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New Jersey's Trophy Trout Waters

New Jersey's Trophy Trout Waters

Our local expert pinpoints where the Garden State's record trout hail from -- and where you're also likely to catch the trout of a lifetime this season. (March 2008).

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

Several years ago, the state Garden State began rearranging its trout stocking and embarked on a program to stock larger trout in the fall. This led to changes in how trout are raised at the state-of-the-art Pequest Trout Hatchery. In order to do this, the state's Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) took several waters off the stocking list, and most of them were larger lakes that had other significant fisheries.

The DFW also rearranged stocking numbers in certain streams and lakes. They went from stocking large numbers of smaller trout in the fall to stocking 20,000 and up 1- and 2-year-old rainbows, browns and brook trout each year.

Also stocked are an additional 1,000-plus huge breeder fish, giving anglers a chance at a trophy trout.

Though the DFW cites pressure from sportsmen to stock larger trout as the reason for these changes, it's a well-known fact that in recent years, the DFW has been hard-pressed for cash. Three straight administrations have been unfriendly to sportsmen and the DFW, forcing it to reduce the number of employees, while cutting corners anywhere it could. Raising 20,000 to 22,000 larger trout is simply more cost-efficient than raising 100,000 to 120,000 smaller ones.

In addition to the 20,000-plus older trout stocked in the fall (including 1,000 surplus breeder trout), the state stocks another 500,000 trout in spring, along with some larger breeder trout. In addition, several clubs also stock trout in lakes and streams as supplemental stockings and also for contests that they hold.

As a result of all these larger fish being stocked each year, the current records for lake, rainbow, brook and brown trout may well be broken in the near future.


So here's a look at some of the state's better trout waters where a future state record might be taken.


One water that annually produces some of the biggest trout in the state, and has been doing so for a good many years, is Round Valley Reservoir. Located in Hunterdon County, the "Valley," as those who fish it on a regular basis commonly refer it to, is a 2,000-acre plus reservoir with a maximum depth of 180 feet.

The reservoir was constructed for water supply and is capable of holding 55 billion gallons. It has a 10-horsepower maximum rule and offers plenty of shoreline fishing, along with primitive camping.

Of the four trout species found in the Garden State, the Valley holds two trout records -- for brown and lake trout).

On May 4, 2002, Gregory Young of Whitehouse Station caught a 32-pound, 8-ounce lake trout in the cove near the boat ramp. It weighed 6 pounds, 8 ounces more than the previous record taken from Round Valley in 2001.

Young was trolling from his boat when he boated the trout on 17-pound-test line with a 10-pound-test leader. The fish, which took an hour to bring in, measured 41 1/2 inches in length and had a 25 1/2-inch girth.

The other record is the 21-pound, 6-ounce brown trout taken by Lenny Saccente in 1988.

Round Valley is a unique body of water, in that it has no natural sources of water and no tributary streams. Its water is pumped into the reservoir from the South Branch of the Raritan River south of Clinton.

Over the years, this has caused a lack of turnover in the reservoir's depths and a lack of nutrients in the reservoir's water. This in turn has created problems in both the forage and trout populations.

Lack of plankton in the reservoir's water and the growth problems it has created has caused the state to place special regulations on the reservoir. Anglers are allowed to take one lake trout at 15 inches from Jan. 1 through Sept. 15. From Dec. 1 through 31, there is a 20-inch size limit and a one-fish bag limit.

One thing that Round Valley has going for it is the Round Valley Trout Association (RVTA). Since the DFW has been in financial trouble for quite some time, it's had to rely on volunteer organizations and sportsmen for help with its programs.

The RVTA not only stocks trout in the reservoir, but has also stocked alewives in recent years. This organization works closely with the state to acquire data on trout numbers in the reservoir to help with supplemental stockings.

Trout fishing in the reservoir is a two-tier fishery. Rainbows and browns are usually caught from the surface to 40 feet down, while lake trout can be taken anywhere from the surface down to 100 feet and more.

A lot of the better fishing for rainbows and browns is done at night with lights. Anglers will suspend lamps over the water, which will attract baitfish and rainbows. This tactic often produces fast action once the trout go on the feed.

Flatline trolling is another way a good number of rainbow and brown trout get taken. Stick baits and deep-diving swimming plugs are slow-trolled, producing some good action once the trout are located on sonar. Most of this type of fishing is done in the late summer and early fall.

During spring, a good number of the trout are taken from the shoreline, where they are prime targets for fly- and bait-fishermen.

In addition to the excellent trout fishing that the reservoir has to offer, some heavy-duty smallmouth fishing is possible. In fact, the state's record smallmouth hails from the Round Valley Reservoir.


The state's biggest natural lake not only owns the record for the biggest rainbow trout in the state, it also has an interesting history to go along with it when it comes to trout fishing.

In 1988, Gene Rutkowski landed a whopping 13-pound rainbow from the lake to claim the state record, which still stands to this day.

More than likely, the rainbow had survived for several more years than usual after being stocked. After all, Lake Hopatcong does not have any natural trout reproduction.

For years the lake's trout population has been the center of controversy between the DFW and the Knee Deep Fishing Club, one of the state's biggest freshwater fishing clubs.

