New Jersey smallmouth bass are a wild wonder worthy of pursuit principally because of the mystery and elusiveness they share with other fish. This should never be forgotton and overlaid by habits of effective angling, never forgotten completely, although easy familiarity is an enjoyment, a self-possession earned through getting out there and finding bass. I bet every boy who fished for the first time, or the first three dozen times, was captivated by the otherworldliness of water and the self-determined denizens occupying it.
I began taking my son snorkeling in the clean water of the upper North Branch Raritan when he was seven. We both have observed many smallmouths over the past five years--and they us. They don't dash for cover as trout do when you approach, especially as brown trout do. Why do they bother to stare a diver in the face? They can't reason about us, but I bet they are fascinated with the perception.
Smallmouths are fierce. But above all they are lordly surveyers of their precincts. I love pickerel for their lightning strikes, but they cannot match the open, unabashed presence of bass. Pickerel stalk from within darkness of weeds and brush like deviant rascals.
Where to Go
Smallmouths are not native to New Jersey--they were first introduced from the Midwest during the 19th century--but they are fully wild, reproducing as established populations in rivers, streams, and lakes mostly from Mercer County northward, but South Jersey has great fishing in Union Lake and Lake Audrey. Manasquan Reservoir near the shore and Garden State Parkway exit 98 is good fishing too with very good sized smallmouth bass. I know of only one pond--eight acres--in New Jersey with smallmouth bass.
The Delaware River is the greatest fishery besides perhaps Oak Ridge Reservoir. Plenty of streams from Mercer County northward are full of smallmouth bass. Stony Brook and Bedens Brook in Mercer, Raritan River and its branches in Somerset and Hunterdon, Musconetcong River in Hunterdon and Morris, Pequest and Paulinskill Rivers in Warren and Sussex all have plenty smallmouth to catch and release. Throwing them back is important in these small waters, although most of those you will catch are under 12 inch minimum. However, smallmouth much larger are possible, such as the 6 pound, 6 ounce smallmouth caught in the South Branch Raritan, reported in The Fisherman magazine in 2010.
Lakes such as Hopatcong, Swartswood, Greenwood, Echo, Spruce Run Reservoir, Round Valley Reservoir (state record 7 pounds, 2 ounces), Split Rock Reservoir, Merril Creek Reservoir, Canistear Reservoir, Oak Ridge Reservoir, Clinton Reservoir, Monksville Reservoir have smallmouths, although they are not so prominent in Spruce Run.
Follow my two blogs or check the archives for specific pointers on techniques and wherewithal on various waters. Techniques are too varied to account for now without an unweildy bias. My other blog, Litton's Fishing Lines, has a lot of posts about smallmouths to explore. Here's the link:
http://www.littonsfishinglines.blogspot.com/ then click "smallmouth bass" under the labels heading to the right margin.
An article with some information on NJ smallmouths: http://www.gameandfishmag.com/2010/10/04/fishing_bass-fishing_at_aa050604a/