Fishing at Quabbin Reservoir: Essential Angler’s Guide

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The 25,000-acre Quabbin Reservoir may be the water supply for more than three million Massachusetts residents, but it’s also a phenomenal place to go fishing.

While protecting that drinking water comes with more special regulations than your typical reservoir, those fishing at the impoundment affectionately known as “the Quabbin” have a legitimate shot at catching landlocked Atlantic salmon, lake and rainbow trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and other fish.

We’ll break the lake down by the tactics, timing and locations that will help you catch the Quabbin Reservoir’s favorite gamefish species, a collection of gamefish you will find in only a few lakes in the Northeast or beyond. Use the table of contents if you want to jump to a specific topic.

Be sure to follow the rules here, and note that a large part of the southern reservoir is closed to fishing at all times.

Also, we should let you know early in this article that Quabbin is strictly a seasonal fishery. Designated fishing areas open to anglers on the third Saturday in April and closes on the third Saturday in October every year.

Whether or not you catch fish, the trip will be an adventure. For starters, you’re odds of seeing bald eagles, moose, mink, otter, beaver, and loons at the Quabbin are likely better than anywhere else in Massachusetts. 

Quabbin Reservoir Salmon Fishing

Landlocked salmon have long been a favorite gamefish to catch in New England. It could be their incredible color, acrobatic tendencies when hooked, or their relative rarity that makes them so prized. 

From opening day until sometime around Memorial Day will be your best bet at catching landlocked salmon on Quabbin.

When the water is still cold, salmon are the shallowest and most active they’ll be at any time during the open season.

Landlocked salmon are notoriously fast when compared to other game fish.

One popular method for targeting these fish is trolling with fly rods. Deploying 8-weight fly rods and colorful streamers can be an effective means to get aggressive salmon to eat in shallow water around the shoreline or islands.

Conventional anglers can employ a similar tactic, and spoons can be as effective as streamers. Orange is a particularly popular color.

Try trolling those streams and lures at 3 to 5 miles per hour when targeting these fish.

Landlocks will vacate the shallows as soon as the water temperature gets uncomfortable for them, likely between mid-May and early June.

That’s when you’ll need the downriggers and deep-diving crankbaits to catch these fish.

The western arm of the lake has the deepest water that’s open to fishing, and the depths off Fishing Area 1 are the most popular target for salmon fishing.

Spoons will still be your most effective lure during the summer months, but you’ll need to use your fish finder to locate the thermocline and fish beneath it, as that’s where almost all the Quabbin Reservoir’s landlocks will be.

Atlantic salmon are fall-spawning fish that will run up streams and rivers in late September and throughout October.

So as the air cools in the waning weeks of the fishing season, you can find salmon staging in shallower water and preparing to make their run, especially near tributary mouths to at least go through the motions at the Quabbin.

Trolling spoons in these areas can be an effective method of finding salmon later in the season.

Quabbin Reservoir Trout Fishing

Quabbin Reservoir has two main species of trout for anglers to catch, including elusive but potentially large lake trout and more numerous stocked rainbow trout.

As with salmon, trout are most common in the western finger of the lake accessible by boat from Fishing Area 1 and bank fishing from gates 8 to 16A.

There also are areas in the main reservoir closer to Fishing Area 3 that have trout-catching potential.

Lake Trout

If you’re primarily interested in big fish, targeting lake trout will be your best bet. They’re not terribly common, but 30-plus-inch, 20-plus-pound fish do exist in the reservoir.

In 2018, state officials sampled the Quabbin’s lake trout population and captured and released a 26-pound fish near a shallow, rocky shoreline where lakers typically spawn. That’s a few ounces over the state record laker caught a few years earlier, also at Quabbin.

In the spring, trolling fresh dead shiners, rigged so they’ll swim like a live shiner, can be one incredibly effective lake trout tactic.

Anglers often will use dodgers, which are in essence a plastic or metal plate that swims in front of the streamer (or other trolled lure) to give it more action and flash than it might have otherwise.

Trolling streamers, crankbaits and spoons are all popular and effective methods of catching lake trout in the spring.

Target the steep drops where lake trout will hold in the spring.

Lakers are a cold-water species that, as June and July sun heats Quabbin waters up into the 60s, will head for the depths to stay comfortable.

Trolling with downriggers at or below the thermocline can be one effective method for catching summer lake trout.

Another popular way to chase these fish is by jigging deep.

