish circled the few lures that were presented, but at the end it took Bert's drifting chunk of mackerel that was on his 8lb gear. Oh boy...this was going to be something interesting!

Bert went for a ride around the boat. The fish went back and forth the stern a couple of times before it took Bert over to the starboard side. I was too busy catching mackerel so I didn't really follow the action. From what I heard, the fish went around the bow and almost got around the anchor rope of another boat that was nearby. There was a bit of drama with the other boat but Bert managed to keep the fish on. After what seemed like 15 minutes, there was finally some cheering from the bow and Bert landed the fish. Up to this point, I had the jackpot fish for most of the morning. Although the dorado shouldn't really qualify for the jackpoint (Bluefish and Bonito only), I'm happy to be defeated by such an epic catch...come on...20lb dorado on 8lb have to give it some respect.

After filing my cooler with a dozen mackerel and releasing another bunch of them, it was finally time to head into port. The wind picked up and the clouds moved in, so it was a bit rougher on the ride back. The captained slowed the boat down a touch and we got back about 20 minutes late from our expected 2pm arrival. Eli and Michael was already waiting for me at the parking lot. We hurried to pack my gear into the car, and we were off for our second objective for the day.

On the way, Michael and Eli reported they had both caught Northern Puffer, Bluefish and Black Seabass. Michael only found one Cunner. Despite using Green Crabs, neither of them were able to catch any Tautog, although both of them had plenty of crabs stolen off the hooks. Michael said a spear fisherman reported seeing many small Tautog in the area.

Eli wanted to catch some micro sunfish, so it was a drive to our special lake to find some Bluespotted Sunfish, Banded Sunfish and Mud Sunfish. The fishing was rather slow on this day, and it took a while for Eli to finally catch a Bluespotted Sunfish. After I've accomplished my role as a guide, I went to look for Blackbanded Sunfish around the weeds. I did see two juvenile Blackbanded Sunfish that was about 1" long, but they were not interested to play.

Meanwhile, Michael announced he had found some darters in the sandy area. I went to join him as he tried to identify the darter in his micro tank. These darters were small, with many less than 1" long. I had a few took the bait but it was very difficult setting the hook into their tiny mouths. After trying for an hour, I decided to walk around with Eli to help him find a Mud Sunfish. Despite our efforts, fishing was simply too poor. None of us caught any Banded Sunfish or Mud Sunfish and we were running out of time. So unfortunately, Eli only caught 1 of the 3 targets here.

We were running a bit behind schedule. After a short stop for lunch/dinner, we tried to arrive in Philadelphia in time to catch some sunfish to use for Flathead Catfish bait. However, we got there well after sunset and in the fading light, the sunfish were not biting.

Since I didn't get a PA fishing license, I left the fish all to Michael and Eli. I simply lend my rod for Eli to use so he can deploy three baits for catfish. Luckily, Michael started to make a couple of bait and we sent a small live panfish out for bait, while the other two rods was rigged with chunks of the fresh mackerel.

Our friend Matt had said that in order to catch Flathead Catfish, you needed live sunfish. Indeed, the fresh mackerel was ignored, while the only live panfish took a short strike.

Michael managed to catch a small Green Sunfish a little later and we soaked that for a while. Finally, Michael caught a palm size Bluegill Sunfish and we switched out one of the mackerel for the live Bluegill. It was maybe 15 minutes later when Eli noticed the rod tip frantically bouncing. The clicker was soon screaming and we were certain it was a Flathead Catfish. Unfortunately, the circle hook didn't set despite Eli doing everything correctly. What was even more unfortunate was the missing Bluegill Sunfish on the hook.

Without any good live bait, we fished until 10:30pm and called it a night. It was exciting to get two strikes, but a bit deflating that we couldn't make good on both hits.

Arriving at the hotel, all of us were dog tired. It wasn't long before our eyes were shut.

August 29, 2014

2014 New Jersey Inshore Fun (Day 1)

After our last New Jersey and Pennsylvania trip, Eli said he would love to catch some of the species we found. We arranged the Labour Day long weekend for such an occasion and made the best possible plan for two days of fishing.

Michael and I left Toronto on Friday around noon and arrived in the Kingston area around 3pm. Eli mentioned he had caught some interesting micros here in the past, so we decided to check out the area for new lifers.

When we arrive at the Rideau Canal, the water was low and clear and we could see some micros among the weeds and on the surface. It took a few tries to get the shiners to bite, but we did catch some. Michael and I thought they might be Pugnose Shiner or Bridle Shiner...but once I had a better look at the pictures at home and comparing notes on various guides, I'm pretty sure these were juvenile Golden Shiner.

The micros skittering on the surface were stumping us. They would spook easily most of the time. Even when we managed to present our little flake of worm in front of the moving school, they largely ignored our bait. With some surface feeding micros, sometimes you can get them to bite by dragging the bait on the surface, as if it was an insect moving on the surface film of the water. I tried that for a little bit but it seemed to scare the fish even more.

By chance, I happened to lift the bait just as a school was passing along. The vertical movement of the bait on the surface attracted the attention of two fish and they gave chase. Eli said these fish likes to give chase, so I started dancing the bait on the surface film, trying to keep it skipping on the water held by the surface tension, but occasionally breaking the surface just a bit as if it was an insect hatching or lifting off the water.

