Adventures Afield

This northern pike weighs more than 20 pounds.

I’VE OFTEN been asked: “What’s the biggest fish you’ve ever caught?” I’ve also been asked less subtle questions like; “Why do you fish so much? … Don’t you have a real job?”

Let’s discuss the first question as it requires less self-reflection and embarrassment. When answering, I try to avoid specifics and deal instead in generalities. This decreases the likelihood of being incorrect, doesn’t reveal any secrets, and allows me wiggle room on a wide range of topics.

The largest fish that one might catch in freshwater in New Hampshire is probably a carp. Never described as a beautiful fish, it occupies slow, warm water and gives the impression that it may lead a lazy lifestyle. As such, they are rarely defined as a popular sport fish, although I’m sure that dedicated carp anglers exist. I’m not one of them.

Of the three trout (brown, rainbow and brook trout), the brown reaches the largest size with several caught each year in the Connecticut River weighing over 10 pounds. The rainbow trout in large lakes like Winnepesaukee take advantage of abundant forage and occasionally reach five pounds. The most iconic of New Hampshire’s trout, the brookie embodies the true spirit of a healthy water body yet rarely eclipses three pounds.

If one hopes to catch a fish over 25 pounds, the most likely candidates are lake trout and northern pike. I actively pursue them both and have caught many big ones, but my goal of catching a truly “Monster Fish” has not yet been reached.

Lake trout are the largest indigenous salmonid in New Hampshire and can be found in over two dozen water bodies. Recognize that it is a slow-growing fish and, if you catch a giant laker, it is probably older than you. They are as frequently caught in summer as winter and are often found in lakes and ponds with greater than 50 feet of depth.

In summer months, lake trout confine themselves to those depths in which the water is below 60 degrees. Successful anglers find them with heavy jigs or lead-core line. They are omnivorous and, like several of my fishing buddies, will eat almost anything in front of them.

Ice fishing for lakers is very popular in New Hampshire and my second-most preferred winter activity behind watching Sunday football games on television. Usually looking for a depth between 30 and 50 feet, I move my portable bob-house around all day in search of these fish.

With the help of an electronic transducer, I watch as fish enter and exit my target zone. When present, I try to make my jig move around in a fashion that triggers these predators to chase and eat. Like the football games, the on-screen action can provide entertainment even when success is elusive.

Northern pike are predators in the same way that Michael Jordan was a basketball player. Their pursuit of food is legendary and I have seen them eat everything from spinner baits to striper flies. They are an early spawner, which brings them into shallow water right at ice-out.

In May, I like to cruise shorelines and flats casting huge baitfish imitations. There strikes are often explosive and they fight like they are legitimately angry with me for interrupting their feeding schedule.

During winter months, I look for pike in the slow-moving setbacks of the Connecticut River. I set tip-ups with steel leaders attached to the biggest bait I can buy. It is not hard to outsmart a pike but it can be hard to find them. Once located, they would probably eat a rock if one could get a hook through it. In a matter of seconds, pike can rip the line off of a spool that is fortunately underwater and rarely bursts into flame.

There are a lot of opportunities to catch a trophy fish in New Hampshire. Every new season, every new day starts with this possibility. The monsters exist. Go find one.

Adventures Afield appears in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Contact Andrew Schafermeyer at troutandsalmon1@gmail.com.