New Jerseyans don’t have to travel far for a whole lot. Looking for a weekend at the beach? Head to the Jersey Shore. Craving a hearty mountain hike? The Kittatinny Mountains are a short drive away. Want some fun in the city? Hop on a train to New York City or Philadelphia.
Turns out, New Jersey’s trout fisherman don’t have to go far either for an afternoon spent hanging by a well-stocked river.
“Anglers have a lot of positive things to say,” said Jeff Matthews, superintendent of the Pequest Trout Hatchery. “Personally, I think that New Jersey has the best trout fishing in the United States.”
Thanks to the Pequest Trout Hatchery of Oxford, 200 bodies of public water in the state from Cape May to the New York state border have been stocked with 625,000 trout annually for 32 years, including the Musconetcong River and the Raritan River.
Although the Pequest Trout Hatchery plays a large part in New Jersey fishing, according to Matthews many people don’t even realize that it’s there or that it offers a little bit of everything, including hands-on environmental education, one of the chief focuses of the New Jersey-owned-and-operated facility.
“When it comes to nature, we have something for everyone. Everyone who works here is willing to talk to the public and answer questions,” Matthews said.
Due to the large demand of education at Pequest and the 33-year-old age of the current education building, there are currently plans to replace it, although it will be several years before the project is finalized.
On a self-guided tour of the Pequest Trout Hatchery, visitors can check out the current education center, filled with displays teaching visitors about the trout propagation process, and the nursery building, a favorite element of the hatchery for visitors when it is in use from May through September and where a million and a half eggs are stripped per year and fertilized.
Visitors are not allowed inside the nursery building, which is comprised of an egg room and a nursery room, since trout can get sick very easily, but the young fish in the nursery room and the egg room can be viewed through large windows.
Outside, they can view the mile-and-a-half of fish raceways where juvenile fish can be seen from the observation deck before they are released into the wild when they hit 10 and a half inches. The site also includes a fishing education pond, hiking trails among the 5,000 acres of land in the Pequest Wildlife Management Area and a picnic area.
This wildlife area, paid for through state hunting and fishing license sales, also helps to protect the Pequest River and its underlying aquifer of cold, clean water, which makes the hatchery an ideal site for raising trout. Plus, the area is available for various recreational uses, such as hunting and bird watching as well as fishing in the nearby Pequest River.
To teach visitors about wildlife, Pequest Trout Hatchery also offers fishing and hunting classes for families and school groups year-round as well as nature walks and bird watching.
To kick-start the trout fishing season, which begins Saturday, April 4, the Pequest Trout Hatchery will be hosting its annual free open house on Saturday, March 28 and Sunday, March 29 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine.
About 4,500 people annually attend the open house, where representatives of the Division of Fish and Wildlife show off the trout raised that year and show people what fish they have the opportunity to catch in the wild via a large tank.
There are also various activities available for families including crafts and other hands-on activities, displays and demonstrations by conservation groups, archery ranges, hunter education classes (pre-registration required), fish feeding demonstrations, a historical encampment and a sportsman’s flea market.
“We like to introduce kids to fishing and wildlife because they may not have the opportunity do it depending on where they live,” said Matthews. “If they catch their first fish here, they’re never going to forget that. Then, they can inspire their parents and get them outside, too.”
PEQUEST TROUT HATCHERY
Address: 605 Pequest Road, Oxford
Hours: Open Mon. to Fri. from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Wildlife Management Area: Closed 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. unless engaged in lawful hunting, fishing or trapping activities
Open House: The free event will be conducted on Saturday, March 28 and Sunday, March 29 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine