Tomorrow at the strike of 8:00 a.m., trout season officially opens in New Jersey. If you have ever seen the morning of opening day, anglers will stand shoulder-to-shoulder, excited to finally get out on the water.
After a tough 2020 and a brutal winter, I’m sure the rivers will be especially packed. We do not go out on opening day, as we prefer the solitude. But for those who do, we have some suggestions for the anglers on the water, as well as any hikers, kayakers, and others who might all be in the same area.
Get a license
If you are going to fish in New Jersey, you must have a valid fishing license. Do us all a favor and just make the purchase. Sadly, there are several spots we fish regularly and there are usually more people fishing without a license than those with a license. We have actually been laughed at when we tell people they need a license in order to fish legally. Their response is usually “why buy one? No one ever comes here to check.” The money you spend on a license will go right back into important conservation and protection programs in our state. If you don’t get one and get caught, the cost of a ticket will be much higher than what the license would’ve cost you in the first place. Most fly shops and outdoor stores sell them, or you can make your purchase right online at the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife website and print it out at home. Remember, the more licenses that are purchased, the bigger the voice we have in the state to make sure our open spaces are protected and let our politicians know this is important to us. We don’t want to continue to lose what precious open space we have left in our state.
Know the regs
Speaking of having a license, make sure you understand the regulations where you plan to fish. Everything you need to know is available in the Freshwater Fisheries Digest. You can review it online or pick up a printed copy at your local fly shop or outdoor store. In addition to the current year’s regulations, it also provides information regarding what bodies of water have been stocked, health advisories, and kid’s programs.
Clamp down your barbs
We practice catch and release and always clamp down the barbs on our hooks. To paraphrase the great Lee Wulff, “a sport fish is too valuable to be caught only once.” If you plan to catch and release as well, please consider fishing barbless.
Practice fishing etiquette
Far too often, we see very little fishing etiquette. As an example, the last time we went out on a river, we had a nice (so we thought) chat with a young angler about the spot where we were headed. It was at the bottom of a steep embankment, so we decided to take the long walk around. Well, he decided to slide down the embankment and take the spot. We were both frustrated and disappointed, to say the least. There were very few other spots that would’ve worked for us, so we packed up and left. Don’t be “that guy.” We know it is opening day and people usually wind up right next to each other fighting for a patch of water. Do your best to be a good steward of the sport.
Yes, we like to fish and yes, we pay to do it
It rarely happens, but we’ve had people give us a hard time about fishing. People with dogs off-leash let their furry pals run into the river or pond and “blow the hole.” Or their kids like throwing rocks in the water to see the ripples. It is frustrating. We actually had someone say to us “it’s not like you pay to be here.” Well, yes we do. As we mentioned above, our license fees help stock rivers, protect open spaces, and lots more. If you don’t care for fishing (or hunting), that’s OK. Just recognize that we do and really aren’t interested in a philosophical debate on the issue while we have rod in hand. We just want to enjoy the surroundings and fish.
Leave only footprints
Our parks took a heavy beating last year as COVID kept many people from enjoying their usual summer vacation. While it was great that people discovered what gems our local parks are, many did not treat them with the respect they deserve. Hedden Park in Morris County, NJ was closed to two weeks last summer to repair damage caused by park visitors. Bring a leader catch with you, or better yet, a small garbage back and do a quick pick up on your way out. There’s a sad old joke about how to find a rested hole for fishing – just walk 10 minutes past the last cigarette butt you see. Remember to take only photos and leave only footprints.
Be a teacher
What we really love when we are out is passing on our knowledge to the next generation. If you see a youngster having trouble, offer some advice. Be encouraging. Do you have a fly that is working really well? Offer them one. It is important we share what we know with others who will come to appreciate the outdoors and develop a love of conservation.
Most of all, have a fun and safe day on the water! We miss seeing our fly fishing family and wish all of you the best of luck as the new season opens. Tight lines!