November is prime time for northern pike, and those Garden State waters with packs of these fish provide rip-snorting opportunities as waters chill, weeds recede, and angling pressure fizzles. River, lake or reservoir, it’s a Thanksgiving Month pike picnic.
Just when you believed October’s rod ‘n reel circus was winding down, along comes November and with it, the torrid pre-winter northern pike bite.
“It (November) is an awesome month for northerns. Plenty of big, trophy fish in the waters where we’ve been stocking them for years in the north and central parts of the state. New Jersey has some of the best fishing for pike around, so no need to go elsewhere,” Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries’ Hackettstown Hatchery superintendent Craig Lemon assures me.
New Jersey Northern Pike Spots
From Deal Lake at the waistline of New Jersey in Monmouth County up through Pompton Lake in Passaic County, there are currently nine venues dosed heavily on an annual basis with thousands of fry-to-fingerling northern pike, and to say this “middle child” of the esocid clan acclimates well to the chosen waters would be a rod-snapping understatement. The current state record, a whopping 30 pounds 8½ ounces that was dragged from Pompton Lake in Passaic County in 2009 by pike hunter John Viglione, illustrates the drag-gagging potential of the pike fishery.
The state’s upper reaches are where you can expect the biggest northerns. Cranberry Lake, Budd Lake, Pompton Lake, the Pompton River, the Passaic, and Spruce Run Reservoir all boast thriving populations of pike. Budd is the designated broodstock lake where, during late February or early March or whenever the ice departs, the Hackettstown crew sets and attends trap nets. Gravid females and males are captured and brought to the hatchery. Eggs and milt are delicately stripped, the eggs fertilized and hatched, and the fry raised to stocking (4.7- to 6.2-inch) size. So prolific is the Hackettstown Hatchery that there is a years-long arrangement to barter northerns for landlocked salmon with Massachusetts, and Connecticut gets loads of Jersey fry pike for free, but a future exchange deal is in the offing.
There is but a trio of central Jersey waters that harbor pike, though all provide hard-hitting body shots when it comes sweaty-lipped exchanges with northerns. They are the south-to-north flowing Millstone River in Somerset County from Griggstown to Somerville, Farrington Lake and Deal Lake.
Catch the New Jersey Pike State Record
Favored location for a new state record? “The Passaic River, for sure,” boasts Lemon. He continues, “There is great forage, great habitat and, even with all the publicity, not that much fishing pressure considering the many miles we stock with thousands and thousands of northerns. It’s a pike powder keg!” The daily limit is two at a 24-inch minimum.