Joe Landolfi, long time Knee Deep member and holder of the club's record for rainbow trout, at six pounds. (Photo of the trout below.)
New Jersey's Lake Hopatcong Knee Deep Club, first established in 1947, plans on holding at least a couple of ice fishing contests this winter, and if you feel while reading this as I feel while writing, you might think the story's more about the possibility of ice than any reality. Mild weather is projected for the next two weeks. However, I've seen this situation before. A mild winter persists and people get to feeling that's how it will stay. I never allowed last winter to fool me. When one of my editors told me an article of mine on ice fishing might get withdrawn, I pointed out that very, very few winters--I can't think of any--involve no ice fishing at all in New Jersey north of Interstate 80. I told him the Highlands are not quite the same climate as south of that highway and south of Interstate 78, and that besides, an arctic air mass is a severe weather shift that can last for a week or longer. The middle and latter weeks of February are not immune.
The story ran. And perhaps there'll be an ice fishing contest, even if the dates have to be changed. Knee Deep has slated January 22nd, February 12th, and March 5th. The contests are open to members and non-members alike. $20.00 entry fee for members. $25.00 for non-members. Cash prizes awarded according to categories of heaviest-weighing fish caught reflect the amount of money collected from participants.
In any event, Lake Hopatcong is regarded New Jersey's premier ice fishing lake and is popular for its big pickerel, a gamefish associated with ice fishing like no other, besides perhaps the yellow perch. Walleye, musky, hybrid striped bass first stocked in Lake Hopatcong--thanks to Knee Deep's initial efforts--during the 1980's and '90's never completely eclipse pickerel's popularity, but the ice fishing contests are open to all species in the lake, besides musky, which cannot be weighed in. Whether or not this is really Knee Deep's implicit reason for the ban, musky catch and release is the prevailing ethic among people who fish the lake regularly, whether through the ice or open water. Few muskies get caught compared to other species, but they are present in the lake in numbers, pursued, and caught regularly.