Saddle River Fly Fishing

New Jersey’s Saddle River is known to most anglers as a “Put and Take” stream. The NJ Division of Fish and Game stocks this river 4 times throughout April and May and on those days, and usually only on those days, the river is jammed with anglers. What is not known to most is that with a little exploring of the upper sections, you can find small wild brook trout near or in some of the tiny, colder feeder streams and hold over browns and rainbows in some of the deeper pools under bridges and around blown down trees.

This may be surprising because the main river can heat up to the low 80’s during the mid summer months and run very low through drought times. There are wild fish here. Very few but you can find them. I have caught brook trout here as small as 4 1/2 inches near feeder streams, smaller than any stocked fish I’ve ever seen. The Saddle River is shown on most maps to start in Upper Saddle River, NJ but it actually starts in New York State as different streams run out of a few small dammed lakes and ponds and join in Upper Saddle River forming the main river.

Recently, the NJ Division of Fish Game and Wildlife gave wild status to the upper stretches. There is an abundant amount of tiny wild browns above Lake Street in Upper Saddle River.
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The best way to break down the Saddle River is in two sections.

The upper portion from Lake Street in Upper Saddle River, NJ to Hollywood Avenue in Hohokus, NJ runs between 20 and 30 feet wide. Most of the river runs behind large homes with wooded area’s and a few fields lining its course. Access can be gained by the bridges that cross the river and parking is never a problem. If you venture away from these bridges and you’re behind someone’s home, it is best to get permission before entering the property. These are pretty private communities and walking in the river may be your best bet.

At the southern face of the Lake Street Bridge, the Saddle River runs very shallow and slow. The river has a stone and gravel bottom with large boulders. About 100 yards downstream there is a small water falls and the river runs very narrow. Just below these falls, you can usually find a few aggressive fish. Streamers here would work best. Down stream to Upper Cross Road, the east side of the stream is usually your best bet with not many homes. Here the river runs through wooded sections and is as narrow as 15 feet wide. There are a few deeper, slower sections that can be found where fish stocked year after year, make their way down and hold over.

A small creek flows in about half way through this stretch. Just above Upper Cross Rd. Bridge, there is a stretch of water that is pretty fast moving and shallow. In this stretch there are a few large boulders that can sometime hold fish until later in the season when you can almost walk across this section. Under the bridge is a deeper pool and below there is some deeper water that can hold some fish throughout the year. Continuing downstream to East Allendale Avenue, the river runs through a wooded area and there are a limited amount of areas that fish will hold.

You can park just north of East Allendale Avenue behind the Post Office in Saddle River or just below the road behind a few office building. Both of these areas are heavily stocked. Behind the Office Building, there is a fairly deep pool that holds fish throughout the year. There are also some large Carp here. These Carp have been there since the old Trickers Fish farm shut down in the late 70’s. There is a small creek that flows in just above E. Allendale Avenue from the East side and one just below on the west side. Down stream the river runs under Lower Cross road and makes a sharp bend to the left running through wooded areas behind large homes.

Just North of Lower cross road, to the bridge, there is a deep pool that holds a good number of fish early season. There is also another small creek that flows in. This does dry up during the summer months. As you move further south past these homes, the river is lined on both sided by woods. On the East side of the river as you approach Hollywood avenue, the Joe / Jefferson fishing club has its property.

If your wading through the river behind the club, you will notice that their property is fenced and inside its boundary’s, there are a few ponds. The club stocks these ponds with large trout and occasionally you will see some of its members fishing them. This property is Private so do not venture on. During the recent heavy rains from tropical systems October, 1999, these ponds flooded and the fish escaped into the Saddle River.

As you approach Hollywood Avenue, the river continues running about 25 ft. wide and pretty shallow. At Hollywood Avenue, there is a small park with great access to the river. The State of NJ stocks this park heavily but the fish don’t seem to hold there. During the summer months, what is usually good trout water early on, ends up being a few small pools of water and any trout that are left are easily taken because there is no where for them to go. Fish are sometimes caught here by fly fisherman and taken downstream to more survivable areas and released. Just South of Hollywood Park, the river narrows, then widens and there are great pools that are rarely fished, holding many fish throughout the year.

