New England's Top Winter Trout Lakes

New England's Top Winter Trout Lakes

Some of the Northeast's best fishing action takes place in January. Here's where to find some great winter trout action near you this month.

By Al Raychard

Last winter was one of the coldest on record, according to New England meteorologists. The smaller lakes had enough ice to allow access as soon as the season opened in most of the Northeast, and even the largest lakes, which normally ice over late, had safe ice earlier than normal. Just about everywhere, good winter fishing could be enjoyed right through the end of March.

As a consequence, the region's hardwater anglers enjoyed one of the longest ice-fishing seasons in recent memory.

This year could be just the opposite, however. One of the great unknowns in our neck of the woods is when ice will form, when it will allow safe access and how long it will remain.

There is, however, one certainty: Once conditions allow, there will be ample opportunities to take some big trout through the ice. Not only are most of the region's fish and game departments stocking increased numbers of fish in the fall in anticipation of the winter season, but some have been stocking larger fish, even some brood stock as well, which means the chances of pulling in a keeper, perhaps even a lunker or two, has never been better.

In general, January ice-fishing is some of the most productive of the season because the fish have not been hard hit yet. All things considered, if Ol' Man Winter cooperates and provides safe ice early, the winter of 2005 should be another great one. Here's a sampling of places to go for some hot winter fishing action near you:

MAINE

Sebago Lake

It is difficult to talk about ice-fishing for trout in southern Maine without mentioning Sebago Lake. Since their introduction back in 1972, lake trout have become the dominant species in Maine's second-largest lake. In fact, in 2002, new regulations were implemented to control the lake's growing number of togue. That year, the daily bag limit was increased to six fish with a minimum length limit of 14 inches. Of the six fish, only one may be over 23 inches. Those limits will remain the same this year, but despite the increased bag limit, the lake trout population continues to grow, offering some of the best ice-fishing opportunities for lake trout in southern Maine and perhaps anywhere in the Northeast.

Lake trout in the 3- and 4-pound class are the average these days, but lunkers weighing into the double digits are a real possibility. During last year's annual Sebago Lake Ice-Fishing Derby, held annually each February by the Windham Rotary Club, the largest entry weighed more than 18 3/4 pounds! The runner-up weighed just over 18 pounds. Not all fish caught are of this caliber, but during the course of the two-day event, more than 2,230 registrants caught over 1,100 lake trout, many in the 6- to 10-pound class.

Along with the potential for a trophy catch, Sebago's winter lake trout enthusiasts can also expect consistent action as soon as safe ice forms.

More information on the derby can be found on the Internet at www. icefishingderby.com; or call (888) 423-3524.

Of course, the real unknown is whether Sebago will form sufficient ice early, late, or even at all. Some years, the lake has failed to freeze, most recently in 1999, and it came close in 2002. Most winters, however, getting on the lake is possible in early January or by the end of the month, certainly sometime in February. It is always a good idea to check with a local source to check ice conditions, and a good one is Jordan's Store in East Sebago. The store sells bait and other angler needs, and the owner keeps tab on where the action is.

The telephone number there is (207) 787-3866.

Early hotspots are off the Dingley islands in the northeast corner of the lake and off the Muddy River launch in the northwest corner. The Songo bar off the mouth of the Songo River can be good, too.

The area around Frye's Leap on the west side of Raymond Cape and Jordan's Bay on the east side of the cape can produce some good action as well. The same is true along much of the west shore all the way from North Sebago south to East Sebago, Long Beach, Harmon Beach and down to Lower Bay.

Great Shoals, about one mile off the mouth of the Northwest River outlet at East Sebago, is extremely popular, too. On average, the water is around 30 feet deep there, but it drops off to 200 feet on all sides.

Photo by Paul Updike

Access to areas along the west shore is easy at various points along Route 114. The Lower Bay area can be accessed off Route 35 in Standish.

A lot of the lake can be reached from Route 302 and various secondary roads on the east.

If you are unfamiliar with the area, DeLorme's Maine Atlas and Gazetteer is a good reference. DeLorme also publishes a map specifically of Sebago Lake showing various roads and access points. The Gazetteer and Sebago map are sold at book stores and other outlets in the area, or you can contact DeLorme directly by calling (207) 865-4171. Or check out the Web site at www.delorme.com.

