What can New England's winter anglers can expect in 2009? Here's a preview. (December 2008)
New England's hardwater anglers are some of the luckiest anywhere.
Their region offers long, cold winters, safe ice and a diversity of species to target. Fisheries biologists across New England are working hard to make sure there'll be plenty of fall-stocked trout, broodstock Atlantic salmon, pike and abundant natural populations of bass and panfish to pull up through the ice.
Here's a roundup of some of the best places to start cutting fresh holes this winter:
Largemouth and smallmouth bass are the Nutmeg State's most popular warmwater game fish and account for a whopping 1.3 million fishing trips per year! Lake-specific regulations apply, so be sure to check current regulations before heading out on any hardwater fishing forays.
Kokanee are a landlocked form of the larger Pacific sockeye salmon that swim inland to spawn in West Coast rivers. Each autumn, adult kokanees are netted and taken to the Burlington State Trout Hatchery for spawning.
In late May, about 150,000 fry are stocked into East Twin Lake and West Hill Pond in New Hartford-Barkhamsted.
Northern pike are the largest fish ice-anglers can target in Connecticut waters. The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's Fisheries Division has been working to increase pike sizes in Bantam Lake in Morris-Litchfield and the Connecticut River, and is taking steps to increase pike numbers in Mansfield Hollow Reservoir (also a DEP Bass Management Lake).
Catch rates at Bantam have soared from 280 up to nearly 3,000 pike per year. Bantam is closed to pike fishing from March 1 through April 30.
The DEP began stocking walleye fingerlings into Gardner Lake in Salem-Montville-Bozrah, Rogers Lake in Lyme-Old Lyme and Squantz Pond in Sherman-New Fairfield in 1993.
Additional lakes have been added to the stocking schedule, giving anglers more fisheries for large open-water game fish. Rogers and Squantz ponds are also Trophy Trout lakes.
Be sure to check for updates on special regulations.
Among Connecticut anglers, the trout is still the most beloved coldwater species, generating more than 1.9 million Nutmeg State fishing trips each year. To keep up with demand, the DEP has implemented several programs aimed at maintaining and improving trout fisheries.
In 1993, because lakes were yielding very few trout larger than the stocked size, a 12- to 16-inch slot limit was put in place on three lakes with abundant forage -- Crystal Lake in Ellington-Stafford, Highland Lake in Winchester and Quonnipaug Lake in Guilford -- to see how this would affect trout growth.
Seeforellan-strain brown trout were also stocked into these three waters to see if it was possible to establish a population of large holdover browns.
Since then, water-specific regulations have gone into effect statewide to create quality trout fisheries in Trout Management Areas and Wild Trout Management Areas. Urban trout-fishing opportunities have also been created through an ambitious stocking program.
For more Connecticut fishing information, call 1-860-424-3474, or visit www.ct.gov/dep.
The Pine Tree State has abundant populations of wild and stocked trout, stocked splake (a hybrid brook trout and lake trout), plenty of warmwater fisheries for black bass and panfish, and in the Belgrade Lakes region, a growing pike population.
Last January, anglers were reporting "the best fishing ever for brook trout" in Crystal Lake in Gray and Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester.
Crystal Lake also produced good numbers of rainbow trout. Sabbathday Lake offers some fast fishing for browns. The largest brookie checked here last January tipped the scales at 3.5 pounds. Worthley Pond in Peru yields 9- to 11-inch brookies, while nearby Trickey Pond consistently produces trophy-sized salmon, according to Francis Brautigam, a regional fishery biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's Sebago Region.
Surveys in early winter 2008 at Echo Lake, Lower Hadlock Pond and Blunts Pond in the Downeast Region indicated good winter angling. Some brookies ranged up to 17 inches, according to Rick Jordan, a MDIFW regional fisheries biologist.
At Pleasant River Lake, anglers can look forward to good catches of splake and landlocked salmon.
Hopkins Pond gives up togue and brookies.
Some Bay State waters are beginning to see the results of pike fingerling stockings that have taken place over the past decade.
For landlocks and good-sized white perch, try Brewer Lake in Orrington.
For steady chain pickerel action, try Seal Cove Pond in Tremont, Somes Pond in Mt. Desert, Chalk Pond in Beddington or Upper West Bay Pond in Gouldsboro.
Ice-anglers will want to be sure to hit West Grand Lake when its season opens Feb. 1. This 14,000-acre lake offers up some of the most diverse cold-water fishing in the region, with landlocks, togue, lake whitefish and cusk all waiting to be pulled up through the ice.
Last January marked the first annual Moosehead Lake Togue Fishing Derby. Lake trout are a bit too plentiful in the big lake, so anglers are being encouraged to catch 'em and keep 'em, especially fish under 18 inches.
