The South Branch of the Raritan River
Beginning at the outflow of Budd Lake, the South Branch of the Raritan River flows for about 50 miles including through the Ken Lockwood Gorge just south of the town of Califon before it joins the North Branch to form the main stem of the Raritan River at Branchburg, New Jersey.
From Budd Lake down to the bridge at the foot of Schooley’s Mountain, it is first a tumbling mountain stream then a small valley stream occasionally visible from Bartley-Flanders Road. This six to seven mile section which includes the area formerly known as The Claremont Tract has been classified as a Wild Trout Stream by the state and is no longer stocked. Native Brook, Wild Brown and Rainbow Trout are all to be found here. The fish tend to be shy and wary. All Brookies must be released and the limit on Browns and Rainbows is two fish. A stealthy approach is often rewarded. Some areas are posted against trespassing so honor the landowner’s wishes.
Rainbow Trout are stocked by the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife in spring and fall both in the center of Long Valley especially below the Schooley’s Mountain Bridge and near a large unpaved parking area access, the Scott Run Municipal Park. It is easy locate just south of the middle school on County Road 513. There are lots of posted areas off limits to fishing here so please respect them or ask for permission. Below the Blue Crest Horse Farm in Middle Valley the river has gained in size and is usually about forty feet across and has a depth of 2-3 feet. On the western side of the road, anglers will find signs from the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife. This area is not stocked but Wild Browns and Native Brookies are found here along with a few stocked trout.
The next area with public access begins at the Vernoy Road Bridge and continues downstream for about two miles into the center of Califon. This area is stocked by both the state and for various public events by Shannon’s Fly and Tackle and there are also wild Brown and Rainbow Trout along with native Brookies. There are obvious areas which offer parking. Just upstream of the Vernoy Bridge is a private club so public access is prohibited. Califon Island Park is a popular section of the river to fish as is the area of the river impounded by the Califon Dam. Below the dam the river runs along Raritan River Road down to and beyond the Hoffman’s Crossing Road Bridge. Access is excellent along this section of the river as well. There only a few areas off limits to anglers and it those areas are well posted. The section is well stocked again by the state and Shannon’s. Fishing regulations allow for any method including bait here but only two Brown trout over 12 inches can be kept. This regulation is designed to protect the wild Browns. Again, also all Brook Trout must be immediately released.
Below the Hoffman’s Crossing Bridge these regulations continue until you reach the parking area which is the upstream boundary of the Ken Lockwood Gorge. The Gorge is a beautiful 2.5 mile section of the South Branch named for famous conservationist and newspaper columnist, Ken Lockwood. This section of the river is regulated as an Artificial Lures and Fly Only Year Round Trout Conservation Area. All trout must be released. Furthermore it is also a barbless section so pinch down those barbs and only one set of treble hooks is allowed. There likely isn’t a prettier stretch of river in New Jersey and the habitat is simply perfect for trout. Brookies are less common but plenty of stocked Rainbows and wild Brown Trout.
Below the Gorge, a private fishing club controls the water to Lake Solitude. Below the Lake Solitude Dam there is some good water, the South Branch flows through High Bridge to Clinton passing over the famous Clinton Falls with its iconic Red Mill. Although trout can survive here in wetter summers and two tributaries, Beaver Brook and Capoolong Creek sustain wild Brown Trout most of the South Branch downstream to Flemington, Three Bridges and onwards to its meeting with the North Branch in Branchburg is a seasonal trout fishery from fall through late spring. Smallmouth Bass become a dominant species here.