New Jersey'™s Top-Rated Bassing

New Jersey'™s Top-Rated Bassing

From Lake Hopatcong to Union Lake, plus other prime choices, here's where to find some of the Garden State's finest bass action this season! (May 2008)

Using a minnow-plug and teaser combination, an anger took this hefty smallmouth bass on the Delaware River.
Photo by J.B. Kasper.

For Garden State bass fishermen, the 2007 season was one of the best in the last 10 years. Not only were good numbers of bass caught throughout the state, but also some hefty fish were making digital scales light up at tackle shops. To understand what made the 2007 season so productive, you need to look back at the last several years -- especially at the weather patterns that were prevalent throughout the state.

After all, for more than two years, our region was plagued by some of the wettest weather in the last century. In that brief time period, we suffered three major floods and numerous smaller ones. The accompanying unstable weather patterns wreaked havoc and created some very spotty fishing conditions.

Finally, in the summer of 2006, the weather began to settle down, and last year saw some of the first stable weather patterns in a long while, from May through the fall. Those weather patterns in turn produced stable water conditions in most places, which resulted in above-average bass fishing throughout the state.

Not only was some excellent bass fishing in the state's lakes and reservoirs. The Delaware and Raritan rivers and other large streams experienced record-setting smallmouth fishing. Electro-shocking studies of those streams showed that their smallmouth populations are in excellent shape. Two good spawns in a row have been providing well-stocked year-classes for the future.

Here's a look at some of the best bass-producing waters in the Garden State, ones that should really produce for you during the 2008 season.

LAKE HOPATCONG
Without a doubt, the state's largest lake wears the crown for being 2007's top bass producer. Hopatcong's 2,658 surface acres of water offer bass fishermen the biggest variety of structure of any water in the state, with excellent populations of largemouth and smallmouth bass.

Biological studies show the lake's bass population to be in excellent shape, and for good reason. The lake's waters are in the best shape they have been in for over 20 years.

This, in large part, is thanks to the efforts of communities around the lake, along with the Knee Deep Fishing Club (the state's largest freshwater fishing club) and state efforts to clean up the lake's waters. Restrictions on sewage, fertilizer for lawns and runoff have helped clean up the lake's water problems.

Hopatcong has a maximum depth of 50 feet, with numerous coves that give bass anglers plenty of places to get away from boating traffic in this unlimited horsepower water.

Early-season fishing finds good action on live bait, spinnerbaits and swimming plugs in many of the lake's smaller coves, which warm up earlier than the main lake.

You will find excellent summer fishing around the lake's numerous docks. In addition, the backwaters of coves offer some excellent topwater action, with some of the best fishing occurring after dark when boat traffic is at its lightest.

SPLIT ROCK RESERVOIR
"Less known, but some of the best bass fishing in the state" is the way to describe our next pick in the northern part of the state. Split Rock Reservoir is part of the Jersey City water-supply system and is part of the Rockaway River Watershed.

The reservoir's 551 acres of water were trap-netted from the shoreline this past year. The average catch was 108 bass per hour, a mix of largemouths and smallmouths. This result shows a very high number of fish, especially for shoreline nettings.

Split Rock is a typical North Jersey reservoir with a hard rocky bottom and shoreline. This is one reason why the smallmouth population caught on quickly after the water was stocked several years back.

The reservoir has a mix of shallow and deep-water structure. Some of the best fishing is found at moderate depth in the rocky areas. In spring, most of the better fishing is towards the back of the reservoir, where the shallow water makes for some good live-bait and spinnerbait fishing.

Anglers after smallmouth in the reservoir during the summer months report that the best fishing occurs for those using crankbaits and jig combinations in the rocky areas. Surface baits will also produce over the rocky areas early and late in the day.

Largemouth fishermen will find the better fishing on jig-and-pig and jig-plastic bait combinations. Most of the better fishing in the fall is on live-bait and jig combinations.

The main complaint from fishermen has been the cartop boat launch that gives problems for fishermen launching bigger boats. Split Rock is slated to get a new boat launch and parking lot sometime in 2008, which should solve the launching problems.

The reservoir is an electric-only body of water, and shoreline fishing is very limited.

LAKE ASSUNPINK
The 225 surface acres of Lake Assunpink continue to provide fishermen with the best bass fishing found in the central part of New Jersey. Last season was no exception. Located at the headwaters of the Assunpink drainage system, the lake offers one of the state's more prolific bass-producing water systems.

Assunpink Lake annually gives up some of the best numbers of bass, along with numerous trophy bass each year. With an average depth of five feet and a maximum depth of 14 feet, it is a trophy bass water with special regulations.

One of the lake's main strengths is its excellent forage population. The entire Assunpink drainage system -- which includes Lake Mercer, Stone Tavern Lake, Rising Sun Lake, Dam Site 19 and Whitehead Pond -- has good bass populations, thanks to a healthy gizzard shad population.

The fishing in the lake starts in the spring with a good spinnerbait bite in the upper, shallow end of the lake.

Summer fishermen will find very good action while using plastic baits throughout the lake, as well as a good topwater bite along the lake's shallow north side and upper end.

Night-fishing is also excellent on constant-motion surface baits and plastic baits along the dam.

A recently built cement boat launch and dock, along with an ample paved parking lot, provides boat-fishermen with excellent access. This past year, the state paved the road leading to the boat launch. Shoreline access around the lake is also excellent.

