Lace up your hiking boots and bring plenty of bait because these Nutmeg State winter bass lakes are worth the effort! Our expert explains how you can get in on the hardwater action this winter. (February 2007)
Snow blankets the Connecticut landscape, while ice covers its lakes and ponds, sealing their waters from the cold winter air.
But bass anglers know that when February's winds blow, that's the perfect time to fish. Avid bass enthusiasts who can't stay indoors during the cold months should consider the following lakes, which seem to offer great ice-fishing action -- even during the warmest of New England winters:
Lake Waramaug is Connecticut's second-largest natural lake, covering 656 acres. During summer months, much of the lake is unreachable for bass anglers because it lacks a public boat launch, and shoreline fishing areas are limited. But during the winter season, ice-anglers may walk right across the lake to pursue Waramaug's plentiful largemouth and smallmouth bass, brown trout, chain pickerel and yellow perch.
This lake lies in the towns of Kent and Warren in Litchfield County. Although it is a natural lake, a small dam raises its water level. Today, Lake Waramaug has a maximum depth of about 40 feet in the basin at the southwest corner of the lake and an average depth of 22 feet. Weeds can be a problem along the shoreline, but tip-ups set in 8 to 15 feet of water should stay clear of any aquatic vegetation.
In this lake, the alewife is the premier forage fish. Lures and live minnows that mimic this baitfish should produce the desired results. White suckers are also plentiful in the pond. Some savvy anglers seeking trophy- sized bass use live suckers as tip-up bait.
Much of the shoreline is privately owned, with numerous houses and cottages. Public access to the lake is largely confined to Lake Waramaug State Park at the lake's northwestern end.
The park can be reached by taking Route 45 north from Route 202 in Warren. Turn west onto North Shore Road. Signs mark the way to the state park. You should show up equipped with bait because there are no tackle shops near the lake.
Boaters who travel to Rogers Lake in summer often have difficulty launching boats because of low water levels. And fishermen must then deal with thick weed beds. These problems virtually vanish for ice-anglers visiting this 260-acre lake in the towns of Lyme and Old Lyme.
Like Waramaug, Rogers Lake is a natural lake with an elevated water level. Its maximum depth of 61 feet can be deceiving because the lake has a significant shoal around its perimeter and expansive areas of shallow water -- ideal places to look for the lake's winter population of largemouth bass and chain pickerel.
The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection also stocks the lake with trout and walleyes. Both species are legal game for ice-anglers.
The lake is shaped like an upside-down boot. Trout hunters will find the deepest water in the boot's "toe" at the northernmost end. Another deep basin is at the top of the boot at the southern end of the lake.
The better bass action seems to be near the shoal separating the two deep basins at the "ankle" portion of the lake. Also, try fishing the shoal near the dam at the lake's southern end, as well as the many isolated humps scattered throughout the northern basin.
Shoreline development is heavy, with numerous houses and cottages lining the shore. Access to the lake and parking comes mainly through a state-owned boat ramp on the eastern shore. Anglers will also find a small town park off Route 1 on the pond's southern end.
You can reach the launch ramp by taking Exit 70 from the Connecticut Turnpike (I-95) to Route 1. Travel east on Route 1 for approximately 2.5 miles. Turn north on Grassy Hill Road. Anglers parking at the launch ramp should be prepared to walk. The ramp is on a shallow canal away from the main lake. You'll find several tackle shops along Route 1 between Old Saybrook and Lyme.
BOLTON LAKE CHAIN
The Bolton Lake chain is a series of three distinct ponds connected by a small river system. Anglers have about 340 acres of bass-fishing water at their disposal. The largest (and most southern) portion of the chain at is 175-acre Lower Bolton Lake.
Middle Bolton Lake covers 121 acres, and Upper Bolton Lake covers 50 acres. Lower Bolton is a natural lake with a dam that increases its water depth. Middle and Upper Bolton Lakes are manmade.
The maximum depth is about 18 feet for the lower and middle ponds. Upper Bolton Lake is shallow, averaging only 6 feet of water.
These lakes are often drawn down two feet or more during winter to control aquatic vegetation. Anglers will need to adjust their lake charts accordingly. All three lakes have healthy, abundant populations of largemouth bass up to 14 inches. But because of the lake system's population dynamics, don't expect to catch many 5-pounders here.
In an effort to enhance the bass population and promote increased bass sizes, the DEP has enacted several special regulations, including a slot limit of 12 to 16 inches. All bass within this length must be released. Also, the state has a six-fish creel limit, and only two bass may be larger than 16 inches.
Weeds can be a problem along the shoreline. But tip-ups set in 8 to 15 feet of water should stay clear of any aquatic vegetation.
Except for Upper Bolton Lake, most of the shoreline along the chain is private, with numerous houses and cottages. Access is largely limited to state-owned facilities. Winter anglers will find a state-owned boat ramp on Lower Bolton Lake on Route 44 in Bolton, about one mile east of the Interstate Route 384 terminus.
Middle and Upper Bolton Lakes can be accessed from a dual launch area off Cedar Swamp Road. On Route 44, travel east on the Lower Bolton Lake launch ramp for about one mile. Turn north onto Cedar Swamp Road. About 1.5 miles ahead is the intersection of Vernon Branch Road. Turn left to the Middle-Upper Bolton Lake Causeway.
Middle Bolton Lake has a launch ramp for trailered boats. Upper Bolton Lake has a car-top, walk-in ramp.
Anglers should bring plenty of bait because tackle shops are not conveniently located near these lakes.
This unsung pond in Nipmuck State Forest is a gem for ice-anglers willing to hike in. Nearly all of the pond's 91 acres lies in the town of Union. The extreme northern tip of this long, thin pond reaches into Sturbridge, Mass. Thanks to special reciprocal agreements between Massachusetts and Connecticut, anglers from either state may fish the pond using either state'
s resident fishing license.
The pond is all natural, with no dams or other human alterations. Its water is supplied from several small, unnamed brooks and underground springs. The lake is relatively deep, with a maximum depth of 14 feet and an average depth of 6 feet. Anglers will find several small islands and two large submerged cedar stands that attract largemouth bass.
The water is tannin-stained, so anglers should use brightly colored beads or spoons to enhance their fish-attracting potential.
Access to the pond is through Bigelow Hollow State Park. From the park, anglers must walk 1.3 miles to access the pond. The walk is worth the effort, however, since the shoreline is completely wooded and pristine. Few ice-anglers make the jaunt, so it's possible to have the lake all to yourself, especially during the week.
The park is off Exit 73 from I-84. Travel north on Route 190 to Route 171. Turn east to Bigelow Hollow State Park. In addition to largemouth bass, you can expect to catch yellow perch, crappies and chain pickerel.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Fishing license fees for Connecticut residents are $20 for the season. Non-resident license fees are $40 for the season, or $16 for a three-day permit. For fishing and licensing information, contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, Inland Fisheries Division, 79 Elm Street, Hartford, CT 06106. Call (860) 424-3475, or visit the department's Web site at www.dep.state.ct.us.
For information on travel and accommodations, write the Connecticut Tourism Division, 14 Rumford Street, West Hartford, CT 06107; or call 1-800-282-6863.
Connecticut has no closed season on bass, but lakes stocked with trout are closed to all fishing during March. Anglers should check the latest fishing regulations before selecting an ice-fishing destination.