Sportsman’s Corner: Quabbin opens this Saturday

Mike Roche poses with a 24-pound gobbler.

Mike Roche poses with a 24-pound gobbler. PHOTO BY MIKE ROCHE

Published: 04-18-2024 5:00 PM

By Mike Roche

Quabbin Reservoir will open for fishing tomorrow, April 20, at 6 a.m. The reservoir is the principal drinking water supply for 3 million of Massachusetts’ 7 million residents. Since 1946, shore fishing has been allowed and since 1952, a limited boat fishing program has been in place which includes the three Quabbin gates. Those are Gate 43 in Hardwick, Gate 8 in Belchertown and local Gate 31 in New Salem.

North Quabbin fishermen have enjoyed that resource for generations, with some of the best cold water and warm water freshwater fishing in the state, and possibly New England for some species. More fish qualifying for the Massachusetts Freshwater Fishing Program’s bronze and gold pins have been taken from the Quabbin than any other body of water.

Cold water species, including lake trout, brown trout, rainbow trout and landlocked salmon, require cold water habitat, and Quabbin and its downstream partner, the Wachusett Reservoir, are the places where you will find lakers and landlocks in the state. Cold water species can be taken from shore and shore fishermen need to get parking permits (no cash accepted). That fishing is best early in the year before the thermocline sets up and the surface waters close to shore warm up. Boat anglers can deep troll all season in search of lunkers. The most sought-after warm water species are largemouth and smallmouth bass, while crappie and white and yellow perch are also popular and great eating.

The big draw in these parts has always been trolling and there will be boats lined up when the gate opens tomorrow in New Salem. Many of those fishermen have been trolling for decades. My father was a diehard Quabbin fisherman, and my youth was highlighted by many a Saturday in April or May dragging lead core line with either a Dave Davies spinner and a “sewed-on” shiner or a streamer fly tied by my father. The Gray Ghost and Barnes Special patterns tied in a two-hook tandem were most productive flies.

Quabbin is a special place and never more so than in early spring. My father’s preferred attire was the same red insulated pants and coat he wore deer hunting. It might be a pleasant spring day in downtown Orange but with a little wind, Quabbin got cold and treacherous. Early on, the fish would generally be up near the surface as the water temperatures trout prefer, between 45 and 65 degrees, will be on top at that time. When the prime water was at lower depths, the lead core line got your presentation down. In those days, it was mostly guessing, while today, fishermen have downriggers to troll at pinpoint depths and sensors and sonar that mark fish and water temps. We caught our share of nice fish. My father, fishing with Greenfield Recorder outdoor writer and good friend Bob Dolan caught an 11-pound laker and this writer as a 12-year-old caught a four-pound brown trout. That brown was the biggest fish entered in the Athol Daily News Fishing Contest that year. The prize was a Shakespeare spinning rod that I still use today, and I thought I looked pretty cool posing for the picture wearing my Madras hat. You have to be old to appreciate that!

It is possible to rent a boat and/or outboard motor to fish Quabbin. You must be 16 and have a valid sporting or fishing license and fishing tackle. You can use your own boat if it meets Quabbin regulations. Requirements include an intact DCR Quabbin Boat Seal. All private boats must have an intact Quabbin Boat Seal (QBS) to launch on the reservoir. Seals can be obtained through a DCR-approved decontamination and inspection process. You can make an appointment by calling the Quabbin Visitor Center at (413) 323-7221. You must have a valid Massachusetts Fishing License, Sporting License or a Quabbin Fishing License in your possession and also have fishing tackle. You need chock blocks when launching or removing a boat from the reservoir and also rubber boots. All boats must have all safety equipment in compliance with U.S. Coast Guard Regulations and there is a maximum of four people per boat. It is important to note that Quabbin Boat Launch Area 3 (Gate 31 in New Salem) will be closed for approximately three weeks Starting May 6.

Outboard motors are also restricted. Two-stroke engines are limited to half the Boating Industries of America (BIA) or Outboard Boating Council (OBC) hp rating of the boat up to a maximum of 20 hp. Four-stroke engines on private boats are limited to half the BIA or OBC hp rating with a maximum of 25 hp. There is little doubt that the Quabbin fishery is a very special local gem. Over the years, there have been attempts to reduce or eliminate boat fishing. Representative and later Sen. Bob Wetmore was a vigorous advocate for sportsmen, and he went to bat a number of times when threats to fishing surfaced. Following in his footsteps, Steve Brewer was also an outspoken defender of Quabbin fishing. You can bet that their efforts will make a bunch of fishermen happy tomorrow as they enjoy that very special fishing resource. Good luck to all who wet a line this weekend!

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Meanwhile, yours truly will be turkey hunting for the first time in Missouri. If things go well, I will be able to find a gobbler to pose with me for a picture!

Mike Roche is a retired teacher who has been involved in conservation and wildlife issues his entire life. He has written the Sportsman’s Corner since 1984 and has served as advisor to the MaharFish’N Game Club, counselor and director of the Massachusetts Conservation Camp, former Connecticut Valley District representative on the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board, has been a Massachusetts Hunter Education Instructor and is a licensed New York hunting guide. He can be reached at