September 29, 2010
Some of the biggest trout of the year are taken in winter, and these top-rated northern lakes are sure to provide great fishing this season.
By Al Raychard
Hardwater anglers enjoyed a long season across northern New England last winter. Cold temperatures took hold early with most trout lakes offering safe ice on opening day. Severe cold, some of the coldest on record, arrived in mid-January and lasted through February, providing ice and good fishing conditions until the end of March, making the 2004 ice-fishing season one of the longest in memory.
The million-dollar question is: What will this season bring? The eternal unknown is: Who knows? Anything can happen (early ice, or no ice at all), but whenever conditions allow, we head for the lake.
It is now February, however, and if history is any indicator, it is a good bet that our best trout lakes have allowed access for at least a couple of weeks, perhaps longer in some instances. Except for portions of our biggest lakes, they most always do.
While predicting an unusually lengthy season like last year would be sticking your neck out, ice-fishermen across the rooftop of New England should expect at least two solid months of good fishing in 2005.
There are other reasons to be optimistic. Fisheries departments are continuing or increasing their fall stocking efforts, which means more and larger trout will be available for the winter season. In some cases, bag limits have been increased. All in all, things look pretty good as the peak of 2005 season gets underway. With that in mind, here are some waters that consistently make winter angling news each year.
While the largest lakes in Maine typically get most of the press due to their size, quantity and variety of trout species, the truth is that some of the state’s smaller waters offer worthwhile winter angling. On average, the fish may not be as large, although some do produce a few lunkers from time to time, and because of their size, the numbers of fish may not be as great and the fishery may be dependent upon stocking. Nonetheless, they are definitely worthy of mention.
One prime example is Kennebunk Pond in the town of Lyman in York County. Covering 224 acres, this pond is well developed, as most southern Maine waters are these days, and it is stocked annually with 400 to 500 brown trout, with some going in during October or November in anticipation of the winter season. Brook trout, and some rainbows when they are available, are also stocked.
While Kennebunk Pond is dependent upon the hatchery truck to sustain its trout fishery, it consistently produces some of the best winter ice- fishing in the county. In the 1990s, landlocked alewives were stocked as a forage base, and since then fish in the 1- and 2-pound class are considered common and 5-pound fish are just average. The deepest water runs from about the middle of the lake toward the east end, but some of the most popular fishing areas during the winter season are from the center of the lake toward the west end in 20 to 30 feet of water. Getting on the pond’s east end where there is public access and limited parking is easy from Route 111, which runs between Biddeford and Sanford, via the Kennebunk Pond Road.
For information on lodges and services in the area, contact the Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce at (207) 282-1567, or visit the agency’s Web site at www.biddefordsacochamber.org. Also, try the Sanford Chamber of Commerce at (207) 324-4280, or visit them at www.sanfordchamber.org.
More Super Browns
If you’re in the market for some lake trout through the ice, Hancock Pond in Denmark will produce a few good lunkers, but three other waters in southern Maine have to be mentioned. One is Square Pond in Acton. The winter fishing here can be a bit tedious at times, and though only about 500 browns are stocked annually, when you hook into a fish, it just might be a something to write home about. Back in 1991, a 32-inch, 15-pound specimen was taken there and in 1996, the pond gave up a whopping 32-inch, 29-pound, 8-ounce specimen that became the state record for the species. Both fish were taken through the ice!
Access to the pond is possible from Route 11/109 west of Sanford via Square Pond Road and West Shore Road. Lodging is limited in the area, and Sanford is the closest major population center with services.
Another lake that has been giving up some decent browns in the 14- to 20-inch range, as well as some lunkers, is Little Ossipee Lake in Waterboro. Much of the fishing takes place in the main basin, although fish are also caught in the narrows as well.
Because of its popularity and easy access, fishermen are restricted to two lines and the bag limit is two fish in aggregate of salmon, trout or togue, but the lake produces some fine browns nonetheless. Access is right off Route 5 via the public access in Waterboro. Unfortunately, there are few lodging facilities in the immediate area, but Saco and Biddeford are about 15 miles east.
