Introducing the Cooper River Lake and the Upper Cooper River, NJ

Hello, Fellow Anglers and Blog Readers! 

After a good while, I'm finally bringing you another "Introductory Post" -- this time on the Cooper River Lake and Upper Cooper River, both located in West New Jersey. Note that this is my first introduction of a body of water in New Jersey. Thus, before I write any further, notice that the fishing regulations for NJ are different than PA's. You can read their regulations here. If you ever attempt fishing in NJ, do not forget to purchase a NJ Fishing License! Believe me: with all the Largemouth Bass and Northern Snakehead action in Jersey's waterways, you won't regret purchasing a NJ fishing license.

There are two main reasons why I would recommend fishing the Cooper River: (1) it's a great body of water for Multi-Species fishing, and (2) it's a very convenient place to go to - not only it's close to public transportation (PATCO), but the River also has plenty of parking spots. Also, there's plenty of fishing access all around it; therefore, the Cooper River turns out to be a nice and safe environment for family outings (kids included!); etc. 

Throughout this post, I'll be writing about 2 different fishing spots that belong to this same body of water (as seen in the map below). Position #1 indicates "the Cooper River Lake" in Camden, which is right next to the Ferry Avenue PATCO station. Position #2 indicates the "Upper Cooper River" in Haddonfield, which is right next to the Haddonfield PATCO station. For a better view of the available parking lots and public transportation stations, I recommend the readers to go to Google Maps or download Google Earth.  

Map 1 -- #1: Cooper River Lake at Camden. #2: Upper Cooper River at Haddonfield

As mentioned above, please keep in mind that both locations belong to the same body of water! In other words, all Species of fish in position #1 are able to travel to position #2, and vice-versa. There are no dams or major obstructions in between them.

Here's a little summary of each location:

About location #1. As cited previously, the "Cooper River Lake" is located right next to the Ferry Avenue PATCO station (Camden). By public transportation, it's about a 10 minutes walk away from the station. For cars, there's a parking lot right next to the Lake - literally a couple feet from it. Fishing spots around there are plenty and easily accessible, especially since there's a multiple purpose paved trail around the "Lake." For this same reason, one should not be scared of fishing there "because it's Camden." Just a hands up: the area is not remote and there are tons of people exercising around the Lake, etc. The same goes for the Upper Cooper River area.

The water in this portion of the Lake is usually clear and non-tidal. Even so, there are small depth fluctuations based on natural circumstances (i.e. rain). Be aware that sometimes they hold rowing competitions on weekends, which can be very annoying for us anglers! I don't have a specific hyperlink to share, but one should definitely google for "rowing events at Cooper River Lake" before attempting a weekend session, depending on the season of the year.  

Also, for those who are big fans of Bass fishing: there's at least one NJ Bass Tournament at the Cooper River every year. The event is actually held by Top Rod Bassmasters - a sanctioned, affiliated club with Bassmasters. As a matter of fact, this is exactly the same fishing club that Mike "Ike" Iaconelli founded with 5 other friends (John McGraw, Brian Stockl, Dave Brodzed, Chris Dalfonso, and Steve Pellegrino), back in the days. Therefore, that's to show that there's at least some Largemouth Bass in the Cooper River watershed.

There are a couple deep pockets of water at location #1, reaching as far as 10 feet deep. The Cooper River Lake area is a very good spot for Black Crappies, Largemouth Bass, Common Carp (including some beautiful Mirrors), and Channel Catfish. As a matter of fact, I've caught a rare fully-scaled Mirror Carp at position #1 (photo of it is way below in this post).

A photo of the Cooper River Lake (location #1) during the Summer.

About location #2. The "Upper Cooper River" is located right next to the Hopkins Pond, Driscoll Pond, and Wallworth Pond in Haddonfield. Take note that the Upper Cooper River is fed by all those 3 bodies of water. By public transportation, it's located 15 minutes away from the Haddonfield PATCO Station. By car, there's a parking lot located right next to the Hopkins Pond, which is above Driscoll Pond, which is above the Upper Cooper River. Also, similar to position #1, there's a little multi-purpose trail there (i.e. for bird-watching, exercising, etc). Although fishing spots are plenty, the overall area is not as accessible as the Cooper River Lake.

