5 Up-And-Coming Garden State Bass Picks

5 Up-And-Coming Garden State Bass Picks

At Split Rock Reservoir and the Menantico Sand Ponds, plus at three other top picks, you'll find freshwater fishing spots for overlooked, top-rate bassing in our state.

Somewhere in New Jersey, there may be a largemouth bass that could break the long-standing record for the species, set by a 10-pound, 14-ounce specimen.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt

When you consider the fact that there are seven to eight times as many saltwater anglers in New Jersey as there are freshwater fishermen, one might think that poor freshwater fishing might be the cause. But just because the state has lots of beachfront access to fantastic saltwater angling doesn't mean there isn't any good freshwater fishing here. Most of the Garden State's sweet water anglers will attest to that. In fact, New Jersey has some of the best freshwater fishing of any state found along the East Coast. Bass anglers will tell you that includes their favorite targets: largemouth and smallmouth bass.

One thing New Jersey offers freshwater fishermen is variety. From deep mountain lakes and reservoirs, to farm ponds, shallow stump-filled lakes, tidal rivers and streams, bass chasers have a real smorgasbord of waters to test their skills. Likewise, while some of the state's bass waters are well known, there are also little-known honeyholes that offer superb fishing.

Most Garden State bass fishermen will agree that a lot of the traditional bass-producing lakes saw off years during the 2004 season. For the last two years, New Jersey has received well above average rainfall. In fact, the 2004 season saw several floods that elevated water levels in the state's bigger reservoirs and lakes.

This high water created some tough conditions for bass chasers. These conditions caused many bass anglers to change their strategy over the last couple of years and fish some of the lesser-known bodies of water. As a result, a lot of bass fishermen found out there are plenty of other good bass waters in the state. What follows are five of the top lesser-known bodies of water that paid big dividends in 2004 and will figure prominently in the list of top spots to fish in 2005.

SPLITROCK RESERVOIR

The first pick is Splitrock Reservoir, which really came into its own as a top bass producer over the last couple of years. Located in Morris County, Splitrock Reservoir borders on Farny State Park near the town of Lyonsville.

While the reservoir has been around for many years, it's only been in recent years that it has garnered the attention of bass fishermen. Previously, this reservoir had limited access. But several years back the state acquired the lands around the boat launch and created more access for boat-fishermen.

One of the chief complaints about the reservoir has been the boat launch, which is not in the best of shape and is difficult to launch a boat from; however, most bass fishermen would agree that the fishing in the reservoir is well worth the extra effort of launching a boat. Plans have been discussed for improving and expanding the boat launch, though money problems the Division of Fish and Wildlife is experiencing have put any improvements on hold for the foreseeable future. The reservoir is an electric motors-only body of water.

A typical highlands reservoir, Splitrock was stocked with smallmouth bass by the state in 2000. The rocky nature of the lake is ideal for smallies and they took to its habitat quickly, making the reservoir one of the top smallmouth producing lakes in the state. In the last two years, bass topping the 5-pound range have been pulled from the lake.

Because of the layout of the reservoir, north to south, some of the best fishing is found in the morning along the eastern side of the reservoir. While the shaded waters of the east side of the lake produce some decent fishing on surface lures, the choices of many anglers are sinking swimming plugs, crankbaits and jig combinations. Much of the bass fishing takes place in water 5 to 20 feet over rocky areas. Jig combinations and sinking plugs, along with deep-diving crankbaits, are ideal for catching any bass that lurks in the shadows of these areas.

Another way used to find these deep-dwelling bass is through the use of bottom-walking rigs and plastic baits. Carolina- and Jersey-rigged plastic worms and lizards also take their share of bass during the warmwater season.

Because of the lake's location (north-central mountainous part of the state), the waters of the reservoir turn over a lot sooner then in other areas. This usually causes the bass to suspend in the layers of warmer water in the coldwater season. Likewise, these fish will also suspend for short periods in the cooler layers of water during the warmwater season. This creates excellent conditions for trolling and dead-sticking live bait and jigs. Both methods allow anglers to keep their presentations among the suspended bass for longer periods of time.

