As the weather warms up and the lake fills to the brim, thousands of anglers are preparing to fish trout on Lake Hopatcong—and many will get their first shot of the year on Saturday, when trout season opens at 8 a.m.
“It tends to be one of our busiest days,” said Laurie Murphy at Dow’s Live Bait in Lake Hopatcong. “People are just chomping at the bit.”
In preparation for trout season, the N.J. Division of Fish and Wildlife and the Lake Hopatcong Knee Deep Club both released thousands of fish into Lake Hopatcong over the last two weeks. (They both also stock muskellunge, walleye, and hybrid striped bass at other times of year.) In the Knee Deep Club’s case, this season’s stocking included 150 trophy-sized trout. “We spend a huge chunk of our budget on this,” former club president Tim Clancy said. “But we really think people value the opportunity to catch big fish here.”
Les Aughey, the club’s current president, said the stockings are necessary because the trout “is really not a great holdover fish.” If anglers depended on those that survived the winter, he said, there wouldn’t be many to catch.
As the thousands of trout released over the last two weeks spread themselves out around the lake, anglers are preparing for what Aughey calls the “opening day of Lake Hopatcong.”
“When trout season is here, it really opens the lake right up,” he said.
Lake Hopatcong is a popular fishing destination, drawing thousands of anglers from all over the area every year. But fishing itself is on the rise, too: according to Jim Sciascia, chief of the office of information and education at N.J. Fish and Wildlife, “For the first time in over 20 years, the number of New Jersey anglers increased four consecutive years from 2006 through 2009.” During the same period, he said, many other states saw declining numbers. Sciascia cites New Jersey’s fishing access, information resources, and easy online licensing as reasons for the state’s success in keeping fishing numbers up.
All those 16 and older who fish the state’s fresh waters are required to have a fishing license, and a trout stamp is necessary to catch trout. (To buy your license and stamp, click here.) Licenses cost $22.50 for residents 16 to 64 years old, $12.50 for residents 65 to 69 years old, and $34 for non-residents. Resident trout stamps are $10.50, and non-resident trout stamps are $20.
The day before trout season opening day is usually the busiest day for license sales; in fact, 6,452 such licenses were sold on that day in 2009. According to state records, visitors from all 50 states and 71 different countries purchased a fishing license in New Jersey in 2009, and the oldest angler to buy a license was 93 years old (a non-resident, since resident anglers 70 and older are not required to buy a license). Licenses must be visibly displayed on the outside of clothing, and are valid through December 31 of the year they are purchased.
Brook, brown, and rainbow trout—all stocked in recent weeks in Lake Hopatcong—must be at least 9 inches in length to be removed from the waters, and there is a daily limit of 6 trout per angler.
Other Lake Hopatcong fish that are regulated include: largemouth and smallmouth bass (12 inches minimum, 5 combined daily limit; catch-and-release only from April 15 to June 15) northern pike (24 inches minimum, 2 daily limit) muskellunge (36 inches minimum, 1 combined daily limit) chain pickerel and redfin pickerel (15 inches minimum, 5 combined daily limit) walleye (18 inches minimum, 3 daily limit; catch-and-release only from March 1 to April 30) hybrid striped bass (16 inches minimum, 2 daily limit) channel catfish (12 inches minimum, 5 daily limit) crappie (8 inches minimum, 10 daily limit) other fish, including carp, sunfish, and perch (non minimum size, 25 combined daily limit)
After Saturday’s opening day, important fishing dates include New Jersey’s Free Freshwater Fishing Days on June 11 and 12 (when residents and non-residents can fish without a license or trout stamp), and Teen Anglers Youth Day on July 23 in Pequest.
“It’s the best time of year,” said Murphy as she watched the Knee Deep Club stocking efforts on Sunday. “We’re excited for people to get out on the water, and for summer to be here.”
To see a Knee Deep Club video of the trout stocking, click here.
- Fish may be taken only in the manner known as angling with haldline or with rod and line, or as otherwise allowed by law.
- When fishing from the shoreline, no more than three fishing rods, handlines, or combination thereof may be used.
- Only one daily creel of any fish species may be in possession. Additional fish may be caught once the creel is reached if immediately returned to the water unharmed.
- Separate stringers of buckets must be used for each angler’s catch.
- Boats may contain only the combined daily creel limit for each legal angler on board.
- A fishing license does not authorize trespass on private property.
- It is unlawful to spear fish in fresh waters, possess a fishing device with more than nine hooks in total or more than three treble hooks, use set lines, use cast nets, or foul hook any species other than yellow perch and white perch (except in ice fishing).