Our Finest Spring Trout Lakes
September 24, 2010
Here's a look at where you can find some great spring trout fishing from shore or boat in northern New England.
Early April is a period of transition across northern New England. Ol’ Man Winter struggles to hold on to the frozen landscape as spring fights to stake its claim, and for trout enthusiasts the annual tug of war can be a frustrating time. By the middle of the month, give or take a few days, things start to turn around. The black ice covering our lakes and ponds turns to open water sometimes overnight and just like that the open-water fishing season is suddenly underway.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
During the early weeks of the season, most fishermen head for the bigger lakes and ponds primarily because rivers, streams and brooks are still too high, cold or discolored to offer prime opportunity, and because our lakes and ponds, or parts of them, are among the first to clear of winter ice.
These areas are also popular because they are not only home to some of our largest trout in terms of length and weight, but in many cases, a variety of trout. On northern New England’s most popular trout lakes, just about anything could be on the end of the line.
Regional biologists in recent years have done an impressive job of providing a variety of fish. Mixed bags of rainbow, brown, lake trout and in some cases, brook trout, are a daily possibility.
All in all, April can be an exciting and productive time to hunt for trout across the rooftop of New England. The weather conditions may be less than ideal from a human perspective, but the trout are out there, and after a long winter, are often ready to cooperate.
Vermont hatcheries are raising about one million fry, fingerlings, yearlings and 2-year-old trout these days, and last year the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife released over 600,000 catchable trout or smolts throughout the state. One of the biggest recipients was Lake Champlain, which continues to be one of Vermont’s great trout hotspots.
Last year in March and April, approximately 30,000 brown trout yearlings were released in the big lake at such places as Burlington and Burlington Harbor, Grand Isle, North and South Hero, St. Albans, Milton and Ferrisburg. In addition, more than 65,000 steelhead rainbows were released in April at Grand Isle, Colchester and the Colchester Access Area, near the Long Point access and Ferrisburg near the Greenbush Road Bridge. Several thousand lake trout were also released later in the year.
All this adds up to one of the finest coldwater fisheries in northern New England, not only in terms of variety, but also in terms of potential size. By most accounts, lake trout are averaging 3 to 5 pounds these days, and 8- and 10-pounders are not uncommon. Brown trout can run the same size, with rainbow steeAlhead slightly less. Several lakes in the tri-state area might offer the same mixed bag, but few can boast trout of such size.
To say the least, this is a huge body of water, at some 435 square miles. The key to success on this lake is knowing where to find fish. This is particularly true on Lake Champlain, because as most charter skippers and folks who really know the lake will attest, the best hotspots always seem to be changing. There are, however, some traditional spots that are good places to start the hunt.
Lake trout, for example, are popular springtime targets, with some of the season’s best action coming later this month through May and well into June. Traditionally, from ice-out (anytime from mid- to late April or so), lakers are found close to the surface and are even taken from shore in some locations.
Although fish can be found anywhere, the best opportunities are generally in the deep portions of the lake, from Crown Point north to La Motte including the areas around Appletree Point, Cochester Reef, all the way down the western shore of Shelburne Point, as far as Thompson’s Point. Some big lakers are also taken each spring north of the Crown Point Bridge up through Button Bay, especially along the ice pack.
When lake trout are on the surface early in the season, Rapalas and Rebels are good bets, although local tackle and bait shops can add to the list of favorite offerings. Shore-bound anglers should not hesitate to work off points, bridges and piers, particularly around deep water.
Brown trout are popular in the lake, too, especially from ice-out and through May and early June. The best places to find them is in the shallow water from Crown Point north in the main lake in places like Malletts Bay, Colchester Point and Arnold’s Bay and the Inland Sea area, especially around the Sandbar. Shelburne Bay can be a hot area just after ice-out.
