Piece I had published in Recorder Newspapers last year on New Jersey winter trout stocking. Haven't been out fishing for over two weeks. May go out on Hopatcong Sunday. Nice cold, grayish weather today. I never really noticed the sun anyhow. Upper 40's forecast for Sunday, so it will be zesty if I go. Can't wait for mile high, frozen January skies. Hope so.
Winter trout stocking makes fresh angling possible
By Bruce Litton
The fall stream stockings well over a month past, plenty of good-size trout remain, 14 to 16 inches, and some much larger. During the third week of this month, a number of ponds in our region receive 14 to 18-inch trout from the Pequest Hatchery. Those that escape late fall anglers, and ice fishermen through the winter, will be full of wild zest this coming spring.
Mount Hope Pond in Rockaway Township, Morris County, that difficult 18-acre bass pond I’ve written about, has plenty of open water depths of 15 feet for trout to range. Ice fishermen seem to do better than shore anglers do, before the freeze, by cutting many holes and alternating their jigging between them. The same is true of 10-acre Amwell Lake in Hunterdon County, although I don’t know about ice fishing on Speedwell Lake near Morristown, Morris County, also stocked. All of these ponds receive between 160 to 200 large trout, more than enough to provide interest, and possibly an encounter with the biggest trout of a lifetime for many.
If you haven’t put away your rods and reels, my suggestion is to take a clue from Round Valley Reservoir trout fishermen, and try small marshmallows and mealworms on a plain shank, size 6 hook. The marshmallow will float the mealworm—and trout take the combination. Otherwise, Berkeley Powerbait also floats on the same hook, but my best advice to you is to purchase live medium shiners—and use the same hook through the back near the dorsal fin. For any of these choices, a large split shot for weight allows a relatively short cast to reach deep enough water near the bank. But if you feel the need to gain great casting distance, use a half-ounce egg sinker behind a barrel swivel separating your leader from the main line.
If you ask me, the best approach is ice fishing, but that’s my opinion, although it’s well informed. The stillness of life locked under the unyielding surface of a frozen lake does wonders for contemplative serenity quite unlike any other kind of pursuit. The pond remains alive beneath forbidding hardwater, but you either smash through it with a split bar, or use an auger. Iron rod or modern technology, both work, but the split rod requires energy and muscle. I have used a split rod all these 40 or so years. I got fascinated in power augers and bought one, but I'll never throw out the bar and will bring it along on my ventures and possibly use it instead. Nothing warms against temperatures as low as zero or colder as breaking ice does. Break on through--it rewards you with heat, exercised muscles, and energy.
Raise a trout through the threshold of ice into another world in which you stand with your short jigging rod. It’s a perfect analogy to spiritual seeking of all traditions, finding the truth within and beneath the threshold of common awareness, fishing in a world warmer and fluid with life sealed off from dead winter. It is below, but the life transcends that of any non-mammalian or bird metabolism above during this season. Small silver spoons like eighth-ounce Kastmasters serve as probes of reflected light that trout become lured to, but the silvery scales of a shiner on a plain-hook jig may attract trout even better for being natural. Tip-ups can serve shiners too.
Still waters are not the only places for trout through winter: dozens of rivers and streams in our region provide good fishing. The key to encountering trout during the coldest weeks is not necessarily that the stream is fall stocked, but that it has sufficient limestone springs to keep it from freezing over. The Pequest River in Warren County, my first choice, I hope to fly fish with nymphs in December. But the Musconetcong River from Hackettstown southward, the Paulinskill River near Blairstown and Stillwater, The South and North Branch Raritan Rivers in Hunterdon and Somerset, are all tranquil places of solitude and colorful trout. Smaller streams like the Dunnfield Creek and Van Campens Brook in the Delaware Watergap National Recreation Area feature wild and native trout year round and sufficienly spring fed, less likely to freeze. Those who know how to be quiet and subtle in their surroundings are privy to catching fish, as well as likely to admire the catch and release of them. Catching colors in black and white winter is special.
Winter is traditionally a time to think and reflect, and it’s no different out fishing. The action is slower, the environment stripped of lush growth and warm sensations, and most of the colors have vanished, except in those trout you catch. The challenge is to adjust to and appreciate a relatively harsh world. Success in this pursuit—a few fish help—brings rewards of serenity and peace, which may seem sharply ironic to anyone who has been uncomfortable in winter weather. Winter may have a sharp edge like ice, but so may the cutting edge of thought. And with persistence, thought brings out energies from within that require a natural setting to meet them.
Use that thought to make a catch. The “Father of Structure Fishing,” Buck Perry, stated that knowledge is the key to fishing success. But it’s not only what you know, but endeavoring to learn what you will know. The process of observation and thinking is every bit as important to catching fish as what you have already learned on the water—or have read in this column or otherwise. It is possible to never rest on what you have already learned, although long moments of with what is enough for the time being bring deep, relaxed fulfillment.