From pike to perch, New England has it all when it comes to ice-fishing opportunities this season. Try these top-rated hotspots near you this month.
Anglers using live bait, lures or cut bait can expect good fishing this month as New England's ice-fishing season gets underway. Photo by Ron Sinfelt
By Al Raychard
Winter fishing conditions have always been unpredictable in New England. One year, ice might set in early, providing good fishing immediately following the holidays, and the next it could be February or later before it is safe to cut holes on the larger lakes in the region.
This unpredictability is a fact of life for ice-fishermen, but one thing is certain: Winter anglers are ready and raring to hit the ice with a vengeance whenever Ol' Man Winter finally takes over.
Whether the target of choice is one of the trout species, bass, pike, cusk, white or yellow perch, New England has something for everyone. According to regional fishery biologists, things are looking pretty good as the 2004 hardwater season gets underway. Here's a look at some of the best places to go for hot winter angling action this season:
MAINE It may sound like a broken record, but it is difficult to talk ice-fishing in southern Maine without mentioning Sebago Lake. Maine's second-largest inland water is by far the most popular winter fishing destination, particularly when it comes to lake trout. Back in 1972, when the species was first introduced to the lake, the plan was for togue to provide a deep-water fishery, while landlocked salmon ruled the top. Since then, it seems things have gone way beyond initial expectations. Not only has the population flourished, making Sebago one of the premier lake trout spots in the Northeast, but competition for smelts is having an influence on the salmon fishery, historically the lake's principal coldwater resource.
Sebago Lake Togue
Depending upon how you look at it, this is a good thing or bad thing. It's bad if you happen to be a salmon enthusiast, but it's good if your target is lake trout because not only are they averaging around 3 pounds, according to Jim Pellerin, the new head fisheries biologist for Region A, but the lake produces specimens weighing over 20 pounds.
Other southern Maine lakes do produce an occasional laker over 10 pounds, the biologist said, but none produce as many as Sebago, and none are producing lake trout on par with Sebago's current average.
But average size and the chance of taking a trophy are not the only reasons Sebago is considered one of the best ice-fishing spots for lake trout in the Northeast. There are also plenty of them. In fact, bag limits have been changed three times since 1996, each with the intent to reduce pressure on the smelt population and to enhance the salmon fishery. The latest increase occurred in 2001, when a limit of six togue and a minimum 14-inch length limit were set (only one of which may be over 23 inches to protect large trophy fish). There will be no new changes this season.
This is especially true in areas known for producing lake trout, including the shoals off the Northwest and Songo rivers, both on the north end and The Station area on the south. In each of these spots, depths run 35 to 70 feet or so, but dropoffs down to 100 feet and more are close by, a good place to look for Sebago's lakers.
The use of live bait is popular, but jigging with Swedish Pimples and similar lures and cut bait can be just as deadly.
Access to the lake is relatively easy at various points off Route 35 and Route 114 on the south and west shores and on Route 302 on the east.
For lodging and bait shop information, contact the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce at (207) 892-8265, or visit them online at www. windhamchamber.sebagolake.org.
Sebago is a huge body of water, and due to its southern locale can freeze early, late or not at all, depending upon winter conditions. Check with Carrol Cutting of Jordan's Store at Long Beach in East Sebago at (207) 787-3866
Several waters in central Maine also provide great fishing once winter sets in. Many of these lakes are large and have been known to freeze over late or in some cases, not at all. Cold temperatures arrived early last winter and ice formed quickly, but this is not always the case, so checking with local contacts is important before making a trip.
The inviting thing about these waters is that they offer a variety of species and angling experiences. Moosehead Lake, for example, has always been a perennial favorite for brook trout. Specks are averaging about 15 inches in recent few years, and true trophies are always possible.
Places like Lily Bay and the water around some of the islands - Sugar Island and Deer Island, in particular - are popular spots.
Moosehead is also brimming with lake trout, so if the action on brook trout is off, fishing deeper will undoubtedly produce some results.
Another good brook trout and togue spot is Chamberlain Lake. It is farther north and takes more time to reach, but it can be well worth the effort. Lakers in the 3- to 5-pound range are not unusual, and brookies running up to 2 pounds are more than possible when action is hot. The action can go from hot to cold rather quickly, but Chamberlain offers a wilderness winter fishing experience that is difficult to beat.
Another good central Maine water is Sebec Lake in Dover-Foxcroft. Last season it was hot for lake trout, but the taking of salmon through the ice is also legal starting Jan. 15.
Most of these waters are governed by special regulations, so be sure to check the current ice-fishing regulations summary, which can be picked up at most sporting goods stores and bait shops or online at www.maine.gov/ifw/fishing/ icefishinglaws20022003.htm.
Information on ice conditions for these waters can be obtained by contacting the regional headquarters of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in Greenville at (207) 695-3756.
Ice conditions and information on lodging, available bait suppliers and other needs can be had from the Moosehead Lake Region Chamber, at (888) 876-2778 or on its Web site at www.mooseheadlake.org.
Or try the Southern Piscataquis County Chamber of Commerce in Dover-Foxcroft at (207) 564-7533 or on the Web at www.spccc.org.
NEW HAMPSHIRE Granite State anglers give much attention to the trout species
Border Water Crappies
on the bigger lakes each winter, and there is good reason for doing so. Winnnipesaukee, Winnisquam, Ossipee and Newfound are but a few that produce lunker rainbows, lakers and browns. But since their introduction to a handful of southern New Hampshire waters a few years back, more and more enthusiasts are taking advantage of black crappies, largely because they provide fast and consistent action, are fun to catch regardless of age and experience, and there is no size or bag limit. There is also no closed season, so fishing can begin as soon as ice forms in the fall.
The best concentration of crappie waters is along or near the Maine-New Hampshire border. This includes Pine River Pond in Wakefield, which is known for producing some of the biggest crappies in the area; Balch Pond and Horn Pond in Wakefield-Acton; Milton Three Ponds in Milton-Acton and Great East Lake, also in Wakefield-Acton.
The largest of the group is Great East, which covers just over 1,000 acres. The lake is known for producing some large crappies in its shallow back coves. Horn Pond is to the south.
The lakes can be reached from the Maine side via Route 109 and secondary roads from Sanford or from Route 153 and secondary roads out of Wakefield, New Hampshire.
Balch Pond and Pine River Pond are smaller, but they contain plenty of pan-sized fish and the action is generally good. Both lakes are north of Great East. Balch Pond is on the right and Pine River Pond is on the left of Route 153. The latter can also be reached from Route 16 in North Wakefield.
Crappie fishing is generally best in weedy areas from shore down to about 30 or 35 feet, especially along dropoffs. Use small jigs or pin minnows and light jigging or thrumming rods.
Information on local ice conditions and angling reports can be obtained by contacting Nate's Bait and Tackle at (603) 473-2022.
A free publication, New Hampshire Freshwater Fishing Guide, contains helpful information, including a list of additional crappie waters, such as Bellamy Reservoir and Willand's Pond in Somersworth. It can be obtained by contacting the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department at (603) 271-3211, or at the department's Web site at www.wildlife. state.nh.us.
For lodging information, contact the Great Wakefield Chamber of Commerce at (603) 522-6106, or check out their Web site at firstname.lastname@example.org.
VERMONT There are lots of places to catch lunker lake trout in Vermont, but few waters can equal Lake Willoughby south of Barton and north of West Burke in the Northwest Kingdom. Not only did the lake give up Vermont's record lake trout more than two decades ago, it has always been known far and wide for consistently producing some of the largest lake trout in the state.
Lake Willoughby Lakers & Rainbows
Lake Willoughby's reputation as a producer of lunker lake trout will only be enhanced because a new state-record lake trout was recently caught there, a specimen tipping the scales at more than 35 pounds! Although the new record fish was caught during the open-water season, Lake Willoughby is also a popular hotspot with hardwater anglers.
Lake Willoughby is in the town of Westmore about 30 miles north of St. Johnsbury. Covering 1,653 acres, an ample supply of forage makes this an ideal home for lakers. With an average depth of more than 120 feet, good winter fishing is possible just about everywhere, but the south end north to the deep water off Mt. Pisgah seems particularly popular for togue anglers seeking fish measured in pounds rather than inches. Fishing along the dropoffs on both shores can be good all the way through the north basin.
The lake also produces some monster rainbow trout, with some of the best winter action often found in the shallower areas, on the south and north ends and along the shores.
The lake opens to winter angling the third Saturday in January and remains open until the second Sunday in March.
Despite its northern location, Lake Willoughby is easy to reach. It can be accessed from Route 91 at Barton on Route 16 or from Orleans on Route 58, both of which meet the lake at the hamlet of Lake Willoughby, a center of activity on the north end. Access is possible from there or along Route 5A, which runs south along the east shore.
