Have You Fished These Popular Waterbodies?
New Jersey Freshwater Fishing
Assunpink Lake is a 225-acre impoundment located within the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area, Upper Freehold Township, Monmouth County. Assunpink Lake is one of five waterbodies managed under the Lunker Bass Program and one of the most utilized wildlife management areas in the state. In addition, the lake has a good black crappie population and is annually stocked with channel catfish.
The bass population was impacted by largemouth bass virus in the past but has shown consistent improvement since 2013 as revealed by Fish and Wildlife’s April 2018 survey. The catch rate for bass was 76 bass/hour based on 1.43 hours of electrofishing. Eighty-four percent of bass were greater than 12 inches, 27 percent were greater than 15 inches and 2 percent were greater than 20 inches long. These bass lengths were longer than when the waterbody was surveyed in September 2017.
Four bass weighing more than 5 pounds were collected during the survey. Five pounds is socially accepted as a “Lunker” bass—a benchmark that Fish and Wildlife has tracked through tournament reports since the Lunker Bass Program’s inception in the mid-1990s. The largest bass measured 20.6 inches and weighed 6.31 pounds.
The introduction of two invasive aquatic plant species, Hydrilla and water chestnut, has delayed bass recovery from the virus and has complicated fishery management activities. Supplemental largemouth bass were stocked in 2014 and 2016 to enhance the population. Biologists are evaluating how the population responds to stocking through annual electrofishing surveys.
Electrofishing surveys are conducted during the early spring and fall when bass are relating to shallow vegetation. These seasons are great for anglers to catch bass with vibrating jigs and lipless crankbaits cast into the shallows.
Greenwood Lake, shared by New Jersey and New York, covers 1,920 acres. It offers a diversity of fishing opportunities for popular gamefish, from annually stocked walleye, muskellunge and channel catfish to largemouth and smallmouth bass.
Recent efforts to assess the muskie population in Greenwood revealed that it is one of—if not the best—muskie lake in the state, with a total of 38 captured. Seventy-nine percent were larger than 36 inches and 55 percent were larger than 40 inches! The size and number of muskies caught were a catalyst to increase the minimum size limit to 44 inches (effective April 1, 2019) and to make Greenwood Lake one of the new Trophy Muskie Waters.
Walleye are frequently encountered by anglers as well. Sampling in 2017 revealed a highly abundant population of walleye during the six hours of electrofishing conducted by both New York DEC and New Jersey DFW. Nearly half of the walleye captured exceeded 20 inches. Largemouth and smallmouth bass are popular gamefish as well. Steps are being taken to create more balance to the fishery and increase the abundance of largemouth bass in the lake, New Jersey DFW has stocked over 60,000 2-inch fingerling largemouth between 2012 and 2017.
With the abundance of aquatic vegetation, boat docks and rock piles, finding a place to fish is never a problem. Summer largemouth bass fishing is excellent on Greenwood Lake. Skipping a wacky-rigged stick bait under a boat dock or flipping the deep weed edges with a Texas-rigged creature bait are go-to techniques that always produce quality bass.
The Millstone River offers anglers an array of resident gamefish including both largemouth and smallmouth bass, a ton of panfish and trophy-sized carp. Annual stocking of northern pike has not produced a desirable fishery, however channel catfish are plentiful with occasional muskie and walleye being caught, presumably transplants from connecting waters that are stocked. Migratory species include American shad, blueback herring, striped bass, and American eel. Like its mainstem the Raritan River, this 38-mile-long tributary boasts a wide array of fish diversity, with over fifty species of fish found in recent years.
In the continued effort to restore American shad and other migratory fishes on the Millstone River, the Weston Causeway dam in Manville—the lower most impediment to fish passage— was removed during the summer of 2017. This was funded through a Natural Resource Damage Assessment settlement agreement reached between the Trustees for Natural Resources—the NJDEP, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—and the party potentially responsible for contamination related to the American Cyanamid Superfund site in Bridgewater Township.
During an electrofishing survey in October 2018, evidence of American Shad spawning in the Millstone River was confirmed. “This is an incredible finding and an amazing environmental success story,” said DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe. “These juvenile shad were found the first unimpeded migratory season after the dam was removed in the summer of 2017, indicating this species has an inherent tendency to recolonize once obstacles are removed from its migratory path.
