11 Best Bass Fishing Lakes and Rivers in New Jersey

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If any state can truly be called “underrated” when it comes to bass fishing, it’s New Jersey. Despite being one of the smallest and most densely populated states, the bass fishing opportunities here are truly impressive. 

Also impressive is the diversity of New Jersey’s fisheries. Largemouth and smallmouth bass are equally abundant in the state’s waterways, which range from broad rivers and boulder-strewn streams to sprawling reservoirs, clear natural lakes and nameless farm ponds. 

And there’s real trophy bass potential here. In many of the waters listed below, hooking an 8-pound largemouth or a 6-pound smallmouth is a real possibility on any given day. 

From the wooded mountains of the New Jersey Highlands to the densely populated suburban sprawl of eastern New Jersey, there are great bass fishing options in every corner of the Garden State. 

Bass Lakes in New Jersey

Manasquan Reservoir

Operated both as a public recreation lake and as a water supply reservoir in Monmouth County, 770-acre Manasquan Reservoir is also one of New Jersey’s most consistently great bass lakes. It’s also still a relatively young reservoir, completed in 1990.

Manasquan Reservoir is 40 feet deep and about 20 feet on average. It supports healthy populations of both largemouth and smallmouth bass, with the former being more common. 

It’s also notable for producing trophy bass. Tangling with a 5- to 7-pound largemouth should not be unexpected, and Manasquan Reservoir has kicked out some smallmouths over 5 pounds as well.

The biggest bass are typically caught during the spring pre-spawn period from March through early May. Fishing shallow beds for spawning bass is also popular in May and June. 

Part of the reason this lake is such a great bass producer is that it was designed with fishing in mind when it was built. Swaths of downed trees and stumps were left on the bottom, and much of the shoreline was lined with riprap. Additional brush piles and other structures have been placed since then. 

Manasquan Reservoir is a lake where anglers can find success with a wide range of fishing styles and tactics. Diving crankbaits and bottom-bumping jigs are popular around drop-offs and creek beds, but fishing soft plastics around shallow cover can often be just as effective.

The land all around the reservoir is managed as a public park by the Monmouth County Park System and includes parking, ample bank access and boat launch facilities. Boats are limited to electric trolling motors or human-powered craft only.

Lake Hopatcong

No lake is more consistently listed among the best New Jersey bass lakes than Lake Hopatcong. At 2,400 acres, this massive natural lake is the largest body of freshwater in the state, and it harbors an abundance of both largemouth and smallmouth bass. 

Lake Hopatcong is also known as a great multi-species lake. Bass anglers are just as likely to encounter yellow perch, crappie, walleye and pickerel, while open waters are patrolled by some hefty hybrid stripers and trout. 

This is a sprawling lake with numerous points, islands, bays and coves. Coves in particular are bass hotspots, especially early in the season when warming waters attract bass to the shallows. 

A good approach is to pick a bay or cove and fish it as if it was a lake unto itself. Spinnerbaits are a top producer in springtime, with topwaters and soft plastics getting the call in summertime as weed beds flourish. Fishing around the lake’s many boat docks can also be very good. 

Lake Hopatcong has seen a dramatic improvement in water quality over the last 25 years, and bass fishing has improved accordingly. Bass of both species weighing 1 to 3 pounds are very abundant, and trophy bass are available. 

The downside of lake Hopatcong is its popularity. Less than an hour from New York City, it’s one of the most heavily pressured lakes in the state. Lake Hopatcong also hosts bass tournaments fairly regularly. 

The summer months provide some of the best bass fishing here, but also the heaviest traffic. Fish early or late in the day to avoid recreational boaters, and fish on a weekday if you can.

Round Valley Reservoir

Many anglers know Round Valley Reservoir as a trophy trout lake. But this 2,350-acre lake is a healthy two-story fishery that also offers excellent bass fishing. 

Largemouth and smallmouth bass are both present. Though largemouths are more abundant, Round Valley Reservoir produced the New Jersey state record smallmouth weighing 7 pounds, 2 ounces in 1990, so it attracts attention from trophy bronzeback hunters. 

Bragging-size largemouths are in no short supply either. Anglers targeting largemouths would be well-advised to focus on the reservoir’s shallow weed beds and woody cover, while smallmouths gravitate more to rocky sections of the lake. 

In addition to being New Jersey’s largest artificial lake, Round Valley Reservoir is also one of the deepest at 180 feet. Bass fishing is usually good fairly close to shore.

