Here's where you'll find our state's hottest fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass this spring and throughout the summer. (May 2007)
You don't have to catch a state-record bass to qualify for a state Skillful Angler Award. For more information, go to the state's Web site at NjFishAndWildlife.com
Photo by Tim Lesmeister.
Few things are more exciting than a largemouth bass smashing a topwater lure. And the good thing about it is, a bass attacking a surface lure is not an uncommon event. It's well within the realm of reality. Probably most of you reading this have experienced that thrill enough times to unequivocally say, "That'll get the ol' pump into high gear."
It seems that when seeking trophy-class bronzebacks or bucketmouths, the only applicable rule is there are no set and fast rules. As often as not, the largest bass will show up to smash a lure in the most unlikely of places. But to enhance your chances of hooking into one of the big boys, it's best to check the waters where prize-size bass were most recently taken.
As to the "There are no rules" scenario, New Jersey's state-record largemouth was taken from a pond --actually, a 62-acre body of water that's more like a lake. Back in 1980, angler Robert Eisele was fishing the Menantico Sand Wash Pond, located near the town of Millville, in Cumberland County.
Now that pond may offer the local gentry some mighty fine bass fishing, but one would have to admit that when it comes to trophy-class fish, this particular body of water isn't exactly on the tips of the tongues of every bass fisherman in New Jersey.
But it was just such a waterway that offered Eisele the state-record largemouth, tipping an official scale at 10 pounds, 14 ounces -- just 2 lousy ounces shy of 11 pounds!
Now, that's a big bass. And even though that record is going on nearly three decades old, it still stands. Just goes to show there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to seeking out a record fish.
Yet you can place a figurative thumb on the scale to at least tip the odds a bit in your favor by checking out where most -- or at least some -- of the biggest bass are coming from. These waters are usually no surprise. We'll cover these waters as well as several other "good bets." But first, let's look at some of the trophy-class bass and from whence they came.
That state-record smallmouth has been mentioned in this publication before, and it deserves all the mention it can garner.
In 1990, Carol Marciniak was fishing at Round Valley Reservoir, in Hunterdon County. That's when she hooked into and boated her state-record 7-pound, 2-ounce bronzeback. This record has stood the test of time for 17 years.
Next, let's turn to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife's (DFW) Skillful Angler Awards records to see where big fish have hailed from of late. Keep in mind, an angler doesn't necessarily have to catch a state-record fish to qualify for the yearly award. All that you need to do catch the largest of a particular species for that year -- and meet minimum-weight requirements for that species to qualify -- to be included among the awards recipients.
RECENT SKILLFUL ANGLER AWARD CATCHES
Lake Assunpink is the first water on our list. That's where Paul Peteria of Cookstown caught, landed and weighed a 9-pound, 2-ounce largemouth that took the 2005 Skillful Angler Award. Peteria was fishing a spinnerbait, and his fish taped an amazing 25 inches with a 17 3/4-inch girth. That's one bass that came fairly close to the nearly three-decade-old state record.
Greenwood Lake is another body of water that's certainly no dark horse when it comes to surrendering big fish.
In 2004, David Deans of Hewitt was fishing a Zoom June Bug when a lunker bucketmouth grabbed his lure. That 7-pound, 3-ounce fish taped 23 inches with a 16 1/2-inch girth. That was good enough to win the 2004 Skillful Angler Award for largemouth bass.
Then, in 2003, it's back to Assunpink Lake located in Assunpink Wildlife Management Area, which straddles both Mercer and Monmouth counties.
That was a good year for Sebastiano Stia of Mercerville. He was using a Rapala minnow lure when a bucketmouth grabbed the lure.
His 9-pound, 8-ounce fish taped 24 1/2 inches and had an 18 3/4-inch girth -- good enough to take the 2003 Skillful Angler Award.
Also in 2003, David Deremer of Phillipsburg was plying the waters of Round Valley Reservoir when a 4-pound, 12-ounce smallmouth grabbed the tubeworm he was working. Turns out, that big bronzeback was good enough to take that year's Skillful Angler Award. His fish taped 21 inches and had a girth of 15 inches.
THE DELAWARE RIVER
One waterway isn't even mentioned in the annual awards for wall-hanger fish, but that's where we are going to start. It's the Delaware River.
Undeniably, some hefty record fish have been taken from what anglers refer to as the "Big D." But none of those records are smallmouth or largemouth bass.
