Dick Pinney's Guide Lines: Open water fishing, even in winter, is great

By DICK PINNEY | February 13. 2016 11:05PM

ONE OF the good things about our big rivers is that most of them are open for open water fishing year-round.

In some instances, much of the river can freeze over. Chances are that the area below some of the big river dams (what is usually called the “tail race”) will not only be open but can hold some very nice fish when flows are low.

Fishing any moving water in the window is fraught with danger. Ice most always forms well up from the shoreline and, as they say, can “be a slippery slope” to avoid.

One of the best ways to avoid that is by using a pair of ice creepers on your boots. Another helper is a pair of ski poles to keep your balance. But don't think we are recommending your travel in those kinds of places because we avoid them like the danger that they are.

The backwaters of some of these rivers will provide some opportunities to set some tip-ups and do some jigging for panfish, as well as a good chance to pick up a nice big pickerel or pike. Our local river, the Lamprey, is not a big river, but it has some nice crappie and perch and plenty of pickerel and occasional smallmouth bass. This river is also stocked with some trophy trout in special catch-and-release areas in the stretch below the Wiswall Dam. This is fly-only water.

Another one of the southern New Hampshire rivers that is attracting a lot of fly fishing activity is the Cocheco River in Dover. Fish and Game has stocked this catch-and-release section of the river in the vicinity of the Strafford County Farm with some huge rainbow trout that are actually retired spawners. According to some of my contacts, they “are as big as my arm!”

Our coastal tidal rivers will most often freeze enough to allow some good ice fishing. Here again, though, caution is the best bet. Recently, it seems that the ice fishing for smelt has really dropped off in both the rivers that feed Great Bay and in the bay itself. But there's been a huge increase in the coastal white perch population the last few years and a lot of angling pressure both from boats and from the shoreline.

What a lot of people didn't know was that ice fishing for these often larger-than- freshwater white perch has been going on for years. It's been hit or miss, with most of the fish caught as a by-catch of smelt fishing.

It's probably a good bet to target coastal white perch. Any smelt you might catch would be a bonus.

The area off Fish and Game's property (parking area) on the shoreline of the Lamprey River in Newmarket has historically been a good place to try for white perch. But know that ice conditions here can be very sketchy! The pool below the dam in town can hold some schools of white perch, with a state parking lot and boat launching ramp providing parking and access. But here again, we can't stress enough that ice conditions in all of our coastal and tidal rivers is not always safe and extreme caution should be used.

My ice fishing in these areas has always been to wait until someone else is out on the ice. Then we yell out to find out how much ice there is, and where they got on and off the ice. Maybe the old Dickster is “chicken,” but we didn't make it to our age by being foolish!

One other suggestion: Last year, when there seemed to be no smelt in Great Bay or its tributaries during the ice fishing season, there were some great catches being made across the border at the York (Maine) River near the Scotland Bridge area. We've never fished that particular place, but we have a few contacts that have provided good information. We trust them to be accurate. We understand that both parking and access can be a problem.

Let's pray that our once plentiful Great Bay smelt populations are making a rebound and the bay can be the great fishery that once supported hundreds of smelt anglers each season.

Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Reach him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.

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