New England's 2007 Ice-Fishing Forecast

Here's a look at New England's ice-fishing picture as we enter 2007, and what anglers can look forward to once safe ice forms this season. (Dec 2006)

Unpredictable winter weather conditions always play a role in the outcome of any New England ice-fishing season. Last winter, rather mild conditions meant many of the larger lakes across the Northeast were without ice. But there were plenty of opportunities on the smaller waters.

New England's winter anglers have learned to take what's given and make the best of it. Because our lakes and ponds vary in size, some good action may be found. Every state in the Northeast offers ice-fishing opportunities for trout plus smallmouth and largemouth bass, pike, pickerel and myriad other species.

Even during the mildest winters, it's always possible to find a place to cut some holes and catch some fish.

In recent years, fish and wildlife departments across the region have been increasing winter angling opportunities, stocking more legal-sized trout in fall in anticipation of the winter season, or managing some waters for quality rather than quantity. There are honeyholes everywhere, and wintertime angling throughout New England has never been better.

MAINE

In recent years, the ice-fishing opportunities have improved considerably in New England's largest state, particularly in the central, coastal and southern regions. Native or wild fish have always been popular, but many of the fish being caught now come from hatcheries, especially in the heavily populated and pressured regions of the state.

In 2002, Maine's voters approved a $7 million bond issue specifically for hatchery improvements. Since then, five hatcheries have been equipped with highly efficient water oxygenating systems designed to increase fish-rearing capacity. The Embden hatchery facility has been reconstructed to increase not only fish production, but the size of fish being stocked.

This all means several things. For one, more trout are being reared and released -- primarily brook and browns, but also rainbows and salmon. The heaviest releases take place in spring to accommodate the popular open-water season. But with more fish going into state waters, many will undoubtedly be available for ice-fishermen.

More fish are also being released in the fall just before freeze-up, in October and November, which means they will be available to anglers during the winter season. The majority of those fish will be larger than the norm, running up to 22 inches.

One of the great attractions of ice- fishing in Maine is the state's great diversity. Along with the more traditional trout species, Maine is continuing with its stocking and management of splake in selected waters. Splake, hybrids of brook and lake trout, are less costly to rear in the hatchery, grow faster and offer great winter fishing opportunities.

Splake are currently found in more than 50 waters in 13 counties. Another 18 waters are managed as incidental fisheries for the hybrid. Most of the waters containing splake are found in Penobscot, Aroostook, Washington and Somerset counties.

Increasing numbers of hardwater anglers are seeking the so-called warmwater species, particularly pickerel and largemouth and smallmouth bass. Both species are often more aggressive in winter than trout or salmon, providing consistent action throughout much of the winter season. Maine is nationally renowned for its bass fishing, and ice-fishermen are finally taking notice.

Winter angling for pike has been growing in popularity, and the best action will be found in the Belgrade Lakes region. The minimum-length limit has generally been 24 inches and will go unchanged this season on most waters. But anglers should make a point to check the regulations summary. Bag limits vary from lake to lake. For example, the no-limit rule in effect on Long Pond was scheduled to be repealed in 2006 and may change again this winter.

Free fishing days will be held the Saturday and Sunday immediately preceding Presidents Day. Last year, those days were Feb. 18 and 19. On those days, fishermen without a license may fish on any water open to ice-fishing.

For more information on ice-fishing, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at (207) 287-2871, or visit them at www.MEfishwildlife.com.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

New Hampshire's ice-fishermen love their trout, and from the lakes region to the Monadnock Valley to the great northwoods, there are plenty of opportunities to go around. Since the early 1990s, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department has been stocking rainbow trout in a number of its bigger waters, including Big Squam and Little Squam, Winnisquam, Winnipesaukee, and the Newfound lakes. All have been producing some large fish for ice-anglers.

Without question, these waters offer some of the best opportunities for lunker rainbow trout in New England, especially during winter. Fall trap-netting surveys have revealed rainbows averaging 18 inches or better and weighing over 2 pounds in a number of these lakes, so winter anglers can expect some good catches this season.

While a lot of attention is dedicated to rainbow trout, these and other lakes in the region also contain brown and lake trout and landlocked salmon.

