New Jersey 2020 Skillful Angler Program Winners

This year marks the 38th anniversary of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Skillful Angler Program. For almost four decades the Division has been recognizing anglers who catch fish of “not quite record” size but large enough to have tested the angler’s skill and be worthy of recognition in each of the freshwater and marine species categories.

The Skillful Angler Program is designed to supplement the New Jersey State Record Fish Program. Significant changes were made in January of 2015. Although the program’s three divisions remained the same (Adult, Junior, and Catch and Release), there are now categories creating more opportunities for qualifying fish to earn the angler a series of personalized certificates:

Specialist Angler – catch five qualifying fish of the same species within one year
Master Angler – catch five qualifying fish of five different species (saltwater and/or freshwater) within one year
Elite Angler – catch 10 or more qualifying fish of 10 different species (saltwater and/or freshwater) within one year
First Fish – catch your first fish of any species

Three additional categories (the Slam Series) include:

FRESHWATER

Trout Slam – catch one each of rainbow, brook and brown trout
Bass Slam – catch one each of small and largemouth bass
Panfish Slam – catch one each of sunfish, crappie and yellow perch

SALTWATER

Inshore Slam I – catch one each of a qualifying Striped Bass, Bluefish and Fluke within one calendar year
Inshore Slam II – catch one each of a qualifying Black Sea Bass, Tautog and Weakfish within one calendar year
Offshore Pelagics Slam – catch one each of a qualifying Bluefin Tuna, Bigeye Tuna, Yellowfin Tuna and Dolphin within one calendar year
Marlin Slam- catch one each of a qualifying White and Blue Marlin within one calendar year

In 1983, the program began with 31 applicants. In 2020, 109 applications representing 21 different species from 50 individuals were officially processed. Since the program’s modest beginning, the Division has granted Skillful Angler status to almost 4,000 anglers.

INTERESTING FACTS: The following is a breakdown of applications received per species (by categories): Freshwater Saltwater The Catch and Release Category had the greatest number of entries with 100 applications, followed by both the Adult and Junior categories with 3 applications each. There were two First Fish applications received. First Fish: Emily Fusco and Isabella Robertson. Specialist Angler: Christopher Pereira (2) and Frank Ruczynski Master Angler: Duane Chapman, Christopher Pereira and Frank Ruczynski Elite Angler: Christopher Pereira and Frank Ruczynski Panfish Slam: Christopher Pereira and Frank Ruczynski Bass Slam: Duane Chapman and Christopher Pereira

The most frequently entered species by skillful anglers in 2020 (adult, junior and catch and release categories combined) were Sunfish with 22 applications, followed by Crappie with 15 applications.

The following is a breakdown of applications received per species (all categories combined):

Freshwater:
Sunfish (22), Chain Pickerel (15), Crappie (15), Largemouth Bass (10), Bullhead Catfish (9), Yellow Perch (8), Hybrid Striped Bass (7), Smallmouth Bass (4), Rainbow Trout (3), Walleye (3), White Perch (2), Atlantic Landlocked Salmon (1), Brook Trout (1), Brown Trout (1), Common Carp (1), Lake Trout (1), and Northern Pike (1).

Saltwater:
Striped Bass (2), Fluke (1), Kingfish (1), and Tautog (1).

The Catch and Release Category had the greatest number of entries with 100 applications, followed by the Adult Category with three applications and the Junior Category with one application. There were two First Fish applications received.

In 2020, the following were anglers were recognized:

First Fish: Emily Fusco and Isabella Robertson
Specialist Angler: Christopher Pereira (2) and Frank Ruczynski
Master Angler: Duane Chapman, Christopher Pereira and Frank Ruczynski
Elite Angler: Christopher Pereira and Frank Ruczynski
Panfish Slam: Christopher Pereira and Frank Ruczynski
Bass Slam: Duane Chapman and Christopher Pereira

The 2020 Skillful Angler Winners are as follows:

ADULT CATEGORY FRESHWATER SPECIES:

Rainbow Trout: 9 lbs. 9 oz. caught by Justin Bird of Nazareth on April 26. Justin was fishing while wading the Musconetcong River when he landed the fish at 10:00 a.m. Five-pound test was used with a 5 weight Fly rod and reel with a wet fly as the lure. The trout was 27.5 inches long.

