From new management strategies to the state of the top fisheries in the region, here's a look at what 2011 holds in store for New England's black bass anglers.
Anglers throughout New England can look forward to a great year of bass action in 2011. These days, black bass are carefully managed for quality and quantity. The species is being carefully monitored and regulations adjusted according to what that data indicates.
Few species hit as hard or provide the excitement of black bass. Defensive, opportunistic and not too picky about what they'll hit, bass can also be found in a wide variety of habitats, providing anglers with the challenge of locating the right spot at the right time of year with the right bait! Luckily for New England bass anglers, the region's fisheries biologists are a generous bunch, willing to share some best-bet destinations worthy of angler efforts this year.
The Nutmeg State is completing a final report on experimental length limits in Bass Management Lakes.
"Basically, the experimental length limits have not made as much of a difference as we hoped they would," said Robert Jacobs, eastern district supervisor with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's Inland Fisheries Division. "The only reason we can discern is that over the last 15 years or so people have been, more and more, releasing bass of any size no matter what the regulations are. We electro-fished all of these lakes, waited three years and electro-fished again. The difference wasn't that great."
A recent survey revealed that Massachusetts anglers release most bass. Despite this, fish numbers are down.
"We've got to figure out where these fish are going," Jacobs said. "We have data from water supply reservoirs that are closed to fishing and the population structure in those is still much better than in our Bass Management Lakes even though we're protecting the fish. It could mean we're losing some fish to poaching, hook and release mortality or a number of different things."
Jacobs said that the Connecticut River and Candlewood Lake continue to be heavy hitters in the best-bet bass lineup.
"As a waterbody gets bigger, you tend to have a more productive system," he said. "Also a much more diverse habitat, which means a diverse forage base. Everything kind of snowballs up to better fishing."
Early season picks for bucketmouths included Amos Lake, Long Pond and Quonnipaug Lake.
"Highland Lake has been improving for smallmouth bass," he said. "Lake Lillinonah has both and is the second largest lake in the state. It's an impoundment on the Housatonic, so is not as predictable early in the season."
Later in the season, Jacobs recommended Mansfield Hollow Reservoir, and Mudge Pond, which he said "is a real gem."
For Connecticut fishing information, call (860) 424-3474 or visit www.ct.gov/dep.
According to Greg Burr, a regional fisheries biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, biologists are keeping a close eye on some Washington County bass waters.
"Big Lake is considered to be one of the most important smallmouth waters in Region C," Burr said. "We did samples there for adults this year and found the fishing was very slow. It's nowhere near like it has been in the past, and it has us concerned."
Possible causes may be year class failures due to cold, rainy summers in 2004, 2005 and 2009, hooking mortality, illegal harvest within slot limits or bass in the slot limit being used as lunch fish.
The news is not all bad for Maine's bass anglers, however.
"Meddybemps is a really tried and true bass water," Burr said. "Another good one is Woodland Flowage on the St. Croix River. It's got a good catch rate for smallmouth bass, with the average at 11 or 12 inches and some up to 19 inches."Burr also recommended Spednik Lake in Vanceboro for smallmouth bass. Rocky Lake, just above Machias, has largemouths and smallmouth bass, as does Crawford Lake off Route 9 in Crawford.
"There are some good-sized largemouth bass there," he said. "If you go up the Maine River, which flows into Crawford, and to Upper and Lower Mud lakes, you can get into some extremely big largemouth bass."
Burr said that Branch Lake in Ellsworth, which is a very good smallmouth bass fishery, has a new public launch site being finished in 2011. The new launch site, on the west side of the lake, can be accessed off a new road coming in off Happy Town Road.
For fishing information, call Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at (207) 287-8000 or visit www.maine.gov/ifw/.
The Bay State is divided into five Wildlife Management Districts, all of which have trophy waters for both largemouth and smallmouth bass, according to Richard Hartley, aquatic biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and the state's Warm and Cool Water Project Leader.
"You don't have to go very far," Hartley said. "Virtually every water in Massachusetts has largemouth bass. There are a lot of smallmouth bass waters, too. Bass continue to be among our top fish that people submit to our sportfishing award program. This is a very sought-after species."
Hartley said there have been no recent changes to Bay State bass regulations. Anglers may harvest black bass year round with a daily limit of five fish and a minimum length of 12 inches. Hartley said that "a lot of the same suspects" remain good bass waters from year to year.
"The Congamond continues to be a big destination for bass anglers, both tournament and non-tournament," he said. "We continue to monitor this as one of our premier bass tournament waters and it continues to be just a phenomenal bass fishery."
Other best-bet bass waters in Massachusetts include the East Brimfield Reservoir in Sturbridge, Metacomet Lake in Belcher town and Rohunta Lake in Orange for largemouth bass. To see bronzebacks dancing at the end of the line, try the Connecticut River, Flax Pond, and the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs.
While high waters can be a challenge when spring fishing some of these destinations, bass anglers face other hurdles later in the season.
