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The lure of trout fishing with the advent of the winter season is no better experienced than on the select Trout Conservation Area (TCA) stretches of premium trout water that includes the Pequest, Musconetcong, South Branch of the Raritan, Toms and Pequannock rivers.
By Tom Pagliaroli

These are further divided into “No Kill” (the Ken Lockwood Gorge beat of the South Branch of the Raritan), “Year-Round” (the Musconetcong, the Claremont stretch of the South Branch of the Raritan, and the Toms) and “Seasonal” (the Pequest and Pequannock). The lengths vary from 1 mile to 2.2 miles.

The common denominator is that only artificials can be utilized, be they hardware or flies, and any type of scent on or in either is outlawed. Possession and length limits apply to all but the “The Gorge” which is catch-and-release at every turn of the calendar page.

All of these beats are unique in their own ways, be it gradient, flow, substrate, bankside cover, etc. and offer a quality angling experience as the snow begins to fly. It’s a two-sided coin though - because of the special regulation and harvest restrictions, they do receive a fair amount of pressure during late autumn and through the Yule, the flip side being that in October (with the exception of the Pequannock and Claremont) each received generous doses in 2015 of brick thick 2-year-old rainbows measuring to 16-1/2 inches as well as a smattering of breeder rainbows to 6 pounds, thus adding to the generous springtime doses.

The Claremont and Pequannock beats are unique TCA stretches, with the former chock full of wild browns and rainbows and is stocked neither spring nor fall, and the Pequannock which is loaded only during the spring. The Claremont’s bonus is that there are private fishing clubs above and below which liberate some eye-popping browns, rainbows and brookies. Another plus is that there is a Division of Fish & Wildlife stocking point in Long Valley, and no doubt salmonids from all three swims find their way into the Claremont’s rich environs.

All in all, the TCAs offer a “Pick what you want” scenario that adds to the diversity of the Garden State trout fishing experience. All types of water are included here, from the classic riffle/pool/chute show to the slow, winding bottomland flow.

The 1.4-mile seasonal Pequest TCA came under special regulation May 18 which continues through December 31. That it is adjacent to the Pequest Trout Hatchery makes it a no-brainer that it holds a lot of fish, a fair percentage of which are true heavyweights. The 52-degree outflow from the facility is a natural draw to the resident rainbows and any remaining holdover browns and brook trout. It can get crowded during the weekends, even in December, but the sheer number of trout inhabiting the stretch makes the hike (a couple of hundred yards from the parking lot) well worth it. No need to join the crowds as there are trout virtually everywhere. Take a walk and have plenty of water, and trout to yourself (spring stocking 3,740 fish; 200 in the fall).

“Point Mountain,” the 1.2-mile year-round TCA on the Musconetcong River harbors a very selective population of holdover rainbows, and there are those who maintain that there are a few surviving brown trout still ensconced within (A photo on a cell phone offered by a Yo-Zuri Pins Minnow wielding gent showed what looked to be a healthy 15- or so inch brown in hand.). Several sorties this spring and again in October revealed only hungry ‘bows, but no doubt the habitat will certainly support browns, as these can tolerate warmer waters and generally feed under the cover of darkness from late spring through early fall (spring stocking 1,570 fish; 150 in the fall).

Talk about an enigma: the languid, winding and heavily shrouded 1-mile year-round Toms River TCA is the southernmost trout conservation area and offers sandy and mixed gravelly bottoms to waist-wetting holes that hide drag-torturing trout. It’s necessary to fish from the river, as any attempt to approach from the bank will give one the sensation of being put through a meat grinder. Think you’re an ace with a fly rod on the wide open north Jersey streams and rivers? The Toms will bring you down to earth (spring stocking 10,170 fish; 100 in the fall).

The 2.2-mile Ken Lockwood Gorge beat was hit with 3,260 rainbows in the spring and another 320 in October, with the wild brown trout-rich 1.3-mile Pequannock TCA the recipient of 830 springtime rainbows.

Tactically speaking nymphs and streamers are the primary weapons of the fly rod-armed TCA stalker. Some (yours truly) do a respectable job catching drifting and twitching wets. On the hardware front, the aforementioned Yo-Zuri Pins Minnow plug, the Trout Magnet (including the 1/200-pound Mini-Magnet as a kicker) and the black and the brass 1-1/2-inch and 2-inch P’Cola Niti-1 and P-Chip on the slow wobble retrieve are trout toasters.

For directions to the respective New Jersey Trout Conservation Areas, look on page 21 of the 2015 NJ Freshwater Fishing Digest or on the web under the Freshwater Fishing section.

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