JUNIOR CATEGORY FRESHWATER SPECIES:

Largemouth Bass: 6 lbs. 9 oz. caught by Chase Emmer of Morristown on May 17. Chase was fishing from shore at a Pond off Columbia Turnpike when he landed the fish at 7:19 p.m. Forty-pound test braided line was used with a Quantam medium-heavy casting rod and an Abu Garcia Revo baitcasting reel with a LIVETARGET 3.5″ Bluegill lure.

CATCH AND RELEASE CATEGORY FRESHWATER SPECIES:

Brook Trout: 20.1″ caught by James Harding, Sr. of Bloomingdale on April 11. James was fishing from shore on Bogue Pond when he landed the fish at 8:45 a.m. Six-pound test was used with a Daiwa spinning rod and Daiwa reel with Power Bait as the bait.

Brown Trout: 26″ caught by Justin Lerner of Basking Ridge on April 16. Justin was fishing while wading the Raritan River when he landed the fish at 6:45 a.m. Four-pound test was used with a St. Croix rod and Okuma reel with a plug as the lure.

Bullhead: 15″ caught by George Horvath of Bordentown on March 22. George was fishing from shore on Carnegie Lake when he landed the fish at 4:50 p.m. Four-pound test was used with a Fenwick spinning rod and Shimano AX200 spinning reel with a Red Worm as bait.

Bullhead: 15″ caught by Tyler Krupa of Woodbridge on June 7. Tyler was fishing from a boat when he landed the fish at 7:15 p.m. Eight-pound test was used with a spin cast rod and reel with a hotdog as bait.

Common Carp: 36.5″ caught by Michael Paternostro of Pequannock on May 24. Michael was fishing from shore on Verona Park Pond when he landed the fish at 6:50 a.m. Twenty-pound test was used with an Ugly Stick spinning rod and an Okuma reel with Nash pop-up boilie as bait.

Chain Pickerel: 27″ caught by Carl Kozub of Summit on April 25. Carl was fishing from a boat on Splitrock Reservoir when he landed the fish at 6:20 p.m. Sixty five-pound test braided line with a seventeen-pound leader was used with a Falcon Lawrider rod and Daiwa TD Zillion reel with an Imakatsu Magnum Gillsonic as a lure.

Crappie: 15.25″ caught by William Geary of Manchester on April 15. William was fishing from a kayak on Colliers Mill Lake when he landed the fish at 4:00 p.m. Six-pound test was used with an Ugly Stick GX2 spinning rod and Shakespear reel with a Joes Flies Spinner lure.

Lake Trout: 33″ caught by Duane Chapman of Lake Hopatcong on November 14. Duane was fishing from a boat on Merrill Creek when he landed the fish at 2:00 p.m. Ten-pound test was used with a Fenwick rod and Pflueger reel with a jig as the lure.

Largemouth Bass: 23″ caught by John Deroko of Phillipsburg on June 8. John was fishing from a boat on Round Valley Pond when he landed the fish at 2:03 p.m. Twelve-pound test was used with a St. Croix rod and Shimano reel with a green pumpkin Senko as a lure.

Northern Pike: 41″ caught by Dan Pryor of Belvidere on January 7. Dan was fishing from the shore at Spruce Run Reservoir when he landed the fish at 5:15 p.m. Ten-pound test was used with a Rhino spinning rod and reel using a live shiner as bait.

Rainbow Trout: 23″ caught by Jack LoPiccolo of Hackettstown on May 1st. Jack was fishing while wading the Musconetcong River when he landed the fish at 10:37 a.m. Ten-pound test was used with a ultra-light spinning rod and Shimano Stradic 1000 reel with a Rapala F-7 rainbow trout lure.

