From Round Valley to Union Lake, plus three other picks, here are the top New Jersey bass fishing lakes. Is one near you?
The 2002 fishing season in the Garden State proved to be an interesting one, to say the least. After one of the best bass fishing seasons in many years during the prior season, the bass fishing did an about face last year. A warmer than normal winter, followed by a rainy spring and super-dry summer combined to create roller coaster conditions that really sidetracked bass fishermen.
One of the main effects the erratic weather patterns have had on the bass fishing was to cause low-water conditions in most lakes and reservoirs during the warmest part of the year. This meant some tough conditions for bass and fishermen.
Vegetation in most waters was way above average, especially in the lower part of the state, where many shallow lakes and ponds became weed choked. Likewise, the lower water conditions also changed a lot of the structure in lakes and reservoirs. In some bodies of water this hurt the fishing, while in others it enhanced it.
This led to some interesting changes in many of the state’s top bass-fishing spots. Traditional hotspots like Lake Hopatcong and Greenwood Lake were harder to fish than in the past. On the opposite side of the coin, places like Round Valley and Manasquan reservoirs produced some of the best bass fishing that fishermen had seen in several years.
ROUND VALLEY RESERVOIR
One of the top spots for bass fishermen in New Jersey is Round Valley Reservoir. Round Valley is better noted for its trout fishing. Producing the state record for lake trout and brown trout, Round Valley is considered to be the best trophy trout-fishing hole in the state; hence, bass fishermen who look to more traditional bass producers, such as Lake Hopatcong and Lake Musconetcong, largely overlook it.
Round Valley is a unique body of water in that it has its water pumped into it rather than being filled by a feeder stream. This means that the reservoir’s water color and clarity are very stable; however, it also means that the structure changes during dry periods, such as the summer of 2002. The lower water changed the shorelines and brought a lot of structure closer to the surface, making bass easier to get at and giving anglers easier fishing. Even with the lower water levels, Round Valley still possesses plenty of deep-water structure and bass are often found suspended around it during the spring.
Topwater anglers enjoyed good fishing last year; however, how good the surface fishing will be this season will have a lot to do with the water levels in the reservoir. Under normal conditions, jigs, deep-diving crankbaits and plastic worms, worked in and around the submerged treetops and vegetation, are your main tools to catch bass. As with all the other top bass spots detailed here, Round Valley has good largemouth and smallmouth populations. In fact, Carol Marciniak caught the state-record smallmouth from Round Valley in 1990. Her big smallie weighed in at a whopping 7 pounds, 2 ounces!
With 2,350 acres of surface water, Round Valley is one of the state’s biggest bass-fishing holes. There is an excellent paved boat launch, along with plenty of shoreline access and ample parking, as well as a 10-horsepower rule on the reservoir. The horsepower limit keeps fishing pressure down a bit, too, as anglers with high-powered bass boats can’t use them on Round Valley.
Swartswood Lake, at 494 surface acres, is one of the largest natural lakes found in the state. Swartswood Lake provides anglers with a chance to test their deep-water fishing skills. Eighty percent of the lake is deeper than 10 feet, and although there are several areas that give the angler some shallow-water fishing, jig combinations, deep-running crankbaits and spinnerbaits will unlock the secrets to the lake’s best bass fishing.
Swartswood Lake has been a sleeper for many years when it comes to being one of the state’s best bass waters. Last year changed that status for lots of fishermen. As many of the state’s top waters produce poor bassing due to the up-and-down weather patterns, a lot of anglers tried waters they had not fished before. As a result, Swartswood Lake emerged as one of the state’s most consistent largemouth bass producers.
The big lake does have its limitations, and one of those is the “electric-only” rule. The lake is often windswept and it’s wise to keep a spare battery on board if you intend to fish this large lake for any length of time. Shoreline fishing is adequate and boat launch facilities are good.
Manasquan Reservoir really came into its own this past season as one of the state’s top bass-producing waters. The reservoir’s 770 acres of surface water have a maximum depth of 40 feet and average depths range between 10 and 20 feet. Parking is available, and there is excellent shoreline and boat access.
The reservoir not only has a first-rate largemouth population, it also possesses one of the better smallmouth populations of any reservoir found in the state. Smallies to 6 pounds have been taken from the reservoir and weighed on the scales of local tackle shops this past season. Not only that, but some hefty largemouths were taken from the lake as well. Manasquan Reservoir also has an excellent hybrid striped bass population that also keeps rods bent.
Plenty of consideration was given to the lake’s fish populations when it was constructed. Stumps and riprap were left in the lake when it was filled. Additionally, brushpiles and fish-holding structures were placed in the reservoir after it was filled. Several good dropoffs exist in the lake, and the old creekbed is also a top fish-holding structure. Vegetation is still sparse in the lake. Recent catches of largemouth and smallmouth bass have been excellent and both fish populations are still vying for dominance.
Swimming plugs and crankbaits, both shallow-running and deep-diving versions, are some of the top lures used on the lake, especially in the spring when bass will suspend in 10 to 20 feet of water. Jigging is also a good method, especially when used around brushpiles and other debris located along the medium-depth dropoffs that are found in the lake. A good many of the bigger largemouths taken from the lake were pulled out of the treetops by anglers using plastic baits.
Originally the reservoir was supposed to have a 10-horsepower rule; however, the water company that runs the reservoir decided on electric motors only. Because of its size and nearness to the Jersey Shore (which often means it is windswept), make sure you have plenty of battery power when fishing the Manasquan Reservoir from a boat.
