Shepherd Lake is tucked away among the mountains of northern Passaic County, the northern shoreline right on New York’s border in Ringwood State Park. A summer Saturday or Sunday might witness only one or two boats at any given time on the lake’s 74 acres, perhaps rented from the boathouse near the public launch. If sometime from Memorial Day until Labor Day you decide to take a rowboat at $70 for the day, or the same aluminum boat with an electric outboard for $85, don’t forget to look up from the counter to admire the mounted 9-pound pickerel on the wall above you. It was caught in Shepherd Lake, purportedly on topwater plug.
Big largemouth bass and outsize crappies in the lake’s clear water associate with weeds, submerged brush and tree limbs in some spots, and boulders and rocks studding the bottom in other places. The state stocks trout here in the spring and both boaters and shoreline anglers catch them. Because of 35-foot depths and spring-fed cool spots, fishing for holdovers is an interesting proposition, and the state designates the lake among only five others as a holdover destination. Not many years ago, the state stocked brook trout said to holdover and feed on the lake’s abundant herring forage.
Year round, you can expect good catches. Shepherd Lake does remain open between March 18 and Opening Day, April 6, but any trout caught must be released. April and May are the best times to get in on trout action on bait or lures like spinners, and now is the best month to catch and release a lunker largemouth before the spawn.
When weather permits – those balmy afternoons and evenings – bass will move over shallow residual weeks. They prove vulnerable to spinnerbaits and jerkbaits. Alert pickerel waiting in ambush position in weeds leftover from last year and just beginning to regenerate. They will hit the same lures, and plate-sized crappies will hit plugs that aren’t too large. You will see boulders along the shorelines. Since rock absorbs heat, don’t overlook these spots.
After bass spawn early in May, it’s a good idea to leave the bucks alone as they guard nests against the invasion of eager sunfish. Focus on big females that have finished their reproductive rite. Fishing for them is limited to catch and release until June 15. Females remain shallow through May and into June when both Senkos and traditional plastic worms become very effective, although spinnerbaits cover water quickly and can be deadly when surface chop stirs the pot. Especially on stormy days, topwater action can be electric. Don’t be too surprised if you hook an outsized pickerel, so use a 15-pound test fluorocarbon leader and check for abrasions after each encounter with these toothy fish.
Summer doesn’t quite begin at Shepherd Lake until July, when surface water temperatures surpass 80 on a regular basis, and the weeds return fully. Fish topwater early, late, and on stormy days. Otherwise stick to plastic worms and jig and plastic combinations. Pickerel hit plastic worms, too, and as deep as almost 20 feet on the outside edges of weedlines. A speedier option and a way to locate fish here involves trolling diving plugs along those weedlines, which requires skill at keeping plugs close to weeds without catching them en masse.
The back of the lake is relatively shallow and weedy, often good fishing during the summer, if even more productive in the fall, but the edge between these flats and the deep open water is a hotspot during summer. Another very productive deep weedline runs parallel to the steeply sloping southern shoreline not far beyond the boat launch. It’s good for bass, pickerel, and crappie, but cast a weightless plastic worm into shallow weed pockets further east towards the back where a cove-like indentation forms, and you might be pleased especially early or late. You can also drift that deep open water using live herring for holdover trout.
Shepherd Lake gets no fall or winter trout stocking, but you can expect plenty of action from the other species on plugs and spinnerbaits in the shallows and over the weeds. Ice fishing is excellent, too. Ringwood Sate Park is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. beginning the second Sunday of March through the first Sunday of November, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. the first Monday of November until again in March. The boat launch serves small boats limited to electric power.