We picked the brains of southern New England's top bass biologists and asked them to come up with their top choices for bass fishing in 2003. These proven largemouth and smallmouth waters should be on your list this season, too!
By Bob Humphrey
Trying to select only the top 10 southern New England bass lakes is a daunting task. First, asking a dedicated bass angler to name his favorite bass water is like asking him to pick his favorite child. Each is special in their own way.
The selection process is further complicated by individual preferences. Some anglers prefer smallmouths to largemouths. Some like fishing the weedbeds on small, secluded ponds, while others prefer casting to docks and other manmade structures on big lakes. Some anglers prefer quantity to quality, while others are happy to catch fewer but larger fish.
The task is made even more difficult by the fact there are so many waters that suit the desires and preferences of many bass anglers. To eliminate personal biases, I went to the real experts: biologists who are familiar not only with their favorite waters, but with most or all of the bass waters in their respective states. These folks manage bass populations on a daily basis, in some cases, for decades.
In some instances, these waters are the best for either largemouth or smallmouth bass. In other cases, they may be waters that offer the best of both. Some are well-known favorites and some are little-known sleepers. All are great and any one could be considered the "best" in its category.
MASSACHUSETTS Richard Hartley heads MassWildlife's warmwater fisheries program. A couple of years ago, he compiled 30 years of records from the state's Freshwater Sportfish Awards Program to see which waters were the most consistent producers of trophy bass. Minimum entry size is 7 1/2 pounds for largemouth bass and 4 1/2 pounds for smallmouths.
The records show that the overwhelming majority of Massachusetts' record-class "pin fish" has come from the Southeast District. While Cape Cod and the mainland are riddled with kettle ponds, a handful rise to the top of the list, making it easier to choose among the best.
Photo by David Morris
Sampson's Pond Referring to his list of records, Hartley chose 310-acre Sampson's Pond in Carver as one of the best largemouth waters in the state. It was actually No. 2 on the 30-year list, and holds the distinction of having yielded the state's largest bigmouth, a 15-pound, 8-ounce monster that Hartley said is also the largest northern-strain largemouth ever recorded anywhere in the U.S.
Sampson Pond has an average depth of 9 feet and a maximum depth of 14. Emergent vegetation covers about one-tenth of the surface area, mostly along the 3.4-mile shoreline, which is lightly developed with year-round homes. The pond has one paved launch site that is controlled by the town. While there is no fee to launch, fishermen will need a sticker from the town to park on municipal land next to the launch.
Wachusett Reservoir According to Hartley's compilation, the state's top smallmouth water over the past 30 years is Wachusett Reservoir. To anglers unacquainted with Wachusett, this might at first seem surprising, especially when you consider its location (on the fringe of the greater Worcester metroplex) and its shore-fishing-only regulation. But those who are more familiar with it know differently.
The Wachusett is over eight miles in length, covers 6.5 square miles (4,135 acres) in area and is bordered by 37 miles of shoreline in four towns. That means plenty of fishable shoreline. Its average depth is 45 feet, though it plunges to a maximum depth of 129 feet.
Another surprising aspect of the Wachusett is that the featured species are not bass, but lake trout, rainbow trout, brown trout and landlocked salmon. Smallmouths are listed under the category "other species" despite the fact the Wachusett annually yields more smallmouths than any other Bay State water.
Part of the reason for the productivity of this fishery is an abundant forage base of smelt. Another is the propensity for most bass anglers to release fish, which means reduced mortality.
From early May to mid-June is the best time for bass, and smelt or shiners are the best baits. Be advised that it is illegal to fish for, use or possess smelt, dead or alive, from March 1 to May 15.
Shoreline fishing in designated areas only is allowed. Absolutely no boats may be put on the reservoir and no ice-fishing is allowed. Access is available off routes 12, 140, 110 and 70. The reservoir is normally open to fishing from April 1 through Nov. 30, though anglers should check with the Wachusett office of the Metropolitan District Commission at (978) 0365-3272 for details.