When a school finally come around, the skipping definitely initiated an aggressive feeding pattern. A few of the fish swarm around the bait trying to attack it. A handful of attempts later, I finally hooked one...and it was a Brook Silverside!

Brook Silverside (Labidesthes sicculus) - Species #404

I saw a carp feeding very shallow. It was quite wary of us, but if I stayed low and approached slowly, I could present a bait to the fish without spooking it. Since we were micro fishing, I only took my tanago rod and the ultralight with me. The UL rod would be underpowered for this 8lb carp, but it was the only rod I had. I tied a #8 baitholder hook to the 6lb mono and sacrificed the only worm I had. Gently pitching the worm ahead of the carp, I waited patiently for the carp to find my bait. Finally, I could see the carp suck up the worm, gave it one chew, and spat out my bait just as quickly. It was a very smart carp.

Every time the carp came around again, I presented the worm to it. However, it was already smart to my approach and I could tell it was able to see my line. Eventually, we ran out of time and we had to leave. Eli was meeting us at 7pm.

We were planning to carpool with Eli so I needed a safe place to leave the car for the weekend. Thanks to my friend Shane, I was able to leave the car at his parents' house in the Prescott area. By 8pm, we loaded up the car and we were ready to head south. Michael and I volunteered to split the drive with Eli, but he insisted on driving the whole way all night. Finally, we arrived in Point Pleasant, NJ at 3:30am. I had just enough time for a 2 hour snooze.

August 4, 2014

2014 Pennsylvania and New Jersey (Day 4)

The 8am alarm was annoying...but we had to get up and get going. This was basically a driving day, but we arranged with Anthony to fish for an hour or two together. He had a spot loaded with Cutlip Minnow. Although Cutlip Minnow is found in Ontario, they are a Species At Risk and their number and distribution is rather spotty. It was easy to say yes when Anthony offered to help us add Cutlip Minnow onto the list.

Everything was pretty smooth in the morning and we arrived at Anthony's house by 12pm. After a quick gas fill up and grabbing some bait, we were off on a twisty gravel road just outside of Scranton. It was a pretty fun drive, but a bit scary at the same time when cars came flying head on in the other lane.

This particular creek was on the site of Anthony's previous work location. He knew it like the back of his hand. As soon as we arrived, we could see a good number of minnows in the small creek. Anthony said the ratio between River Chub and Cutlip Minnow was about 5 to 1.

Indeed, my first 3 fish were River Chub, but the fourth fish was finally a Cutlip Minnow!

Cutlip Minnow (Exoglossum maxillingua) - Species #403

The lips that gave the fish its name

Michael somehow, on his first cast, caught a Rosyface Shiner. Shines species usually school together, but strangely, this was the one and only Rosyface Shiner in the creek.

I commented that this creek was great habitat and asked Anthony if he has seen or caught darters in the past. Anthony said he has never seen them in the creek, but perhaps he didn't know what to look for.

As I was chasing the non-existent Rosyface Shiner, I noticed something moved on bottom. Usually that could be either a crayfish or a darter. In this case, the mystery fish was a darter!

We had no idea which species this might be, so I was trying hard to catch one for ID. I missed two good bites and the remaining darters were not very cooperative.

Anthony had never caught a darter before, so he strapped his baby girl on the carrier and began fishing. Most of the darters were quite small and they would not take the bait or the tanago hooks. Finally, I spotted a big darter under a rock. It came out to check out the bait and darted around. I waved Anthony over and we tried to position the bait in front of the darter. Darters are very wary fish, often getting spooked by movement around them, or by vibration or sounds that send them into cover. I suggested that he should position the bait as close as possible, then leave the bait sitting to allow the darter to find the baited hook. It was difficult to resist the urge to set the hook too early, but Anthony was finally able to catch one of the darters.

The fish was a Tessellated Darter. Anthony was excited to have caught a darter, especially in a creek where he had fished multiple times in the past and never saw the darters.

When the baby girl got a bit fussy and hungry, Anthony bid us goodbye and returned home. We didn't stay too long after since we had a 6-hour drive home. Just like the entire weekend, the drive was fine until we reached the border. It was a long weekend and people were returning to Canada. We were caught in an hour long wait at the border. After we crossed the border, it was smooth sailing until Burlington. Apparently, Burlington received 125mm of rain in the past 12 hours due to some thunderstorms. Some of the streets were flooded, including a portion of Highway 403. We had to find our own detour around the closed sections...and even our detour was flooded in a couple of spots. This added another 20 minutes of our drive. When we were almost home, there was another accident on the 401 and the one and only exit I needed to reach home was closed. Traffic came to a crawl and we were stuck for a while until we could detour home. At the end, we rolled into my apartment parking lot at 11pm when we should have been home by 9pm.

This entire weekend expedition with nothing short of frustration and delays, but it was also nothing short of spectacular and surprises. We were happy surprised by the sheer amount of micro sunfish and the ease of catching them in the lake. We were fortunate that most of our targets were met and the big Flathead Catfish was definitely icing on the cake. The only regret I had was not catching any of the searobin species which was supposed to be plentiful and easy. I guess it gave me an excuse to return to New Jersey to catch one in the future.

I have to thank Anthony, Matt and Pat again for their hospitality and for being a part of our success. Can't wait to fish with them in the future!

August 3, 2014

2014 Pennsylvania and New Jersey (Day 3)

The alarm rang at 6am. I vaguely remembered the alarm...but woke up at 6:30am already late. We decided to skip the morning shower, grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel, and then realized we didn't know where exactly we were meeting Pat and Matt at Cape May.

