Smallmouths and largemouths continue to gain popularity among anglers in the Northeast, and biologists are meeting the challenge by producing more bigger fish each season. Our expert has the story. (April 2006)
Bass were once considered "trash fish" among New England's devoted trout and salmon anglers. Over the past few decades, however, tackle-busting bass action has earned the species new respect, improved management and hordes of avid bass anglers.
"Black bass," which are neither black nor even true bass, are now the most enthusiastically pursued fish in North America. They probably also haul in more fishing-related dollars than all other freshwater species combined.
These feisty fish are cousins to the sunfish family, despite being larger and longer than the typically short, chubby varieties of "sunfish." The color reference comes from the fact that bass fry are black for a short time after hatching and hover in dark clouds near their nests.
For most anglers, bass are fun to catch and good to eat, and that's all that matters at the end of a day on the water.
Thanks to hard work and careful management by New England's fisheries biologists, largemouth and smallmouth bass are plentiful in most of the region's inland waters. Bass action may be enjoyed year 'round on many waters, and management projects to create trophy bass fisheries are already underway.
Here's a state-by-state roundup of waters that will offer reliable year-round bass action for your 2006 fishing forays:
Warmwater fisheries are an important part of the Nutmeg State's outdoor recreation picture. Interest in bass fishing is on the rise. That increased pressure calls for innovative and effective management.
Trophy bass management plans and regulations set in place in 2002 should be paying off now. Two general types of Bass Management Areas were included in the plan: Big Bass Lakes, where the goal is to increase the number of quality bass, and Trophy Bass Lakes, where the goal is to develop a trophy-class fishery.
Trophy Bass Lakes, where the slot limit is 12 to 18 inches with a daily creel limit of six bass, include Amos and Pattagansett lakes, Moodus Reservoir and Mudge Pond.
Big Bass Areas, with a minimum length of 16 inches and a daily creel limit of two bass, include Gardner, Highland and Housatonic lakes, and Mehegan Park Pond.
For a complete listing of Connecticut's Trophy and Big Bass management waters, visit http://dep.state. ct.us.
Lake Housatonic, Lake Zoar, Amos, Cedar, Gardner, Halls, Bantam, Shenipsit, Candlewood and Mudge lakes all give up bass in the 6- to 7-pound range in April's icy waters. Spring smallmouth action, with fish ranging from 3 to 4 pounds, can be had at the Saugatuck Reservoir and Bashan, Waramaug and Wyassup lakes.
Summer waters yield good to excellent fishing for largemouths in Lake Williams, Lake Lillinonah, Congamond, Billings (which gave up an 8.25-pound bass in 2005) and East Twin lakes.
Summer smallmouths can be found at Housatonic, Hatch Pond, Squantz Pond and Coventry Lake. Fishing ranges from very good to excellent in the Farmington (especially in the Tarrifville area), Quinebaug, Pomperaug and Housatonic rivers.
Anglers will find fall largemouths at Mansfield Hollow Reservoir, North Farms Reservoir, Congamond, Candlewood, Rogers and Crystal lakes, and at Beach, Pierrepont and Stillwater ponds. Fair fall smallmouth action may be enjoyed at Gardner Lake, Squantz Pond and in the Quinebaug and Housatonic rivers.
To pull largemouth bass up through the ice, head for Lake Waramaug, Coventry, West Twin or Bantam lakes or the Enfield Cove on the Connecticut River.
For fisheries information, visit http://dep.state.ct.us or call (860) 424-3474. For travel information, visit www.visitconnecticut.com.
Bass are found in about 0.5 million acres of the Pine Tree State's 38,000 miles of lakes, ponds and rivers. Although Maine's bass population requires careful management, the primary strategy is based on natural reproduction with no stocking required.
Management decisions have been driven by size issues and concerns about research in Ontario indicating that black bass in the northern part of their range are susceptible to climate-induced year-class failures. Regulations include a 12-inch length limit and a one-fish bag limit from Jan. 1 to June 20 each year. During the rest of the year, the limit is three fish, only one of which may exceed 14 inches.
Ice-out comes late to Maine's chilly waters, but biologists have heard from spring bass anglers reporting great catches. Fishing for smallmouths has met with good success on Thomas Pond. Spring electro-shocking projects on both Thomas and Treckey ponds yielded bass in excellent condition, with several in the 4- to 5-pound range.
By late May, smallmouth fishing is good at Ellis, Clearwater and Mount Blue ponds and in the Androscoggin River near Canton. For largemouths, the best bets include Crowell and Norcross ponds and Wesserunsett Lake.