The Big D has a well-earned reputation for some of the finest bronzeback fishing in the Northeast. And that isn't limited to only one or two regions. Fine fishing action can be found upstream from just north of the Trenton/Philadelphia region, to as far north as the junctions of the east and west branches.
Keep in mind, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have reciprocal license agreements, whereby a license from either state is honored throughout the entire stretch of any river that borders both. Consequently, if you count the boat-launch sites on either side of the river, anglers have a minimum of 30 launch sites. And if you include those sites below the Trenton/Philadelphia region, there are 49 such sites.
Remember, flat water is more productive in the early morning or later in the afternoon through dusk. During periods of high light penetration, try the riffles. But beware of bright sunlight. Smallies are extremely photophobic, which simply means they shun bright sunlight.
If you're fishing the riffles, try to locate waters that are in shadows.
Years ago, J.B. Kasper, the outdoor writer and highly respected and successful Delaware River guide, took me on a smallmouth trip. At the time, Kasper revealed to me some of his secrets of smallmouth bass fishing, and those so-called secrets have held me in g
ood stead ever since.
Primarily, he fished the tailraces, where water smoothes out just prior to becoming whitewater, as well as the riffles. We caught more than our share of smallies.
While fishing riffles, he pointed out that even though a particular area might be in bright sunlight, they sought out a boulder, rock or other structure that cast a shadow downstream -- even though the shadow lay below the surface.
Let's examine some of the other waterways that should produce well this coming season.
Up in the north country of New Jersey lies the 1,920 acres of Greenwood Lake. And Greenwood Lake has the kind of bass fishing that will knock your socks off.
Located in northern New Jersey's Passaic County, Greenwood offers fantastic smallmouth "and" largemouth fishing, though it's best known for its brigade of bucketmouths that laze around in the lake's weedbeds.
But weeds aren't the only bass attractant at Greenwood. From about the midpoint of the lake to its southernmost shoreline, its weed growth offers unparalleled largemouth fishing. But from that same midpoint north, anglers will find rocky shores relatively free of weeds, with plenty of overhanging trees and brush growth along the shoreline.
Here is where Greenwood offers some of the finest smallmouth fishing in the state. However, when fishing the lake's northern reaches, anglers are actually fishing in New York State. Not to worry! As on the Delaware River, fishing license regulations are reciprocal.
Try zooming spinnerbaits through the surface of the weeds. Or failing that, offer the tried-and-true plastic worm. Conversely, when fishing the northern section of Greenwood, turn to plastic baits such as imitation crawfish or grubs, worked on a small leadhead jig.
Greenwood Lake straddles the New York/New Jersey border and can be accessed by taking Interstate Route 287 to its intersection with state Route 23 in the town of Butler. Then drive north to the turn-off for secondary Route 513 in Newfoundland.
Dropping down in a southerly direction is Lake Hopatcong, a large lake known best for its hybrid striper action; however, the smallmouth and largemouth bass here is not to be taken for granted. Lake Hopatcong is located in Morris and Sussex counties.
Lake Hopatcong is New Jersey's largest lake, comprising 2,658 acres of some of the best bass fishing in the state. But according to Stan Haines, there is a problem with large lakes.
In his New Jersey Lake Survey Fishing Guide, editor and publisher Steve Perrone asks contributing writer/anglers to comment upon various lakes. That's where Haines wrote that anglers new to the lake should not be overwhelmed by Lake Hopatcong's size and complexity.
"Break the lake up into bays and branches (and coves, as well), and fish each one as though it were a small lake or pond."
That's good advice to the newcomer. But there are some seasonal aspects of this lake that anglers should also take into consideration.
During spring, before weed growth reaches the lake's surface, I've had better success fishing several yards away from the weed edges, rather than running a lure up against the edges of growing weedbeds.
Yes, fishing right up against -- or in -- the weeds will offer plenty of action. But that action will consist primarily of hungry pickerel. Stay about 10 to 15 yards off of the weedbeds for better early-season bassing.
And don't forget to check out the lake's numerous private and commercial docks. Largemouths primarily haunt the timbers of the dockages, but you can pick up some smallies as well.
Taking either Interstate 80, or state Route 15 easily accesses Lake Hopatcong. Exits to various lake points are well marked on either roadway.
SPRUCE RUN RESERVOIR
Spruce Run Reservoir is another impoundment with a sizable population of largemouth bass, but there hasn't been much in the way of smallmouth action at this 1,290-acre body of water in Hunterdon County.
The water level at Spruce Run is determined by three feeder creeks: Spruce Run Creek, located to the northeast side of the lake and paralleling state Route 31; Black Brook to the north; and Mulhockaway Creek at the impoundment's southwestern-most point.
