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Prime Time For Smallies

by Jim Hartobey
Fisheries Worker
September, 2005

As we near the end of summer and enter early autumn, fishing for smallmouth bass offers anglers of all age an opportunity to tackle a hard fighting fish. With the onset of cooler weather, it's prime time to target the brutes of the Raritan River. That's right, the Raritan River. The lower end of this river is a very short ride for many residents of Somerset and Middlesex counties and offers some of the finest smallmouth bass fishing in New Jersey if you know the right places to start. Trophy fish in excess of 4 pounds can be found, though the smaller ones are more plentiful and will keep you and your friends entertained.

Smallmouth bassSmallmouth bass thrive in rocky areas of the river, in both shallow and deep pools feeding on invertebrates such as crayfish and hellgrammites, and the abundant forage fish that also inhabit the river. Bass prefer pools that hold cooler water, but will venture into the shallows as night approaches to seek out their prey. Smallies also like to take cover in under-cut banks, log jams, and any obstructions blocking the flow of the river. Avoid areas that are wide, deep and slow moving. Target rocky areas with moderate to fast current.

Catching smallmouths is easier than you think. The secret is to use live bait. Artificial lures such as spinners and fish-imitating stick baits will produce, but on any given day live bait will win the day. Bait such as crayfish and hellgrammites can be easily found by turning over large rocks in shallow water and as the sediment cloud clears, pick them up just behind the head since both will give you a pinch to remember. Live shiners also work well, and this bait can be purchased at stores that sell fishing and hunting supplies.

Angler with smallmouthWhen using live bait, be sure to hook them in an area that will not impede their natural actions (the livelier the better). Crayfish should be hooked in the tail area, either to the left or right of the main artery that runs along the middle of the tail. If the hook is inserted in the artery the crayfish will quickly die. Hook hellgrammites in the collar area just below the head, and shiners just behind the dorsal fin or in the lips. Fish them with just enough weight (split shot) to let them swim naturally.

The best method to fish for bass is to cast upstream of the targeted area and let the bait drift down until it passes the spot you intend to fish, wait a few seconds and recast again. If you really want to see action, you should pick a starting point, like a dam, and wade your way down river, slowly covering a large area of water. Start fishing a few hours before dark to increase your chances. If you canoe or kayak just paddle until you find a deep pool then pull over to the side and fish it.

The Raritan offers miles of access, you can start fishing at Burnt Mills (North Branch), Neshanic Station (South Branch) or anywhere along Weston Canal Road in Somerset (main stem of the Raritan River). There are many access points along the river to fish from, but don't be afraid to seek out a map of the river, and venture off the beaten path to do some exploration. You never know what's waiting at the next bend.

So what are you waiting for? Grab your rods, take a friend and head to the Raritan for some non-stop bass action that will keep you coming back for more.


Smallmouth Bass Information
Warmwater Fishing Has Never Been Better!
Places to Fish

Delaware River 21" smallmouth

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