The Black River Journal March/ April 2006

As spring approaches, we can all begin to look forward to a great upcoming season. Woods that were solemn with the silence of winter begin to bustle and there is definitely a sense of renewal. I always look forward to seeing old friends and new faces stopping by making this season a whirlwind of activity. I’d like to mention a few of the people who help make our fisheries what they are later in this article.

Visit The Raritan Inn, a five bedroom bed and breakfast, located on twenty four acres and encompassing three quarters of a mile of the South Branch’s finest water, in northern Hunterdon County.  The Inn has received national acclaim for its use of solar and geothermal energy while maintaining the historic appearance of a nineteenth century structure. The interior has the charming feel of a bed and breakfast while offering modern amenities like wireless internet and boardroom facilities in a country setting close to shopping and antiquing opportunities in the historic towns of Chester and Clinton. The Raritan Inn is an excellent example of form meeting function in our beautiful valley. This is an ideal site for an outing, corporate event, or quiet weekend retreat. Contact the Inn at (908) 832-6869 or visit the Inn’s fine website at for information. Fish for Native Brook Trout, Wild Browns and stocked Kamloops Rainbows. We offer expertly guided trips and instruction for both individuals and corporate groups. Allan Johnson will be offering a fly casting school beginning March 11th and I am proud to say that we have been offering lessons and seminars all winter making this New Jersey’s first all inclusive fly fishing school.

Although the weather can still be harsh in March but there are already more productive days to be had in the outdoors and especially on the stream. American Shad will begin their annual migration up the Delaware. These fish average between 18 and 24 inches in length with the larger fish usually females named Roe averaging between three and six pounds. The smaller males known as Bucks are often acrobatic when hooked. I strongly recommend catch and release with this species as they are anadromous and in the river to spawn. Look for consistent action once water temperatures reach 48 degrees. If you want a good guide, call Eric Hildebrand at (908) 763-5713 or give us a shout over at the shop as I’ve put together a great guiding staff. Shad Tournaments and Festivals including the Shad festival in Lambertville and the Forks of the Delaware Tournament and Festival in Easton celebrate what author John McPhee describes as our Founding Fish in his book by the same name. It was this fish that helped Washington’s troops survive after a tough winter at Valley Forge or so the legend goes.  

Visit the Pequest Hatchery in Oxford on April 1st and 2nd for the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Annual Open House. Also not be missed are their in season seminars headed by Wildlife Volunteers Pierre Benoist and Jim Flatley. Trout streams stocked by the state will be open until March 19th. At that time they will close for three weeks until Opening Day April 8th. During this period try the Trout Conservation areas like the Gorge or Point Mountain for some excellent catch and release fishing. Look for the larger streams including the Musconetcong and the South Branch of the Raritan to receive more trout this spring as a result of the discontinuation of stocking in some of our larger lakes and reservoirs. Catch returns from these waters were generally poor and the stocking of competing species such as Northern Pike made the decision a wise one from a fisheries perspective. The Division of Fish and Wildlife is doing a great job trying to accommodate a number of user groups and they are always trying to come up with innovative programs including this year the stocking of Landlocked Atlantic Salmon. Now the next thing should be some sea run Atlantics…For more information stop by the shop or at their website at their website:

As for hatches on our local waters, there are a number of important insects that will make their annual appearance. We catch big fish this time of year and here in our area there are some great trout streams. The shop is also stocking local patterns for this year’s hatches tied by John Collins and Charlie Bates. Fly fishing in March can be tough as waters are often high and off color. Still, the Early Black Stone fly (Cappnia Vernalis) loves this time of year. They prefer areas of extensive rock formations so our Highlands streams both large and small provide ideal habitat. A Black Stone fly nymph or Black Hare’s Ear is a good choice for subsurface activity. A Black Elk Hare Caddis or even a small Black Stimulator twitched erratically across the surface can draw some splashy strikes from the trout hungry after the long winter. I prefer to greet the early spring on some of the smaller waters in our area. The Little Iron Blue Quill (Baetis Vagans) is our first mayfly to provide a good chance for dry fly fishing. Anytime during this period look for water temperatures to get into the mid to upper forties and hatching activity will begin in earnest. All you need is a size 16-18 Adams or a Pheasant Tail nymph to find success.

It would be unwise in the Ken Lockwood Gorge to be without some Streamers and Woolly Buggers or Prince Nymphs too. Another great early season fly is the old favorite the Hare’s Ear. The Quill Gordon, hatching towards the end of March into early April makes the Hare’s Ear a good choice. Start out with the nymph in the morning in areas of swift currents as the Quill Gordon (Epeorus Pleuralis) requires fast moving clean water. The Quill Gordon Wet or the Hare’s Ear Wet fly is best for the emerger stage. The famous Quill Gordon Dry size 10-12 is perfect for imitating the dun while the spinner stage is well imitated by a large size 10-12 Adams Parachute. It should be noted that these early spring hatches usually come off during mid day hours when sunlight warms the water just a bit.

Finally, there is the Hendrickson/ Red Quill Hatch (Ephemerella Subvaria). This hatch occurs in early to mid April after the water reaches the mid fifties. It is somewhat unique in that there is a pronounced size and color difference between males and females. . Females are larger and lighter than the males, a pinkish grey while the males are much more reddish in color hence the name, the Red Quill They also seem to hatch as described by Art Flick in a sex segregated manner. One riffle will hatch a majority of Red Quills, another females or Light Hendricksons. Use a Pheasant Tail or Hendrickson Nymph, size 12-14 for the nymphal stage in the morning in areas of moderate currents. Activity usually commences anytime around noon, sometimes later if the water is warmer. Many Ephemerella mayflies have a hard time reaching the surface making the emerger stage important, a Loopwing CDC Hendrickson size 12-14 is all you need. Emergers will make repeated attempts to reach the surface. Splashy slashing rises are often a good indicator that the trout are targeting the emergers.  I use a size 12 Light Hendrickson for the females and a size 14 Red Quill for the males. A Rusty Spinner in sizes 12-14 effectively imitates the spinner stage.  

Finally, we will be stocking some nice fish out here for Opening Day, April 8th right here in Califon. Stop by the Methodist Church on River Road for the Fisherman’s Breakfast anytime after 6am and then hit the water. On Saturday May 6th, we will be holding our second annual River Festival at the Califon Island Park. Events include a fishing derby, food and weather permitting, live music by Warren Woodson. Jim Murphy of Albright Tackle will bring his Airstream trailer and famous sausages so come and try out his fine tackle. The Ken Lockwood Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the South Branch Watershed Association now headed by Califon resident Bill Kibler will also be on hand. It is our way of highlighting our precious natural resources in our great region of the Garden State. See you at the shop.-JH

Fly of the Month: Quill Gordon (Art Flick)


Wings: Wood Duck Flank Feather

Body: Quill from Peacock Eye (Light)

Hackle: Natural Blue Dun

Tail: Blue Dun Barb or Spade Hackle

Hook: Mustad 94840 size 10-12


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