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Dust off your fishing rod!

Salmon season starts April 1

March 25, 2010
WOLFEBORO — Thursday, April 1 isn't just April Fool's day, it's also the start of landlocked salmon season. It will being hundreds if not thousands of anglers to New Hampshire's lakes in search of the silvery fish and their brawny cousin the lake trout.

This year, the party is getting started early as the warm weather is opening the lakes faster than usual. Shawn Marzerka, of Woods-N-Water Guide Service, of Wolfeboro, said this year's ice-out could be the earliest he's ever seen. Normally, ice out happens in mid to late April or even early May.

"It's going to be hammer time early in the season," said Marzerka who added he's "psyched" to get fishing after a long winter.

The warm weather also means that the salmon will be getting hungry. Salmon are most active in water that's 55 degrees, said Mazerka. At this time of year, the fish will be hunting for their favorite food, a minnow like fish called smelt, in places like Wolfeboro Bay. The smelt will be heading into rivers to spawn and the salmon will be right behind them, said Marzerka who has been a guide for 15 years. Since the salmon will be in shallow water they can be caught right off the docks.

"It's a very popular early spring fishery. A lot of people will be trolling for them," said Fisheries Biologist Don Miller of New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. "It brings a lot of business to the local area too."

Later in the summer, the fish retreat to the depths of about 40 feet and anglers would need specialized gear to reach them. The lake trout go even deeper. Salmon and lake trout season ends on Sept. 30.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department manages 15 lakes for landlocked salmon and lake trout: Big Dan Hole Pond, First and Second Connecticut Lakes, Conway Lake, Lake Francis, Merrymeeting Lake, Newfound Lake, Ossipee Lake, Big and Little Squam Lakes, Sunapee Lake, Lake Winnipesaukee, Winnisquam Lake, and Nubanusit Lake. (Pleasant Lake in New London also is managed for landlocked salmon, but is classified as a trout pond and has a different opening date.) The state record landlocked salmon was 36 inches and weighed 18 pounds eight ounces. It was caught in Pleasant Lake in 1942. Landlocked salmon aren't native fish. New Hampshire Fish and Game stocks them. They were first brought from New Brunswick to the Granite State in the 1800s. Lake trout are New Hampshire natives.

Miller said Ossipee Lake is unique because it's one of the few places in the state that has a native population of landlocked salmon. The breeding population of fish exists because the Bearcamp River provides a good spawning ground. In addition, 1,500 to 2,000 salmon are stocked annually in Ossipee Lake.

"It's nice to have some wild fish in the mix," he said.

According to New Hampshire Fish and Game, other hotspots include the Weirs Channel in Laconia, Long Island Bridge in Moultonborough, Governors Island Bridge in Gilford, Smith River inlet at Wolfeboro Bay, and Meredith and Center Harbor town docks.

"At these locations, everything from smelt, shiners and worms under a slip bobber to small jigs will take salmon, as well as rainbow trout," according to Fish and Game.

In water bodies managed for lake trout and salmon, the daily limit is two fish— which includes any combination of lake trout brown trout, brook trout, rainbow trout, hybrids, and salmon. A salmon must be a minimum of 15 inches to keep. A lake trout must be 18 inches.

For Lee Pilkovsky, owner of Granite State Outfitters LLC, in Wakefield, salmon season is significant because it's the kickoff to open water fishing season.

"It herald's the beginning of spring," he said.

As for tips, Pilkovsky said if he had to stress one thing it's the importance of putting on new fishing line on the reels at the beginning of the season. Ultraviolet rays from the sun and any nicks or abrasions from the previous season can seriously weaken fishing line, he said.

"It's not going to break until you've got the big one on the line," said Pilkovsky. "That's Murphy's law."

As for lures, Pilkovsky recommends that shore anglers try mini jigs. Boaters should try trolling with brightly colored spoons called DB Smelt. As for live baits, he said although smelt are salmon's preferred forage, anglers will do just as well using minnows.

Dive Winnipesaukee, a sports shop in downtown Wolfeboro, is preparing for the season by expanding its lure and bait selection, said owner Tom Wachsmuth.

Among the qualities that make landlocked salmon a prized game fish is their fighting ability, which includes high-flying acrobatics.

"I caught my first salmon in Lake Winnipesaukee when I was probably13-years-old and it was the biggest thrill just to have my reel screaming line out of it, not knowing what I had on, and then seeing this fish leap four feet out of the water," said Mazerka. "They are just a beautiful silver iridescent fish."

In contrast, lake trout are greenish with white polka dots. The lake trout's fighting method is to dive down deep.

In the past five years there is some concern about the health of the salmon fishery at Lake Winnipesaukee and other lakes. That concern has led to the cancellation of what would have been the 29th annual 2010 Winni Derby in May.

Last year, the derby's executive director Rick Davis said fishing pressure has caused the number and size of salmon to decline to the point where the derby had to canceled to avoid harming the fish stocks further.

"Last November derby personnel met with biologists at one of their netting sites to observe the fish being netted and weighed. At this net site there is normally 400-500 salmon, and at that time we counted just over 70," wrote Davis explaining the decision. "There was one fish that weighed over three pounds - all the rest were under. By actual count there was 30 percent hook-wounded."

Fish that have been hook-wounded don't get as big as they would otherwise because energy that would have gone into growth gets diverted into healing. Wounded fish also tend to "look like hell," said Davis in a phone interview.

But Davis says anglers can still enjoy landlocked salmon fishing in Winnipesaukee.

"Go ahead and go fishing, there's still salmon out there," said Davis.

In May and June, New Hampshire Fish and Game will be holding public hearings on new rules to protect the salmon and lake trout fishery, said Miller. Anglers and other interested parties are welcome to provide input. The state requires fresh water anglers between 16 and 67 years old to buy fishing licenses. The cost is $35 for New Hampshire residents. The nonresident cost is $53. One day fishing licenses can be purchased for $10. For more information visit New Hampshire Fish and Game Department at www.wildlife.state.nh.us.

The key to preserving the sport is fishing responsibly. If anglers follow some basic procedures, the fishery should bounce back, said Davis.

• Use rubber nets to land the fish. These nets don't damage the fish's scales like a mesh net. Use wet cotton gloves to handle salmon so that their mucus covering isn't damaged.

• Keep pliers and tools at the ready.

• Don't pull the hook out sharply if the fish is still moving and twisting. Never shake a fish off the hook.

• Keep legal sized hook wounded fish and release the rest.

Martin Lord Osman
Littleton Chmber
Varney Smith
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