Safe ice can occur before Christmas in southern New England, and some of the best winter fishing of the year awaits ice-anglers on these 10 proven waters.
By Frank McKane
Anglers in southern New England often find themselves stuck indoors through most of the holiday season. Office parties, family functions and shopping sprees cut into much of our December fishing time.
Even so, anglers willing and able to take some time away from the Yuletide hustle will find a variety of fishing options.
If there's any problem at all, it's that December temperatures can range from zero to 60. Last year, for example, southern New Englanders found their lakes covered with 3 to 5 inches of ice soon after Thanksgiving. Three years ago, safe ice did not occur until mid-January. This climatic fluctuation can leave many fishers in a quandary about where to go. However, a review of long-term trends revealed a dozen fishing options for anglers this December.
Candlewood Lake is the state's largest lake spanning about 5,400 acres. This popular lake offers anglers a wide array of December options. Early in the month, duck hunters keep launch ramps open for coldwater boating and fishing. As the weather cools and the coves freeze up, ice-anglers gain access to the shallower waters, which usually fill up with yellow perch and bluegills.
Candlewood is known as one of New England's finest bass fishing waters. Along with its generous supply of largemouth and smallmouth bass, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection stocks about 28,000 trout into the lake each year. While most of the trout are released in the spring, the department routinely stocks trout into the lake each fall for ice-fishermen. However, in December, the center of the lake is usually not frozen and won't provide safe ice-fishing access for anglers.
A large lake in an urban setting, Candlewood Lake is highly developed. Ice-fishing allows anglers to get to areas that are otherwise off-limits during the rest of the year because of boat traffic and speed restrictions.
Early-season ice-anglers will have their best yellow perch action in the northern half of the lake. Fishermen should concentrate on the coves, including Squantz Cove and Sherman Cove. Both coves are weedy in depths to 8 feet or so.
The best access is from the Squantz Cove boat launch at the northwestern end of the lake. This ramp is on Route 39 near Squantz Pond State Park. Take Exit 6 off Interstate Route 84 in Danbury. Follow Route 37 to Route 39. Continue north on Route 39 for a few miles until you reach the ramp.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
East Twin Lake
Many anglers consider East Twin Lake the best trout lake in Connecticut. In response to a growing alewife population, the DEP stocked Seeforellen brown trout, German trout that grow fast and get big. It is not uncommon to find 5- to 8-pound brown trout during the ice-fishing season.
Because this lake is in the extreme northwest corner of the state, it tends to freeze over early in the year, giving December anglers full access to its 562 acres. The maximum depth of East Twin Lake is 70 feet and the average depth is around 32 feet. Aquatic vegetation is extremely abundant and weeds may be found as deep as 25 feet.
For December trout, look for deep ledges out in 50 to 60 feet of water. These fishing ledges are easy to find on bottom contour maps available locally. Yellow perch and largemouth bass can be caught inshore along the weedbeds.
Access to the lake is provided through O'Hare's Marina and Landing, which is a private landing. From Route 8 in Winsted, take Route 44 to Salisbury. Just over the town line, turn right onto Twin Lakes Road near the white farm barns. Follow the lake signs for about two miles.
Lake Zoar is part of the Housatonic River hydroelectric generating system. The Stevenson Dam retains 975 acres of fishable water. In December, the lake's coves freeze tight. The main lake usually remains clear of ice until midwinter because of the daily power generation schedule. It is possible to find anglers ice-fishing the coves, while anglers in bass boats go running down the center of the river-shaped lake.
This lake has one of the most diverse fisheries of any New England waterway. Ice-anglers routinely report catching largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, northern pike, crappies, trout, sunfish, yellow perch, white perch and white catfish.
When fishing the coves, look for the warmwater species in the back ends of the coves. Trout, smallmouth bass and white perch tend to hang near the outer edges of the coves in deeper water.
The two best ice-fishing coves are Frenches Cove and Kettletown Cove. Frenches Cove is on the southern end of the lake near the dam. Take Exit 15 off Route 8 to Route 34. Travel north on Route 34 for about eight miles. Just before you cross over the Stevenson Dam, turn right. Take the first left to the cove.
