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D&R Canal a crash pad for pickerel, crappie

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    GRIGGSTOWN, N.J. — Crawling south to north, the Delaware & Raritan Canal, long ago used for cargo transport via bankside mule pulling power, is a hot winter venue for chain pickerel, crappies and, on sunny, unseasonably warm afternoons, largemouth bass.

    The most productive course is the approximately 8-mile stretch from Griggstown in Somerset County north to Bound Brook to Midddlesex County.

    In between these municipalities, the "D&R," as it is known to locals, is especially chainsides- and calico-cooperative during the cold water January/February period.

    "As long as it does not ice over, which is rare, the D&R is really hot for pickerel this time of year," opines Ralph Nalepka of the Millstone Sport Shop (908-359-5713).

    Nalpeka's hook-and-bullet emporium, which sits on the Millstone River, is a long stone throw from the D&R Canal. His customers fish both the river and the canal, and despite the fact that the river proper boasts jumbo channel cats, largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleyes and northern pike, it's the slow-moving conduit that gets the attention of the winter shiner-soaker.

    "In fact, this is the best time of year to fish the D&R if you're after big pickerel and jumbo crappies," said Nalepka.

    "But it's a live-bait deal. Leave the lures in your box. Shiners and fatheads under a bobber or float — it ain't fancy fishing, but your rod is gonna bend!"

    Access

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    To be sure, the canal will surprise the uninitiated to the potential of the open-water winter fishery that exists within this exploding residentially developing area.

    Fields and woodlands are disappearing, being replaced by single-family subdivisions and "McMansion" estates.

    Fortunately for anglers, the canal is part of the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park system that extends from Trenton (Mercer County) through Bound Brook. Development is a no-no.

    As a result, the water is safe, shrouded and loaded with fish. What's the best part? Bankside access is easy via the hiking trail that runs the length of the canal through the state park.

    That's right — park and fish. Or park, walk a little bit, or a lot, and fish. There are multiple openings along the shoreline brush and trees and — as the D&R is 20 to 25 yards wide — likely looking spots across the languid flow are but a decent lob away.

    Get there

    The canal is easily reached via Route 287 northbound to the "South Bound Brook/Weston Canal Road/Manville" exit.

    Make a left off the exit and you're heading towards the Manville, Blackwell's Mills and Griggstown beat. Parking areas are readily apparent.

    Make a right and you're in the Manville/Bound Brook stretch. Again, parking areas are obvious.

    It is in these areas that you can drop a 'yak, canoe or even a jonboat (electric motor only) into the D&R. Even though most of the canal can be fished from the bank, there are those stretches where the bank is so overgrown as to obviate access.

    Coincidentally, these beats are where the longest chains and widest crappies are encountered.

    Sporadic parking spaces are also found along Weston Canal Road. However, be careful tucking in here as you may be ticketed if any part of your vehicle is sticking out to the macadam.

    Material from Fishing & Hunting News
    published 24 times a year.

    Visit them at www.fishingandhuntingnews.com.