For midsummer largemouths, try Round Pond in Rome. The pond is accessible only by a foot trail from Watson Pond Road. Last summer, biologists discovered a good population of young largemouths residing in the shallows and a number of bigger largemouths nearby.
For smallmouths over 16 inches in length, try Clearwater Pond. The Penobscot River and South Branch and Seboeis lakes are also good bets.
Most lakes and ponds are open to fishing until the end of November with catch-and-release regulations on trout, salmon and bass. Fall action remains good at the Androscoggin River on either side of Riley Dam in Jay or Canton, where very large smallmouths tend to hide out.
For winter action, chisel some holes at Upper Range Pond in Poland. Anglers report catching a fair number of both largemouths and smallmouths there. Some jaw-dropping entries landed on the scales during a 2005 derby in Hancock County, with Great Pond giving up a first-place largemouth weighing in at 5 pounds, 7 ounces, and Somes Pond produced a 4-pound, 5-ounce smallmouth.
For fisheries information, visit www.maine.gov/ifw/idex.html or call
(207) 287-8000. For travel information, visit www.visit-maine.com.
Largemouth bass are fast becoming one of the most popular freshwater sport fish in Massachusetts. MassWildlife has been actively managing largemouth bass since their introduction to the state 120 years ago.
Old management practices consisted of transplanting adult bass from one pond to another. In the early 1900s, hatchery culture and stocking programs began for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. By the late 1960s, largemouth populations had become self-sustaining. Current management includes a year-round fishing season, a five-fish-per-day creel limit and a 12-inch minimum size.
MassWildlife fisheries biologist Richard Hartley is the state's Warm and Cool Water Project leader. Over the years, Hartley has developed a list of best-bet waters for Bay State bass. The only difficulty is that there are so many to choose from!
"I've got to be honest," he said. "It's hard to pick. I went through our award program and looked at the most consistent producers in better than a 40-year history of records for most game species."
Best bets for largemouths include Glen Charlie, Sampson, Mashpee-Wakeby, Long and Snipatuit ponds, Webster Lake, Agawam River and the Wachusett, New Bedford and Quabbin reservoirs.
"All of the southeast region ponds get really good action when they freeze in winter," Hartley said. "But they are all good spring open-water ponds," he added, pointing out that there is no ice-fishing allowed at Quabbin or Wachusett. "Quabbin is really good all the time if you know where to go, and Long Pond is very good when it freezes. It's a popular tournament lake with good catches year 'round.
"Options for the northeast part of the state include the Charles, Concord and Nashua rivers, which have all really come into their own as bass fisheries," Hartley said. "It's pretty much open water, but when they freeze, anglers can fish the coves." In central Massachusetts, anglers should try their luck at Webster Lake.
In the Connecticut Valley, the Connecticut River is a great producer, Hartley continued.
"The Congamond lakes in Southwick are No. 1 other than the Connecticut River, and consistently produce good largemouths in all seasons."
Anglers in the western part of the state should try the Cheshire Reservoir and Lake Buel.
"While smallmouth bass are limited in distribution, we have some fantastic smallmouth waters," Hartley said. Best bets include many of the waters listed above, as well as Peter's, Spectacle, Great Herring, Cliff, Flax and John's ponds.
For fisheries information, visit www.masswildlife.com or call (508) 792-7270. For travel information, go towww.visit-massachusetts.com.
The Granite State has over 1,300 lakes and ponds, with bass populating about half of them. An ambitious dam removal program has restored bass habitat along several rivers, as well. The 10-foot-high, 137-foot West Henniker Dam has been removed from the Contoocook River, opening up new habitat for the river's plentiful supply of smallmouths. This was the fourth dam to be removed in the state for the purpose of habitat restoration since 2001.
With so many great bass waters, four-season action isn't hard to find. Gabe Gries, a New Hampshire fisheries biologist, said big spring largemouths have been taken from the Connecticut River setbacks and from Pool Pond, and noted that New Hampshire bass fishing really heats up by mid-May.
As summer approaches, some best bets for hungry bass include the Connecticut River, Willard Pond, Forest, Warren, Highland and Laurel lakes, Lake Monomonac and Thorndike, Rockwood and Pearly ponds.
"Laurel Lake's smallmouths and largemouths are abundant," Gries reported, "with most fish being less than 15 inches long. This particular population would benefit from some harvest of 10- to 12-inch bass, so if you like catching lots of bass and are willing to take a few home to eat, this is the place to go."
