Winter fishing

On Jan. 1, most rivers and streams open to fishing and offer opportunities to hardy anglers like this one in the Connecticut River.

WITH the holidays upon us and winter an undeniable presence, it is time for the sportsmen and women of New England to adjust their activities. Those outdoor sports that we obsessed over as recently as last week must evolve with the changing seasons. Just as some equipment is winterized and stored, other gear gets unearthed and made ready for action.

Fortunately, there are no days on the calendar where one cannot find adventures afield. Some activities have definitive start and end dates. Hunting seasons, for example, are very clear and participation is restricted to the date, hour and minute. Fishing seasons follow the same strict guidelines and adhering to the rules set forth by managers allows for the best use of the resource.

With the arrival of January and the New Year, my concentrated efforts will clearly be on ice fishing. I have everything organized and functioning in a way that can be employed in a moment’s notice. Fishing the “hard water” has become one of my favorite ways to pursue fish. My love for the sport is strong ... but not strong enough to completely forget about casting in open water. Therein lies the dilemma.

For those hardy enough to try, there is a convenient overlap between ice fishing and open water fishing. Most rivers and streams in New Hampshire open to fishing on Jan. 1. It is possible that the open-water fishing season is liberal in this sense because the level of difficulty is so great that any impact on the fishery will be slight.

In short, it can be really hard to catch a fish in moving water during winter.

One of the most obvious challenges to river fishing in January can be the treacherous conditions that exist in the immediate shoreline. Drifting snow, unstable ice and slick conditions can create a fast track to falling in the cold water. There will rarely be packed trails as the winter river angler represents a very small number of people. Sometimes, I think most know better.

There are both functional and biological limitations to this type of angling and neither is easily overcome. First, fish metabolize very little in the winter months and may exhibit a lethargic existence just short of hibernation. This is a natural response to the second factor, which is a very limited food source. Insects, worms and smaller fish are not abundant and very hard to find, and older, larger fish have learned to save their energy.

Functional difficulties to winter fishing include frozen lines, guides and fingers. It can be hard enough to navigate this activity and when rod and reel seize up, it becomes increasingly frustrating. There are monofilament, fluorocarbon and other synthetic materials designed to keep line flexible and hidden from fish. As the temperature drops, these become less effective and the challenges continue.

With all of this in mind, why would someone want to fish open water in the winter? I am presently writing in support but often question it myself. I think the answer lies in a love for the sport so deep that it simply cannot be suppressed. Winter is here and it does not make sense to walk in and around flowing water. Despite that reason, I simply do not want to stop fishing. Luckily, in just over a week, I will be able to satisfy that urge.

Adventures Afield appears in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Contact Andy Schafermeyer at