New Hampshire Ice Fishing

new-hampshire-ice-fishingLocated just south of the White Mountains, in central New Hampshire’s Lakes Region is picturesque Lake Winnipesaukee. Surrounded by mountains on many sides, this lake is known for its beauty and epitomizes New Hampshire ice fishing. The lake has a maximum depth of 200 feet and covers 71 square miles. Affectionately referred to as “Winni” by locals and regular visitors, it is a very popular destination in the summer attracting vacationers, boaters, and sight seers. Another well-known activity on Winnipesaukee is ice fishing. The lake is managed by the State for lake trout and landlocked salmon but holds a wide variety of other species. Although state regulations prohibit taking salmon through the ice, lake trout fishing attracts thousands each winter. The average lake trout caught usually weighs around 4 pounds with many 10+ pound fish caught each year. Regulations such as an 18 inch minimum, 2 fish per day limit, 2 line limit, and more catch-and-release fishing help keep the population of this popular fish thriving. An average depth of 40 – 45 feet, rocky bottom, and healthy rainbow smelt population make Winnipesaukee the perfect lake trout lake. Other sought after species include white and yellow perch, crappie, bluegill, cusk, stocked rainbow trout, large and smallmouth bass.

The ice fishing season for lake trout is from January 1st through March 31st. Species other than lake trout can be caught year round and often are. The lake has its own group of hardcore pan fishermen who regularly fish for white or yellow perch, crappie, and bluegill. Winnipesaukee is well known by locals for its healthy white perch population. Pan-fried fillets of white perch are the highlight of many New Hampshire fishermen, and women. Then there are the cusk fishermen. In addition to the 2 line limit, regulations allow anglers to use an additional six lines rigged specifically for cusk and anything other than cusk must be released. Cusk lines must be non-moving (no free moving spool), have the owners name and address printed on each one, have a minimum of one ounce of weight nor more than six inches above the hook, and the bait must sit directly on the bottom. Fishermen are required to inspect the bait end of each cusk line once every 24 hours. As soon as the bays freeze over fishermen and their bobhouses will start to dot the ice. Winnipesaukee never freezes all at once due to its size and depth. However, with its many bays and large coves there is never any shortage of places to fish early ice.

For lake trout, many fishermen prefer to use tip-ups baited with live smelt or sucker set directly on, or just off the bottom. Others prefer to jig for them. One of the most popular methods include a bucktail jig baited with a strip of sucker belly and jigged near bottom while occasionally bouncing or even letting the jig sit on bottom. Whatever the method, lake trout fishermen can be found on Lake Winnipesaukee on any given day during the winter.

Central New Hampshire isn’t called the Lakes Region because of Lake Winnipesaukee alone. Other popular lakes in the area known for their lake trout and/or white perch and rainbow trout include Winnisquam, Squam and Little Squam, Sunapee, Ossipee, Tarlton, Silver, Big Danhole Pond, and Newfound Lake. Each year the Meredith Rotary Club holds the Great Rotary Ice Fishing Derby. The derby includes any public water body in the state and is attended by thousands. Prizes for the event total more than $60,000. The top three prizes are awarded to the three heaviest Meredith Rotary tagged rainbow trout. The rotary club stocks these trout into many of the Lakes Region lakes. Also, the derby headquarters where fish are to be registered is in Meredith and for this reason most of these lakes are popular destinations during the derby.

Some other popular lake trout lakes include Nubanusit in Hancock, Silver Lake in Harrisville, and Big Diamond Pond and the Connecticut Lakes in the Great North Woods. Let’s not forget the panfish though. In addition to the many lake trout lakes, New Hampshire Fish and Game provides a list of trout ponds with no closed season. Many of these ponds are stocked in the fall with rainbow, brook, and brown trout of trophy size. These fish are highly sought after by early ice fishermen.

new-hampshire pan-fish-ice-fishingThere isn’t a lake or pond in New Hampshire that doesn’t contain panfish. White and yellow perch and bluegill are considered great eating but one other seems to stand out, black crappie. Crappie has its own cult following of fishermen who usually set out to catch enough for a meal of these tasty pan fried fish. The daily limit on most panfish is 25 fish per day with a 50 fish aggregate. Small panfish jigs tipped with earth worm, meal worm, or spikes on an ultra-light jig rod is the preferred method. New Hampshire’s crappie population continues to grow and so does their popularity.

New Hampshire’s “Official List of Public Waters” lists 959 public water bodies, only roughly 150 are closed to ice fishing. There is no shortage of places to ice fish. Whether you want to fish in groups with others people or just get away and enjoy some quiet, scenic relaxation and reflection; there is a little, or a lot, of something for everyone.

written by Tim “Jiffy Man” Moore

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