These 36 prime piscatorial picks in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey will put you onto fish right now -- and throughout the new year! (February 2006)
Great fishing opportunities await you in New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware year 'round. Here's a look at 36 fine destinations that promise top action this year.
Manasquan River, N.J.
Our first pick for the year is a unique fishery. Several years back, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) began stocking the Manasquan River with sea-run brown trout. The Manasquan River has always been one of the top trout streams in the central-coastal region of the state. And before the actual sea-run stocking effort, a limited number of sea-run brown and steelhead trout were being caught each year from the regular spring and fall trout stockings. Then it was decided that 35,000 surplus brown trout would be let go in the river in an attempt to establish another fishery.
While there have been no major spawning runs reported in the river, there are a fair number of both sea-run browns and steelhead trout being caught each winter. Fish topping the 10-pound mark have been caught in the river, and increasing numbers of anglers are trying their luck for the sea-run fish each year.
In addition to the sea-run fish in the Manasquan River, the DFW stocks the stream with several thousand trout each fall and the river has an excellent holdover ratio.
Lake Hopatcong, N.J.
How about a little more variety in our choice of top spots during February? A good many fishermen will hunker down during the winter season, especially right now in the dead of winter. February, however, is time to break out the jigging rods and tip-ups and look to the hardwater sport of ice-fishing. Garden State anglers, in particular, look to the northern portion of the state for some premier hardwater fishing. Lake Hopatcong is one body of water that receives the lion's share of attention from ice-fishermen.
Lake Hopatcong is the state's largest natural lake, offering anglers 2,685 acres of surface water. Because of its layout, the lake has plenty of coves that are sheltered from the wind and freeze up, even under mild weather conditions. For the last several years, the ice-fishing on the lake has lasted well into March.
The lake possesses excellent yellow perch, crappie and bluegill populations. During the ice-fishing season, most of the better fishing action will take place in 5 to 15 feet of water over submerged weedbeds. Small jigs tipped with mousies, mealworms or maggots can give you some non-stop action. Tip-up fishermen will find excellent fishing for pickerel, walleyes, smallmouths and largemouths, along with an occasional trout or hybrid striped bass.
Loch Raven Reservoir, Md.
This Baltimore County impoundment offers anglers 2,400 acres of some of the finest early-season fishing found on the East Coast. Even though this sizable reservoir is located within reach of Washington and Baltimore, fishing pressure is light.
Most seasons don't see the reservoir freeze up to any extent. Crappie fishermen can find some excellent pre-spawn fishing. By the time March rolls around, water temperatures are in the upper 40s to low 50s, and crappies will start schooling in the deeper water just off the spawning areas. Anywhere you find fallen timber, stumpbeds and riprap, you can expect good fishing.
This is especially true on portions of the lake that the sun shines on for the longest part of the day. Once you have located a pocket of suspended crappies around structure, you can anchor your boat and catch crappies with minnow-tipped jigs.
Loch Raven Reservoir is strictly controlled by the Baltimore County Department of Parks and Recreation. The lake is electric motors only and some areas of the reservoir are off-limits to fishermen.
Trap Pond, Del.
If you are looking for some good early-season fishing away from the hordes of trout fishermen, why not take on that set of choppers with fins better known as chain pickerel? For early-season action, one of the best spots is Trap Pond in Delaware.
The habitat found in Trap Pond is ideal for good pickerel fishing. This water is shallow in nature and full of fish-holding objects, such as logs, stumps and other favorite pickerel haunts. Being shallow, the lake warms quickly during the early season and April usually produces the peak of the early-season angling.
C&D Canal, Del.
How about another change of pace? Let's take on some catfish during May. Channel catfish grow quickly and one of the places where they seem to be on growth hormones is the C&D Canal. The C&D Canal has always produced some of the biggest catfish taken in the Diamond State each year. May is the start of prime time for catfishing and the C&D Canal has channel cats, blue cats and bullheads that can give you some excellent action.
The C&D Canal offers plenty of access for shoreline fishermen. There are four piers located along the canal where anglers can fish. Some of the best fishing is in the deep water close to the bulkheads and along the rock- lined banks. Boat access is also good; however, you must remember that plenty of boats, big and small, navigate the canal. This can make fishing difficult, especially during times of high traffic.
Most serious catfish anglers prefer to bank-fish in the canal rather than ply their trade from a boat. Like most whiskerfish chasers, these fishermen will dunk a variety of baits, including chicken livers, shrimp, worms and live shiners.
Lake Mercer, N.J.
Lake Mercer is located just northeast of the capitol city of Trenton. Best known for its bass and crappie fishing, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife introduced tiger muskies into the 275-acre lake in the late 1980s, though for the first few years it did not look like the program would be successful. However, by the mid to late '90s, reports of "alligators" snatching bass from fishermen's lines proved to be the fast-growing tiger muskies.
The tiger muskie program was discontinued a of couple years back in favor of stocking true-strain muskies. In recent years, muskies topping the 22-pound mark have been pulled from the lake, and a chapter of Muskies Inc. has adopted Mercer to further the muskie fishing in the lake.
