In early March, I noticed fisheries biologists crowded together out in the hallway. What was happening? Then I saw the fish weighing scale hanging from an office door jamb and a measuring board being brandished by one of the biologists—a sure sign of a large fish in the vicinity. I hustled down the hall and sure enough, an ice fisherman, Brett Paquette of Uxbridge, was weighing in a 7 pounds 6 ounces largemouth bass he caught that day on Lake Singletary in Millbury. The fish was a monster! I grabbed my camera and started snapping away. Brett told me this was the biggest bass he had ever caught.
“I’ve caught 2 and 3-pound bass, but nothing like this.” Brett’s brother advised him to bring the fish to our office because he knew this was an eligible “pin fish” in MassWildlife’s Freshwater Sportfishing Awards Program.
Fisheries Biologist and Awards Program Coordinator Rich Hartley filled out an awards affidavit with Brett to record the fish as an official entry. It’s a real highlight when an angler comes in with a big fish and of course there is always a story to hear. Brett and his two brothers were out on Lake Singletary at seven in the morning—due to the thin ice around the edges and some open water, they had to fashion a “ramp” to get out on to safe ice. Once well away from shore, the ice was sound and 16 inches thick. They drilled some holes in the ice, set up their tilts and waited for flags to fly, signaling a fish on the line. Once while tending a tilt with a raised flag, Brett started to pull in the line. There was no weight on the line, but it felt like a perch was nibbling at the shiner on his hook. Brett pulled in the line to be sure the shiner was still on the hook. He let the line and baited hook down by hand about 30 feet when he felt a fish strike the bait.
“I had no idea how big the fish was I just knew it was big. It kept trying to keep away from the hole and running out line,” recounted Brett. It wasn’t until the fish finally gave up that Brett was able to (barely) haul the fish out of the 8-inch-wide ice hole! The crew kept on fishing until the early afternoon, catching some smaller bass and perch. They caught a few pickerel, but the fish were too short and were placed back into the water.
“It was a really good day of fishing,” said Brett with a shy smile.
Here’s how the Freshwater Sport Fishing Awards Program works. For over 40 years, anglers submitting fish that meet certain minimum weights have received a bronze pin for their catch. Each year, anglers, in a Youth or Adult category, who catch the largest fish in 22 species receive a gold pin and plaque commemorating their accomplishment. If you catch a big fish this year, get it weighed. If it meets the awards bronze pin standard, enter it on our awards program! Below are links for more information.