NH Large Lakes Fishing Starts April 1

Lake trout (shown) and landlocked salmon are just two of the game species that inhabit the waters of Winnipesaukee.
Lake trout (shown) and landlocked salmon are just two of the game species that inhabit the waters of Winnipesaukee. Photo/New England Boating, Tom Richardson.

One of the mildest winters in memory has already led to ice-free conditions on expansive portions of New Hampshire’s large lakes, which will allow for abundant angling opportunities come April 1, 2016, the start of open-water fishing on lakes managed for landlocked salmon, lake trout, and rainbow trout.

Although vast amounts of open water are already present on most large lakes this mid-March, it is imperative anglers keep in mind landlocked salmon/lake trout managed lakes are closed to all open water fishing until April 1, regardless of the species targeted. Only ice fishing (as ice permits) is allowed from the period January 1-March 31. However, keep in mind numerous general regulation water bodies are open to fishing by all legal methods year-round, as well as, currently, streams/rivers which reopened January 1.

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, opening in late April.

Fall (2015) netting surveys revealed age-3 salmon as the predominant catch in Lake Winnipesaukee, which will translate into age-4’s available this spring. The average Winnipesaukee salmon was 19.9 inches and 2.8 lbs.

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 New Hampshire 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, a popular Winnipesaukee shore-fishing location exists 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. Also at this location, note Fish and Game’s Downing’s Landing access point, for public boat launching and additional shore casting opportunities.

Other favorite locations 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.

Salmon can be 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 feet down, with everything from planer board set-ups, sink-tip fly lines, to the simplest of monofilament flat lines 50-150 feet 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.

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 remains pervasive in Lake Winnipesaukee. 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.

See a Fish and 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 effort to help sustain quality landlocked salmon fisheries in New Hampshire’s large lakes.

Purchase your New Hampshire fishing licenses online, or from any Fish and Game license agent. A host of other license options are also available, including the resident one-day license and one-, three- and seven-day nonresident licenses.

Reel in lots more information on fishing in New Hampshire, from depth maps to tackle tips — and download the N.H. Freshwater Fishing Digest or view it in searchable online format HERE