Working the mouths of tributaries can produce some good browns, too, particularly off the Lamoille River and Winooski River. These areas are also potential hotspots for landlocked salmon, and during the first few weeks after ice-out, or as soon as open water is available along the ice pack. Both species will readily accept trolling flies, such as the Gray Ghost, Nine-Three, Magog Smelt and Governor Aiken, and various small fluttering spoons and junior Mooselooks just below the surface. As browns seek deeper water later on, using downriggers around the 20- and 25-foot mark is popular and productive.
While the steelhead trout inhabiting Lake Champlain generally offer the best action in tributary rivers between late fall and early spring, they are also taken in the lake, especially near the mouths of tributaries as they head upstream to spawn. When open water is available, April can be a good time to troll off the mouth of the Winooski River and Lewis Creek.
Considering its size, first-time fishermen or boaters who don’t know this lake should consider hiring one of the many charter boats that are available on Lake Champlain. Hiring a guide for a day or weekend is a great way to get to know the best fishing areas. Rates are reasonable, and not only will you fish productive areas, you will also learn the best techniques and offerings to use. It is an investment well made.
For fishermen bringing their own craft, launch facilities will be found near many of the best fishing areas, and lodging, tackle shops and other services are well established. There are also some excellent trout-fishing opportunities on the New York side of the lake, and a Vermont fishing license is reciprocal on most of the lake.
For more information on charter boats and other services in the area, contact the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, 60 Main Street, Suite 100, Burlington, VT 05402; call (802) 863-3489 or (877) 686-5253, or visit their Web site at www.vermont.org.
Several lakes in Vermont are home to lake trout, but not many are as prolific at producing monster lakers as Lake Willoughby in Westmore. The lake consistently produces the state record on the species, with the latest, taken in 2003, weighing better than 35 pounds. Lake trout in the 6- to 10-pound range are nothing unusual in this lake, and specimens weighing from 20 to 25 pounds are possible.
Lake Willoughby also has an excellent rainbow trout fishery. These fish do not run as big as the lake trout, but specimens in the double digits are quite possible and the action can often be consistent, especially during the early season.
Lake Willoughby covers 1,653 acres in one of the most scenic regions in Vermont, and is often referred to as the “Lucerne of America.” The area can be easily accessed from the south via Route 5 out of Lyndonville and Route 5A from West Burke, or via Route 16 from Barton. Lyndonville and Barton are easily reached from Interstate 91.
Boat access is possible at several points off Route 5A on the east shore near Westmore, on the north end at North Beach and at the south end near White Caps Campground within Willoughby State Forest.
April can be a testy time on Lake Willoughby due to the hilly terrain and unpredictable because ice-out may not be until the latter days of the month. Once open water is available, wind and cold temperatures are always possibilities. However, by the end of April, things generally start to settle down somewhat, and as the season progresses into early May, some great fishing is possible.
Lake trout at this time can be just about anywhere due to cold water temperatures, but trolling off Mt. Hor on the west shore and Mt. Pisqah on the east are popular spots. There is also some prime early-season water along dropoffs on the north and south ends where the bottom runs 40 feet, then down to 80 feet. These areas are also good for rainbows. If unsure where to start or concentrate, look for boats working a particular area, always a good indication of where the fish are.
For information on lodging, camping and other services in the area, contact the Northeast Kingdom Chamber of Commerce, 51 Depot Square, Suite 3, St. Johnsbury, VT 05819; call (802) 748-3678 or (800) 639-6379; or visit the chamber’s Web site at www.nekchamber.com.
For more information on fishing in Vermont, contact the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, 103 South Main Street, Waterbury, VT 05676; or call (802) 241-3700.
The Lakes Region of central New Hampshire offers some great trout-fishing potential this month, but ice-out doesn’t usually occur until sometime in the middle or latter part of the month. According to Don Miller, a Region 2 fisheries biologist, until the lakes begin to really open, shore-angling is a viable and often productive way to go.
Specifically, Miller suggests the public docks on Lake Winnipesaukee at Glendale, Meredith, Weirs Beach, Center Harbor and Alton.
