Here's a sampling of six of the best lakes for winter fishing in New England.
Hardwater anglers often take their fishing quite seriously. They're there to catch fish and they choose their destinations based not on proximity to home or the number of other anglers they'll encounter, but on the water's reputation for producing.
If you're among this latter group, you might want to consider the following waters based on their reputations as being among the best in the six-state region.
MAINE Southern Maine's largest and most popular ice-fishing lake is also, according to fisheries biologist John Boland, one of the best lake trout waters in the Northeast. That's even more surprising, considering that much of the state's management efforts on Sebago are geared toward salmon rather than togue.
Lake Trout (Togue)
While togue anglers fish the big lake year 'round, winter is when things really heat up. Lake trout are the principal target for ice-anglers and Sebago has them in numbers and size. Limiting out is commonplace and trophy fish are caught regularly.
Sebago anglers' and fisheries managers' preference toward landlocked salmon has an upside for lake trout anglers, too; namely, more liberal limits. As part of an effort to reduce forage competition between salmon and togue, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife revised regulations on Sebago in 1996, permitting open-water anglers to use two lines each and increasing the daily creel on togue to three fish per day for all anglers. Regulations were again liberalized in 1997, when the togue creel limit was increased to five fish per day with a minimum length of 16 inches.
In late 2001, department biologists proposed further increasing limits to a daily bag of 10 togue and a minimum length of 14 inches. This was ultimately revised to a daily limit of six fish and a minimum length of 14 inches, and only one togue may exceed 23 inches. The latter restriction was designed to protect larger trophy-class fish, and the plan appears to be working.
Photo by Noel Vick
Sebago's lake trout average about 3 pounds and 20 inches, with a fair smattering of fish in the 15- to 20-pound range and an occasional catch in excess of 20 pounds. Catch rates have also remained consistently high, which means there are still plenty of lake trout growing older and larger.
Biologist Boland said that late February and the first two weeks of March are the best times to fish because Sebago is a big lake and it takes that long to freeze. He noted that ice conditions might be treacherous.
One of the hotspots he identified is the Great Shoals area about a mile east of the Northwest River outlet. The water is about 30 feet deep here, but is surrounded by depths of 200 feet or more.
Boland also named the mouth of the Songo River, Frye's Leap and Sebago Station as good prospects. He claims most of the big fish are caught on the bottom in 30 to 75 feet of water.
"When you get much below 100 feet, you pick up a lot of small fish," Boland said, noting that 95 percent of the fish are caught by anglers using jigs tipped with a piece of cut sucker, smelt or shiner. There is a two-line limit on Sebago Lake, so Boland recommends that one line be used for jigging.
The lake is accessible from numerous points around its perimeter including routes 35 and 114 in Standish and Sebago, and Route 302 in Windham and Raymond.
For local information, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife regional office, 358 Shaker Road, Gray, ME 04039; or call (207) 657-2345. For general fishing information, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, 284 State Street, Augusta, ME 04333; call (207) 287-2871; or access the MDIFW's Web site at www.mefishwildlife.com.
NEW HAMPSHIRE Rainbow Trout Biggest often means the best, and that adage seems to hold for New England ice-fishing. Thus, in New Hampshire, winter angling attention is immediately drawn to Lake Winnipesaukee, and for good reason: It's New Hampshire's biggest and best rainbow trout lake. In fact, Don Miller, Region 2 fisheries biologist, describes the fishery as outstanding.
The Fish and Game Department has been stocking rainbows since about 1990 at a rate of 10,000 yearlings per year, and Miller says anglers have had quite a good return. He also said the growth rates are awesome.
"We stock yearling fish in May that average 12 inches. By their first fall they average around 17 inches. That's 5 inches in their first growing season!" Miller says fish caught during the winter fishing derby average 18 inches, with individuals up to 5 pounds and 23 inches.
Miller recommends that anglers look for sandy, gravelly shorelines, and it helps if there is a tributary. He recommends Wolfeboro Bay, accessible from Route 28, Gilford Beach, and the mouth of Poor Farm Brook at Ellacoya State Park, both accessible from Route 11.
Most anglers drill holes over about 4 feet of water and chum with salmon eggs. Ice-anglers are allowed two lines, but they may drill 10 to 20 holes and keep checking for missing salmon eggs, and then quickly set up a trap.