One of the best winter lakes in recent years has been Newfound Lake, which boasts a strong population of lake trout. Another good one for lake trout and landlocked salmon is Dan Hole Pond in Ossipee.

Sunapee, Silver, Merrymeeting and Great East lakes on the border with Maine should also be good bets for lakers this year. For brown trout, try Crystal Lake in Eaton. Anglers fishing Mascoma Lake and the lower Beech ponds did rather well last winter, too.

In addition to the popularity and abundance of its trout waters, the lakes region offers good fishing for warmwater species also. Black crappies are abundant in Balch, Milton-3, Northeast and Spectacle ponds as well as Belleau, Pemigewasset and Hermit lakes. Wickwas Lake and Lees Mill Pond hold plenty of bluegills and pumpkinseeds. Nearly all the larger lakes that contain trout also offer good winter bass fishing.

The Meredith Rotary Fishing Derby will be held in early February again this year. Over the past 26 years, the Rotary's annual ice-fishing derby has generated more than $1 million for various state, regional and local projects and charitable organizations.

For more information, contact the Meredith Rotary at (603) 279-7600, or visit the Rotary's Web site at www.meredithrotary.com.

The Monadnock region typically gets less publicity and notoriety, but it offers some fine trout water that should produce well this winter, thanks to some late-fall stocking. For some good lunker rainbow and brown trout fishing, take a look at Laurel Lake in Fitzwilliam, Silver Lake in Harrisville or Granite Lake in Stoddard. Many of the smaller ponds in the region were also stocked last year.

For black crappie action, Scott Pond in Fitzwilliam, Contoocook Lake, Meetinghouse Pond, Monomonac Lake and Highland Lake are all good bets. Highland Lake also offers some good bass fishing, as does Baboosic Lake in Amherst, Center Pond in Nelson and Horace Lake in Ware.

In the northwoods country, Big Diamond Pond, the Connecticut lakes and Greenough Pond have been producing good catches of lake trout the past few winters and should be hot again this season.

For northern pike action, try Dodge, Flag or Jericho ponds, or Ogontz or Partridge lakes.

For more information, contact the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department at (603) 271-3211; or visit www.wildlife.state.NH.us.

VERMONT

Lake Champlain gets much of the attention in Vermont. It's big, offers plenty of room to explore and has one of the most diverse fisheries in the world, ranging from landlocked salmon and lake trout to all the common warmwater species. The big lake doesn't freeze completely each winter, but most years, many of its bays and shallower shoreline stretches offer good fishing.

Much of the best trout and bass fishing will be found in the main lake, roughly from the Champlain Bridge north to the Champlain Islands and west along the islands to the Quebec border. There's 12 miles of open water here, so finding a place to fish won't be a problem.

The southern portion of the lake is best for walleyes, sauger, white perch and pike. The largemouth action can be good as well. Another good section to try is Mallets Bay. Completely within the state of Vermont, it offers good opportunities for salmon, pike, walleyes, yellow perch and largemouth and smallmouth bass.

The Inland Sea area, from the Sandbar causeway north almost to the Quebec border, the Champlain islands on the west and the Vermont mainland on the east, offers a mix of deep water studded with small islands and shallow bays. It is a good spot for salmon and various warmwater species. Missisquoi Bay in the far north is rather shallow, and offers great winter fishing for walleyes, sauger, bass and pike.

For more information on winter fishing opportunities in Lake Champlain, ice conditions and other particulars, contact the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce at 1-877-686-5253 or (802) 863-3489, or visit the chamber's Web site at www.Vermont.org.

It's easy to forget that there's great winter trout angling throughout Vermont. In the Northeast Kingdom, Lake Memphremagog offers rainbow and brown trout, landlocked salmon and bass, especially in the South Bay area; plus walleyes, pickerel and big yellow perch.

Other top waters in the region include Caspian Lake in Greensboro for lake trout, Seymour Lake in Morgan and Lake Willoughby in Westmore for lake trout and salmon. Lake Willoughby has been producing some good rainbow trout and Seymour Lake is home to some lunker browns and lakers.