The lake is not deep, with 18-foot-deep water found in a couple of sections only; however, one of the reasons that the muskie population has thrived in the lake is the presence of sizeable schools of gizzard
Lake Mercer has several lengthy dropoffs, fallen timber and several sizable coves, which is ideal habitat for muskellunge. Many of the bigger muskies are taken on spinnerbaits, large jerkbaits and swimming plugs.
Susquehanna River, Md.
Susquehanna State Park is located on the shores of the Susquehanna River in Maryland, in the central portion of the state about three miles northwest of Havre de Grace in Harford County.
The Susquehanna River is one of the best-known bass rivers along the East Coast and is the site of numerous tournaments each year. Shoreline access is excellent all through the park and your main boat launch is at the Lapidum Boat Ramp. Summer largemouth fishing is prime time during July.
Camping facilities are excellent here, and there are a limited number of electric sites and cabins. For information on Susquehanna State Park, call (410) 557-7994 or (410) 836-6735; or write Susquehanna State Park, c/o Rocks State Park, 3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Road, Jarrettsville, MD 21084.
Deep Creek Lake, Md.
Located amid the Appalachian Mountains in Garrett County, in the far northwestern corner of the state, Deep Creek is one of Maryland's largest bodies of fresh water and home to some of the best summer bass fishing found in the state.
Water temperatures in the lake are usually in the upper 70s and low 80s by August. The lake offers anglers a wide variety of structure to fish. Early morning finds some good surface action in the shallows and weedbeds. When the bass go into deeper water after the sun gets on the water, the 15- to 25-foot dropoffs will serve up some good jigging.
Anglers will find excellent boating facilities at Deep Creek Lake, as well as topnotch campgrounds for those who like to enjoy an extended stay.
Potomac River, Md.
The Potomac River is another water that carries a big reputation as being a honeyhole for bass fishermen, especially those who pursue bronzebacks. The river has plenty of shoreline access and is a wader's paradise. Another thing that the river has going for it is that the fall fishing usually lasts at least until the end of the year. Weather conditions will usually determine how good or how poor the bass fishing is, as the river will rise quickly under rainy conditions.
When it comes to the lures that are successful on the river, jig-plastic bait combinations are the top bets in the numerous pockets and eddies that abound in the river. Early and late-day topwater action is also usually very good. Toward the end of the month when the water starts to cool, jigging minnows and hellgrammites are a couple of top best bets, as are small spinnerbaits fished slowly in the deeper pools and bigger eddies.
Musconetcong River, N.J.
The fall trout-stocking program is one of the best programs Garden State anglers have going. Twelve of the state's top streams and several of the state's better lakes are stocked with trout. One of the top streams for fall fishermen is the Musconetcong.
One section that receives a good number of trout lies between state Route (SR) 31 near New Hampton and Mowder roads, which run south of SR 57. Musconetcong River Road parallels the stream in this section, and there are several roads with old stone or steel bridges that cross the stream here, as well as a couple of washed-out mill dams that provide some very picturesque fall fishing.
Saxon Falls is another good section of river that is well known. A third good section is the portion of the river that flows downstream from the SR 519 bridge to the Delaware River.
Lake Hopatcong, N.J.
One of the biggest successes in fisheries management in the Garden State has been the excellent walleye population that the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife has fostered in Lake Hopatcong. Thanks to the refurbishing of the 100-year-old-plus Charles O'Hayford Fish Hatchery into a warmwater fisheries producer, the state began walleye stocking programs in several bodies of water. And the lake where they have been most successful is Lake Hopatcong.
While the walleye fishery has developed into a year-round affair, the prime time for the bigger fish is during November. By the time November arrives, the waters in the lake have cooled into the 40s and the walleyes have moved into the shallow, rocky areas. The best action usually takes place right around dark and just after dark. The lake is studded with rocky areas with 15- to 25-foot depths, which the walleyes seem to prefer as the season wanes.
Two principle methods are used to take marble-eyes. Some seasoned anglers prefer to troll for walleyes with deep-running swimming plugs and crankbaits. However, most anglers will troll to find the fish, and then switch to jig and live bait combinations. Night crawlers and minnows are top dressings for the jigs.
Pine Barrens, N.J.
For the last pick, let's take a ride back through time into a portion of the Garden State that time seems to have forgotten. The stretch of scrub pine, oak and black water best known as the South Jersey Pine Barrens is home to the infamous Jersey Devil, along with another particularly nasty critter, the chain pickerel. The waters in the region are very acidic and are tea-colored, thanks to rich deposits of bog iron. The pickerel is one of the only fish species that not only tolerates the hard water, but thrives here as well.
Another thing that thrives in the region is the cranberry. As a result, the Pine Barrens is studded with small ponds, bogs, lakes and small canals that are used to hold water for cranberry growers. There is plenty of access to the waters of the region, as some of the biggest wildlife management areas in the state are located there.
December usually means the shallow waters of the region are down in the low 40s and upper 30s, temperature wise. And live-lining minnows is the main way of catching pickerel. There is plenty of late-season fishing in the region and it makes for a good place to get in some 11th hour freshwater angling.