If the last couple of years are any indication, Splitrock Reservoir will increasingly become a "must-go-to" water among Garden State bass enthusiasts.

CRANBERRY LAKE

Some drainage systems have a reputation for producing good bass-fishing waters. The Musconetcong drainage is just such a system. While the Musconetcong River is better known for its trout fishing, there are several lakes located along its waters that produce some excellent bass fishing.

Cranberry Lake, in particular, is a real sleeper and one of the most underrated bodies of water in the state. It is a shallow (maximum depth of 15 feet) natural lake (179 acres of surface water) that has excellent populations of largemouth and smallmouth bass. It is also one of the few lakes in the state that has unlimited horsepower, making it of special interest to boat-fishermen who have bigger boats.

If you like fishing heavy cover, Cranberry Lake's abundant vegetation, with its numerous open-water pockets, will be much to your liking. Early morning and late afternoon, fishermen will find some explosive topwater action with poppers and darters during the summer months, especially on cloudy and overcast days. The cover that the vegetation provides during the midday hours serves up some good fishing on weedless-rigged plastic baits. Weedless-rigged pork baits retrieved across the vegetation and allowed to fall into the open-water pockets also make a good choice throughout the day, as does the old standby of a weedless spoon and pork rind combination.

Some of the biggest bass taken from the lake come early and late in the season. Cranberry Lake is one of the first lakes to come on strong in the spring, serving up some decent bass fishing on in-line spinners, spinnerbaits and live bait.

Because the lake has a lot of vegetation,

which takes a long time to die off in the fall, the fishing lasts longer here as the action wanes in most other lakes. Casting swimming plugs or live-lining minnows around the decaying vegetation can produce some good fishing, especially in the late afternoons. Right now, of course, topwater plugs, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and plastics will take their share of bass.

Unlike the other bodies of water in this article, shoreline access on Cranberry is scarce. The lake's shores are lined with private property. Located off the west side of U.S. Route 206, the lake borders Allamuchy Mountain State Park.

FARRINGTON LAKE

One lake that has really bounced back big time in recent years is Farrington Lake. This mid-state lake has been around for a long time, and has had its ups and downs. However, Farrington's 290 acres of surface water, have been high on the hit list of knowledgeable bass fishermen for the last few years, thanks to a resurgence in the lake's forage populations.

Located in Middlesex County off U.S. Route 130, Farrington is a long, slender body of water with a maximum depth of 14 feet; the lake's shaded shorelines have varying amounts of aquatic vegetation. An electric motors-only lake, Farrington still hosts numerous bass-fishing tournaments each year.

The lake contains an excellent variety of structure, ranging from the pilings of an old trolley trestle to overhanging trees and vegetation. Shoreline access is fair to good with three bridges crossing the lake at different points. Jig-fishermen can find some decent bass action, especially early and late in the season around these bridge abutments. The lake's upper region, known to locals as Davidson's Mills is shallow and often becomes too weedy during the summer months. Pork frogs, plastic worms and spinnerbaits will provide some good results during the dog days of summer. Occasionally, surface fishing will pay off in the early morning, especially toward the headwaters of the lake.

The shoreline along the midsection of the lake is tree lined. This, in combination with the west-to-east layout of the lake, produces plenty of shadows throughout the day. These shadows give bass a lot of places to hold up during the midday hours of summer. These areas are ideal for anglers casting weedless-rigged plastic baits, floating swimming plugs and crankbaits.

The lake has no paved boat launches, but gravel boat launch areas are available off the roads that cross the lake and connect with north-bound Route 130.

DEAL LAKE

Located just north of Asbury Park only a few hundred feet from the ocean, this 158-acre coastal lake makes for some interesting bass fishing. The lake's unique shape, which is long and slender with six narrow coves off the main body, offers good shoreline and boat fishing. Deal Lake has always been a top bass spot for local fishermen; in recent years, a lot more bass clubs have been hosting tournaments on the lake with good results.


