Union Lake is southern New Jersey’s largest freshwater body of water. It is considered the premier lake in this area for angling. It has had a history of providing good fishing for a variety of species. The lake was constructed in the 1790s, and later in 1868, it was sold to the Millville Manufacturing Company, and a new dam was built downstream of the original, and it significantly increased the size of the lake. Union Lake is located in Millville, New Jersey, right off Route 49, about 45 minutes from the Delaware Memorial Bridge. It is part of the Union Lake Wild life Management area, and is located on the Maurice River Drainage.
The lake and it’s surrounding properties were purchased by the New Jersey Fish Game and Wildlife in 1982, and the Division reconstructed the dam in 1989, and built a fish ladder in 1990. This enabled anadromous fish to spawn above Union Lake.
Union Lake is 898 acres, with an average depth of 9 feet, with a maximum depth of 27 feet. The water in Union is highly productive due to the high fertility of the soil around the lake. It has a brown humic color, and is subject to algal blooms in the summer. The lake develops a thermocline in the summer at about 10 feet, and there is a lack of dissolved oxygen at about 15 feet. There is a variety of vegetation, both emergent and submerged, with some laydowns, and islands with lily pads throughout the lake.
There have been man made structures added also, such as Christmas tree reefs and tire reefs at various locations throughout the lake. There are two boat launches at Union that are available to the public.
The ramp located on the Southeast end of the lake is owned by the city of Millville. The other ramp located on the West shore of the lake, has parking available for 50 car and trailer rigs, and is owned by the Division of Fish Game and Wildlife. The parking lot and ramp are fantastic, and it is lighted for night time fishing also. There is a 10 hp maximum on the lake. There are also shoreline angling areas around the lake.
The main forage base in Union Lake are Alewife and Gizzard Shad, and the population in the lake is very good. There are also a good population of panfish, including Crappies and Bluegill. While most of the Crappie and Bluegill that are caught are of average size, there are a few trophy class fish caught each year by skilled anglers. There are also some Channel Catfish and Pirate Perch, along with some Swamp Darters.
Fish species found in the lake are Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, Yellow Perch, Black Crappie, White Perch, Striped Bass, Chain Pickerel, Channel Catfish, and Sunfish of several varieties. The Smallmouth Bass population in Union was small, so the State has been doing some stocking to increase the population, but they are still greatly outnumbered by the Largemouth Bass, although in the past few years the size of some of the smallmouth caught has been good, with some anglers reporting catches of Smallmouth that exceeded 4 pounds.
The Stripers that are in Union come from anglers releasing them from the Maurice River population into the lake. There is currently an advisory on Largemouth Bass and Chain Pickerel, because they exceed the level of Mercury allowed.
The best locations for Smallmouth Bass are around the dam and adjacent sandy shoreline, and across the lake by the Millville ramp around the rip-rap and near the stumps and deep water structure. Some of the Smallmouth I caught in Union were around 3 pounds, which is a nice size smallmouth for this area. The Largemouth Bass will hold on traditional structure in the lower end of the lake, such as the brushy areas along the shore near the Dam, and in the coves on both sides. The Smallmouth that were above three ponds were hitting Rapala jerkbaits and Yamamoto “IKA” tubes.
There are also three artificial structures in this area, and they hold baitfish and Crappies, and subsequently bass. A good fish locator is required to find them now. One is located about forty yards off shore by the Millville ramp, the other one is about thirty yards up from the dam off the rip-rap bank. The third is on the adjacent shore by the sandy cliffs after the first cove by the dam. The best lures for smallmouth bass in these areas include a variety of tubes, small hair jigs in Brown and Black, and small crankbaits by Lucky Craft in crawfish colors. The largemouth here will hit a variety of soft plastics, but we have had the best luck on small worms and Senkos by Gary Yamamoto baits. The four and five inch models have been taking big Largemouth Bass from these areas.
About a third of the way up the lake from the dam, near the state boat ramp, there are two other artificial attractors made of Christmas trees and tire units. These areas also hold bass. a good tactic is using medium to deep diving crankbaits in this area, and bumping the structure as much as possible. Small straight tail worms and Senko’s also produce when cast to the structure and shoreline cover in this area. In the early mornings and late afternoon until evening, Largemouth Bass have been hitting walking type baits such as Lucky Craft “Sammys”, jerkbaits, and Terminator “Ball Buster” buzzbaits in this area.
The next area to try would be near the upper end of the lake on the West shore. There are marsh reeds and lily pad fields in this area and they hold a good deal of large bass and Pickerel. The best baits for here would be weedless topwaters such as a Top-Prop and other buzzbaits worked around the edges of the cover. Small worms in four inch sizes, and Senkos cast to the edges of the deep weedlines here will produce in the daytime. Also, this year we have had a good deal of bass hit Spider Grubs on a light Tungsten weight or even rigged Texas style and cast to the edges of cover rigged weightless. There are a variety of Spider Grubs, but I like the ones made by Gary Yamamoto the best. The earth tone colors are easy to match to the forage and water color.
The last place you should try is in the upper end of the lake on the right hand side right before it turns into a narrow, winding, swamplike area. There is a Christmas tree reef in this area mixed with other vegetation that you should work with five inch Jerkbaits in Gold/Black colors and other soft plastics in Pumpkin and Purple.
The pads on the left side in this area also hold a good deal of bass that go to five or six pounds. Many largemouth were taken here by working the pads with a “Snag Proof Tournament Frog” in Black and Brown and a “Terminator T-1” spinnerbait in 3/8 ounce with Tandem blades with a Golden Shiner skirt. Buzzbaits took some largemouth as well from this area that exceeded six pounds. Other good baits to try in Union are lipless crankbaits like a Rattlin’ Rapala or Lucky Craft, and various types of spoons in the reedy areas for both Chain Pickerel and bass.
I like to have a couple spinning rods with a good reel such as a Shimano Sustain or Daiwa, spooled with six and eight pound test Stren. These are good for small grubs and the smaller Senkos. I also like to have a couple of good baitcasters such as a 6 1/2 to 7 foot G.Loomis with a medium and a medium/heavy action, with a Shimano Chronarch, spooled with twenty pound test Stren and a separate rod for cranking. I use a Lews Crankin’ Stick and a G.Loomis Cranking Stick for this with a Lews reel, spooled with ten pound test line. These reels are necessary to present the crankbaits properly and reduce angler fatigue.
Use these tactics at Union this coming year and you will increase your catch rate as well as your fun. Union has variety of scenery and wildlife and can provide a great day out for the whole family.