Mashpee-Wakeby Pond Farther south, another perennial leader in Bay State bass fishing is Mashpee-Wakeby Pond in Mashpee. Actually two natural kettle ponds are hydrologically connected, and thus are generally considered the same 729-acre body of water. Its average depth is only 28 feet, though the southern basin drops to 85 feet. Furthermore, the pond is fed by ground water, which keeps temperatures cooler in the summer months. Much of the bottom of this deep, clear-water lake is rubble and gravel, which favors the more abundant smallmouths. Fish average 10 to 19 inches, but much larger specimens are not uncommon. Anadromous alewives provide abundant forage.
Access is available from a paved boat ramp with a 30-vehicle parking lot north of Route 130 beyond the intersection with Great Neck Road.
On these and most other bass waters throughout the state, the fishing is good to great and ever improving.
"What we've found by looking at length, weight and growth is that the vast majority of our bass populations look really good," biologist Hartley said. "Even waters with high fishing pressure are doing really well. Recruitment is good; we have a large number of trophy fish and growth rates are comparable to other Northeastern states. Through our creel surveys we're finding the voluntary release rate is 85 to 90 percent."
Hartley's last word on the subject of Bay State bass fishing was that some of the best fishing is not in lakes and ponds, but in the state's rivers.
For additional information, including pond maps, contact the MassWildlife offices, Route 135, Westboro, MA 01582; call (508) 792-7270; or visit MassWildlife's Web site at www.state.ma.us/dfwele/dfw.
RHODE ISLAND Rhode Island is one of the few states that manage their bass fishery not only through enlightened regulations, but also through stocking. The Division of Fish and Wildlife has been actively managing bass since 1977, and has been stocking sub-adult bass, 8 to 12 inches, into five water systems. The program seems to be working, as all five annually give up plenty of fish, including some lunkers in the 6- to 8-pound range.
Watchaug Pond According to biologist Phil Edwards, one of the standouts among these five waters, and possibly the Ocean State's top largemouth water, is Watchaug Pond. It is part of Burlingame State Park/Wildlife Management Area in Charlestown and Bradford. The 573-acre pond has an average depth of 8 feet, including one deep basin. Excellent growth rates are responsible for this pond's reputation for producing above-average largemouths. Fish typically reach the 12-inch legal minimum within four years. Anglers also turn up an occasional smallmouth, too.
Much of the west side of the pond borders a large marshy area. Bass lurk in the submerged weedbeds along this edge, particularly at the mouth of Poquiant Brook in the northwest corner and Perry Healy Brook in the southwest corner. Another good spot is the northeast tip, where the steep shoreline rises from a deep basin to a marshy shoreline. The eastern shoreline is much more abrupt. Parking and access are available in Burlingame State Park on Route 1. There are two boat launches at the pond's south end.
Indian Lake While the majority of Rhode Island's best bass ponds are dominated by largemouths, Edwards noted several also produce smallies in the 3- to 4-pound range. One that is particularly noteworthy is Indian Lake in South Kingstown. Clear, cool water, rocky structure and ample forage provide ideal habitat and food for this species. This approximately 200-acre lake is fairly shallow, with depths averaging 7 feet and rarely exceeding 9 feet. It is accessible from a state boat launch site and parking area at its south end, which can be reached from South Indian Trail off Route 1.
Worden Pond Also in South Kingstown is Worden Pond, another water that has gained a reputation among serious bass anglers. This 1,043-acre pond is known more for its numbers of fish than for their size, but it annually produces a few lunkers. Be prepared to lose some terminal tackle to the pond's saw-toothed chain pickerel or northern pike.
The pond borders Great Swamp Wildlife Management Area. Access is on the south end of the pond. From Route 1, take Route 110 north. Turn left onto Worden's Pond Road. There is a state-owned ramp on the north side of the road.
For more information on Rhode Island bass fishing, the location of boat ramps or a copy of Rhode Island's 2003 freshwater fishing abstracts, contact the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Division of Fish and Wildlife, Great Swamp Field Headquarters, P.O. Box 281, West Kingston, RI 02892; call (401) 789-0281; or visit the Web site at www.state.ri.us/dem/.
CONNECTICUT Connecticut has taken a very active approach toward managing its bass waters, and last year implemented a statewide bass management plan. This plan came as the result of roughly 10 years of study and experimental management, including a statewide electroshocking survey of over 115 lakes. The results include both management strategies and new regulations designed to increase the numbers of large bass. Of course, survey data also reveals where big bass already occur.