After some back and forth, we finally got the directions and were on the road at 7am. But the GPS lead us to a restricted Coast Guard training station. So using my best knowledge of the area, we went to Cape May Lighthouse hoping that was the jetty to meet. Upon arrival, we found out it was 1) the wrong jetty and 2) Pat and Matt were over at Townsends Inlet since there was a triathlon at their intended fishing location. So Michael and I back tracked to Townsends Inlet...

Upon arrival, Pat and Matt reported some steady bites, but nothing had been landed thus far. It was already 10am and Matt said they were considering going back to Cape May. Since we had just arrived, they decided to give us some fishing time before moving on.

Michael was fishing the sabiki while I was fishing the dropper loop like Pat was fishing at the moment. It didn't take long before I felt some bites and had a chewed up piece of squid. The bites were not consistent, but they did come once in a while. Finally, I was able to set the hook into a fish and had it on the line for a short while before it came off.

Another while later, I felt some bites and set the hook, but only to snagged on bottom. Did the fish took me into the rocks? Or was it just one of the hooks on my double hooks dropper loop that was stuck? I wouldn't know since I snapped off that rig.

I was chatting with Pat and we commented on the lack of bites when suddenly I felt a few deliberate taps. I gave the fish just a little line before setting the hook. The fish definitely hooked and fighting quite well...until it ran me into a rock and I was stuck. I tried to free it and finally felt the line broke. I was disappointed that the only fish I hooked this morning had broken off, when all of a sudden, the line tightened again and I still felt the fish on the line. It had this characteristic bounce on the rod that I almost knew which species it might be. When I finally saw colour, I was a nervous wreck again. It's a Grey Triggerfish! I've lost toothy or "beaky" fish before like parrotfish, filefish and pufferfish before when the fish's teeth sliced through the line as I tried to lift them up. I had to lift this fish a few feet up the jetty rock so it was definitely a scary moment. Alas, it was mine!

Grey Triggerfish (Balistes capriscus) - Species #401

Pat had really wanted a triggerfish too. And he suspected that the hits he was missing were also triggerfish. But the conditions were a bit snotty with the wind in our face, some rain, and the waves crashing over the jetty once in a while. So in the end, we decided to try the more sheltered jetty in Cape May.

Matt said he'll wait for us at the parking to hike out together. However, Michael and I missed the entrance to the park, then ended up getting stuck in traffic on a it took us a bit of time before we arrived. Matt and Pat had already left, but thankfully there was a map of the area and we figured out the trail to the jetty.

The area looked prime for surf fishing. In fact, the area where the trail met the beach had a very nice hole out front. I bet some fish would be sitting in there. But since beach fishing was prohibited from March to October, in order to protect the nesting Piping Plover, we could not check it out. After about 3/4 mile hike to the jetty, we found Pat and Matt hooking up consistently with small Black Sea Bass.

It was well after 12pm by now. It was the last hours before high tide and fish were biting. In no time, I was hooking up Black Sea Bass on every cast. They were mostly relating to the jetty rocks, but I caught some far out in the inlet channel as well. It got a bit silly when they were coming up two at a time on some casts. Not too far away, an older gentleman was fishing for Tautog using green crabs. We saw him catch a keeper (18"+) and a few shorts. Michael wanted to catch a Tautog but we had no green crabs. It's almost impossible to catch a big Tautog on anything other than green crabs, although I've caught smaller juveniles using live bloodworms in Woods Hole. But I do know that they can be caught on fresh clams sometimes, so I suggested to Michael to try some of the clams we bought. He didn't catch any Tautog on this day, but he did snagged one in the belly.

In the meantime, I decided to switch to clams as well. The squid was simply getting torn up by the Black Sea Bass. I could not let the bait sit for too long before it was ripped apart. As the current got stronger, I wanted to slowly bounce the rig along bottom to search for a searobin. Using clams, I wasn't getting bit by Black Sea Bass often. However, I also wasn't getting any substantial hits. Still, I continued to search out in the inlet hoping to find a searobin in the haystack.

Just as I fell into the monotony of bottom bouncing, I felt a solid tap on the rod. I gave the fish a bit of line and it was already pulling away. The fish was struggling, but I wouldn't say it was fighting hard. When I saw the long shape, I initially thought it was a Lizardfish. However, once I lifted the fish onto the jetty, I saw the characteristic shape of a shark. It was a little Dusky Smooth-hound!

Dusky Smooth-hound (Mustelus canis) - Species #402

Not surprisingly, this little shark was caught when high tide had slacked. Once the water reversed, the current got stronger and I was no longer about to drift slowly on bottom using 1oz. Although I switched to a heavier 2oz sinker, the rig was still moving at a quicker pace in the current. Eventually, the outgoing tide was carrying too much weeds and fouled the line often. By this time, it was already 2pm so Matt and Pat decided to call it a day. Pat had a train to catch at 6pm.

Michael and I decided to kept trying at the inlet, since we only have a couple of hours left before we had to leave. I tried on the surf side of the jetty since there were a few nice troughs and holes as the water dropped. I was excited to get a few bites immediately, and really hoping it was Northern Kingcroaker biting my bait. Alas, it was the typical Snapper Blues.

