Massachusetts Fishing Report- February 15, 2024

Kyler Leslie with trophy bluegill
12 year old Kyler Leslie caught this trophy bluegill on his handmade ice jig!

Massachusetts Fishing Report

The learned among us feel that current ice is not going anywhere, anytime soon. Moreover those looking for more hardwater options are loving the temperatures but hating the wind.

Of course something can be said for landing a large open water Larry when it’s only February! Chances are that if you asked a dozen anglers what is the most valuable baitfish, you’d get a dozen different answers. Those looking for inshore stripers and blues would pick the pogy while their offshore counterparts are more inclined to choose mackerel. Charlie chasers would lean towards sea herring or maybe whiting while inshore fluke fans might select spearing or mummichogs. The flip side is what freshwater fanatics are fond of with smelt tops for salmonoids while pond shiners would get the nod for northern pike.
My favorite bait fish just might be river herring because not only are they pure candy to striped bass but are a growth pill for a myriad of freshwater species. While a 10” alewife is not likely to be dispatched by much in fresh water (swim bait aficionados may differ) it’s their progeny which provides the fuel for both volume and growth of everything from white perch to black bass. With the population of anadromous species increasing, rivers both large and small throughout the Bay State are becoming more fruitful places to fish.

That even applies to open water in February! Seizing the gift of the spring-like weather of last Saturday I took a few shiners, originally intended for ice fishing, to one of the Greater Boston Rivers. Water temperatures are everything this time of the year so I looked for a spot where a shallow, muddy tributary dumped warmer water into the main current. While an early rise may be best later in the season, at this time of the year the afternoon is a better option with the beating sun the trigger to more activity.

largemouth bass
With little ice by the coast river largemouth are stirring to life.

Thirty seconds into the first cast, my bobber plunged below the surface and I was onto something that had grit. After two short but powerful runs I slid a healthy 19” largemouth bass to hand! One look at that cavernous maw was a reminder why this fish is called – largemouth! Man I could not believe my luck and to think it wasn’t even mid-February! This was an early season spot taught to me by my late mentor Carl Vining and I had a hunch he’d be sending me a gift. It’s a roll of the dice whether the eastern portion of the state will get ice at this juncture but thanks to our rivers, river herring and the most popular gamefish in America the alternative is not too tough to take!

If you’re hoping in time to sample “cleaner water” bass than check out this primer on Quabbin Reservoir bassin’ courtesy of Dave “Turtleman” Riley!

“As of this week, we have about 60 days until the opening day for Quabbin Reservoir, which this year on Saturday, April 20th. Our first Quabbin report began with a gradual introduction to the reservoir itself and over the next few weeks I will be introducing you to the three designated fishing areas, with the hope of giving some tips and techniques to make your outings a success. My intent is to enable the average fisherman, who may only get one or two chances a year to fish Quabbin, to take away more than just views of eagles, loons and jaw-dropping scenery.

The first of the fishing areas to be introduced will be Fishing Area 1 which is accessible by Gate 8 in Belchertown, This is the domain of the coldwater species, and the fisherman who focus on salmon and lake trout. The water in this western arm is extremely deep, with depths up to 150 feet when full and shorelines which plummet to a 120 feet but a step away. For bass, the northernmost areas hold shallower, more suitable habitat for both smallmouth and largemouth. Early in the year look for the humps and islands that break the surface and note the change from very, very deep to much shallower. As for my go-to baits, I throw either black back/ white bottom or perch patterns which resembles the predominant forage which is rainbow smelt and yellow perch. I usually deploy X-raps, jerkbaits, as well as ned rigs and drop shots which when fished along steep drops will yield smallmouth up to 6 pounds!