If you decide to hit the Lower Bay area, there is no fishing allowed within 3,000 feet of a red post on the shore marking a point between the two Portland Water District (PWD) intake pipes. Also closed is the area within 100 feet of the Standish intake. Motor vehicles, not including snowmobiles or ATVs, are prohibited within two miles of the PWD intakes in Standish.

For information on lodging, bait and tackle and other services in the area, contact the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce at (207) 892-8265; visit them on the Internet at www.windhamchamber. sebagolake.org, or send an e-mail to info@ sebagolakechamber.com.

For details on Maine's 2004-05 ice-fishing regulations, contact the regional office of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in Gray, Maine, at (207) 657-2345.

Hancock Pond

If you're looking for brown trout in southern Maine, you won't do much better than Hancock Pond in Denmark, just a few miles west of Sebago.

At just over 850 acres, Hancock is relatively small, but over the years it has been a perennial hotspot for large browns. Six- to 10-pound specimens are possible, and a few fish of this size are taken each winter season. Most winter browns are smaller, in the 1- to 3-pound range, and while at times the pond is a bit slow and tedious to fish, at other times it seems the angler can do no wrong. This is

one of those places where being at the right place at the right time is key to success, so more than one try might be needed, but when you hit it right, few lakes in southern Maine produce better brown trout action.

The secret behind Hancock's history of big browns seems to be its supply of forage fish. For years, the pond was a favorite among smelt anglers. Smelt are still present in good number, and in the early 1980s, landlocked alewives were introduced as supplemental forage. Between the two, the pond's trout have plenty to eat, and respectable-sized browns are the result.

Hancock Pond has a maximum depth of just under 60 feet, and most of the deep water is in the so-called "narrows." Elsewhere, the water is relatively shallow, averaging perhaps 30 feet. Some of the best fishing is at or under this depth, especially along the dropoffs close to shore.

Access to Hancock Pond is relatively easy via the Hancock Pond Road, which leaves Route 107 east of East Sebago. There is public access on the north end opposite of Swamp Road.

Lodging is limited in the immediate area, so most visitors utilize the tourist cabins and other facilities on Sebago Lake. The closest facilities and services will be found along Route 114, on the west side of the big lake. Contact the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce mentioned above for availability of services.

Moosehead Lake

Maine's largest lake has always been a major angling destination and the winter season is no exception. Once ice sets in, traditionally sometime in late January or early February, hardly a clear day goes by when the lake is not being fished. Weekends are even busier.

The reason is the lake's famous lake trout and brook trout, both of which are available in quantity and quality. Landlocked salmon can also be taken through the ice, but not until the middle of February. Until then, and even after, trout are the major draw.

Moosehead's lake trout in particular are doing extremely well. In fact, the daily bag limit was increased to five fish back in 2002 to bring numbers under control and to take pressure off the smelt supply. Only one lake trout (togue) may be greater than 18 inches, but all five may be between 14 and 18 inches.

Despite the increased bag limit, Moosehead's lake trout fishery continues to thrive, and last year many specimens in the 10-pound class were taken, and hardwater fishermen found plenty of action.

Generally speaking, lake trout are found in deeper water than brook trout or landlocked salmon, and fishing at depths down to 40 or 50 feet seem to be about right. Prime depths vary at times depending upon smelt location, so don't hesitate to move around and explore. Considering that the lake covers more than 74,800 acres, there is plenty of room for everyone, and some of the best action is often found away from the crowds.

This is especially true when hunting for brook trout. This angler has had some of his best luck fishing in relatively shallow water, under 25 feet in many cases, in areas off rocky points and major tributaries, in places that have not received a lot of attention.

Tip-ups and jigging are popular methods for lake trout and brookies. The daily limit on brook trout is one fish, with a minimum length limit of 12 inches.

Because of its location and size, Moosehead gets hit by some brutal cold and wind at times, and while many ice-fishermen tend traps in the open air, the use of fishing shacks is extremely popular. Many of the fishing camps and lodges on the lake have shacks for rent, so be sure to inquire.