Fishing was pretty slow for Michael and I, and eventually, we decided to call it a day at 3:30pm. I had arranged to have dinner with my friends Shane and Chelsea that night at 6pm, but it took until 7pm before I arrived at their place. Luckily, Chelsea's friends who were also visiting arrived late as well.

Since we started dinner late, we didn't finish until 10pm. Michael and I talked about fishing the pier again for smoothhound, searobin and Oyster Toadfish. It was a late start at 10:30pm, but we decided to put every effort into the fishing so we would not regret it later. Unfortunately, I put the wrong address into the GPS which lead us to Barnegat Inlet instead. I was sleeping on the way there so I was completely unaware until we arrived. Michael wanted to start fishing there right then, but if we're in the wrong spot, we could simply waste our time. Instead, we drove another 40 minutes back to Beach Haven to fish the pier.

By the time we arrived it was already 12am. The tide had already slacked, so my chance at the searobin, if my theory was correct, would be slim to none. Indeed, although the slack, calm water was great to look at, it was completely dead for any smaller fish bites. Perhaps that meant some sharks were around?

Michael tossed out two rods with clams to fish for Smoothhound, while I concentrated with two light rods for searobin. When nothing was happening, Michael tossed a light rod with a light dropper loop into the deeper channel and found a Black Sea Bass after a long wait.

I said perhaps the Smoothhound was inside the marina area, so Michael went to fish inside. He found nothing there, but made a comment that there were some goby looking fish on the bottom in between the weeds. I took my tenkara rod to explore the micros...but they were merely Mummichog.

I only had a couple of bites thus far, both of which tapped at the bait violently a couple of times but the hook did not set. Michael caught one more Black Sea Bass and a long wait later I caught one too.

Then, one of Michael's rod started to bounce. He had a small fish on the line which turned out to be a small Oyster Toadfish. It took the line that was baited with clams. Since nothing was really going on, time flew really quickly and soon we found out it was already 3am! We were scheduled to drive back to Toronto the next day, so we quickly packed up and drove back to the hotel. By the time we arrived, it was already 4:30am.

August 2, 2014

2014 Pennsylvania and New Jersey (Day 2)

So...3 hours of sleep...up at 6am...a quick shower and didn't even have time for breakfast. We were running out the door to pick up Pat.

Pat's train was right on time. Michael and I lost an hour of sleep...but we were happy to have an extra hour of fishing for the day.

Our plan for the morning was to check out a lake in the Pine Barrens. We have good authority that the lake was full of Blackbanded Sunfish, Bluespotted Sunfish, Banded Sunfish and Mud Sunfish. These smaller "micro" sunfish species prefer soft, acidic and tannic water, often found in bogs and slow moving section of rivers. They are often a challenge to find since they prefer heavy weed habitat. In some lakes, the presence of other larger sunfish species quickly outcompleted the little sunfishes to the bait. Since these 4 species were the predominant species in this lake, we have a very interesting situation.

The weather was once again unsettled upon our arrival. With some steady wind rippling the surface, and spitting rain dimpling the water, it would be rather hard to sightfish for these micro sunfish without sunlight penetrating the dark water, you could not see very deep. Our only option was to fish blinded, poking around all the holes in the weeds and shore cover hoping for a bite.

Michael and Pat started fishing as I prepared a new tenkara rod for its virgin trip. This new rod was made of fiberglass. It was a bit heavier (still very light to hold though), but shorter in extended length and in collapsed size. The slower action was much more forgiving and I expect to get better hookup ratio and hook retaining ratio with the rod in the future. My existing graphite tenkara simple felt a bit too long at times for a controlled presentation.

By the time I tied up, I had already wasted some 15 minutes. Then the wind gusted and blew my newly tied rig into a tangle mess. Great! Just my type of luck on this weekend. It took another 15 minutes before the problem was fixed. By that time, from later conversation, Michael had already caught a lifer Bluespotted Sunfish and a lifer Banded Sunfish.

I started poking around all the holes in the weedbed. I wasn't getting any bites at all, even in the weeds that were just a foot from shore. The shoreline had vegetation that hung over the water, providing a kind of undercut habitat situation. In certain areas, there may only be 3-4" of water under the vegetation, but some other areas had 6-12" of water beneath the plats. I started poking around the deeper areas. At first, I would fish in typical sunfish manner. If I put the bait into a likely location and didn't get bit immediately, I would move to the next likely location. However, something tells me to slow down, perhaps owing to the fact that it was a very weedy area and it may take time for fish to sense the bait and come out of the weeds to inspect the offering. When I slowed down the presentation. I finally had a bite. I missed the initial bite, but the second try rewarded me with my lifer Bluespotted Sunfish!

Bluespotted Sunfish (Enneacanthus gloriosus) - Species #396

I've previously tried for this species in Virginia. I fished all day poking around weed pocket in knee to waist deep water. Our experience on this lake suggested that perhaps we were approaching the situation all wrong. It make sense that these micro sunfish would be tucked in tight to shallow shoreline vegetation. These are areas that predators, like Chain Pickerel, could not easily access. So perhaps our success was partially due to this new realization...and also owing to the fact that this lake has no large sunfish species to compete for the bait.

You can see in this picture where the shoreline vegetation hung over the water, creating suitable habitat for the micro sunfishes.

I fished the entire side of the cove catching one other Bluespotted Sunfish. Then I heard some excited screams from Michael. I'm not sure what he has caught at that point. So I slowly fish my way toward him and Pat. Along the way, I fished some stumps and tree root area. A few Bluespotted Sunfish came to hand...and then something a little different. It was a Banded Sunfish!

