There is no question that the last two years were tough ones for New Jersey largemouth bass fishermen. Not only have anglers experienced two of the wettest years on record, complete with floods, high-water conditions and lower than normal water temperatures, but they also had to put up with those nasty roller coaster fronts and the unstable conditions they produce. To say bass fishing conditions in the Garden State were tough last season would be an understatement. Fortunately, some waters continue to offer good fishing even under trying conditions. Let's take a look at some of the state's best bass lakes and reservoirs.
Monksville Reservoir is one of the sleepers in the northern reaches of New Jersey. This water has really come into its own as a top bass spot over the last several years. The reservoir's 505 acres are managed for walleyes and muskies (the reservoir has produced several state-record muskies), which have overshadowed the reservoir's other fisheries. And for the longest time, it was overlooked by fishermen as a bass fishing spot.
The reservoir's maximum depth of 85 feet can be deceiving in that it has a good amount of water in the 20- to 40-foot range as well, along with a fair amount of surface and subsurface vegetation. Standing and fallen timber was left in the reservoir when it was built, and 22 acres of water are made up of shallow coves with submerged stumps. Doesn't that sound like prime bass water to you?
The reservoir offers bass anglers many options. Good deep-water structure in the treetops and along the sunken vegetation makes for some fantastic jig, live bait and plastic bait fishing during early spring. During the summer months, surface fishing is good early and late in the day around treetops and weedbeds that break the surface. Locating these submerged weedbeds is a must if you want to catch big bucketmouths that reside in Monksville. So be prepared to give your sonar set a good workout.
The reservoir has an excellent boat launch and has a 10-horsepower limit rule. One drawback to Monksville Reservoir is that it is a water-supply reservoir and has been closed on occasion whenever the terror alert is heightened.
Merrill Creek Reservoir
Merrill Creek Reservoir is another sleeper lake better known for its trout fishing. One of the state's more recently built reservoirs, it was first stocked with trout in 1988; it has been a major trout producer ever since.
In recent years, however, Merrill Creek has also garnered a reputation for being one of the state's top bass-fishing spots, with excellent populations of largemouth and smallmouth bass. The lake is 650 acres and offers anglers some of the best deep-water fishing in the northern portion of the state.
Last year was a good one for Merrill Creek Reservoir fishermen, with good-size largemouths and smallmouths being weighed in at local tackle shops on a weekly basis. The lake's pumped-in waters are not influenced by run-off. The rainy weather that Garden State bass fishermen experienced this past year did not affect the fishing. This made the gin-clear waters of Merrill Creek Reservoir one of the prime places to fish during the spring, summer and fall.
Although Merrill Creek Reservoir has a maximum depth of 210 feet, most of the better bass fishing occurs in water of 30 feet or less. When the reservoir was built, trees and fallen timber were left along its shorelines as fish habitat. One of the things that excessive rainfall did to the reservoir last season was to flood its shorelines well into the trees. This created more ideal habitat for bass and small-boat fishermen. During the warmwater season, anglers score well on surface baits fished over the treetops early and late in the day.
The reservoir has an excellent boat launch, which is open year 'round when it is ice-free. An electric motor-only rule is in effect for the reservoir.
There are several bodies of water in the central portion of the state that produced good bass fishing this past year. Carnegie Lake's 237 acres stretch for three miles, from its headwaters where Stony Brook enters the lake to the dam in Kingston.
The lake has an excellent forage population, which is made up of shiners, gizzard shad and alewives. Although Carnegie Lake has been dredged several times over the years, the mean depth of the lake is only 4 to 6 feet. There are, however, several places where 8-foot-plus depths are still available. The lake has become a favorite target of shallow-water and topwater fishermen during the summer months.
The widest portion of Carnegie Lake is found at the dam. The Delaware and Raritan Canal parallels the lake along its entire eastern shore and holds some good fishing as well. Two bridges cross the lake. Their pilings produce some good bass and crappie fishing and are a favorite target of crankbait and spinnerbait anglers.
Carnegie Lake can be reached from several roads. Secondary Route 571 (Washington Street) and Harrison Street both cross it about midway down the lake. State Route (SR) 27 runs next to the lake on the west shore for about a mile near the dam. It's off SR 27 in this area where the only boat launch capable of handling trailered boats on the lake is located. The launch is open to the public, has a ramp and ample parking and is a short distance upstream from the dam. Only electric motors are allowed on the lake.
Mercer Lake is the largest impoundment on the Assunpink Creek drainage system. The 300-acre lake is located in Mercer County Central Park, which is only a few miles east of Trenton. Lake Mercer has an excellent boat launch and is easily reached from several main roads.
The lake's water source, Assunpink Creek, is well known for being an excellent bass-producing drainage system. Its main forage is large gizzard shad. Mercer Lake also has an excellent panfish population and has been stocked by the state with muskies and channel catfish. About 80 percent of the lake's shoreline is fishable from land. Only electric motors are permitted on the lake.
Originally intended to be much shallower than it is, the lake was dredged for its road grade gravel while the dam was under construction. Mercer Lake sports depths of 15 to 18 feet. Some of the better deep-water structure in the lake includes the cofferdams built to allow dredging equipment to reach the gravel. These structures were left intact when the lake was flooded and now provide some excellent structure for bottom-feeding bass.
The lake has an excellent boat launch and ample parking. Night-fishing permits are also available. One of the drawbacks to the lake is that it is used for competition rowing and at these times the lake is closed to other boat use.
The Manasquan Reservoir is one of the state's newest waters. The reservoir's 770 acres are fast becoming a gem for bass fishermen in the central portion of the state. Located in Howell Township, this reservoir is operated by the New Jersey Water Supply Authority for water supply and recreation. The reservoir offers a variety of structures for anglers to fish, ranging from coves, rocky shorelines and weedbeds. The reservoir is located on Timber Swamp Brook, which is a tributary of the Manasquan River.
