Here's a look at where to find some great bass fishing in New England as spring enters summer.
By Stephen D. Carpenteri
New England's spring and early summer bass fishery is one of the most productive in the country. Thanks to a plethora of clean, warmwater lakes, ponds and rivers plus a deep-rooted conservation ethic, anglers seeking abundant largemouths or smallmouths can often find what they are looking for just a few minutes from home.
Only a sudden, extreme increase in water temperature, chemical accident or epizootic disease can change the present dynamic in the region, but with plenty of prime habitat, self-sustaining fisheries and close monitoring of bass populations in every state, New Englanders are assured of top-notch fishing for decades to come.
In most New England states bass receive the most regulatory protection during the spring spawning period, which runs from about mid-April to early July. Size and bag limits are most restrictive during this time, although most anglers voluntarily release most of the fish they catch anyway, simply to ensure more great fishing in the years to come. Anglers are often encouraged to remove small bass from the population to prevent over-crowding, stunting and depredation on other desirable species, but except for a few "shore lunch" specimens the majority of bass caught are quickly returned to the water.
Bass of one species or another are known to exist in every warmwater and most coldwater fisheries in the region, from its smallest farm ponds to the largest lakes and river flowages.
Deciding to go bass fishing is the easy part — choosing where to go is the greater challenge. There are literally hundreds of options available to every New England bass fisherman no matter what his tackle or gear preference. Bass may be caught from shore using fly-fishing or spinning tackle, while some anglers prefer to cruise the shoreline in kayaks, canoes or fully-equipped bass boats. For the purposes of this article I can present only one "best bet" for June bass in each state, but a few minutes of research on any state fishery department's Web site will reveal hundreds more excellent bass waters, many of which see very little angler activity over the course of the summer.
With all this in mind, here's a look at some of the best bass-fishing hotspots in New England this season. These aren't the only great bass fisheries in each state but at least it gives anglers a place to start:
Ask any Bay State bass fisherman where the "best" fishing is and you'll (rightfully) get 100 different answers. There are plenty of productive reservoirs, lakes, ponds and rivers where bass may be caught with pleasing regularity, particularly in June, but this time around the nod goes to Cape Cod's famed "kettle ponds," where some great bass fishing may be had from shore or boat.
How many kettle ponds are there on Cape Cod? Estimates run from 300 to over 400, with some ponds (created by glacial activity thousands of years ago) as small as a few acres to some that are over 700 acres in size. Foremost among these is Mashpee-Wakeby Pond, which covers 729 acres in Mashpee and Sandwich. These two connected waters constitute the largest freshwater pond on Cape Cod and are 85 feet deep at the deepest point. Boating access to the ponds is possible via a state-maintained concrete launch ramp off Route 130 in Mashpee.
For more information on bass fishing opportunities in Massachusetts and additional details on Cape Cod's kettle pond bass fishing, log onto www.masswildlife.com.
Nutmeg State bass fishermen know that there are more prime bass lakes, ponds and rivers in the state than any angler could fish in several lifetimes. Warmwater fisheries abound statewide and each water, regardless of size or depth, contains good numbers of largemouth bass as well as some smallmouths in lakes the where water temperatures remain cooler year-round.
A sensible top pick for hot bassin' would have to be the Connecticut River, especially the stretch north of Hartford to the Massachusetts state line. Good bass fishing may be found in the heart of the city as well as downstream, but fishing can be difficult in the wide, slow stretches nearer the coast.
The big river is full of feisty largemouths along its length and especially in its many coves and horseshoe bends, where bass over 5 pounds are caught with regularity, especially during spring and early summer.
River traffic can be sketchy on weekends and holidays but anglers who are lucky enough to be able to fish the mighty Connecticut during the week should be able to find plenty of shoreline action as the fish move into the shallows to spawn this month.
For more information on the Connecticut River fishery and other great bass-fishing options in Connecticut, log onto www.ct.gov/deep.
The Ocean State is typical of New England's bass fishing because it, too, contains many small lakes, ponds and rivers where bass, either largemouths or smallmouths, are the dominant predatory species. Bass in the 10-pound class are not unheard of in Rhode Island, although 5-pound fish are bragging-sized in most locales.
Because nearly all of Rhode Island's inland waters contain bass in good numbers. it is not an easy task to suggest the "best bet" of all, but when one takes the number and size of bass caught into consideration along with ease of access and overall "fishability," one can't go wrong in choosing Wallum Lake. Wallum Lake is a 322-acre lake that lies in Burrillville, Providence County, Rhode Island and Douglas, Worcester County, Massachusetts. It is adjacent to Douglas State Forest and Wallum Lake Park. There are two paved boat launch ramps, one at the north end off Wallum Lake Road in Douglas, Massachusetts, and another at the southern end of the lake in Burrillville.
To find out more about Rhode Island's bass-fishing opportunities, log onto www.dem.ri.gov.
Recent surveys now put black bass ahead of trout and salmon on Maine's scale of angling popularity, bucking a 100-year-old trend. While the Pine Tree State's salmonid fishery continues to decline, the popularity of bass fishing is in "stream roller" mode.
