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I took advantage of the warm spell we are experiencing and headed out for Merrill Creek Reservoir located in Warren County, New Jersey. I have been paddling Merrill Creek for almost 10 years and it is one of my go-to paddle spots in Northwestern NJ.
About the Lake
Merrill Creek Reservoir is a 650-acre man made body of water surrounded by 290 acres of protected woodlands and meadows. The reservoir is the deepest man-made lake in the state. It has a depth of about 230 feet which makes it the ideal environment to support Lake Trout year-round as well as other cold-water species of fish. It is one of only 2 lakes in the state where lake trout exist, the other is Round Valley Reservoir in Hunterdon County.
The Boat launch
I arrived at the boat launch parking lot a little before 10 AM. The launch was quite busy with fisherman launching their boats as they headed out to test their luck. While, others were coming off the water after an early morning of fishing. Recreational boats are allowed on the reservoir, but gasoline motors are not permitted.
There was no launch captain at the boat launch shed so I signed in on the log sheet that hangs outside the shed door. Everyone is required to sign in when personnel are not present. You have to enter your name, license plate number, what type of activity you will be engaging in on the water, and the time you entered the water. When you return you must sign out by entering the time in from the water. This helps the staff keep track of who is on the water and how long parties have been out. Signing in is a really critical but easy step when heading out on the water. It is for your safety and those who might have to come and rescue you.
View of the boat launch during October. The kayak launch is to the far left. The shed is where you will find the log sheet and on weekends is staffed by volunteer launch captains. The volunteers are very knowledgeable about the reservoir and fishing conditions.
Leaving the launch, which is on the northern side of the reservoir, I followed the left-hand shoreline through a small stand of drowned trees and out to the main body of the reservoir. I continued to the left following the tree lined shore along the northern side of the reservoir.
I enjoy following the shoreline into the coves as I often encounter wildlife such as Great Blue Herons fishing and deer feeding along the gravel tree lined banks. You never know what you will encounter around that next bend.
The first cove has a blind on its shore and is a great spot to hike to and take photographs of the migrating waterfowl in the spring.
A Young Spike Horn Buck
As I paddled to the back of the next cove on the northern shore, I spotted a young spike horn buck walking and grazing along the shore. It didn’t see me at first which is a great advantage I find of being in my kayak. I can move almost silently over the water getting into spots that normally don’t see many people. This can lead to having some incredible encounters.
The young buck spotted me in the water and just as quickly as he appeared, it bounded back into the woods and disappeared.
The Downed Forests
The last cove on the northern shore of the reservoir reaches back revealing the largest of the drowned forests. These amazing features occurred when the reservoir was created back in the late 80’s and early 90’s and flooded the former woods leaving these impressive stands of dead trees.
I’ve noticed in the 10 years that I have been paddling the reservoir that the drowned forests are slowly disappearing as the trees begin to fall beneath the surface. Paddling through this drowned forest is an amazing experience but can also be a little dangerous. There are many submerged tree trunks that lie just below the surface and can easily tip your kayak if you are not paying attention.
The Western Shore
Paddling along the western shore you pass the Inlet/Outlet Tower and it’s bridge. This area is restricted, and you must stay at least 150 feet away from the structure. The water that is stored in the reservoir is used to replace the water lost on the Delaware River- which is only 3 miles away- through evaporation in the cooling of 14 powerplants along the river. The reservoir was set up by a consortium of several power companies. The surrounding area will be preserved for ever and several environmental studies are ongoing in preserving wild and open spaces. It is the perfect case of big utility companies working together with scientists to preserve and study our wild and open spaces.
Paddling along the western shore I pass the eagle nesting sight. In the spring and early summer, there are buoys set up to restrict boat traffic so as not to disturb the nesting eagles. There are at least 1 pair of nesting eagles on the reservoir and is always a highlight when I spot one of them along my trip. On this particular trip, I spotted three. One was spotted high in a tree near the nesting shore.
The other two eagles were observed on the southern side of the reservoir in the third drowned forest. The first eagle was perched in a tree on the bank of the reservoir. A fisherman pulled a nice sized fish out of the water and that got the eagle moving closer. I observed its giant wings carry it to a tree just off the bow of the boat and there it sat hoping for a free meal. The eagles are truly an amazing comeback story. Over the last 20 years or so they have really made a comeback in the state. We now have several nesting pairs between the Delaware River and Lake Hopatcong.
I finished my trip by continuing along the eastern shore and back to the boat launch where I had to wait my turn to approach the launch and get off the water. One thing to be aware of on the water are the folks fishing. I always give those fishing the right of way. I go out of my way to avoid the space they are fishing. At one point I was paddling along the western shore focused on the leaves and water in front of me when I heard a voice say I have two lines in the water here. Sitting on the bank was a fisherman. I apologized and he said that’s all right as I quickly changed my course to give him and his lines plenty of room.
Merrill Creek Reservoir is a great spot for all skill level paddlers depending on the weather. Strong winds and cold water can be dangerous. All paddlers should check weather conditions and forecasts before heading out on the water. Personal Flotation Devises should be worn at all times. The weather can change rather quickly on the water. A Wind Advisory System has been installed. There are a set of lights situated on the Inlet/Outlet Tower. These lights will start to flash when winds are sustained at 25 mph for 5 seconds. If the lights are flashing, you are advised to go to the nearest shoreline. The weather is no joke on the water and should be taken seriously especially on such a large body of water such as Merrill Creek.