For information on lodging, tackle and bait, as well as updates on ice conditions, contact the Barton Area Chamber in Barton at (802) 525-1137 or visit the chamber's Web site at email@example.com.
RHODE ISLAND When safe ice forms, the Ocean State offers some good winter angling opportunities. One area worth considering is Wallum Lake in Burrillville on the border with Massachusetts. Browns up to 2 pounds and rainbows can be taken here, although most fish run smaller. The lake receives generous stockings from both states in spring and fall, including some big browns and also some brood stock salmon from the nearby federal hatchery, so the chances of taking a big fish are good.
Wallum Lake Trout
Access is possible from Route 44 out of Providence to Chepachet and then Route 100 to Douglas State Forest in Massachusetts. From there, the Wallum Lake Road leads to a boat launch where there is parking and easy access.
For winter fishing enthusiasts looking for some fast action, Worden Pond in South Kingston is a good bet. The pond offers good numbers of white and yellow perch, some crappies and bluegills, as well as pike and largemouth bass. This 1,075-acre pond has something for everyone.
Access is on Route 95 to Hope Valley and then Route 138 to West Kingston. From there, take Route 110 to Tuckertown and then Worden Road to the boat landing and parking area.
For more information on ice-fishing in Rhode Island, contact the Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife in West Kingston at (401) 222-1267. Lodging info can be had from the Rhode Island Promotional Division at (401) 277-2601.
CONNECTICUT For some top pike and bass action, two lakes in the Nutmeg State should be considered. A few years ago, northern pike were planted in Quaddick Reservoir in Thompson and they have done very well. Fish in excess of 10 pounds have been reported, as well as some larger specimens.
Reservoir Pike And Bass
At 466 acres, Quaddick Reservoir is not overly large, and fishermen arriving early quickly grab the best spots, but pike can be found throughout the lake and are generally cooperative. The reservoir is also relatively shallow, at just 21 feet in the deepest spot, so it is not necessary to use specialized gear or tactics.
Access is available via Route 395 to Thompson and then Quaddick Street to the reservoir. The reservoir also contains a good population of lunker largemouth bass.
Another good spot is Moodus Reservoir in East Haddam. The area o
ffers two impoundments covering more than 450 acres and with its shallow bottom, weed growth, rock beds and other structure, is a good spot for bass, some of which run better than 5 pounds.
Access to the upper reservoir is east of Moodus off Route 149. To reach the lower basin, travel south on Route 149 from the junction of Route 151.
For more information, contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection in Hartford at (860) 424-3555, or visit the DEP's Web site at www.dep.state.ct.us.
MASSACHUSETTS Nearly smack in the middle of the Commonwealth and separating the city of Worcester and the town of Shrewsbury, Lake Quinsigamond covers 722 acres. Its three distinct basins (the deep, narrow North Basin, the shallow South Basin with its numerous coves and islands and even shallower southernmost section known as Flint Pond) offer diverse habitats for a mixed bag of warmwater and coldwater fish. Both largemouth and smallmouth bass are present along with chain pickerel, yellow and white perch, bluegills and pumpkinseeds.
Lake Quinsigamond Mixed Bag
Northern pike and muskies have been stocked in the lake since the 1980s and it is not unusual for ice-fishermen to take pike in the 20-pound range. The lake also receives an annual stocking of trout and stockings of brood stock salmon when they are available.
The biggest problem with this lake is deciding where to go and what to fish for, but the answer often comes with available ice. Due to its size, Lake Quinsigamond is one of the last in the region to safely freeze over most years. When conditions are suitable, the North Basin is preferred for trout and bass, while the South Basin is good for pickerel and perch. Pike are apt to show up anywhere, as are panfish, but Flint Pond is a good bet.
Access to the lake is not a problem. There is a public right of way off Lake Avenue south of Interstate Route 290 on the north end of the North Basin, and there is public access with ample parking off North Quinsigamond Avenue and Route 20.
A map of the lake, showing these areas, access points and depths can be viewed and printed at the MassWildlife Web site at www.state.ma.us/ dfwele/dfw/dfwpond.htm.
For more information on bag and length limits for ice-fishing in the Bay State, contact the MassWildlife in Westboro at (508) 792-7270. For information on lodging, tackle and bait sources in the area, contact Massachusetts Travel and Tourism at (800) 227-MASS.
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