It’s aptly named, that’s for sure, as this 53-acre impoundment provides fever pitch angling opportunities ranging from trophy size muskies to head size crappies. In between there are largemouth bass, chain pickerel, channel catfish, stocked rainbow trout, yellow perch and sunfish. Throw in generous parking with spaces for trailers, a paved boat ramp (electric motor only), and ample shoreline access including a small dock, and you have a hot mother of a rod bending swim.
Welcome to Furnace Lake in Warren County. Located in the hamlet of Oxford (often referred to as Oxford Furnace Lake) just a few miles north of Washington off Route 31 and onto Route 625, this easy to reach venue confidently rivals waters twice and thrice its size, and larger, when it comes to catching-per-hour, whether open water or through the ice. Indeed, save for local and transient anglers in-the-know, Furnace is oft overlooked as per other relatively close venues like Spruce Run and Merrill Creek reservoirs, Mountain Lake, lakes Hopatcong and Musconetcong, and, of course, the Delaware River.
Its headwaters are the Furnace Brook. A relatively deep swim, Furnace has a maximum depth of approximately 35 feet and a mean reach somewhere around 17 to 18 feet. Structure includes areas of subsurface weeds, sunken trees, rip-rap on the eastern side, and grass edges. Forage is primarily bluegill and pumkinseed sunfish, but also includes white suckers, yellow perch, banded killiefish, and, in the case of the larger muskies and channel cats, stocked trout, particularly the 10-1/2-inchstandard stockies during the four spring releases.
Muskies light the angling wick in the Furnace. Of the 11 stillwater venues stocked with pure strains, it is the smallest at the aforementioned diminutive 53 acres. Because of its salient properties, namely good depth and oxygen levels, structure and forage base, it was included in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s emerging Coolwater Plan back in the late 80s. It received both tiger muskies (the first stocking in 1992) and pure strains (first released in 1993). The final tiger release was in 2016, it being decided that the purebreds would be the mainstay. It continues an aggressive stocking program. Since 2016, for example, somewhere around 1,225 pure strains averaging 10 inches (advanced fingerlings) were loosed.
It wasn’t long before the muskie fishery as a whole was established. No doubt there are still tigers in residence, and they are sizable. The biggest we’ve seen was a sold three-footer dragged up through a hole in the ice. Bigger ones around? Assistant fisheries biologist Justin Rozema shared info about an electro-shocking survey in 2018 that saw several tigers close to, and in excess, of 40 inches.
As for pure strains, principal fisheries biologist Chris Smith said, “A few years back while electro-shocking Furnace we caught one that was 50 inches. A beautiful fish. And we had several smaller ones as well.”
Largemouth bass are major players here, with mossbacks in the 3- to 5-pound class not uncommon. There is a dynamic spring and autumn fishery, decent shots during the summer swelter, and again through the ice. The same goes for the pickerel, perch, crappies and sunfish.
Channel cats are a huge draw, with double-digit fish expected. Furnace is dosed annually with several hundred channels at or slightly above the 12-inch minimum possession limit. Quick catching and good eats. Every three years it receives a dose of what Hackettstown Hatchery superintendent Craig Lemon refers to as “super cats”: spent breeder channels measuring 18 to 28 inches and weighing to an eye-popping 15 pounds.
As with the channels, trout are a major draw. This spring, between the March pre-season opener stocking, and the three in-season releases (the first three weeks following opening day), 1,830 rainbows were delivered. As per the habitat, the ‘bows hang around; we’ve put a few on the stringer as late as the Father’s Day weekend. A bonus comes in the form of the Winter Stocking Program when Furnace is graced with another 350 buster 2-year old rainbows averaging a meaty 16 to 17 inches in length. This year’s release date was set for November 30, 2023, and besides the open water opportunities, these scarlet sashed Pequest warriors put a good show through the ice and into the following spring.
Furnace Lake is proof positive that sometimes smaller is better, and in a big way.