Check with the Moosehead Lake Region Chamber of Commerce at (207) 695-2702 for this year's event. Be sure to check water-specific regulations before heading out.
In the neighboring Penobscot Region, another annual derby takes place each February. The Schoodic Lake Ice Fishing Derby weekend yields its share of lake trout and landlocked salmon.
For this year's dates and details, visit www.trcmaine.org/fishingderby.
Millinocket Lake and Millimagassett Lake lie physically in the Enfield Region, but are managed out of Ashland as part of the MDIFW's Aroostook Region. Millinocket Lake is a good destination for salmon and splake, while Mi
llimagassett Lake features togue, salmon and brookies. (Continued)
For more fishing information, call the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at (207) 287-8000, or visit www.maine.gov/ifw.
Each fall, MassWildlife fisheries biologists stock trout into Bay State waters and add a limited supply of broodstock Atlantic salmon to waters with good holdover capacity.
When other states have surplus northern pike fingerlings available, MassWildlife is happy to take them.
"We jump in the truck and go get them," said Richard Hartley, MassWildlife's Warmwater and Coldwater projects leader.
He added that pike are fast becoming the hands-down favorite of ice-anglers in Massachusetts.
"People love them down here," he said. "Pike are great fighters and they are beautiful-looking fish. Nothing attracts a crowd on the ice like a 10-pound-plus pike."
Some Bay State waters are beginning to see the results of stockings of pike fingerlings that have taken place over the past decade. In addition, the Spencer Rod and Gun Club worked with MassWildlife to purchase and stock 18-inch pike into Quaboag Pond (also known as North Pond).
Quaboag, and its sister pond Quacumquasit (South Pond) are connected by a channel. The whole slate of warmwater species is available in the north pond, while the south pond offers some nice holdover trout in addition to warmwater species.
"You can fish them all in the course of a day," Hartley said.
During the first half of 2008, nine of 14 fishing award pins for big pike were presented to Quaboag anglers, and most of those fish were taken through the ice. Hartley believes this is a direct result of the Spencer Rod and Gun Club's stocking project of three or four years ago.
The Brookfield Lion's Club hosts a popular ice-fishing derby on the lake each winter. For this year's dates, call (508) 867-8328 or (508) 826-9041.
"Pike have just added to the draw," Hartley said. "People are traveling considerable distances, based on the ability of Quaboag to produce pike."
Another big draw for hardwater anglers is the supply of broodstock Atlantic salmon stocked each November or December.
These fish are four to five years old and come from hatcheries in Vermont and Massachusetts.
"Salmon put up a good fight and are fun to catch," Hartley said.
Based on angler feedback, the bulk of the broodstock fish are being taken by hardwater fisherfolk.
Several waters throughout the state receive fall stockings of trout and infusions of broodstock Atlantic salmon. These include Laurel Lake in Lee, Lake Metacomet in Belchertown, Wallum Lake in Douglas and Baddacook Pond in Groton.
Bass and panfish may be caught in nearly any Bay State water. With the exceptions of the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs, most remain open for ice-fishing unless they are closed by town ordinance.
For more fishing information, visit www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw, or phone (508) 389-6300.
For ice-anglers, the Granite State's most popular coldwater fish is the lake trout.
However, surplus stocked brood fish -- mostly 3- to 4-pound brookies and browns -- are popular, too.
"For the last three or four years, we've stocked a lot of brood fish into general-regulations ponds," said John Viar, a fisheries biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. "General-regulations ponds are open year 'round, and if there's ice in December, a lot of people hit them. On lake-trout lakes, the season opens Jan. 1, and we're lucky to get good ice on the larger lakes by mid-January.
"It's a good chance for anglers to get on the ice before the season opens legally on lake-trout lakes."
General-regulations waters that received broodstock brookies last winter included Manning Lake in Gilmanton, White Lake in Tamworth and Winona Lake in Center Harbor.
Surplus broodstock browns were added to several waters, including Mascoma Lake in Enfield, Laurel Lake in Fitzwilliam and Webster Lake in Franklin.
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department also conducts annual stockings of rainbow trout.
Rainbows stocked into lake-trout lakes do well because their rich forage base allows for fast growth.
In the larger lakes, a 10- to 13-inch yearling will progress rapidly to an impressive 16- to 20-inch fish.
Viar said that a lot of hardwater anglers are realizing how much fun panfishing can be. He credits electronic fish finders for this surge in panfishing's popularity.
"You will quadruple your catch if you learn to use that jig rod with the right presentation combined with an electronic fish finder," Viar said.
"Kids love it because it's like a video game. When they see fish on the screen and then a fish hits, they are totally hooked. The technology really keeps their interest, especially when panfishing, because fish show up constantly on the finder."
Panfish may be found in most New Hampshire waters. Viar encouraged anglers to call regional offices for information on specific waters.
