A Garden State “stock report” for 2022.
Later this month – the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving Week to be exact – New Jersey’s Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries will liberate 4,460 2-year-old rainbow trout measuring an average of 15.5 to 16 inches in 18 lakes and ponds throughout 11 counties stretching from Sussex to Cape May.
This “winter” program, a mere 33 days after the conclusion of the October 11-19 autumn trout stocking schedule that saw a payload of 21,445 two year-old ‘bows – including 1,000 breeders from 3 to 7 pounds – shot into 34 moving and still waters in 18 of the Garden State’s 21 counties scattered from Sussex southward to Salem.
Talk about a one-two punch for trout fishing opportunities right through next year’s mid-March closure (there are a few exceptions) for the pre-season stocking prior to the April 8, 2023 official statewide trout season opener when the daily limit returns to six fish. Factoring the first Saturday in April through the Friday of the Memorial Day weekend spring stocking – when 170 waters were stuffed with 569,860 baseline standard 10- to 11-inch rainbows, plus another 14,130 surplus fish during the final three stocking weeks, and 7,520 16- to 24-inch breeders weighing up to 6 pounds for a whopping total of 591,510 stocked trout – it’s easy to see that this most densely populated state offers chances at trout at every turn of the calendar page.
As with the recently completed October release, these November rainbow trout are thick of shoulder and aggressive, adding to the larder provided by those swims stocked in October and also in those waters that harbor holdover trout from the springtime stockings. “The rainbows are in fantastic shape, have great color and grew a bit from the extra few weeks they’ve been in the raceways,” said Pequest Trout Hatchery superintendent Ed Conley, adding “There should be some excellent trout fishing not only that week and weekend but also through December.”
And beyond, once safe ice sheaths the lake and pond surfaces. Where legal, ice fishing for rainbows adds a new twist to the standard panfish, pickerel, pike and bass, be it with tip up and/or jigging rod.
Bait & Tackle
The late autumn through winter period lends itself to all three approaches: bait, hardware and flies. The degree of fish response and choice of offerings and approaches will be predicated on the inevitable onset of freezing, and subfreezing temperatures. These will change again as late winter gives way to early spring with the eventual, albeit incremental, warming of the respective venues. For November into December, water temperatures pretty much mirror those of early April, so expect the freshly stocked trout to bite with gusto.
While an anathema to some, the fact of the matter is that the “Meat Matters” mantra holds true when it comes to catching fall into winter rainbows in both moving and still waters. Fathead minnows, small shiners, wax worms, garden worms, standard and giant meal worms, and baby nightcrawlers will do the trick. Clarifying further, this includes salmon eggs in their many flavors, and synthetics such as the Berkley PowerBait and Gulp in their myriad forms, and also “grocery” baits such as kernel corn, mini marshmallows, and cubes of Velveeta Cheese. Yes, the latter is still around and, along with beef liver strips, put several dozen rainbows on the stringer for us this past spring, proving that what worked way back when it still effective on today’s trout. Ditto cubes, or short strips, of beef liver. Yeah, I go that far back.
Hardware is a hammer during the first flush of the November stocking in the lakes and ponds, and will still get picked off by the more aggressive October ‘bow stockies in streams and rivers. In lakes and ponds, spoons such as the Phoebe, Mepps Little Wolf, Kastmaster, and the Al’s Goldfish and Helgy are reapers on a slow to moderate retrieve. When it comes to spinners, it’s the same result with the likes of the Mepps Black Fury, Aglia and Comet Mino, CP Swing, Rooster Tail and Panther Martin. In the early going, a quick pace will elicit strikes, but slow it down as November winds down, as water temps are dropping the fish are becoming less enthusiastic about chasing a victim.