Farther north, the Range Ponds in Poland should continue to produce some fine winter browns this winter as they usually do.
There are three ponds here totaling nearly 1,050 acres, each containing brown trout, and each is worth a look. While the average brown runs smaller, there are enough 3- to 6-pound specimens to make the fishing interesting. Specimens of this size are quite possible from either pond, ideally in deeper water, if browns are the primary target. This is particularly true in the Upper and Middle ponds, where rainbows are found in shallower water. The nice thing about Upper and Middle Range ponds is if the browns prove difficult to catch there is the option of trying for some rainbows.
Access from the south is via Route 26 (out of Gray), which practically crosses the narrows between Middle and Lower Range ponds.
For information on lodging and services in the area, contact the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce at (207) 783-2249, or visit their Internet Web site at www.androscoggincounty.com.
This big lake will continue to be the major draw in southern Maine when it comes to lake trout this winter. Despite changes in the daily bag limit a few years ago, the trout fishery contin
ues to thrive, and the need to take some pressure off the smelt population persists.
All things considered, Sebago Lake may very well be the premier togue lake in New England. Because of its size, there is plenty of room to work, daily bag limits are liberal compared to its regional counterparts and not only are there plenty of lake trout, but there are lots of good-sized fish, too. Togue in the 3-and 4-pound class are nothing unusual, and 6-pound specimens can be expected. During last winter’s Lake Sebago Ice-Fishing Derby, sponsored each February by the Windham Rotary Club, the largest lake trout registered topped the scales at 18 3/4 pounds, with the runner-up coming very close. Few lakes in northern New England are producing lake trout of that size these days.
For more information on this year’s derby, call 1-888-ICE-Flad (423-3524), or visit www.icefishingderby.com.
The big question, as usual, is when safe ice will be available. Last year was a banner season with ice coming early and staying well into March, but Sebago being Sebago, that’s not the norm. Keeping that in mind, it is a good idea to check ice conditions before heading for the lake. One of the best contacts is Jordan’s Store on Route 114 in East Sebago at (207) 787-3866. The folks there keep close tabs on ice conditions and also where the action is taking place, so don’t hesitate to inquire.
For information on lodging and other services in the area, contact the Sebago Lake Region Chamber of Commerce by calling (207) 892-8265, or visit their Web site at www.windhamchamber.sebagolake.org .
For more information on regulations and other specific ice-fishing info on the lake, contact the Region A office of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in Gray at (207) 657-2345.
For more information on ice-fishing in Maine, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at (207) 287-8000.
There are more than 40 accessible trout lakes in New Hampshire’s central lakes region. A number of them offer some of the finest hardwater trout opportunities in northern New England, but Lake Winnipesaukee gets much of the attention. Part of the reason is its great size. Another reason is the big lake simply offers some great winter angling.
This is especially true of rainbow trout. First introduced in 1990, about 10,000 yearling fish have been dumped into the lake, generally in May. According to Don Miller, the Region 2 fisheries biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, yearling trout average about a foot long. By the time fall comes around, those same fish have added upward of 5 inches to their length and average about 17 and run from 2 1/2 to more than 3 pounds! Specimens in the 4-pound class are showing up, with a few 5-pounders adding to the mix.
During last year’s 24th Annual Great Rotary Fishing Derby, put on by the Meredith Rotary Club, all winning fish in the rainbow category averaged 2 3/4 pounds up to 3 1/2 pounds and ran from 18 to 23 inches in length, and all came from the big lake.
This year, the derby will be held Feb. 5 and 6. For more information, contact the Rotary Fishing Derby, P.O. Box 1210, Meredith, NH 03253, call (603) 279-7600, or visit their Web site at www.weirsonline.com/fishingderby.htm/.