Look for structure like steep drops or humps on your fishfinder, and try jigging a perch-imitation blade bait near them. Blade baits shiver as they rise through the water column, sending out an enticing distress signal to predators in the vicinity, including hungry lakers.

Lake trout must be 18 inches to keep. Lake trout in that range give a good fight and aren’t terrible table fare, although many anglers release all of these long-lived species to help maintain the fishery while keeping more numerous species for dinner.

Your prime lake trout catching season will be shortened in the fall with Quabbin’s early closing, but cooling water and air temperatures will still have these fish feeding more actively in September and early October than they did in the heat of the summer months.

Jigging spoons and blade baits also can be effective methods for lakers in those first weeks of October as the water cools and these fish push shallower.

Kastmasters and Little Cleos in blue, orange and firetiger are popular options in the early autumn. 

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout are another popular stocked species on Quabbin and a particularly fun target for young anglers or novices because they are far easier to catch than lake trout and landlocked salmon.

When Quabbin is first stocked in the spring, often rainbows will hold shallower in cool water.

You can often catch rainbows in bays and coves with baits such as PowerBait and worms and lures, including Little Cleos and Phoebe Wobblers. 

Look for rainbows cruising shallow flats that warm quickly in late April and even into May during cooler springs.

Smelt are a popular forage fish for just about everything in Quabbin, so imitating these thin, silvery baitfish is a great way to get some of the larger rainbows chasing a spoon or silver stickbait.

When water temperatures rise into the 60s, look for rainbows to push to deeper, cooler water.

Blade baits and spoons fished near steep drop-offs or deeper holes can be effective summer baits.

Like other coldwater fish, catching rainbows can be a challenge in the summer months when water temperatures warm. Focus your efforts on morning and evening hours, when the trout are more actively feeding, and you’ll have your best shot.

Especially during the summer, Berkley PowerBait can be a lifesaver when the fish aren’t hitting anything else.

When the air and water start cooling down, likely after Labor Day, these fish will again become more active.

If you’re fishing from shore, try a smelt- or perch-colored Kastmaster with a red tail. You can cast these little lures a mile, allowing you to target fish holding just off drop-offs or on nearshore structure.

Quabbin Reservoir Bass Fishing

Because many Massachusetts anglers are heading to Quabbin for the landlocked salmon and trout, the incredible largemouth and smallmouth populations can be overlooked.

In the spring, both bass species will be setting up and getting on their spawning beds.

As the legendary New England winters fade into mid-spring, bass will come out of their deep wintering holes and move onto shallower flats to feed and search for suitable spawning grounds.

Look for smallmouth to move up first, typically in late April and early May, with largemouth following suit in May and June.

The north end of the reservoir has some of the most promising bass water. There are steep drop-offs, gravel bars, sunken trees – just about every kind of structure that bass love.

Snell, Nelson and Hamilton islands are all in Quabbin’s north end and also are worth checking out in the spring for pre-spawn largemouths. Nearby drop-offs should hold bass as they move between deeper and shallower areas.

Gates 31 and 43 are popular access points to use for bass.

Also, Leveau Island west of Gate 40 is surrounded by shallow flats in the 10- to 20-foot range that can make for an ideal largemouth spawning environment.

Perch- or crayfish-imitation crankbaits are a good bet this time of year. 

Jigs and crankbaits can imitate the kinds of creatures in Quabbin that bass will be defending their beds against and can result in some ferocious strikes. Smallmouth and crawfish are particularly combative. 

Remember that smallmouth typically spawn earlier than largemouth and prefer rocky structure. So start scouting for smallmouth beds first, and pay attention to more hard-bottom areas.

As water temperatures climb through the 60s and the scorching heat of summer settles in, you’ll want to push deeper to find post-spawn bass. 

Remember, bass will hold tight to steep drops that allow them access to shallower areas for feeding in the cooler parts of the day. Finding those drop-offs, especially at first and last light, may result in your best summer fishing.

The northeast shoreline of Quabbin has sharp drop-offs that go to 60 feet or deeper and can be a good spot to target bass in July and August.

Deep-diving crankbaits, Ned-rigged soft-plastic worms, or Senkos can all be great options to get down to summer largemouth and smallmouth bass.

But one of the oldest lures of all time is still one of the most effective, so a jig pitched right around these steep drop-offs is certainly capable of producing some 2- and 3-plus-pound bass.

Jig trailers can add enticing action, and I’ve found the ones produced by Uncle Josh to be especially durable.

If you can use the fish finder on your boat effectively, you can find bass or, at the very least, some promising structure to fish. If you’re not hooking fish after trying a few presentations, keep moving.

