Mount Hope Pond Offers a Chance at a Lunker Largemouth
New on my repertoire of places to fish last year was 18-acre Mount Hope Pond in Rockaway Township, Morris County, just north of Route 80 via exit 35. For many it’s good for springtime trout, and after fall stocking plenty get jigged through the ice. But for me this pond offers the hope of the year’s biggest largemouth. Since May last year I’ve caught over a dozen nearly two pounds to over three, having fished eight one-hour noontime stints. I enjoyed the best fishing under cloud cover, getting my clothes dampened from rain-wet underbrush, but typically I catch a bass or two under direct sunlight. Plenty of overhanging branches and shoreline brush provide shadows for bass to await ambush.
Like so many places I visit, I often encounter other anglers here. Typically they don’t cast to the bass. One recent sun-drenched afternoon I met a man fishing at the spillway, clear water absorbing light like a mirror, and asked had he caught any. Only a sunfish and he said that you have to come early or late for the bass. I told him I catch bass nearly every time out at noon, that they stalk the shallows among stickups and branches along the shorelines, you just have to follow the paths and clear some briars out of your way—and check for ticks afterwards! He told me he planned to hire a guide in Florida.
Most of Mount Hope’s shoreline is daunting for anyone who prefers ease. But beside the corner near the bathing beach opposite Mount Hope Road it’s easy to access productive water in a few spots. If you catch a bass you may take encouragement to move brush out of your way. I’ve spotted some pickerel as well, but haven’t caught any.
With such an abundance of sunfish as forage staple, my guess is that six-pound bass exist here, likely seven pounds or better. Mount Hope’s maximum depths are 15 feet, the far shoreline drops off quickly to 12 feet, and the shoreline along Mount Hope Road sharply vanishes into dark, 15-foot depths. That’s great refuge for lunkers. With 16 and 17-inch bass plentiful, surely much larger hide well out of sight. For them, perhaps an early morning or late evening is necessary or heavy rain otherwise. But don’t get your hopes too high because. bass over four pounds are tough to come by in public New Jersey waters, and Mount Hope Pond.
I plan to try a 12-inch plastic worm at dawn. I bought 5/0 worm hooks for this purpose. I’ll add no weight and just snake it subtly in cover and along the drop. I have especially used seven-inch Chompers Super Wacky Worms because they sink slowly and match the requirement for subtlety under mid-day conditions. With a weedless inset worm hook, I fish them right in among sticks and pull 17-inchers from water shallower than a foot. Otherwise I place them outside the shadow line in water as deep as 10 feet and draw strikes long before the worm settles on bottom.
When fishing shaded areas under mid-day sun, it’s a misconception that you have to cast the lure into shade. Plastic worms especially prove effective when cast and allowed to sink just outside shadow lines. A bass holding in shade sees the worm slowly sink highlighted in sunlight and dashes out to engulf the offering.
Mount Hope is a real possibility, but Lake Hopatcong no doubt has lunker bass over seven pounds, and my son and I gave the lake our best the Friday before 4th of July weekend, 2011. Morning temperatures had dipped to 55 degrees, and a cloudless sky lowered our hopes to minimum. Matt began with his nightcrawlers and for two hours could not even raise a sunfish. The ominous shadow of a fishless outing loomed over us, and although fishing is just play, we invest real hopes in our performance, especially on a big trip after awakening at 3:30 a.m.
At 8:00 a.m. we eased along rocks, anchored in the shade, and Matt caught a one-pound largemouth within minutes. By the time we left a few hours later, he had caught a smallmouth, and I had boated two 17 ½-inch smallmouths, both about three pounds, and had lost two other good fish, one of them possibly a pickerel. Fishing should remain good on Hopatcong, but be tough in August. Mount Hope will mirror this, so enjoy while it lasts.