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Lunker Lakers Lurk Below

by Shawn Crouse
Assistant Fisheries Biologist
November, 2005

East of the Border - Lake Trout Fishing In New Jersey -, 5/25/14
Hearty Lake Trout Fishing Available at Merrill Creek and Round Valley Reservoirs -, 5/20/13

If you love to fish for trout and you’re looking for an alternative to stream/river fishing, try to drop your line at Round Valley Reservoir in Hunterdon County. Why? Because you might just hook into a bona fide trophy fish - a Lunker Laker!

Every October/November since 1978, Division of Fish and Wildlife biologists have slapped on the foul-weather gear to venture out on Round Valley Reservoir to survey the status of a true trophy fishery...Lunker Laker style!

Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), reared at the Hackettstown Hatchery, were stocked in this deep reservoir (maximum depth 160 feet) from 1977 until 1995. In 1985, evidence that natural reproduction was occurring within the reservoir was documented. By 1995, it was determined that the population was capable of maintaining itself by natural reproduction, thus stocking was discontinued.

Author with huge lake trout
The author with 24-lb. lake trout.
Click to enlarge

Each fall gill nets are set overnight to capture lake trout of varying size to document fish condition, diet, and natural reproduction. This year, netting began on October 26 and continued until November 9. Eight experimental gillnets, each having three different small mesh size openings, were used to capture a range of lake trout from juveniles to sub-adults. Eight large-mesh gillnets (6" stretch mesh) are set near the reservoir’s north and south dams to capture mature adult lake trout as they begin congregating to spawn over the rocky substrate at the north and south dams.

Jim Hartobey with 10-inch laker
Technician Jim Hartobey with naturally reproduced laker.
Click to enlarge
Lakers captured in the nets were measured and weighed to assess their physical condition (relative weight analysis). In addition, sex, finclips and sexual development information were also recorded. Stomachs of dying fish were examined and the majority contained amphipods and chironomids (small aquatic invertebrates).

No identifiable fish remains were found in any of the stomach contents, indicating the alewife population is scarce. Normandeau Associates, Inc. is currently conducting a multi-year nutrient and plankton study to determine if productivity is at or near critical values and if Round Valley Reservoir can support a sufficient alewife population.

This year, a total of 92 lake trout were captured, ranging in size from 10 to 40.75 inches. The largest lake trout captured was a 25.5 lbs. male. Since 2000, 25 of the 226 lakers (11%) caught with the large-mesh gillnets exceeded the 20 lbs. mark!

In addition to Round Valley, good size lakers can be found in Merrill Creek Reservoir in Warren County. Many anglers are successful at catching lakers from a boat throughout the year. (Just a reminder…there is a catch-and-release only season for lake trout which began on September 16 and continues through November 30. Harvest will reopen on December 1.)
Concerning lake trout, Round Valley Reservoir has a 1 fish, 20-inch size limit, while Merrill Creek Reservoir has a 2 fish, 15-inch size limit. See the Freshwater Fishing Digest for other regulations.

Fishing for lakers can take many forms, however the most popular and probably the simplest method is to drift live herring. A beginner may want to fish at various depths, anywhere from 40 to 80 feet deep. When fishing at the shallower end of the spectrum you may hook into brown or rainbow trout as well.

In recent years, we’ve seen a tremendous number of big lakers being caught by anglers. For me, part of the excitement of fishing is knowing that I have the potential to hook into the fish of a lifetime like the current state record lake trout which was caught at Round Valley Reservoir in May, 2002 - it weighed 32 lbs., 8 oz! If trophy trout interest you, Round Valley is the place to be! Next time you get the urge to try your luck, consider fishing in a boat at Round Valley Reservoir. As you can see from the photos on this page, the lunkers are there!

Author and Kelly Davis with two lakers
Author, technician Kelly Davis, and two lakers.
Click to enlarge
Measuring lake trout
Jim Hartobey and biolgist Bob Papson gather data
Click to enlarge
Lake trout about 20 pounds
Shawn Crouse with another large laker - about 20 pounds!
Click to enlarge


arrow Trout Fishing Information
arrow Trout Fishing Facts & Information (When, Where, How) (pdf, 20kb)
arrow Hackettstown State Fish Hatchery
arrow Pequest Trout Hatchery and Natural Resource Education Center
arrow Fishing Regulations

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Last Updated: June 3, 2014