By Patricia L. Hamilton
2006 Trout Outlook
The first few warm days in March have arrived, seemingly overnight, and this spring-like weather beckons young and old to venture outside. At first it is enough to simply inhale the fresh air and bask in the sunlight. And then, as spring progresses and one begins to spend more time outdoors, the telltale nature signs that herald the arrival of spring are detected. The snow-white blossoms of the shad bush that dot the countryside in mid-April, the sound of spring peepers calling as the cool, moist evening air descends upon a swamp, and carpets of flowering spring beauties and trout lilies are among my personal favorites.
It's a marvelous time to be outdoors and experience the sights, sounds, and odors of our natural world. For many outdoor enthusiasts, the opening day of the trout season in April marks the unofficial start of spring. From the mountains and hills of north Jersey, to the shores of Cape May, our state offers a remarkable assortment of seasonal and year round trout fishing opportunities. This year New Jersey's trout season opens on Saturday, April 8 at 8 a.m. Over half a million brook, brown, and rainbow trout (570,000) will be stocked during the spring in nearly 200 waterbodies statewide.
Most of the spring-stocked trout will average 10½ inches and weigh ½ pound. But as always 4,000 - 6,000 broodstock trout weighing 3 to 5 pounds each and ranging from 14 to 19 inches, will be mixed in with the standard production trout. In addition, each year nine different lakes and ponds are targeted to receive large numbers of broodstock trout. This mini-program, dubbed "Bonus Broodstock Ponds and Lakes", increases the odds that anglers fishing these waters will have a thrilling experience. Whether you are a seasoned trout angler, or new to the sport, starting this year you will be able to find places to fish for trout by referring to our newly prepared directory of access points to trout-stocked waters. (See the 2006 Bonus Trout Broodstock Ponds and Lakes page for details.)
Every spring most of our trout-stocked waters are closed to fishing during the three-week period prior to opening day. This is done to "level the playing field", thereby giving all anglers an equal opportunity to catch stocked trout on opening day, when trout are most abundant. A total of 181,000 trout will be stocked prior to opening day this year, with more going directly into 16 major streams than in the past, which is expected to appreciably boost angler success and increase satisfaction. Six ponds and lakes have been added to the stocking program to expand trout fishing opportunities to new areas and stocking has been discontinued on ten other lakes and streams. Following opening day, trout stocking continues over a seven-week period and anglers can determine when their favorite waters will be stocked either online or by calling the Trout Hotline at 609-633-6765.
Savvy anglers know that they do not have to abstain from trout fishing during the three weeks leading up to opening day. A handful of streams and lakes have special regulations and are open to trout fishing during this period. For example, stream sections that are regulated as Trout Conservation Areas are open to fishing (catch & release fishing) prior to opening day. To entice anglers to ply these waters, they are stocked on the first day of the three-week pre-season period.
This year they were stocked on March 20, a chilly day, ironically the first day of spring complete with wind-blown snowflakes. Volunteers helped spread trout along several popular special regulation stream sections, including the Point Mountain stretch of the Musconetcong River, the Ken Lockwood Gorge portion of the S/Br. Raritan River, and the Tom's River. Anglers can also find great shoreline fishing at Round Valley Reservoir, a Trophy Trout Lake where big trout move into the shallows and anglers are allowed to creel two 15-inch trout (brown or rainbow) per day. Wild Trout Streams, which are not stocked, can also be fished and provide an alternative to anglers who are wild trout aficionados.
While most streams and lakes are in pretty good shape thus far this spring, more rain would be helpful to bring stream flows and water levels in some lakes up a bit. Hopefully the weather will be more cooperative this year than last, when severe flooding in early April, and the summer drought that extended into the fall, impacted our stocking schedule. Should adjustments to our stocking schedule become necessary, any changes will be posted on the Trout Stocking Schedule page and on the Trout Hotline.
Even though the spring trout-stocking program ends just before Memorial Day, your trout fishing fun for the year doesn't have to end. A number of streams and lakes in north Jersey hold trout right through the warm summer months. And trout anglers are in for a big treat later this year. Bigger trout, 14 - 16 inches long and upwards of two pounds, will be stocked this fall and winter rather than the 9 - 10 inch trout, as in the past. And last but not least, a new trout species, the landlocked salmon, will be introduced into one of our north Jersey trout lakes giving New Jersey trout anglers yet another trout fishing opportunity!
One of the goals specified in the New Jersey's Coldwater Fisheries Management Plan, finalized and adopted earlier this year, is to provide and promote a diversity of recreational angling opportunities for trout statewide. To accomplish that goal, a number of significant trout program enhancements await anglers this year. Many of these are result of angler feedback and brainstorming sessions between anglers and fisheries biologists during public Angler Forums held annually in north and south Jersey. Some have already been mentioned above, and all are highlighted and explained in detail below.
What's new for trout anglers in New Jersey this year?