Banded Sunfish (Enneacanthus obesus) - Species #397

Personally, I found that the Banded Sunfish favours some woody structure in their habitat. It seems like I catch most, if not all, of them when there is either a stump, some tree root or some fallen branches around the overhanging vegetation. If I fish purely weedy areas, I caught Bluespotted Sunfish.

When I finally chatted with Pat, he said Michael caught a Mud Sunfish, which was what the fuss was all about. Pat had only caught Bluespotted Sunfish thus far, so I suggested that he should poke around the woody area. It wasn't long before Pat caught his lifer Banded Sunfish as well.

Upon Pat's suggestion, I tried to fish the spot where Michael caught his Mud Sunfish. Perhaps, the wooded structure nearby could yield another one. However, all the deeper dock post yield zero bites, regardless of the species. They fish were simply relating to the shallowest water. I tried Michael's spot for about 30 minutes, and decided to move on. Pat came to poke around Michael's spot and was immediately reward with a juvenile Mud Sunfish. That was just the type of luck I had all weekend.

However, I started analyzing the situation with Pat. It appeared that the two Mud Sunfish were caught in the shallowest water possible. Many sources suggest that they are mostly nocturnal and they hide in the darkest spots by day. With that in mind, I tried to location similar habitat...but yet, I was still only catching Bluespotted Sunfish and Banded Sunfish.

At this point, it was already 12pm. We had planned to fish Townsends Inlet in the afternoon, but since the inlet was 2 hours away, and we planned to meet up Matt for an evening fishing session back in Philadelphia, there really would have been too little time to fish at the inlet. Since we had pretty good success here finding our targets, we decided to put in more time for that last Blackbanded Sunfish.

What baffled Pat and I was the absence of Blackbanded Sunfish. This species was supposed to be abundant in the lake, but we had yet to encounter one. Perhaps we were fishing the wrong habitat? Between the three of us, we had already tried all sorts of habitat and came up empty on the Blackbanded. Perhaps they could only be found in the heaviest weed, hidden in the middle of the vegetation, or perhaps they prefer a different type of bottom.

Pat and I decided to check out the boat launch. It had a gravel and sandy bottom. However, we didn't even get any bites in the area. In fact, this entire stretch of shoreline appeared void of sunfish.

Then I saw it. "It" was a good section of a tree branch that had fallen into the water. There was a main branch that was about 3" in diameter with many secondary and tertiary branches. Most of the branches were in the water with exception of some tips poking out of the surface. The weeds grew heavily around and in between the branches. There were only a couple of holes big enough to dip my rig into the habitat, and perhaps pull the fish out if one exists.

On the first try, I had a series of bites. The fish was aggressive enough to pull the line to the side toward the weeds. I tried to set the hook but was fouled by the weeds. Over and over again, I lowered the bait and received bites and missed on the hookset. I decided to put on a slightly larger chunk of worm on the hook, hoping that the fish would hang onto the bait longer. This time, I let the fish fully take the bait back into the weeds before pulling on the rod. The fish was finally on the hook, but so was a clump of weed. I saw a larger, dark brown body with a larger mouth. It was a Mud Sunfish! However, I was a nervous wreck trying to land the fish since there was weed fouled on the line and I was only using 2lb tippet. The extra weight could snap the line, or the added fulcrum on the line, created by the weeds, could allow the fish to twist off the hook. I know...a lot of drama...but the fish was landed safely!

Mud Sunfish (Acantharchus pomotis) - Species #398

This fish came out of the habitat that we've postulated...woody, very weedy and very shallow. To test this hypothesis, there was a small bridge ahead. I looked for the shallowest, darkest corner next to a support post against shore. The area was very weedy immediately next to the bridge. I poked the bait as far back against the post as possible into the dark, shallow water...and immediately felt bites and setting the hook into a small Mud Sunfish. This was pretty unreal!

Pat and I search around some more for Blackbanded Sunfish, but we still could not track them down. By 3pm, it was time to leave. Pat wanted to get to a shop to get some bait since we wanted to fish early next morning. However, GoogleMaps lead us to a wild goose chase and we couldn't find these bait shops that were on the map. At long last, I saw a shop along the road. Conveniently, a food truck was next to the bait shop and Pat treated us to some gyros.

By the time we met up with Matt, it was already 7pm. We ran into some traffic heading into Philadelphia, which followed the weekend pattern of traffic and delays. But we did make it to the Schuylkill River. BTW, it is pronounced "SKOOL-gle" Google. Don't ask me how you get "SKOOL-gle" from Schuykill...

The weather was actually pretty great by this point. The sky was partly cloudy and we finally had a dry stretch. Things were definitely looking up. Our plan was to first catch some sunfish for bait, then use the live sunfish for Flathead Catfish once it got dark. According to Matt, dead bait yield mostly Channel Catfish. Flatheads must require live bait...and the bigger the better!

It took some searching before we found a good concentration of sunfish. Most of them were Bluegill Sunfish, with an occasional Pumpkinseed Sunfish mixed in. If we fished near the rocky areas, the odd Green Sunfish would appear in our catch also. Michael caught his lifer Green Sunfish fishing near the rocks. We caught caught a few beautiful Spotfish Shiners. I should have taken a picture, but I was very focused on making bait. I want that Flathead Catfish!