As with Round Valley, which has the Round Valley Trout Association as its guardian, Lake Hopatcong has the Knee Deep Fishing Club as its protector. Each year, the club stocks several thousand trout in the lake, which are completely paid for by its membership. For years, the state also stocked the lake with more than 10,000 trout as part of its spring stocking program.

But the lake's water quality took a hit from development that took place around the lake from the 1970s through the 1990s. The club fought hard to clean up the lake and has been very successful in redeeming its water quality: The healthy fisheries now in the lake are proof of this. When the state decided to make changes and remove some lakes from the stocking program, Lake Hopatcong was one of those on the chopping block

Lake Hopatcong's trout were to be split up among the state's many trout streams, thus leaving only club stocked trout in the lake. The club challenged the state on the proposed changes and proved that the water quality of the lake is better than most other waters.

Also, there is a significant number of holdover trout in

the lake. The final result was the DFW continues to stock Hopatcong with trout.

Each year, the state still stocks a diminished number of trout in the lake, while the Knee Deep Club has continued its stocking in the spring. The club still holds its yearly trout fishing contest, which attracts a good number of people to the lake.

Most of the better trout fishing in Hopatcong takes place during the spring season. Most fishing is from boats. Trolling spoons and small swimming plugs take many trout during the spring. Later in the spring and early summer, most of the trout will suspend in the lake. At this time, live bait is the key to success.

In addition, some of the bigger trout taken are holdover fish caught by ice-fishermen.


In May 1995, Andrew DuJack was fishing the Rockaway River,

as he had done numerous times before, when he hooked into a monster brook trout that gave him the fight of his life. The big rainbow tipped the scale at 7 pounds, 3 ounces, smashing the existing state record. His fish had a big hooked jaw and measured 23 inches long with a 17-inch girth.

More than likely, this trout was a holdover that had been in the river for a couple of years. Since 1980, the state has been stocking surplus breeder trout in rivers. It only makes sense that sooner or later, one of these fish would survive and put on some added size.

The Rockaway River is a typical North Jersey rock-base free-flowing trout stream. The river receives good numbers of trout in the spring and fall, and its water quality allows a fair to good number of trout to hold over from season to season.

Being that it's located in a portion of the state that has seen a lot of development in recent years, the Rockaway River receives heavy fishing pressure, but continues to offer fine angling. Most of the better fishing takes place in the small pools and eddies that are numerous during the spring. However, as on many of the state's trout streams, water levels can drop really low during a dry summer.



Though Round Valley Reservoir is most likely to be where the next brown or rainbow record trout comes from, several other waters also share a decent chance of housing a future record trout.

The state's change to stocking larger trout in fall has changed the fishing landscape in the Garden State. Because the state is stocking a larger number of larger trout each season, there's an increasing likelihood that some of the trophy trout being stocked will survive for a few years. If so, some should be big enough to break one of the state's trout records.

One body of water that may hold a future state record is the Manasquan River, home to the state's sea-run brown trout program.

The program has not been very successful -- over 300,000 trout have been stocked in the river, and only a few hundred have been caught. But sooner or later, one of the stocked brown trout will make its way out into the brine and evade the bluefish, fluke, stripers and seals. If it does, it may return super-sized!

Another body of water that could hold a new state record is the South Branch of the Raritan River, one of the most heavily stocked streams in New Jersey.

In addition to the stocking the river gets from the state, several other clubs and concerns stock the river with good-sized trout as well.

Jim Holland, proprietor of Shannon's Fly Shop in Califon, stocks the river in the Ken Lockwood Gorge for a pair of trout-fishing contests held each year. In recent years, trout topping the 6- and 7-pound marks have been taken from the river.

The river, in its upper reaches, has reproducing brown trout. The river's excellent water quality sees a lot of annual holdover trout.

The Pequest River is another stream that receives a lot of larger trout. Its waters, being right next to the Pequest Trout Hatchery, make it an easy river to stock. As a result, it's the beneficiary of a lot of the hatchery's surplus trout.

Every year, lots of holdover trophy trout are taken from its waters, especially during the winter months.

Another big reservoir with the potential to produce some huge trophy trout is Merrill Creek Reservoir, Round Valley's sister reservoir when it comes to lake trout. As with Round Valley, Merrill Creek is stocked with lakers, browns and rainbows.

And though Merrill Creek does not have the reproduction capabilities of the Valley, it has similar characteristics as water is pumped up into the reservoir from the Delaware River.

When it comes to trout fishing in New Jersey, another interesting development has to do with recent flooding.

The Musky Trout Hatchery, a private facility, had rearing ponds along the Delaware in the Phillipsburg area. Several times, these ponds were over taken by floodwaters, and trout were inadvertently released into the Delaware River. For the last several years these trout have been moving into and out of the lower Musconetcong River and Pohatcong Creek, providing some fine trophy trout fishing in the lower portions of those waters.

Last but not least, Spring Lake -- a coastal lake in the town of the same name, only a few hundred yards off the ocean -- has seen some huge trout caught from its waters over the last several years.

Trout are stocked in Spring Lake by both the state and a local fishing club, as part of their yearly trout-fishing contest. During the last couple of years, some huge rainbows have been stocked -- and caught.

One, a 12-pound-plus rainbow, came close to breaking the state record

a couple of years ago.

There you have it, a look at some of the top Garden State waters producing trophy trout. You never really know if your next cast will put you in the record books -- and that's especially true if you happen to be fishing any of the waters mentioned here.

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