Where do New England's top-ranked tournament bass fishermen drop a line when they're not competing? Their answers might surprise you!
By Barnet Sherman
Bass fishing in New England has never been better or more popular, so it comes as no surprise that some of the top national talents in bass fishing are born and bred right here.
Local anglers Joel St. Germain of Rhode Island and Lee Baily Jr. of Connecticut and other New England-based pros like Jordon Paullo, Mike Wolfenden, Mark Burgess, Rick Lilligard, Tom LaVictorie and Mark Desjardin made strong showings in regional events over the course of their careers.
Where do these guys like to kick back when they come home? It is hard to pin them down to just a couple of lakes and ponds, but each angler offered bodies of water in their home state that may be fished either by bass rig, cartopper or canoe. Here is a look at their top picks:
CONNECTICUT Jordan Paullo is a local boy, born and raised in Connecticut.
"I've fished for largemouth bass all over the country, but as far as I'm concerned, the Connecticut River from Hartford down to Hamburg Cove in Lyme will always be my favorite place to fish. I grew up on this river. There isn't any other place quite like it," Jordan stated.
In spring and early summer, bass stack up in the tidal oxbows and backwaters like Wethersfield Cove in Wethersfield, Pecauset Pond in Portland or Whalebone Creek, Selden Cove and Selden Creek, and Hamburg Cove in Lyme.
Massachusetts' Mark Burgess, one of the state's top tournament bass fishermen, caught this lunker largemouth while fishing Lake Nippenicket in Bridgewater. Photo by Barnet Sherman
"Fish these on the high tide," Jordan suggested, "when access and the bite are best."
In the spring, flip crayfish tubes and jitterbug patterns into the lily pads and arrowheads, or run buzzbaits over thin water - both consistent producers.
In summer, the bass move out to the main river. Fishing the main river requires a change in strategies, Jordan noted. Anglers are better off switching to crankbaits in natural colors like red, green or brown; or try chrome-blue minnow imitations.
Connecticut River coves can be accessed from the river. There are two landings for boaters in Hartford, including the Charter Oak Landing on the western shore and Great River Park on the eastern shore. Both are maintained by Riverfront Recapture (www.riverfront.org), and there is a user's fee for each site. Check the Web site or call (860) 713-3131 for directions and the current schedule.
Cartop boaters can put in at Gillette Castle State Park off Route 431 in East Haddam. This site is ideal for accessing the Lyme-area coves. Call the Connecticut State Parks and Forests office at (860) 424-3200 for directions and schedules.
Additionally, boaters should review NOAA charts 12375, 12377 and 12378 before navigating the Connecticut River.
"Some anglers think the Connecticut River is just a big, rushing 40-foot-deep stream," said Jordan. "It's not. In fact, in some places it's as shallow as 2 or 3 feet. The river does have channel buoys, day markers and no-wake zones, but there are no hazard buoys."
Check with the Connecticut Bureau of Natural Resources for information at http://dep.state.ct.us or call (860) 424-3474.
RHODE ISLAND Mike Wolfenden conceded the irony of a guy who comes from the "Ocean" State making his name in freshwater fishing tournaments. With a family and a day job, he understands how valuable fishing time is to the weekend angler, and gave a lot of thought to suggesting the most productive waters in his state.
"Rhode Island's largemouth fishing is sometimes overlooked because of all the obvious saltwater opportunities, but Johnson Pond in Coventry and Worden Pond in South Kingston are my top choices when I get a chance to fish my local waters," he said. "Each is a bit different, but both offer great fishing opportunities for bass fishermen."
Johnson Pond, at 659 acres, is great for all-season angling, Wolfenden noted, with access for cartop and fully rigged bass boats at the state boat launch at Zeke's Bridge on Harkney Hill Road. Low bridges might limit access to the northern parts of the pond, however, so anglers should be alert while fishing this area.
When spring water temperatures are in the 50s and 60s, bass are usually found near deep structure, where they tend to fall for chrome-blue crankbaits or shad-colored jerkbaits.
As the summer sun warms the water, the bass move up to the flats to spawn.
"I throw either a small chartreuse grub on an 1/8-ounce jighead or a 4- inch black worm on a 1/8- to 3/8-ounce jighead for a 'reaction bite,' " Wolfenden said. "I try to get the fish back into the water quickly so it can continue to protect the spawn site."
