Wolfeboro — April 2, 2011 — Neither snow nor cold could keep hearty and hopeful fishermen away from Wolfeboro’s docks for beginning of the 2011 landlocked salmon season, which started Friday. But the fish defied capture for at least the first few hours of opening day. The silvery and streamlined fish can be legally caught and kept now until Sept. 30, when the season closes.
Carroll County anglers are especially blessed because there several lakes that offer salmon fishing. Those lakes are Lake Winnipesaukee, Ossipee Lake, Big Dan Hole Pond and Conway Lake, according to New Hampshire Fish and Game.
“Landlocked salmon fishing is a rite of spring in Northern New England,” said Bill Thompson owner of North Country Angler in Conway. “As soon as the ice recedes, you’re hoping the smelt (a bait fish) will start running and the landlocks will come in there and gorge themselves.”
On Friday, about a dozen people braved the cold, sloppy, snowy weather to try their luck in downtown Wolfeboro, where there was a large patch of open water. The temperature was hovering around 32 degrees.
“I love coming down here every year,” said a fisherman named Kyle, who has fished the lake for over a decade. “A lot of old timers teach me a lot of new tricks. I always have a blast.”
Kyle climbed up on a pylon to cast his line and also to get a bird’s eye view. Apparently, he didn’t spot any salmon on Friday morning. Last year, people were able to spot fish from the pylon. Kyle said he caught 42 fish in 2010. The biggest was 27 inches long and weighed 5.5 pounds.
Among the other fishermen was Wayne Robinson who arrived at 4:45 a.m. to claim a good spot on the docks.
“Last year at this time, we already caught four or five fish,” said Robinson at about 6:30 a.m.
Unfortunately, no one caught anything while a reporter was there between 6:30 and about 8 a.m.
Nearby, Paul Connolly and his young son, Grady, came from Maine to test their luck. They were using some small jigs. The Connollys began fishing for salmon in 2010. That year, Grady caught a salmon about 16 inches long.
“We’re enjoying the weather and hopefully we’ll get a few fish,” said Paul Connolly.
April is an especially great month to pursue salmon because they will be close to shore. Once the water gets warm, salmon will be at depths of between 40 and 70 feet. In the summer, they like the water temperature to be about 55 degrees.
On Friday, the word in Wolfeboro was that the water was still too cold for the smelt to make their spawning run into Back Bay. Instead, the fishermen believe, the salmon were cruising along the edge of the outgoing ice — basically out of their reach.
There are lots of ways to fish for salmon. Thompson suggests trolling or casting with streamer flies, which imitate smelt. Two popular patterns are the Grey Ghost and the Winnipesaukee Smelt. Thompson used to fish Ossipee Lake from his canoe, but he hasn’t done it recently.
Anne Ward, of Indian Mound True Value Hardware, thinks the bite will start off slow because of the cold weather. Still, she has high hopes that Ossipee Lake will produce some nice fish. She noted that Ossipee Lake ice fishers had been hooking some big salmon this winter — albeit accidentally. The law prohibits ice fishermen from taking salmon.
Ward has seen some big salmon come out of Wolfeboro Bay too. The biggest salmon she’s seen out of Wolfeboro were 8 to 10 pounds. When Ward worked at Wolfeboro Bay Outfitters, she would keep track of how the fishing was for a group called Salmon Unlimited.
She enjoys trolling lures. She noted that lures and lure colors that work in one lake may not work in another. Anglers fishing from the docks ought to try using jigs ( lures that are weighted in the front), she said.
“Let the lure come up and then drop, to make it look half dead,” said Ward describing how to use jigs.”When the bait looks injured, they love it.”
Salmon, like any good predator, appreciates an easy meal. That’s why anything that looks like a wounded smelt will get strikes.
This reporter’s uncle, Jeff Cuddy, and this reporter troll with Berkley Gulp, a type of soft plastic lure.
Lake trout season also started on April 1. Lake trout aren’t nearly as exciting to catch, but they do grow big.
Last year, this reporter caught landlocks off of Ellacoya State Park and Ossipee Lake. In total, about three or four salmon and about 50 lake trout. Cuddy, who fishes much more often, caught many more salmon — including a 24 incher at Merrymeeting Lake.
Salmon look good on the end of the line and even better on the grill with some lemon and pepper. In terms of fighting ability, the edge goes to lake trout because they are extremely stubborn and try hard to stay deep. Salmon, on the other hand, are known for leaping several feet out of the water when hooked.
The two state record salmon are 34.5 and 36 inches long and weighed 18 lbs. 8 oz. The most recent record was caught in 1942 in New London. The record lake trout was 39.5 inches and 28 pounds, which was caught at Newfound Lake in 1958, according to New Hampshire Fish and Game.
The fishery needs to be protected. Therefore, anglers should abide by the rules and best management practices. The minimum size to keep a salmon is 15 inches. The minimum size for lake trout is 18 inches. In water bodies managed for trout and salmon, the daily limit is two fish.
Whether fishing from boat or shore, remember to bring your fishing license. For New Hampshire residents, a fishing license cost $35. People between 16 and 67 years old need to have a license. A one-day license can be purchased for $10. Licenses can be bought through New Hampshire Fish and Game’s website, http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us.
There is a new rule that anglers should know. Now it’s illegal to use treble hooks while using bait (live or dead). This is important because they were commonly used as part of a bait harness called “slider hooks.”
Slider hooks consisted of a single hook and a short length of line which leads to a treble hook. The single hook would go through a smelt’s mouth and then the treble hook would go through its back.
Treble hooks can damage a salmon’s jaw. Hook wounds can cause fish to become stunted because they have to put their energy into healing rather than growing. In 2010, 36 percent of salmon caught in the fall netting had sustained hook wounds. The mean length of the fish was 20.5 inches and weights ranged from .3 to 5.8 pounds.
Landlocked Salmon aren’t native to New Hampshire. They were introduced in the late 1800s. Fish and Game officials net the salmon in the fall when they try to move up the Melvin River to spawn. The salmon are stripped of their eggs and milt, so that the next generation can be grown. The babies are raised in a hatchery for 18 months and then stocked into the lakes. Lake trout are New Hampshire natives.
New Hampshire Fish and Game urges anglers to release fish gently. Fish should be landed with rubber nets to prevent damage to salmons’ scales. More specifics can be found on New Hampshire Fish and Game’s website under Landlocked Salmon Angler’s pledge.
Last year, the 28th annual spring Winni Derby was canceled out of concern about decreased quality of the fishery. But this year the derby is back on. It will be held on Lake Winnipesaukee from May 15 to 17.