So who cares what creeks are feeding the reservoir, or where they are located? You -- Mr. or Ms. Bass Angler -- should care, because the points where each of those creeks enters into the reservoir are the areas where some extremely fine bigmouth fishing can be found.
In addition, when afloat, anglers will be able to see a set of high-tension powerlines running just southeast of Mulhockaway Creek's feeder stream. And those little coves and dropoffs within the area of the powerlines are where the big bass hang out.
At each of the three feeder creek points, try a variety of live baits, ranging from fathead minnows, shiners and yes, even crawdads. Based on personal experience, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
ROUND VALLEY RESERVOIR
Round Valley Reservoir is best known for its big lakers and rainbow trout. But there's also some fantastic smallmouth and largemouth fishing to be found at this bowl-shaped impound.
At 2,350 surface-acres of water and plumbing to depths of 160 feet, the edges of "the valley" offer surprisingly good bass fishing. Remember, this is the impoundment that produced the current state-record smallmouth for Carol Marciniak in 1990, and has produced some bragging-size bucketmouths as well.
Remember the rule about bass fishing for the big ones that goes, "There are no rules"? When Carol Marciniak boated her smallmouth, she was drifting a minnow somewhere far from shore.
But don't smallmouths prefer rocky regions where there is an abundance of baits such as crawfish? And largemouths like to skirt the weeds. I'd hazard a guess that to a bass, the weed cover is somewhat like living in an underwater forest. So Marciniak's smallie just serves to illustrate there are no hard and fast rules.
Nevertheless, if you're interested in smallmouths, try the rocky areas of the lake's eastern shoreline, or the riprap just to the east of the south tower.
Conversely, largemouths seem to congregate more along the lake's southern and southwestern portions, where weed growth offers them better cover.
Just about any plastic or rubber lure, especially rubber worms, work well for either species. Keep in mind that every so often, DFW workers will release a few thousand alewives. Consequently, both species of bass have become accustomed to fee
ding on baitfish. Ergo, anglers should not hesitate to try their luck with a live herring or shiner.
Round Valley is easily accessed by either U.S. Route 22 or SR 31. There is a restriction on outboards of 10 hp or less.
Lake Assunpink is far from a dark horse bet when it comes to producing big, pugnacious largemouth bass. But this lake's population of smallmouth bass seems -- depending upon whom one asks -- to outnumber its contingent of largemouths.
Located in Robbinsville, Monmouth County, Assunpink Lake consists of 225 surface acres. Considering that this lake has an average depth of a mere 5 feet and a maximum depth of 14 feet, it could arguably be described as prime bass country.
Assunpink is located on the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area (WMA). It's easily accessed by taking Exit 11 off Route I-95, then heading north. At the second intersection turn right and follow the road until it "Ts." The office to the WMA is directly ahead.
Finally, we come to Farrington Lake in Middlesex County. Talk about long, narrow lakes! Farrington Lake is the model. With an average depth of only 6 feet, Farrington covers a total of 290 acres, but in some spots, you could nearly cast shore-to-shore in a north-south direction.
East to west, however, is a different story, with the lake extending nearly quite a long ways from tip to tip.
Farrington Lake is well known by local anglers for its diversified fisheries. The lake offers everything from channel catfish to calico bass (crappies), and it doesn't stop there. The lake also has a sizable population of northern pike. But it's the large number of largemouths and bronzebacks that attracts most anglers' attention.
During early spring into mid-summer, the lake's bass population is usually more than happy to meet a live shiner head-on. Topwater lures like Hula Poppers, crankbaits and spinnerbaits worked quickly through the weed tops account for much of the action. If you've never tried Farrington, you're missing out on some fantastic bassing.
Farrington Lake is located near Milltown, but only electric motors are allowed. While there is a cartop boat-launching area, there is no boat ramp per se. Farrington Lake is easily accessed from U.S. Route 130, by taking Oakmont Avenue, Farrington Boulevard, or Church Lake off Georges Road.
To protect spawning bass, the New Jersey fish code prohibits the taking of any smallmouth or largemouth bass after April 14. After June 15, however, the total creel limit for both smallies and bucketmouths is five. Not five of each, but a combination of either. The size limit for both species is 12 inches.
Give any of these top-rated bassin' lakes a try this spring. While there are no guarantees in any kind of fishing, you can at least tip the odds in your favor by fishing where the biggest and nastiest bass lurk.