CONCORD, N.H. — April 1 marks the start of the open-water fishing season on New Hampshire’s large lakes managed for landlocked salmon and lake trout, including Big Squam, Sunapee, and the “Big Lake” — Winnipesaukee. Along with these well-known water bodies, New Hampshire Fish and Game also manages 11 other lakes for landlocked salmon, including Big Dan Hole Pond, First and Second Connecticut Lakes, Conway Lake, Lake Francis, Merrymeeting Lake, Newfound Lake, Ossipee Lake, Little Squam Lake, and Winnisquam Lake. Pleasant Lake in New London also is managed for landlocked salmon, but is classified as a designated trout pond, with a 2017 opening date of April 22.
Given one of the most “up and down” – some might call “crazy” — winters in recent memory, the annual rite of predicting ice-out has left even the most experienced sages scratching their heads in 2017. While wind and/or overall warmth kept significant portions of the large lakes, including Winnipesaukee (The Broads and adjacent areas), Newfound, and Winnisquam completely ice free most of the winter, in fact at the time of this writing (March 22) recent cold snaps have improved established ice and even extended ice into areas that were completely ice-free just two weeks ago. Needless to say, this is not a common occurrence in mid-late March. So much to the chagrin of many open-water enthusiasts who were expecting another record, early, full ice-out as experienced in 2016, barring a rapid change in the weather pattern full ice-out(s) will likely be delayed at least another couple weeks. But, as this winter has proven, we’ll just have to wait and see. Also, consider many opportunities/traditional shore fishing locations exist regardless (see below), and consider small craft are often able to fish 1-2 weeks in advance of full ice-out declarations, on select ice-free portions of the lakes.
Shore anglers should explore the Winnipesaukee River, which flows through the Weirs channel into Paugus Bay, and through the Lakeport Dam/Lake Opechee area. “Drop-down” salmon (and rainbow trout) are found throughout these river reaches. Other traditional areas include the Winnipesaukee River through Laconia to Dixon Point at Lake Winnisquam, and the Lochmere Dam at Silver Lake. There is often a sizable piece of open water in Lake Winnisquam where the river drains into the lake. This water can be easily accessed by the N.H. Fish and Game boat access ramp, just upstream in Laconia.
The Newfound River in Bristol offers great fly-fishing-only water that can often produce drop-down rainbows and an occasional salmon. Additionally, several popular Winnipesaukee shore fishing locations exist in the Merrymeeting River (fly-fishing-only, barbless, catch and release), and the mouth of the Merrymeeting River as it enters Alton Bay, downstream of the famous stone arch bridge.
Other traditional sites with well-known potential include the Long Island Bridge in Moultonborough, Governors Island Bridge in Gilford, Smith River inlet at Wolfeboro Bay, and Meredith and Center Harbor town docks. At these locations, everything from smelt, shiners and worms under a slip bobber to small jigs will take salmon, as well as rainbow trout, and an occasional prowling lake trout.
In early spring, salmon are successfully caught by trolling with everything from spoons (such as DB Smelt, Sutton, Mooselook, Top Gun, and Smelt Gun) to traditional streamer flies (for example, Maynard’s Marvel, Pumpkinhead, Mickey Finn, Joe’s Smelt, and the countless Gray Ghost variations), and an early season favorite, live smelt or shiners. Most early season fish are caught from the surface to about 15 feet down, with everything from planer board set-ups, sink-tip fly lines, to the simplest of monofilament flat lines 50-150 feet behind the boat. When the wind kicks in, drifting live smelt or shiners in the waves can be highly effective. Only single hooks for bait while trolling are allowed on certain salmon/lake trout lakes, including Squam, Newfound, Sunapee, Winnipesaukee and Winnisquam lakes (See the N.H. Freshwater Fishing Digest for a complete list).
To ensure the future of high-quality landlocked salmon fisheries, anglers must take extra care when releasing salmon, as the percentage of hook-wounded fish continues to be a problem. Hook-wounded/scarred/injured fish are significantly shorter and poorer in body condition than non-hook-wounded counterparts of the same age. Using rubber nets and proper release techniques (for example, don’t “shake” fish off the hook), and releasing lightly hooked healthy salmon, while choosing to harvest previously hook-wounded fish, are ways to minimize the negative effects of hook wounding, thereby increasing the number of quality-sized and trophy salmon available in the future.
See a Fish and Game video and a brochure about landlocked salmon in New Hampshire, and tips for safe handling of these fish, at www.fishnh.com/fishing/salmon-pledge.html. Fish and Game encourages anglers to take the Landlocked Salmon Anglers’ Pledge, a cooperative, volunteer effort to help sustain quality landlocked salmon fisheries in New Hampshire’s large lakes.
N.H. fishing licenses can be purchased online at www.fishnh.com, or from any Fish and Game license agent. Reel in lots more information on fishing in New Hampshire, from depth maps to tackle tips – and download the current N.H. Freshwater Fishing Digest – at www.fishnh.com/fishing/publications.html.