A rigorous fish stocking program is not necessary, as a respectable fishery currently exists. In fact, additional stocking of top predators could be contrary to the recovery of the American shad population. Unfortunately, two large invasive species are becoming common—grass carp reaching 46 inches and weighing up to 51 pounds plus flathead catfish up to 22 pounds. If encountered, please remove these and other invasive species that have expanded into this watershed.
Access to the Millstone River is plentiful, particularly through the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park. Most of the river is wadable or can be fished from its banks, but the best approach is floating a small cartop boat or kayak. The river can be accessed by boat from the primitive boat launch at the southern end of Lincoln Avenue Park in Manville.
Salem Canal is one of the most popular bass fishing locations in southern New Jersey and annually receives the most applications for wildlife management area fishing tournament permits. The canal is a dammed section of the Salem River originating in Woodstown, flowing through the DuPont facility before exiting at its confluence with the Delaware River.
The shallow canal consisting of marshy banks, spadderdock, submerged aquatic vegetation and felled trees make it ideal habitat for largemouth bass and in recent years, the invasive northern snakehead. Although it is not a wildlife management area, Fish and Wildlife owns a parcel of land and a concrete boat ramp located on Rt. 540 (Hawks Bridge Rd).
A boat electrofishing survey was completed in March 2018 to evaluate the largemouth bass and northern snakehead populations. A total of 75 largemouth bass were collected during the 1.77-hour survey. The catch rate of 42 bass/hour is consistent with recent surveys and indicates a good population density for the region. Seventy-nine percent of largemouth bass were greater than 12 inches; 21 percent were greater than 15 inches. The population is balanced and doing well.
Unfortunately, the northern snakehead is well established in the Salem Canal. Surprisingly, only a few reports of anglers catching snakeheads in the canal were received prior to the Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries first collecting these invasives in 2017. Ninety-five northern snakeheads were collected and removed via electrofishing in 2018 (as of August) during seven electrofishing surveys. A study is currently underway to determine the grow rates and diet of snakeheads in New Jersey.
Despite the presence of the northern snakeheads, the Salem Canal remains one of the best largemouth bass destinations in southern New Jersey. Early spring and late fall are usually the best times to catch trophy size bass, but the summer months are great for catching lots of small fish. Green pumpkin or black and blue jigs work all year long by fishing the many laydown trees throughout the canal. Spinnerbaits, vibrating jigs and buzzbaits are great choices during the summer, worked around vegetation and laydowns.
Union Lake is an 898-acre impoundment of the Maurice River located within the Union Lake Wildlife Management Area, Cumberland County. The lake is the largest impoundment, and—at 27 feet—one of the deepest in southern New Jersey. Union Lake is one of the most-utilized wildlife management areas in the state. It has one of the best largemouth bass populations in southern New Jersey and has been extensively sampled in recent years—for good reason.
Sampling in 2015 suggested that the largemouth bass population had stabilized from previous issues associated with largemouth bass virus. The stocking of over 60,000 fingerling largemouth bass since 2009 has boosted the once-struggling population. Despite the exceptional electrofishing results of the last three years, anglers still find catching bass rather difficult as indicated by the WMA Fishing Tournament reports.
A boat electrofishing survey was completed at Union Lake WMA in March 2018 to evaluate the bass population. A total of 123 were collected during the 2.42-hour daytime survey. The largest individual was 21 inches and weighed 6.73 pounds. The catch rate of 50 bass/hour indicates a good population density for southern New Jersey impoundments.
Ninety-five percent of the largemouth bass collected were over 12 inches, 73 percent were over 15 inches and 5 percent were over 20 inches long. These numbers are off-the-chart for New Jersey waters and indicate a trophy population! Seven largemouth bass of more than 5 pounds were collected during the survey. Although smallmouth bass are not frequently caught during electrofishing surveys at Union Lake, tournament catch reports indicate the population is doing well.
Anglers can test their skills 12 months of the year. Early spring, pre-spawn bass prowl the shallow flats looking for vegetation and places to spawn. These bass can be caught with jigs, spinnerbaits and lipless crankbaits. During the summer, many bass are found lurking in the deeper waters near drop-offs with stumps. Deep-diving crankbaits and Texas-rigged worms work very well. Fall and winter bass can be shallow or deep and lipless crankbaits, suspending jerkbaits and small swimbaits are great choices.