Since this stretch of the River is fed by 3 different shallow bodies of water, the level of saturation is very high. In other words, the water is extremely muddy all year round! Because of that, this spot becomes ideal for big Channel Catfish and Common Carp. Also, position #2 is mostly narrow and shallow; thus, depending on the season of the year, all the baitfish AND gamefish are concentrated in the few deep pockets of water around! In conclusion, the Upper Cooper River is certainly a little paradise for "still-fishermen" and anglers who enjoy micro-fishing! 

Readers, do not be fooled by its appearances: despite the fact that its deepest spot is only about 4 feet deep, this portion of the River holds some big monsters! Personally, I've caught 5lbs+ Channel Catfish and 15lbs+ Common Carp at this specific stretch of the River (note: even though I still refer to it as a "River," position #2 is really more like a narrow Creek channel). I've also caught my share of "interesting Species" around this area (photos are way below this post). 

For hardcore and all year round anglers, there is another major plus to this location: the Upper Cooper River never freezes during the Winter! That is correct - you heard it right! From a scientific point of view, this stretch has high saturation levels and current all year long, making it harder to freeze. Therefore, the Upper Cooper River is "fishable" even during extremely low temperatures (i.e. below 32F - freezing point of the water). Readers...take note that Black Crappie and Common Carp bite all year long!  

A photo of the Upper Cooper River (location #2) during the Winter.

Now, let's talk about the different Species of fish that can be found in each location. Below are the different types of fish that I've seen and/or caught on the Cooper River. For location #1, I'll just use #1, and so on:

Largemouth Bass: my experience with Largemouth Bass at the Cooper River Lake (#1) has been very poor, since I've rarely targeted them there. I've seen my share of Bass boats around #1; however, not many results! Buzzbaits, Spinners, Creature Baits, Senkos, even Frogs and Poppers -- I've seen them all. Now...let's think about it: If targeting them from a boat is tough, targeting them from land is certainly a challenge! But then, I also had NJ friends tell me how they used to whack them on Crankbaits at location #1, running them right along the walls of the River. 

Similarly, I've never seen someone land a solid Largemouth Bass at the Upper Cooper River (#2)! But then, I've seen many people there with blade spinners and soft plastics; thus, I'm sure that there are a couple around.

June 17th, 2012 - A little Largemouth Bass that I caught at #1 while trying to catch some Black Crappie.

October 8th, 2014 - The biggest Largemouth Bass that I've seen at #2. My friend Bryan caught it on a Gulp! Minnow while fishing for Black Crappie. Despite its size, what makes this fish really messed up is the deformation on its Operculum. But then, you know what they say, right? If there are small ones, there are big ones! Plus, small Largemouth Bass are a good sign of positive natural reproduction in a specific body of water.

Sunfish: As always, Bluegills are the predominant Sunfish Species in this watershed! Sometimes a Pumpkinseed will show up, and very rarely a Green Sunfish. As far as I know, there are no Redbreast Sunfish in location #1 or #2. Note that the Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus) is an invasive Species in New Jersey. Thus, it must be killed if caught! The same applies for the Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus).

At location #1, Sunnies are easier to be caught during Spring and Summer. They are usually gathered around shallow areas or near structure. At #2, they can be caught all year round on live bait, especially in deep pools (during the colder months).

My preferential bait for Sunfish lately has been the Gulp! Alive minnows! They work very good if used properly, not to mention that they last multiple bites if well hooked. Also, for a change, the scent of the product does attract more fish, as I have tested different minnow products at a same location with results of a 3:1 ratio using Berkley.

June 3rd, 2013 - A nice "Summer" colored Bluegill at location #1, for clear water.

January 21st, 2013 - A nice "Winter" colored Bluegill at location #2, for muddy water (yes, Bluegill tend to be purple in muddy cold waters).

January 5th, 2013 - A nice "Winter" colored Pumpkinseed at location #2, for muddy water (they tend to have faded colors for muddy waters).

June 3rd, 2013 - A nice "Summer" colored Pumpkinseed at location #1, for clear water.

April 15th, 2013 - A Green Sunfish at location #1. Again: note that the Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus) is an invasive Species in New Jersey. Thus, it must be killed if caught! I would highly recommend any angler to save them as bait for use in PA, since they are not invasive in PA.

May 30th, 2012 - A Green Sunfish at location #2. Again: note that the Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus) is an invasive Species in New Jersey. Thus, it must be killed if caught! I would highly recommend any angler to save them as bait for use in PA, since they are not invasive in PA.