Salmon, Atlantic Landlocked: 22.25″ caught by Christopher Pereira of Hopatcong on July 9. Chris was fishing from a boat on Merrill Creek Reservoir when he landed the fish at 3:51 p.m. Twelve-pound test was used with a Shimano rod and an Abu Garcia reel with a Xzone swammer lure.

Smallmouth Bass: 19.5″ caught by Duane Chapman of Lake Hopatcong on November 5. Duane was fishing from a boat on Swartswood Lake when he landed the fish at 10:00 a.m. Six-pound test was used with a Fenwick rod and Pflueger reel with a Ned Rig as the lure.

Smallmouth Bass: 19.5″ caught by Christopher Pereira of Hopatcong on July 25. Chris was fishing from a boat on Merrill Creek Reservoir when he landed the fish at 7:50 a.m. Twelve-pound test was used with an Ugly Stick rod and Cabelas reel with a jigging fly as the lure.

Smallmouth Bass: 19.5″ caught by Christy Randolph of West Deptford on August 23. Christy was fishing from a boat on Merrill creek Reservoir when she landed the fish at 9:11 a.m. Twenty-pound braided line was used with a Daiwa Procyon casting rod and Daiwa RG 100HSL baitcasting reel with a Z-Man TRD Ned Rig as the lure.

Striped Bass Hybrid: 26.75″ caught by Duane Chapman of Lake Hopatcong on November 8. Duane was fishing from a boat Lake Hopatcong when he landed the fish at 1:15 p.m. Ten-pound test was used with a Fenwick rod and Pflueger reel with a crankbait as the lure.

Sunfish: 10.00″ caught by Christopher Pereira of Hopatcong on August 3. Christopher was fishing from a boat on Lake Shawnee when he landed the fish at 6:15 p.m. Four-pound test was used with a St. Croix rod and Shimano reel with a Xzone Baller lure.

Walleye: 25″ caught by Christopher Pereira of Hopatcong on June 9. Chris was fishing from a boat on Lake Hopatcong when he landed the fish at 7:49 p.m. Twelve-pound test was used with an Ohero rod and Shimano reel with a Bent Minnow lure.

White Perch: 16.25″ caught by Edward Guth, Jr. of Bridgeton on December 13. Ed was fishing from the shore of Cedarville Lake when he landed the fish at 9:30 a.m. Fourteen-pound test was used with a medium rod and bait runner reel with cut bait.

Yellow Perch: 14.5″ caught by Michael DeVito of Basking Ridge on May 24. Michael was fishing from a boat on Round Valley Reservoir when he landed the fish at 8:25 a.m. Ten-pound test was used with a medium rod and Shimano reel with a VMC jig with Berkley Gulp minnow as the lure.

ADULT CATEGORY SALTWATER SPECIES:

Fluke: 10 lbs. 14 oz. caught by Ed Braunsdorf of Brick on September 9. Ed was fishing from a boat on the Atlantic Ocean when he landed the fish at 2:00 p.m. Forty-pound test braided line was used with a St. Croix rod and Shimano Stradic reel using a Spro Jig with gulp and spearing as bait. The fluke was 29 inches in length.

Tautog: 15 lbs. 13 oz. caught by Paul Haertel of Clifton on April 23. Paul was fishing from a boat on the Atlantic Ocean when he landed the fish at 2:00 p.m. Thirty-pound test was used with a spinning rod and reel using a jig with white crab tipped with clam as bait. The tautog was 27.5 inches in length.

CATCH AND RELEASE CATEGORY SALTWATER SPECIES:

Kingfish: 13″ caught by George Horvath of Bordentown on September 10. George was fishing from the shore of Manasquan Inlet when he landed the fish at 6:50 p.m. Twenty-pound test was used with a spinning rod and reel with a plain hook.

Striped Bass: 47″ caught by Adrian Gonzalez of Byram Township on June 4. Adrian was fishing from a kayak in the Atlantic Ocean when he landed the fish at 7:45 a.m. Braided line with a fluorocarbon leader was used with a Shimano spinning rod and reel with a live bunker as bait.