There is no greater time to be a New England bass fisherman than right now. While the region's trout and salmon anglers struggle with reduced stocking, low native trout populations and the vagaries of unreliable water levels, bass anglers in the Northeast can sing a happy tune all the way to the dock.
Bass fishing in New England is great and getting better every year in large part due to the efforts of state fisheries biologists to enhance the size of fish being caught and keep local populations at peak carrying capacity.
To make New England's bass fishery one of the best in the U.S., all anglers need to do is continue on course: Release breeding-age fish to spawn and be willing to keep a few "slot" fish for the table.
Most bass waters already contain natural populations of fish that need only a little cautious tweaking, mostly via slot limits, and biologists are aggressive and attentive when it comes to reining in runaway fisheries that have slipped under the radar due to over-fishing, tournament mortality or natural disasters.
Bottom line is that New England's bass fishermen should continue planning trips to popular bass waters throughout the six-state region. Put it this way — be glad you aren't an Atlantic salmon addict!
Moving forward on a positive note, here's a look at how the 2012 fishing season is shaping up for New England's smallmouth and largemouth bass anglers:
According to MassWildlife biologists, black bass (largemouths and smallmouths) are not native to the Bay State. Bass were introduced to Massachusetts waters in the late 1800s, and are now present and common in nearly all of the state's waters except the smallest trout streams.
The largemouth is considered to be the state's most common game fish, mostly because it prefers mud- or sandy-bottomed habitats with little or no current. It thrives where there is plenty of rooted vegetation and overhead cover but is highly adaptable and is found in nearly every lake, pond and river in the state.
The smallmouth bass in Massachusetts is most common in cool, clear water with little vegetation. It prefers rocks, logs and fallen trees to weeds and algae. Both species may be found in the same lake or river but rarely side by side. Largemouths prefer warm, weedy water while smallmouths are denizens of cool, deep water and a rock or gravel bottom.
Management strategies for both species are typical of most other states. Protection of bass during the spring spawn is high on every biologist's list. Bass have high reproductive rates and often can withstand heavy fishing pressure, but in most cases, MassWildlife biologists set slot limits that allow anglers to keep only fish between 12 and 16 inches. Bass 15 to 20 inches are the most prolific breeders, so fish in this size range are usually protected with low or no bag limits in May and June.
Massachusetts' "top 10" bass lakes include Glen Charlie Pond in Wareham, Samson Pond in Carver, Quabbin Reservoir and Wachusett Reservoir for largemouths and Long Pond in Brewster, the Connecticut River, Spectacle Pond in Sandwich and the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs.
For more information about Massachusetts' bass fishing, log onto www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/fisheries/fisheries or call (508) 389-6300.
The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection has joined the other New England states by adopting a management plan that protects the 16- to 20-inch fish that make up the bulk of the breeding population. While most Nutmeg State lakes, rivers and ponds have thriving populations of bass that need little or no manipulation through regulations, season dates or bag limits, state biologists are quick to move in when a fishery shows signs of decline. With anglers posting more than 1.3 million trips per year, biologists are well aware of the popularity of the species as well as the need to manage bass populations for the long haul.
Recent electro-shocking studies revealed that annual mortality of bass over 12 inches was high in more than half of the state's lakes and ponds. Also, some 39 percent of the lakes surveyed contained an overabundance of (non-breeding) bass less than 12 inches. High densities of small fish causes increased competition for a limited food supply, resulting in reduced growth rates. Panfish stockpiling was also noted in 53 percent of the lakes surveyed. This adds more stress to bass of the same size seeking the same food sources. The result is stunted fish that die before reaching catchable size. Finally, 59 percent of the lakes surveyed contained surplus forage populations, which could be utilized by larger predators (meaning 16-inch-plus bass) if such bass were in greater numbers.
In response to the survey, DEP biologists set slot limits protecting 16- to 20-inch bass while allowing (even encouraging) anglers to take bass less than 12 inches for the table. In addition, biologists created Trophy Bass Management Areas (TBMA) where anglers are restricted from taking fish 12 to 16 inches long, and Big Bass Management Areas that restricting the taking of fish 12- to 18-inches long.
The plan is to increase the number of trophy-sized bass, and biologists expect to see positive results of the plan within 5 years.
According to the DEP's plan, only five lakes are included as Trophy Bass Management Areas: Amos Lake, Moodus Reservoir, Mudge Pond, Pattagansett Lake and Lake Saltonstall. Some 24 lakes across the state are included in the Big Bass Management program, however, including Mashapaug, Bashan and the Bolton lakes, Mansfield Hollow Lake and Taftville Reservoir.
For a complete listing of Connecticut's top bass lakes, insight on the new bass management plan, licensing and other fishing information, log onto www.ct.gov/dep or call (860) 424-3000.