May 1st, 2012 - As a bonus photo, here's my friend Nadir G. with a big Green Sunfish from the Upper Cooper River (#2). I bet he's thinking "that's a big one..."

Catfish: Channel Catfish, White Catfish, and Brown Bullheads are active on location #1. According to locals, there are Channel Catfish in the Cooper River Lake as big as 20lbs. However, as always, I've never seen one in person. It's quite funny how I always hear all these rumors, but I've rarely seen photos of people holding these monsters! Please, folks - record your catch with at least a photo to credit your stories! Heh. But then, I do admit that 20lbers should be rare and hard to catch as well. 

As mentioned previously, location #2 is also very good for Catfish! The water is mostly shallow, making it packed with bait-fish during the hotter months. During the colder months, the Catfish will be found in the deeper portions of the Upper Cooper River. Also, let's not forget that it's muddy! In other words, predators over there have adapted much better to smell over sight. My educated guess is that one piece of cut fish in that narrow body of water can attract a fish from even 30 feet away during Winter time. 

June 3rd, 2013 - An average sized Channel Catfish for location #1! For whatever reason, most Channel Catfish there are a little bit "yellow." Personally, I love it! 

May 1st, 2012 - A nice sized Channel Catfish for location #2. The one on the photo was a 5lber, caught on a piece of cut Bluegill. 

April 26th, 2014 - A very nice colored Brown Bullhead from location #1, caught on a piece of kernel corn. Note its beautiful coloration, which is typical for clear waters.

November 13th, 2013 - A Brown Bullhead from location #2, with faded colors due to water saturation. One of the biggest mistakes made by anglers is to classify a Brown Bullhead as a "Yellow Bullhead" because of its faded colors in muddy water. 

June 3rd, 2013 - A typical White Catfish from the Cooper River Lake (#1).

June 19th, 2013 - A small White Catfish from the Upper Cooper River (#2). This little female was actually full of eggs! Worry not, readers -- it swam away safely, and hopefully it laid millions of eggs for more and more White Catfish in the future. =)

Black Crappie: The Cooper River watershed is a wonderful place to catch Black Crappies -- both #1 and #2 locations! There's an abundant population of Black Crappies at the Upper Cooper River (#2); thus, a stunted population with few big ones. The Cooper River Lake (#1) is the opposite:there is a limited population there; thus, few Black Crappies, but some slabs in between them!

Note that the Black Crappie population has been in decline due to over-harvesting! Some locals have been taking the fish home way too frequently, and sometimes even illegally. That's one of the reasons why we should ALWAYS keep an eye for illegal activities! For everyone's information, here's the information for size and creel limits for Black Crappie in New Jersey.

Fishing advice?! Fish places with rocks and lots of structure, especially sunken logs and branches. The Gulp! Alive minnows work really well, but other types of Crappie jigs will work just as good! Once you find them, Crappie fishing is extremely rewarding! 

January 21st, 2013 - A very nice sized Black Crappie for the Upper Cooper River (#2). Its colors are faded due to low temperatures and high saturation water (i.e. muddy water).

May 8th, 2012 - A slab from Cooper River Lake (#1). By now, I think you should be able to see the difference in fish coloration between clear and muddy waters; Summer and Winter months.

September 22nd, 2012 - As a bonus photo, here is my friend Stephen OT with a Black Crappie caught on a small lure, at the Upper Cooper River (#2). Bonus video on how he caught it is below:

Carp: Similar to Catfish, Carp are also very abundant in the Cooper River watershed. They are present both in the Cooper River Lake (#1) and the Upper Cooper River (#2). For Carping, the regular kernel corn will do just fine! And, of course, don't forget to chum. Scientifically speaking, the amount of chum depends on the season of the year -- more chum as water temperature goes up and less chum as it goes down. 

I've seen a lot of Common Carp swimming and splashing around, both in locations #1 and #2. As opposed to #2, location #1 may be more exciting for Carp anglers because of the presence of Mirror Carp! They are rare, but they are there. =)

February 2nd, 2013 - A small Common Carp from the Upper Cooper River. As mentioned previously, they will feed even during Winter time! 

July 15th, 2012 - My friend Jay D. and I holding our respective Common Carp at the Cooper River Lake. During the warmer months, it's not that uncommon to see two rods bending consecutively. Heh.

