Excellent Pike Fishing Opportunities in the Upper Passaic River
New Jersey anglers used to travel north and west, to Minnesota and the Canadian provinces of Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba, to find good northern pike fishing opportunities. Today, thanks to the efforts of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Hackettstown Fish Hatchery, run by the Division of Fish and Wildlife, anglers can enjoy superb pike fishing close to home.
Currently, successful pike fisheries exist in nine state water bodies in northern and central New Jersey, and are especially thriving in middle sections of the Passaic River. The Passaic receives 2,200 six-inch fingerling pike each year from the state hatchery, and gets additional surplus pike, ranging from two to four inches. Pike are now well-established over much of the river’s course as evidenced by angler reports.
Northern pike prefer cooler, vegetated reaches of larger water bodies, usually at least 100 acres in size. In New Jersey, this limits opportunities to a few select waters in the northern and central portions of the state. Under the guidance of state fisheries biologists, the introduction of northern pike was attempted in 15 locations from 1981 to 1996, with fisheries eventually established in Budd Lake, Cranberry Lake, Deal Lake, Farrington Lake, the Millstone River, Pompton Lake, the Pompton River, Spruce Run Reservoir and the Passaic River.
“It has been a remarkable effort by our team at the Hackettstown Fish Hatchery to restore pike to our waters and give anglers another terrific fishing opportunity in our state,’’ said Dave Chanda, Director of the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife. “Anglers can now enjoy some really terrific northern pike fishing right here in New Jersey.’’
The Passaic River borders or runs through seven different counties, flowing through relatively remote wilderness flood plains as well as densely populated urban areas. It offers both challenging and easy pike fishing opportunities for anglers of every level. Much of the river from Chatham in Morris County to Fairfield in Essex County is accessible only by canoe or kayak. However, many city riverside parks are havens for shore-bound anglers.
Pike are now stocked at more than 25 locations on the Passaic River, from the Lower Chatham Bridge at the Morris-Essex counties line to Pennington Park in Paterson. Locations from Hawthorne to Garfield, above the Dundee Dam on the Bergen County side of the river, also are stocked.
To explore the uppermost Passaic River pike-stocked areas, small watercraft can be launched at the McCormick Bridge off South Orange Avenue in Livingston in Essex County, and at the Swinefield Bridge, near the intersection of Eagle Rock Avenue and River Road, in Morris County. The Great Piece Meadow Natural Area, which stretches from Horseneck Bridge Road downriver to Two Bridges Road, has consistently produced large pike for anglers fishing from kayaks. Anglers have reported catching pike weighing up to 20 pounds and measuring into the low 40-inch range.
Although not stocked upriver of the Lower Chatham Bridge or below the Dundee Dam, which spans the Passaic between Clifton and Garfield, northern pike have been reportedly caught at numerous locations outside of that range. Recent reports have been received from anglers who have caught pike upriver at Berkley Heights and downriver at Belleville (though DEP fish advisories recommend not eating fish caught in the Lower Passaic River)
The Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Hackettstown Fish Hatchery began raising pike in 1981 with eggs obtained from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. However, it was not until completion of the hatchery’s new intensive culture system in 2000 that large numbers of northern pike fingerlings were reared.
New Jersey’s northern pike program is self-sufficient and is sustained by maintenance stocking of hatchery reared fingerlings. The Division does not rely on out-of-state sources for eggs. Each year staff from the Hackettstown hatchery collects broodstock, large adult fish, during March and April from New Jersey lakes for spawning.
Eggs are fertilized, hatched and the fingerlings reared to stockable size (normally 6 inch average) at the hatchery. The adult broodstock are returned to their lake of origin after the spawning process.
Popular fishing methods for pike are casting large spinners, spinnerbaits, wobbling spoons, jig lures and floating shiners, suckers or chubs. Anglers may keep two northern pike per day if they measure at least 24 inches in length.
For a more detailed account by DEP Fisheries Technician Ron Jacobsen on fishing for northern pike, plus locations of pike stocking areas, media useable photos of pike fishing, and other fishing opportunities in New Jersey, visit: http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/artpassaicpike13.htm
Logo courtesy New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection