Sunday, September 28, 2014

How to Play the Trout Game: New Jersey Fall Stockers

Piece I wrote for my newspaper column last year. Because of the furunculosis infection at New Jersey's Pequest Hatchery, the 25,000 rainbow and brown trout to be stocked this fall will range from seven to nine inches, besides 500 broodstock 18-24 inches. But the article is mostly timeless and quite appropriate to be read now.
Local rivers to be stocked with trout in October

          Fall trout stocking by the state is not met with the springtime crowds, and although fewer streams get fewer trout, they’re larger. 20,000 14 to 16-inch rainbow and brook trout, and 1000 18 to 22 inches, will be stocked in 17 streams and 15 ponds and lakes statewide over a two-week period beginning the second week in October. In our region, the North and South Branch Raritan, Raritan, Musconetcong, Pequest, Paulinskill, Black, Wanaque, Ramapo, and Rockaway rivers, and Pohatcong Creek and Big Flat Brook are the scenic flows to be enhanced with fish, which by wintertime will be quite adjusted and wild. According to last year’s NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife Fall 2012 Stocking Schedule, the ponds and lakes to be stocked are from Middlesex County southward. This does include Farrington Lake near New Brunswick. There are no stream closings on stocking days, but plenty of trout escape the relatively few eager fishermen who await the hatchery trucks.

          Fall and winter fly fishing in the Highlands and Ridge is not the popular pursuit that catches the eye of passing motorists in the springtime when parked cars line up near stream access, but those who enjoy it are rewarded with solitude in out of the way places. The Big Flatbrook, for example, flows for 16.5 miles of remote Sussex County with great views of Kittatiny Ridge rising above. The Paulinskill River features remote sections, as does the Black River in Hacklebarney State Park with its gorge, not as dramatic as the South Branch Raritan River’s Ken Lockwood Gorge, but it may offer solitude when the popular Califon destination is packed with anglers.

          Fly fishermen anticipate mild weekend days in January and February to fish Hare’s Ear and stonefly nymphs, zebra and brown midges, and wide panoply of possible bead-head weighted fly patterns. With a winter as mild as the previous two (bad guess!), it may be possible to fish a late afternoon midge hatch with tiny dry flies.

         In any case—even with bait—winter fishing is tough and you need to keep interest alive by fishing with serious persistence. Angling, for all its contemplative value, is a game with a single objective—to catch fish. And like any game, when you score, you’re satisfied and confidence is aroused, but you move on with the next approach and try to involve the whole outing. Every outing is unique, and what I find so cool about fishing is that it’s never like returning to the same field format as with other sports, even when the same river is revisited. After all, it was the philosopher Heraclitus who said you never step into the same river twice, and while you may not step onto the same football field twice either, the field format is the same everywhere.

          So fishing is inexact by comparison, the variables as wild as nature itself, which means evaluations of how good the fishing is are different according to opportunity and season, and the weather and water conditions met with must be considered. In our region, the number of trout stocked is about uniform on the streams mentioned. You don’t have to be fancy and use a fly rod, and October will probably be your best bet to catch a few on live fathead minnows, or even salmon eggs and two-pound test line for an exciting struggle given the size of these fish. I tempted a 16-inch rainbow in November from under the route 202-206 North Branch Raritan bridge using a baby nightcrawler on two-pound test, and once tried nickel-sized sacks of salmon eggs I brought home from salmon and steelhead fishing near Lake Ontario. They did work, but I’m not sure any better than single eggs on size 14 hooks.

          Use no weight besides a snap for salmon eggs on two-pound test leaders unless depth and power of current require split shot to get the bait near bottom. But fish the deep holes and weight fathead minnows as lightly as possible.

          I usually don’t bring fish home since I usually judge them to be more valuable in the water, but I bring memories back every time out. These are not sentimental post card depictions with sweet feelings in the mist, but substance acquired directly from nature in the way experience strengthens sense, the way game choices I make exercise my mind, and the way successes confirm efficacy in specific, subtle ways. Don’t think for a moment fishing is a bore sitting on a bucket. Give it the best.       



  1. And I had thought fishing was bait your hook and try not to tangle your line in the trees. Your details of the last few posts astonish me.

    1. Thanks. Baiting the hook and avoiding tangles is fine with me, but anyone who wants to try things different that work...that's what I've been learning since I was a kid.


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