North CountryThe recent rain had an interesting effect on North Country fisheries last week. Water temperatures dropped over ten degrees in some locations and water levels rose quickly. It is almost as if a typical spring took a two week break and finally arrived. The result has been a boost to healthy trout and those who pursue them. Some of the softer, gravel roads have also firmed up, and fishermen have been able to get into some remote ponds. These ponds are at their prime, and spring trout fishing should be fantastic. May 15 marks the beginning of the catch-and-release period for bass; this regulation, along with no live bait, is in place to protect spawning fish. At last week's high school bass tournament on Winnipesaukee, anglers observed fish staging and some guarding nests. In Northern New Hampshire, the bass will start to spawn within a week, and anglers should be prepared. Catch rates can really pick up, but catch-and-release methods become important to protect the overall population. Land fish quickly and keep them out of the water for the shortest time possible. I have gotten some fantastic reports from pike fishermen on the Connecticut River. These beasts have finished spawning and are feeding heavily. Already a voracious predator, warming water has kick-started their metabolism, and they will strike at any food source available. Setbacks in the river are the warmest, and pike should be cruising through them. Pike and walleye habitat can sometimes overlap in the river, and both species can be targeted in the same outing.
Lakes RegionWith northwest winds at 20 mph plus, the last few days have not been conducive to big lake trolling. Prior to the winds, my fellow Fish and Game pal Kyle and his girlfriend Heather had a good day on Winnisquam, with a couple of nice salmon to show for it. Lake temps are excellent right now, as the last few nights have slowed down the warm-up. We've been stocking landlocked salmon yearlings the past three days, so keep an eye out for the "young ones." Newfound Lake at 55 degrees is the coldest, followed by Sunapee (57), Pleasant (58), Big Squam (60), and Winnisquam at 62 degrees. These are great temps for salmon, and early morning will find them still near the surface. While stocking Pleasant Lake today, we witnessed some cannibalistic action as a very large salmon cut into the freshly released yearlings! It reminded me of a bluefish blitz, as the fish relentlessly chased the salmon around! This is just a reminder that an age class of salmon faces many obstacles in their time spent in the lake. Loons, cormorants, mergansers, otters, predatory fish and, yes, man himself, all make a "dent" in their numbers. I recently was part of the Fish and Game contingent that assisted tournament organizers at the first NHIAA-sanctioned bass fishing event held at Lee's Mills on Lake Winnipesaukee on May 9. What a fantastic day for students and parents! There were a substantial number of teams entered in the competition, and the bass definitely cooperated! The team from Exeter won overall first place, but every one of those teens were winners on that day. A big thank you to all those "boat captains" who donated use of boats and equipment and time to make this a very special event. I can't wait until next year, when the new format will be in place and more students participate! River conditions right through the mountains and central New Hampshire are prime now. The catch and release area south of Eastman Falls on the Pemigewasset River looked great today, with only ONE angler noted! Trout pond fishing is holding up well, with some great insect hatches occurring in the late afternoon hours.
Monadnock/Upper ValleyRecent rains have rejuvenated streams in the Monadnock Region, bringing them to more normal flows for this time of year. The current stream temperatures, along with insect hatches, make for very active trout, so now is the time to get out and fish your favorite streams. I have received good reports from anglers fishing the following streams: Ashuelot River, Winchester; South Branch Piscataquog River, New Boston; Souhegan River from Greenville to Amherst. This year we added a new stream to the stocking schedule, one that is definitely worth checking out - Priest Brook in Fitzwilliam. The sunshine and warm temperatures the last couple of weeks have warmed up the lakes and ponds enough that bass are in full spawning mode, building and guarding nests, a bit earlier than usual. Remember, to protect long-term angling opportunities, the regulations for bass from May 15 - June 15 require that only artificial lures and flies are used while targeting bass and that all bass must be released immediately. It's best not to fish for bass on their nests, as they are very important for the future bass populations. There is always a good percentage of bass that do not nest on a given year, along with pre-spawn and post-spawn fish, so there are plenty of bass available to catch that are not on nests.
Southeast NH/Merrimack ValleyWith several days of bright sunshine, the local waters have warmed up nicely. I had several outings on Turtle Pond (Turtletown) in Concord. I mainly targeted crappies and bluegills. I started the afternoon with the slip bobber rig. I managed a few fish on this setup. (Check out Fish and Game's new short video about using slip bobbers at http://youtu.be/XyNL1wD5el8.) Then I switched over to just the jig and grub combination. That was just the fix! Both the crappies and bluegills wanted this more horizontal presentation. I found most of the fish to be located over new aquatic plant growth. Other anglers I encountered on the pond were targeting largemouth bass. They were pleased with the bass they landed. The bass anglers informed me that a Texas-rigged worm fished tight to shore was their most productive tactic. Conditions couldn't be any better right now for coastal anglers looking for some spring action, as runs of bait fish continue to pour into New Hampshire watersheds on the coast. Striped bass have shown up in Hampton Harbor, with anglers reporting keeper-sized fish mixed in with schoolies. I would imagine that soon anglers will be reporting stripers in amongst the runs of baitfish (river herring) in our coastal rivers and tributaries of Great Bay. Also don't forget that the Fish and Game Department conducts an annual Striped Bass Volunteer Angler Survey. Any willing angler who fishes for striped bass in New Hampshire state waters can fill out a logbook that gives us information on abundance and size of caught fish. The greater the number of fishing trips reported on, the more data we have to use in managing New Hampshire's striped bass fishery. The next time you are out striper fishing, please consider taking some time after your trip to fill out a survey; it would be greatly appreciated! Those who enter will be entered for a chance to win raffle prizes! Last year, the lucky winners went home with a signed and framed, striped bass print, "Shadow" by Victor E. Young, donated by the Coastal Conservation Association of New Hampshire; and a rod and reel combo donated by Kittery Trading post. For those interested, contact Becky Heuss at Rebecca.Heuss@wildlife.nh.gov or call the Region 3 office at 868-1095. Learn more at fishnh.com/marine/striper_survey.html. We're getting more frequent reports of flounder being caught, as water temperatures rise and fish move into shallow water. Winter flounder can be considered one of the most popular and sought after springtime fish on the New Hampshire coast. Easily accessible by any angler with a small boat, or access to a jetty or pier, flounder can provide fishing fun for all ages. Flounder can typically be found on sandy or muddy bottom, most often near inlets of harbors and tributaries. Tackle used for flounder fishing can be very basic; a braided hand-line with a 2-5 oz. bank sinker and a long-shanked flounder hook is all you need to get fishing. When I fish for flounder, I typically use a spreader rig with a 2 oz sinker hooked up to a 7-foot medium-action rod spooled with 10-15 lb. test line. Many anglers today prefer the use of a braided non-stretch Dacron line, as flounder have a subtle bite that will not be sensed with monofilament line. Sometimes you will not feel a strike at all. Oftentimes while raising your rod tip or checking your bait you will suddenly hook a flounder! Popular baits include sandworms, bloodworms and clam necks (fresh or frozen) cut into small strips. Remember that flounder have small mouths, so smaller is better when putting bait on your hook. On the ocean front, the groundfish fishing continues to produce consistently. Local headboat companies are doing very well with groundfish, bringing in a mix of cod and haddock. The cod have arrived in greater numbers, to the point where some anglers are reaching their limit. It is also important to note that as of May 1, 2013, groundfish regulations have changed. Cod length limits are still 19 inches with a 9-fish bag limit and haddock length limits have been increased to 21inches, with an unlimited bag limit. I wish all good luck if you head out fishing this week. The weather looks great, and now is the time to go out and enjoy the spring, it will be gone before you know it!