By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Today, 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 Lake Winnipesaukee.
But the weird weather experienced this year, especially in recent weeks, means that there will be little open water available for anglers to get their boats into the water and troll for salmon.
John Viar, fisheries biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, said areas of Lake Winnipesaukee which were completely ice-free just three weeks ago have seen established ice extended during recent cold snaps and now have ice 3 to 4 inches thick in those areas which were once open water.
"I've never seen anything like this winter, where the ice actually expands its coverage area and gets thicker this late in the season," says Viar. He said that the ice in some cover areas is still 16 to 18 inches thick.
He said there is very little open water in the area and that it will be two or three weeks before there are substantial areas of open water. He said shore anglers should explore the Winnipesaukee River, which flows through the Weirs channel into Paugus Bay, and through the Lakeport Dam/Lake Opechee area. 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 state Fish and Game boat access ramp, just upstream in Laconia.
The Newfound River in Bristol offers fly-fishing-only water that can often produce 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.
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.
Landlocked salmon populations in New Hampshire originated with Atlantic salmon transferred from the St. Croix River in Maine. These fish were stocked in Newfound Lake in 1866 and then in Winnipesaukee, Squam and Sunapee Lakes in 1867. A number of New Hampshire lakes contain suitable cold water habitat for the species in the summer, but spawning habitat is marginal in the rivers and stream that flow into these lakes. Poor recruitment from natural spawning and heavy fishing pressure makes the use of hatchery stocks necessary to maintain a fishable population. Natural reproduction does take place in some tributaries, with the best examples of natural spawning runs occurring in the Cockermouth and Fowlers Rivers, which flow into Newfound Lake.
Recently, the growing popularity of the fishery has resulted in an increase in the rate of hook wounding on landlocked salmon. Hook wounds can occur when salmon are repeatedly caught and released. While anglers are allowed to harvest two fish per day in most salmon lakes between April 1 and Sept. 30, catch-and-release rates are more difficult to manage through regulation. Accidental capture by ice fisherman, increased pressure from guided fishing trips, and poor year class survival can all contribute to an increase in the rate of hook wounding among the landlocked salmon population. As hook wounds heal, they can result in deformities of the jaw, which may limit the ability of the salmon to feed. Fish with hook wounds show a significant decrease in growth compared to healthy fish of the same year class.
Fishermen are urged to use care in removing hooks and to harvest hook-wounded salmon when possible rather than releasing them back into the lake.
A lucky fisherman landed this 5-pound, 25-inch-long landlocked salmon last year while fishing in Lake Winnipesaukee aboard the Cool Water charter operated by Travis Williams. (Courtesy photo)
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