March 03, 2015
By Stephen D. Carpenteri
New England's bass anglers can literally thank themselves for the excellent fishing they enjoy each season. Over the last few decades the traditional "catch and keep" philosophy has morphed into a "catch and release" ethic that has the majority of fishermen returning more, and bigger, fish to the waters where they were caught. This simple act has done much to perpetuate a solid base of mature spawners in waters large and small all across the Northeast.
Bass managers in every state applaud anglers for their conservative approach. In fact, fisheries biologists now find themselves encouraging anglers to keep a few fish to minimize stunting and overcrowding of smaller bass in some waters.
While some Northeastern states' saltwater, salmon and trout fisheries are at risk from time to time, New England's largemouth and smallmouth bass populations continue to be healthy, robust and certain to provide excellent angling for decades to come.
Water quality issues are the most critical limiting factors for bass in the Northeast. As a result, most states now offer updated fish consumption advisories. Overfishing is not and likely never will be a cause for concern for bass populations moving forward. Unforeseen chemical spills, algae blooms, invasive plant infestations and similar localized environmental disasters will certainly have a much greater effect on bass populations.
New England's bass fisheries managers agree that the best way to control the effects of fishing is to limit harvests during the spring spawning season and to establish "slot limits" that are geared toward the survival of spawning-aged bass in specific waters. Although some anglers still take a few bass (primarily juvenile or hook-damaged fish) the majority of the region's bass fishermen know that releasing a fish not only ensures its survival but allows other anglers to enjoy the thrill of the catch as well.
To properly and safely land a largemouth or smallmouth bass, reel the fish in close to shore or boat. Allow the fish to tire before landing it to avoid slashing teeth and hooks. Using the thumb and forefinger, grasp the fish by the lower lip or jaw, which temporarily immobilizes the fish. Lift the fish out of the water, remove the hooks, take a few quick photographs and then gently return the fish to the water. To prevent damage to the fish, consider using single, barbless hooks or crimp down the barbs on standard treble hooks.
One of the major issues that plagues fisheries managers in northern New England is the continued practice of illegal stockings of bass into lakes, ponds and rivers. Many of the region's former trout and salmon waters now contain large numbers of bass as well as pike, muskies, white perch and other predatory species that compete with native trout populations or prey on their eggs, fry and young. Despite state fisheries experts' best efforts to thwart these illegal introductions, many traditional trout and salmon waters now contain only remnant populations of these fish while the numbers of invasive species continue to grow.
Another cause of growing concern is the transfer of invasive aquatic plants from water to water and state to state via boats, motors and recreational watercraft, and even via waders and wading staffs. Programs are already in place to reduce the spread of milfoil and other noxious weeds but once an invasive plant species becomes established it is difficult and expensive to remove.
For this reason anglers are advised to consult the boating regulations for any state or water they intend to fish and adhere to all restrictions covering the proper maintenance of boats, motors and other fishing gear to help thwart the effects or spread of unwanted weeds, plants and algae.
With all this in mind, here's a look at what bass biologists in your state are doing to enhance and improve an already productive fishery as we enter the 2015 fishing season.
Bay State fishermen may fish for largemouths and smallmouths year-round with a 5-fish daily limit and 12-inch minimum length. Because black bass are so common and abundant in Massachusetts there are few restrictions on them except in the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs. Typically weighing in at 1 to 3 pounds, Massachusetts' biggest largemouths can reach up to 15 pounds.
Less common than largemouths, smallmouths are cool-water game fish that prefer clear, rocky habitat. Average size is 1 to 2 pounds, but some specimens can reach up to 8 pounds. Smallmouths often jump spectacularly when hooked.
From east to west, Massachusetts' best bass fishing may be found in Cape Cod's famed "kettle ponds," as well as the Charles River, Quinsigamond Lake and the Quabbin-Wachuset water supply reservoirs. Farther west, anglers are advised to try the Connecticut River and Onota Lake near Pittsfield.
For a more complete listing of the Massachusetts' best bass-fishing hotspots log onto the state's website and follow the appropriate links.
Largemouth and smallmouth bass are collectively the state's most popular game fish, generating 3.5 million fishing trips annually. Bass in most waters are managed through statewide regulations (a standard 12-inch minimum length limit, 6-fish possession limit).
However, in some Bass Management Lakes special length and creel limits designed to improve fishing have been put into place. Many Bass Management Lakes have 12- to 16-inch slot length limits, which means that bass below 12 inches and above 16 inches may be harvested, but none within the "slot" (12-16 inches). Slot limits are designed to protect larger, more desirable fish from harvest while allowing anglers to harvest smaller fish that are often overabundant. Harvesting surplus small bass reduces competition for food and allows the remaining bass to grow faster.
