An Open Letter to the NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife

Dear NJDEP Division of Fish & Wildlife,

I would like to thank you for holding your annual Free Fishing Days this last weekend, June 11 and 12. I am very much a fan of the program and use Pennsylvania’s Fish for Free days to introduce as many people as I can to the sport. Programs such as these are a valuable tool to promote fishing, as those who many not want to initially drop the money for a fishing license can go out for a ‘test trail’ of sorts, or it can be used to include the entire family in a great outdoor sport. New Jersey’s Free Fishing Days coincide with National Fishing and Boating Week, but this year they coincided with an even larger event for me: my sister’s wedding.
You see, I am already an avid fisher. I spend my free time in Pittsburgh, PA plying the various trout streams for rainbows, brooks, and browns and then seek out the rivers and lakes for bass or any larger quarry. But I made a quick trip back to my home state of New Jersey this last week in order to attend my sister’s wedding and see the extended family. But I go almost nowhere without a rod and reel, and I found myself a few hours with nothing to do Saturday morning except to go visit the local irrigation pond.

This pond was on the property of our neighbors, who are close family friends. Having grown up with their children and spent many summers of my youth working on their farm, I always have access to their property as long as I remain respectful to it. It was this pond in particular that I had first learned to fish as a child, as my father and grandfather would take me down to it. This fishing was always done with a bobber and hook, and while you could get decent results from a worm, the bait of choice from the fish was always live crickets and grasshoppers. Many sunfish and bass were caught I’m sure, although I don’t have any pictures of these early angling years.
Luckily Saturday was one of the Free Fishing Days, and I immediately went to work casting about the pond. Most of the surface of the pond was covered in algae after a week of 90+ degree weather, but a slight breeze kept a good chunk of surface clear to cast in. Knowing that most of the fish in the pond were smaller sunfish, I tied on a small jig with a small piece of orange trout worm. Almost immediately I started getting hits. At first there were only smaller fish that would bump the bait, but after a few minutes I managed to hook into a nice 7.25 inch pumpkinseed. The bites kept on coming and eventually I managed to hook onto a 8.5 inch bull bluegill, which put out a bit more of a fight than I would expect from a panfish. I caught many more bluegill and pumpkinseeds, tossing back all of my catches; I knew my mother would not be as approving of a freezer full of fish as my fiance is.
As I was walking along the pond trying out different sections, I realized why the panfish bite was so tremendous. I actually was witness to several large bluegill tending some spawning beds and at one spot actually witnessed some spawning. My decision to toss back my catches seemed even more prudent.
Moving back to the middle of the pond, I could see that the bass were now coming out to play. At first, it seemed as though they were chasing some incredibly small minnows around, so I tied on a small, yellow fly and gave it a split shot for weight, and started casting that about. Almost immediately I started getting hits, and cranked in a nice 11 inch largemouth bass. In many places a bass under a foot is nothing to admit to catching, but in this small isolated pond they don’t grow much bigger and you have to take what you can get. After tossing this guy back, I continued to cast and was receiving attention from panfish, bass, and the occasional turtle. On more than one instance I actually had to whip my line out of the water as I had a few painted turtles coming in for a meal. Everyone was in a frenzy!
The best action and excitement of the excursion wasn’t just the fish that I hooked, but the countless ones that failed to hook up but provided amazing displays. The most memorable attack came as I was reeling back in the fly on the surface. A bass must have seen the silhouette and came up fast from the deep, launching himself into the air in a similar fashion to a great white shark attacking a South African seal. Unfortunately the bow wave he generated moved the little fly out of his mouth, but it was so surprising and exciting I really didn’t care much. After some more bass and bluegills, I had to make my way back home to get dressed for the wedding. It was only then that I realized that the animals were all feeding voraciously as a mayfly hatch was occurring. The luck!
Sadly, travel requirements and an evening thunderstorm meant that I didn’t get any more time to fish but the short amount of time that I was given was certainly memorable. I would like to thank you, NJ DEP Division of Fish & Wildlife for the chance to get out of the house, get some time fishing in, and most importantly connect with a pond that I used to fish with my now-passed grandfather. If not for the Free Fishing Days, I most certainly wouldn’t have taken the time to get a temporary out of state license and would have missed some of the best fishing I’ve experienced in a while. Keep it up!

For those who would like more information on the NJ Free Fishing Days, please follow this link


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