Areas with a mix of rocks and vegetation in 10 to 15 feet of water can produce even during summer. Some of the best fishing takes place in May and June, when bass are in various stages of pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn throughout the lake.

Plastic worms will tempt both species, with Senkos and similar wacky-style worms being a go-to choice for many anglers. There is often an excellent topwater bite on Round Valley Reservoir too.

Lake Assunpink

A standout in Central New Jersey, 225-acre Lake Assunpink supports a tremendous largemouth bass population. And in addition to being a prolific bass lake, there are also some serious lunkers in Lake Assunpink. 

A few 6- and 7-pound largemouths are weighed most years at local bait shops. A real monster weighing 9 pounds, 8 ounces in 2003 was one of the biggest bass caught in New Jersey since the turn of the millennium. 

With a maximum depth of just 14 feet, Lake Assunpink is managed under special trophy bass regulations, which help maintain the fishery despite heavy angler pressure. 

This reservoir has a fairly well-defined main creek channel. Points and notches along the channel are prime bass spots, with jigs and crankbaits producing a lot of solid bass in spring.

Anglers catch many of the biggest bass in the more silted upper end of the lake during the spawn. Fishing along the face of the dam can also be productive, especially after dark. 

Assunpink Lake has plentiful gizzard shad, which keep the bass fat and happy. Underwater springs also help maintain a cooler water temperature than many lakes in this part of the state.

You can expect to catch a few smallmouths here too.

Union Lake

Covering 898 acres in Cumberland County, Union Lake is the largest reservoir in southern New Jersey. It’s also the only real option for smallmouth bass in the southern part of the state, though largemouths are more numerous. 

A little over 25 feet at its deepest point, Union Lake is mostly shallow and offers extensive weed beds that provide largemouth cover and some good rocky structure for smallmouths.

Some of the best smallmouth territory is right around the dam. Some brushy areas to either side of the dam can produce a mix of both species. The coves along the east and west sides of the lake are prime largemouth haunts. 

The stretch of submerged stumps along the west side of the lake are also worth exploring. When it comes to lure choice, black and purple plastic worms are perennial favorites, along with spinnerbaits. 

Weed beds near both banks become quite thick by the time summer rolls around, and topwater action can be great.

Union Lake is known for excellent after-dark bass fishing on summer nights with buzzbaits and chatterbaits. 

Splitrock Reservoir

Northern New Jersey’s Splitrock Reservoir is an excellent under-the-radar bass lake that receives relatively little fishing pressure compared to many lakes in this part of the state. It spans 650 acres and serves as a water source for Jersey City.

Part of the reason the lake is often passed over is because of its remoteness. Nestled between mountains and with an undeveloped shoreline, the lake is accessible via several miles of twisting backroads. 

Those backroads lead to the lake’s sole boat launch, which is suitable for cartop boats and small craft. Boats are limited to electric motors or non-powered craft, and the lake is most popular among kayak anglers.

Like a lot of the lakes in this part of the state, Splitrock Reservoir has a rocky bottom and banks, allowing smallmouth bass to thrive. Crankbaits and jigs produce the best smallmouth action, along with topwaters in the morning and evening. 

There are largemouths here too, and they often fall for spinnerbaits and plastic worms around laydowns and pockets of vegetation.

A popular tactic for both bass species is to fish live shiners at the shallow upper end of the reservoir in spring.

Carnegie Lake

Carnegie Lake is a highly underrated largemouth lake in central New Jersey. Located a stone’s throw from Princeton University, this 237-acre lake is long and narrow. Stony Brook and the Millstone River feed into the lake. 

A perfect option for anglers who love to fish shallow, Carnegie Lake maxes out at about 10 feet, and it has abundant weed beds, overhanging trees and laydowns along the shoreline. Topwater fishing can be great in the summertime, and plastic worms are almost always effective. 

You’re also likely to get some strikes on any lure that mimics the abundant alewives and gizzard shad that sustain the lake’s largemouths.

In addition to shoreline cover, Carnegie Lake’s two bridge crossings are also reliable hotspots for bass and crappie.

Carnegie Lake is restricted to electric motors and non-powered craft only. Launch facilities are at Lake Carnegie Park, near the north end of the lake.

Bass Rivers in New Jersey

Delaware River

Forming the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the Delaware River is a massive waterway with some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in both states. And thanks to a reciprocal license agreement, anglers from both states are equally free to enjoy it.

Smallmouths are abundant as far downriver as the Trenton, which marks the lower reach of the non-tidal Delaware River. That being said, the farther upriver you go, the better the bass fishing gets. 

