Warm wind and mild weather have combined to wreak havoc on much of the coastal ice, all but wiping out the Great Bay smelt fishing. There are still a few fishermen on the tidal Squamscott River in Stratham, no fishermen at the Lamprey in Newmarket and only one shanty on Great Bay itself, that we've been able to see in our almost daily searches around the Bay, looking for fishing activity.
At the Lamprey, tomcod, smelt and white perch usually make up the catch. While in Exeter, tomcod often make up quite a few of the fish that are taken in any quantity. (You'll hear no mention of "tomcod" amongst the fishermen. They call 'em "frost fish."
When there is good ice, access to the Lamprey is on the north side of the river across from the marina or from the area near the town of Newmarket's treatment plant is located as Fish and Game owns a nice little parking lot there. Again, when there is good ice the best Squamscott River access is from the town of Exeter boat launch and from Swazey Parkway.
For the last several years, when there has been fishable ice, the Squamscott River's access point off River Road in Stratham has provided the best action, but the problem here is lack of good parking and often very chancy conditions getting on and off the ice as there are steep banks there and when the tide moves the ice up and down the shore ice is apt to be pretty well broken up. Usually, the dyed-in-the-wool smelt fishermen there put out a makeshift bridge to access the ice pack but even navigating that is a challenge to us old-timers.
The rental-smelt-shanty operators in the Dresden/Bowdoinham/Topsom, Maine area had been reporting fishable ice and some good catches. We can attest to this, as some time ago fishing at Jude Hyde's in Topsom, myself, Brad Conner and his son Joe (my godson) caught more than 200 fish on the evening's outgoing tide. But in the last couple of years our trips to this area hardly provided enough smelt to cover our frying pan. When we did catch fish our secret to success was that we were using small jigging rods with spring bobbers on the ends of the rod, light mono line and very little weight.
The fish were hitting so light that without the spring bobbers tell-tale bounce, we'd never have known that we were getting any bites at all.Perch fishing has been quite steady in the mid-state New Hampshire and Maine lakes. Long Lake in Naples, Maine, continues to be mentioned as well as our Lake Winnipesaukee, but we've been warned that the middle parts of the lake may not be that safe, considering the recent weather. Most of the white perch are hitting small minnows or Swedish Pimples tipped with a piece of cut bait or perch eye.
At Sebago Lake there are some good lake trout being taken. Ice depths in the middle of the larger lakes continues to be chancy. Fishermen venturing out to the "togue grounds" off the Station at the lower end of the lake are catching lakers up to double figures, averaging about five pounds, as well as some nice sized cusk.
One of the brightest spot in the East in the past has been Moosehead Lake. Maine master guide Dan Legere of Greenville has told us in the past that some decent lakers and some very good brook trout, three to four pounders, were being caught in very shallow water, as little as two feet. Nightcrawlers fished on bottom account for most of the brookies. Check Maine fishing regulations as Moosehead Lake has a delayed opening for ice fishing.
Recently we fished a small, lightly fished pond in our area for smallmouth bass with our grandson, Nate Griffin, and my great grandson, Hunter, who only recently turned three years old. With Hunter set up on a portable chair in the middle of our tip-up field, he was the quickest to get to any of the flags that were popping up at a fairly good clip. Hunter, with the watchful eye of his dad, had the job of pulling all the fish in and even at the tender age of three, he put a "whoppin'" on those fish that were averaging well over two pounds.
A lot of the catch-and-release bass anglers aren't going to love me for this but every one of those fish were of legal size and we went home with four nice ones. In our estimation, winter-caught smallmouth bass are just about the best eating fish there are. I'd much sooner catch and release trout and keep my bass that do the opposite, which for years I did do before finding out just how good those bass are when filleted and fried in good vegetable oil. My wife likes to dip the bass fillets in pancake mix first and when she serves them there likely will be a couple of fillets missing from the plate. She's sneaky like that.
Get out there and get you some and be very, very careful with the ice conditions.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.