Thrill of the Catch

Fishing is a popular sport in New Hampshire, with total license sales of 108,060 last year, according to the state Fish and Game Department. That number is increasing in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic has people seeking social distancing forms of recreation. In the first four months of the year, residents purchased 10,301 more basic all-species fishing licenses than the same period last year. And non-resident licenses are up by almost a thousand.

Summertime offers all kinds of freshwater fishing opportunities in the Monadnock region. People are out there reeling in trout, sunfish, black crappie, white and yellow perch, pickerel, pike, hornpout, carp and walleye, making some fun memories and good meals. However, the true celebrity among summertime fish species is bass. They are one of the most sought-after gamefish in the country. Bass anglers even have their own clubs and organization, including Bassmasters.

Here in New Hampshire, bass come in two varieties: largemouth and smallmouth. Ask bass anglers what the difference is, and they’ll tell you largemouth bass grow larger, smallmouth bass fight harder and are more acrobatic. The real difference between the two species is found, as one might suspect, in the size of the mouth. Largemouth bass have an upper jaw that extends back past the eye. Smallies have an upper jaw that is level with the eye. Largemouth tend to be greenish in color and have dark horizontal lines. Smallmouths are brownish and have vertical dark lines.

Largemouth bass like warmer water and grow larger the further south you go. In the Granite State, a “lunker” is considered five pounds or more. According to the Fish and Game website, the state record for largemouth is 10 pounds, 8 ounces (caught in Potanipo Lake in Brookline in 1967). The state record for smallmouth is 7 pounds, 14.5 ounces (caught in Goose Pond in Canaan in 1970). The world record bass is a 22-pound, 4-ounce fish caught in Georgia in 1932.

Bass are also a tournament fish. There are actual competitions among bass anglers. Bassmasters, a national group with 14 chapters in New Hampshire, has 11 fishing contests scheduled for 2020 — four for adult members, four for junior members and three high school tournaments.

Locally, the Cheshire County Bassmasters, based in Keene, has 15 members. The club’s charter specifies not more than 20 members, according to its website. The group, founded in 1982, participates in nine fishing tournaments each year. They practice catch-and-release fishing and competitors are penalized for any fish killed during the contests.

Bill Preston, of Rindge, is a retired college professor and conservationist who enjoys fly fishing for bass. Asked to explain why he prefers bass to other fish species, he said: “for me, in part, it’s about the heart-stopping effect when a bass hits a surface lure. There’s nothing delicate about it. It’s also about the experience, that early morning calm, the glass-like water with a bit a mist in the air. There’s nothing quite like it.”

Although many bass anglers practice catch-and-release fishing, bass are a firm-fleshed, good dining experience. During the summer months there is no length limit, although the number of fish that can be kept varies with the seasons. Right now — July 1 to Dec. 31 — the daily limit is five fish. Ice anglers — Jan. 1 to March 31 — can only keep two bass and only one of them can be greater than 16 inches in length. From April 1 to May 14 and June 16 to June 30, the limit is two fish. For May 15 through June 15, the month-long spawning period for bass, there is catch-and-release fishing only, and only artificial lures and flies are legal to use.

Bass are an exciting fish to catch, often fighting on the surface of the water. Many bass anglers, especially those fishing competitively, favor boats set up as ideal fishing platforms, trailered with powerful gasoline motors that allow the angler to fish from an elevated deck in a sitting or standing position and control the boat with a small, foot-operated electric motor. And there are also people who just cast a line from shore or wade around. In between, anglers employ a number of different watercrafts ranging from rowboats and canoes to kayaks and even stand-up paddleboards. Some use inflatable float tubes.

Bass are susceptible to both baits and lures. The best fishing occurs in the early morning and early evening. Nighttime fishing using noisy top water lures like jitterbugs and hula poppers can be an exciting adventure.

Good luck!