June 17th, 2012 - My Fully Scaled Mirror Carp from the Cooper River Lake (#1).

February 2nd, 2013 - As a bonus photo, this is to say that I'm not lying about big fish being at the Upper Cooper River (#2). In the photo above, my friend Erik K. is holding a 10lber at the exactly same spot where I caught my fish, three photos above. Heh.

White Perch: Somehow, there's a very small population of White Perch in the Cooper River Lake (#1) and an almost non-existent population in the Upper Cooper River (#2). Regardless, catching one of them is always "fun" for a change! For a Multi-Species angler, these types of catches are the best...

Since their population levels are so small in the Cooper River watershed, chances are that you will catch them while targeting some other Species of fish. If you do catch one, consider yourself lucky! ;)

May 1st, 2012 - A rare and average sized White Perch from the Upper Cooper River (#2). As always, faded colors for muddy water.

May 8th, 2012 - A White Perch from the Cooper River Lake (#1).

American Eel: Just like almost every place around Philly and New Jersey, these knot masters can be found both in locations #1 and #2. 

Not much to say about American Eels. After all, who would want to target them...right? They are slimy as hell, not to mention that they will swallow your hook 90% of the time, get you snagged under a rock or some trash, and make the most impossible knots on your line by turning their bodies around.

If you still want to target them after reading all of this, feel free to hook a small size #6 hook or above with a small piece of chicken liver, fish, or nightcrawler. If you do happen to catch one, make sure to chop it good for bait! Most fishes love a good "unagi." Heh.

June 3rd, 2013 - I caught this small American Eel on a small piece of nightcrawler hanging from a small size #10 hook. It did catch me a couple nice Channel Catfish from the Cooper River Lake that day (#1)! 

September 8th, 2013 - A dark American Eel from the Upper Cooper River (#2). This one actually got to see another day. To make a little bit less of a mess, I held it with a dry leaf before its release.

Yellow Perch: Similar to the White Perch, the Yellow Perch is a prized catch on the Upper Cooper River (#2) for any Multi-Species angler. From my knowledge, I have never even seen one of them down at the Cooper River Lake (#1). Thus, I can only say that they exist around location #2. If they do exist around location #1, their population would also be near non-existent.

January 5th, 2013 - A Yellow Perch from the Upper Cooper River (#2). Nowadays, they are pretty rare around there, which is a shame. After all, they have beautiful coloration. 

Golden Shiner: This is another Species of fish that I have only seen around the Upper Cooper River (#2). During the colder months, they are a lot of fun to catch! They are usually swimming in schools; thus, catching one of them means that you will catch many of them!

I would recommend using a rig with 2-3 small hooks, preferably above size #8. Nightcrawlers will work great!

January 21st, 2013 - A beautiful Golden Shiner from the Upper Cooper River (#2). Using small hooks with small pieces of worm, they can be caught quite easily! Also, they are awesome bait for bigger Species of fish.

January 21st, 2013 - As a bonus, here's a photo with a rig that I like to use for fishes that travel in school. It works perfectly well for schools of Golden Shiner.

Mummichog: This one is certainly for the Micro-anglers. For those who are into Micro-Fishing, there are plenty of Mummichogs around the Cooper River Lake (#1)! Unfortunately, I haven't seen any around the Upper Cooper River (#2). 

As a common technique among micro-anglers, use a very small hook with a sliver of nightcrawler to catch them. I would recommend size #20-26 with the lightest available gear.

June 3rd, 2013 - A beautiful female Mummichog from the Cooper River Lake (#1), caught on a sliver of nightcrawler.   

Of course the Species of fish portrayed here are the only ones that I've personally caught. In other words, it's certain that there are other Species of fish in the Cooper River watershed! It's during moments like these that I like to quote Robert Altman: "You put that line in the water and you don't know what's on the other end. Your imagination is under there."

I hope you folks enjoyed this introductory post, and I hope you catch A LOT if you decide to fish the Cooper River one of these days! However, please keep in mind that conscious fishing always boils down to S.A.F.E. angling! In order to maintain the sustainability of our waters for ourselves and even for future generations to come, please practice Catch-Photo-Release (CPR) and selective-harvest (i.e. take only what you need and what you will consume; release endangered and rare Species of fish), Also, please avoid practicing non-point source pollution (i.e. littering)! 

Best of luck for all of us,

Long Days and Pleasant Nights,


Leo S.