A list of camps and other services in the Greenville and Rockwood vicinities, the two most popular fishing areas, is available from the Moosehead Region Chamber of Commerce by calling (877) 876-2778, or by visiting the agency's Web site at www.mooseheadlake.org.

DeLorme (see above) publishes a Moosehead Lake map showing the lake in detail.

Ice conditions on the lake can also be a bit fickle, so be sure to ask when making contact with a camp in a particular area. These same lodge owners and proprietors, as well as bait and tackle shop owners, are also good sources of information, not only on ice conditions but on which areas are producing the best action.

More information on fishing the lake in general may be obtained by contacting the Region E office of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in Greenville at (207) 695-3756.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Winnisquam Lake

There are lots of fine trout waters in New Hampshire, but few regions are more enriched than the central lakes region. There are about 270 lakes and ponds in this area, so finding a place to fish is not a problem.

When it comes to trout, the primary targets here during the winter season are lake trout and, more recently, rainbows, but some of the bigger lakes are producing lakers into double digits and rainbows into the 5-pound class, and there are lots of them.

For the past couple of winters, Lake Winnisquam has been a hotbed of activity. The lake offers lake trout and rainbows, and if this year is anything like last year, it will be difficult to find a bad place to fish. The rainbows are running up to 20 inches, with some larger specimens possible.

According to Don Miller, a Region 2 fisheries biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, sandy beaches and gravelly shorelines are always good bets, and water 10 to 20 feet deep is generally enough.

Both shores of the northern half of the lake, from about Swain State Forest on the east shore (accessible via the Meredith Road out of Laconia) south to Black Brook Station WMA on the west shore, offer some of the best rainbow water, although good fish are apt to be picked up anywhere on the lake.

"There seemed to be a super abundance of lake trout last winter," Miller said, "with 14- to 19-inch fish making up much of the catch."

It is not unusual for anglers to pick up a few lake trout from 8 to 10 pounds during the winter season, and larger specimens are possible. Drop-offs running down the middle of the lake in water 40 to 50 feet deep are good places to look for lakers. Swedish Pimples or small bucktail jigs with a piece of cut bait work best.

Expect to see concentrations of shacks spread across the lake, especially Mosquito Bridge and Mohawk Island on the south end, at the mouth of the Winnipesaukee River where it flows into the lake, and off the Belmont town beach. The minimum length limit on lake trout is 18 inches.

For information on lodging and other services in the area, contact the Greater Laconia Chamber of Commerce by calling (800) 531-2347.

Lake Winnipesaukee

Of co

urse, Lake Winnipesaukee receives much of the winter action in the central lakes region. Not only is it the biggest lake in the state, but according to biologist Miller, it is also the state's best rainbow trout lake.

For the past few years, the state has been stocking Winnipesaukee each May with fish averaging around 12 inches, and by the time the ice-fishing season begins, a good percentage are in the 16- and 17-inch range, Miller said. Rainbows of 18 inches have been nothing unusual lately, with some running 4 and 5 pounds.

This winter, expect much of the same once ice sets in. This is generally no problem because some of the best rainbow hotspots traditionally freeze earlier than the main lake. This includes Wolfeboro Bay, easily reached via Route 28 from the north or south and parts of Alton Bay, accessible from Route 28A on the east side or routes 11 or 11D on the west.

Considering rainbows seem to prefer sand or gravel bottoms, many of the beaches on the west shore should be explored, too. This would include West Alton, Spring Haven, Lake Shore Park, Leavitts Shore, Gilford Beach and Ellacoya State Park. All are easily accessible along Route 11.

Set up in to 5 to 10 feet of water, and try chumming with salmon eggs before going over to shiners or smelt, the smaller the better. Keep in mind that ice-fishermen are restricted to two lines, but it pays to spread out over a large area by drilling a dozen holes and changing locations from time to time.

For more information on fishing New Hampshire's central lakes, contact the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department in Concord at (603) 271-3211 or explore their Web site at www.fish@wildlife.state.nh.us. Reports are posted weekly and can be a great source of updated information on ice conditions and hotspots.

For information on lodging and other services in the area, contact the Lakes Region Association by calling (603) 774-8664, or visit their Web site at www.lakesregion.com.



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