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Winnipesaukee and Squam Make ‘Bassmaster’ Top 100 List

Thomas P. Caldwell - June 2, 2014





Hal Lyon

Dr. Hal Lyon with one of his catches.

Good news for bass fishermen: Lakes Winnipesaukee and Squam remain among the best 100 lakes in the country for bass fishing, according to Bassmaster Magazine’s 2014 rankings.
Winnipesaukee has been among the top 50 lakes in all three years that Bassmaster has been conducting its survey. It debuted at Number 43 in 2012, dropped to Number 49 in 2013, and rose back up to Number 40 on the 2014 list.
According to the research, Winnipesaukee ranks high for the quantity of smallmouth bass in the two- to 2.5-pound range. The survey also found that the lake had a plentiful number of largemouth bass, but they were small.
Squam ranked 62 this year. It debuted at number 54 in 2012 and dropped to 76 in 2013 before partially recovering this year.
“Seeing northern lakes reach this high on the rankings is surprising to a lot of our readers, who associate bass fishing with the south,” said Bassmaster Editor James Hall in a telephone interview. “The first year of the rankings was especially top-heavy for the southern lakes, but the northern fisheries have been coming on strong; more strongly than ever this year.”
James noted that a drought caused Lake Amistad, once among the Top 10, to drop out of the rankings altogether this year, while Lake Michigan’s Sturgeon Bay took the Number 1 spot.
Making the rankings for the first time was China Lake in Maine, coming in at Number 23. Bassmaster reported that China Lake would have been much higher in the rankings for its great largemouth bass fishing if it didn’t have such a short fishing season.
Cobboseecontee in Maine came in at Number 52 this year for having “a ton of largemouth” but on the small side. The lake previously ranked 74 in 2012 and 30 in 2014.
Maine’s Moosehead Lake also appeared for the first time this year, coming in at Number 72.
“The sole purpose of doing these rankings is to get people excited,” James said. “This provides the most current data, so people know where to go for great fishing. When you have a guy having a great day out on the water, it helps in getting them fishing as much as possible, and that’s what we like to see.”
He continued, “Our rankings are based on four main goals: Having a good day in terms of numbers of fish caught; being able to catch big fish; having a variety of species — largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted; and being accessible and having beautiful scenery.”
James explained the process of developing the rankings: “It’s a three-month process to compile the data,” he said. “We start by asking each state’s fisheries and wildlife department to list the top five lakes and to rank them, offering reasons for those rankings. Then we do polling among fishing groups like the BASS Federation. After that, we call the conservation districts to get information on stocking and access. We also do a Facebook poll, and this year we had 50,000 fans commenting; we had 142 pages of commentary.
“Once we get that foundation,” he continued, “we start doing our own research, calling local guides, anglers, and outdoor riders to get current conditions.
“Once we get the structure, we send the list to a select panel of insiders for the final rankings,” James concluded. “These were bass pros, outdoor writers, and those in the fishing industry.”
Texas and California tied for the states with the most entries on the list, each having eight lakes in the Top 100. “Some stalwart lakes fell out of the rankings completely,” James said, “and Lake St. Clair, last year’s Number 1, fell out of the Top 15.”
Speaking of the strong showing by northern lakes, James noted that one of the magazine’s staffers came from Maine and he had been telling everyone, “You don’t know about fishing until you come to Maine. We don’t have a growing season, but the lakes are good.”
“I was just up in Massachusetts,” James continued, “and I had one of the best days of freshwater fishing ever. This list sheds light on those other places, besides the south.”
Frank Hilton of freebasslures.com in Maine, agreed with the sentiment. “The bass are bigger in the southern lakes, but they’re more fished out. An angler can catch more five-pounders here than down south because there’s less pressure on our lakes. We have a 15-pound record and it’s not unusual to get a 10-pound bass. Many anglers catch a fistful of nine- and 10-pounders here.”
“Here” for Frank is the Lake Cobboseecontee area, which is near his home. “The farthest I’ve gone is Little Sebago, which was on the list last year, and Kezar Lake also is a good bass lake. Moosehead and a couple of other lakes are known for smallmouth.”
Another difference between northern and southern lakes is the length of time it takes for the bass to grow. With the shorter seasons in the north, the bass don’t eat as often and they grow more slowly. The upside, Frank says, is “some people think the northern bass are a little livelier in the summer when they get active, and they’re not as picky. Sometimes down south, they’ll throw everything at the bass and only one pattern will work. Here you can catch them on different lures and different ways on the same day.”
Frank is happy that Bassmaster is giving exposure to the northern lakes and he said he’d like to see a Bassmaster tournament up his way. He agreed that such tournaments promote an interest in fishing and give a boost to the economy.
“Cobboseecontee is a fairly big lake, and the structure of the lake has a rocky bottom with very little weeds, so the big pressure is only during the tournaments, but it can handle that pressure pretty well. We don’t have the apprehension they have down south.”
Frank maintains a website, freefishinglures.com, which includes videos and stories on fishing experiences on the Maine lakes.