To keep up with the demand, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has instituted restrictive bass-fishing regulations designed to protect the species during its most vulnerable period, i.e., the spring spawn. Reduced bag limits through late June ensure that more adult fish will be available to reproduce, bolstering local bass populations and allowing biologists to better control fish harvests. All of this bodes well for Maine's bass aficionados, who are already inclined to release bass once they are caught.
Most of the best largemouth bass fishing takes place in southern Maine's warmwater lakes, ponds and rivers, while the best smallmouth fishing occurs generally north of Bangor. The legendary Penobscot River is probably the best place to go for high numbers of good-sized smallmouths (fish up to 5 pounds). The river has plenty of easy access.
Good bass fishing may be enjoyed on the entire river but the Old Town-to-Bangor stretch is where most anglers spend their time. The river is easily fished from a kayak, canoe or small craft. Drifting with the current a long cast from shore will produce 100 or more fish per day for anglers who know how and where to target smallmouths. The lower stretch of the river is cluttered with sunken logs from the old river drives, providing plenty of bass cover.
Also, brushy shoreline on both sides of the river provides ideal habitat for spawning smallmouths. Anything that looks like a good place for a bass to hide is worthy of a cast. Small, flashy lures, spinners and spinnerbaits will get the job done.
Most of the best bass fishing in Maine occurs from central Maine south, but there are lakes, ponds and rivers in the northern portion of the state where some great smallmouth fishing may be found. The St. Croix River, the lower Kennebec, Penobscot and Piscataquis rivers are also proven hotspots for bass.
To obtain more information on Maine's upward-trending bass fishery, log onto www.mefishwildlife.com.
The Green Mountain State is another North Country hotspot for bass where trout once ruled the waterways. There is still plenty of great salmonid action available for anglers who want to keep that tradition alive, but, as is the case throughout New England, bass are slowly gaining in popularity in Vermont, especially in the warmer, southern portions of the state.
According to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, bass fishing on famed Lake Champlain is among the best in the U.S. Smallmouth and largemouth bass are incredibly abundant in this 120-mile-long lake that forms the border between Vermont and New York and the big lake extends into Quebec. Not only are bass plentiful, but they also grow large, with bass averaging 2 to 3 pounds and fish over 6 pounds being not uncommon.
While bass fishing is great year-round, truly exceptional Champlain bass fishing occurs in the early spring. Vermont's special catch-and-release season runs from the second Saturday in April to the Friday before the second Saturday in June annually. Bass angling is allowed during this period but all bass must be immediately released. Also, live bait is prohibited during the special spring season. Only artificial lures are allowed.
Smallmouth and largemouth bass spend the winter in deeper regions of a lake. In early spring, however, as water temperatures approach the 50-degree mark, the fish migrate into shallow, protected spawning areas. Bass generally move straight from deep water to the closest shallow shoreline, and then make their way along the shoreline toward spawning sites, resting in areas with a hard bottom such as gravel, chunk rock and ledge. These areas absorb the sun's heat and are usually a few degrees warmer than surrounding waters. Bass congregate near such structure while they wait for temperatures in the adjacent spawning bays to reach the low to mid-60s.
Vermont's fisheries experts say that a common assumption of anglers is that spawn-period fishermen are "cherry-picking" nesting bass. This is not true. Nesting bass are notoriously difficult to catch and generally aren't worth the effort necessary to target them.
Instead, the best fishing occurs before the spawn, when the bass are often found in groups, staging in the main lake, and waiting to move into their spawning bays.
With two people in a boat, Lake Champlain anglers can expect catches of 50 to 75 bass per day. Some anglers report spring catches of more than 100 bass.
Many other Vermont lakes, ponds and rivers offer excellent bass fishing. For more details, log onto www.vtfishandwildlife.com.
Another "trout are king" state, New Hampshire is nevertheless a state whose black bass are slowly gaining ground among recreational fishermen. Many of the lakes, ponds and rivers in southern New Hampshire offer excellent fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass. Some northern waters also provide good fishing for smallmouths.
Considering ease of access, bass population numbers and the size of fish caught, Lake Winnipesaukee is the logical starting point for Granite State bass fishermen. The big lake is centrally located and replete with marinas, docks, landings and launches, so getting to the water should not be a problem for kayakers, canoeists or fishermen towing trailered boats.
Winnipesaukee is full of bays, coves, drop-offs and other natural formations that attract bass in spring. Anglers' focus should be on shoreline cover, docks, points and other structure where pre-spawn bass will stage in spring.
Work the shallows with spinners, deep-diving plugs and spinnerbaits to entice a strike.
Adding to Winnipesaukee's attraction is that lodging, food, tackle shops and other amenities are readily available on and near the lake. One is likely to encounter small fleets of bass boats, but keep in mind that the majority of anglers voluntarily release bass, ensuring a great outing for every fisherman that follows.
For maps and more information about New Hampshire's spring bass-fishing opportunities, log onto www.wildlife.state.nh.us.