July 7, 2019
Often dwarfed by its larger, louder neighbor, Lake Winnisquam is happy to offer boaters a more casual place to enjoy the clear, clean waters of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region. By Ray Carbone • Photography by Tom Richardson
If Lake Winnipesaukee is the big, boisterous elder brother of the New Hampshire boating family, Lake Winnisquam is the laidback younger sibling.
While the “Big Lake” can be exciting, with cigarette boats and cabin cruisers zipping around, Winnisquam is good deal mellower, plied more by pontoon boats, kayaks, and small fishing boats.
Sitting in the middle of the Lakes Region, the 4,000-acre Winnisquam has its own unique character. “If you’re the kind of boater who likes to speed, you’re better off on the big lake,” says Jay Christi of Jay’s Marina. “People come here to relax. The world is so stressed out, but here you can purge yourself of some of that stress.”
“It’s not as hectic as Winnie,” agrees Warren Yeabon, a longtime local boater who moved to the area from Massachusetts two years ago. “The people pay attention to the boating rules around here.”
“You don’t get the chaos,” echoes Jackie Montalto, one of the owners of the Winnisquam Market & Deli. “People here go tubing and waterskiing, but it’s not as busy. If they see you out there with little kids, they’ll stay away from the area.”
Playing Your Pontoon
Perhaps the most obvious sign of Winnisquam’s casual nature is the popularity of the aforementioned pontoon boats. One local marina owner calls them “living rooms on the water.” Visiting boaters looking to try one of these comfortable, super-stable platforms can rent one at Jay’s Marina or the venerable Winnisquam Marine, adjacent to the Winnisquam Bridge.
Winnisquam’s bucolic charm is likely related to its layout. The lake is 10 1/2 miles long but only 1 1/2 miles wide, which makes it ideal for quiet day trips. There’s no speed-limit zone in the upper part of the lake and just a few rocky areas, Jay Christi says. “There are three islands at the very northern end, plus one small island [Pot Island] in the center, but otherwise it’s smooth sailing. It’s pretty deep in most places, so it’s easy to navigate.”
Visiting boaters can either rent a boat at one of the aforementioned marinas or trailer their own to Winnisquam. A free public launch ramp can be found in Laconia, on the east side of the lake.
Land of the Loon
One especially popular area for those seeking peace and quiet is the loon sanctuary at the northern end of the lake. Maintained by the Loon Preservation Committee of Moultonborough, the area is roped off, but boaters and paddlers can still get close enough to see these iconic birds and hear their haunting calls. Once you enter the sanctuary, it’s like being on a completely different waterbody.
Another special place for Winnisquam boaters is the “sandbar,” located just above the Winnisquam Bridge (a.k.a., the “Mosquito Bridge”) that separates the northern section of the lake from the smaller southern basin. Ryan Crawford, whose family has owned Winnisquam Marine for generations, says the shallow bar just offshore has attracted social boaters for as long as he can remember. “My mom says that when she was young, the sandbar extended to the mainland,” he recalls. “But the isthmus slowly eroded over the years.”
Now it’s a sandy patch, approximately one-quarter-mile long, where boaters of all kinds congregate on sunny days. Depending on the time of day and the season, folks may be taking part in genial gossip, water volleyball, an impromptu community meal or weekend partying.
“On the July Fourth weekend it’s hard to even get a boat in there,” laughs Crawford. “I’ve seen 60, maybe 75, boats out there.”
As important as boating is, many people are drawn to Winnisquam by its fishing. Rainbow trout, salmon, large and smallmouth bass, pickerel, and yellow perch are all found in the lake’s waters.
“But it’s really known for big lake trout,” adds Ken Eldridge of Martel’s Bait & Sports Shop. “It’s a place where you can catch 25-pounders. Salmon are also popular, and the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department is putting more and more rainbow trout in Winnisquam because they do well here.”
For Joe and Jackie Montalto, the annual Greater Rotary Ice Fishing Derby is when the true character of Winnisquam shines through. During the derby, their store opens at 3:30 a.m. to make sure everyone has his morning coffee, newspaper, food, and bait.
“One of the men who won last year was from this area. He was one of three generations who have fished the lake: father, son, and grandfather,” Jackie smiles. “We see that all the time on the lake, the different generations. It’s just an old-fashioned feeling.”
Given Winnisquam’s many appeals, it’s easy to see why folks stick around.