The spring baseline was decreased from 575,000 to 570,000 trout this year. This reduction is one component of the broad program changes that were approved by the Fish and Game Council last year. The spring baseline reduction gives Pequest Trout Hatchery the ability to rear larger, but fewer trout for the fall/winter trout stocking programs (commencing in 2006).
If you opt to fish in one of our popular 16 major trout-stocked streams, the odds that you'll catch trout on opening day this spring just went up. That's because the number of trout stocked in these waters prior to opening day has been increased by 15-20%. For example, the Musconetcong River will be stocked with 2,500 more trout, bring the pre-season total to nearly 16,000. Of course, those stocked trout not harvested on the opening day weekend will continue to provide angling enjoyment in the weeks that follow. Anglers should note that certain stream sections that have reproducing trout populations,will not receive additional trout (upper S/Br. Raritan River, Lower Wanaque River, upper Big Flatbrook).
The following streams will receive additional fish during the pre-season period:
A component of the broad program changes that were approved by the Fish and Game Council last year (and subsequently incorporated into the 2006 Fish Code) was the addition of seven ponds and lakes to the spring trout stocking program (boldfaced in list above). These waters are: Echo Lake (Monmouth Co.), Gloucester City Pond (Gloucester Co.), Hamilton Fire Pond (Monmouth Co.), Heritage Park Pond (Atlantic Co.), Pemberton Lake (Burlington Co.), and Potash Lake (Bergen Co.). One of these, Dahnert's Lake (Bergen Co.), has been temporarily suspended from the stocking program this year due to an ongoing dredging project. Descriptions of the six waters that will be stocked with trout this spring and directions to them are as follows:
Atlantic County - Heritage Park Pond
Bergen County - Potash Lake
Burlington County - Pemberton Lake
Camden County - Gloucester City Pond (a.k.a. Martins Lake)
Monmouth County - Echo Lake
Monmouth County - Hamilton Fire Company Pond
Another component of the broad program changes that were approved by the Fish and Game Council last year, and subsequently incorporated into the 2006 Fish Code, was the removal of six large lakes/reservoirs and four small streams (having reproducing brook trout populations) from the spring trout stocking program. These waters are: Canistear Reservoir, Cranberry Lake, Manasquan Reservoir, Mountain Lake, Pompton Lake, Spruce Run Reservoir, Biers Kill, Roy Spring Brook, Shimers Brook, and Tuttles Corner Brook. These lakes will continue to provide good fishing for a variety of warmwater/coolwater fish species and anglers may fish for wild trout in these streams.
Three lakes that will not be stocked with trout this spring due to dredging/dam repair activity are Dahnert's Lake (Bergen Co.), Clarks Pond (Essex Co.), and Bostwick Lake (Cumberland Co.).
The excited cry of "Big Fish On!" will be heard more frequently by anglers that fish one of the trout-stocked waters slated to receive bonus broodstock trout. Broodstock trout, or "breeders", as anglers like to say, weigh 3 to 5 pounds each, and range from 14 to 19 inches. Each spring 4,000 to 6,000 broodstock trout mixed in with the standard production trout (that average 10.5 inches) as the hatchery trucks are loaded with trout. Stocked throughout the state, primarily before the opening day of the spring trout season, these big trout create quite a stir when hooked, and as an angler battles to land the "big one".
The Bonus Broodstock Program, initiated in 2004, targets a handful of waters that receive five to six times more broodstock trout than usual. A different set of nine ponds and small lakes will receive 30 to 50 of these huge trout (rather than the usual 5 to 10), increasing the odds that anglers fishing one of these waters will have the thrill of a lifetime. Find out where these water are on the 2006 Bonus Trout Broodstock Ponds and Lakes page
Do you want to try fishing a trout-stocked water that you've never been to before, but don't know where to go? Now you will be able to refer to our "hot off the press" directory of access points to trout-stocked waters. A list of fishing access locations for many trout-stocked waters will soon be available to guide you to new fishing spots.
This year a fifth species will be added to New Jersey's repertoire of coldwater fishing opportunities. The landlocked version of the Atlantic salmon (free surplus from a Massachusetts fish hatchery) will be stocked in a north Jersey trout lake in May of this year. These salmon will be stocked at a size of 8 inches and should achieve the minimum harvestable size of 12 inches late in 2007. More information about this exciting new species, including the lake selected for stocking, will be announced in the beginning of May.
Anglers longing to catch a big trout will be pleased to learn that bigger trout are being produced for the fall and winter stocking programs. Several adjustments were made to the production cycle at the Pequest that enable the hatchery to produce bigger trout for these two programs. Previously the hatchery produced about 60,000 9-inch yearling rainbow trout for these two stocking programs. Now the hatchery is rearing two-year-old brook, brown, and rainbow trout that will average 14 - 16 inches and weigh 2 - 4 pounds when stocked in the fall and winter. Because the same amount of raceway space will be used, and bigger trout require more growing space, fewer but bigger trout will be reared for these two programs. The number of trout available for these programs will be roughly half the amount stocked in previous years and more details will be forthcoming as the stocking dates approach.