Carolina rigs can be especially effective in deeper water. 

Fishing is permitted on Quabbin Reservoir until the third Saturday in October, and early fall can be a great time to catch bass.

As water temperatures cool down once September nights dip into the 60s and 50s, look for bass to move back up from the deeper structure. Fish will be pushing schools of baitfish and crayfish around shallower flats.

Crankbaits and spinnerbaits, lures that cover water quickly without running terribly deep, are good tools to cover the flats.

You want to look for shallow flats adjacent to deeper drop-offs and concentrate your efforts from mid-day into the evening when water temperatures will be the warmest.

Besides shad, bluegill, yellow perch and white perch are all common in the lake and can be popular forage species.

Quabbin Crappie Fishing

It’s tough to top black crappie for a food fish, or a fun way to fill a cooler in the spring, and Quabbin has some slab-sized calicos caught every year.

Crappies are prized for their mild, tasty flavor and for the quick action you’ll have if you can locate a school of these panfish.

These fish are very seasonal and very structure-oriented in their movements, so plan accordingly to find them consistently. 

In the spring, spawning crappie will almost always be in canals, bays and other shallow areas once the water temperatures reach between 45 and 60 degrees.

Sunken trees, steep ledges, brush piles and any kind of underwater structure are notorious for holding schools of crappie, so find the structure and find the fish.

Crappies will often remain tightly schooled, so if you’re not getting hits on specific structure, move on. Whereas you might hope to find a single cruising bass on a drop-off or weed bed, crappie rarely travel solo, so fishing the same structure that doesn’t yield fish initially isn’t likely to pay off.

Small tube jigs and spinnerbait-style soft-plastic combination lures like the Strike King Mr. Crappie Spin Baby are good bets in the spring.

Tube jigs and curly-tailed grubs are popular crappie baits and are best fished on jigheads as light as 1/32nd ounce.

An ultralight rod will enable you to cast these smaller baits a good distance.

Once the bays, channels and flats heat up into the mid-60-degree range, and crappie have finished spawning, they will push toward deeper structure.

Look for crappie holding on steep drops or sunken trees. Where they can find it, crappie schools seem to prefer brush, trees, and wooden structures but will also hold on other types of structure.

You’ll need to fish right on top of your target structure to hook these fish.

In the fall, crappie will stay in their ideal temperature range, which is usually in the low to mid-60s, meaning they’ll be pushing back on flats and toward more shallow brush piles or trees as the shallower flats and coves on the Quabbin cool in the early fall months.

The same small jigs and tubes will be effective, but the fish will feed more actively in the cooler water, often making late-season crappie easier to catch than they were at mid-summer.

Catch More Crappie

Check out our guide to easy crappie fishing tactics, including favorite lures and baits.

Other Fish in Quabbin Reservoir

The Quabbin Reservoir also is home to several less-common gamefish, which include chain pickerel, perch, and brown bullhead catfish.

These fish are rarely the reason anglers come to Quabbin, but you might find them on the business hook of your fishing line.

Pickerel are fierce, cigar-shaped predators that resemble a small northern pike or muskellunge. They often strike lures resembling forage fish, offering a toothy surprise for anglers looking for bass and other species.

Yellow perch and white perch are tasty panfish species that in other places are a mainstay for wintertime ice fishing. You might get into a school of perch while looking for crappie, and many anglers consider them every bit as tasty.

Bluegill and sunfish may also fall for small baits and jigs, especially around shoreline cover.

Bullheads are smaller catfish that don’t have many raving fans among anglers, but when you find them, they are easy and fun to catch with bait fished on the lake bottom. When caught in cool, clean water like Quabbin, bullheads can be worthy as table fare.

Planning Your Trip

Know Before You Go

You will need to purchase parking and fishing passes, which you can buy online or in person at the lake.

The price will depend upon whether you are shore fishing or launching a boat, and details can be found here.

And, as mentioned, several regulations are in place at Quabbin to protect its store of more than 412 billion gallons of drinking water.

For example, you cannot use outboard motors larger than 25 hp. Jet skies, kayaks, water skis, tubes, and other watercraft that result in more body contact also are prohibited here.

If you bring your own boat, you will need an inspection to make sure it and your trailer are free of invasive species. You’ll need a seal that proves your watercraft passed muster.

Some sections of Quabbin Reservoir are closed to anglers, but a great deal is open and offers excellent opportunities to catch all major gamefish. Here’s a map showing where you can and cannot legally fish.

