Bass anglers throughout the Northeast can look forward to another great season in 2009. Here's a look at what state biologists are doing to improve an already solid fishery. (April 2009)
Black bass are on the fast track to becoming New England's No. 1 sport fish. These hard-hitting, voracious feeders will strike a wide variety of baits. Their ferocious fighting style has surprised many an angler used to less aggressive fish. Luckily, there are thousands of waters throughout the Northeast that are teeming with big bucketmouths and bronzebacks.
Each state's fisheries biologists carefully monitor this important resource. Naturally reproducing bass populations are most common, but stocking programs come into play to supplement bass numbers where necessary.
Biologists from every state report that bass are thriving. Daily creel limits, length limits and slot limits are the most common tools used to manage the species. These regulations are adjusted frequently, so always check the current law book before heading for the water.
Here, courtesy of New England's bass biologists, is a roundup of best-bet waters to explore in 2009:
Black bass in the Nutmeg State are managed through various fishing regulations, according to Bob Jacobs, eastern district supervisor with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's Inland Fisheries Division. There is no closed season on bass in Connecticut, and in most waters a 12-inch minimum length and six-fish creel limit are in effect.
"In addition to waters managed under the general rule, we have 29 Bass Management Lakes that have more conservative regulations on bass," Jacobs said. "Our Bass Management Lakes fall into two categories. First, Big Bass Management Lakes have either a 12- to 16-inch slot limit or a 16-inch minimum length limit with a daily creel limit of two fish over 16 inches. Second, Trophy Bass Management Lakes have either a 12- to-18-inch slot limit or an 18-inch minimum length, and only one fish above 18 inches may be taken."
The DEP is in its final season of sampling to assess the effects of these regulations, implemented in 2002, on Bass Management Lakes.
"In general, bass populations are doing very well in Connecticut, likely due to the high voluntary release rates by anglers," Jacobs said. "Catch rates by bass tournament anglers and by the general public, as determined by our own creel surveys, are higher than ever in most water bodies.
"However, in some highly pressured systems, bass may be getting harder to catch for average anglers," Jacobs noted. "This is probably due to population shifts in habitat use -- fish spending more time in deeper water than they used to -- and to foraging habits, because fish are more wary than they used to be. These shifts are probably due more to evolutionary selection than to fish learning to avoid baits. Angling quickly removes the easier-to-catch bass."
Jacobs's top picks for bass this year include Candlewood Lake in the western portion of the state and Gardner Lake to the east for smallmouth bass; and East Twin Lake, Amos Lake, Ball Pond and the Moodus Reservoir for largemouth bass action.
For more Connecticut fishing information, call (860) 424-3474 or visit www.ct.gov/dep.
The Pine Tree State once had specific black bass regulations on specific water bodies for just bucketmouths or bronzebacks, but that changed in 2008, according to Rick Jordan, a Region C fisheries biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
"There used to be 25 bass regulations in the law book, but the streamlined 2008 version lists four," Jordan said.
These regulations, and a new bass plan, are geared toward protecting bass during spawning season, increasing numbers of big bass, and thinning out smaller bass in overpopulated waters.
Wet, cold springs from 2004 to 2006 may limit the number of bass under 10 inches available to anglers in 2009, but Jordon said that anglers should still expect to see good numbers of larger bass because those fish were produced in years with good spawning conditions.
"There are over 620 bass waters in Maine," Jordan said. "None of them are stocked. They don't need to be stocked because natural reproduction is sufficient to maintain a good population."
For fast action for smaller fish, check out Cathance Lake in Cooper or Meddybemps Lake in Meddybemps. For bigger bass, head to Big Lake in T27 ED, or Green Lake in Ellsworth.
"Green Lake is a smallmouth bass lake," Jordan said. "It has some nice bass over 20 inches in it. The fishing is a little slow there in spring and it's one of the last to get warmed up, so the fishing is best after June 10.
"Big Lake is one of the most popular bass lakes in Maine," he continued. "It's a really good smallmouth lake, a 'fast catch' lake.
"Alamoosook Lake in Orland has a nice boat launch at the Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery," Jordan noted. "Both bass species are in Alamoosook, and some can get pretty big, too -- a few over 20 inches."