Kettletown Cove is within Kettletown State Park. Take Exit 15 off I-84 and follow the signs to the state park. Once in the park, follow the signs to the beach, which is in the back end of the cove.
Tyler Pond is a unique 187-acre hotspot in Goshen. It sits in a small valley that always seems to be the coldest spot in Connecticut. Thus, according to the DEP, Tyler Pond is one of the first ponds to ice over each winter.
This pond has a good natural population of largemouth bass, yellow perch and chain pickerel. Like Candlewood Lake, the DEP stocks trout in Tyler Pond every fall to make ice-fishing interesting. Anglers unfamiliar with the pond should note that there is an extensive shoal around the lake's perimeter. Perch and pickerel can be caught on the top portion of the shoal, while bass and trout are in the deeper water near the dropoff edges.
The DEP owns a small boat ramp on the pond. Parking can be tight at times because this is a popular ice-fishing lake. Be considerate and park in close formation to allow room for others.
To get there, take Exit 44 off Route 8 in Torrington. Travel west on Route 4. Continue through the Route 63 rotary. About three miles after the rotary on Route 4, you will see the boat ramp sign on the right. Follow the signs to the ramp.
Most of the state's early-season ice-fishing is in the nor
thwestern part of the state. Highland Lake is another one of those special northwestern ponds that freezes in December. Because the lake has the ability to hold trout through the summer months, these fish frequently survive and grow to trophy size. In fact, the DEP has designated this lake as one of its Trophy Trout Lakes.
Along with trout, Highland Lake has superb largemouth bass, yellow perch, crappies and chain pickerel fisheries. For this reason, the lake is also popular with clubs hosting ice-fishing derbies.
Highland Lake covers 444 acres to a maximum depth of 62 feet. The average depth is around 20 feet. This lake is divided into three distinct bowls. Each bowl has a nice mixture of rocky points and weedy shoals, but the best ice-fishing seems to be in the north and center bowls.
The DEP maintains a launch ramp with a large, plowed parking lot. Take Route 44 west out of Winsted to Route 263. Continue on Route 263 for about one-half mile. The road bears to the right, but turn left onto Lake Street. At the top of the hill, take a right to the boat launch.
Resident Connecticut license fees are $20 for the season. Non-resident license fees are $40 for the season or $16 for a three-day permit. For fishing and licensing information, contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, Inland Fisheries Division, 79 Elm St., Hartford, CT 06106; or call (860) 424-3475.
For tourism information, write to the Connecticut Tourism Division, 14 Rumford St., West Hartford, CT 06107; or call (800) 282-6863.
Rhode Island is one of the last states in New England to form safe ice. The "ocean effect" heat sink often keeps the air temperatures slightly warmer than in the rest of the region. But the state eventually succumbs to the weather and Worden Pond freezes over in late December.
At 1,075 acres, this natural lake, located in the Great Swamp Wildlife Management Area in South Kingston, is the state's largest fishing lake.
While the lake has a substantial surface area, Worden Pond has a maximum depth of just 7 feet and an average depth of about 4 feet.
The shallow water promotes heavy weed growth, perfect for the lake's population of largemouth bass, yellow perch and northern pike. According to the Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife, this lake has the potential to produce some trophy-class largemouth bass during the winter season.
Anglers will find a public boat ramp and parking area on Tuckertown Road in South Kingston. Take Route 1 to Route 110. Follow Route 110 to Tuckertown Road. Signs mark the way.
Flat River Reservoir
Based on field reports, Flat River Reservoir in Coventry is the best bass and northern pike lake in the state. This manmade reservoir floods 659 acres with a deep center of 36 feet. Its average depth is about 8 feet, which allows extensive weed growth.
Much of the shoreline is developed, making the ice-fishing season a hot time to be on the lake. Most years, the lake does not freeze until late December. You can fish the pond from a small boat until the ice seals up the surface.
Public access to the lake can be found at a launch ramp at Zeke's Bridge near the intersection of Harkney Hill Road and Hill Farm Road. Take Exit 6 off I-95 and head north on Route 3 for about one mile. Turn left onto Harkney Hill Road. There are also a few shoreline pull-off points off Route 117.
Resident Rhode Island license fees are $9.50 for the season. Non-resident license fees are $31 for the season or $16 for a three-day permit.
