Story by Tom Pagliaroli


A very timely deep freeze for those of us who enjoy standing over 4 to 6 inch holes cut in the ice, jigging rod in hand and an itty-bitty bit of brightly colored metal baited with a wax worm, duo or trio of mousees, a meal worm or a fathead minnow, or a tiny spoon festooned with such, at the end of a gossamer line.

Or the Berkley Gulp! or Power Bait, or other brand imitations of the above.

Or…waiting for a “flag” as the banner-of-a-bite indicator swings up and telegraphs the engulfing of the live shiner bait below.

To be sure, the extended teen-to-single digit temperature spree formed safe (4-inch minimum) hard ice on nearly all northern tier county lakes, ponds and reservoirs, with a multitude central and southern Jersey swims also locked under frozen mantles.

Ice cover has been reported as deep as 10 inches north, 7 inches central and 3-6 inches south, the exception being on the tidal rivers and creeks where moving water and fluctuating depths can wreak havoc with the general safe ice designation.

Yeah, yeah…the predicted rain will melt a percentage of the thickness, but teen and twenty-something temps are in the forecast for next week, so figure it’s a solid 10-day to tow, maybe three week ice fishing “season” in The Hawk listening area.

The omnipresent and always hungry chain pickerel is a statewide hardwater fave, and the winter roster also includes the likes of yellow and white perch, bluegills and largemouth bass. Head north for smash mouth encounters with northern pike, muskies, walleyes and hybrid stripers. Even warm-to-hot water feeders like channel catfish can be caught if the bait is dangled in front of their faces.

In central and upper south Jersey, lakes Assunpink, Stone Tavern and Rising Sun (Assunpink WMA) and Turn Mill Pond and Kennedy Pond (Colliers Mills WMA) are prime venues, as are Farrington Lake, the Butterfly Bogs ponds, Prospertown Lake, and the impoundments ensconced within the Stafford Forge WMA.

For shots at north county muskies it’s lakes Greenwood, Furnace and Hopatcong and Monksville Reservoir: for hybrid stripers it’s Hopatcong; for northern pike it’s Farrington and Budd lakes; and for walleyes it’s Big Swartswood Lake, Lake Hopatcong and Greenwood Lake.

What about trout, especially in those waters stocked during October and November (visit Well…ice fishing is legal on many, but also forbidden on more than a few for liability reasons. This is especially the law on stocked ponds under the auspices of county or municipal ownership.

However, the likes of Lake Ocquittunk (Stokes State Forest), Little Swartswood Lake, Lake Aeroflex and Silver Lake, all is Sussex County, are sites of winter rainbow rodeos.

Salmon be Jammin’: Yes…landlocked salmon through the ice is a real deal and is happening on Aeroflex and Lake Wawayanda (Sussex County) and Tilcon Lake (Morris County). Have a taste for the exotic? Then work a jig or spoon, or hang a shiner for salmon to 3-plus pounds that feed heartily under the crust.

Salmon in New Jersey? Actually, yes, and it provided a viable recreational fishery through the Fifties but flamed by the mid-Sixties. With salmon fingerlings available via trade for northern pike fry with Massachusetts, a robust landlocked salmon fishery has been established and is expanding, via the stocking of Round Valley Reservoir in Hunterdon County.

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