CARNEGIE LAKE
If you're looking for a real sleeper water in the middle of the state, Carnegie Lake is another impoundment that annually serves up healthy numbers of bass -- and some trophy fish, too. The 2007 season was one of the in the last 10 years on to the lake's 237 surface acres of water. Excellent fishing can also be found in the Delaware and Raritan Canal, as well as the Millstone River, one of Carnegie's two feeder streams.

Carnegie Lake has a maximum depth of 10 feet with an average depth of four to five feet. The lake is a long, slender body of water that stretches out over two miles in length, but at its widest point is no more than the length of a football field. The lake is fed by the Millstone River, which passes via an aqueduct under the canal about midway down the lake.

The lake's other source of water is Stony Brook. Because two streams feed the lake, it is prone to color-break lines during rainy periods, which makes for some interesting fishing.

Carnegie Lake is a shallow-water fisherman's dream, with plenty of vegetation along the sides of the lake during the warmwater season.

During the early season, anglers will find plenty of bass in the shallows along the sides of the lake where it warms up quickly.

During the summer season, weedless-rigged plastic baits and topwater baits are the bass fishermen's main tools. The lake's banks are lined with trees, providing plenty of shadows that extend the surface-fishing in the morning and bring it on early in the evening. The north shoreline along the lake has numerous boat docks and fallen timber, which make plastic baits the tool of choice during the midday hours.

Carnegie is an electric-only lake, with a boat launch located on the lake's north side a short distance from the dam. Shoreline access is good along the lake's south side and spotty along the north side.

UNION LAKE
Located in the far southern portion of the state, Cumberland County's Union Lake is the largest impoundment in the southern half of New Jersey. The lake's 898 acres of water provide anglers with both largemouth and smallmouth bass. Union Lake gives anglers consistent quality bass fishing year after year. In 2007, the fishing was particularly excellent, as the lake got a boost from bass that were displaced from nearby Willow Grove Lake, when its waters were lowered for dam improvements.

Union Lake is a typical South Jersey water, being shallow in nature. However, its waters are less acidic and better suited for bass reproduction than many other lakes in this part of the Garden State. As with most shallow lakes in the lower part of the state, Union is one of the first bodies of water to wake up after the winter freeze. During mild years, anglers will fish right through the winter.

As the lake's water starts warming up in the spring, live bait and spinnerbaits usually take the bulk of the bass. As with many of the top lakes highlighted here, some of the best summer fishing is on the surface, with constant-motion surface baits after dark.

Daytime fishing is a weedless-rigged plastic-bait affair, with some of the better fishing being found in the back half of the lake. This area of Union Lake has plenty of weedlines along the vegetation jutting out from the shoreline.

The lake's dam was recently rebuilt. Since it's surrounded by a wildlife management area, there is good access for bank-fishermen. The lake also sports a recently rebuild launch ramp and has a 9.9-horsepower limit.

MALAGA LAKE
Are you looking for a small lake with good fishing? If so, then 105-acre Malaga Lake, which is fed by Scotland Run (a large tributary of the Maurice River drainage), is a good bass-fishing water.

Located in Gloucester County, with a maximum depth of nine feet, the lake is basically a place for shallow-water fishing enthusiasts.

Malaga is one of those lakes targeted heavily by early-season bass fishermen. The lake's east side averages three to four feet in depth, which is ideal for throwing spinnerbaits and shallow-swimming plugs during the early season.

When it comes to summer fishing, knowing how to fish vegetation is the key to the fishing Malaga. Years with decent amounts of rain will produce plenty of open-water pockets to fish with surface plugs and weedless-rigged plastic baits. Most of the better fishing is with topwater baits fished early and late in the day and with weedless-rigged worms and lizards.

Malaga is very susceptible to changes in water levels from rains. The lake is most productive after a heavy rain, which increases water levels and lifts up the vegetation. This creates a layer of water between the vegetation and the surface. Bass will hold in these regions, smashing at anything that moves along the surface.

Malaga Lake has a decent boat ramp and is an electric-only water. Shoreline fishing is excellent, however. Because of the vegetation along the sides of the lake, the better fishing is for those with boats.

DELAWARE RIVER
One water that really produced some hot fishing last year was the Delaware River. As stated before, the last five years' weather patterns had a real impact on the bass fishing in the state in 2007. The Delaware is a prime example.

Most anglers expected the years of high-water conditions from 2003 to 2005 to hurt the river's smallmouth bass population. However, it seems to have had the opposite effect. Cooperative shocking studies by New Jersey and Pennsylvania showed not only good numbers of smallmouths, but also an excellent mix of year-classes.

This past year, water conditions in the river were perfect from late spring into fall. Anglers encountered plenty of smallies, some tipping the scales to 5 pounds.

Early-season fishing is strictly live bait, mainly jigs tipped with minnows fished in the deeper areas and larger eddies of the river.

The river abounds in structure that ranges from eddies, dropoffs, points of land, bridge pilings, flats, finger structure and deep pools.

Summer fishing -- once the spawning is over -- is a different matter altogether. Early morning will provide super surface-plug and swimming-plug fishing. The nice thing about the river is that it has plenty of rapids and eddies that keep the water well oxygenated during the summer.

The Delaware River offers plenty of shoreline access for waders and shoreline fishermen, along with plenty of boat access on both sides of the river.

So there you have i

t -- a look some of the best bass fishing in New Jersey. Any and all of these waters should offer you excellent fishing during the 2008 season.

Hope to see you out there this spring and summer!

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