Connecticut's fisheries biologists believe it would be unfair to deny anglers the opportunity to fish in spring simply because that is when they most like to fish. Thus, a closed season is not recommended in Connecticut.
Because the majority of Nutmeg State bass fishermen voluntarily adhere to the modern catch-and-release ethic, nearly every lake, pond and river contains bass in good numbers. Great bass fishing may be had in the Connecticut River, Bantam Lake, Mashapaug Pond, Candlewood Lake, Mansfield Hollow Pond and many smaller lakes and ponds statewide where general statewide angling restrictions apply.
For maps, current regulations and more bass-fishing information visit here.
Bass fishing is allowed year-round in the Ocean State. The daily creel and possession limits for black bass (largemouth and smallmouth bass) is five fish, either singularly or in aggregate, and the minimum size limit is 12 inches (measured from the tip of the snout to the end of the tail).
Few changes are expected in the state's bass management program, primarily because anglers continue to abide by a voluntary catch-and-release ethic, which allows more fish to mature and subsequently grow to spawning size.
Although state fisheries biologists expect few changes in the existing bass management plan or regulations, however, there is some concern about water quality in many lakes and ponds. There are also fish consumption advisories in effect on some waters. Updates are posted on the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management's Web page.
Some of Rhode Island's best bass waters include Wallum Lake, Worden Pond, Carbuncle Lake, Watchaug Pond, Carr Pond and Scituate Reservoir.
For maps, current regulations and more information on bass fishing opportunities in Rhode Island, visit here.
Great strides have been made in the management of Maine's largemouth and smallmouth bass fishery. Once considered to be a "trash fish," bass are now strictly protected with tight restrictions in place, especially during the spring spawning season. Bass fishing is allowed year-round on most waters (including during the ice-fishing season) but anglers are advised to check current regulations on specific waters for exceptions to the general rule.
The Pine Tree State's exceptional largemouth bass fishing occurs in the southernmost portion of the state, although some waters to the north provide surprisingly good fishing for trophy-sized bass, such as Stetson Pond in Stetson, where bucketmouths in the 10-pound-class have been recorded. More good largemouth fishing may be had in the Cobosseecontee drainage and in smaller ponds such as Wadleigh Pond in Lyman, Pleasant Pond in Orneville and the Saco River.
Elsewhere in the state the smallmouth bass reigns supreme, with most major lakes, ponds and rivers containing good numbers of bronzebacks, some in the 5- to 8-pound class. Lakes as far north as Sebec and Schoodic in central Maine provide excellent smallmouth bass fishing. Of course, many of the state's top rivers including the Sebec, Piscataquis, Penobscot, lower Kennebec, Ossipee and Saco rivers also contain good numbers of smallmouth.
The best, most productive fishing takes place during the May-July spawning period, when bass of both species are commonly found on spawning beds close to shore. Jigs, shiners and deep-diving crankbaits will take them as the fish gradually return to deeper water during the latter part of the summer and fall.
For more information on Maine's black bass fishery, visit here.
Granite State anglers also enjoy a two-species bass fishery, with largemouths most common in the southern portion of the state and smallmouths being most common in north and central region waters.
The New Hampshire's fisheries biologists are concerned that the spread of bass throughout the Northeast has resulted in the loss of many native minnow species from lakes and ponds. Smallmouth bass may also compete with preferred native fish such as brook trout. However, smallmouth bass have become naturalized in most New Hampshire waters in the last few decades, where they have become very popular with anglers.
"Their eradication is neither possible nor desirable," state biologists say. However, their goal is to prevent the spread of bass through education and law enforcement to protect the remaining habitat and vulnerable native fish species.
Excellent bass fishing opportunities await anglers in New Hampshire's numerous warmwater lakes, ponds, and medium-to-large rivers, including Lake Winnipesaukee, Big and Little Squam, Waukewan, Wickwas, Pemigewasset, Crystal (Gilmanton), Hermit and Conway lakes, the Balch ponds and the Merrimack and Connecticut rivers and oxbows.
For maps, licensing information and current regulations, visit here.
Green Mountain State bass fishermen have the advantage of targeting largemouths in lakes and ponds in the southern portion of the state as well as in the Connecticut River along the state's eastern border.
Most of Vermont's best smallmouth bass fishing is in waters to the north, including Lake Champlain, Lake Memphremegog, Seymour Lake and Marshfield Reservoir. Many streams and rivers in the northern portion of the state also contain good numbers of smallmouth bass. A complete list of Vermont's top-rated bass waters is available on the Vermont Fish and Game Department's Web site.
Vermont's 2014 bass-fishing season opened June 14 and closed Nov. 30. Season dates are expected to be similar for this year. Fishing regulations vary from water to water, so anglers are advised to consult a current copy of Vermont's fishing regulations guide for details on specific lakes, ponds and rivers where bass fishing is allowed. It's always best to be fully informed.