The scenery gets better too. Along the upper portion of the Delaware in Warren and Sussex counties, long stretches of river feel like they’re bordered by genuine wilderness.

It’s possible to catch bass at any time of year on the Delaware River, but summer is the ideal time to fish. Smallmouths come off their beds hungry in June, and moderate flows this time of year make the river easier to handle if you want to float it.

The river continues to fish well from a canoe or kayak well into fall. It’s also a big enough river to handle larger boats—some pools in Warren County are 30 feet deep or more—and there are dozens of boat ramps on either side of the river.

The best approach to the Delaware River is to fish it slowly. As you make your way downriver, be prepared to anchor and work likely-looking spots thoroughly before moving on.

Diving crankbaits are good lures for the river’s deeper pools. Use one with a rattle, like a Rat-L-Trap, if the water is stained. Jigs are good for deep water too, and tipping one’s jig with a bit of nightcrawler is an old trick commonly employed on the Big D. 

Tube jigs and Senkos are great for shallow pools up to about 15 feet. Try casting your bait toward the upper end of the pool and letting the current carry it through. 

One of the best approaches is to focus on any structure that creates a current break, especially large rocks and boulders. On sunny days, smallmouths will almost always wait on the shady side of any structure that casts a shadow. 

There’s a ton of great access throughout Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Expect to catch a lot of smallies weighing 1 or 2 pounds, but don’t be shocked if you hook one of the 5-pounders that lurk in many pools. 

Raritan River (North & South Branch)

Next to the Delaware River, the Raritan River is almost certainly the best bass river in New Jersey. The river flows from relatively rural landscapes along its North and South Branches to the densely populated shoreline of Raritan Bay. 

Smallmouth bass are abundant, and many of the quieter backwaters harbor largemouths as well. And while the main stem of the Raritan River can certainly offer some quality bass fishing, the two branches tend to be better and more consistent. 

From their confluence in Bridgewater, there’s great smallmouth fishing as far as Clinton up the South Branch and as far as Bedminster up the North Branch. 

In spring, bass anglers catch many smallmouths using live bait. High water typically brings bass close to the banks, especially as the river warms up in May and smallmouths start to get spawning on their minds. 

By summer, the river level is usually down and the branches of the Raritan are excellent for canoe and kayak fishing. Meandering down the river casting toward boulders, fallen trees, and mixed areas of rocks and vegetation is a great way to target bass. 

Soft and hard jerkbaits, Senkos, curly tail grubs and Original Rapalas are all excellent lures. Crayfish imitations are great too, and fly anglers often outfish their spinning counterparts using crayfish-imitating streamers. 

Smallmouths measuring 10 or 12 inches are typical on the North and South Branch Raritan River, but individuals up to 6 pounds are occasionally caught. The upper South Branch also has some excellent trout fishing.

Paulinskill River

An excellent and often-overlooked smallmouth river, the Paulinskill River is a 41-mile tributary of the Delaware River in northwestern New Jersey. It’s a small to midsize river that supports an abundant smallmouth population, along with panfish and stocked trout. 

Most of the Paulinskill is small enough to wade in summer, and the bulk of the river is also well-suited to exploring by kayak. Public access is abundant, including multiple crossings on the Paulinskill Valley Trail. 

The Paulinskill River is mostly made up of classic riffles, pools and runs, with tons of excellent rocky habitat. Smallmouths lurk in deep holes at river bends and below current breaks, including boulders, bridge pilings and log jams. 

The public access below Paulina Lake Dam is a great place to start a float trip or fish from the bank. Crayfish and hellgrammite imitations are highly effective. Expect to catch mostly 10- to 12-inch bass, with occasional fish up to 18 inches.

Musconetcong River

Another excellent Delaware River tributary, the Musconetcong River drains a large swath of the northwestern New Jersey Highlands, flowing for 47 miles before emptying into the Delaware. It’s a designated Wild and Scenic River that is best known for trout fishing. 

But smallmouths swim alongside the Musconetcong’s wild brown trout and stocked rainbows. Fly fishers are likely to catch a few of each on a warm spring or fall day. 

To target bass, focus on the Musconetcong River’s deeper pools, and cast just outside the fast water where a riffle plunges into the upper end of a pool. There are also a lot of fallen trees and boulders that can produce smallmouths. 

Much of the Musconetcong River can be walked or waded, especially in the Musconetcong Gorge area. It’s generally deep enough for a canoe or kayak, though there are hazards to watch out for in places, including remnants of some old dam structures.