Once darkness fell, it was time to rig up the heavy gear. Matt and Pat fished upstream of the bridge while Michael and I covered the downstream side. Matt had warned us about the ample log jams on bottom, but I did not expect breaking off my first rig of the night on the first cast. By the time I had re-rigged everything, Michael already had two lines in the water plus a third lighter rod for eels.

I sent one bait soaking in the water before going back to the car to grab my headlamp. On the way, Pat said he had a bite but missed the hookset. It was slow on our end, so it was good to at least hear someone was having action.

It was while I was rigging up my second rod when Michael's rod took a rip. Soon, he was into a good fish. With the heavy gear, it took not much effort to bring the fish in. We could see it was a Flathead Catfish and Pat brought the net over. I had the honour to net the fish for Michael, which was a bit of a challenge since I had to lean over a broken rail to reach the fish. I couldn't put all my body weight on the rail, but yet I still had to reach down far enough with my shorter arms to net it. Thankfully, the fish was in the bag. I didn't have any pictures of my camera, but Michael's Flathead was a solid 15lb fish.

Michael's rod was positioned further downstream of the bridge. So he offered me the spot since he had already caught one. I repositioned the bait in that area, only to snag and snap off again. Now I don't even have a rig ready to fish. Again...just the type of luck I'm having this weekend :(

I finally had one rod in the water and was rigging up the second rod again when Michael's eel rod was singing. Indeed, it was an American Eel! This gave us hope that perhaps we could both check off the eel now without a late night eel fishing session.

At long last, I had two catfish baits in the water. It was time for me to rig up the third rod for eels. And as my luck dictated, I snagged and broke off on the very first cast of my eel rod. Fun was extremely difficult and frustrating by this point.

As I was retying my eel rig, one of my rod took a hit! By the time I got to the rod, the fish had took off with my sunfish.

I baited up again and the sunfish came off on the cast. Then, as I retrieve the rig back in, it was snagged. Wow...can someone please give me a break! it went. This time, I could feel the frisky sunfish struggling on the line and the weight felt like it had landed onto a gravel bottom.

Once again trying to get my eel rod into the water, I had just casted the rod out and settled down for the wait when my catfish rod took a hit again! This time, I got to it quickly, removed the leash, engaged the reel...and felt the line tightened and then stuck. I'm running out of patience...but I decided to give the fish just a little line and wait it out. Luckily, the fish decided to cooperate and came out almost instantly. The rod was loaded up nicely and this was a sizeable fish. At this point, I had no idea if it was a party spoiling Channel Catfish, or the celebration worthy Flathead Catfish. When I finally see some colour, it was clear that this was another decent Flathead Catfish. Matt came over with the net again and netted the fish for me.

Flathead Catfish (Pylodictis olivaris) - Species #399

Matt and I took a picture together with the catfish. Thank you very much, Matt! We owe you big time!

Now that I've checked off the Flathead Catfish, my attention switched fully to American Eel. As my luck would have it, we're running out of worms for bait, since most of the worms were used for catching sunfish. There were two worms was rather limp, very dead and a bit stinky; the other was still lively and fresh. I finally used up the lively worm, and now started using the Spotfin Shiner we had caught earlier.

By now it was already 12am. Pat and Matt decided to call it a night and meet us at Cape May next morning. I told them we may very well continue with the night eel fishing session, so perhaps we'll leave at 6am. Pat and Matt decided to leave at 5am to check things out.

Michael and I decided to try a spot that was suggested to me. It was a creek that flows into the Delaware system. We packed up and started the 30 minutes drive to the creek. The weather was great all evening...but now it started to rain again. It started as a gentle spit which I didn't mind at all. But closer to our destination, it began to rain steadily and moderately heavy. I simply had it and threw a fit in the car. Man, I was pissed at that moment!

I wasn't about to give up. I was pissed but I'm damned determined and stubborn. So onwards we went to the creek. We only had one stinky worm left, so we decided to try out different baits. In Pennsylvania, you are allowed 3 rods in freshwater. However, Michael offered me his rods as well to maximize my chances. He also started looking for nightcrawlers in the wet grassy areas. I know I said some not so nice things in the car. And I felt totally guilty at that point...

Anyways, we set up 4 rods with various baits. Half chunk of stinky worm, half chunk of Spotfin Shiner, a piece of squid and the last rod with a fresh nightcrawler that Michael found. Since there was a current, the rigs occasionally found a snag on bottom. I snapped off one rig and was now down to three. I could have re-rigged, but we didn't have enough bait, so fishing 4 lines was not possible.

I was holding the rod with the live nightcrawler in hand when I felt a little tap, then another tap. I fed the fish some line, expecting the tentative bite of an eel. When I set the hook and felt the fish, the struggle felt a bit like an eel, twisting and turning...but disappointingly, it was a Smallmouth Bass.

I put on the last half of the fresh nightcrawler and went back to holding the rod in hand. Not long later, I heard line pulling on one of the other rods. I could see one rod shaking and quickly grabbed it. A hookset wasn't even requied as the fish was already running down the shallow riffles. When I lifted it out of the water, I could see a long, wriggling shape that quickly balled up into a tangle mess. Yes! This is it! My American Eel!!!

American Eel (Anguilla rostrata) - Species #400!!!

