It’s true, this humble little state has come to be associated with obnoxious reality television and really bad luck with the weather. While these aspects of NJ may be undeniable, the tiny treasure also serves as home to thousands of miles of rivers and streams, as well as an impressive coastline peppered with jetties that serve as the perfect angling platform for the experienced and adventurous fly fisherman.
Whether you want to hit the ocean for some saltwater action or tuck yourself away under a shelter of branches over a secluded stream, NJ has the ideal experience for you. The state stocks over half a million rainbows each year, in addition to the naturally reproducing browns and brookies, providing a balanced and plentiful blend for the trout fishing devotee.
No mention of fishing in The Garden State would be complete without talking about the infamous Jersey Shore. From Monmouth County down into Raritan Bay, there are plenty of fly fishing opportunities along this 127-mile long coast. Species you might encounter throughout the year include bluefish, striped bass, weakfish, and false albacore (albies – “little tuna” - are incredibly fast and strong, posing an enticing challenge to the angler).
There are nearly 400 jetties along this stretch, and the beauty of these structures is that they allow fly fishermen to engage in saltwater fishing that would typically only be available to boaters. The good thing is that trophy-sized fish often linger around the jetties and groins in order to take advantage of baitfish being banged about by the waves. The challenge, however, is that you still need to read the water the same way as you would with any trout stream. The tip of the structure is typically the most lucrative, but the beach end and the middle can also yield action as bass scope out rock outcroppings for food.
You can also go for the beaches, although these can get crowded. That can be an advantage, though, because a crowded parking lot can translate to some robust fishing action. Other anglers can also be your friends, sharing information on what and where things are happening in the area. Good locations to check out for fly fishing the Jersey Shore include Manasquan Inlet, and beaches from Sandy Hook around into Raritan Bay. Use caution if fishing alone, as there can be hazardous drop-offs.
This world-class New Jersey fly fishing destination offers a wide variety of water conditions, from serene to wild, along its 46 mile journey from Lake Hopatcong’s southern side all the way to the Delaware River. Public access abounds as the Muskie wends its way through Allamuchy Mountain State Park and Stephens State Park. Anglers will find several species in this waterway including catfish, stripers, largemouth bass, and of course, stocked trout.
The area around Saxton Falls down to Stephens State Park features riffles, pools, runs, and convenient access. The stretch from I-80 to Kinney Road is a local favorite, well-stocked and offering stunning scenery. Hackettstown is another well-stocked, easily accessible area of the Muskie. If bridges are your thing, County route 645 has four of them perfect for a little casting. No matter where you choose to situate yourself for the day, you’ll enjoy a gorgeous view along the tree-lined banks of this character-filled waterway.
Relevant hatches for the Muskie include:
Located in central Jersey, the South Branch of the Raritan River stems from headwaters at Budd Lake. This waterway contains brookies, browns, and rainbows, and is known as one of the premier nymphing locations in the state due to its excellent hatches. The best public access for the South Branch is between Long Valley and High Bridge – this stretch features deep pools, tumbling pocket waters, and great stocking.
Access is good along the South Branch Raritan due to the major roads that follow and/or cross it. Routes 46, 78, and 513 all offer points at which you can find non-posted land, along with parking areas.
There are some fantastic hatches, unusual for the state, along the South Branch Raritan. These include:
This lower profile waterway begins in Washington Township, flowing through breathtaking landscapes, bustling metropolises, and even tunneling through mountains, until it joins up with the Delaware River. The Pohatcong offers the benefit of some truly isolated fishing – like the area below the SR 31 bridge. The creek is stocked at multiple locations, including the SR 57 bridge, and various sites between routes 173 and 519. Even in areas where the stream becomes little more than a brook, keep your eyes peeled for deep pools.
This 35-mile long Delaware tributary has it all – stocked trout, parking, short and wading access, riffles, bridges, and serene, secluded areas to simply drink in the striking scenery and clear your head for a while as you practice your cast.
There is plenty of year-round angling in New Jersey, but there are some times that may suit your preferences better than others.
On the Jersey short, autumn is rife with baitfish migrating to southern feeding grounds. This frequently causes them to become trapped by the jetties, which of course draws the bigger fish that you as the fly fisherman are aiming for.
On the Musconetcong River, you have a good chance of hooking something all year round, but April and May are the most productive due to stocking schedules.
On the South Branch Raritan, the area below High Bridge all the way to South Branch is particularly lucrative from early in the season until late June.
Basic gear is a must – waders, a hat, rain jacket with hood, polarized sunglasses, first aid kit, vest or pack, and whatever personal items you need.
Fishing the shore is a completely different animal from trout stream angling. You want bibs rather than waders, short, cleated boots, and a stripping basket that has ample drainage. You should also be able to move your stripping basket around your back so that you can see your feet when you walk. During the warmer months you can forego the bibs, but during the fall and winter you’ll need them for protection for the cold waters.
For the saltwater, you want a 9 to 10 weight rod and both intermediate and heavier sink lines (for rougher surf), with a 5-7 foot 30 lb. leader. The lighter you travel, the safer you’ll be – only take what you absolutely need when fishing the jetties. Flies for the shore could include minnows, crabs, or baitfish.
Keep some midges, scuds, eggs, hare’s ear, and larva on-hand for the Muskie and the South Branch Raritan River. In addition, the Muskie responds well to terrestrials like ants, grasshoppers, and beetles, from late June through September. When the water is murky try crayfish and baitfish.
People age 16 and over require a fishing license and trout stamp in the state of New Jersey. The license can be obtained for $22.50 for residents and $34 for non-residents, and $10.50 and $20 respectively for the trout stamp. Those between ages 65 and 69 get a discounted rate, and those age 70 and up can simply use their driver’s license as their fishing license and trout stamp.
There are no saltwater license requirements aside from the Striped Bass Bonus Permit program. This is a program through which the state passes their allotted quota of commercial striped bass on to the residential angler, allowing individuals to keep one striped bass that is 24-28 inches in size. You must apply for the program, which opens in September. You may also purchase a crab pot license for $2, or a recreational shellfish license for $10.
Fishing regulations in New Jersey are varied by body of water, and a special set of rules applies to trout fishing, so you’ll want to be sure and review the regulations before setting out on your NJ fly fishing venture.
From the rocky shore to the vast array of inland freshwaters, New Jersey has something to offer fly fishermen of virtually every bent. From nymphing on the Musconetcong to casting baitfish from a crowded beach, the variety of experiences available to the angler make the state a surprising source of exciting fly fishing action. Don’t overlook this sometimes looked-down-upon state when planning your next getaway – you may just find yourself wanting to return again and again.