April 21, 2011 Ron Powers
Forecast: Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine
When there’s a break in the buffeting, cod crazies are limiting out quickly on brown bombers in only 100 feet of water on Stellwagen. Farther north the gadoid game favors haddock with some steaker cod on Jeffreys Ledge. But if the gales have got you down, take in the splendid fishing and scenic thrills of big freshwater bodies in New England from Quabbin Reservoir to Lake Auburn in Maine.
I enjoy putting pals onto fish as much I do catching them myself, well…almost! So it was last Monday as I took two fellow outdoor scribes, Bob Sampson and John D. Silva, to one of my favorite freshwater playgrounds, Wachusett Reservoir. I never feel pressure to put people into fish at this place because even with a skunking, I know the sheer enormity and unspoiled beauty of the ‘chu will win most people over. That and a supporting cast of loons and eagles makes for an outing that seldom disappoints. I’m often a proponent of the roam-the-reservoir approach, fishing spoons in order to get a feel for bottom intricacies that, just like in the salt, will hold fish for you now and in the future.
But to leave little to chance I took a sloshing bucket of about 30 large shiners for the 1 ½ mile hike to the chosen spot. Little did I realize that I would be returning home a few hours later with about 28 of those shiners still in the bucket, yet we would catch plenty of fish. It always comes down to the bait, and in recent years there’s been a downward spiral in the numbers of rainbow smelt, which are the most valuable baitfish that swims in Wachusett, especially for the patrician landlocked salmon. In the glimmer of dawn, John held out his palm to me and there was a fresh 4-inch smelt that had washed up. This would be a good harbinger. We had steady action on pot-bellied lakers that were gorging on the smelt, between 2 ½ and 5 pounds, that clobbered the Kastmasters, Little Cleos, Krocodiles and Macho Minnows that we threw. And I had on a scary-big beast for quite a while that was just coming into view when the brand new needle-sharp treble hook pulled out. While Bob was sympathetic, I noticed he did his best to keep snapping photos of me writhing, hands on my head, squatting in an “agony of defeat” pose. I’m not sure if I want to see those pictures.
On the opposite side of the reservoir, my buddy Larry Kuettner, was awash in smelt the likes of which he, of vastly more ‘chu experience than me, hasn’t seen in years. Sensing a possible salmon moment, he slipped on a bubble, hooked on a shiner and promptly was greeted by an 18-inch landlocked acrobat that jumped repeatedly and showed why many consider the landlocked salmon the grandest freshwater fish that swims in New England. Eddie of B&A Bait in West Boylston told me of similar accounts throughout the 37 miles of shoreline of this reservoir. This could be huge, if the official caretakers of this central Massachusetts gem can preserve these smelt numbers then Wachusett in a few years will become the world-class salmon water body that Quabbin Reservoir has become in recent years.
Speaking of Quabbin, On The Water’s own Jimmy Fee with an office colleague pulled an all-nighter before opening day and lined up at Gate 8 in the wee hours of the morning to see if they could lay stake to one of the DCR rental boats. They secured #6 of 20, and with no prior knowledge but a good deal of enthusiasm and all the gear they could carry, they set out upon this mammoth reservoir. The tally by the end of their day was one “silver leaper” and 11 lakers between 3 and 7 pounds. I knew that as much as Jimmy’s position in the magazine exposes him to numerous fishing opportunities that he would be floored by the “Q” and he duly was. I believe his quote was something to the effect of, “If I lived any closer, I’d fish it all the time!” Why am I not surprised?
There have already been a number of 6-pound-plus landlocked salmon caught in the Quabbin topped by a 6-pound, 13-ounce beauty that had a girth of 16 inches and was landed by Chris Allen of Belchertown and weighed into Gate 8 Boat & Bait Co. Bill Martell who owns the shop told me that the hot lure is his hand-crafted K&B spoons in salmon-friendly copper/florescent orange with black dots. What is equally exciting is that a few holdover rainbows up to 5 pounds have already been bested. If these fish continue to holdover, it will add yet another dimension to this super place.
In the saltwater scene, cod are right up on the shallow shelf of Stellwagen Bank in only 100 feet of water. According to Rob Green of Elizabeth Marie Sportfishing Charters, the fish are pushing sand eels which makes the new 6 ½-inch white Shankas deadly as a teaser. Many are downsizing to light combos with braided line and jigs under 10 ounces, which puts the sport into groundfishing.
Chad of Dover Marine in New Hampshire told me that the salmon fishing in Winnipesaukee is awesome right from the shoreline for those that are down-sizing their presentation. Four- to six-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leaders are a must and small offerings such as “leech jigs” and crappie tubes are the ticket to slaying the salmon. Those tossing more conventional offerings such as ½-ounce spoons are not faring nearly as well And speaking of crappie tubes, there are a number of ponds close by the shop where you can catch quite a few of those “calicoes.” The fish will be held up in water as shallow as 1 foot on the sunny side of a pond with a boggy, muddy bottom. The key is not to spook these fish! The best method is a 20-foot long telescopic pole that allows you to reach over the fish and drop the wares into their lairs without disturbing them. Small curly-tail grubs and marabou jigs under a float are super for these slabs.
In the salt off the New Hampshire coast, the haddock are hungry on New Scantum and Old Scantum in about 190 feet of water. One of the best methods for haddock is to tie a leader off the sinker snap so that your clam bait or even teaser (preferably dunked in attractant) is resting right off the bottom. There aren’t a lot of cod being taken out there, but the ones that are, are big.
Dillon of Dags in Maine said that Sebago Lake has been open for about two weeks now and Auburn Lake has been garnering much attention for its terrific togue fishing. Smelt are spawning and close to the shoreline which is attracting a smorgasbord of salmonoids. Uniquely a Maine method and something you’re not likely to find in say, Quabbin, most of the action is on sewn-on smelt. The salmon are right on top and the lakers not far below.
There are cod aplenty in only 100 feet of water on Stellwagen. Farther north on Jeffreys Ledge the gadoid grab-bag shifts mainly to haddock in 190 feet of water. But you really have to pick your days to set sail among the incessantly blustery conditions. While waiting for the weather pattern to shift to a more mariner-friendly forecast, take advantage of the stellar sweetwater fishing. Healthy numbers of smelt are making for hefty lake trout and salmon from Wachusett and Quabbin in the Bay State and over the border some superb sport for these species in Winnipesauke, Lake Auburn and Sebago.
he news of the sustained onshore winds coupled with gales up to 35 mph have hit opening day cod revelers, who would have like to set sail this weekend, like an IRS tax audit. But there’s stellar sweetwater news complete with big bronzebacks and large lakers from Wachusett, and then there’s that little ol’ reservoir in the Connecticut Valley Region that has guys lining up their boats a full two days ahead of opening day! And finally there is actually something to talk about north of the border as Granite State anglers run the gamut from trout to haddock.