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Spring officially arrives this week - Wednesday, March 20, 2019 - and with it more spring-like temperatures. Will the spring run be far behind?
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  March 19, 2019
Tom Driscoll from Fair Haven shared this photo over the weekend of the bunker kills along the shores of the Shrewsbury up near Oceanport, NJ. A few dead bunker also washed up along the Raritan near Union Beach, what one NJDEP official called a natural occurrence.

While it may be a bit early for blooming dogwoods in Cape May (and the booming drum that arrive around the same time), the early harbingers of spring have already arrived, with the first ospreys reported along the Delaware coast last week and a blast of bunker through Manasquan and Shrewsbury rivers by the weekend.

In fact, over the weekend thousands of dead menhaden washed up near Oceanport along the Shrewsbury River complex in Monmouth County over the weekend. State officials believe the cause of the fish kill is depleted the oxygen in shallow water, possibly the result of the schools being chased by larger fish. “Predatory fish can sometimes chase large schools of bait fish into estuarine creeks,” said Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. “These huge schools of bait fish deplete oxygen in these shallower waters, particularly when the tide recedes, causing large die-offs.”

Weekend rumors, some possibly the result of social media hijinks, had uncorroborated reports of 30-pound bass in the Sandy Hook area on Friday, and a pair of dockside bluefish from Barnegat Bay earlier in the week as reported by Grumpy’s Tackle in Seaside Park.

Ocean water temperatures along the coast as of March 18 according to NOAA were at 45.9 degrees at Lewes, DE, 43.5 degrees along the beach at Atlantic City, and 45.9 degrees at Sandy Hook. The five-day forecast looks good, with coastal temperatures to gradually increase through the week, from about 51 degrees (sunny) at the bulkhead in Mays Landing, NJ on Tuesday to upwards of 62 degrees (mostly sunny) by Sunday.

As of this week’s online reports for New Jersey at TheFisherman.com, the epicenter of the striped bass bite seems to be in Toms River, possibly the result of holdovers in the deeper stretches of Barnegat Bay moving in along the warmer, shallower flats in search of an easy meal. The upper reaches of Barnegat Bay around Mantoloking are also producing a few bites for those soaking bloodworms or casting small plugs and plastics, while a few more keeper-size fish are also being reported on the Great Egg, the Mullica and the Raritan. Reports are also coming in from the Delaware, where the DOD stretch on the Jersey side is producing, with Delaware beaches like Broadkill, Bowers, and Woodland expected to see more angling pressure too in the coming days.

While saltwater anglers anxiously await another 5 or 6 degrees of water temperature to really kick the local striper bite into gear, freshwater fishermen are gearing up for the tri-state region’s trout kickoff throughout New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania where statewide stocking efforts are currently underway.

In New Jersey, most trout-stocked waters are closed this week as pre-season stocking begins. Each spring, approximately 570,000 rainbow trout raised at the Pequest Trout Hatchery are stocked into the state's streams, ponds, and lakes. Nearly one-third of these trout, 184,400, await anglers on April 6 when the season opens. The majority of trout being stocked will average 10-1/2 inches but large breeders, measuring 14 to 23 inches and weighing up to 7 pounds are also distributed in the early weeks of the season.

Anglers should be aware that most trout-stocked waters are closed to fishing during the three weeks leading up to the opener (March 18 until April 6, 2019 at 8 a.m.). There are several waters that remain open for catch-and-release trout fishing including Lake Hopatcong (Morris/Sussex), Mountain Lake (Warren), Prospertown Lake (Ocean), Lake Shenandoah (Ocean), Swartswood Lake (Sussex), and the section of Lawrence Brook from Davidsons Mill Rd. to Farrington Lake dam are open year round to fishing.

Don't forget that a fishing license and trout stamp are required to fish for trout if you are 16 years or older. Children under 16 and New Jersey residents 70 years and older can fish without a license. Licenses and stamps may be obtained through one of the many license agents statewide, or online via the state’s Fishing and Hunting License Sales, Hunter Ed Registration and Harvest Reporting portal.

Across the river in Delaware, no fishing is permitted in any designated trout stream within two weeks of the opening day of spring trout season, which like New Jersey will also kickoff on April 6 (except for Tidbury Pond in Kent County and Newton Pond near Greenwood in Sussex County, both of which were stocked before March 3 and again on March 15; the season for both ponds got underway on March 2, 2019).

On opening day in the spring, legal trout fishing on designated trout streams begins at 7:30 a.m. On other days, trout fishing begins one-half hour before sunrise. Fishing in designated trout streams is prohibited after one-hour past sunset. The daily limit for trout is six in possession. Once an angler takes and possesses six trout in any day, he or she is prohibited from fishing in a designated trout stream during the remainder of that day.

Learn more about Delaware’s freshwater trout program with a complete 2019 Delaware Trout Stocking Schedule.

Meanwhile out in Pennsylvania, the Regional Opening Day of trout season will kickoff on Saturday, March 30, 2019 for all waters in Adams, Berks, Bucks, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Perry, Philadelphia, Schuylkill and York counties (County Guide). The Statewide Opening Day for all other Pennsylvania county waters will be Saturday, April 13, 2019.

A minimum size limit for Pennsylvania trout is 7 inches, with the regular season bag limit of five trout through Labor Day, and three trout from September 3 through the end of the year. Visit the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission website for license information.