Jigs, Plugs & Flies
Jigs have made a quantum leap when it comes to being a fatal weapon for trout, stocked or otherwise. Look no farther than the 1/64-ounce Trout Magnet, an even deadlier bait when teamed with its 1/200-ounce Mini Magnet as a teaser or trailer. Under a float or not, it’s a crusher on stockies and holdovers. In pools and currents containing native brookies and/or browns, the Trout Slayer crayfish impostor is especially effective. Not to be overlooked is a 1/16th round jighead tipped with a 2-inch Mr. Twister Teenie grub. Streamside, drop to a 1/24- or 1/32-ounce head armed with a Mr. Twister Nymph or Micro Crawfish.
Downsized plugs are major players when it comes to the late season approach, most notably on moving waters. Unlike spinners and spoons, these bits of balsa and plastic can be manipulated in a go-twitch-stop-go twitch retrieve at a slower cadence that can be a dead ringer for a baitfish either in transit or in distress. The Rapala Minnow, and the Yo-Zuri Pin’s Minnow, Snap Bean, and Aile Goby are sure strike provocateurs.
The last of the terrestrial (read: ant, grasshopper, beetle, cricket, spider) and aquatic insect hatch activity is in the rear view; it’s now primarily a nymphing game, with the likes of the bead head Copper John, Muskrat, Pheasant Tail, Prince, Hare’s Ear, and Caddis the major, and most effective trout mouth open-and shut patterns. The European (Czech) nymphing technique which has spawned a new genre of rods, lines and leaders continues the new rage, and offers an up close/tight line way to snipe picky cold water trout. On the majority of the weighted head patterns, the hook is in the up position, opposite of the standard. We’ve seen it utilized under tough bite winter conditions and yes, it can be game changer.
While it’s a basic cast and retrieve with some variances on lakes and ponds when hardware is the employee, streams and rivers prove another matter insofar as targeting areas where trout will be holding. Pools are natural draws, as are their tail ends, especially during the late afternoon period. The same with the slack water behind current splitting boulders. What is getting a ton of moving water attention is the term Thigmotaxis, loosely defined as trout, and all fish, actually, of all spots and stripes gravitating to submerged structure not only for protection but as a place to find sustenance.
Hence, concentrate efforts around the likes of current-interrupting logs and brushy clumps of mid-stream interference. Bigger, savvier trout reside under and behind. Be prepared to lose ordnance, be it bait, fly or hardware.
As the hoped January freeze sets in and extends the safe ice (from this corner, 5 inches at the least) into February, there is some hot hard water fishing opportunities for trout on those lakes and ponds stocked in October and November. By all means check with the respective governmental office as to the legality of ice fishing as per insurance reasons.
Best Bets For Success
For November and December trout fishing and beyond, the choices are legion, as per the holdover potential from the October and the Thanksgiving Week stockings, and the opportunity for ice fishing. Then, lake, pond or river. It’s a great fall into winter and spill in to early spring dilemma, if you will.
North: (Rivers): Wallkill, Wanaque, Big Flat Brook, Ramapo, Musconetcong, Rockaway and Pequest rivers, and the Pohatcong Creek. (Lakes): Silver, Speedwell, Ocquittunk, Little Swartswood ,Verona Park Lake, Barbour’s Pond, Mt. Hope, Oxford Furnace, Aeroflex, and Green Turtle.
Central: (Rivers): South Branch of the Raritan and the Ken Lockwood Gorge TCA; the Toms and its TCA; the North Branch of the Metedeconk, South Branch of the Metedeconk, and the Manasquan River. (Lakes): Lake Shenandoah, Colonial Lake, Amwell Lake, Rosedale Lake, Roosevelt Park Pond.
South: Maurice River, Birch Grove Park Ponds (first two), Haddon Lake, Swedesboro Lake, Ponderlodge Pond, Shaws Mill Pond, South Vineland Park Pond, Iona Lake Greenwich Lake, and Oak Pond.
Remember that the daily limit is four at a 9-inch minimum. Visit njfishandwildlife.com for a full listing of the trout stocked waters in New Jersey as well as the overall trout fishing regulations regarding wild trout waters, special management brown trout waters, and management where all three in their wild populations, and special regulations, are found.