CONCORD — The snow might be hanging on in much of the state, but April 1 is the day New Hampshire anglers have been dreaming about through the long, cold winter -- the start of open-water fishing on the big lakes that the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department manages for landlocked salmon and lake trout.
It looks like we will experience a late April "ice out" in the central Lakes Region, with North Country lakes a good week and a half after that. With the deep snowpack, tributary streams will benefit with increased flows, attracting spawning smelt, the prime forage fish for landlocked salmon. Fall netting (2013) revealed a strong, age-3 year-class of salmon in Sunapee and Winnipesaukee lakes, which will dominate the catch. There will also be some trophy-sized salmon available in Big Squam Lake," said N.H. Fish and Game Large Lakes Biologist Don Miller.
New Hampshire Fish and Game manages 14 lakes for landlocked salmon: Big Dan Hole Pond, First and Second Connecticut Lakes, Conway Lake, Lake Francis, Merrymeeting Lake, Newfound Lake, Ossipee Lake, Big and Little Squam Lakes, Sunapee Lake, Lake Winnipesaukee and Winnisquam Lake. Pleasant Lake in New London also is managed for landlocked salmon, but is classified as a trout pond, with a 2014 opening date of April 26.
Anglers should check out 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 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 salmon. Additionally, several popular Winnipesaukee shore fishing locations exist at 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 good sites to visit 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.
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 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 trophy salmon available in the future.