This year has been one of the strongest fishing seasons we have seen in years for the northwestern part of New Jersey. Cooler weather combined with high water has blessed us with remarkable conditions. This has been true for the Shad Run and New Jersey Rainbow Trout fishing. I say Rainbow Trout fishing because New Jersey has not stocked Brown or Brook Trout in a while. This does not mean they cannot be caught; it just limits the scope of locations where they can be caught.
Last season, due to the drought and unseasonably warm weather the Trout season was cut a bit short and barely made it through the end of stocking season. This year we Trout fisherman are winning with the cool and rainy weather. Some of the Trout streams in New Jersey are impressive for their diversity of terrain. The majority of worm dunkers in this state cannot be bothered to walk half a mile to a good hole loaded with fish. Sometimes the best way to locate fish is to find the common stocking spots, go on Google Earth and scope out which way the stream heads deep into the woods then hoof it in.
Tactics that Produce
You cannot go wrong with a basic inline nymph rig in New Jersey Jersey Trout streams. I like to tie on about four (4) feet of 3X tippet material, three (3) feet of 4X tippet material, then 18 inches of 5X tippet material all connected with a blood knot. I place an indicator way at the top, some split shot above the blood knot between the 4X and 5X material. At the end of the 5X tippet I tie on a general attractor pattern or something like a large stonefly. Then I tie a trailing fly onto the first hook with 5X material. This trailing fly is typically a midge or a bead head nymph (Prince, Pheasant Tail or Hare’s Ear).
Another way I recommend to ply the water with various types of Woolly Buggers. Green, brown, red and black all do the trick depending on the water and time of day. The Woolly Buggers work the best swung in waist deep fast water. You can also affix a bit of split shot six (6) inches above the fly, this will pull the fly down in the water column if the fish are feeding closer to the bottom.
In the “wilds” of Northwest Jersey we are blessed with little farm ponds and larger Eutrophic Lakes that produce unbelievable quantities of Bio Mass consisting mostly of sunfish and Largemouth Bass. The commencement of Trout stocking signals the arrival of spring and the official beginning of fishing season. However, the good Fly Fishing really gets going about a month later once the smarter stocked fish have figured out how to actually eat flies. Right at this moment, the Bass start to move into pre-spawn or early spawn mode. .
Seasons of The Bass
Bass have distinct holding patterns and feeding tactics from April through June revolving around water temperature and spawning status. Bass commence feeding in the spring as the water temperature approaches fifty-five degrees. At this point in the season, Bass move from their deep holding positions to the shallows and begin aggressively feeding. If you have ever ice fished for Bass, you will recall in the winter, the deepest holes will contain a Bass if you catch any at all. Bass will at this team strike slowly fished streamers; this is all dependent on the temperature. As a general rule of thumb, the warmer the day, the more active the Bass tend to be.
As the spring continues, the air temperatures stay consistently warmer during the day and night. At this time, the Bass begin staging at the edge of drop offs. The spawning season continues and Bass become more aggressive. They will defend their spawning beds, in the shallows as well as engage in some feeding to support the spawn. True spawning begins when the water temperatures approach sixty-two through sixty-five degrees. Remember be ethical and release all fish caught during the spawn.
Where to find them?
During the winter, Bass seek the deepest location to survive and stay warm. The Bass is not a cold-water fish. As the water warms, during the pre-spawn and early spawn the Bass are located at the edge drop offs or cover. They will seek warmer areas, possibly the parts of the pond with darker soils. Early on you can look in areas of shallow cover, for example weed beds, creek channels, timber, brush piles and pilings. As the Bass begin to spawn, they will concentrate in water depths of one to four feet. Preferably in areas free of weeds with a firm bottom. Silt covered bottoms run the risk of smothering the eggs which the Bass will attempt to avoid.
What to throw at them?
Non Fly Fishers are always surprised at the smaller things that Bass will eat when tied up in fly form. To a Fly Fisherman it is not at all surprising; Bass are aggressive predators and fear not catching their next meal. Be it a juicy damselfly nymph, a worm or even a frog, Bass have a voracious appetite. Early season and during the spawn, Bass will not eat the poppers that they do in June or July. However, they will eat an assortment of flies. Below is a list of the flies that I tried during the last weekend:
Green Simi Seal Leech
Jan’s Carp Tickler
Large Woolly Bugger (Beaded or Non Beaded)
The issue with the smaller flies is that I find you catch a preposterous amount of Sunfish as by catch. Specifically, the Simi Seal Leach and to a lesser extent Jan’s Carp Tickler seemed to be Sunfish magnets, however the Carp Tickler was a favorite of the Crappie.
Other Fishy Friends
The lake I was fishing in these pictures also contains Crappie in healthy numbers. Crappie are larger than their cousins the Sunfish, they also put up a muscular fight on the fly rod. Similar to Sunfish and Bass, they spawn in shallow water, preferably with a little cover and a solid bottom. As opposed to Bass, they will take whatever spawning ground they can locate. Crappies are one of the first fish that can be caught on the Fly Rod in the early spring. You will need to fish for them when they are in the shallow waters and not following a school of baitfish into the deep water. Woolly Buggers work generally well to catch a Crappie in the shallows, I also experienced luck with Jan’s Carp Tickler when it was allowed to sink.
In lakes and ponds, timing your Fly Fishing to the seasons of the spawn will yield fishy results. During the Pre-Spawn, on warm days, after ice out, the fish are hungry after a frigid winter. The lake or pond water gradually warms during the Pre-Spawn period and the Bass and Pan fish begin to feed even more aggressively. Once the water reaches optimal spawning temperatures, your quarry will head out to its preferred nesting environment. In the case of Largemouth Bass and Crappie, these are shallow waters with some cover. Post-Spawn the fish will eventually leave their nests and seek cover in weedy areas. This is the time of year, when the water is in the 70s that the Bass will start to feed aggressively on poppers.
I like to fish pretty aggressively. I have little regard for the safety of my flies while I am casting them into some tight spots. With this in mind, I don’t want to worry about losing a fly that took ten minutes to tie up. I need flies that are quick and easy, but will also catch fish. I came up with this pattern two years ago while I was in Telluride, CO for the winter. I was walking a stretch of the San Miguel River and noticed a strong presence of small black winter stoneflies crawling through the snow. After I tied up some up simple stones, it was my most productive fly for the rest of the time I was in Telluride. It worked great in Steamboat Springs, CO this year. The simple stone uses minimal materials and takes no time to tie up. I tied up a weighted version below; however, I also use un-weighted simple stones as well. Give it a go, and mix and match colors to satisfy your local stonefly hatch.
Hook: 12-16 1x Long Nymph
Weight: .025 Round Lead Wire
Legs: Black Goose Biots
Body: Black Superfine Dubbing
Take around 10 wraps of lead wire around the front third of the fly. Secure the lead wire with thread wraps.
Work your thread to the back of the hook shank, and tie in your first set of goose biots. Make sure the goose biots cup away from each other.
Apply dubbing and work your thread to just behind the lead wire base.
Tie in your next set of goose biots, cupped away from each other.
Apply dubbing to the thorax portion of the fly. I use a little more dubbing to build up the body.
Tie in your final set of goose biots, trim the excess, and whip finish. That’s it!