By July, Gries said, smallmouth bass are in full summer patterns, with most anglers reporting success in water as deep as 25 to 35 feet. As with most sport fish, early morning and late afternoon until dark are prime times for smallmouth bass. One of our favorite methods is fly-fishing poppers over rock shoals late in the day.
"In our clear waters, smallmouths will come a surprising distance for an easy meal, often 20 feet or more," he said. "With the majority of quality-sized bass down even deeper, it certainly is not the most productive technique at this time of year, but there is nothing like a smallmouth smashing a popper."
Gries said that bass fishing on the big lakes remains outstanding into the fall.
The fun continues into winter, with anglers pulling bass up through the ice at Highland Lake, Island Pond, Contoocook, Lake Potanipo, Cresent Lake and Drew Lake.
Some good waters to try for include Pemigewasset and Wickwas lakes, the shallow bays along Lake Winnipesaukee, Hawkins Pond, Lees Mills Pond and Suncook Lakes.
For fisheries information, visit www.wildlife.state.nh.us or call (603) 271-2501. For travel information, go to www.visit-newhampshire.com.
When heading to the Ocean State, don't forget to try some of their great inland waters. Bass management here consists of angler surveys and electrofishing surveys to gather catch rate and fish growth data.
"We do have a bass survey that we conduct each year to monitor the bass population," said Phil Edwards, who heads up the bass management program for Rhode Island's Division of Fish and Wildlife. "The preliminary finding is that the bass population is stable. The surveys that we do are angler surveys to monitor tournaments, plus fall electro-shocking in the ponds. We compare the catch rates and gather growth data."
Current regulations call for a 12-inch length limit and a daily creel limit of five bass.
For great early-season action for both largemouth and smallmouth bass, Edwards suggested Watchaug Pond, which offers good catches from spring right through the hot summer months, thanks to its depth.
Wilson Pond and Echo Lake yield both species of bass pretty much year 'round. Tiogue Lake and Stafford Pond are two other popular spots for largemouth and smallmouth bass, Edwards said.
Worden Pond is the hotspot for largemouth ac
tion on the ice, as well as great pike fishing.
The state-record largemouth (10 pounds, 6 ounces) was taken out of Carbuncle Pond back in 1991, and the record smallmouth (5 pounds, 15 ounces) was landed at Wash Pond in 1977.
While 10-pounders may be rare these days, Edwards said that good-sized fish weighing in at 5 to 6 pounds are consistently pulled out of Watchaug, Wilson and Echo during annual tournaments and electro-shocking surveys.
Go to www.dem.ri.gov/programs/bnatres for fisheries information or call (401) 789-7481.
For travel information, check out www.visitri.com.
"Bass of both species are prolific, so we have some very basic fishing regulations on them," said John Hall, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department information specialist.
Regulations in the Green Mountain State include a basic fishing season on bass that opens the second Saturday each June and runs to Nov. 30, with a minimum length limit of 10 inches and a creel limit of five bass. There is also an early catch-and- release season with artificial baits that begins the second Saturday in April and ends the Friday in June before the opener of the regular season.
Hall recommends taking a close look at the 2006 digest of fishing laws, which may be viewed at www.vtfishandwildlife.com.
"We recently revamped some of the older regulations, and that will become apparent in the 2006 publication," Hall said. During the revamping process, the team is going to take a close look at the remaining regulations, and may discuss management geared toward developing trophy bass fisheries.
"Lake Champlain is the most productive water we have for both largemouth and smallmouth bass," Hall said. "At over 100 miles long, and with many bays all along the Vermont shore, there's good bass fishing almost anywhere you look, with largemouth concentrations in shallow bays in summer, and smallmouth bass along dropoffs and islands."
Hall said Lake Bomoseen has superb largemouth fishing. Anglers there should be prepared to fish in thick aquatic vegetation, which is abundant.
"Waters that I would look to for smallmouths are Lake Seymour in the Northeast Kingdom, and Salem Lake nearby," Hall said. "Both species are widespread throughout the state. The lower portions of the rivers that flow into Lake Champlain offer really good spring and summer smallmouth fishing. They take up residence in the lower portions below the first dams in rivers like the Missisquoi, Lamoille, Winooski and Otter Creek.
For additional Vermont fisheries information, visit the agency's Web site listed above or call (802) 241-3700.
For travel information, visit www.travel-vermont.com.