SANBORNTON — New Hampshire Fish and Game fisheries biologist Don Miller recalls growing up on the shores of Lake Winnisquam ''walking around with a fishing pole in my hand'' and knew from an early age what he wanted in life would involve the outdoors and fishing.
Miller grew up in Manchester, where he graduated from Memorial High School, but says that all of his fondest childhood memories were of Lake Winnisquam, where spent summers at his family's camp, which was built in 1962.
One day when he was eight or nine years old he found a dead landlocked salmon on the beach and noticed that it was tagged. He retrieved the tag and sent it to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and received a latter from Dick Seamans, who was in charge of the fisheries division, thanking him.
Some 15 years later it was Seamans who gave him a job with the department.
He recalls that while he was growing up Winnisquam was a legendary fishing lake. ''It was a tremendous fishery. There were salmon and lake trout and and it was the best lake in the state for smelting.'
But all that changed in the mid 1960s when the phosphorus rich sewage from the city of Laconia's sewer treatment plant created large algae blooms, including toxic blue-green algae, which the state treated with copper sulfate, resulting in massive fish kills.
''It was a complete eco system failure. The white perch took over and it was a sad situation. We'll never have the smelt population we used to have and without that the game fish will never be as large or as plentiful as they were then,'' says Miller.
After graduating from the University of New Hampshire Miller started work with Fish and Game in 1976 and was at the New Hampton Fish Hatchery for four years and then a marine biologist on the seacoast for five years before being assigned to the department's Division II headquarters in New Hampton.
He says that for the last 30 years he's been at the Winni Derby, which this year marks its 33rd year this weekend, and has kept a close eye on the health of the landlocked salmon which are landed during the fishing tournament. He says that the derby was started by the late Rick Davis with the goal of reducing what was then an excess of small salmon with an eye to a smaller but healthier salmon population.
As the department's Large Lakes biologist, Miller is in constant touch with all aspects of inland fisheries and says that the state's salmon stocking program has a goal of providing better quality salmon, a difficult task for a non-native species which does not spawn at a high enough rate to be self-sustaining.
''We've had some good success but, just as the size of the salmon being landed went up, the pressure on the lake increased,'' he says, noting that Davis decided several years ago to cancel the derby for a year after seeing for himself the health of the salmon netted during a fall survey, many of which were smaller and had hook wounds from having been caught and then released.
He says that the state has had good success with its rainbow trout stocking program, which is producing four and five pound catches. And the brook trout stocking program continues to produce good results, although many of the fish are landed early in the season, when water temperatures are cooler.
He says that bass fishing has gained popularity in recent years and that the warm-water species makes for good fishing during the summer months, when water temperatures reach the mid 70s at the surface and salmon and lake trout move down to the lower and colder water levels.
Miller says the long-range trend for fishing in New Hampshire tends to look better for warm water fish, like bass, which can produce a self-sustaining population.
He will be retiring on the last day of June, after nearly 40 years with the department, and says that he's going to miss seeing all the people he's met over the years, but won't miss having to go to work when the elements are bad.
''I've got two years worth of work to do around his house,'' says Miller, who adds that he's looking forward to being able to fish and hunt when he wants to and plans an active retirement which will keep him outdoors as much as possible.
Captions Miller 1,2
Fish and Game biologists Don Miller and John Viar collect salmon eggs and milt for the state's salmon stocking program. (Courtesy photo)
Fish and Game biologist Don Miller holds a 9 pound male landlocked salmon. (Courtesy photo)
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