Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island offer some of the best winter bassin' in the East, with ready access to lakes and ponds that are not always available to anglers in summer. (February 2010)
Several years ago, I took an ice-fishing trip to Moodus Reservoir in East Haddam, Conn. While I was setting out my tip-ups, I found a few suckers in my bait bucket, leftovers from a recent northern pike expedition. Knowing the lake had a good population of trophy-class chain pickerel, I rigged one of the 6-inch bottom feeders to the line. Within minutes I connected, not with a toothy pickerel, but with a 24-inch largemouth bass.
The remaining two suckers produced 22-inch and 20-inch largemouths. Since then, I have been hooked on catching big bass through the ice.
Catching trophy-sized bass in winter requires three essential elements the right bait, fishing at the right time and being in the right place. I'll leave the first two items to the reader. But the following locations may provide the third ingredient for a successful winter bass trip:
Upper Moodus Reservoir
The Upper and Lower Moodus reservoirs are really one lake divided by a road and causeway. The fish can migrate under the bridge, but fishermen cannot. Thus, the two ponds act as separate and distinct fisheries.
Upper Moodus, the site of the above sucker-bait scene, consists of 360 acres of shallow and weedy water. It has an average depth of only three feet. With some effort and a good through-the-ice depthfinder, anglers can find a few "deep" holes in the 6- to 9-foot range.
The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection also includes the Moodus Reservoir complex in its Trophy Bass Program. Anglers must adhere to a 15-inch size limit for both lakes. This restrictive size limit was designed to encourage growth and protect the larger bass. According to DEP surveys, the largemouth bass have responded well to the regulations and fish well over the 15-inch length limit are common.
Ice-anglers should concentrate on the lake's deeper holes. One of the better ones is found on the southeast side of the island. Another tempting spot, which requires a bit of walking, may be found at the extreme southern end of the lake. Look for a 6-foot pocket in the center of the back cove. The water flowing under the causeway is also deep, but ice-anglers should avoid this area as road salts and under-ice currents degrade the ice, making it unsafe.
Because the pond is weedy, use double split shot above your bait to keep minnows from becoming entangled in the green stuff. Stout lines (10-pound-test or more) will reduce break-offs from large bass and toothy pickerel. The pond also has a healthy population of yellow perch that will plague your baits unless you opt for medium- to large-sized minnows.
The DEP maintains a launch ramp on the lake where ice-anglers can park. Take Route 2 south from Hartford to Exit 18. Follow Route 16 west for about three miles to Route 149. Turn south on Route 149. After crossing the lake, turn left on Bashan Falls Road. At the end of the road, turn left on Haddam-Colchester Turnpike. Just before the reservoir causeway, turn right onto Launching Area Road and travel about one half-mile to the ramp.
Lower Moodus Reservoir
This 125-acre lake is significantly different from its bigger sister. Anglers will find a wide variety of bass habitat from shallow, weedy coves to deep-water points and dropoffs. This lake has a maximum depth of 14 feet with an average depth of about 6 feet. The deepest water is off the launch ramp in the direction of the dam.
Anglers can expect to find quality largemouth bass, yellow perch and chain pickerel. The golden shiner is the most abundant baitfish in the lake. Anglers using local natural baits will fare better than those using hatchery-raised shiners.
Some of the better spots to set out tip-ups include the points adjacent to the boat launch ramp and the mouths of the two large coves at the southern end of the pond.
For safety reasons, avoid fishing near the causeway culvert. The area immediately around the dam should also be avoided.
This lake is in extreme southern Connecticut. Winter temperatures are often mild, so the ice-fishing season starts late and ends early here. Verify that there is safe ice whenever you visit Moodus Reservoir.
The DEP maintains a boat launch on Lower Moodus Reservoir, too. Follow the same directions as above, but do not cross the lake on Route 149. Just before the lake bridge, turn left onto Mott Lane and then take a quick right on a dirt road to the boat launch area.
Connecticut anglers received some bad news about Bantam Lake last summer. The town of Morris, which leased the boat launching area to the DEP, decided it would not renew its contract. Now the ramp is off-limits to non-residents, essentially closing one of the best bass and northern pike lakes in the state.
While boaters no longer have access to the 916-acre lake, ice-anglers have plenty of options. The northern half of the lake is surrounded by the White Memorial Foundation Wildlife Preserve. Anglers may park and hike through this area to access the lake. Another option is to park along Route 209.
Anglers visiting the lake have an excellent chance of catching trophy-class largemouth and smallmouth bass. The better largemouth fishing may be found in the shallow, weedy areas along Route 209 or in the northern end of the pond near the mouth of the Bantam River.
Tip-ups baited with minnows or small suckers are the top largemouth producers. Anglers looking for winter smallmouth bass will do better jigging with spoons or live minnows. In the northern end of the lake are two distinct points. Folly Point on the western shore guards the Bantam River outflow. The water depths around the point descend to 20 feet and more.
Directly across the lake from Folly Point, anglers will find a long point that has a more gradual slope. Test both points for smallmouths at various depths.
Access to the lake is now limited to roadside parking. In past years, winter anglers were able to park at the town beach, but because of the launch closing, anglers are unsure if that will be permitted this winter.
