Lots of local anglers would rather tool around the back bays in a boat than go out in the ocean. Al Rocks of Egg Harbor Township loves hopping into his 1966 17-foot Boston Whaler Montauk "Brutus II" and taking a short ride into the waters from Great Egg Harbor Inlet to Great Egg Harbor River.
Rocks, 53, often has his family with him: wife Eileen; children Rachael, 25; Al, 23; Rebecca, 22; Joey 17; Elizabeth, 13. They like to go out evenings to watch the sunset and also for a short hour or so of fishing.
He is second-generation of anglers that handed him the local knowledge. They included uncles Walt Gregory Sr. and Elmer Gregory, and his dad Pat. He is passing it on to the next generation.
Al enjoys the total experience. He made the observations that there are more ospreys than he's seen before, the quality and clarity of the water has gone up, there is a lot of bait in the water. And, in what probably is a comment about the cost of fuel, he says there are more kayaks around than ever before often with anglers fly-fishing.
He said a school of bunker came in the inlet recently that spread out all the way back to the Parkway Bridge off Beesleys Point, and he recently saw bunch of big sting rays splashing on top of the water.
One of the reasons Al gets out on the water so often is because he has a 90 Evinrude that burns little gas. He has a 6-gallon tank that enables him to take four trips before he has to fill up, and he can go inlet to inlet (GE to Absecon) on one tank.
Another reason he sails often: He is catching a lot of flounder. Rocks racked up 75 fish total with a limit of eight keepers last Wednesday, had one keeper among three hooked up on one of his short sunset trips Saturday and caught four more keepers Sunday. He said the keepers are mainly in the 21-25-inch, 3-3/1 pound range.
That's not a bad stretch. It is also an example of what kind of back-bay fishing can be had right now.
On one of those trips, he had the kind of experience that can make back-bay fishing memorable. He had two rods in the rod-holders dragging the bottom and had a third rod he was jigging. Two skates hit the boat rods, and took off in opposite directions. He picked up a rod that had a bucktail he wanted to get back while the other skate spooled the line and took everything. When the skate he was fighting got to the the side of the boat, it spit the bucktail and took off.
Rocks says flounder like action. He uses 1/4 to 1/2 ounce red and white bucktails with 6-inch Gulp "greenish" on sunny days and white on overcast days. He says to cast out as far as you can and as soon the rig hits bottom start jigging it up and down back toward the boat. His plan B when nothing is working is to use whole squid as bait.
He had one other piece of advice: When the big ones are not biting, move and try another spot. The fish won't come to you, he says, you have to go find them.
He also recently netted 36 softshell crabs off pilings located throughout the area he frequents.