Through the summer, floating docks are easy targets, but anglers should also fish the channel that runs the length of the pond. Dropping a jig with a blue-black skirt and a red pork tail at every turn in the channel can produce big fish.
For big rigs and cartops, Wolfenden also likes the big 1,043-acre Worden Pond in South Kingston. Access is off state Route 110 at Worden Pond Road.
This pond is shallow, with an average depth of 4 feet and is no deeper than 7 feet.
"In the early morning, a white 3/8-ounce buzzbait can be spectacular if you throw it up in the grass and bring it out toward the deeper water," Wolfenden said. "Target rocks at the end of the pond and rocky points with the jig-and-pig, but don't ignore the overhanging trees along the shoreline."
Bob's Bait and Tackle in Taunton at (508) 828-5881 sells a great watermelon tube bait. Wolfenden recommends a 1/4-ounce bullet weight just above the tube.
"Pitch the lure under the branches for some arm-jarring strikes," Wolfenden enthused.
Check with the Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife at www.state.ri.us/dem, or call (401) 789-3094 for licensing and other regulations.
MASSACHUSETTS By taking top honors in the Mas
sachusetts state championship in 1998, Mark Burgess established himself as an expert in fishing the Commonwealth's waters. He narrowed his selections to 360-acre Lake Attitash, with access off Attitash Road in Merrimac and 354-acre Lake Nippenicket in Bridgewater, with access off state Route 104.
"Pulling in fish from Lake Attitash in spring means fishing with a suspending jerkbait," Burgess commented. "In summer, I reach for a buzzbait, particularly in the morning over the weedbeds."
He agreed with New England's other top pros that a fast-retrieved blue-chrome crankbait will fool bass eager to ambush unaware baitfish.
In addition to weed lines and coontail, the lake has an extensively developed shoreline. Burgess advises anglers to brush up on their pitching skills so they can work a pig-and-jig under the lake's many docks.
Lake Nippenicket has little development on its shoreline, which means fishermen should focus on natural cover and structure to find bass.
The lake is less than 6 feet deep in most places, and there are plenty of submerged rocks, which means cartop boaters have a slight advantage over bigger bass rigs.
"The lake is shallow, so watch water levels and temperatures carefully in Nippenicket," Burgess noted, recommending that anglers target thick lily pads and the line of rocks off the western shore.
"Peg a black sinker in front of a floating dark tube lure, cast it out and let it hit the bottom," he said. "Vary the retrieve speed through and over the rocks.
"The sinker gets the tube down, but the float in the bait gives it natural action, like a fleeing crayfish, as you reel it in. It's a real confidence lure for me."
For more information, check the MassWildlife Web site at www.mass.gov/massoutdoors, or call (617) 626-1600 for licensing and current regulations.
NEW HAMPSHIRE New Hampshire's Rick Lillegard is one of New England's long-standing bass pros with a string of tournament wins.
"New Hampshire's lakes region has some of the best largemouth and smallmouth fishing anywhere," he asserted. "These are my home waters and there's no place I enjoy more."
Lillegard suggested 6,765-acre Squam Lake as a good place to start.
"The lake is known for being the setting of the movie On Golden Pond, but local bass fishermen know it for its largemouth and smallmouth populations," he noted.
There are miles of developed shoreline, Lillegard said, so target obvious cover such as docks and moored boats for largemouths, but don't miss the numerous backwater coves.
"This is a typical northern coldwater lake, so the bottom has rocks and gravel, prime smallmouth structure," Lillegard said.
A good put-in for boaters is in Holdeness on the Squam River off state Route 113. There is a boat ramp with plenty of parking.
Anglers may obtain a detailed Squam Lake chart by inquiring at local tackle shops or checking the Squam Lake Association's Web site at www.squamlakes.org.
Two other clear, coldwater fisheries known for smallmouths are 4,085- acre Sunapee Lake and 3,092-acre Ossipee Lake. To access Sunapee, there is an all-boat access at Sunapee State Beach in Newbury off the state Route 103 traffic circle. There is also a small, ramped cartop put-in off state Route 103A at Herrick Cove.
Ossipee Lake is often overlooked, but it contains some 3- and 4-pound smallmouths. Access for all boats is at the Pine River Marina in Ossipee on state Route 25 east off state Route 16.
There are some consistent patterns that produce in these lakes, Burgess noted.