To get to Bantam Lake, take Exit 38 off Route 8 in Thomaston. Follow Route 109 to Route 209. Turn right and look for roadside parking as you drive along the lake. You may also drive north on Route 209 into the White Memorial Preserve and use those parking facilities.
Seymour Pond, Brewster
Also called Bangs Pond on some older maps, Seymour Pond is a 181- acre natural "kettle" pond. It has an average depth of 20 feet with a 38-foot-deep hole in its northeast corner.
Seymour Pond is relatively weed free. Most of the bottom is composed of sand and rubble, as is common in any Cape Cod pond. Shoreline development is minimal. Cranberry bogs line the western shoreline, while the Cape Cod Rail Trail runs along the eastern shoreline.
Ice-anglers will have an equal opportunity to catch largemouth and smallmouth bass in this pond. Yellow and white perch are also abundant for those using jigging equipment. The main forage in the lake is alewives and grass shrimp. When looking for largemouths, focus on the western shore where the water is shallower and there are a few points to hold fish.
In the center of the pond, anglers will find a submerged hump that rises from the deep basin coming up to about 5 feet. Smallmouth bass concentrate around the hump for easy access to the alewives.
Access to Seymour Pond is through the town beach or from the Cape Cod Rail Trail. Take Exit 10 off Route 6, and drive north on Route 124. Watch for the beach and roadside parking as you pass the pond.
Baker Pond is close enough to Seymour Pond to make a day trip worthwhile. Baker is small, covering only 26 acres of water. While Baker Pond is also a natural kettle pond, it is much deeper than Seymour Pond. Its maximum depth is 60 feet with an average depth of 18 feet. The water is very clear and aquatic vegetation is scarce.
The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife manages the pond primarily for trout. It is stocked every spring and trout often hold over through the winter months. But Baker Pond also harbors a nice population of smallmouth bass and yellow perch. If you are looking for trout, set up in the center of the pond. Look for bass along the points and cove mouths that line the western shoreline.
There is also a submerged hump at the mouth of the large cove in the southwest corner of the pond. Water depths rise from 40 to 10 feet in a matter of about 20 yards. Smallmouth bass suspend around this hump during the winter months.
Scrub pine and oak trees border most of the shore, with a few year-round homes scattered about the lake. Access to the pond is provided by MassWildlife through a small beach area on the east side of the pond. Parking is available for up to 10 vehicles.
The pond is in the town of Orleans west of Route 6. To get there, take Exit 12 off Route 6. Turn left onto Route 6A, and drive back under Route 6. Take the first left onto Baker Pond Road. The access is about one mile from this turn.
During summer, anglers often shun Lake Garfield because of crowded launching conditions and pleasure boat activities. Once the ice covers this 262-acre lake, however, anglers have free rein over the bass.
Garfield is relatively deep with a 31-foot basin and a 16-foot average depth. This makes the pond ideal for the trout MassWildlife stocks every spring.
Many holdover fish find their way to tip-ups each winter. Largemouth and smallmouth bass also share the pond. Yellow perch, white perch and chain pickerel are also available, so ice-anglers will find a smorgasbord of options.
Aquatic vegetation is prevalent along the shoreline. Submerged boulders and underwater manmade structures are also good bass target areas. These objects are easy to find even under the ice. For example, boat-mooring buoys usually indicate anchors or cement blocks.
Public access is available off Tyringham Road in the town of Monterey. To get to Garfield Lake, take Route 8 into Otis. Turn west onto Route 23. From Monterey center, turn right onto Tyringham Road to the ramp.
Ice-fishermen will find plenty of largemouth bass and chain pickerel in Ponkapoag Pond, but there are days when the bass action is so hot you need to watch out for melting ice!
The pond covers 203 acres. It has a maximum depth of 7 feet and an average depth of 4 feet. Aquatic vegetation and algae are well established and abundant. Be prepared to deal with green strings hanging from your tip-up lines. Also use heavy leaders so the razor-toothed pickerel don't cut your hooks off.
Only a small portion of the eastern shoreline is developed. The southeast and west shores are bordered by large expanses of marshland. Anglers will not find a formal public access on the pond, but there is street-side parking and an access point near the dam on the pond's western end.
From Interstate Route 93, take the exit for Route 138 south for about two miles. Turn left onto Randolph Street. Watch for access points along this street.
This 35-acre lake produced the state-record largemouth bass in 1991. Compared with the other New England states; record bass, Carbuncle's 10-pound, 6-ounce fish is small, but ice-fishermen visiting the pond may have a chance to top the record.
The pond is oval shaped with an average depth of 16 feet. There is a 24-foot hole in the pond's center.
Bass tend to winter in the northern and southern ends of the pond. The shoreline along the center of the pond has steep dropoffs and shoals. Largemouth bass and yellow perch, the pond's other primary tip-up targets, prefer flatter bottoms than do smallmouths.
To get there from Providence, take I-295 south to Exit 4. Follow Route 14 west for about 15 miles. Anglers will find a state boat-launching ramp on the north end of the pond off Route 14.