An online trail description suggested visitors arrive early at Ramapo State Forest. We drove in as a car left, one space open for us at 1:00 p.m., and hiked into the forest, passing many dozens of people on the trails and at the lake when we got to the dam less than a half hour later. My wife mentioned Central Park. I’ve never before—besides in Manhattan—seen a park so crowded. Immediate access from Interstate 287 explains this in part. From Bedminster, it’s half an hour away at 36 miles.
This is an interesting place. One group of younger people we met inquired about the turn of the 20th century mansion. We hadn’t seen it, but we saw older ruins, rock walls suggestive of New Jersey’s 18th and 19th century iron industry. History in addition to fairly easy, yet hilly, hiking trails offers something special.
So does Ramapo Lake. At 120 acres, it’s more impressive than I expected, with clear-toned, tannic water of very good quality little more than half a mile from the lot. Since free-floating masses of vegetation—not algae—characterize the area at the dam, I tried a method I perfected at Lewis Morris County Park’s Sunrise Lake years ago. The important detail is to cast a weightless plastic worm inches from a weed edge. At least at Sunrise Lake, a bass stationed in the shade underneath would rush out, take the worm, and turn back. I let line tighten and set the hook.
You need a fairly good sized worm for casting range. I use seven-and-a-half to eight inches. Either a plain shank size 1 or 3/0 snagless inset hook arrangement works, depending on whether you anticipate weeds and snags or not. You mount the worm’s head near the tie loop, and bury the inset hook in the plastic so the point is just underneath the skin. Years ago, when I first started using this type, I feared necessity to set the hook with the force of a tractor trailer jack, but it’s easy. You do need to let line tense just enough so the bass doesn’t feel resistance before you pull back hard, but especially with a Lazor Sharp or comparable brand, it’s not a problem getting the hook into the jaw. Since clouds sealed out light when I began fishing Ramapo, a dark green worm blended in. I switched to bright blue when the sun came out to stay.
That’s about the time I decided to give up on floating weeds, weed pockets, and weedlines. I sat down on a large rock by the water and casually cast straight out into 10 feet of water, let the worm sink and settle, and then while remaining comfortably seated very slowly jiggled it towards me until I felt a tug. I gave the fish slack. Nothing happened, so I tightened the line to feel yet another tug just like the first. This must be a crappie. I allowed a little slack, and then tightened again to set the hook.
It turned out to be a smallish largemouth, and I was happy I caught something. I sat on that rock—while my wife, Patricia, read and son, Matt, explored here and there and also read—and fished for about another hour for nothing more. But I spoke to one of nearly a dozen other fishermen I met in passing. He claims to have once seen a good sized northern pike caught. Whoever planted any possible pike to begin with, the lake is certainly large and deep enough for a reproducing population. Judging by the height of the dam, water is nearly 15 feet deep. I heard from a number of other sources that pickerel are fairly abundant especially in the shallows at the back of the lake. Black crappies also result in catches.
This same fisherman I first spoke to said the lake’s best in the spring before aquatic vegetation is prominent, but summer weeds are not so thick you can’t find plenty of open water. Seven to 10-foot depths had some weeds on the bottom, which isn’t a bad thing. I carefully pulled the snagless worm through. Summer fishing typically requires you to slow down.
If you have an afternoon and evening to fish Ramapo, August is a great time to do it. Trails extend all the way around the lake, and many openings between brush offer opportunities for bass and pickerel. Especially in low and/or changing light with calm surface, topwater plugs may be best by imparting life to them. Try a popping variety, prop plug like the Hedden Torpedo, or surface walker like the Zara Spook. Possibly snagless frogs and rats would be even better right in and on top of vegetation.