Weather is Freezing Ice Fishing is Hot
The 24-7 chill is making ice like a cruise ship-sized Zamboni. And seldom are we fortunate enough to have the current combination of good ice and little snow. To sweeten the deal further, many larger water bodies that are home to cold-water species are now locking up, and there appears to be a surge in smelt numbers in the Southern Maine smelt camps.
Brandan from Granby’s told me that Esox enthusiasts are out among storied northen pike waters in the western portion of the state such as Pontoosuc and Onota, where in some cases there is 8 inches of ice! Panfish fans are jigging brilliantly colored pumpkinseeds, yellow perch and crappie from Metacomet with 1/16th sized jigs tipped with grubs – the high hooks are downsizing to very light line. I had the pleasure to talk up ice fishing on Monday with Lucas Farm from Rapala, who is happiest when he’s on a huge Minnesotan lake with a couple of thousand friends (a weekend tournament had 20,000 participants!) and he recommended Suffix 832 4-pound-test (1-pound-diameter) braid with a top-shot of 2-pound fluorocarbon for pressured panfish. And when there are literally thousands of anglers pounding a water body, the fish are nothing if not pressured. Another western water body worth a go is Forest Lake in Palmer, where the black bass bite is pretty good.
You don’t ordinarily think in terms of walleye in the Bay State, but according to Rod from Flagg’s Fly and Tackle in Orange, they are getting them from Barton Cove on the Connecticut River. There’s also some mighty fine pike there as well. For a nice pile of fine-eating yellow perch, North Spectacle Pond has been productive and a hawg largemouth bass of nearly 7 pounds was hauled out of Lake Rohunta. Rod was especially impressed with an orange-spotted brown trout of about 4 ½ pounds that hit a shiner at Lake Mattawa. Trout and panfish seem to be partial to those red rosy shiners that the shop stocks.
For trout and maybe a little less foot traffic, check out Lake Moore in Warwick, which has been giving up some mighty fine rainbows. While most will target bows with shiners and garden worms, a better bet may the single salmon egg on a tiny salmon egg hook. Today, this historical favorite is oft-ignored, but it will often out-fish all other offerings when it comes to rainbows.
Jim from Barry’s “Big Bait Central” shop in Worcester told me that he had an additional 200 pounds of baitfish scheduled for delivery in anticipation of a flood of foot traffic from the frozen-water fraternity. And some of the suckers he has in his tanks are 13 inches long! Those suckers will be put to the test at Quabog Pond this Saturday where there is a pike tournament. Some will be tackling toothies at the A-1 Site, Lake Chauncy and maybe Lake Quinsigamond. Warm-water species winners in the area are Singletary, Flint and Jordan’s Pond.
Barry’s big bait counterpart on the North Shore is Don from Merrimack Sports, who traps his own suckers from an undisclosed tributary of the Merrimack River. And there’s good reason to have big bait up north as Lake Attitash, which has pike, is solid. Those looking for warm-water species are targeting the nearby Tewksbury Pond. For a mixture of salmonids, try your luck at Forest Lake, Plugs Pond, Baldpate and Stiles.
Of course it really gets really serious once you head past the border into New Hampshire. Jamie from Dover Marine said that Winnipesaukee is becoming the frozen town it so often becomes in winter, as a plane-landing strip has recently been plowed. While much of Winnipesauke remained open recently, it is hoped that by this weekend it will lock up tightly.
There are significant changes this year for one of the more highly anticipated New England pastimes, the Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby, which this year takes place on February 9th and 10th. This will now be an all-cash prize derby,; it is now state wide (to lessen the impact on the off-season salmon in Winnipesauke), and seven species of fish now have equal billing! Incidentally the lake trout, cusk and rainbow trout bite is a solid one right now on Alton Bay.
Fred from Suds ‘N Soda witnessed solid-looking ice by River Road in Great Bay as well as at Swayze Park. Hopefully the smelt will be a hero rather than the zero as the fishery was during the last cold snap. An indicator that it might be better came courtesy of a patron of S&S who loaded up on the smelt recently from an ocean tributary that meanders into Great Bay.
There’s plenty of ice and fishermen enjoying it on Pleasant Lake, Canobie Lake as well as Cobbetts. For panfish, take a tip from Tim from Suds N’ Soda who should know a thing about hardwater since he’s been hobnobbing with Dave Getz of Clamcorp, who is considered the grandfather of modern ice fishing methods. For a panfish fix, Tim recommends Turtle Pond in Concord.
Dylan of Dag’s in Auburn, Maine said that the annual Fish For A Cure pike fishing derby on Lake Sabattus was a smash success with best fish honors going to an angler who landed a 16-pound northern. The Andro might be a sleeper right now because few fish it after the first ice flurry, preferring to avoid “slow” fishing until things pick up again in March. You may have much of the Androscoggin Watershed to yourself if you head up there and find less harried fish. For catch-and-release landlocked salmon fishing, Thompson Pond is a winner; just make sure that you have smelt on the line as bait. And regarding smelt, now is the time to book a reservation to one of the smelt camps. Dylan told me that a patron fresh from one of the camps in the Kennebec River/Merrymeeting Bay “gifted” the shop with smelt and he found that over a recent three-day span the numbers were steadily climbing to where he tallied 150 smelt!
Lastly, I’d like to give you a little heads up to a recent regulation change enacted by the Division of Marine Fisheries that affects all who enjoy catching winter flounder. The agency labeled this move as an “emergency regulation” and it DOUBLED the commercial winter flounder limit! While the regulations are not permanent yet, they will be if the Marine Fisheries Advisory votes accordingly on February 7. If you think there is something innately wrong with this measure regarding a species that is almost non-existent outside of the South Shore to North Shore area of Massachusetts, and even here has just now made a comeback, then voice your opinion by calling (617) 626-1534 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Time is of the essence—winter flounder will begin stirring next month as they migrate inshore to spawn and will be easy pickings for the fleet.
It’s hard to imagine a more favorable ice fishing forecast than what we have: plenty of ice, little snow and almost endless locations. For panfish enthusiasts check out Flint Pond or North Spectacle. If toothies is more to your liking than consider Quabog Pond, the A-1 Site, Barton’s Cove or Pontoosuc Lake. Salmon seekers should try their luck at Lake Moore or Comet and on the north shore there is Baldpate or Forest Lake for trout. Beyond the border check out the brown trout fishing in Cobbetts or try your luck for cusk in Alton Bay in Winnepesauke. For a night of good camaraderie, a hot bite and resultant fine dining book a shanty at a southern Maine smelt camp.