Largemouth will also begin to be active at this time, and uniquely to Quabbin – they seem to “like” cold water! They can be found even further north in this arm: past the islands and humps, the reservoir begins to flatten out and the average depth ranges around 12-15 ft. Largemouth will be found amongst the many stumps and wood piles in the main body of the lake, and will move into the smaller adjacent coves when water temps approach the 55-60 degree mark. Many of the same baits for smallmouth will catch these largemouth, but the presentation should be much slower. Although active, they are not aggressive like their smallmouth cousins in this sub 50 degree water. Of the three fishing areas, this is the hardest area to find fishable shoreline making accessing a boat imperative. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask a “regular”! Everything about Quabbin speaks of a bygone era including the hospitality and helpfulness fellow anglers show each other. In about two months, you’ll get to experience all that Quabbin offers!

Jerry from Crack of Dawn Bait in Phillipston told me of a monster bluegill that was landed by 12 year old Kyler Leslie! The 11”, 15.9 ounce trophy qualifies him for a Massachusetts Sportfishing Award pin. All the more impressive is that Kyler caught this fish on his own handmade ice fishing jigs. Big fish apparently is in this kids DNA as his younger brother – Ryker Leslie – notched the gold pin in the pickerel category last year. There is a lot of ice fishing prospects in that region with some of the highlights being Lake Wompanoag, Sawyer Pond, Wickaboag Pond and Lake Mattawa. Should you yearn for something special to do this weekend, check in with the shop for the Hawg Hawlers ice fishing derby that the shop is sponsoring this weekend. The prizes Jerry told me about are indeed impressive.

• Want to get in on the bite? Find an OTW-approved Charter Fishing Captain for Massachusetts

Rick from Jerry’s Bait and Tackle in Milford told me anglers have been taking advantage of good ice on Quabog Pond for pike and bass, Lake Ripple for bass and panfish, as well as Onota and Pontoosuc for nearly everything! Patrons are also putting pike on the ice at the Barton Cove/Turner Falls stretch of the Connecticut River. A particularly noteworthy catch came courtesy of a sliver of open water that an angler found along the shoreline of Comet. Seizing that slim window, the guy caught a 24”, 4-12 pound brown trout on Power Bait! Paul from Granby Bait in Granby said that business is brisk with anglers fishing Onota, North Pond, Shaw Pond and the D.A.R. ponds. Being the area bait distributor the shop carries shiners and suckers by the thousands of pounds, suffice to say they never run out. Martin Farrell of B&R Bait in Cheshire Reservoir told me that the latest ice depths anglers are reporting in that area are 5/6” Cheshire, 4/5” Pontoosuc and 3/4” Onota. With sub-freezing temperatures dominating the future forecast, provided that the wind lays down, ice should not be a problem out west. If in doubt set your sights on the Hiltown ponds where anglers are working up a sweat to cut through solid ice.

Josh from The Fishing Hole in South Hadley told me that Onata seems to be producing the best pike bite with the Woods Pond section of the Housatonic River fishing well also. Open water sections of the Connecticut River are giving up an improving carp bite. Fishers looking for trout should check out the Swift River where recent high water has resulted in “spillover” salmon and large trout!

Massachusetts Fishing Forecast

Along the coast, anglers looking to wring out the most of fishing opportunities should check out open water stretches of the main rivers for stirring black bass. Out west your options are best for hardwater possibilities with Quabog Pond producing pike as is Barton Cove through Turner Falls. Then there’s always the possibility of jigging up a trophy panfish in the Wompanoag/Wickaboag area. Should you spot 12 year old Kyler Leslie ask him if he has an extra one of his handmade jigs, those things are proven winners!

2 on “Massachusetts Fishing Report- February 15, 2024

  1. paul cuzzupe

    hey Ron, Nice tribute to Carl Vining, he certainly is missed. He always encouraged us to fish no matter what!!!!! Miss that man!

  2. Steve

    Great Quabbin tutorial Ron. It holds some of this state’s biggest game fish. Young Kyler’s trophy size panfish is impressive and what a pose. I’m guessing he’s done it before. Carl Vining’s early season honey hole has definitely produced over the years and a little bit of precipitation gets that water flowing. He’s giving you a thumbs up and a nod of approval.

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