Dedicated anglers know that New Jersey is home to some of the finest trout waters in the East.
And for many, the pick for best fishing hole in the state would be Ken Lockwood Gorge, a picturesque spot designated by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife as a trout conservation area.
The gorge, named for the late outdoors writer and conservationist, flanks two and a half miles of the Raritan River’s South Branch as it winds between the towns of Califon and High Bridge in Hunterdon County. “The gorge is accessible,” says author, blogger, and former Star-Ledger fishing columnist Matt Grobert. “But what’s cool is that even though it’s accessible, it’s set off by the mountains, so you still get a feeling of solitude. I bring people and they’re shocked that there are places like this so close to the city: clean, clear, cool water with lots of fish.”
Getting to the gorge by car is easy. Once you get off I-78 at Cokesbury (exit 20B), the ride winds through a beautiful country landscape of rolling hills and farmland. Unlike a more structured state park with a big parking lot and facilities, the entry to the gorge simply emerges as Raritan River Road turns to gravel. Visitors can find parking—often on the side of the road—at either end of the gorge and walk along a wide gravel path for its entire length.
“The accessibility makes it good for family fishing,” says John Endreson of Tight Lines Fly Fishing, a Pine Brook store that sells gear, provides lessons, and offers guided trips—including outings to the gorge. Endreson recommends parking at the bottom of the gorge near High Bridge and walking up to the river. “You can see the water before you fish it,” he says. “It’s also good for exercise because it’s so easy to walk around the river.”
The river—which Endreson praises for its combination of slower pools and fast runs—is often just a few feet from the path, and the terrain between path and stream is easy to traverse. Despite its wooded surroundings, the sightlines allow individuals in a party to maintain visual contact while finding their own stretches of water to fish, whether from the banks or by wading in the stream itself. “The pools are not too far apart,” says Endreson. “A father can fish in one pool and still watch while his kids fish another. I’ve taken guys there that are total beginners, and they’ve had a really good time because of the access.”
State regulations allow the waters of the Gorge to be fished virtually year-round. Weekdays are best if you are looking for solitude. The water can get crowded on weekends, especially during the spring and fall. On a warm Saturday in late October, the stream was full of fishermen, mostly using fly rods, though some had spinning tackle. (Click here to read Gearing Up for Fly Fish—which provides information on where to pick up fly fishing essentials)
Grobert says that newcomers to the gorge can get fishing advice from regulars, but it’s better to ask one taking a break than to bother someone actually on the water. “Before you step into the water, try and figure out where the other fisherman is going and give them at least enough space so they don’t have to leapfrog you,” Grobert says.
The roads on either end of the gorge are residential—Grobert warns that newcomers should pay attention to the boundary between public land and private property—but visitors can find food and supplies within a few miles.“There are a few small restaurants in High Bridge,” Grobert says. “Also, there’s Shannon’s Fly and Tackle Shop in Califon, and Rambo’s, a real throwback kind of place for lunch. In Long Valley, the Long Valley Pub and Brewery is a microbrewery that’s a popular place for people to go after they fish.” Also in Long Valley is Schooley’s Mountain General Store, which claims to be the oldest continuously run general store in the state.
There are dozens of other spots for trout fishing in the Garden State, says Grobert, whose 2007 book, Fly Fishing New Jersey Trout Streams, is a beautifully illustrated guide for beginner and expert alike. His picks: “Big Flatbrook in Sussex County is a classic freestone [rain-fed] stream with incredibly easy access. There’s also Stevens State Park [in Warren County], and the Pequest Trout Hatchery and Natural Resource Education Center [also in Warren County], where a ton of people go to learn.”
To help get started, Grobert recommends the annual open house at the Pequest Hatchery, which includes fly-fishing and fly casting lessons by cold-water conservation organization Trout Unlimited. The 2009 open house will be held April 4 and 5 from 10 am–4 pm.
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