For example, Lake Winnipesaukee contains a variety of species, but big white perch are the most popular. It's common to catch white perch weighing over 2 pounds, and annual derby winners here win with fish weighing more than 2.5 pounds.
Moultonborough Bay is the classic white perch destination on the big lake, especially at the northern end.
New Hampshire's best pike waters are the setbacks along the Connecticut River, especially in the areas of Hanover, Piermont and Hinsdale.
Viar cautioned that water levels do rise and fall, but noted that the setbacks are popular with ice-anglers and are also productive for panfish including jumbo yellow perch.
For more fishing information, call the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department at (603) 271-2501, or go to www.wildlife.state.nh.us.
Many Ocean State waters are stocked with trout and surplus broodstock Atlantic salmon each December in advance of the ice-fishing seas
Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management fisheries biologists have also been working here to establish a naturally reproducing population of northern pike. In the meantime, plenty of stocked pike have reached fighting size!
Some great Rhode Island winter pike waters include Worden's Pond in South Kingstown and Chapman Pond in the Westerly area.
Worden's Pond, the state's largest freshwater pond, has been stocked annually with 12- to 14-inch pike. The fish caught here often run from 10 to 15 pounds. Chapman Pond's hardwater anglers can look forward to some excellent largemouth bass fishing, in addition to plentiful panfish and hard-hitting pike.
Carbuncle Pond boasts record-sized largemouth bass, while Wash Pond is a great smallmouth bass destination. Carbuncle Pond also gets spring and fall infusions of trout.
Tiogue Lake has good-sized white catfish and is home to many large carp. Here, a 10-pound carp is considered small. Fish the two large coves on the southern end of the lake.
For fast panfish action to keep the kids occupied, head to Indian Lake or the Pascoag Reservoir.
Prime coldwater fisheries include Olney Pond in Lincoln, Barber Pond in South Kingstown and Meadowbrook Pond in Richmond.
Stafford Pond in Tiverton is stocked with trout each spring and fall. Hefty broodstock Atlantic salmon are also available.
Last January, about 450 surplus domestic broodstock Atlantic salmon were poured into five Rhode Island waters: Carbuncle, Olney, Barber, Stafford and Meadowbrook. Those fish weighed between 5 and 12 pounds each.
In Rhode Island, all designated trout waters will close to fishing on March 1. Before heading out, be sure to check the most recent local and state regulations as well as the ice conditions.
For conditions at Olney Pond at Lincoln Woods State Park, call the DEM's 24-hour ice-safety hotline at (401) 222-2632.
For more Rhode Island ice fishing information, call (401) 789-7481, or visit www.dem.ri.gov.
There's no way to talk about ice-fishing in the Green Mountain State without a bow to Lake Champlain.
According to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, hardwater anglers on the 120-mile-long lake can expect quality fishing for many species including landlocked salmon, walleyes, lake trout, northern pike, crappies, yellow perch and white perch.
According to Brian Chipman, state fisheries biologist, the big lake sees twice as much angler action during the winter as during summer, especially in the northern third of the lake. Hotspots for northern pike include Kelley Bay, Missisquoi Bay, Dillenbeck Bay, Carry Bay, Keeler Bay, St. Albans Bay, the shallow flats south of the Sandbar Causeway between Milton and South Hero, and the area south of the Champlain Bridge from Addison to Benson.
Fast and furious yellow perch action is a mainstay for winter anglers. But later in the season as ice hardens, landlocked salmon can be taken in the Inland Sea north of the Sandbar Causeway.
If good ice forms over deeper portions of the lake, fish off the west shore of Grand Isle and in Outer Mallets Bay, Shelburne Bay, Converse Bay and Button Bay south to the Champlain Bridge for lake trout.
Walleyes can turn up anywhere, but fishing for this species is steadiest in the southern end of the lake off Benson and Orwell, and at the northern end in Swanton and Alburg.
Another great hardwater destination for rainbows, lakers, brown trout and landlocked salmon is Caspian Lake in Craftsbury. Fishing for these species is open from the third Saturday in January to March 15.
Ditto for Lake Dunmore in Leicester-Salisbury, which also offers up opportunities for brook trout fishing.
In Sudbury-Hubbardton, Lake Hortonia is an auger-worthy destination for all these coldwater species and gives up record-sized pike. Hortonia is also known for great largemouth and smallmouth bass fisheries.
Other waters open for taking trout, salmon and bass from the third Saturday in January through March 15 include Echo Lake in Plymouth, Big Averill Lake in Norton-Averill, Lake Bomoseen in Castleton-Hubbardton and the Somerset Reservoir in Somerset.
For more fishing information, call the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department at (802) 241-3700, or visit www.vtfishandwildlife.com.