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5 Small Lake Picks For New Jersey Trout

5 Small Lake Picks For New Jersey Trout

Some of our state's finest trout fishing occurs on smaller, more obscure lakes like the five waters detailed here. Is one near you? Read on! (April 2007)

Photo by Lynn Burkhead

It makes sense. After all, trout and streams are synonymous. Most trout anglers prefer rivers and streams to still water. But fishing for trout on ponds -- or small lakes, if you prefer -- can offer some fine trout action, as well as a welcome change of scenery.

Many years and several lifetimes ago, the late, great fly-rodder Red Ward of Morris County was one of my trout-fishing cronies. Red had fished nearly every major trout stream and river between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, but he once invited me to accompany him to a pond to fish for trout.

He told me he'd found this "beaver pond" in danger of overflowing its banks because the trout population there left no room for the water! I wasn't exactly thrilled at fishing a pond for trout, but Red was insistent.

And indeed, it was a beaver pond. You had to watch where you waded, lest you find yourself in water more than chest-deep due to deep, subsurface gullies, the result of many beavers using the same underwater trails from time immemorial. It wasn't unusual to have a beaver swim to within casting distance before slapping its paddle-like tail and taking to one of those underwater trails.

As it turned out, my friend was right on the money. There were trout there by the hundreds, rising to surface hatches. And, like a dream come true, these trout taped between 9 and perhaps 14 or 15 inches. In short, the fly-fishing was fantastic.

Admittedly, New Jersey doesn't have many ponds with beaver highways running through them, and the Garden State's still waters may not measure up to this particular pond. Still, in New Jersey we have some fine trout fishing to be found, in some rather obscure and often underrated trout ponds and small lakes.


In addition, there's no better place to teach a youngster how to fish than at water's edge of a small lake or pond. There's no worry about missteps that will give 5- or 6-year olds an icy dunking, or perhaps be carried downstream a few yards before you can snag them. Also, they will experience the joy of catching trout, rather than bluegills or perch.

There's nothing wrong with catching either of those panfish, but nothing quite lights up the eyes of a budding angler like a netted trout.

Consequently, let's take a look at some of the state's premier ponds and, shall we say, more demure lakes that are stocked with trout annually.


For openers, let's start with Swartswood Lake, near the town of Hampton in Sussex County, which is New Jersey's northernmost county.

Certainly Swartswood Lake is far from a so-called pond. In fact, this waterway consists of nearly 494 acres -- and by New Jersey standards, that certainly qualifies as a lake. But some aspects of Swartswood make it attractive to trout anglers, as well as to any angler who may wish to bring along a budding fisherman.

The New Jersey trout-fishing regulations list Swartswood as a "hold-over" lake, which means merely that some trout may survive from one season to the next. Swartswood is stocked, but from mid-March to the opening day of trout season, the lake is catch-and-release only. After opening day, however, regulations call for a daily creel limit of four trout that tape no less than 7 inches.

That's the standard creel limit on most trout-stocked waters in the Garden State. After the end of May, however, the creel limit is reduced to only two trout per day, per angler, with a 7-inch size limit.

In addition, Swartswood Lake is stocked with 960 trout during the pre-season stocking. Then during the first in-season stocking, it receives zero trout. The stocking schedule continues throughout the in-season by skipping every other week. Thus, 960 trout will again be released on week #2 of the in-season stocking, none the next week, followed by another 960 trout on week #4. The every-other-week releases continue throughout the seven-week stocking period, until a total of 3,840 trout have been released in Swartswood.

But here's what makes Swartswood unique -- especially for anglers traveling long distances who may want to spend a day or two at the lake with a friend, or with the wife and kids. What makes this body of water a bit different than most? Yurts do!

Oh yeah, well, yurts to you, too! No, "yurts" isn't a curse word in the Tibetan language, though it could be for all I know. A yurt, I'm told by Paul Tarlowe -- the computer guru responsible for New Jersey's Division of Fish and Wildlife's award-winning Web site as well as the site's maintenance -- is a modified version of the tents used by nomadic peoples in and around the Himalayas.

