Light it Up at Candlewood

 

Parker Kelley shows off a Candlewood smallmouth in the five-pound range. Photo by Tom Richardson

Bustling with wakeboarders and pontoon boats, Connecticut’s largest lake also happens to host some of the best freshwater bass fishing in the Northeast. By Tom Schlichter

Nestled in the southwest corner of the Nutmeg State, busy Candlewood Lake, which bustles with pontoon-boating families and wake-riding teens through the summer, doesn’t seem to be the type of fishing spot that would garner the attention of pro anglers. Yet in 2015, the massive manmade lake was ranked as one of the top 25 bass waters in the country by Bassmaster Magazine.

“What really makes Candlewood shine is the abundance of big bronzebacks,” explains local guide T.J. DeFelice of Bloodline 203 Fishing and Guide Service. “We’re talking tons of quality fish pushing the four-pound mark, plus a surprising number of largemouths weighing six to seven pounds.”

This sounder screen shows bass stacked up over deep structure. Photo by Tom Richardson

MANMADE MECCA

To be sure, this honey hole is no secret. Recreational boaters of all types flock to the lake in summer to relax and pursue assorted watersports, while anglers mine every nook and cranny. Yet Candlewood, the largest lake in Connecticut, manages to absorb the pressure. Created in 1928 as a source of hydropower, the lake is 17 miles long by two miles wide, with roughly 100 miles of shoreline shared by the towns of Danbury, New Fairfield, Sherman, Brookfield and New Milford.

“When they flooded this valley to create a lake,” says Pete Planer, a tournament angler who fishes Candlewood frequently with his partner, Norm Izzy, “they left the old buildings, stone walls, junk cars and farm stuff right where it was. What a break that turned out to be for future generations of fishermen!”

It’s hard to top a live alewife fished on a drop-shot rig for midsummer success. Photo by Tom Richardson

TRACTORS, PLANES & CARS

Indeed, divers have found all sorts of artifacts from before the valley—and a small village named Jerusalem—was claimed by eminent domain and intentionally flooded. Among some of the more interesting discoveries have been the remnants of covered bridges, a small plane, farm tractors and even a Model T, parked on the muddy lake bottom.

“I’m not sure how it turned out for the villagers,” says Planer, “but it all adds up to plenty of structure for bass and other species these days.”

Planer, who runs a series of open “buddy” bass fishing tournaments on both Candlewood and Greenwood Lake, New Jersey, notes that such an abundance of structure requires good electronics. “If the bite goes soft,” he reveals, “you can bet the bass have either suspended or are relating to some kind of bottom mess. A quality fishfinder can eliminate a lot of the guesswork.”

Ask the pros on these waters to talk about their favorite bass seasons, lures and techniques, and you’ll get surprising variety of responses. In early spring, when the water temperature is below 55 degrees, DeFelice throws a floating fly-hair jig he designed specifically for targeting suspended smallies. It matches up well to yearling bluegills—a primary prey of early-season bass.

Topwater often work well in the early season. Photo by Tom Richardson

SWIMBAIT SUCCESS

As the water warms, Planer and Izzy favor three- to five-inch Big Hammer square-tail swimbaits. Cast them out, let them settle just above the bottom then retrieve them slowly. DeFelice likes swimbaits, too, but switches to two-inch Keitech Swing Impact soft-plastics fished on six-pound line once the bass move onto their beds.

Come June, tournament angler and fishing scribe Mike Iovino, who guides out of Candlewood Bait and Tackle in Danbury, likes to “walk the dog” early in the morning. “Don’t be afraid to throw big surface lures,” he advises. “It’s okay to go with a saltwater-sized Zara Spook. These bass aren’t easily intimidated.”

 

MIDSUMMER HEAT

Once the summer heat moves in, some anglers switch over to live shiners and alewives fished on drop-shot rigs around structure, while others prefer Senko worms fished either “wacky-style” or Texas-rigged. “Think about using 10- to 12-pound-test mono line instead of thin-diameter braid or dense fluorocarbon when worming,” advises DeFelice. “That extra thickness will slow your worm’s descent, giving the bass extra time to pounce.”

Drop-shot rigs work well with either live bait or soft-plastics. Iovino likes to drop-shot a 4 1/2-inch, straight-tailed Roboworm. He fishes this setup in 25- to 30-foot depths once the water temperature tops 75 degrees. By that point, the smallies and baitfish have mostly moved out of the weeds to suspend offshore. The largemouths, however, stay in thick vegetation throughout the summer, so you’ll need to toss weedless frogs or punch jigs with trailers to reach them.

Mark Condran with a sizable smallie. Photo by Tom Richardson

 

TOP LAKE SPOTS

Hot spots change with the seasons, of course, but are more related to water temperature and depth than any specific piece of structure or location. As a soft rule, you’ll find the most bragging-sized largemouths from Chimney Point south, including Squanz Cove and Turtle Bay. The smallies are everywhere, although the New Milford arm of the lake, towards Candlewood Dam, is especially consistent.

For such a big lake, Candlewood’s shoreline access and wade-worthy stretches are limited. The area around 11-acre Candlewood Town Park off Hayestown Road, however, can really rock for both species of bass in the spring, plus it’s pretty good for trout, crappie, yellow perch and sunfish. There’s a fee to use the beach here, but fishing is free.

 

RAMPS & REGS

If you wish to launch a boat, the Lattins Cove ramp at the southern end of the lake is free of charge, as is the ramp on Squanz Cove in Fairfield. Both are good, but Lattins may experience low water in the fall due to drawdowns. Gas is available at Pocono Point Marina in Danbury, Echo Bay Marina in Brookfield and Gerard’s Water’s Edge Marina in New Milford.

Trailer-boaters should note that there is a 26-foot maximum boat length limit on Candlewood, a 45-mph daytime speed limit, and a 25-mph nighttime limit from a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise. A six-mph speed limit applies to all waters within 100 feet of shore, docks, moored vessels and hazardous areas. No-wake zones exist in both Lattins and Squanz Coves.

Lastly, keep in mind that this is big water. Light winds from the west make for great fishing, but gusty northerlies can churn up four-footers. Pay attention to the forecast before launching.

“At the very least, choose your days wisely,” cautions Planer. “Reschedule if you suspect a significant chop. The bass will still be there tomorrow.”

___

Candlewood Fishing Charters

Bloodline 203 Charters
(910) 381-8304

Candlewood Lake Guide Service
(203) 948-5054

Paul Mueller Fishing
(203) 910-3676

Bassman Tours
(203) 570-7952

The Valley Angler
(203) 792-8324

Bait & Tackle

Candlewood Bait & Tackle
(203) 743-2221

The Valley Angler
(203) 792-8324

 

Down the Hatch makes a great lunch stop after a morning of fishing.

 

DOCK & DINE: Down the Hatch

After a morning of fishing, many Candlewood anglers head for Down the Hatch, the lake’s only dock-and-dine restaurant. Located on Echo Bay in Brookfield, the casual restaurant opens for lunch at 11:30 a.m., and features plenty of guest slips. That said, be prepared to wait for a space to open up on busy summer weekends.

The restaurant offers indoor and outdoor patio seating, and serves a wide range of menu items, ranging from burgers, sandwiches and wraps to more elaborate entrees, including steak and seafood dishes. It’s the perfect place to wrap up a great day on the water!