Candlewood Lake "No. 1, without question is Candlewood Lake. The smallmouth bass population is just fantastic in terms of both growth rates and numbers of fish," said Tim Barry, state fisheries biologist. "Candlewood is host to between 130 and 150 tournaments each year, and a good number of those are fished by non-residents. That says a lot," said Barry.
It also means crowds, however, and though tournament anglers are limited to using only 50 percent of the parking capacity at public launches, Barry said you can count on them to be crowded most every weekend during the season. He recommends anglers try to go during the week.
Candlewood has two state launch sites. One is at Squantz Pond State Park off Route 39, on the lake's west side in New Fairfield. Another is Lattins Landing on the southeast side in Brookfield. From Route 202, take Candlewood Lake Road north. Turn left on Forty Acre Mountain Road and follow it to the ramp.
Barry also said smallmouth fishing is fantastic in spring and fall. He recommends standard bass lures like leadhead jigs and Rapalas.
East Twin Lake Biologist Barry chose 562-acre East Twin Lake in Canaan for his No. 2 spot among Connecticut bass waters. He based that decision on the size of the lake as well as the size of the fish in it.
"There are some real lunkers in there, and good numbers, too," he said. "It doesn't get anywhere near the fishing pressure as many other lakes because it's primarily known for its great trout fishing."
According to Bill Hyatt, fisheries biologist, part of the reason for East Twin's outstanding bass fishery is the abundant forage, which includes healthy populations of alewives, golden shiners and creek chubs.
Another reason for its popularity with fishermen is its exceptional habitat. With an average depth of 24 feet, much of the habitat favors the more abundant largemouth bass. The south and west shores contain ample shallow areas, while the northwest arm is especially productive due to the preponderance of shallow weedbeds. Both are good bets for early-season action.
Good smallmouth action can be found along the steep dropoffs around the narrow peninsula that juts in from the northwest end of the lake. The shoreline here drops off steeply to 60 feet. Another popular area with largemouth fishermen is in the shallow weedbeds northwest of the launch site.
Public access for cartop boats is available on Blacktop Road off Route 44. Space is limited to one or two cars. Access is also available, for a nominal fee, at O'Hara's Landing on Between the Lakes Road in Salisbury. They also have a rental boat livery.
On your way to East Twin Lake, stop in at Jim's Bait and Tackle on Route 44 in Canaan for supplies and information.
Ball Pond Every state has at least one sleeper bass lake, though the identity of such water is often a closely guarded secret. At the risk of being hung in effigy by local bass anglers, Barry revealed his best-kept bass secret: Ball Pond in New Fairfield.
"Few anglers have heard about it," he said, "probably because no motors are allowed, not even electric trolling motors." At 90 acres, it's big by some standards, but it has tremendous largemouth potential.
According to Barry, over the last couple years Ball Pond has had the highest catch-per-unit-effort from electroshocking of any lake in the state in terms of both size and numbers of largemouths.
"It's a veritable bass angler's gold mine," he says, "especially if you like a nice quiet, peaceful experience."
Beach PondBeach Pond could be listed as a Connecticut or Rhode Island hotspot, as it sits astride their common border. This 393-acre pond contains a healthy alewife population, which provides abundant forage for bass.
While the pond is best known for its holdover rainbow and brown trout, it contains a healthy relatively under-fished smallmouth population. Fishing live bait in the shallows is a popular method and anglers may fish with a license from either state.
In Rhode Island, shore access is available via Arcadia Wildlife Management Area in Exeter. A cement ramp with parking for 45 cars and trailers is on the pond's north side in Connecticut. You can reach it by taking Forge Hill Road north from Route 165, and then turn right onto North Shore Road and follow it east into Pauchaug State Forest in Voluntown.
For general fishing and license information, contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, 79 Elm Street, Hartford, CT 06106-5127; call (860) 424-3555; or visit the DEP's Web site at www.dep.state.ct.us/.
Also available from the DEP are A Guide to Lakes and Ponds in Connecticut - DEP bulletin No. 10; and Connecticut's Bass Fishing, which provides information about the state's 24 best bass lakes including boat launches, anglers' services, bait and tackle shops, depth maps, descriptions and a "best lure" chart.
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