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Hiding in plain sight among the bigger, more popular venues within a 15- to 30-minute drive including Mountain Lake, the Spruce Run, Round Valley and Merrill Creek reservoirs, and the Delaware River sits the redheaded stepchild 53-acre Furnace Lake, a fish-producing cauldron that puts fins in the air at every turn of the calendar page.

By Tom Pagliaroli

November is a sizzling time on the Furnace, as the venue’s pure strain and tiger muskies are in prime time murder mode; the largemouth bass are stacking and packing; crappies and the scattered counts of yellow perch are on the prowl ‘n chow; pickerel are in heightened ambush status; and the Division of Fish & Wildlife will have on Monday, November 21 (barring an unforeseen calamity) liberated 340 2-year-old brick thick, shoreline-cruising rainbow trout averaging 14 to 16 inches in length.

Not to be ignored is the venue’s seasonal “silent partner,” the channel catfish. As with the muskies, it attains double-digit proportions in the forage-rich precincts and yes, it does inhale baits and hit plugs during the Thanksgiving month. Under the ice? Rapala ice jigs, especially sweetened with a chunk of fathead minnow or nib of shiner, is not safe from a whisker whip.

Under the auspices of the township of Oxford (hence the old time referral as Oxford Furnace Lake) in Warren County, the 53-acre impoundment has an approximate maximum reach of 35 feet with an overall average depth of 17 feet. Subsurface structure includes weeds and sunken brush. The baitfish roster includes the calorie-rich golden shiners and alewife herring, with the bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish, suckers, crappies and yellow perch adding to the larder, especially for the larger bass and channel cats. A thermocline forms during the summer swelter and provides a little living space for trout that survived the springtime angler bombast.

There is a well-maintained paved boat ramp that can handle everything from car-top johnboats and ‘yaks to tournament grade bass boats. The parking area is huge with designated spots for vehicles with trailers. A decent sized handicapped pier is situated adjacent to the ramp, and there is bank side access around a guesstimated 70 percent of the lake. A second shoreline entry point is located off McKinley Avenue on the northern side. A seasonally guarded beach sits a short distance from the ramp.

The pure strain and tiger muskies are the headliners here, with the former in far greater numbers as per annual stockings by the Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries. Both are propagated and raised to stocking sizes ranging from 3.1 inches to 12.4 inches, with sometimes larger fish to 17 inches being released. The tigers are stocked only periodically (The most recent being in 2014 when 400 averaging 7.4 inches were let loose.) as the emphasis is on the pure strain as opposed to the muskie/northern pike hybrid.

How big are the tigers and pure strains roaming Furnace?

“Good numbers of muskies over 20 pounds for sure, some even closer to 30 pounds. Same for the tigers,” says Hackettstown Hatchery superintendent Craig Lemon who likens the venue to a “hometown” trophy fishery that delivers handsomely for those who put in the time and effort. Oddly enough, the nearby122-acre Mountain Lake in Buttzville is managed as a “Trophy Muskie Water” (one fish 40-inches or greater) while Furnace, even though boasting muskies just as monstrous, is not. Go figure. On Furnace, the daily possession limit is one no less than 36 inches.

The point is moot, however, as 99 percent of those catching muskies of any size or parentage, release them.

A new state record for pure strain (42 pounds, 13 ounces) or tiger (29 pounds) a possibility from what is considered an “undersized” impoundment?

“It would be very tough for a muskie, but absolutely possible for a tiger. We’ve received photos from very reliable sources with Furnace tigers that we estimated to be over 25 pounds, so I believe a new record could come from there. ‘Go for it’,” urges Lemon.

In terms of winter ice, this is a “prime time all the time” venue when it comes to through-the-hole hysterics. To be sure, the across-the-board opportunities via tip-up and jigging rod rival, at least regarding a size comparison, the bigger, more heavily publicized waters. Think about it: tigers and pure strain muskies and channel catfish easily at 10- to 15 pounds, bass to 4-plus pounds, pickerel easily approaching 28 inches, foot-long crappies, palm-sized sunnies, and rip snorting rainbow trout.

The kindling is within. Light that rod ‘n reel match!

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