Under the general rule, Ocean State bass fishermen may keep five bass (combined species) over 12 inches per day. There is no closed season on bass fishing in Rhode Island, primarily because most freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers contain thriving natural populations of one or both species.
Rhode Island is, in fact, the "Ocean State," so the majority angling attention is paid to saltwater species. However, there is a solid contingent of bass anglers who are reaping the benefits of a healthy population of fish and little or no competition.
Faced with major concerns about its striped bass populations, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is able to devote little time to improving an already thriving black bass fishery. But, the discovery of Largemouth Bass Virus in Olney Pond caused biologists to advise anglers on how to minimize the spread of LMBV by not transplanting bass from one water body to another; by draining, cleaning and drying boats, motors and fishing gear between each use; by not releasing bait fish into any water body; by minimizing the stress to bass caught and released as much as possible during periods of high water temperatures; and by reporting all fish kills to the DEM.
Recommended Rhode Island bass waters include Wallum Lake, Carbuncle Pond and Tiogue Lake. To find out more about bass fishing opportunities in Rhode Island, log onto www.dem.ri.gov or call (401) 222-6647.
Green Mountain State bass anglers enjoy some of the best two-species bass fishing in the East. Vermont's largest lakes contain good populations of largemouths while its top rivers and streams are home to feisty smallmouths reaching 20 inches or more.
To protect its bass fishery, Vermont's Fish and Wildlife Department biologists depend on a season that begins in mid-June and ends Nov. 30. By allowing only catch-and-release fishing during the critical spring spawn, biologists can ensure the perpetuation of the species while offering maximum angling opportunities statewide.
The top bass fisheries in the state include massive Lake Champlain in the northwest portion of Vermont on the New York border, the Connecticut River on the New Hampshire border, Lake Bomoseen, Lake Memphremagog, Lake St. Catherine and Waterbury Reservoir.
For more information on Vermont's bass fishing opportunities, log onto www.vtfishandwildlife.com or call (802) 241-3700.
The news continues to be good for Granite State bass anglers. Annual electro-shocking surveys targeting spring largemouth and smallmouth bass are conducted on Spofford Lake, Big Squam Lake, Lake Winnipesaukee, Forest Lake (Whitefield), and two sections of the Connecticut River (Claremont and Hinsdale). The same areas of each water body are sampled each year, allowing biologists to determine year-class strength as well as fish size and species composition.
"This allows us to track how these factors change from year to year within a water body and also how they change within a year from north to south within the state," said Gabe Gries, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department regional bass biologist. "These samples are important in that documenting a poor (or good) year-class will help us to predict and/or explain correspondingly good or poor fishing success in the future."
For example, Gries said, a poor year-class of smallmouth bass in Spofford Lake in 2011 would help explain angler dissatisfaction with the fishery in seven to eight years as that year-class reaches a size that most anglers prefer to catch.
Additionally, Gries said, over-winter survival of young-of-the-year bass during their first winter has been shown to be positively related to their length in fall.
Other New Hampshire waters that provide good bass fishing include Big and Little Squam, Waukewan, Wickwas, Pemigewasset, Crystal (Gilmanton), Hermit, Conway lakes; the Balch ponds and the Merrimack and Connecticut rivers and oxbows.
For more information on New Hampshire's bass-fishing opportunities, log onto www.wildnh.com or call (603) 271-2501.
One of the most "trout traditional" of all the New England states, Maine is slowly coming into its own as a producer of big largemouth and smallmouth bass — and plenty of them.
Robert VanRiper Region B fisheries expert was more than enthusiastic about the opportunities in south-central Maine:
"The Belgrade Region is the best of the best! Just over 97,000 acres of lake habitat in this region contain smallmouths or largemouths. Bass fisheries in Fishery Region B range in size from 11 acre Lilly Pond to 8,239 acre Great Pond. All of this region's rivers and many of its smaller rivers have bass fisheries," VanRiper said.
In addition to rivers and streams close to the state capital of Augusta, Vanriper recommended Cobbosseecontee Lake in Winthrop and China Lake in Vassalboro as well as Moose Pond in Mt. Vernon and Jimmie Pond in Manchester.
For big bass, VanRiper suggested Annabessacook Lake in Winthrop or Webber Pond in Vassalboro. For fast action but smaller fish, try Branch Pond in Palermo or Lilly Pond in Sidney. The Androscoggin River in Region B is largely undeveloped and the quality of the bass fishery is unsurpassed. Anglers may access the Androscoggin at the boat launch off the Center Bridge Road in Turner.
For small river enthusiasts, VanRiper suggested the Nezinscot River in Turner for its easy wading, but a small canoe can be helpful in fishing some of the river's larger pools after sunset using a large dry fly, a small popper or small surface plug.
To find out more about Maine's unsung lake and river bass fishing, log onto www.maine.gov/ifw or call the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at (207) 287-8000.