Also important, the state has placed white buoys at landing areas that have portable restrooms located at them.

We strongly advise you to familiarize yourself with all of the Quabbin Reservoir fishing, boating and other regulations and requirements.

Quabbin Reservoir Boat Rental

Rental boats, of course, don’t require inspection and are ready to go. 

Each launching area has boats available for rent, but numbers are limited. You can see how many boats are available to rent in real-time by checking this site.

It’s worth noting that rental boats are limited to either two adults and two children, one adult and three children, or just three adults.

Quabbin Reservoir Shore Fishing

Anglers can fish from shore at Quabbin by accessing the reservoir at gates 8 through 16a on the western arm, and from gates 22 to 44 on the north and central parts of the reservoir’s larger basin.

If you obtain a permit that allows you to fish after dark, you can enter from gates 16, 31, 33, 35, 41 and 43.

Even if you are not launching a boat, you will still need to buy or pay for a parking pass at the aforementioned areas.

Fishing and Launching Areas

There are three distinct launching areas where boat anglers begin their fishing trips, whether they have their own boat or plan to rent.

Each spot has its geographical advantages, depending on the type of fishing you plan to do.

Quabbin Reservoir Fishing Area 1

The William E. Pula Fishing Area in the Pelham area on the southwest side of the reservoir.

This location on the reservoir’s deep and cold west arm offers Quabbin’s best opportunities to catch salmon and trout throughout the fishing season. Some of the holes in this area are over 100 feet, a short run from the launch, and those depths will harbor these coldwater fish during much of the open season.

The boat fishing limit is about a mile south of the ramp, and you have plenty of water to fish to the north.

To reach this area, take Rte. 202 for about five miles north of Belchertown to the Gate 8 access. From there, you’ll follow Packardville Road to Old Ward Road to the launching and fishing area.

Quabbin Reservoir Fishing Area 2

The Robert D. Wetmore Fishing Area and Boat Launching Area 2 are near New Salem at the northern end of Quabbin Reservoir.

This is an excellent option if you’re targeting largemouth and smallmouth bass. This northern portion of the reservoir is the shallowest and features many islands and other structure, with just enough depth, to hold bass all season.

This boat launch is a longer run to deep-water salmon and trout fishing than either of the other two access points.

To reach this area, take MA-122 (not far off Rte. 202) to Regulating Dam Road. You’ll enter at Gate 31.

Quabbin Reservoir Fishing Area 3

The Stephen M. Brewer Fishing Area is located on the eastern shore of the Quabbin, in the Hardwick area.

The immediate area surrounding the launch is more apt to hold bass and warm-water species, but if you have a multi-species adventure in mind, this could be an excellent place to start a boat-fishing trip.

Make a run east or north, picking your way past islands, and you will find deeper water and have better shots at lake trout and salmon in the summer months. The water west of Curtis Hill, about 4 miles from the launch, reaches 90-foot depths.

The prohibited fishing area is just a bit south of Fishing Area 3 near Mt. Pomeroy (on an island), so stay in the legal zone.

To reach Fishing Area 3, take MA-32A (Petersham Road) to Greenwich Road and Gate 43. Then take Dana Road/Hell Huddle Road north to the launch area.

Ice Fishing on Quabbin

Simply put, ice fishing is not allowed at Quabbin Reservoir. The lake closes to all recreational fishing in October before the lake freezes. By the time fishing season reopens in April, the ice will be melted. Even without the closure, literally allowing anglers to stand on the water supply wouldn’t fit with other rules aimed at protecting the resource for Massachusetts residents.

Find your hard-water fishing spots in our rundown of the best ice-fishing lakes in Massachusetts.

Camping and Accommodations

There are no campgrounds along the shores of Quabbin Reservoir itself, but there are several places to camp a short drive away.

These resources will help you find a state park or a private campground.

Hotels and other types of rentals also are available in neighboring communities such as Amherst, Athol, Chicopee, Orange and Ware. These are relatively close to one or more major fishing access areas.


Like active and action-packed fishing? Cast lures for bass or rainbow trout.

Hoping for a spectacular aerial display at the end of the line? Go after landlocked Atlantic salmon.

Want to catch a fish your friends won’t believe you landed? Gear up for the giant lakers.

Looking to fill a cooler for a cook-out? Target crappie.

All things considered, the Quabbin Reservoir is truly a unique and incredible environment where anglers have a chance to catch prized gamefish while enjoying an incredible setting full of wildlife.