Hot Spot: Lake Mercer - The Fisherman

Hot Spot: Lake Mercer

Images courtesy of Navionics.

If you can wrap your rod and reel head around it, there is a high octane fishing mecca for pure strain muskies, largemouth bass, channel catfish and crappies, with pickerel, yellow and white perch, sunfish and bullheads thrown in for added fuel, within minutes of the densely populated Garden State capital city area.  Welcome to the 275-acre, 20-foot deep (mean reach of 6 feet) Lake Mercer, located in the sprawling 2,500-acre Mercer County Park system shared by the townships of West Windsor, Lawrenceville and Hamilton.  It’s just a 15- to 20-minute drive from the Gold Dome.

Excavated for gravel back in the mid-70s to help construct interstate highways I-195 and I-295 and also to alleviate flooding problems with Assunpink Creek, the primary tributary, the impoundment has evolved in to a first rate sweetwater fishery thanks to scheduled sampling, judicious stockings, and decades of careful management by the state’s Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries.

No doubt in the mix as one of New Jersey’s more dependable pure strain muskie swims, the venue’s other angling opportunities are first rate as well, putting Mercer in the league, based on its surface acreage and catch rates, with some of the most productive waters in the state.  The robust forage base serves all predatory levels; gizzard shad, golden shiners, white suckers, and the smaller panfish and bullheads, along with minnows, frogs and crayfish all pack on the calories and make for a quick growth.

As a headliner, muskellunge does not disappoint. Fish in the 40-inch class are the norm, with longer and heftier reportedly caught; from this corner, the coveted 50-inch mark is certainly a possibility (in fact a few might’ve already been netted in recent years, but the muskie hunting fraternity is beyond tight lipped).  Except for 2020, he lake is stocked with anywhere from 300 to 500 chompers in the 10- to 11-inch class on a yearly basis, the most recent being a release of 400 on April 18 of this year. Gizzard shad and white suckers fuel the pure strain fire, and this is certainly a big fish/big bait scenario.

Mercer’s largemouth population is also strong, with all year classes represented. “We had a half-dozen, maybe a few more, bass over 5 pounds,” said principal fisheries biologist Chris Smith who electro-fished the lake in October of ‘22, adding “Fat and big, with good numbers in the 3-1/2- to 4-pound class, and plenty of smaller ones as well.”  Smith also noted in an odd twist, the stained precincts are nearly devoid of subsurface structure, save for a few scattered patches of stumps, pads, phragmites and weeds, and some sloping areas of bottom; other than the occasional laydown extending from the bank, there is an extreme paucity of shoreline cover. Adding to the puzzle is the pH “8-ish” rating, making for a very fertile environ and making the bass fishing experience a challenging one, for sure, as they tend to roam more than hold.

Heavily stocked channel cats on nearly a year-round basis over the past decades also offers exemplary whisker pulling from late spring into the autumn months. Double-digit fish are not uncommon, with the larger kitties being caught farther down the lake approaching the dam. However, during the spring and again when September waters begin cooling, they’ll come up closer in the shallower areas.

Images courtesy of Navionics.

Mercer is also home of the existing state record 3-pound, 11-ounce white crappie picked off back in 2009, and this water body also hosts populations of both white and black calicos. However, it’s the black crappie counts that are particularly robust, with size to go along with the numbers. “While trap netting for muskies, we caught loads of big black crappies especially, with some in excess of 3 pounds,” Smith noted.  Indeed, Mercer is recognized as one of the better black crappie waters in South/Central Jersey.

The park is located at 1638 Old Trenton Road in West Windsor and is bordered by Hughes Drive. It’s easily reached via Routes I-195, 130 and 1, and the NJ Turnpike. There is a boat house, boat rentals and a free launch (electric motor only), and generous shoreline access along a paved path that runs from the parking area to the dam and in the opposite direction going to the head where the Assunpink Creek flows in. It’s a matter of finding the cut outs along the bank.  There is also access, including a place to drop in kayaks, canoes and cartoppers at the end of South Post Road opposite the marina.

The drawback, if you want to call it that, is that Mercer also serves as a training area for crew and sculling teams from assorted area schools. The upper end of the lake is marked with rowing courses, and it’s understood that when these exercises and competitions are going on, that portion of the impoundment is, for all intents and purposes, a “No Fishing” zone. From this corner, I say live and let live, as there is plenty of room to work a bait.

You can get more information at, or by calling 609-443-8956.



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