While the preferred bait is salmon eggs, some anglers prefer pin shiners, the smaller the better. Miller also recommends light gear: 4-pound-test monofilament leaders and No. 8 hooks because rainbows are shy feeders and will drop a bait if they feel any resistance.
Snowmobilers should be aware that Winnipesaukee is famous for its ice reefs and gaps, and caution is advised. Anglers are also reminded that the law bans the use of lead sinkers 1 ounce or less and jigs less than 1 inch long on freshwater lakes and ponds.
For more information, contact the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, 2 Hazen Drive, Concord, NH 03301; call (603) 271-3211; or access the NHFG Web site at fish@ wildlife.state.nh.us. Also, anglers might try the Inland Fisheries Division office at (603) 271-2501 or (603) 271-2502; or the Lakes Region Association, New Hampton, NH 03256, call (603) 774-8664, or visit the LRA Web site at www. lakesregion.org.
VERMONT Deciding which Vermont lake offers the best ice-fishing opportunities isn't too difficult. The rub is choosing what species to fish for. The "Fifth Great Lake" offers world-class fishing for several species.
All things considered, Lake Champlain is probably New England's top winter pike fishery. While other waters may produce the occasional larger fish, none can compete with the numbers of trophy-class catches made at Champlain.
According to the Lake Champlain Fishing Guide, pike average 4 to 5 pounds, with specimens of 7 to 10 pounds, and a trophy of 15 or more pounds a very real possibility.
With a surface area of 435 square miles, it can be hard to decide where to fish. However, knowing this toothsome predator's propensity for shallow, weedy areas helps narrow the search.
In early winter, smaller pike will be found in the shallower areas near shore and around reefs and islands, though the bigger fish tend to lay out in deeper water along the edges of weedy shoals in the 15- to 30-foot depth range. Later in the winter, bigger fish begin moving into shallower water in anticipation of the approaching spawning season, which usually occurs in late March or early April.
One of the top pike spots is Missisquoi Bay in the lake's northern end. Fishing is best along the perimeter of the Missisquoi River delta. Farther south, in the greater Burlington area, waters around the mouth of the Lamoille River in Milton, Mallet's Bay, the Winooski River mouth in Colchester and Shelburne Bay in Shelburne are good bets.
Farther south, along the east shore are Fields and Porter bays off the mouth of Otter Creek. Boat launch sites at all of the above locations offer access and parking, though roadside access is available in many locations.
Pike fishing is open year-round on Lake Champlain. Fishermen may keep five pike with a minimum length limit of 20 inches.
For more local information, including a Lake Champlain Fishing Guide, contact the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, 111 West Street, Essex Junction, VT 05452; or call (802) 878-1564. For general fishing information, contact the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, 103 South Main Street, Waterbury, VT 05676; call (802) 241-3700; or visit the VFW's Web site at www.anr.state.vt.us.
Lodging and travel information are available at the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 453, 60 Maine Street, Suite 100, Burlington, VT 05402-0453; call (802) 863-3489; or try the Vermont Department of Travel and Tourism, P.O. Box 1471, 134 State Street, Montpelier, VT 05601-1471, call (802) 828-3237.
MASSACHUSETTS The Bay State abounds with outstanding ice-fishing from Provincetown to Pittsfield, but if you narrow your search to bass waters, the choices become easier. Based on both biological data and trophy awards, the best concentration of big bass waters occurs in the southeast district. According to Richard Hartley, who heads MassWildlife's warmwater fisheries program, Mashpee-Wakeby Pond in Mashpee and Sandwich is one of this region's top smallmouth waters.
The rubble and gravel bottom of this 700-acre water favors smallmouths, which run in the 10- to 19-inch range. Meanwhile, shallows, good structure, and overhanging vegetation along portions of the shoreline provide some habitat for largemouths. The pond can be accessed from a boat ramp at the southern end of the south basin. The ramp and parking area are north of the intersection of Route 130 and Great Neck Road.
Anglers are allowed five bass with a minimum length limit of 12 inches. The minimum qualifying weight for smallmouth bass in the MassWildlife Sportfishing Awards Program is 4 pounds, 8 ounces. The fish must be weighed at an official weigh station and a completed affidavit must be filled out and returned within 30 days of the catch.