Vermont is also home to a potpourri of warmwater species popular among ice-fishermen, especially pike, yellow perch, pickerel, the basses and pumpkinseeds.

One of the state's best largemouth bass fisheries is Lake Bomoseen near Castleton. The lake consistently produces bass in the 6- and 8-pound class. Also home to smallmouths and crappies, it produces some of the largest winter-caught brown trout in the state each season.

For more information, contact the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department at (802) 241-3700, or visit www.vtfishandwildlife.com. Be sure to ask for a copy of their free Fish Vermont map and guide.

MASSACHUSETTS

What Massachusetts lacks in large lakes and ponds, it more than makes up for with one of the most productive hatchery systems in New England, leading the region in number of fished stocked each year. This year, MassWildlife stocked 636,000 brook, rainbow, brown and tiger trout throughout the state.

Most interesting to ice-anglers is that a large percentage of these fish were already of catchable size. About 287,000 rainbows and approximately 51,000 browns were over a foot long. Another 88,000 rainbows averaged 9 to 11 inches. About 5,000 "tiger trout" -- hybrid crosses between a female brown trout and a male brook trout -- were over 14 inches in length. Not only should there be plenty of trout out there this winter, but most will be of quality size!

While most of the stocking takes place just prior to and during the popular spring and summer seasons, the numbers of fish released assures us there should be plenty of fish still around for winter anglers. It should be noted, however, that an impressive list of waters were stocked in the spring and then again in the fall. This would include Wallum Lake in Douglas, Whalom Lake in Lunenburg, Long Pond in Rutland, Lake Quinsigamond in Shrewsbury, Webster Lake in Webster, Lake Dennison in Winchendon and the Congamond lakes in Southwick.

In all, about 70 lakes, ponds and reservoirs received fall trout.

A complete list of stocked trout waters in the commonwealth can be viewed on MassWildlife's Web site at www.state.MA.us/dfwele/dfw. Maps of pond depths are also available at that site.

Along with winter trout opportunities, Massachusetts is also home to some of the region's top warmwater fisheries. Bass are abundant and plentiful throughout the state, but the state's tiger muskies and northern pike have been drawing even more interest in recent years.

Pike were first introduced in 1950 and since then, about 400,000 fish have been stocked in more than 40 reservoirs, lakes and ponds. Tiger muskies have been around since 1980 and have been stocked in more than 50 waters. Both grow quickly and offer great action through the ice. You can view a complete list of stocked pike and muskie waters online at the MassWildlife Web site.

For more information, contact the MassWildlife offices at (508) 792-7270, or visit the agency's Web site noted above.

CONNECTICUT

Trout fishing in the Nutmeg State is pretty much dependent on the hatchery system. Nearly 750,000 brook and rainbow trout are stocked annually in nearly 100 lakes and ponds. A list of trout waters including size, location and access information is published annually in the Connecticut Angler's Guide. The ice-fishing season for trout will remain open through Feb. 28 this year.

The angling season on pike, walleyes, panfish, smallmouths and largemouths remains open year 'round, however. Some of the best waters for bass are lakes and ponds specifically managed under the Big Bass or Trophy Bass programs. Around the state, there ar

e about 30 of these special waters regulated by special bag limit or slot-limit regulations including Amos Lake in Preston, Pattagansett Lake in East Lyme, Gardner Lake in Salem and Highland Lake in Winchester.

For more information, contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection at (860) 424-3555; or visit the DEP's Web site at www.dep.state.CT.us.

RHODE ISLAND

The winter fishing season in Rhode Island is often very short due to a lack of safe ice conditions. But when safe ice forms, there are some good opportunities. More than 50 ponds are stocked annually with trout, and a good many of those are stocked in fall. (A list of stocked waters is available on the Rhode Island Fish and Wildlife Division's Web site, listed below.)

The Ocean State is also home to some fine bass waters. Of special note are Tiogue Lake, Tucker Pond, Pascoag Reservoir, Watchaug Pond, Wilson Reservoir, Indian Lake and Stafford Pond.

For more information contact the Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife at (401) 789-0281; or visit www.dem.RI.gov.

Find more about New England fishing and hunting at: NewEnglandGameandFish.com

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