So you’re an avid largemouth bass fisherman living in the Garden State. You watch bass tournaments on TV and participate in local events. You probably even know that George Perry caught the official all-tackle, world-record largemouth bass in Georgia back in 1932. His unbelievable bass weighed in at an astounding 22 pounds, 4 ounces! It was caught on a jointed minnow plug called the Creek Chub Wiggle Fish, a plug that looks like a 4-inch-long yellow perch.
Two other bass nearly as big were caught from Castaic Lake out in California during the 1990s. All of these fish far outweigh New Jersey’s record bass. So what does this all mean to you, a Garden State bass enthusiast?
Obviously, hooking the new world-record largemouth is out of the question, but what about the state-record largemouth? Bob Eisele, an avid outdoorsman from Leesburg, caught his 10-pound, 14-ounce state-record bass from the Menantico Sand Wash Pond back in 1980. That’s a big bass, no matter where you live, and an amazing catch here in the Garden State. But it’s a record that could be broken by some skilled (and lucky) angler who happens to be fishing the right lake at the right time.
Let’s take a look at the events that led to Eisele’s fine catch and examine several spots where today’s fishermen may encounter the new state record.
MENANTICO SAND WASH POND
The Menantico Sand Wash Pond is a series of ponds found in Cumberland County, just off state Route 49. Eisele caught his fish from the largest of these ponds, at 62 acres (really a small lake). All of these ponds are long, narrow and get deep fast. The Menantico Creek feeds into these ponds and empties on the other end into the brackish waters of the Maurice River. These ponds are so deep because they’re actually pits left over from sand-mining operations to make glass. Each pond’s waters are clear and deep — not exactly what you’d picture as ideal largemouth habitat.
On that fateful day, Bob Eisele was casting a light 1/8-ounce homemade leadhead bucktail jig, complete with a yellow Mister Twister. Casting from shore, he bounced his jig along the bottom. That’s when the lunker largemouth took his lure. “I’m sure I’d caught this bass before, because he’d go deep into a brushpile and break me off,” remarked Eisele. “I was using lighter line, maybe 4- to 6-pound-test at first when I visited these ponds, ’cause I was actually after crappies and perch. When I started catching bass, I came back with heavier line in the 12-pound-test range.”
The day of his record catch took place in early June after the fish had spawned. Bob Eisele was ready for the lunker’s tactics. As soon as the big bass hit, he ran down the shoreline to get it away from a brushpile.
“The bass hogged down deep, and I ran down the bank to get him away from the brushpile,” he said. “Naturally, I fell in.” But Eisele held on and fought the bass to shore, where he pulled it up onto the bank into some honeysuckle. It was the fastest way to get the bass onto dry land, because he’d forgotten to take along a net. In the end, though, the skilled angler won out, and New Jersey bass-fishing history was made on June 7, 1980.
WHERE WILL THE NEXT RECORD LIKELY COME FROM?
Checking back over the last 25 years’ worth of Skillful Angler Award Program’s records on bass caught in New Jersey waters doesn’t clearly reveal any lake, river or reservoir as THE place to go catch the next state-record largemouth bass. But don’t despair, because the next record fish could come from some unlikely water, perhaps an overlooked pond or unlikely lake like my hometown lake of Spring Lake.
For example, several of the biggest largemouth bass ever caught in New Jersey (including the state record) hail from ponds. Steve Buck caught the nearest contender to the record bass, a whopping 10-pound, 9-ounce lunker, while fishing from a local pond in Manahawkin back in 1986. His bass was just 5 ounces shy of tying with Eisele’s fish for the No. 1 spot. Two other heavyweight bass — an 8-pound, 6.5-ounce fish caught by Monte Tabor in 1987 and an 8-pound, 2-ounce bass taken by Joe Angelini in 1995 — were caught from a private lake and a private pond, respectively.
Other big bass, such as Mercerville resident Sebastiano Stia’s 9-pound, 8-ounce lunker from Assunpink Lake (2003 Skillful Angler Award winner), Kenneth Myers’ 8-pound, 12-ounce monster, and Jerry Gubbine’s 8-pound, 10-ounce brute, were taken from public waters. Myers’ 1990 catch was from Sunset Lake (88 acres in Cumberland County), while Gubbine’s 1989 award-winning fish came out of Parvins Mill (95 acres in Salem County). Ken Williams’ 8-pound, 8.5-ounce bass from 1992 hails from Mary Elmer Lake (also simply known as Elmer Lake in Salem County). Elmer Lake is just outside of the town of Elmer, off U.S. Route 40.
Interestingly, Eisele feels that the next state-record bass will likely hail from Mary Elmer Lake. Eisele was told that according to rumors, several years ago the state may have electro-shocked a bass out of Mary Elmer Lake that might have been bigger than Eisele’s record. This bass was released back into the lake.
Several of our state’s better-known waters, such as Union Lake (898 acres in Cumberland County), Lake Hopatcong (2,684 acres in Morris/Sussex counties), Swartswood (494 acres in Sussex County) and Little Swartswood Lake (74 acres in Sussex County) have all produced big bass over the years. Union Lake and Little Swartswood provided 7-pound, 10-ounce bass for two skilled anglers. Frank Chinnici took his big bass in 1994 from Union Lake, years before the lake’s dam was repaired in 2001.
Union Lake’s fishing looks even more promising than before, with more stable water levels and better predator-to-prey ratios after being renovated five years ago. Phil Cummings caught his lunker largemouth from Little Swartswood in 1993. And last but not least, Dominick Bizzari bested a 6-pound, 12-ounce bass from well-known Lake Hopatcong in 1997.
Obviously, all of these lakes will be worth a look this season, too.
AGAINST THE ODDS
And what are the chances of ever catching a 10-plus pound largemouth bass in New Jersey waters? It may be easier to win the lottery. After all, it takes largemouth bass an average of five years to reach 5 pounds in New Jersey’s climate. To get to 10 pounds or more, a bass in the Garden State would have to be in the 12-year-old
range. Bass will grow a bit faster in south Jersey waters, and savvy readers may have already noticed that most of the biggest bass mentioned here hail from southern state lakes and ponds. Studies indicate that out of 20,000 eggs laid, only 50 bass even make it through their first year. To make it to almost 11 pounds goes against great odds, but it’s definitely possible.
Anglers can be recognized for their outstanding catches through our state’s Skillful Angler Awards Program. A largemouth bass of 6 pounds or more, properly weighed and processed, will earn you a certificate. For more information, write to New Jersey Skillful Angler Awards Program, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, P.O. Box 400, Trenton, NJ, 08625-0400; or visit their Web site: www.njfishandwildlife.com. Perhaps you’ll be the next angler to catch New Jersey’s next record! It won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible!