Winter's short, cold days can provide some hot New England ice fishing in February.
There is no doubt that the various trout species are the most sought-after winter game fish across New England.
The wonderful thing about ice fishing in New England, though, is there is so much more than trout available. As popular as trout are, action can be spotty — hot one day, cold the next — and many anglers looking for faster action target largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, perch, crappie and other sunfish that seem always on the feedbag.
A friend of mine who is a diehard wintertime perch fan insists a slow day of perch fishing is faster than a good day of trout fishing.
GREAT POND MAINE PIKE
Northern pike first started showing up in Great Pond in the early 1980s, the result of an illegal introduction. Soon pike in the 5- to 7-pound class became familiar. Increasing numbers of double-digit fish increased angler enthusiasm for pike fishing.
Today pike in Great Pond are more popular than trout. This is especially true during the winter season.
Great Pond is the largest body of water in the Belgrade chain of lakes. Despite more than 8,200 acres and plenty of room to fish, much of the pond is shallow. At any given point in the year, water temperatures in the lake will be relatively uniform from top to bottom.
The pond also has a healthy population of shiners, chub, suckers and other forage and non-forage species that typically inhabit warm water. Pike are happy to do their best to keep the forage base in check. It all adds up to prime habitat for pike.
Maine's pike anglers consider late March the best time to hit the winter ice. Pike are in the shallows then preparing for the spawning period. But they can be caught all winter long.
Earlier in the ice-fishing season, pike are often in deeper water, so setting lines 15 to 20 feet down either over deeper water or a foot or so off the bottom is a key to fishing action.
Using large golden or emerald shiners in the 6- to 8-inch range can also help. Steel leaders are a must, given the formidable teeth pike have. Black is the generally preferred color for leaders, and they should be about a foot in length. A 2/0 hook is attached to the tag end followed by a 40- or 45-pound snap swivel on the other and at least 150 yards of 30-pound-test line.
It also helps to drill at least 10-inch holes. Great Pond pike are big. Plan for success. Pike are also strong fighters and swimmers and can strip off 50 to 75 yards of line in a flash.
Strong gear is needed to win the day, and at the end of the fight you want a hole large enough to haul them on the ice. Finally, wear leader gloves when handling pike and have a tool handy to remove hooks.
Winter anglers to Great Pond will find public access at south end. To get there from Route 27 out of the Augusta area, take Sahagian Road just south of Belgrade Village to Boat Way Lane. Accommodations, restaurants, service stations and bait and tackle shops are all available in the Belgrade area.
For more information visit www.midmainchamber.com.
GRANITE STATE CRAPPIE BONANZA
New Hampshire's big lakes get a lot of attention during the winter angling season. But each year increasing numbers of anglers are looking for faster action from "warm water" species and the less intimidating surroundings on smaller waters. These factors have driven a growing interest in black crappie.
All the hoopla over crappie is a bit surprising considering they are not native to the state and resident anglers have a tendency to be protective of its native species.
According to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, crappie were found in a few waters back in the late '30s but were actually stocked in 20 lakes and ponds between 1990 and 2002.
Today, the department estimates black crappie are found in at least 100 waters distributed throughout the state but the actual number may be far more.
Black crappie are great table fare and generally offer good action under the right winter conditions. They are not hard to find, especially in the southern counties.
Interested anglers will find a partial list of some of the best waters in different regions on the NHF&G Department web site under "Where to Fish." Some personal winter favorites include the Bellamy Reservoir in Madbury, where the current state record was taken; Scobie Pond in Londonderry; Clement Pond in Hopkinton; Millville Pond in Salem; Balch Pond in Milton; and Tuttletown Pond in Concord.
Whichever pond or lake is targeted, keeping a few things in mind will help you catch more fish. First, black crappie are sensitive to light. On bright sunny days or when the ice is clear of snow, some of the best success comes early and late in the day.
I like to have at least a few inches of snow to darken conditions below the ice — but overcast days are even better, and some of my best action has come when it is snowing.
Crappie seem to prefer natural foods in the 1- to 2-inch range. That means your baits — minnows, lures and jigs — should be on the small side.
Minnows attached to size 4 or 6 hooks are good choices. Try hooking the minnows through the lips for more life-like action. For lures, try Swedish Pimples, Gold Fish and various hair jigs. Crappie can be caught on tip-ups, but jigging often produces more action. I like to jug up two or three times and then let the bait slowly descend. That is when most strikes will occur.
Black crappie are often found in areas that hold weeds, shallow coves, along the edge of drop-offs and around structure because that is where the food is.
To help find fish, drill several holes and stagger several tip-ups with bait at several depths. Another hole can be jigged. Once the action starts that's the depth to fish.
For a list of black crappie waters in New Hampshire — and for bag limits and other particulars — visit www.wildlife.state.nh.us.
LAKE CHAMPLAIN WHITE PERCH
Lake Champlain supports a long list of fish species. Around the lake are plenty of services and lots of places to set up once ice sets in.
These are the reasons Lake Champlain is the best-known and popular winter angling spots in all of Vermont. One of the hottest targets in the big lake right now are white perch.
White perch are not native to Lake Champlain. They first found in the southernmost reaches of the lake but are now well established as far as Alburg and Highgate on the north end.
Considered an invasive species, white perch under current regulations are not subject to length or daily creel limits — allowing anglers to haul in as many as they can. And fishermen do. When the bite is on, catches of 100 and 150 fish and more in a single outing are not uncommon.
For the most part, expect the best action from sunup to perhaps 8:30 or so in the morning and again late in the afternoon to dark. White perch are schooled together on the shallows during these hours, often in 15 to 25 feet of water.
They disperse and are typically moving in or over deeper water during the day. While whites are apt to be caught throughout Lake Champlain, the St. Albans Bay area, including around the islands off Hathaway Point and Kill Kare State Park and Lapans Bay, are favorites along locals. To the north, the ice off Hog Island Point in Swanton is also a good bet.
On the west side of the lake any of the points and bays from Windmill Point and Mud Point in Alburg down to Keeler Bay and Hoyt and Kibbie Points in South Hero can produce big catches.
Check in with local bait and tackle shops for areas producing action — or simply look for crowds of anglers in these areas.
The fun thing about white perch is once a school has been found it is possible to haul them in one right after the other.
A typical tactic is to use small Glo jigs in blue, green, orange or chartreuse tipped with piece of worm or nightcrawler. Meal and wax worms also work well, as do spoons like size 5 Swedish Pimples, small Krocodiles and Kastmasters.
Drop them to the bottom, come up a foot or two and start jigging with a light jigging outfit.
For information on services in the Lake Champlain area visit www.vermont.org/chamber.
MASSACHUSETTS SMALL GEMS
Massachusetts is home to an impressive list of small ponds, many covering less than a couple hundred acres. There are literally hundreds of them, and they are found in every county and practically every town.
Many winter fishermen have a tendency to concentrate on the large lakes and reservoirs, thinking bigger water produces bigger fish.
That is often true, but not always. Fishermen who have taken the time to get to know the smaller waters know that lower fishing pressure and concentrated supplies of bait fish also produce big fish and often more consistent action.
A good case in point is Thousand Acre Swamp. It's about 6 miles south of New Marlboro center. Public access is available by taking Norfolk Road south from the center to Hotchkiss Road where an access road leads to a parking lot and ramp.
Access is also possible from Route 57 by taking East Hill Road inside Sandisfield State Forest to Hotchkiss Road, and turning south.
Thousand Acre Swamp covers just 155 acres and is nearly surrounded by undeveloped state forest land. During open-water season, abundant cover in the form of submerged tree stumps and aquatic vegetation is obvious.
That cover provides excellent habitat for largemouth bass, yellow perch and pickerel. The lake has a maximum depth of just 8 feet and an average depth of 4 feet. The water is typically stained and visibility is poor.
Because of those conditions, fishing silvery shiners and other baits attached to tip-ups or jigging Swedish Pimples and bright lures a couple feet below the ice, often produces the best results.
For a list of small ponds in Massachusetts, helpful maps and access information, visit www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/dfw. Your local MassWildlife District Office personal can also be a source of information on these smaller, low pressured waters.
RHODE ISLAND WINTER TROUT
Fisherman looking for trout should keep in mind the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management stocks several thousand trout each fall in a number of ponds. The season on trout remains open through the last day in February, ice or no ice, with a daily limit of two trout.
The number and location of ponds stocked varies a bit year-to-year so anglers should check for updates with the DEM or their web site.
Ponds usually on the list include Carbuncle Pond in Coventry, Meadowbrook Pond and the Wyoming Ponds in Richmond, Olney Pond in Lincoln, Silver Spring Lake in North Kingston, Round Top Pond in Burrillville, Barber Pond in South Kingston, Upper Melville Pond in Plymouth and Beaverheart Pond in the Arcadia Wildlife Management Area.
Trout fishermen are reminded a Conservation Stamp along with a fishing license is required to keep or possess trout.
For more information visit www.dem.ri.gov.
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection stocked over 530,000 trout last spring, about 90,000 fewer than usual. The fall release was also lower but there should be plenty of fish, especially on the state's more popular waters. Anglers should keep in mind the trout season on most waters ends the last day of February.
In the eastern part of the state, popular trout spots include Black Pond in Middlefield, Beach Pond in Voluntown, Crystal Lake in Ellington, Mashapaug Lake in Union, Bashan Lake in East Haddam, Coventry Lake in Coventry and Gardner Lake in Salem.
In the west good spots to set traps of jigs include Mohawk Pond in Cornwall, Mt. Tom Pond in Morris, West Side Pond in Goshen, Squantz Pond in New Fairfield and Stillwater Pond in Torrington, to name just a few. A complete stocking list and maps are available on the DEEP web site.
Catching winter trout is often a matter of putting your time in and hitting the ice at the right time. Traps set with small minnows and worms and jigging with various spoons tipped with grubs or meal worms often work quite well.
For more information visit www.ct.gov/deep.