Story by Tom Pagliaroli

It’s time to catch the biggest bass of your life...at least in New Jersey! The largemouth, not the striped kind.

To be sure, the following 3-4 weeks represent the most prime of prime times to lasso a trophy bigmouth, as the females are heavily laden with eggs, the males with milt, and both are on the hot ‘n heavy chow to get them through the rigors of the spawn.

The Garden State’s central and southern waters will see the beds being constructed as early as the end of March in the shallower, warmer swims through late April with early May into early June getting the nest building business underway in most northern tier county lakes, ponds and impoundments.

There are myriad waters in The Hawk listening area that offer excellent early season bucketmouth opportunities. These include lakes Assunpink, Rising Sun, Stone Tavern, Turn Mill, Carasaljo, Manahawkin, and the pond at Ocean County College on Hooper Avenue in Toms River. And...even though they are being stocked with trout, Prospertown Lake and Lake Shenandoah are also open to bass fishing.

What to throw? Jigs w/trailers are especially productive now, as are Rat-L-Traps, suspending slim-profile crankbaits, swim jigs and plastic lizards and worms. However, do not overlook live bait (read: shiners and killies), especially on heavily pressured (by early springtime standards) waters. The pond at Ocean County College exemplifies this. Says Lenny Hahn from the Capt’n Hippo Bait & Tackle on Atlantic City Boulevard in South Toms River, “It’s a popular fishing spot. Those bass see every kind of lure and can get real picky. A lot of our customers who fish it say that when they want to catch bass there this time of year, live bait is the way to go.”

Bear in mind that the general freshwater bass “season” does not officially open until June 16 (June 9 on the Delaware River), so until then it’s strictly a catch-and-release endeavor.

Smallmouth bass? Save for Union Lake in Cumberland County and in the Delaware River as far downriver as Burlington Island, there are no smallies in the southlands, but that’s okay, as the largemouth reigns supreme. Granted, the smallmouth (aka “bronzeback”) is a hard fighter and oftentimes goes airborne leaper when hooked. A great gamefish, for sure. However, it’s the largemouth that dominates from Monmouth County southward.