The Second section is below Hollywood Avenue, The river changes at each Bridge Crossing. In the 70’s, many of the local homes along the river received serious flood damage and the county flattened out portions of the river for flood control. Almost all the bridges were replaced in the 80’s so there is a much different look now.

Between Hollywood Avenue and Bogart Road, the river runs through a heavily wooded area. On the east side there are scattered homes. I have not seen a person fish this stretch in years. The access here is poor but if you don’t mind wading down from Hollywood Avenue, you can be surprised at some of the fish you might find.

Just Above Bogart Road the river runs fast and makes a sharp bend past a retaining wall, which has created a really nice spot for holdover fish. There is good oxygen here and it is well shaded during the summer. At Bogart Road, the river splits for about 400 yards. At the split, there is a pretty large group of roots in the water and you can occasionally pull a trout out from them. Back in the early 80’s, the main river flowed to the left, with a trickle on the right. Recently, a new bridge was constructed and the main river now flows to the right. Since the major flood in October of 1999, the river has seemed to widen a bit and both sides get a decent amount of water.

Just south of where the two branches meet, the river bends sharp to the left. About 200 Yds. down a small feeder brook runs into an old dried up pond, and into the river. Just below, the river makes a hard bend to the right and starts to run in between a residential area. At this bend, there is deep water and fishing here can be good with some fish coming down from Bogart Rd. stockings. Years ago, about 200 yds. south of this area, there was a waterfall which always held fish throughout the year. Back in the late 70’s, the top of this waterfall was taken down to control floodwaters. The fishing here is now hit or miss and occasionally you will find a few trout.

Below this area south to where Rt. 17 Crosses the river, it runs through a residential neighborhood with limited access. To tell you what floods can do to a river, Under Rt. 17 Bridge, the water ran about 1 1/2 ft deep until the flood in October 1999. The river now runs about 5-6 feet deep in spots there. Water was pushing so fast under that bridge; the riverbed was carved deeper.

Below Rt. 17 Bridge past Linwood Avenue down to the Ridgewood Duck Pond on Ridgewood Avenue in Ridgewood, the rivers characteristics have changed dramatically since the mid 80’s. It’s shallower and narrower. There are a few pools below the Rt. 17 Bridge that hold fish over year after year, but the majority is rarely fished. Below 17 to Linwood, the riverbed is somewhat sandy and soft. Wading this area can cause the water below you to become cloudy very quick. Once at Linwood Avenue, the east shore is wooded and the west side is residential until you come close to the Ridgewood Duck Pond. From here down to Grove Street and further down to Dunker Hook Park in Glen Rock, the river runs along a bike and walking path for about 5 miles or so. Access is great but fishing is limited to shallow runs. During the summer, any holdover fish can occasionally be seen setting up on dries but they are very few and far between.

If you continue on the bike path south of Dunker Hook Park, the Hohokus Brook flows in and where they join there is a very deep pool that holds fish throughout the summer. The Saddle River runs through a few more towns until it dumps into the Passaic river in Lodi.

Fly fishing the Saddle may seem like a waste of time for most serious fly-fisherman. After May, you will rarely see a sole on the river. By that time, any fish left are feeding on a diet of minnows or insects. You wont see a great variety of insects because of recent droughts but there are plenty of fish that holdover. By this time, the river is usually gin clear and these trout will spook easily. The easier access points are the places you should not fish.

By the end of May, any fish that were not smart enough to move out of the usual pools are usually caught by fisherman during the stocking season. Venture around a bit if you don’t mind looking for good water. There is usually a fish in the least expected area and these are places anglers never go to in the Saddle River.

Access is easy. All the major bridges that cross the river are exits off of Rt. 17 N from Ridgewood to Upper Saddle River. There are two major secondary roads, East and West Saddle River Road. The Saddle River runs between these two roads in the Upper section of water.