Central Maine waters to try this year include Cobbosseecontee Lake in Winthrop, China Lake in Vassalboro, Androscoggin Lake in Wayne and Annabessacook Lake in Monmouth. In the Penobscot Region, smallmouth action is good at South Branch Pond in Seboeis Plantation. There's a public boat launch on the south shore. East Grand Lake also offers up great smallmouth fishing. Public access is available in Danforth, Weston and Orient. Or fish the Penobscot River from Bangor to Medway. The river is predominantly occupied by bronzebacks, but largemouth bass are often caught in the lower sections.
For more Pine Tree State fishing information, call the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at (207) 287-8000, or visit www.maine.gov/ifw/.
Management of Bay State bass is fairly straightforward, according to Richard Hartley, aquatic biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and the state's Warm and Cool Water Project leader.
"To manage bass, we have a statewide 12-inch minimum length limit and a five-fish daily aggregate creel limit," Hartley said. "We also monitor populations through surveys, creels, bass tournaments and the Freshwater Sportfishing Awards Program. There have been no recent changes to bass management mainly because our results show that populations statewide are doing well and most anglers practice strict catch and release."
Hartley said that 2009 should be as productive as ever for Bay State bass anglers. A few of his top picks for smallmouth bass include the Connecticut River, Flax Pond in Brewster, and the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs.
For multiple access points along the Connecticut River, see DeLorme's Massachusetts Atlas and Gazetteer, map 35.
A little over a mile of 48-acre Flax Pond's shoreline is undeveloped because it is within Nickerson State Park. The park is south of Route 6A near the Orleans line. Once inside the park, take a left onto Flax Pond Road. Access is primarily via the beach area. Car-top boats and canoes may be launched after a short carry down a steep slope. Electric motors only are allowed.
The best bet for largemouth waters include the East Brimfield Reservoir in Sturbridge, Metacomet Lake in Belchertown, Rohunta Lake in Orange, Pontoosuc Lake in Pittsfield, the Agawam River in Wareham, the A-1 Site in Westborough, Greenland Pond in Brewster, the New Bedford Reservoir in Acushnet, the Quabbin Reservoir and Spectacle Pond in Wareham.
There are multiple access sites on the 420-acre East Brimfield Reservoir. Boats may be navigated from the north section to the south via a large culvert that runs beneath Route 20. See DeLorme's MAG, map 49, for details.
The 325-acre A-1 Site is also known as Stump Pond. A-1 is about one-half mile southwest of Westboro center off Mill Road. There's a ramp appropriate for small boats and canoes, and plenty of parking on either side of the road.
For additional A-1 Site information, check DeLorme's MAG, map 39.
For more Bay State fishing information, call (508) 389-6300 or visit www. mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/.
Black bass in the Granite State are managed through seasonally adjusted daily bag limits and catch-and-release restrictions during the spawn. Surveys conducted annually on various waters monitor the status of bass populations.
According to Gabe Gries, a fisheries biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, and the state's Warmwater Project leader, the objectives in conducting summer surveys are to assess fish condition, size and population structure, relative abundance of bass and community species and to compare measured population parameters with statewide values and among water bodies.
Department biologists conduct a number of surveys each year, including young-of-the-year electro-shocking surveys in Lake Winnipesaukee, Big Squam Lake and the Connecticut River each fall.
In 2006, biologists started collecting bass to test for largemouth bass virus, one of more than 100 naturally occurring viruses in fish.
"Because the virus can sometimes kill or otherwise negatively impact largemouth bass and may be spread or at least influenced by anglers, it is important to test fish to learn if the virus is present in New Hampshire, educate anglers about the virus, and try to minimize its spread," Gries said.
There haven't been any recent changes in bass management regulations, but Gries plans to begin recommending some slot-length limits on a few select waters in the near future.
"Based on reports from 2008, this year should be another fantastic year for bass anglers in the Granite State," he predicted. "Lake Umbagog is a great smallmouth fishery and is especially good in spring, as is the Moore Dam Reservoir on the Connecticut River. The Connecticut River from Orford south is a prime largemouth and smallmouth fishery any time of the year, thanks to its great habitat and abundant baitfish. Highland Lake in Andover and Stoddard are also bass fisheries worth looking at."
For more fishing information, call the New Hampshire Fish and Game at (603) 271-2501 or go online to www.wildlife.state.nh.us.
Bass managers in the Ocean State have switched gears regarding management for largemouth bass, according to Phil Edwards, a fisheries biologist with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management's Fish and Wildlife Division. For the past five years, the state has had a bass program on select ponds, which were stocked during the first three years.
