Friday, February 15, 2013

Northern Pike

by Ron Jacobsen
Fisheries Technician
February 14, 2013

There was a time when New Jersey anglers would have to travel to places north and west, such as Minnesota and the Canadian provinces of Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba to find good northern pike fishing opportunities. Today, thanks to the efforts of the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife at the Hackettstown State Fish Hatchery, anglers can enjoy superb pike fishing close to home. Currently, successful pike fisheries exist in nine water bodies including the Passaic River. The Passaic receives 2,200 six-inch fingerling pike each year. It also receives additional surplus pike, ranging from two to four inches, due to its miles of winding river. They are now well-established over much of the river's course as evidenced by angler reports. The Passaic River borders or runs through seven different counties, flowing through relatively remote wilderness flood plains as well as densely populated urban areas. It offers both challenging and easy pike fishing opportunities for anglers of every level. Much of the river from Chatham to Fairfield is accessible only by canoe or kayak. However, many city riverside parks are havens for shore-bound anglers.
Passaic River 20lb. Northern Pike
A 45-inch, 20-pound Passaic River Pike Click to enlarge
Popular fishing methods are casting large spinners and jigs, and also floating shiners under bobbers. Anglers may keep two northerns per day provided they measure at least 24 inches in length.
Stocking fingerling pike in Passaic River
Stocking fingerling pike in the Passaic Click to enlarge
It has taken years of searching roads, bridge crossings and parks to find good access to the river's banks for stocking. Pike are now stocked at more than 25 locations from the Lower Chatham Bridge at the Morris-Essex County line to Pennington Park in Paterson. Locations from Hawthorne to Garfield, above the Dundee Dam on the Bergen County side of the river, are also stocked. To explore the uppermost Passaic River pike-stocked area, small watercraft can be launched at the McCormick Bridge off South Orange Avenue, Livingston, and at the Swinefield Bridge near the intersection of Eagle Rock Avenue and River Road in Morris County. The Great Piece Meadow Natural Area stretch from Horseneck Bridge Road downriver to Two Bridges Road has consistently produced large pike for anglers fishing from kayaks. Anglers have reported catching pike weighing up to 20 pounds and measuring into the low 40-inch range.
Motorboats can be launched at John Suchorsky Park in Little Falls Township. This location has limited parking and shoreline access to the river. Pennington Park in Paterson (park will be closed in 2013 for renovation) offers an expansive shoreline from which to fish. There is a boat ramp at Memorial Park in Fairlawn, and riverside fishing and boat launching is possible off River Road in Elmwood Park near the town's high school. NOTE: The Passaic River is prone to flooding so watercraft fishing trips should be limited to times of normal flow.
Although not stocked upriver of the Lower Chatham Bridge or below the Dundee Dam, which spans the Passaic between Clifton and Garfield, northern pike have been reported caught at numerous locations outside of that range. Recent reports have been received from anglers who have caught pike upriver at Berkley Heights and downriver at Belleville.
The division's Hackettstown State Fish Hatchery began rearing northern pike in 1981 with eggs obtained from the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. However, it was not until completion of the hatchery's new intensive culture system in 2000 that large numbers of northern pike fingerlings were reared. Northerns prefer cooler, vegetated reaches of larger waterbodies of at least 100 acres in size. In New Jersey, this limits opportunities to a few select waters in the northern and central portions of the state. Under the guidance of state fisheries biologists, introductions of northern pike were attempted in fifteen waterbodies from 1981 to 1996 with fisheries eventually establishing in Budd Lake, Cranberry Lake, Deal Lake, Farrington Lake, Millstone River, Pompton Lake, Pompton River, Spruce Run Reservoir and the Passaic.
Author with pike broodstock fish
The author with broodstock pike Click to enlarge
New Jersey's northern pike program is self-sufficient and is sustained by maintenance stocking of hatchery reared fingerlings. The Division does not rely on out-of-state sources for eggs. Each year staff from the Hackettstown hatchery collects broodstock, large adult fish, during March and April from New Jersey lakes for spawning. Eggs are fertilized, hatched and the fingerlings reared to stockable size (normally 6 inch average) at the hatchery. The adult broodstock are returned to their lake of origin after the spawning process. (See the Hackettstown Hatchery Broodstock Collection articles for details.)
If you want to enjoy exciting northern pike fishing close to home, the Passaic River is the waterway of choice. Obtain some maps and explore the possibilities. To assist the division in managing this exciting fisheries resource, please e-mail reports of Passaic River pike catches, including location, size and weight (if known) to: Mark Boriek at
Get out and experience another of the great fishing opportunites New Jersey has to offer.

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