Tarlowe said he fishes Swartswood Lake and also camps there on occasion. He said a yurt is an easily portable tent-like shelter with room to stand and it's also known to be quite comfy-cozy.

"It's a modified version of the Himalayan version of the original yurt and has a conical roof," Tarlowe said. "It has windows and even a door, and those at Swartswood are placed on concrete slabs. You can open the windows, since they are held open or closed by Velcro. And even the door opens and shuts like a traditional door, unlike zippered tent openings,"

The yurt campsites number only six at the present time, but there are also 65 campsites for tents and trailers.

In any event, Swartswood has a diverse shoreline comprised of everything from forested areas extending nearly to the water's edge, as well as rocky shorelines with deep dropoffs and sandy, almost beach-like shores in which you can wade. The park also has boat rentals, but only electric motors are allowed.

Swartswood has an average depth of 21 feet, with its deepest areas running from 30 to 42 feet. This body of water is a natural lake located on the Paulinskill River drainage, and is well worth a try.

And speaking of trying, fly-rodders shouldn't go to Swartswood without a good supply of streamer flies. And ultralight-spinning fans will do well with small spinners and spoons.

To make reservations for a campsite or for additional information, either visit the park's Web site by typing "Swartswood State Park" in either the Goggle or Yahoo search engine. Or you can call the park direct at (973) 383-5230.


Next in l

ine comes Shepherd Lake, located in Ringwood State Park in Passaic County near the borough of Ringwood. This natural impoundment, part of the Passaic River drainage, also offers some great still-water trout fishing.

Shepherd Lake's comprised of 74 acres with an average depth of 13 feet, but plumbing to nearly 20 or 25 feet at its deepest. It's been heralded as "One of the best still-water trout fishing venues within the confines of the Garden State," according to one of the state's most prolific outdoor writers.

Located on the northernmost boundary of Ringwood State Park, Shepherd Lake is stocked much like Swartswood. A pre-season release is comprised of 540 trout. Stockings take place every other week, beginning with week #1 of the in-season, when it is stocked with another 540 trout until the next-to-last week -- for a total of 2,160 trout.

Much of Shepherd Lake's northern shoreline is comprised of gravel, boulders, and some of what a park map simply calls "submerged." I'd hazard a guess that refers to a combination of submerged brush and rocks.

Conversely, much of the southern shoreline is comprised of muck, as are most of the lake's central portions. The good news is, with the exception of some heavy brush along the southern shoreline, there's plenty of casting room -- and an equal amount of space to merely sit with a youngster while keeping an eye on a bobber.

Anglers plying the waters of Shepherd Lake seem to favor spinners and small spoons, but live bait works. And sometimes -- depending upon the time of year -- you'll see fly-rodders trying their luck with streamers.

Shepherd Lake has parking along with a boat ramp and livery on the grounds. For additional information, anglers can call the park at (973) 962-7031.


Verona Park Lake in Essex County is a modest body of water comprised primarily of 13 acres with plenty of elbowroom for casting or, if you wish, merely relaxing and fishing from shore with the kids. During the stocking season, Verona Park Lake is rated as one of the best. But after the in-season stockings, trout fishing becomes cold as the weather gets hot.

Is that because avid trout anglers have journeyed to other locales? Or because the population of ever-popular largemouth and smallmouth bass is more in vogue at the peak of summer? My guess is the classification of this body of considerably shallow water is not conducive to hold-over trout fishing.

So Verona Park Lake is basically a "put-and-take" body of water. Ergo, interest in trout seems to wane going into the warmer, summer months. Nonetheless, anglers shouldn't dismiss this productive body of water, especially if they have kids in tow.

The shorelines at Verona Park Lake are tree-lined. But when you get to the water, the shores are mostly a combination of gravel and mud. And judging from the contour maps, this pond (or lake, if you prefer) has an average depth of about 5 feet. But contour lines indicate that depths toward the center of the pond range between 6 and 8 feet, to as much as 10.

Also, this is one of the waterways in which New Jersey's Division of Fish and Wildlife conducts one of their many youth fishing contests. Accordingly, they're not shy about releasing some really big trout for the youngsters.

