Union Lake is southern New Jersey’s largest freshwater body of water. It is considered the premier lake in this area south NJ freshwater fishing. It has had a history of providing good fishing for a variety of species.
The lake was constructed in the 1790s, and later in 1868, it was sold to the Millville Manufacturing Company, and a new dam was built downstream of the original, and it significantly increased the size of the lake. Union Lake is located in Millville, New Jersey, right off Route 49, about 45 minutes from the Delaware Memorial Bridge. It is part of the Union Lake Wild life Management area, and is located on the Maurice River Drainage.
South NJ Freshwater Fishing
This prime south NJ freshwater fishing area and it’s surrounding properties were purchased by New Jersey Fish Game and Wildlife in 1982, and the Division reconstructed the dam in 1989, and built a fish ladder in 1990. This enabled anadromous fish to spawn above Union Lake.
Union Lake is 898 acres, with an average depth of 9 feet, with a maximum depth of 27 feet. The water in Union is highly productive due to the high fertility of the soil around the lake. It has a brown, humic color, and is subject to algal blooms in the summer. The lake develops a thermocline in the summer at about ten feet, and there is a lack of dissolved oxygen at about fifteen feet. There is a variety of vegetation, both emergent and submerged, with some lay downs and islands with lily pads throughout the lake.
There have been man made structures added also, such as Christmas tree reefs and tire reefs at various locations throughout the lake. There are two boat launches at Union Lake that are available to the public. The ramp located on the Southeast end of the lake is owned by the city of Millville. The other ramp located on the West shore of the lake has parking available for fifty car and trailer rigs, and is owned by the Division of Fish Game and Wildlife. The parking lot and ramp are fantastic, and are lighted for night time south NJ freshwater fishing also. There is a ten HP maximum on the lake. There are also shoreline angling areas around the lake.
The main forage fish in Union Lake are Alewife and Gizzard Shad, and they are in the lake in good numbers. There are also a good population of panfish, including crappies and bluegill. There are also some Pirate perch, along with some Swamp Darters.
Fish species found in the lake as well as many other south NJ freshwater fishing spots are largemouth and smallmouth bass, Yellow Perch, Black Crappie, Bluegill, Gizzard Shad, White Perch, Striped Bass, Chain Pickerel, Channel Catfish, and Sunfish of several varieties. The smallmouth bass population in Union was small, so the State has been doing some stocking to increase the population, but they are still greatly outnumbered by the largemouth bass. Recently anglers have been reporting better catches and larger fish up to four pounds. The Stripers that are in Union Lake are contributed to anglers releasing them from the Maurice River population. As you can see, it is a nice place for south NJ freshwater fishing.
The best locations for smallmouth bass are around the dam adjacent to the sandy shoreline, across the lake by the Millville ramp, and around the rip-rap, near the stumps and deep water structure. Some of the smallmouth caught in Union Lake were around three pounds, which is a nice size for this area. The largemouth bass will hold on traditional structure in the lower end of the lake, such as the brushy areas along the shore near the Dam, and in the coves on both sides. There are also three artificial structures in this area, and they hold baitfish, Crappies, and subsequently bass.
The best lures for smallmouth bass in south nj freshwater fishing areas include tubes, small hair jigs in brown and black, and small crankbaits in crawfish colors.
Best results in all the south nj freshwater fishing areas have been with a Strike Pro USA crankbait or the Lucky Craft Fat CB.
The largemouth bass here will hit a variety of soft plastics, but the best luck is usually with small worms and Senkos by Gary Yamamoto baits. The four and five inch models have been taking big largemouth bass from these areas. About a third of the way up the lake from the dam, near the state boat ramp, there are two other artificial attractors, made of Christmas trees and tire units. These areas also hold bass. A good tactic is using medium to deep diving crankbaits in this area, and bumping the structure as much as possible. Small straight tail worms and Senko’s also produce when cast to the structure and shoreline cover in this area. In the early mornings, and late afternoon and evenings, largemouth bass have been hitting walking type baits, jerkbaits, and buzzbaits in this area as well.
The next area to try during a south nj freshwater fishing trip here would be near the upper end of the lake on the West shore of the lake. There are marsh reeds and lily pad fields in this area, and they hold a good deal of large bass and Pickerel. The best baits for here would be weedless topwater’s, such as a Top-Prop, and other buzzbaits worked around the edges of the cover. Small worms, in four inch sizes, and Senkos, cast to the edges of the deep weed lines here will produce in the daytime. Also, this year we have had a good deal of bass hit Yamamoto Spider Grubs on a light weight or rigged Texas style casted to the edges of cover. There are a variety of Spider Grubs, but ones by Gary Yamamoto seem to be quite effective. The earth tone colors are easy to match to the forage and water color.
The last place you should try is in the upper end of the lake, on the right hand side, right before it turns into a narrow, winding, swamp like area. There is a Christmas tree reef in this area, mixed with other vegetation, that you should work with five to seven inch jerkbaits, in gold/black colors, and other soft plastics.
The pads on the left side in this area also hold a good deal of bass that go to five or six pounds. Many largemouth bass were caught here by working the pads with a “Tournament Frog” in Black and Brown, and a Terminator spinnerbait in 3/8 ounce, with tandem blades, with a Golden Shiner skirt. Buzzbaits took some largemouth also from this area that exceeded six pounds! Some other good baits to try for south NJ freshwater fishing are lipless crankbaits like a Rattlin’ Rapala, and spoons in the reedy areas for Chain Pickerel and bass.
