Hot Spot: Tilcon Lake - The Fisherman

Hot Spot: Tilcon Lake

tilcon-lake
Tilcon Lake is located within Allamuchy Mountain State Park, with structure detail available through the Navionics app. Main image courtesy of the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife, with inset courtesy of Navionics.

The lake that was a mistake. Or, more appropriately, a stunning and brutal force of Mother Nature. Welcome to Tilcon Lake, located in Allamuchy Mountain State Park, straddling the Sussex/Warren County border just off Waterloo Road (County Route 604).

It was a monumental rain event on a dead still, hot, and hard-to-breathe August day in 2000 that delivered 14 to 15 inches of blinding wind-whipped cloud eruptions over a small spot in the Morris/Sussex county region; dead zero were several local lakes, including the 2,658-acre Lake Hopatcong. The storm hung over the area for the afternoon, delivering one of those Hundred Year downpours.

Ultimately, the dam at Lake Seneca blew out, and Hopatcong’s monstrous overflow (estimated at a 2-foot gain in water level), coupled with the flooding smaller brooks and streams, transformed the Musconetcong River, starting at the Hopatcong Dam, into a boiling brown and ash colored torrent. The wall of water took with it pieces of road, trees, brush, logs, rocks, and boulders…and whatever else was in the way. In a stroke of incredible luck, the floodwaters dumped into the abandoned Tilcon Quarry just above Hackettstown, avoiding what would have been a catastrophe to a portion of the town below.

The 60-foot deep, 88-acre jagged rock-studded hole eventually filled, and in the deluge delivery, including the aforementioned structures, was a cross-section of forage and gamefish that had washed down from the Musconetcong. The displaced residents included smallmouth bass, rock bass, bluegill, pumpkinseed and redbreast sunfish, white suckers, largemouth bass, yellow bullheads, pickerel, and carp. Forage species included banded killifish, golden shiners, crayfish, dace, chubs, and minnows. It wasn’t long before populations of all were established, with one critical forage species, alewife herring, also established via bait bucket stocking. (Bucket stocking is also suspected of the scatterings of black crappie and yellow perch being caught.) The herring population, as with the other forage species, has taken off, and natural reproduction of the bass (there was a token stocking of fingerling smallmouth in 2011 and 2018 by the Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries) and pickerel is documented. While the lake is deep throughout most of its entirety, there are some shallow water coves on the western side that provide spawning areas for largemouth and pickerel, with the bronzebacks reproducing in slightly deeper areas.

Although the largemouth, smallies, and chainsides receive a lot of attention, it’s the landlocked salmon that is the rising star of Tilcon. The cold, well-oxygenated hypolimnion (dense, bottom layer of water in a thermally-stratified lake) in the 20- to 30-foot reach and abundant herring forage make it a natural for this species. Since 2014 and through last year, approximately 5,600, averaging 13.83 inches, have been stocked. It’s managed as a Holdover Trout Lake, with a daily possession limit of two at a 12-inch minimum. “Tilcon is providing outstanding opportunities for landlocked salmon, and we’re working to improve the program even further,” said assistant fisheries biologist Justin Rozema, who oversees the Garden State’s cold water lake/reservoir salmonid fisheries, adding, “It’s a work in progress.”

The bank sides all feature steep drop-offs, leading to over-the-wader depths within a few steps, the exception being the aforementioned shallow portions. There are cutouts along the shoreline that offer a modicum of access to landlubber anglers. The most effective way to work Tilcon is via cartopper, kayak or canoe; power is electric only. Said floats must be walked in from the parking area along Kinney Road, situated off Waterloo Road (a left turn if arriving from Route 46, a left if coming in from Route 206). For those who will be probing from the brushy banks, there is another access point at the end of Kinney Road. Make a left at the T (this is Bell Road) and follow to a gate on the left. There is parking in close to the woods. It’s a few hundred yards trek down to where there is a split. Take the left and follow to the back of the lake. There is access along this area. The Musconetcong is tucked along a portion of the trail.

Tilcon represents a variety of quality sweetwater angling in the stunning highlands real estate. Salmon, bass, pickerel and panfish in a nice tight package.

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