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 is also managed for landlocked salmon, but is classified as a designated trout pond, with a 2018 opening date of April 28.
Many opportunities and traditional early-season shore fishing exist. 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 can 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 empties into the lake. This water can be easily accessed by the N.H. Fish and Game boat access ramp, just upstream in Laconia. Similarly, the southern portion of Opechee Lake/Bay can offer boat trolling opportunities in the earliest part of the season.
The Newfound River in Bristol offers fly-fishing-only water that can often produce drop-down (from the lake) 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. Depending on the prevailing early season conditions, anglers can often still fish from small craft or troll a stretch of open water out into the bay.
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 (DB Smelt, Sutton, Mooselook, Top Gun, and Smelt Gun) to traditional streamer flies (Maynard’s Marvel, Pumpkinhead, Mickey Finn, Joe’s Smelt, 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 is allowed on certain salmon/lake trout lakes, including Squam, Newfound, Sunapee, Winnipesaukee, and Winnisquam. (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.
New Hampshire 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.