This water has an excellent smallmouth and largemouth population, and the state has stocked hybrid stripers as well. The Manasquan Reservoir is about 15 years old and has finally settled down after shaking off the new lake adjustment period that lasted for better than eight years. In the last five years, the reservoir has finally come around and now has very definite, stable fishing patterns.
Spawning has been good, and with each passing year not only have the numbers of bass increased, but the size of the fish as well. This past year saw several largemouths topping the 7-pound mark taken and smallmouths of 5-plus pounds have been caught as well.
It is a good early-season body of water, with live bait taking bass in the deeper water and spinnerbaits being especially effective in the shallow areas. During the summer months, the reservoir offers some excellent surface fishing at sunup and sundown and decent action on plastic baits fished around the vegetation, stumpbeds and submerged timber. There are also some good backwater coves on the lake that are timber filled and make excellent plastic bait and topwater spots.
Your main access to the reservoir is off Georgia Tavern Road. The Manasquan Reservoir is an electric motor only body of water and this regulation is strictly enforced. Boat launches are located along the southern side of the reservoir with plenty of parking. Shoreline access is good for those who like to bank-fish. Because of the layout of the lake, it is often windswept by west and northwest winds, so be sure to keep an extra battery handy when fishing the lake for any length of time.
It's for sure that Lake Assunpink has been covered many times before; however, the truth is the lake continues, year after year, to produce some of the best bass fishing in New Jersey, though it is one of the most heavily fished lakes in the state.
Assunpink is the second largest impoundment on the Assunpink drainage and has ample forage made up of shiners, gizzard shad and alewives. The lake, at 225 acres, annually produces largemouths in the 6- to 7- pound range and is host to numerous bass-fishing tournaments each year.
As with Lake Mercer, Assunpink has a well-defined streambed. This is the top place to fish during the winter season. Deep-running crankbaits and slow-fished spinnerbaits are two of the top producers on the lake in the spring and fall. Jigging live bait is another productive way of fishing the stream channel during the cold-water season. The back of the lake has become silted in over the years and most of the fishing that takes place there occurs during the spring and spawning season.
Being the shallow lake that it is, Lake Assunpink (which is located on the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area) is ideal for evening bass fishing. Anglers casting jitterbugs, buzzbaits and other constant motion surface baits along the dam and along the shorelines by the light of the moon annually score some of the biggest bass of the season.
A gravel boat launch with ample parking is located off the Clarksville/ Robbinsville Road, which is your main access road to the lake. The lake is an electric-only body of water.
Another big success story when it comes to bass fishing in the southern part of the Garden State is Union Lake. At 898 acres, Cumberland County's Union Lake has always been a top favorite of bass anglers in the southern part of the state. However, since its dam was rebuilt and the lake underwent numerous improvements a few years back, its bass population has flourished over the last several years. After being purchased by the state, the lake was drained and the pollution problems taken care of. A new dam replaced the aging one and launch facilities were upgraded.
Being located on the upper portion of the Maurice River drainage, Union Lake is less prone to the effects of heavy rains. In recent years, the lake's bass population has showed excellent growth rates and bass in the 4- to 6-pound class are not uncommon.
The lake's shallow nature provides some excellent summer surface fishing opportunities, and spinnerbaits and plastic worms, especially in dark colors, will take their share of fish during the midday hours. Live-lining good-sized shiners during the fall season produces some of the bigger bass taken each year. The 2004 season saw excellent fishing on rattle-type lures and small crankbaits.
Union Lake has an excellent boat ramp and offers very good shoreline access as well; there is a 10-horsepower limit rule.
Covering New Jersey's freshwater scene for the state's biggest fishing publication and a newspaper keeps my finger on the pulse of the freshwater fishing scene. As a result, here are some of the smaller, lesser-known bodies of water that produced good fishing in 2004 and should be good bets for anglers in 2005.
Some of the better-known bass lakes in the northern portion of the state, such as Lake Hopatcong and Greenwood Lake, did not fair well in 2004. As a result, a lot of anglers turned to smaller, lesser-known bodies of water. In particular, four lakes got high marks.
One of the newest bass hotspots is Split Rock Lake, which recently came under state control. Located in Morris County, this lake produces consistent reports of good bass fishing on a variety of lures and baits. Its one drawback is poor launching facilities. Lakes Wawayanda and Cranberry are a pair of Sussex County bodies of water that also garnered good reports throughout last season, as did White Lake in Warren County.
Deal Lake, in Monmouth County, is the first lake that comes to mind in the middle of the state. A shallow lake located along the coast, Deal Lake produces consistent catches of nice bass on plastics and topwater baits throughout the summer. Another pair of Monmouth County lakes, Stone Tavern and Rising Sun, located on the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area, also serve up good fishing and are top producers during the moonlit hours. Likewise, a pair of Ocean County lakes, Prospertown and Carasaljo, rewarded sweetwater anglers with very good bass fishing last season.
The first place that comes to mind in the lower part of the state is the Salem Canal. This unique body of water provided some serious bass fishing on plastic baits and crankbaits last year. Another pair of S
alem County waters, Willow Grove Lake and Parvin Lake, along with Wilson Lake in Gloucester County and Sunset Lake in Cumberland County, were the mainstays of the largemouth fishing in the southern part of the state. All four lakes produced good fishing on weedless rigged plastics and topwater baits during the summer months.
So there you have it, a look at New Jersey's top-rated bass fishing. With conditions expected to be back to more normal this season, largemouth and smallmouth anglers are chomping at the bit to ply the waters of their favorite lake or reservoir this year! Hope to see you out there!