"The plan is now to actually try to develop a management plan statewide so it will include all the bass waters in Rhode Island," Edwards said. "We need to determine if we want to change the regulations, or if we want to expand instead of concentrating on just five ponds."
The new bass plan will be developed over the coming five years, Edwards said, using data from the most recent five-year project, electro-shocking surveys and samplings at tournament weigh-ins.
"The statewide plan will be used as a public information document and a reference source for anglers," he said. "That's our hope, anyway. Completion of the plan is another five to seven years out, though, because we just started."
Edwards said this process would assist in determining which Rhode Island water systems might benefit from alternative management strategies in place of current statewide regulations. Presently, the creel limit is five bass with a 12-inch length minimum.
"The bass forecast for the 2009 season is predicted to be good," he said. "Preliminary fall electro-shocking results have shown abundant numbers of young age-classes of bass."
Edwards recommends Watchaug, Stafford and Tiogue lakes for smallmouth bass. For bucketmouths, head for any of the above or Echo Lake, Worden Pond, Wilson Reservoir or the Smith and Sayles Reservoir. All of these waters offer great fishing year 'round, with good public access and boat ramps, he said.
When ice-fishing season rolls around, opportunities for bass can be had at Watchaug, which holds both largemouth and smallmouth bass, or focus on the bucketmouths at Worden or Johnson ponds.
Access to Stafford Pond may be had off Route 81 in Tiverton. There's a state-owned boat ramp and plenty of parking. Access, parking and a state-owned boat ramp for Echo Lake, also known as the Pascoag Reservoir, may be had off Jackson School House Road and Route 44 in Glocester-Burriville. There's a state-owned ramp off Sand Dam Road in Glocester that provides access to the Smith and Sayles Reservoir.
For more Rhode Island fishing information, call (401) 789-7481 or visit www.dem.ri.gov.
Fisheries biologists in the Green Mountain State survey many inland lakes annually, according to Bernie Pientka of the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. When needed, biologically special regulations have been implemented, the fisheries biologist said.
"For example, Baker Pond in Brookfield and Kent Pond in Sherburne have special bag and slot limits to help with an over-abundant bass population resulting in lots of
small fish," Pientka said.
"There have not been any recent changes to management efforts or regulations," he added. "One area we are trying to stress is 'aquatic nuisance species' (ANS) issues and the precautions that anglers should be taking to help reduce the spread of invasive aquatic plants.
"In addition, we have documented largemouth bass virus in Lake Champlain and Lake St. Catherine. There is VHS (viral hemorrhagic septicemia) in the Great Lakes region. We're asking anglers to clean their equipment and boats thoroughly to help reduce the spread of these diseases," he said.Despite these concerns, Pientka said bass populations in many Vermont waters are doing well.
"As many people already know, Lake Champlain has a great bass fishery for both largemouth and smallmouth bass," he said. "Additionally, the lake is diverse and gives anglers the chance to fish a variety of habitats. There are plenty of access points, too."
Pientka recommended several other waters. For bucketmouths in the southeastern portion of the state, fish Lake Sadagwa in Whitingham, Gale Meadows Pond in Londonderry or Stoughton Pond in Weathersfield. For a shot at both species, wet a line in the West River in Retreat Meadows.
For large waters with good access and plentiful bass in northeastern Vermont, Pientka recommended Lake Memphremagog for both species and Moore Reservoir for bronzebacks.
He did note that bass over 18 inches are rare here. Lake Memphremagog has a state-owned access site on the eastern shore, but it is not suitable for launching most large bass boats. Other access areas around the lake have improved concrete ramps.
There is a Vermont Fish and Wildlife access site with a good concrete ramp on Lake Memphremagog's South Bay.
Check DeLorme's Vermont Atlas and Gazetteer, maps 54 and 66, for details.
Moore Reservoir has two access areas with concrete ramps. Both are maintained by Trans Canada -- one on the Vermont side, and one on the New Hampshire side. See DeLorme's VAG, map 49.
In central Vermont, Pientka said smallmouth bass fishing is good at the Waterbury Reservoir, which has three access sites. Fishing for both bass species is respectable at Lake Morey. State-owned access may be had off the Lake Morey Road in Fairlee.
See DeLorme's VAG, map 36, for details.In the southwestern portion of Vermont, Pientka's best bass pick for both species is Lake Bomoseen, with two state-owned access areas. For details, see DeLorme's VAG, map 28.
For more fishing information, call the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department at (802) 241-3700, or visit www.vtfishandwildlife.com.