Swartswood Lake for Bass, Walleyes, and Pickerel
494-acre glacial Swartswood Lake at Swartswood State Park in Sussex County is a reliable fishery for anyone willing to persist. If fishing conditions favor you—particularly a falling barometer or changing light very early and late in the day—success may come your way with ease. But sometimes nothing will move fishes’ interest to lures or bait; these are the times you should take incentive from difficulty to try again.
An option for lengthening time to fish Swartswood Lake is to camp on park grounds for the weekend or even longer if you want. Sites are available near the lake—and rental rowboats. You can rent a boat for days running if you wish and be able to go out at dawn as well as fish into dusk. It may be a good idea to buy a 10-pound mushroom anchor and hundred-foot length of 3/8th-inch nylon rope. I use a portable graph recorder—my underwater eyes—in addition to the topographical map available in either the New Jersey Lakes Survey collection, or Fishing Guide Maps I have mentioned before.
To go out in a rowboat and fish simply without examining bottom structure carefully is, for some people, a most uplifting and relaxing escape from daily pressures. Swartswood State Park is certainly a beautiful place to do this. My own relationship to the natural world is essentially the same as it was for me at age four. I needed to discover, examine, and identify everything in my reach. Fishing soon became part of this.
Always an active pursuit, I’m interested in endless natural features, conditions, and relationships that result in fish caught. And when no actual results come, I have at the very least participated in the natural world and have been reminded of the given level of existence. On this last point, the casual angler who cares only to let pressures go shares with me contemplation of the world free of routine demands.
Swartswood Lake has been there—where we now can locate it by global positioning— before we had any civilized routines at all. In comparatively recent times, New Jersey Fish and Wildlife has introduced the wonder of walleye, also known as lobster of the lake. Difficult to catch but fairly easy to find (deep, rocky points and drop-offs), it’s special to take one or two home. Dip morsels in butter just like lobster.
Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, pickerel—my friends, son, and I release almost everything we catch. Fish catching is not necessarily covetous as may seem. To study history carefully enough is to become aware of fish as a spiritual symbol across all cultures. I like to think committed anglers are men, women, and children who intersect contemplative spirituality with frank connectedness and encounter with the natural world. Sport is essential. But no sport exists that does not have moments of great transcendence brought on by marvels of the game. The source of these exaltations is deeper than rivalry.
The best opportunity for a grand moment on Swartswood Lake involves waking before dawn and not rushing breakfast, all equipment arranged the night before. You need to be fully alert and expectant on the water before sunrise. Two Swartswood options exist: fishing subsurface with live herring, jigs, or crankbaits for walleye; or fishing topwater lures through the period of changing light for bass and pickerel. Especially when the lake surface is calm, a great bass or pickerel bursting through is something you remember. A few are over five pounds.
Great strikes are not remembered for any measure of the action you can simply experience. They haunt the depths of the mind because they are encounters with rare living beings. And none are so well recalled as that of a great fish.