LACONIA — Ice has been the fisherman's friend this winter, offering a sturdy surfaces across the Lakes Region for bob houses and their occupants. Now that April's here, and with it the start of open-water fishing season, the ice is outstaying its welcome. Anglers looking for salmon will have to compete for areas of open water that are a lot smaller this spring than they have been in recent years.
Wednesday, April 1 marks the traditional opening of landlocked salmon season in New Hampshire. The season runs through the end of September.
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.
John Viar, fisheries biologist for Fish and Game, said that while the ice on local lakes has lingered for longer than in recent years, this spring is still within the normal range over the long term. "This seems to be pretty normal to me," he said.
The ice will provide some protection for the landlocked salmon that Fish and Game stock into Lake Winnipesaukee, said Viar. He noted that although the stocking program that attempted to restore Atlantic salmon in N.H. rivers has ceased, the program stocking salmon in lakes for sport fishing has continued unchanged. The greater ice cover will mean that fewer fish will be accessible to anglers on April 1, and more salmon will remain in the lake for those who aren't able to fish until later in the season. "When things do open up, they'll be that much better," said Viar.
On Monday, Fish and Game was advising anglers to 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 off Water Street in Laconia.
The Newfound River in Bristol offers great fly-fishing-only water that can often produce drop-down rainbows and salmon, advised Fish and Game 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.
Fish & Game's Viar's concern for this spring is the relatively little amount of spring runoff despite the depth of the snowpack. Viar thinks it's because so much of the snow fell during very cold temperatures. Even though the snowpack is beginning to reduce, it isn't leading to much water running off. "There's not much moisture content to that snow, it's like it's evaporating." The spring runoff is important to the local fishery because smelt, a small, silvery fish which are preyed upon by larger game fish, congregate to breed at areas where runoff enters their water body. "If we don't have a lot of runoff, it can affect their breeding. Their population is critical."
The winter has been good for Alan Nute, owner of A.J.'s Bait and Tackle in Meredith. "We had good ice, the derby went off well," the only thing deterring anglers was all the wind and snow in February. "It was a good winter overall, I don't think you're ever going to have a perfect winter."
The first of April came a little early for his ice-fishing die hards this year, especially with so much ice still on the lakes. Fish and Game rules prohibit ice fishing on managed water bodies after March 31. "People would like to continue ice fishing if they could," said Nute, though he noted that ice fishing is still allowed on non-managed lakes, such as Waukewan and Winona.
Fishermen looking to take advantage of open water fishing will likely be found at the usual spots, he said. The Winnipesaukee River through downtown Laconia, both ends of Lake Opechee, the Weirs Channel, will all have some open water for fishing, though it will be less than what anglers are used to seeing. His advice to those heading out today? "Good luck to all of them. Bring shoulder pads, there's not going to be a lot of room."
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