“These areas are kept free of ice throughout the winter by aerators placed around the dock pilings,” Miller noted, “and they are a magnet for large predatory fish, such as lake trout, rainbows and salmon.”
Some of the best action will be had on live bait, particularly smelt or shiners. The docks at Alton and Glendale are accessible from Route 11, at Weirs Beach and Meredith from Route 3, and at Center Harbor off Route 25. Later in the month, or in early May, as some of the bays clear of ice, working the lake along the ice pack will produce some good trout action as well. Wolfeboro Bay, Alton Bay, Meredith Bay and near Weirs Beach are some possible prime spots for lakers and rainbows.
Some other spots to take a look at this month, according to Miller, include the Squam Channel between Big and Squam lakes. Some open water is generally available at both ends and can be reached via the boat ramp in Holderness off Route 3/25. While there, check out Cotton Cove and Pipers Cove. These can open early and have the potential to offer some good early-season action.
It also pays to visit and explore the water around some of the bridges, tributaries and outlets leading into and out of the bigger lakes. The bridges on the Fowler River off Route 3A and the outlet on the lower end of Newfound Lake can be quite productive for rainbows. The same is true of water around the Long Island bridge at the end of Moultonborough Neck, and the bridge leading to Governor’s Island off Route 118 near Pendleton Beach. These areas offer rainbows, but they are good spots for landlocked salmon as well.
Don’t overlook the Winnipesaukee River on Lake Winnisquam. It is a good spot for rainbows and can be fished from shore or in small cartop boats. The same is true of the outlet of Lake Winnisquam at Lochmere, according to Miller. This stretch generally holds some good rainbow trout and can be easily fished from shore.
For information on lodging and services in the area, contact the Lakes Region Association by calling (800) 605-2537; or visit the association’s Web site at www.lakesregion.org.
For more information on trout fishing in New Hampshire, contact the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, 2 Hazen Drive, Concord, NH 03301; or call (603) 271-3127.
Of the major trout lakes in Maine, Sebago is one of the first to start clearing of ice each year. Some years it never freezes over completely, and offers fishable water on opening day. Last spring, after one of the coldest winters on record, the reported ice-out date on the lake was April 17, but traditionally Sebago opens sometime during the second or third week of April. Whatever the case, some part of the lake can usually be worked sometime in April.
Sebago is also popular due to its lake trout fishery, which, according to regional biologists, is still blooming despite new regulations implemented a few years that allow anglers to retain six lake trout daily. This year, the minimum length limit will be 14 inches and only one trout may exceed 23 inches in length.
Finding a place to troll for lake trout is not a problem on Sebago Lake, even in
April. There is always plenty of room to wet a line. To begin with, work along the ice pack, but as more open water is made available, the Great Shoals area, about one mile off the mouth of the Northwest River outlet on the west shore, should not be overlooked. At about 30 feet deep, it is relatively shallow in this area, but the edge of the shoals drop off quickly. The shoals are a natural magnet for smelt, and lake trout are not far away.
The Songo Bar, at the mouth of the Songo River on the north end, is another good spring hotspot for the same reasons. Other good areas to work as soon as it is possible include the water off the Dingley islands in the northeast corner of the lake, off the mouth of the Muddy River in the northwest corner and along the west shore from Long Beach all the way to Harmon Beach. The Lower Bay area can give up some good spring lakers, too. Live bait, especially smelt and shiners, work extremely well, as do flatfish and various fluttering spoons and lures in about 40 to 50 feet of water.
Getting on the lake is no problem either. The public launch at Sebago Lake Station off Route 35 in Standish is popular, convenient and offers ample parking. There is another public launch on the north end at Sebago Lake State Park, plus several private launch sites around the lake where launching is available for a minimal fee.
For information on lodges and services in the Sebago Lake area, contact the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce at (207) 892-8265, or visit their Web site at www.windhamchamber.sebagolake.org.
For more information on spring trout fishing in Maine, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, 284 State Street, 41 State House Station, Augusta, Maine 04333; or call (207) 287-8000.