For fishing and licensing information, contact the Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife, 4808 Tower Hill Road, Wakefield, RI 02879; or call (401) 222-3576.
For tourism information, write to the Rhode Island Tourism Division, 1 West Exchange St., Providence, RI 02903; or call (800) 556-2484.
The northwest corner of Massachusetts is the state's coldest region. Onota Lake offers ice-anglers good opportunities for trout, perch, largemouth bass and northern pike.
Onota Lake contains 617 acres. It has a deep basin of 66 feet for the trout specialist and an average shoal depth of 22 feet for warmwater species. The shoreline is mainly wooded.
Weed growth in the lake is somewhat patchy because of ongoing weed control programs. Look for surviving winter weed patches when seeking bass and pike. The deeper dropoffs and ledges are more favorable for trout.
Ice-fishers will find access to Onota Lake in Pittsfield. Take Exit 2 off the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) in Lee. Follow Route 20 west into Pittsfield to where Route 20 and Route 7 merge. Continue on Route 7 to about one-half mile from the Route 20/7 split. Turn left on Linden Street and then right on Onota Street. Take another left onto Lakeway Drive to access the launch ramp.
East Brimfield Reservoir
In 1960, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a dam across the Quinebaug River to create the 420-acre East Brimfield Reservoir near Sturbridge. Except during heavy snowmelt or rain, the lake has a stable depth of 22 feet with plenty of shoals for largemouth bass and panfish.
This reservoir has two sections. The first section, also known as Long Pond, sits between the Massachusetts Turnpike and the north side of Route 20. It is the deepest section and the last part of the lake to freeze. Route 20 cuts the lake in half. The better early-season ice-fishing can be found in the second section, which runs along the south side of Route 20. Here the lake is shallow and weedy, so it freezes quickly and maintains a solid ice fishery.
Public access is off Route 20 on the Brimfield-Sturbridge town line. To get there, take Exit 3 off I-84. Travel west on Route 20 for about five miles. Cross over the large culvert pipe that splits the reservoir on Route 20 to find the launch ramp and parking area. Ice-fishing access can also be found in the Streeter Point Recreation Area farther down on Route 20.
This 155-acre reservoir supports a well-rounded, two-tier fishery. Largemouth bass and yellow perch fill warmwater creels, while trout keep deep-water anglers entertained. Look for the trout in the 30- to 45-foot basin and along the steep eastern shoreline. The warmwater species are most plentiful on the western side of the lake, which is shallow and weedy.
Public access is available from Ashland State Park on the north end of the lake off Route 135 in Ashland. Take Exit 21 off I-495 to access the state park. The
re is a small launch ramp and parking area on the southern end of the lake. Drive past the state park on Route 135 and turn south on Olive Street. Travel down Olive Street for about one mile to Spring Street. Turn left and continue for one-half mile to the launch ramp.
Ice-anglers will find Mashpee Pond and Wakeby Pond well worth taking time away from busy December schedules. These two ponds are connected by a narrow channel. Combined, they cover 729 acres. These ponds are near the base of Cape Cod, but far enough away from the ocean to prevent the warm sea breezes from affecting the ice covering. Thus, it is usually possible to find safe ice before New Year's Day.
Mashpee Pond is the southernmost pond. It has a maximum depth of 85 feet to accommodate coldwater species, such as trout. Wakeby Pond is much shallower and is surrounded by shallow, weedy shoals, which provide habitat for warmwater fish, such as largemouth bass and yellow perch.
Access to both ponds is on the southern end of Mashpee Pond. Take the Route 130 exit off Route 6 in Sandwich. Pass the lake and turn left on the boat access road. There are also find a few roadside access points around the pond.
Resident Massachusetts license fees are $27.50 for the season. Residents between the ages of 15 and 17 must purchase an $11.50 junior fishing permit, and residents between the ages of 65 and 69 may purchase a senior citizen fishing license for $16.25.
Non-resident license fees are $37.50 for the season or $23.50 for a three-day permit.
For fishing and licensing information, contact the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife, 100 Cambridge Street, Boston, MA 02202; or call (617) 626-1590.
For tourism information, write to the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, 10 Park Plaza, Suite 4510, Boston, MA 02116; or call (800) 227-MASS.
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