The overwhelming majority of early ice activity occurs in the northern tier, specifically Passaic, Sussex, Warren, Morris and Hunterdon counties. However, there are ample opportunities in the state's central and southern sectors as well for yellow perch, crappie, walleye, trout, pickerel, bass, pike and musky.
The dozen best bets for the fury of first ice include the following:
Greenwood Lake: Passaic County, 1,920 acres. Big musky, chain pickerel and walleye, and excellent yellow perch. Largemouth and smallmouth bass and crappies are also players.
Monksville Reservoir: Passaic County, 505 acres. Just a few minutes drive from Greenwood, this impoundment is considered Musky central, and home of the current state-record pure-strain musky (42 pounds, 13 ounces), which was hauled through the ice in 1997.
A fair tiger bite too, and the lake is an outstanding walleye venue.
Lake Hopatcong: Sussex and Morris counties, 2,658 acres, Jersey's largest stillwater is also the most popular with the hardwater set. And for good reason it's unsurpassed for walleye, yellow perch, crappie, sunfish, chain pickerel, hybrid striper and musky.
Both varieties of bass are also taken through the ice, as are the occasional brown, tiger and rainbow trout, white perch, rock bass and channel catfish.
Lake Musconcetcong: Morris and Sussex counties, 329 acres. Near Hopatcong, this shallow impoundment is loaded with some huge pickerel.
Many consider this the top north Jersey venue for chain sides.
It offers a fair shot at some decent largemouth also, as well as yellow perch, crappies and sunfish.
Big Swartswood Lake: Sussex County, 494 acres. Walleye are the main attraction here and this lake rivals Hopatcong when it comes to 'eye size.
Very good for largemouth bass and crappies as well. A few brown and rainbows brought up every winter.
Budd Lake: Morris County, 376 acres. Huge northern pike here, with fish in excess of 15 pounds by no means uncommon.
Budd also offers decent hard water largemouth, sunfish and crappie opportunities.
Honorable mentions: Cranberry Lake, Lake Aeroflex, Green Turtle Pond, Little Swartswood Lake, Split Rock Reservoir, Mountain Lake, Spruce Run Reservoir and Oxford Furnace Lake.
Farrington Lake: Middlesex County, 290 acres. Not far behind Budd when it comes to producing monster pike.
It sizzles when it comes to chain pickerel, crappie and sunfish.
Lake Assunpink: Monmouth County, 225 acres, a great spot for ice-up largemouths, with excellent sunfish and crappie activity. Hefty channels are also caught.
Carnegie Lake: Mercer County, 237 acres. Central Jersey's premier crappie hole, with decent shots at chain pickerel as well.
Honorable mentions: Rising Sun Lake, Stone Tavern Lake, Lake Shenandoah and Turn Mill Pond.
Union Lake: Cumberland County, 898 acres. Southern Jersey's largest impoundment offers simply outstanding ice fishing for crappie and chain pickerel, with largemouth and smallmouth bass in the mix.
Hammonton Lake: Atlantic County, 75 acres, excellent for chain pickerel and yellow perch.
East Creek Lake: Cape May County, 62 acres. Chain pickerel and crappies are the major hard water players, with a few decent largemouths coming through the ice as well.
Honorable mentions: Sunset Lake, Elmer Lake, Mary Elmer Lake, Maple Lake, the Birch Grove Park Ponds and the D.O.D. Lake.
Material from Fishing & Hunting News
published 24 times a year.
Visit them at www.fishingandhuntingnews.com.