FOR MIDSUMMER SUCCESS ON BIG LAKES -- AND WATCH THOSE SMELT!
Submitted - 2005-07-23
By Don Miller and John Viar,
Fisheries Biologists, Region 2/New Hampton
We hope everyone is enjoying the tropical heat wave that New Hampshire has been subjected to this summer (what a difference from the cool, wet spring)! The Lake Winnipesaukee surface temperature is currently 75+ degrees, but believe it or not, we are entering one of the most productive times for big-lake trolling. There are three major reasons why: the establishment of a solid thermocline (horizontal layers of different-temperature water); a burgeoning crop of young-of-the-year (YOY) rainbow smelt achieving such size as to be targeted exclusively by salmonids (salmon and trout); and salmonids on a pre-spawn feeding binge (remember these are fall spawners, so mid-late summer/early fall is actually pre-spawn feeding time!).
In the last couple weeks we have treated ourselves to some trolling on Winnipesaukee and witnessed extensive surface activity by landlocked salmon and rainbow trout in the area off Welch and Diamond, and Mark and Timber islands, despite the warm surface temperatures. At dawn and dusk, and surprisingly even at midday, we have witnessed numerous salmon and rainbows slashing into schools of YOY smelt, driven to the surface in feeding frenzies. Most of the salmon appeared to be age 2 fish, approximately 15-16 inches; the larger fish seemed to be staying in deeper/cooler waters of the thermocline.
Both age 2 and age 3 salmon, stocked as yearling fish about 6 inches long, have displayed some impressive growth -- thanks to our smelt supply (and importantly, sustainable stocking rates), which seems to be excellent again this year. We will be performing annual hydroacoustic (sonar) and trawl net surveys to monitor forage fish populations over the next month and a half. It has become apparent that in wet spring/summer years, our smelt benefit from better spawning success and food conditions in our large lakes.
Surprisingly, we did not have much luck on small streamer flies imitating YOY smelt, which has been effective in the past. It is important to remember these YOY smelt are extremely tiny (only about 1.25 inches at the time of this writing), which can make matching the hatch quite difficult when the fish are keyed in. However, despite our match-the-hatch fears, various spoons including DB Smelt, Mooselook wobblers, and smaller Suttons, 25-35 feet deep on downriggers, did produce fish; a touch of orange/red either as part of the color pattern or added (permanent marker or nail polish or one of the various sticker tapes available) seems to trigger aggression strikes.
We boated some solid age 3 salmon (adipose fin clip) to 3.25 lbs. (see the web version of this report for a picture) and rainbow trout from 13-16 inches long; all of the fish looked nice and chunky! Lake trout to 22 inches were also in on the mix. Don's buddy Jim broke the orange/red phenom by hitting a nice fat age 3 salmon about 3.25 lbs. in size on a blue-green-silver DB smelt (Don was finally successful in netting this fish after a failed attempt at trying to extend the landing net handle!). We have heard of similar reports from anglers that mirrored our trips (that includes the various netting follies!).
In Lake Winnisquam, Don has noted hundreds of YOY yellow perch cruising the shorelines in water as shallow as 6 inches. This is a great sight to see because our yellow perch are a native species to our big lakes and have experienced noticeable declines in recent history.
Trout fishing is holding up well, with surplus trout stocking finally winding down. The Pemigewasset River is our all-purpose trout fishery in central New Hampshire, with brookies, browns and rainbows in the stretch of river north from Bristol to Woodstock. Trout ponds provide good results in the quiet evenings. The hex hatches are here and spotty at local ponds such as Sky, Spectacle and Upper Hall. Fishing just after a thundershower rolls through an area can be very productive.
Smallmouth bass are in full summer patterns now, with most anglers reporting success in water as deep as 25-35 feet. As with most sportfish, early morning and late afternoon until dark are prime times for smallmouth bass. One of our favorite methods is fly-fished poppers over rock shoals late in the day -- in our clear waters, smallmouth will come a surprising distance for an easy meal, 20 feet or more. With the majority of quality-sized bass down even deeper, it certainly is not the most productive technique at this time of year, but there is nothing like a smallie smashing a popper. During midday, resort to drop-shotting and Carolina-rigging soft plastics near clouds of bait.
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This report was provided by NH Fish and Game Department in Concord, NH. Follow this link for more specific information on the reports or the area - http://wildlife.state.nh.us/Fishing/fishing.htm