We’ve been swimming with fishing stories this week at LakeHopatcongNews.com. Between the Marines Helping Marines tournament last weekend and the new “Go Fish” blog, where local anglers can share their reports about trips to Lake Hopatcong, we figured it might be time to give some fish species information, for those of us who aren’t fluent in the language of fishing. Here we present some basic facts about the lake’s most common fish, with information provided by the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife. Other species not included here are the smallmouth bass, chain pickerel, carp, perch, crappie, and baitfish. For more information about those and for record information about fish caught on Lake Hopatcong, visit the Knee Deep Club website.
Muskellunge What The muskellunge is the largest member of the pike family, a highly prized sportfish and a true trophy. This elusive fish is seldom abundant, and in lakes one adult fish per acre is considered a good fishery. Known as the fish of 10,000 casts, muskellunge in New Jersey do not stick by that standard and are routinely caught with less effort. They are growing to true trophy proportions (50+ inches) that rival many of the best waters in the country. Muskellunge are generally a shallow-water fish, preferring areas of weeds, logs, and other cover in both lake and stream environments. However, the hot temperatures of mid-summer usually force the larger fish into deeper water where there may be less cover. Where Areas near structure and cover are ideal habitat for muskies. Shallow weedy areas of lakes warm up first in the spring and are a good bet for early season. Weed beds are consistent areas throughout the summer. Other productive areas are rocky points, ledges, outcroppings, and fallen and standing timber. Fish deeper water and drop-offs associated with these structures in mid-summer as the fish move to cooler water. These same areas are also productive during the fall. When Muskellunge can be caught throughout the year, even through the ice - in fact, the current state record was caught just that way. Fishing is relatively consistent from late spring to mid-fall, with September and October considered two of the best months. The majority of muskie fishing takes place during daylight hours, with the afternoon considered the most productive time of day. However, night fishing can also be productive.
Largemouth Bass What Largemouth bass are the most sought after freshwater fish nationwide. Popularized by numerous fishing shows and professional fishing organizations, the largemouth has gained a loyal following from bass fishing enthusiasts and beginning anglers alike. Where Largemouth bass are comfortable in a wide variety of habitats; deep and shallow, with or without vegetation. They are prolific on Lake Hopatcong. When Rising water temperatures in the early spring bring largemouth out of the deep wintering areas and onto the shallow flats of bays in close proximity to deep water. The metabolism of the fish is gradually increasing making them more likely to bite. Largemouth will remain in these areas throughout the spring and through early summer. Elevated surface water temperatures associated with mid-summer usually move fish slightly deeper in the lakes seeking cooler water temperatures. Bass will now be found relating to deeper aquatic vegetation, creek channels, and in some lakes under boat docks. Dropping water temperatures in late September and October create another fabulous time of year. Bass begin to feed heavily in preparation for the upcoming winter. Fish will school heavily in the open areas of the lake chasing forage fish. Additionally, many fish will be found shallow actively feeding. Winter can be another great time to catch bass, either ice fishing or even if no ice is present.
Walleye What Named for their distinctive eyes, walleye are very sensitive to light and are most active in low light conditions. Overcast days, choppy water, dawn, dusk and at night are prime fishing times. Walleye usually relate to the bottom and some type of structure, however, they will suspend even in the middle of the lake to follow schools of herring. Walleyes are noted for their excellent eating quality. Where During the cooler months and at night, walleye can be found moving into the shallows, whereas during the summer, in lakes, they will be located in deeper water just above and within the upper portion of the thermocline. In lakes, fish the points, drop offs, sunken islands and the outside edge of the weedline. When The walleye is a fish for all seasons. The prime fishing time is early morning around dawn and the evening an hour or so before and after sunset. Night is also productive, especially in lakes that that have a lot of activity on them during the day, such as Lake Hopatcong.
Tiger Muskie What The tiger muskie is a hybrid resulting from the cross of a northern pike and a muskellunge. This beautifully marked fish has irregular narrow vertical dark markings on a light background with stripes merging onto the back in an interlocking pattern distinguishing it from the true-strain muskellunge. This aggressive sportfish is reported to be easier to catch than the pure-strain. The tiger muskie is sterile, therefore, alleviating any concerns for reproduction and allowing control of their numbers. Where Tigers, like their parent species, typically inhabit swallow water areas of lakes and rivers. They patrol outside weed edges, inside weed edges and hold under canopies of submerged vegetation. Tigers also hold off points and along weedy bars. In the heat of summer, when water temperatures approach 80°F, large tigers move to cooler, deeper water close to the thermocline, or near underwater springs and offshore humps. When Most tiger muskie fishing typically takes place during daylight. Tigers are reported to hit best under stable conditions. Action is sporadic until the end of May, but warming water in June brings some of the fastest fishing of the year. Tigers are aggressive throughout the summer and less active than true-strains in the fall. Tigers are willing to bite in winter through the ice, and there is a small following of avid tiger muskie ice fishermen.
