With Cooler Temperatures Trout are Game
By Bruce Litton
Some streams are now cooler in the mornings than the 68-degree threshold or so above which trout do not survive lactic acid trauma after struggle on a hook and release. I don’t know the exact temperatures for the different species combined with varying oxygen levels. That’s a general rule—brook trout need cooler water, rainbows tolerate slightly warmer, and browns fare even better through summer—but it’s worth keeping in mind when fishing trout during the heat of summers like this and the previous we’ve got through.
Some smaller spring fed streams may never warm above 68. But my son, Matt, and I fished the Paulinskill River in Sussex on the hottest day of the year in 2011 through stretches with ample springs, and we finished our short afternoon by swimming—in water that felt about 82 at the least. Both of us not knowledgeable at the time of this 68-degree rule we learned from Chris Lido, no trout would have found our flies anyway, hidden in whatever spring holes, and we caught a few smallmouth bass.
The Musconetcong River in Morris, Warren, and Hunterdon Counties is spring fed especially below Hackettstown on down through Asbury, but does warm considerably compared to the Pequest perhaps. Trout holdover in all of the streams and more streams than I’ve mentioned; reproduction occurs at least in smaller limestone streams, and I’ve witnessed trout in a summer-warm stream in Mercer County congregate at a shallow spring release with barely enough water to cover their backs, fish I left alone of course.
Trout fishing for both fly anglers and those who prefer spinning tackle should improve with cooler temperatures and streams and rivers at normal levels. It won’t be long before rivers like the Musconetcong, Pequest, and North and South Branch Raritan receive a generous stocking of 14 to 16-inch, and larger, trout from the state the second and third weeks of October. The volume of fish stocked is less than during spring, but plenty escape angler’s intentions and remain in rivers for a productive winter fishery; some holdover into spring and beyond.
However, New Jersey trout are not all about the Pequest hatchery. Native brook trout with genetic lines extending back to the end of the Wisconsin Glacier exist in many pure water streams. Some clean and cool water streams are not stocked, yet have abundant populations of rainbow and/or brown trout which have reproduced since stockings many years ago, or feed into rivers that are stocked from which they migrate upstream, in turn.
The headwaters of the Passaic River in Bernardsville are full of wild rainbows and browns, accessible at Sherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, anglers required to release what they catch and to use artificial lures (flies or otherwise) with barbless hooks. Make sure to check at the office for additional regulations. Hooks can be rendered safer to released trout easily by crimping barbs with needlenose pliers. Most Passaic River trout measure five to seven inches, few a foot long, and the very rare catch reaches 17 inches.
Trout in small streams such as the Passaic headwaters spook easily and require stealth and skill. It may be easier to fish a wet fly, nymph, or streamer in a river’s deep pool where your quarry will more likely be unaware of your presence, but of course dry fly hatches persist into fall. Rivers allow greater casting range as well to reach unsuspecting shallow water trout. Many years ago I caught plenty of nine-inch brook trout in the small, crystal clear Dunnfield Creek of Warren County on small shad darts, jigs used in the spring Delaware run, but the casting angles I took remind me of modern dance rituals.
For some dry fly hatches, I refer to Fly Fisher’s Guide to the Big Apple: Great Waters within 150 Miles of New York City, by Tom Gilmore for my advice to you. Parachute Adams, size 18 to 24, Parachute Blue Winged Olive, size 18, Blue Quill and Blue Dun, 16 to 18, Gray Wulff, 10 to 12 represent hatches that may be encountered. Terrestrial patterns come in fascinating variety which the folks at Effinger Sporting Goods may have further advice to help you with, but ant, inchworm, and caterpillar patterns prove good into October. The Woolly Worm, a wet fly caterpillar pattern I loved in my teens, is effective tied to as large as a size 6 hook. Find a few fly patterns you like, and this may get you started better than trying to outsmart nature. Hatch charts are not really absolutes as to what trout will take.