Ice-Out Salmon & Lake Trout Fishing Tips

The following information on spring fishing for landlocked salmon and lake trout in New Hampshire was provided by the state’s Department of Fish & Game.

While wind and/or overall warmth have kept significant portions of New Hampshire’s larger lakes, notably Winnipesaukee’s The Broads and adjacent areas, Newfound, and Winnisquam completely ice-free most of the winter, recent cold snaps have established ice and even extended ice into areas that were completely ice-free just 2 weeks ago. Needless to say, this is not a common occurrence in mid-late March.  So much to the chagrin of many open-water enthusiasts who were expecting another early, full ice-out as experienced in 2016, barring a rapid change in the weather pattern full ice-out(s) will likely be delayed at least another couple weeks. Also, consider many opportunities/traditional shore fishing locations exist regardless (see below), and consider 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 should 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 drains into the lake. This water can be easily accessed by the N.H. Fish and Game boat ramp, just upstream in Laconia.

Read more about boating and fishing on Lake Winnipesaukee.

The Newfound River in Bristol offers great fly-fishing-only water that can often produce drop-down 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.

In early spring, salmon are successfully caught by trolling with everything from spoons (such as DB Smelt, Sutton, Mooselook, Top Gun, and Smelt Gun) to traditional streamer flies (for example, Maynard’s Marvel, Pumpkinhead, Mickey Finn, Joe’s Smelt, and the 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’ down, with everything from planer board set-ups, sink-tip fly lines, to the simplest of monofilament flat lines 50-150’ 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 are 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).

Check out the Lake Winnipesaukee Launch Ramp Guide. 

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, 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.

See a Fish & Game video and a brochure about landlocked salmon in New Hampshire, and tips for safe handling of these fish.

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.

N.H. fishing licenses can be purchased online, or from any Fish and Game license agent. To 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 – click here.