But if you're over 18, that doesn't mean you can't catch them too!

The most popular baits or lures at Verona Park Lake seem to lean toward the standard red garden worm as well as mealworms and those brightly colored salmon eggs. Small spinners and spoons also do a number on the trout in this pond.

Incidentally, there is a boat livery at Verona Park Lake, but there are no boat ramp facilities for launching your own boat or cartop.

For specific directions from your location or additional information, call the park at (973) 268-3500.


Now let's head south to one of the state's more scenic and popular trout fishing as it pertains to small ponds and lakes -- and that is Lakewood's Shenandoah Lake in Ocean County.

Shenandoah is a lengthy, sometimes narrow waterway comprised of 50 acres of water that's been described as "the Metedeconk River dammed." Depths vary from as shallow as 1 or 2 feet to 10 feet or more towards the center of the lake. In addition, the substantial structure and weed growth help stocked trout last throughout the summer months.

Well, OK, some trout last through the summer.

The lake bottom consists primarily of mud, though places could arguably be described as gravel or rocky. In addition, Shenandoah has a fish ladder that allows herring and other species to move into the lake and thus, into the headwaters of the Metedeconk River. This lake has a boat livery, a fishing pier, and handicap accessibility. There's also a small boat launch for cartoppers and small-trailered boats. Only electric trolling motors are permitted.

The pre-season stocking for Lake Shenandoah consists of 560 trout. For the first three weeks of the in-season stocking period, the lake will receive 560 trout, for a total of 2,240 by the end of the stocking season. The trout released are browns and brookies.

Shenandoah is another of those early-season hotspots that offers equal opportunities to both youngsters and adults. Trout here tend to gravitate towards live baits such as shiners, fathead minnow, meal- and red garden worms, although spinners work well during the early season.

For additional information, anglers can call the park at (877) 627-2757.


Finally, we'll talk about what could be considered one of those so-called dark horse bets. And in this case, the term "bet" means excellent trout fishing during the early to mid-season to mid-June, depending on weather conditions and how hot or cold the water remains.

We're talking about Sylvan Lake, located in southern New Jersey's Burlington County. This lake actually has two parts: upper Sylvan Lake at a mere 4 acres, and lower Sylvan Lake, which measures out to just over 12 acres. Both waters are connected by a drainage ditch and are located just outside Burlington. For our purposes, however, we'll focus on lower Sylvan Lake, the larger of the two. It receives the lion's share of stocked trout.

Most of the lower lake is muddy bottom with the exception of that close to shore, which is primarily sand. There's also often substantial weed growth, but the weeds are not much of a bother during early spring and into late May. In addition, the lake is surrounded by tree growth. But there is ample room for a backcast for brothers of the ersatz fly, who insist that the long wand is the only sporting way to take trout.

Fortunately, not all anglers are afflicted with that disabling disease that limits them only to a fly rod. Admittedly, fly-f

ishing at any small lake or pond during just the right conditions can be productive, and often is. But anglers who opt for ultralight spinning gear while using small spoons and spinners can have a blast on the lower Sylvan Lake.

The lake is stocked three times during the in-season stocking, in addition to a pre-season release of 410 trout. The in-season releases are conducted during the first three weeks after opening day, when division hatchery workers dump 310 trout into the lake once each week, for a total of 1,340 trout.

If you're considering boating, the facilities at Sylvan Lake are somewhat limited. There's a launch site for cartop prams and canoes, but you won't find any facilities for trailered boats. And be prepared to get some exercise, since there are no allowances for motors, not even electric.

Sure, some of these small lakes or ponds are not exactly household names among trout fishing aficionados. But therein lays their beauty! Rarely are these bodies of water crowded. So you're likely to have lots of trout to fish for, especially during early to mid-season.

If you have youngsters in tow, or merely want a change of scenery and tactics compared to those used on a stream, give one or more of these modest lakes or ponds a try. You'll be glad you did, once that first tap turns out to be a hard-fighting trout on the end of your taut line.

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