Hot Spot: Newark Watershed - The Fisherman

Hot Spot: Newark Watershed

An incredible fishery can be found within an hour’s drive from the NY/NJ metro area, and less than 2-1/2 hours from just about anywhere in the Garden State. Route 23 is the main vein, with arteries to the swims. Image courtesy of Google Earth.

The stunning mountainous (by New Jersey standards) topography, complete with glacial rock ledges and towering reaches of hardwoods certainly puts the 35,000-acre Newark Watershed property in a class by itself. Located in portions of Passaic and Sussex counties, this eye-widening expanse of real estate offers four reservoirs open to fishing from both boat (power limited to electric; no canoes, kayaks or inflatable permitted) and shoreline. In addition, you’ll find a miles-long stretch of the Pequannock River, one of the Garden State’s premier wild brown trout streams, available to probe.

The catch is that access is on a fee basis. Before the eye roll, be aware that the menu includes appetizers of husky yellow perch, crappies and sunfish. Entrees feature hefty helpings of largemouth and smallmouth bass, trophy size muskies and walleyes, and chain pickerel. For those with the room, there is a rainbow trout dessert to order.  And with a mandated fee structure, deduce monumentally less angling pressure.

The four impoundments, Echo, Canister, Clinton and Oak Ridge boast superlative quality habitat, strong forage bases, and piscine populations. Three are augmented with periodic releases of muskie and walleye fingerlings and advanced fingerlings from the Hackettstown Hatchery as well as standard (11-inch average) rainbows with a sprinkling of breeder ‘bows from the Pequest Trout Hatchery.  The approximately 5.9 mile stretch of the Pequannock pulsing through the property, from Oak Ridge Road to the railroad bridge just upstream of the Charlottesburg Reservoir, is managed as a Wild Brown Trout Enhancement water and under special regulation. It’s not stocked.

Echo Lake (300 acres; max depth 32 feet): Muskies rule here, with fish to 50-plus inches being caught. So powerful is the population that it one of the two impoundments that is trap netted for breeders during the early spring by the Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries’ Hackettstown crew. “Our first stocking of muskies was in 2001,” said Hackettstown superintendent Craig Lemon, adding “Since then, we’ve stocked over 10,000 10- to 12-inch advanced fingerlings. About 530 get stocked annually. Chapter 22 of Muskies, Inc. has also assisted with stocking. We started trap netting in 1997 and have caught numerous fish that broke 50 inches and 30 pounds.”  Rounding things are steady populations of largemouth and smallmouth, and pickerel. The boat ramp is located off Echo Lake Road (Route 23 North) next to the Watershed office.

Canistear (350 acres; max depth 42 feet): The ‘eyes have it here, and, as with muskies, labors in the shadows of Greenwood and Hopatcong. That’s fine with this reservoir’s ‘eye poking regulars. “Great walleye fishing in Canistear. Fish to 5 and 6 pounds,” said Watershed employee and avid angler Rich Firstmeyer. Double digit fish? Entirely possible, but walleye masters are a secretive bunch. Smallies and bigmouths in good numbers. The ramp is located on Canistear Road off Route 23 North.

Clinton (423 acres; max depth 42 feet): Consistent shots at mossbacks and bronzebacks. “A great place for both,” opines Fran DellaPorta Jr., a lifelong local bass buster and Youth Tournament Director for NJ Bass Nation. Tournaments (limited to 10 boats; permits through the Newark Watershed offices) are often conducted here, testament to the quality of the combined bass fishery. Rainbows are a prime springtime draw here. It’s under “Holdover Trout Lake” regulation. It will be dosed with 950 ‘bows sometime during the week of April 3-7; then it’s the same payload the Fridays of April 21, and May 5 and 19. The ramp can be found on Clinton Road off Route 23 North.

Oak Ridge (482 acres; max depth 56 feet): For largemouth and smallmouth, pickerel and panfish, this is the all-around go to. Plenty of space and loads of fish. Also a host water for bass fishing competitions, this venue does not disappoint. The ramp is off Route 23 South at Oak Ridge Road.

Boating fees for the 2023 season are $20 Newark residents, $35 non-residents, and $13 daily for both.  For fishing, Newark residents pay $19, non-residents pay $30. For a Newark family it’s $20, non-resident $35. Daily fishing is $13 for both.  Daily for the Pequannock trout fishing is $7. So good is this that, by popular demand, the Newark Watershed is offering is offering a season (April-November) permit for $50.  Permits available on line at, or in person at Newark City Hall, 920 Broad Street, Room 216, or the West Milford office, 223 Echo Lake Road, New Milford, directly off Route 23. Phone 973-697-1724.



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