It was very apt to place this American Eel as my 400th species! It epitomizes my journey in species hunting. Most of the time, it has been an uphill battle. Sure, we all get a lucky catch here and there, but most of the time, it required countless nights of research, communication with fellow anglers on their success, mapping out possible locations, and a lot of trial and error before a new species was caught. The American Eel was no different. They are endangered in Ontario and at a number so few that it's almost foolish to target them locally. I had first seen one in the wild in Maryland, but I suspected that this fish was a used bait that was recovering in the cracks of a jetty. I could see the nose of the fish was injured, typical of the nose-hooking manner used to fish eel bait. Ever since, I've tried to fish for them with Pat in Virginia, and even planned to fish for them this year in Kingston with Eli. However, our cool summer seemed to have delayed the arrival of fish and we missed out of the weekend that was available for us to put in an effort. I've sustained so much traffic delay and weather issues on this trip, and sacrificed so much needed sleep to put in an effort to catch some difficult lifers. There was really no word to describe the feeling of the moment when I finally caught the American Eel.

With the target acquired and goal accomplished, it was time to call it a night. It was a little after 3pm when we rolled into our hotel. We would again have a little over 3 hours of sleep before morning.

August 1, 2014

2014 Pennsylvania and New Jersey (Day 1)

I haven't made any travel plans this year since I've been putting an effort to graduate before the end of this year. This trip was very much an impromptu arrangement, very much like the Virginia trip back in May.

Originally, the plan was very simple - stay with my friend Shane in Philadelphia and fish around town for Flathead Catfish and American Eel. But then I started chatting with Pat about it and he planted little seeds into my head...and soon we have a full blown fishing expedition in the works.

As in my typical fashion, this trip was completely packed to the brim on the fishing itinerary. There was a lot to do in very little time, so weather needs to be favourable and traffic needs to be light. Let me just say that from the start, everything was working against us.

After work on Thursday, Michael and I left Toronto as soon as we could. Driving out of Toronto, for the most part, was as expected with a bit of rush hour traffic but not too bad. When we were on the QEW around Oakville, disaster stuck! First, it was an accident involving a couple of truck causing about 30 minutes of delay. As we got close to the Skyway Bridge in Hamilton, traffic came to a very slow crawl. Apparently, a dump truck had driven onto the bridge with the truck bed completely upright, taking out part of the overhead bridge structure. Falling debris collapsed on a transport truck in the neighbouring lane and stopped it on the spot. The entire Toronto bound lanes were closed, and our side of the highway was partially closed. We were delayed for another hour or so.

Luckily, the border was surprisingly smooth. It seemed like the border guard was having a great day and basically waved us into the US without much question. Last time we drove to Florida, we were almost interrogated and we were asked to turn off the car and open our trunk for inspection. It was nice to was shooed in so easily this time.

We felt terrible pulling into Anthony's driveway at 1am in the morning. However, he was very accommodating and offered us a couple of great couches for a short stay. We had 3 hours of sleep before hitting the road again at 4:30am, arriving in Sandy Hook at 7am after getting some bait and local fishing intel at Giglios Bait and Tackle. The store was run by an old salt. He was very knowledgeable and shared with us some local fishing tips.

Our plan at Sandy Hook was to try the salt marsh on the bay side first thing in the morning, then fish the jetty along Fort Hancock as the tide floods in. However, we met a man walking his awesome Australian Sheppard puppy at the parking and he suggested fishing the tip. So we made some plan adjustment for the latter part of the morning.

I was expecting to find more species in the salt marsh. We could see school of smaller fish and quickly discovered they were Mummichog and Atlantic Silverside. We each caught some and kept a few as bait. I was a bit disappointed that we didn't find any Striped Killifish or Sheepshead Minnow in the marsh.

We then fished the bay area, hoping to find searobin in the shallow bay. Instead, we found unlimited amount of Bluefish that were cookie cutter 6-7 inches long. These are often referred as Snapper Blues. They were fun on light gear, but with these aggressive fish around, we couldn't fish for searobin. I poked around some rocks to see if an Oyster Toadfish could be located, but all I caught were more Snapper Blues and a snagged Norther Puffer.

As high tide was 12pm, we moved away from the marsh at 10am. We got there just as the last hour of high tide came in. We chatted with a family to see what they have caught. When they reported the Snapper Blues were thick in the area, the outlook wasn't good. However, the flooding tide seems to push out the bluefish and in came Summer Flounder and Striped Searobin.

Michael and I both tossed out two heavier rigs for the potential sharks and rays. We were allows 3 rods in New Jersey saltwater, so we both had one rod in hand to fish for Summer Flounder and searobin. As I was casting out one of the heavier rod, my Tsunami spinning rod snapped in mid cast. I was very frustrated since this was going to be one of my work horse rod for the weekend. I had no immediate replacement and I was down to only one heavy rod and one surf rod to fish at Sandy Hook.

We watched as the young kid beside us outfished all of us. He was pulling in Summer Flounder and Searobin on the regular. The father and son was using an active retrieve. I had already tried that method but I was still fishless. Michael was soaking strips of squid when he got picked up and landed a Striped Searobin.

I kept alternating between the active retrieve and soaking bait, but it was Summer Flounder after Summer Flounder for me. Meanwhile, Michael also caught a Striped Searobin soaking a Snapper Blue head while my Snapper Blue head was picked up by two Summer Flounder. I just couldn't figure out why I was only catching Flounder while others were catching Searobin, even when I fished shoulder to shoulder beside Michael. It got extremely frustrating and annoying actually...because Searobin was one of my top targets to achieve on this trip and they were supposed to be easy to catch...yet I kept catching Summer Flounder which I've caught many in the past already.