"You can't go wrong with a crayfish imitation," he advised.
A stand-up jighead with a small crayfish in green pumpkin or June bug is killer in late spring when natural crayfish are abundant.
Anglers might also try a blade bait.
"Let it sink to the bottom and watch for the strike, then pump the bait, watching for strikes on the fall," Burgess coached. "This lure works best in early spring in water 30 to 40 feet deep and off humps, points or dropoffs in summer."
The standard lures work well, too, such as chrome-blue rattletraps or a clown-colored crankbait.
Contact the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's Web site at www.wildlife.state.nh.us, or call (603) 271-3421 for licensing and current regulations.
VERMONT The aptly named Tom LaVictorie Jr. keeps track of his tournament "victories" by counting the number of new bass boats he's won.
"Over the years, I must have won at least eight boats in tournament fishing," he said. LaVictorie has fished all over the country, but comes home to Lake Bomoseen and Lake St. Catherine for his "practice" fishing.
The 2,360-acre Lake Bomoseen is Vermont's largest inland lake. There are two state ramps, one off Creek Road on the western shore north of Point of Pines and another on the northwest shoreline south of Float Bridge Road.
South of Lake Bomoseen is the 852-acre Lake St. Catherine, with access off state Route 30 on West Lake Drive. The street is marked, but the put-in is not. Both lakes have state parks that allow campers to use the boat launches. Contact the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation for access and camping information at (888) 409-7579, or visit the department's Web site at www.vtstateparks.com.
The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department's Web site at www.anr.state.vt.us/fw/fwhome is a good source for information, or call (802) 241-3700 for details on licenses and regulations.
"The lakes are similar, so the same angling patterns apply to each," LaVictorie noted. "Both lakes have an abundance of rocks and ledges above and below the surface, and these are attractive to smallmouths. Both lakes also have many set-backs and spawning flats with good grass growth that attracts largemouths."
In spring, smallies respond well to lures retrieved at two speeds: fast and slow.
"I'll rip a jerkbait as fast as I can to bring up pre-spawn smallmouths, but if that doesn't work, I start twitching a soft jerkbait or floating worm," LaVictorie noted.
While anglers could be busy all day with 1- to 2-pound fish in these lakes, it's not unusual to hook smallmouths up to 5 pounds.
By summer, the smallmouth bite goes off. That is more than made up for by the largemouth fishing, which then clicks into full gear.
"Largemouths bunch up on the milfoil beds," LaVictorie noted, "and are easy marks for jigs and tubes. Also, don't be shy about hitting the docks and other structure like drop-offs, downed trees and rocks.
"Always let the fish tell you what to do. Read their mood each day you're on the water," he advised.
MAINE There are dozens of lakes and ponds in Maine that contain largemouths and smallmouths, but one is particularly special to Mark Desjardin, a local pro who spent his summers fishing at his family's seasonal camp on Threemile Pond in Windsor. These many years and tournaments later, the 1,162-acre pond is still his favorite place to fish.
"I've had 50-fish days on this water," he remarked, "and would be disappointed if I had less than 20. I'm talking about big fish, too, including several over 5 pounds."
As the water warms in the spring, Desjardin advises fishing the inlet to the north and the outlet on the south.
"The fish will move to the shallows to spawn," he commented, "and that's when the coves become hot."
While just about any bait from worms to spinners to crankbaits will produce on any given day, he joins other New England pros by advising that anglers "let the fish tell you what they want."
The pond can handle a big bass rig with ramp access in South Vassalboro off state Route 3 (Augusta Road).
Nearby 648-acre Togus Pond is another Desjardin favorite. While most of the lakeshore is privately owned, a cartop boat or canoe can be put in off state Route 105 at the southern end of the pond. This is an advantage, Desjardin stated, because the cartopper can choose to fish the pond or head south down Togus Stream. The stream is filled with stumps, wood, trees, beaver houses and grass.
"A majority of the bass here are in the 1- to 3-pound range, but they are there in volume," Desjardin noted. "The best part of fishing the stream is that there is no boat traffic and it is like being in your own little world."
Worms, spinners and buzzbaits usually produce fish in good numbers, but the fish dictate the patterns they want on any given day.
For more information, check the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's Web site at www.state.me.us/ifw, or call (207) 287-8000 for licenses and current rules and regulations.
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