Highlands small streams offer fine trout fishing
I had never before experienced such close contact with trout. Both rainbow and brook trout swam clearly in view as we sight-fished with salmon eggs. The trout seemed to symbolize something elusively valuable almost in my hand's reach. Late in the afternoon at outing’s end, we agreed on amazing fishing, although neither friend quite understood how deeply the experience impressed me.
As a 10-year-old, I had first encountered brook trout at Little Shabakunk Creek, Lawrence Township in Mercer County. Little Shabakunk flows about as wide as a school hallway into Assunpink Creek stocked with brook trout that spring long ago, so I reasoned that the several trout I caught on worms swam upstream the one-mile distance. Three years later, having been informed of a fish hatchery selling trout to private buyers, I explored the upper reach of Little Shabakunk narrow enough to jump over. My fantasy about stocking these headwaters signifies an emotional bond I formed with little creeks and the possibility of trout. I never thought of explaining the excitement in 1975 to my friends as having this factual basis. A 14-year-old hasn’t connected the dots of his personal development as an older man may.
One of these friends and I kept fishing the Hunterdon streams. Both friends have moved out-of-state since, while in recent years I returned to these creeks with my son. Elsewhere in the Highlands, so many brooks, creeks and even tiny rills have trout that an attempt to list them all might easily fill the number of words fitting this post. Many streams contain wild trout, especially brown trout. Quite a number have native brook trout, including some tiny unnamed streams. But before you fish a stream that may have wild or native trout, be sure to check online the list of designated Wild Trout Streams to gain the information about regulations. Nevertheless, streams not on that list flourishing with stocked trout in April and May can offer angling experiences as exquisite as any in the world, because the angler's innocent reception of life is much more critical than pristine status.
The bad news is that at least some streams on the stocking list online may not get many trout from the Pequest Hatchery. Visiting Hunterdon creeks for the past four years, my son and I have scouted Wickecheoke Creek and felt disappointed. Three years ago, water clear enough to spot a dime on deep bottom revealed no trout anywhere we looked—bridge areas and a deep hole under a cliff. We cast salmon eggs, just in case trout hid under rocks, nothing. On Opening Day this year, trout seemed all but absent, and my son and I encountered two other fishermen along a two-mile length of the Wickecheoke posted here and there by New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife stocking notifications. Fortunately, the Locatong Creek yielded many trout for us during three consecutive years, though I’ve heard complaints about streams elsewhere.
In February 1975 an older friend told me, “In the spring, every one of these rocks has a trout behind it,” as he pointed while driving along the Wickecheoke. Indeed, the Wickecheoke and the other Hunterdon streams received plentiful stockings. If records of the stocking numbers are not kept by the state going back 40 years to compare with the present, I know the fishing logs of at least two anglers do keep records of New Jersey catches this long ago. My friend fished the Wickecheoke and Locatong during 1970’s winters and on occasion caught a trout or two. Fall stocking in New Jersey didn’t begin until the early 1980’s, so the fish he caught survived through summer, which is a remarkable feat for trout dwelling in streams notably lacking springs.
If you can’t find many trout in small streams designated as stocked by the state, you may have good reason to question and complain. The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife hosts an annual public trout stocking meeting in February at the Pequest Hatchery. Questions get taken and voices heard. In my opinion, little creeks offer the finest fishing, whether of stocked, wild or native trout, and they should not be shirked so that waters with bigger names get fish belonging to the brooks that contribute to them.