"Vegetation is a major problem in most of our ponds,"
Hartley advised. "If you are constrained to shore fishing, weedless lures are a must. And if you can, find any form of transportation -- canoe, kayak, anything -- to get away from shore."
For Massachusetts fishing information, call (508) 389-6300 or visit http://www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/.
Two new bass regulations rolled in with the New Year in the Granite State. The first restricts hardwater anglers statewide to two bass, with only one per day over 16 inches. The second creates new slot limits on Warren and Gregg lakes and Grassy and Clement ponds. The daily limit is three black bass; only one may be larger than 20 inches.
"What we're trying to do with the new statewide regulation is not to take bass away from ice anglers but to try to shift more of that harvest toward the smaller fish," said Gabe Gries, a fisheries biologist II with New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, and the state's Warmwater Project Leader. "Those bigger bass are typically females. Those bigger females spawn the earliest so their fry have the best chance of surviving their first winter. That's very important to the population."
Gries said that angler surveys indicated that 55 percent of the largemouth bass harvested by ice anglers were greater than or equal to 16 inches. The new slot limit on four specific waters is geared toward creating quality bass waters.
"These are waters that were pretty good to begin with, but we feel have the potential to be really, really good bass waters," he said.
Gries was happy to share a few best-bet bass picks, including Newfound Lake for early season smallmouth bass.
"It has big smallmouth bass, and that's just a good time of year when they're not on the nest but are near inshore habitat," he said. "Spring is a great time of year to get on those fish. In summer, it's more of a deep-water fishery.
"The Connecticut River is just a phenomenal bass fishery, especially early spring and fall," he continued. "It's just one of those great spots to fish. I would say Umbagog Lake in the northeast corner of New Hampshire for smallmouth bass during the early season, which, up there, would be early June. And Squam Lake was particularly good this past spring not only for smallmouth -- I know a guy who caught an 8-pound largemouth up there."
For more fishing information, call New Hampshire Fish and Game at (603) 271-2501 or go to www.wildlife.state.nh.us.
The Fisheries Division of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management continues to gather data on the state's black bass population, according to Phil Edwards, a fisheries biologist with RIDEM.
"We are still sampling bass tournaments all summer," Edwards said. "To back that up, we electro-fish for growth rate data and catch rates. Typically we monitor from late July through November 1. It's good to sample at the same time every year and not mix it in with spring spawning."
Edwards said that the RIDEM is looking at alternative management regulations down the road. Instead of the standard, statewide daily limit of five fish with a minimum length of 12 inches, regulations may become water-body specific. Other alternatives might include stocking forage fish, stocking bass and regulations to creation trophy bass waters.
"We are hoping to develop a management plan for black bass in Rhode Island," he said. "And to be able to determine which waters might benefit from alternative management strategies in place of statewide regulations."
Edwards said the outlook is good for bass anglers in 2011.
"I'm seeing some pretty nice catches at most of the tournaments that I do," he said.
He recommended Watchaug Pond as an all-around good bass destination throughout the season.
"There's a lot of nesting area on Watchaug," he said, "and it's deep so it stays good late into the season. Echo Lake is deep, so that's another good late-summer bass water."
Both species can be caught at Watchaug and Echo. Other best-bets for bucketmouths include Worden Pond, Wilson Reservoir and the Smith and Sayles Reservoir. For bronzeback action, try Stafford and Tiogue lakes.
For more Rhode Island fishing information, call (401) 789-7481or visit www.dem.ri.gov.
Black bass populations are carefully monitored in the Green Mountain State. Many inland lakes are surveyed annually, according to Bernie Pientka, a fisheries biologist with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. The biologist said there have been no recent changes to Vermont regulations for black bass. Open water fishing for bass is allowed from mid-June to the end of November. Ice fishing for bass is allowed from the third Saturday in January to March 15. Length and creel limits vary by water body.
While there are no specific concerns about bass numbers, worries about the spread of invasive aquatic species and diseases are keeping the VDFW plenty busy. Largemouth Bass Virus has been documented in Lake Champlain and Lake St. Catherine. Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia can be found in waters in the Great Lakes region. Didymo, also known as Rock Snot, has been found in at least three of Vermont's major rivers. Pientka said anglers could go a long ways toward protecting Vermont waters by simply cleaning their gear. More information about Didymo and proper cleansing techniques can be found at http://www.vtwaterquality.org/lakes/htm/ans/lp_didymo.htm.
Aquatic nuisance species aside, there's plenty of great bass fishing to be had in the Green Mountain State. Naturally, Lake Champlain tops that list for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. The diversity of this big lake allows anglers to fish a variety of habitats, making it a favorite bassing destination.
Other Vermont waters offering anglers a shot at both largemouth and smallmouth bass include the West River and Retreat Meadows in Brattleboro, Lake Morey in Fairlee and 2,360-acre Lake Bomoseen in Castleton and Hubbardton. Pientka said that Gale Meadows Pond in Londonderry is a good largemouth bass water. For smallmouth bass action, try the Waterbury or Moore reservoirs.
For fishing information call Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department at (802) 241-3700 or visit www.vtfishandwildlife.com.