Dr. Hal Lyon Jr., who has a residence on Bear Island of Meredith, also agrees with the Bassmaster rankings. “This lake [Winnipesaukee] is one of the premiere fishing lakes in America,” said Hal, who is author of Angling in the Smile of the Great Spirit. Being listed as one of the top 100 bass lakes does a lot to promote fishing and outdoor recreation, and that is a good thing, he said.
“Tournaments have made fishing popular, and that’s good,” Hal said. “Fewer and fewer fishing licenses are being purchased. The younger generations fear the woods, but I learned by being in the woods, turning over rocks, and being in the lake to appreciate nature. We have a generation of nature-deprived children.”
Citing the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, which speaks of the growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults, Hal said, “The woods is one of the great healers. The good thing that the BASS people are doing is they’re creating an interest in fishing, which is good.”
In his book, Hal quotes former President Grover Cleveland, speaking of his experience with fishing on the Big Lake: “Ordinarily, when a bass is struck with the hook … he at once enters upon a series of acrobatic performances, which, during their continuance, keep the fisherman in a state of acute suspense. While he rushes away from and toward and around and under the boat, and while he is leaping from the water and turning somersaults with ugly shakes of his head, in efforts to dislodge the hook, there is at the other end of this outfit a fisherman, tortured by the fear of infirmity lurking somewhere in the tackle, and wrought to the point of distress by the thought of a light hook hold in the fish’s jaw, and its liability to tear out in the struggle. If in the midst of it all a sudden release of pull and a straightening of the rod give the signal that the bass has won the battle, the vanquished angler has, after a short period of bad behavior and language, the questionable satisfaction of attempting to solve a forever unsolvable problem, by studying how his defeat might have been avoided if he had managed it differently.”
Hal, now age 79, has been fishing since he was five-years-old. He got his start by fishing with his uncle, Gordon Hines, who Hal said was the best bass fisherman on the lake in the 1940s. He shares some of the fishing secrets he has learned through the years in his book, and will be speaking of them in an upcoming lecture at the NH Boat Museum on June 10.
Frank’s comments about tournament pressure in the south is something Hal said Lake Winnipesaukee is beginning to face. While Winnipesaukee is the sixth-largest freshwater lake in the United States that is not on the Canadian border, it is feeling the pressure of having so many tournaments taking place, Hal said.
“There is about one tournament every other spring and summer day on Lake Winnipesaukee,” Hal said. “Last year, there were 88 pro bass tournaments on this lake, almost one a day during the season. I never catch the five- and six-pounders anymore because they get culled out.”
In his book, Hal writes, “I have wondered where the big bass have gone. My theory is that they are constantly being culled from their natural habitat and transported to marinas where a small percentage of them survive, but never return to their natural homes.”
He explained that, during the tournaments, fishermen looking for the big fish will put them in a live well until they get to the marinas and find out if they’re winners. If they catch a bigger fish, or if theirs is not a winner, they will let the smaller fish go, but the fish are being released in a place that is not their natural habitat. Smallmouth bass like clean, cold water, and fish biologist Don Miller believes 40 percent of the fish released in tournaments will die, either because of the warmer and more polluted water near the marinas or because of hook damage to their mouths that leaves them unable to compete with other fish, according to Hal.
NH Fish and Game is recognizing the problem and now says that, if a fisherman rips the fish’s mouth, it must keep it and it counts toward the limit. “That will change things for bass fishermen,” Hal said.
He listed some other concerns raised by changing situations on the lake. The Winnipesaukee River Basin Project, that eliminated sewage being released into the lake, succeeded in cleaning up the water; but it also reduced the areas where yellow perch and crawfish could thrive. “Yellow perch and crawfish rely on fertile water,” Hal said. “We’ve cleaned up the water, and that’s good, but it’s changed the character of the lake so it’s not as fertile.” Crawfish and hellgrammites (the larvae of the dobson fly) comprise the principal bait for bass fishing.
The proliferation of fast boats on the lake also have created problems for fishermen, but Hal cites the enactment of speed limits on Winnipesaukee as improving the situation dramatically. And he has seen that the largemouth bass has been making a comeback, as they are not as reliant on cold water.
It is a balancing act, Hal said, and preserving the good fishing on the lake is important. But so is making people aware of the joys of fishing, and that is where the Bassmaster poll fits in.
Speaking of the popularity of the Top 100 list, James said, “One of the most popular franchises of the company is the ranking; and a side benefit is the tourism that comes out of this, especially for the new lakes on the list. Those areas give us feedback, and we know [anglers] are spending money in these areas. And, for fishermen, when the fisheries get utilized, they get more support from the state.”
For a complete listing of Bassmaster’s 100 Best Bass Lakes, see bassmaster.com. Bassmaster and BASS Times are publications of BASS, a 500,000-member organization promoting the culture of bass fishing, with headquarters in Birmingham AL. 

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