As the tide slacked, the searobin bit slowed to a crawl. In total, Michael caught 5 Striped Searobin and the family beside us caught around 10. I had a big fat zero to show for my efforts. From the distance, we could see and hear a storm brewing. I was adamant to put in a solid effort, even as the storm got closer and closer and we had thunder boomed above our heads and rain started falling. However, by 3pm, we decided it was tactically foolish to put more time in this spot when the fish had obviously shut down. It was time to move.

We were way behind on our itinerary. It was my hope that we could both check off the searobin in a hurry and fish a couple more locations during the afternoon. However, seeing that it was already 3pm, we had very little time left to fish. Our final decision was to scout out Townsends Inlet in anticipation for a solid effort with Pat the following day.

Traffic, once again, threw a wrench in our way. We got on the highway and it was another slow crawl due to an accident. Our estimated 2 hours drive, which would put us in Avalon by 5pm, now turned into more like a 3 hours arrival time. We couldn't waste what little fishing time we had left. During a quick lunch stop, I looked at the map and decided to hit Barnegat Inlet instead since we were already close to the area. It ended up being a semi-decent idea.

We were hoping to find Oyster Toadfish, Tautog and perhaps even Grey Triggerfish along the jetty. However, Cunner ruled the jetty and Michael easily caught his lifer Cunner...and many, many more. I was using bigger hooks so as to avoid hooking the Cunner. However, not much else was found in the rocks. Michael got distracted for a while and started casting for the numerous Bluefish that people were catching on the regular. They were OK size fish around 1.5-3lbs...nothing spectacular so I wasn't really interested at all. But after spending 2 hours of zero action, I tied on a diamond jig and started playing around in the outgoing current. About 10 casts in, I got picked up on the surface and fought a 4lb Striped Bass briefly before it shook its head on the surface and threw the lure back at me. I've caught Striped Bass before so I wasn't bummed at all.

By 7pm, we decided not to waste our time anymore. A relatively quick drive away is a fishing pier popular for night time shark fishing (so I've read). The area was supposed to yield Dusky Smoothhound easily and a good chance at Sandbar Shark. That seemed like a good option so we checked it out as night fell.

Again, we had two heavy rods each for the sharks while using a third light rod to poke around. The shark rods remained pretty quiet with only crabs bugging our bait and weeds dragging our lines. It wasn't until around 11pm when Michael started catching Black Sea Bass and a Northern Searobin using a sabiki tipped with squid. I tried to fish the same spot and even using Michael's rod and sabiki for a Northern Searobin...but only caught Black Sea Bass after Black Sea Bass. As high tide slacked around 12am, the bites stopped. Yet again, I was skunked out on the searobin!

Originally, we wanted to fish for eels on this Friday night. Seeing it had rained on and off in the afternoon and now raining at night, we figured it was best to simply put in more time for these sharks. In Florida, we had most luck with the sharks when the tide was slack. So we were very optimistic during this 12am slack.

However, we didn't even get a single run on the shark rods. I was using a bunker head as bait on one of my rod and it was pretty much crab proof...but even that bunker head was not picked up by a shark. There were two guys and a girl fishing for sharks earlier. They said they fish for them when they are bored, so I assumed they were local and do this regularly. When they packed up after an hour or so effort, it should have been a sight that it was a slow night. I did read the sign...but we were insistent (and optimistic).

It was now 1am and the tide had switched to outgoing. As the water washed out of the bay, it carried a lot of weeds. I was now fishing half of a spider crab as bait (one that Michael caught on his sabiki). I figure the crab was pretty crab proof so it simply let it soak, despite weeds collecting on my line and ever so slowly dragging it downcurrent.

Michael made a note that I should clean the weeds off my rod, but I said "I'll wait until it pulls a little faster." A few strand of weeds was not enough to distract me as I continued to fish the sabiki for searobin.

Finally, the line started singing away as a big clump of weeds caught the line. When I tried to reel in, I could feel the line passing through piles and pile of sea lettuce. The first big clump was stuck on the braid and it took a good 30 seconds to pull all the vegetation off. Finally, I saw my swivel and sinker and there was yet another big clump that had collected. After I cleared the weeds, I felt the line moving and thought it was simply the 4oz sinking swaying on the line. As I brought the line up by hand (I was using a 4' rub leader plus a 3' wire bite leader), I saw a little brown thing on the hook. Oh was an Oyster Toadfish!!!

This was the craziest catch! This Oyster Toadfish was no bigger than 9" long, yet it had taken in half a spider crab and was hooked by a 9/0 J hook. I don't even know how long it had been on the line, since I had let that crab soak for at least an hour. Luck or not, I'll take this fish on my list!

Oyster Toadfish (Opsanus tau) - Species #395

The many faces of the Oyster Toadfish

This single fish saved my otherwise very unassuming and unaccomplished day. We stuck around for another hour hoping Michael can have the same luck, but by 1:30am, we were simply had to call it a night. We had to pick up Pat at the bus station at 8am tomorrow, and the hotel was still another 1.5 hours way.

When we arrive at the hotel, Pat messaged me to say his bus was full and his only option was the train. The train would arrive at 7:16am, which meant we had to get up by 6am. In the end, Michael and I only had a little under 3 hours of sleep.