One of the top perennial bass-producing waters in the central part of New Jersey is Lake Assunpink. This lake annually produces some of the best catches of good-sized bass in the state. Despite drought conditions, anglers enjoyed good bassing last season and should this year, too. Bass in the 6- and 7-pound class were weighed in at several local tackle shops. Bass tournaments on the lake produced good results for anglers.
Ask anyone who fishes Lake Assunpink on a regular basis as to why it was productive when most of its better known counterparts were not and you’ll likely to get 10 different answers. There were, however, a few factors that Lake Assunpink has in its favor. Lake Assunpink’s waters come from a drainage system of the same name. Unlike most other drainages that were severely affected by the drought, water levels, while lower, remained relatively stable at Assunpink.
The large number of springs that seep into the lake also helps keep its water a few degrees cooler than most other lakes. Assunpink is often wind- swept even under the slightest breeze. This produces good oxygen levels, which allows bass to cope with the higher water temperatures.
The lake’s 225 acres of surface water are largely shallow and the lake has silted in considerably since it was built. The lake’s backwaters contain heavy vegetation during the summer and this produces excellent surface plugging action. Even though its waters are much shallower than the other lakes we discussed, Lake Assunpink still has plenty of open water and 10-foot-plus water where plastic baits will provide you with good bass-fishing action. In particular, the old streambed that is still visible on a depthfinder produces some excellent numbers of bass on jig-and-pig and jig-and-plastic worm combinations.
Unlike the other lakes detailed here, Assunpink does not have a smallmouth population. The lake’s maximum depth is about 15 feet, with an electric motor-only rule. One of the drawbacks the lake has is its boat launch, which is a dirt ramp. Anglers with larger boats can have a problem launching, especially under low-water conditions. Shoreline access is ample, as is the parking.
Another lake that saw a real resurgence last season is Union Lake. Located in Cumberland County, the lake’s 898 surface acres have become one of south Jersey’s top bass-producing waters. The lake has always been a top favorite of local bass anglers; however, it got a lot more attention from anglers throughout the state this past season.
After an extensive face-lift to the dam, plus alleviating some of the lake’s pollution problems and a restocking by the state, Union Lake has rebounded into one of the best fishing holes in New Jersey. Union Lake offers bass fishermen a variety of structure to fish and is a year-round producer.
The lake’s shallow nature makes it a surface fisherman’s paradise during the warm-water season, especially for anglers who like to fish by the light of the moon. As with some of our other top bass fishing choices, Union Lake has a bass population made up of largemouth and smallmouth bass, as well as hybrid striped bass.
Crankbaits and swimming plugs are effective offerings for fishermen who seek bass. As with most south Jersey lakes, plastic worms are one of the top choices during the summer months. Black and purple worms seem to fool more than their fair share of bass at Union Lake.
The lake has a 10-horsepower rule, but it is one of the few lakes where gas motors are allowed. Excellent shoreline access is available at Union Lake, and there is also an excellent boat launch with ample parking.
SOME OTHER GOOD CHOICES
In addition to the five lakes we have mentioned, there are also several other bodies of water that produced excellent fishing last season and have a bright outlook for the coming season. In particular, the Salem Canal in south Jersey, was red-hot during the summer and early fall. A shallow body of water, spinnerbaits and swimming plugs were the top producers, with some good numbers of bass being plucked from its tree-lined shores.
Another good bet is the twin sisters of Lake Assunpink: Rising Sun (38 acres) and Stone Tavern (52 acres) lakes. Both lakes are located on the same drainage system, and are actually smaller versions of Lake Assunpink. While both are considerably smaller in size, they are also deeper with maximum depths of 20 feet. Both lakes are great places to cast deep-running crankbaits and plastic worms.
In the northwestern portion of the state, Merrill Creek Reservoir (650 acres) received high marks from bass fishermen. This is another body of water that benefited from the drought. The reservoir’s main purpose is for water supply, with water being pumped up into it from the Delaware River at high water and then released during dry periods.
The reservoir has always had healthy largemouth and smallmouth populations, with most of the better fishing taking place in the submerged treetops, which were left in the lake when it was flooded. This past year saw a sizeable drop in water levels and this created a whole new shoreline, which super-charged the bass fishing. Largemouths in the 8-pound class are being pulled from the reservoir, and there are plenty of fish in the 1- to 3-pound class. Topwater plugs and plastic worms are the ticket here.
One last spot we would like to mention is the 376-acre Budd Lake. Located in the northern portion of the state off U.S. Route 46, the lake forms the headwaters of the South Branch of the Raritan River. While it is not a deep body of water (with a maximum depth of 12 feet), Budd Lake has healthy smallmouth and largemouth bass populations.
During the 2002 season, the spring-fed waters of the lake produced some very good catches of smallies, along with a decent number of largemouths over 5 pounds. The shallow nature of the lake makes it one of the better topwater lakes, and early-morning and evening fishing often produces the biggest bass. Outboards are allowed on the lake, so the summer months see a lot of boating traffic. This is the reason some of the better fishing is during the off hours.
There you have it, a look at some of the better bass holes in the Garden State. Last year was a very unusual one that changed the way a good many Garden State bass fishermen approached their sport. As many of the best bass lakes did not produce good fishing, anglers had their eyes opened to other waters in the state. You can bet the house that many of those same anglers who found success in the lesser-known bass waters of the state will take a crack at these waters this season.