Striped Bass Hybrid What The striped bass hybrid is a cross between a white bass and a striped bass. The combined traits of these two species make for a voracious fish. They are well adapted to large warm water lakes and reservoirs. They are a pelagic species that prefer open water where they search for and feed on herring. They are a hard hitting and strong fighting fish: so hold on tight to the fishing rod. Where Being an open water species, the hybrid can be found throughout the deeper areas of the lake. During summer, when the lake is stratified by water temperature, they can be found suspended just above the thermocline in depths from 12 to 18 feet. Near sunset and after dark they may be found chasing herring on the surface. In fall and spring they will be located at more varied depth ranges and typically in winter near the bottom. When Summer is probably the most productive period for striped bass hybrids. The fishing begins to heat up in mid-spring and extends into early fall. Hybrid striped bass can be caught any time of the day, but early morning and a couple of hours before sunset are prime. Night fishing can also be very good, especially if you are lucky enough to be within hearing distance of hybrids on a feeding frenzy of surfacing alewife herring that makes the water boil. Although hybrids have not been considered very susceptible through the ice, recent reports indicate that ice fishermen are having more consistent success jigging the deepest areas of the lakes and tipping the jig with a small piece of venison meat.
Sunfish What The sunfish is one of the most widespread and abundant freshwater fish species in New Jersey. There are several species of sunfish, but in New Jersey there are three most commonly fished for species: Bluegill, Pumpkinseed, and the Redbreast. Their widespread abundance, willingness to bite and high energy make them the perfect entertainment for a family fishing trip on a nice "sunny" day. They grow to an average of 6-8 inches. On light tackle they can provide exciting action for anglers young and old. They are brightly colored, especially during the months of June-August when they are spawning. The bluegill exhibits a black, rounded gill flap, the pumpkinseed has a black gill flap with a bright red-orange tip and the redbreast has an elongated gill flap with a black spot at its tip. Where Try fishing the shorelines of any freshwater during the summer months for some fun, fast action. When Sunfish can be successfully fished for year round, but the months of May-October, when water temperatures are between 60-80 degrees, seem to be the most productive. The ice fishing season can be very productive for sunfish. The great thing about fishing for sunfish is that on the bluebird days of summer when all other fish aren't biting, usually an angler can count on good action with "sunnies."
Trout What Rainbow, brook, and brown trout are popular game fish and prevalent on Lake Hopatcong, and are an excellent food fish. Stocked trout are normally cooperative and relatively easy to catch. Trout fishing can be equally enjoyable for kids and grown-ups and novice and avid anglers alike. The brook trout is native to northeastern North America from Georgia to the Arctic Circle and it requires the coldest water temperatures of these trout species. The brown trout is native to Europe and has been widely introduced in North America beginning in 1883. It is slightly less tolerant of warm water than the rainbow trout but appears to be more tolerant of habitat degradation and change. The brown trout generally grows larger than the rainbow or brook, reaching upwards of 40 pounds. The rainbow trout is native to the North American Pacific drainage from Northwestern Mexico to Kushowin River in Alaska. This popular gamefish has been widely introduced throughout the world. Where Lake trout generally inhabit deep-water areas and relate to the bottom although they will make use of the entire water column provided temperatures and oxygen levels are sufficient. Lake trout are commonly targeted in water depths of 40 to 120 feet. When The traditional opening of the trout fishing season normally starts on the second Saturday in April, however, trout fishing opportunities are available the year round. Lake trout can be caught throughout the day with the typical morning and late afternoon periods considered to be more productive.
Catfish What Channel, white, and brown catfish can be found in Lake Hopatcong. Catfish are avidly sought-after sport fish that grow to trophy proportions. They are excellent table fare and are commercially raised for market. Channel cats are generally bottom feeders, feeding on nearly all aquatic life forms including fish, insects and crustaceans. They feed mostly at night, using their barbels and their sense of taste to find food. White catfish (pictured) have a smaller anal fin, but all catfish family have four pairs of whiskers, an adipose fin on the rear of their backs, and deeply forked tails. Where Catfish are adaptable fish, occupying shallow to moderate depths in lakes. When Fishing activity for catfish typically takes place from early spring to early fall. Overall, summer is the most consistent period. Channel catfish are also caught occasionally through the ice, and there is a small following of ice fishermen that target them. Late May and early June may be a productive period as channels are reported to stage for spawning in rivers below dams and in lakes at the mouths of tributary streams. Although channel catfish can be caught at any time of day, nighttime is the most productive, whereas white catfish are less nocturnal.
Images courtesy the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Digital Library