For additional information including lake and pond maps, contact the MassWildlife Field Headquarters, Route 135, Westboro, MA 01582; call (508) 792-7270; or visit the MassWildlife Web site at www.state. ma.us/dfwele/dfw.
CONNECTICUT After roughly 10 years of study and experimental management, Connecticut biologists finally implemented their long-awaited bass management plan last year. According to Bob Jacobs, bass management supervisor, surveys were showing signs of over harvest, which affects fishing quality. Meanwhile, experimental bass management lakes with slot limits or higher minimums showed good results.
"Changing from the statewide 12-inch minimum to a 12- to 15-inch slot limit or a 15-inch minimum more than doubled the size of bass caught by anglers," said Jacobs.
The new plan calls for expanding special bass management regulation waters from four lakes to 29, with special creel and size limits.
"These conservative length limits are designed to restrict harvests on about 25 percent of the largemouth bass and 75 percent of the smallmouths," said Jacobs.
While noticeable improvements on new lakes may take a while, anglers were already seeing results on existing management lakes like Lake Chamberlain, Lake Saltonstall, Maltby Lakes and Moodus Reservoir.
Moodus Reservoir in East Haddam consists of two separate impoundments totaling 451 acres. These are shallow ponds with heavy weed growth, ideal habitat for largemouths. Bottom depths average 9 feet with a few pockets to 15 feet. The reservoir has abundant weedbeds, rocks and fallen trees, and largemouths in the 5- to 7-pound range are common.
Access to the upper reservoir is two miles east of Moodus and one mile southeast of Route 149, south of a causeway separating the impoundments. There is parking for seven cars with trailers. Access to the lower reservoir is off Route 149 to the east. Fishermen are restricted to a 35-mph speed limit days and 8 mph at night.
Lower reservoir access is two miles east of the junction of routes 149 and 151 on 149. Travel south on Mott Lane - the launch is on the right. Parking is available for 10 cars. Upper reservoir access is via Route 149, then south on Bashan Falls Road, east on Haddam Colchester Turnpike, and then right on Launching Area Road just before the causeway. Parking is available for 10 cars.
The daily creel limit on bass is six. Only one bass may be 18 inches or greater, and there is a protected slot limit on largemouth and smallmouth bass of 12 to 18 inches.
For general fishing and license information, contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, 79 Elm Street, Hartford, CT 06106-5127; call (860) 424-3555; or visit the DEP's Web site at www.dep.state.ct.us.
Also available from the DEP are A Guide to Lakes and Ponds in Connecticut - DEP bulletin No. 10, and Connecticut's Bass Fishing, which provides information about the state's 24 best bass lakes, including boat launches, availability of services, bait and tackle shops, depth maps, descriptions and a "best lure" chart.
RHODE ISLAND Brown Trout-Salmon Rhode Island's trout fishery is largely put-and-take. Thus, anglers are highly dependent on the state's hatchery system. Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife biologists grow their trout to catchable size in the hatchery, and then they stock some of the largest brown trout in the region, averaging about 12 inches and ranging from 1 to 2 pounds. The stocking program includes generous allotments of large fish. All designated trout waters are stocked before the opening day of trout season, and many receive supplemental spring and fall stockings.
In addition to a similar stocking program, the Ocean State shares one of its best brown trout waters with Massachusetts. Wallum Lake in Burrillville is a deep, clear lake along the Rhode Island-Massachusetts border. Consequently, it receives a charitable allotment of mostly brown trout from both states. It also receives occasional stockings of surplus brood stock Atlantic salmon, and yielded the current state record for this species.
Access for shore-fishing is available through Douglas State Forest on Route 96 and through Buck Hill Wildlife Management Area by taking Route 44 from Providence to Chepachet Road and Route 100 to Buck Hill.
Boat access is at the north end in Massachusetts. Take Wallum Lake Park Road south from Route 100 in Douglass, Mass. The lake can be fished with a license from either state.
For trout fishing information, the location of boat ramps and a copy of Rhode Island's 2003 freshwater fishing abstracts, contact the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Division of Fish and Wildlife, Great Swamp Field Headquarters, P.O. Box 281, West Kingston, RI 02892; call (401) 789-0281; or visit the DEM's Web site at www.state.ri.us/dem.
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