NORTHFIELD, N.J. Fifteen minutes west of the Garden State's gambling and entertainment Mecca is the 271-acre Birch Grove Park, an oasis not only from the madness of Atlantic City, but the hyper-accelerated residential development that is eating up what remains of the surrounding woodlands.
Under the auspices of the growing municipality of Northfield in southern Atlantic County, Birch Grove Park (609-641-3778) offers a combination of 50 campsites (2-way and 3-way hook-ups available), a nine-station nature trail, hiking trails, picnic groves and ball fields.
But it is the 21 ponds ensconced within the property that are the real draw.
Dug by hand back in the early 1900s to extract the rich clay soil to meet the demands of the Somers Brick Company, these elongated "pits" range anywhere from ¼ to 5 acres and are as deep as 30 feet.
Structure consists primarily of weeds, lay downs and stick-ups, with overhanging brush and branches adding to the holding cover.
The Birch Grove ponds are stocked with trout once preseason (450) and again four times in-season (340 per dose) for a total of 1,810 fish.
Adding to salmonid larder are the holdover trout from the November winter trout-stocking program when 500 rainbows are liberated into the stained waters.
Although only the first ponds get stocked, the inter-connecting canals allow the trout to disperse. As a result, trout can be caught just about anywhere, although the bulk of the catches are made within the front 10 pits.
"During April and May, the trout fishing here can be unbelievable," states Vicky Rutter, the vivacious park superintendent, "and its great again during November through December."
Largemouth bass and pickerel fishing ignites as May progresses, and positively explodes during the summer season.
"The Birch Grove ponds are loaded with prime forage like golden shiners, sunfish, small bullheads and frogs," said Chris Smith, state southern region fisheries biologist (856-629-4950).
"And I wouldn't doubt that the bigger bass and pickerel consume the occasional stocked trout."
Bass in excess of 5 pounds can be expected, with thick chains stretching beyond the 2-foot mark by no means uncommon.
Birch Grove Park is easily reached via the Garden State Parkway to Exit 36 southbound.
Bear right off the exit (Tilton Road) and follow four traffic lights to Burton Avenue (a Napa auto parts store will be on the right).
Make a right onto Burton Avenue and follow .6 of a mile. The park entrance will be on the right.
Material from Fishing & Hunting News
published 24 times a year.
Visit them at www.fishingandhuntingnews.com.