When it comes to south NJ freshwater fishing in this area, good set ups can be a couple spinning rods, with a good reel, such as a Shimano Sustain, or Daiwa Z series, spooled with 6-8lb test P-Line. These are good for small grubs and the smaller Senkos. I also like to have a couple of good baitcasters, such as a 6 1/2 to 7 foot G.Loomis, or Kistler rod, with a medium, and a medium/Heavy action, with a Shimano Chronarch, spooled with twenty to twenty-five pound test P-Line, and a separate rod for cranking. Commonly used rods are things like a Lews Crankin’ Stick, and a G.Loomis Cranking Stick for this, with a Lews reel, spooled with 10-12 test. These reels are necessary to present the crankbaits properly, and reduce angler fatigue.
Use these tactics at Union Lake or other south NJ freshwater fishing areas this coming year, and you will increase your catch rate and your fun. Union Lake has variety of scenery and wildlife, and can provide a great day out for the whole family.
For more helpful South NJ freshwater fishing tips as well as awesome freshwater and saltwater fishing tackle, bait, and other fishing equipment, check out Fin-atics. Serving the South NJ area, this fishing tackle store offers quality supplies both in their Ocean City NJ store and online at good prices. Contact them at (609) 398-2248 or visit the website.
Striped Bass fishing often comes down to catching fish while trolling. Trolling for Striped Bass in New Jersey can be a very effective method to catch Striped Bass when they are not schooled up in large numbers. Often you will find a run of fish that are in broken up schools and are feeding on bunker, sand eels or herring. The trick is to mimic the size of baitfish that the Stripers are foraging on; sometimes it may be small 4-5in bait while other times it can be an 11-12in size.
The waters off New Jersey have a variety of baitfish in them depending on the time of year. We often see Sand Eels, Spearing, Anchovies, Butterfish, Herring, Mackerel or Bunker in near shore and off shore waters. Imitating the baitfish is the key to success while trolling our waters and there are many different lures available that will accomplish this goal. The first and foremost rule to trolling for Striped Bass is your speed, the SLOWER THE BETTER! Once you remember this important rule the more productive your fishing experience will be. The second rule is that a good fish finder is a must for this type of fishing. If you can’t find the bait you won’t find many Stripers.
The easiest method to imitate a small school of bait fish is the use of an umbrella rig. The last few years we have seen great production with 9ers Lures, a New England based manufacturer of umbrella rigs. What makes them unique is that they are tangle free, in comparison to traditional styled umbrella rigs. Their 6-way bar has baits directly attached at a raked back angle, making it a tangle-free fishing experience. Choose either a rig with tubes to imitate small baitfish or one with shads to imitate the larger baitfish. Troll these lures on the “flat” lines directly behind the boat; trolling them from outriggers is very impractical. You will need to use a trolling weight or downrigger to get these lures to the depth of water the Stripers are feeding in.
Another good lure that has produced consistently over the years is the Mann’s Stretch 25+ and Stretch 30+. These lures are designed with a large lip and as their name implies, will swim up to 25+ feet and 30+ feet deep respectively. You will be amazed at how quickly these lures dive to depth when you troll them. These lures should also be trolled on a “flat” line because of the pressure they put on a rod while they are trolled. I often find that the Stretch 30+ will produce more strikes than the 25+ when Bunker is the large adult size because of the profile they present.
Choose a stout rod and reel to troll these types of lures, because they apply a lot of pressure while trolled. Today’s braided super lines are a great choice for this type of trolling as they have far less drag in the water than monofilament. However, you should still use a monofilament or fluorocarbon leader to attach the lure so when reaching for the leader you don’t cut up your hands on the braid. Common sizes for the braid are from 30-50lb and leaders should be from 50-80lb.
Chunking Bunker for Striped Bass can be a very productive method for catching that trophy linesider. It is a very simple method that will produce bites in a variety of conditions and different areas of the bay or ocean. Most often this fishing technique is used from an anchored boat but it also can work from areas such as a pier, dock or bridge. Take a Bunker (Menhaden), cut it up into pieces about 2 inches long and throw a few at time into the water, chunking is just as it sounds.
The trick is not to chunk too many at a time, get the Stripers feeding on them but not enough to satisfy their hunger. I find that a dozen bunker will last for about 2 hours of slow and steady chunking, of course if the bite is on it will go much faster. Use a larger piece of Bunker, usually a head or mid-section 4-5 inches wide as a bait with a large 8/0 to 10/0 hook (circle hook or J-hook based on your personal preference) . Drift or cast the baited hook, using a fish finder style rig out behind the boat or away a bit from the pier. Use of a Baitrunner or conventional reel with a clicker is important here so you may leave the reel in free-spool, the fish can pick the bait up and not feel the sinker or drag of the reel.
Find a place to anchor or a spot on a pier where your bait will drift into a hole, the edge of a drop off or a nice rip current and fish it a couple hours before or after the change of a tide. The current slows a bit and your chunks won’t be carried away as fast during this time. I have found that there is no set tide, high or low that will produce all the time, the time of day and season will dictate when they bite. Striped Bass are the most unpredictable of fish when it comes to their behavior, they may bite on the top of the incoming tide one week and the bottom of the outgoing another. Put the time in and you will eventually learn their patterns for the area you are fishing at the time of year you choose to fish it. This will help narrow down the when and where to fish and increase your chances of landing that once in a lifetime Striped Bass.