If you like fishing heavy cover, Cranberry Lake's abundant vegetation, with its numerous open-water pockets, will be much to your liking.
 

Deal Lake is shallow with a maximum depth of 9 feet. A total of nine bridges cross over the lake, and its shorelines are very accessible for shore-bound fishermen, except in a few areas.

Summer and early fall are the prime times to fish the lake. But because it is prone to heavy amounts of vegetation, most anglers choose to use surface plugs, poppers and darters along the edges of the vegetation in the early morning. Evening fishermen will find some very good fishing on constant motion surface plugs like buzzbaits and Jitterbugs, especially on dark nights when the moon is hidden.

The last couple of seasons have seen some excellent action on jig-and-pigs and weedless-rigged plastic baits, worked close to shore in 3 to 4 feet of water. Because the lake is so spread out and has numerous coves, anglers have the opportunity to cast parallel to the shorelines, which have 2- to 4-foot dropoffs all along them. Bass often hide in the shadows of the shorelines along these dropoffs and vegetation.

A plastic bait worked slowly is usually just the ticket for hooking a bucketmouth or two. During the fall, when most local fishermen are chasing stripers and blues along the surf, serious largemouth bass fishermen can find some excellent action casting and slowly retrieving minnows along the drops and decaying vegetation of this fine lake.

Deal Lake is another water where gasoline outboard motors are allowed; the lake has adequate boat launch and parking available as well.

MENANTICO SAND PONDS

For the fifth and last choice, let's go with another group of ponds that have seen a resurgence during the last couple of years: Menantico Sand Ponds. This series of former gravel pits are located in Cumberland County, well south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Their 62 acres of surface water have long been known as a top bass-producing spot among bass fishermen, especially those from South Jersey. In fact, the state-record largemouth bass (10 pounds, 4 ounces, taken in 1980 from the Menantico Sand Ponds by Bob Eisele) has held up as the record for 25 years.

This collection of ponds is located just southeast of Millville, off state Route 49. A lot of South Jersey's surface water is too acidic for good bass populations. However, Menantico's 40-foot-deep clear waters are the result of gravel excavations that hit springs, which produced excellent water quality. These springs keep Menantico waters clean and cool throughout the year and these conditions make the ponds an exception to the normal waters found in this area.

The ponds are characterized by dropoffs and humps left over from the dredging. Add fallen trees, logs and other debris lying along these drop-offs and you have plenty of places for bass to hold up.

As with a couple of the other waters highlighted here, the ponds' north-to-south positioning produces some excellent fishing along the east side during the early morning. Being that the ponds' shorelines are tree-lined, fishing in the shadows can last well into the late morning.


Shoreline access to Menantico Sand Ponds is available but difficult. Remember this, though: State-record holder Bob Eisele caught his big bass while fishing from the bank.
 

During the summer, savvy anglers will cast swimming plugs and surface lures close to the shoreline and in the shadows. This will put you into the early-morning action with bass. Once the bass move into deeper water, most anglers who frequent the ponds choose to fish jig combinations, such as jig-and-pigs and weedless-rigged plastic baits. In recent years, plastic worms rigged wacky-style have been top producers for bucketmouths in the ponds.

As the season starts to change and th

e water temperature cools, jigs will still be your ticket to catch bass in these ponds. Both jig and plastic bait combinations and jig/live bait combinations will give you good results as long as you slow down your retrieval speeds to deal with cooler waters. While many anglers choose to use shiners to catch bass, killies also produce good results, as this baitfish is common to the region. Hook these minnows through the head and cast and retrieve them with a stop-and-go motion. Be sure to hold onto your fishing rod or you might have it pulled out of your hand!

Shoreline access to Menantico Sand Ponds is available but difficult. Remember this, though: State-record holder Bob Eisele caught his big bass while fishing from the bank. Boat access is located at the end of a short road off state Route 49.

There you have it, a look at some of the lesser-known bass-fishing spots in the Garden State that made a splash with bass anglers this past season. All five picks are up-and-coming hotspots where the fishing should be even better this summer.

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