JEFFERSON – With most of the snow and ice melted and less of a chill in the air fishermen and women made their way to their favorite fishing spots around the area Saturday, the opening day of trout season in New Jersey.
The NJ Department of Environmental Protection Division of Fish and Wildlife changed its stocking program this year due to an manifestation of Furunculosis, a fatal fish disease, which afflicted the Pequest Trout Hatchery, New Jersey’s state-of-the-art facility located in Oxford. More than 100,000 trout were euthanized but more than 600,000 did make it into the fresh waters around the state.
Locally, the Rockaway River, which runs somewhat parallel with Berkshire Valley Road through Jefferson, was teaming with trout and fishermen. Conversely, fishermen at the head of the Musconetcong River just below the Lake Hopatcong dam in Landing, reported not even a nibble after three hours of fishing.
“I’ve been fishing on opening day for 16 years and I’ve never seen it this bad,” said Roxbury resident Charlie Bautz while standing on the shore of the Musconetcong River in Hopatcong. Bautz was at the river with his two grown sons.
At a spot off Berkshire Valley Road in Jefferson, fishermen and women were shoulder-to-shoulder and catching fish one after the other. Within two hours of the 8am start time most had caught and released dozens of fish.
Jacob Mangeri, 14, from Pompton Plains, has been fishing this section of the river for more than half his life standing side-by-side with his fishing mentor Jefferson resident Ron Messerschmidt, who arrived at 4am “in order to get the right spot,” he said.
Mangeri said he hooked at least 20 fish, keeping the limit of six, most measuring 13 or 14 inches.
At another location along the Rockaway, three friends Josh Cox from Tuckerton, his girlfriend Alyssa Apgar from Wharton and Josh’s brother Justin from West Milford, were enjoying the challenge of finding the perfect location. Apgar looked out of place among the seasoned veterans, both of who were sporting typical fishing gear; vests covered with dangling gadgets, waders and nets. Dressed in a sweatshirt and sweat pants and not having fished since she was a little girl some 15 years earlier, Apgar was pleased that she had one fish caught and vowed, “to stay till I catch my limit.” Apgar said she was having so much fun fishing again she will absolutely be buying the gear and the clothes in time for her next fishing trip.
Josh Cox said he comes to north Jersey to fish trout because “there is no trout in south Jersey to speak of.” Usually he and his brother fish the Pequannock River but the river was not stocked this year, he said.
For Mike Crane and his daughter Ashley, 8, who picked a spot under the trees at Riggs Pond off Russia Road in Jefferson, catching fish wasn’t as important as spending time with each other. It’s a good thing because a DEP sign posted on a tree near the pond stated that no fish were stocked in the pond and its connecting waters.
“We like to come out for the fun of it,” said Mike while casting a line for his daughter.