The current cold snap is bringing a glimmer, albeit a slim one, of the possibility of ice fishing in the southern tier counties. It’s been rare to have safe (at least four inches) ice on the ponds and lakes, and some tidal rivers, the past decade. When the window of hard water angling opportunity has presented itself, it’s been a short one for sure, rarely lasting more than a couple of weeks.
From this corner, the last deep freeze was way back around 2010 when the waters were locked solid. It was a blast from the past dropping baits and working spoons for white perch in the famed Collins Cove area on the Mullica River well within sight of the Garden State Parkway overpass.
Indeed, the perch were inhaling pieces of blood worm, frozen shedder crab, and, for those fortunate enough to have them, live grass shrimp and minnies. The whites were also whacking small spoons and Rapala ice jigs. It was hot ‘n heavy fishing, southern comfort on ice if you will, and all were drunk with success as buckets brimmed with perch, many in the 3/4-1 lb. class.
Since then, it’s been some quick ice hits here and there predicated on the capricious weather patterns and temperatures in South Jersey. Sure, we had some decent times with white and yellow perch, crappies, largemouth bass, pickerel sunfish, and even stocked trout that were planted in select venues the previous November. However, they were very few and very far between.
Every year about this time and extending through February, we’ll make a few road trips to the Garden State’s northern impoundments, lakes, and ponds where ice is hot with tip-up flags flying and short ice rods bent nearly to the hole.
In addition to the aforementioned species, one can, depending on which venues are chosen, catch the likes of walleye, pure strain and tiger muskies, smallmouth bass, hybrid stripers, and, not uncommonly, some pretty hefty channel catfish.
For those looking for something different and/or want to try their hand at hard water angling, the choices are legion. Save for an auger (manual type $40 to $60; gas $200-plus), the only expenses are a couple of ice rods (24 to 36 inches) and matching reels, a tip up or two, an ice scoop to keep the holes clear of slush ice, some bait rigs, a selection of ice jigs, and baits such as wax worms, fathead minnows, shiners, and mealworms.
A bucket to carry them in, and maybe a stool or small folding chair, and you have the basics.
Dress warmly, wear sunglasses to minimize glare and have at it.
Top venues for the best ice fishing New Jersey has to offer include, but are not limited to Lake Hopatcong, Big and Little Swartswood lakes, Spruce Run Reservoir, Greenwood Lake, Oxford Lake, Lake Aeroflex, Farrington Lake, Budd Lake, Ryker Lake, Split Rock Reservoir, Lake Musconetcong...the list goes on. All can be reached within an hour or two drive from most southern points, and there are bait and tackle shops near all that can give up-to-the-minute information.
A list of “Places to Fish” can be found on pages 6-9 in the 2021 Freshwater Fishing Digest.
No problem doing an overnight either, as there are motels as well as state parks and forests that offer lean-tos and shelters and, for the hardiest of youth, campsites.
It’s winter. Back bay and tidal river striper season doesn’t reopen until March 1 and it’ll be another few weeks at least until the white perch start getting active enough to make it worth the effort. Time for a road trip. Hot ice action awaits.