Rainbows seem to prefer sandy, graveled bottoms that are not too deep. In recent years, places like Wolfeboro Bay on the lake’s east end (accessible from routes 28 or 108), Gilford Beach and areas around Ellacoya State Park, Leavitts Shore to the west and Lake Shore Park, Spring Haven and West Alton (all to the east) have been hotspots. All are accessible from Route 11 from Alton or the Laconia area.
While rainbows are drawing a lot of the attention these days, don’t forget the big lake is also home to a thriving population of lake trout. During the derby last winter, the biggest laker from Winnipesaukee weighed in at 7 3/4 pounds and measured 27 3/4 inches! The longest measured better than 28 inches. The average fish is running around the 3-pound mark, and there are lots of them.
Lake Winnisquam has been offering some excellent ice-fishing for rainbows, too. For the past couple of winters, anglers have found plenty of specimens up to more than 20 inches, with fish in the 17- to 19-inch range rather common. Next to Winnipesaukee, the lake is considered one of the best rainbow trout destinations in the region.
At more than 4,200 acres, Winnisquam offers plenty of room to fish. A lot of fishermen head for the northern section where the water is deeper. Although rainbows are generally best sought in 10 to 20 feet of water off tributaries, points, around islands and rocky bottoms close to shore, the north section seems to offer more food, and overall living conditions are better for rainbows.
The lake also has a thriving lake trout fishery. According to biologist Miller, the lake has had a low abundance of smelt the last couple of years, and “there are lots of hungry mouths out there.”
Currently, Winnisquam is experiencing an overabundance of various age-classes of fish, so fishermen can expect to see lots of lake trout in the 14- to 20-inch range with consistent action. The minimum length limit is 18 inches. However, larger 3- to 5-pound fish are quite possible. The largest lake trout entry in the Great Rotary Ice-Fishing Derby last February weighed over 8 pounds and measured 28 inches. It came from Winnisquam.
In general, lake trout will be found in the 40- to 50-foot range. There is some deep water running down the middle of the lake, and nearby drop-offs are a good place to start. Other popular spots for lake trout include the south end around Mosquito Bridge and Mohawk Island at the mouth of the Winnipesaukee River where it dumps into the lake, and off the Belmont town beach. The ice around Pot Island can be good, too.
Access to these areas and the lake is easy from Laconia going south on Route 11/3 or north on East Shore Road toward Swain State Forest. Access is also possible on the west side.
For information on lodging and other services in the area, contact either the Laconia Chamber of Commerce by calling (603) 524-5531 or visit their Web site at www.laconia-weir.org; call the Meredith Chamber of Commerce at (877) 279-6121, or visit their Web site at www. meredithcc.org; contact Wolfeboro Chamber of Commerce by calling (800) 516-5324, or visit their Web site at www.wolfeboro.com.
For more information on regulations or ice-fishing in general, contact the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department at (603) 271-3127, or visit their Web site at www.wildlife.state.nh.us.
The Northeast Kingdom region of Vermont, and of course Lake Champlain, receive much of the ice-fishing attention in this state, but there are some prime waters in the central part of the state as well.
One of the best is Lake Bomoseen in Castleton and Hubbardton. The lake covers some 2,360 acres, so there is plenty of ice to explore, and below the surface are some large browns. The lake has produced fish exceeding 18 pounds, but examples from 3 to 5 pounds are more the norm. Some fish in the 8- to 10-pound range are also taken.
While trout are common throughout the lake, some top areas include the water off Bomoseen State Park, around Avalon Beach to the south and near Rabbit Island, all on the west shore. These west shore areas can be easily reached from Route 4A via West Side Road west of Hydeville, which leads to the state park.
Neshobe Island, in the middle of the lake off the state park, is another popular trout spot.
For information on lodging and other services in the area, contact the Fair Haven Chamber of Commerce at (802) 265-8600, or visit their Web site at www.fairhavenchamber.com.
For more information or specific regulations and other ice-fishing information, contact the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department at (802) 241-3700. l
Anything can happen (early ice, or no ice at all), but whenever conditions allow, we head for the lake.