Weekly Fishing Report: Merrimack River stocked with ‘monster’ salmon

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Our NH Fish & Game regional biologists have lots of tips for you this week, from tangling with pike in the Moore Reservoir to finding white perch “bobbing” in the coves of Winnipesaukee. Plus, an unusual opportunity to fish for monster Atlantic salmon in the Merrimack.

SOUTHEAST NH/MERRIMACK VALLEY by Ben Nugent, Regional Fisheries Biologist

20-pound Salmon broodstock released into the Merrimack River this week
20-pound Salmon broodstock released into the Merrimack River this week

We have spent most of this past week stocking surplus broodstock Atlantic salmon in the Merrimack River watershed. The sizes of these fish range greatly, but in my 15 years with NH Fish and Game, I have never seen bigger fish get stocked in the state (some pushing close to 20 pounds).

Initially, there was concern about the displacement that would occur and subsequent flooding as a result of stocking these large fish! Fortunately, sore backs and a few bruises aside (on us, not the fish), this did not happen. Flow rates and water temperatures are currently ideal to pursue these brutes.

Most of the traditional stocking locations were supplied with these fish, with the exception of the Bristol/New Hampton area. The races below the Hooksett and Franklin Falls dams, as well as the Sewalls Falls area, are likely spots where these salmon hold. If you’ve never fished for Atlantics before, anglers should not miss out on this opportunity.

A regular fishing license is the only requirement to target these species now. A specific permit to fish for these fish is no longer needed and general regulations allow for a two fish daily limit with a 15-inch minimum length. The exception to this rule is that below the Garvins Falls Dam down to the Massachusetts border is catch-and-release only.

The Atlantic salmon restoration program in the Merrimack River Watershed ended two years ago. These fish are a byproduct of ongoing out-of-state recovery efforts of Atlantic salmon. NH Fish and Game was offered these fish, and we are excited to provide this opportunity to anglers. It is unlikely that the number and magnitude of these fish will be available in future years. Please try to take advantage of this.  Just be sure to have some strong line, good knots and plenty of backing material, and hang on tight to those rods should you hook one!

NORTH COUNTRY REPORT by Andy Schafermeyer, Regional Fisheries Biologist

I’ve been told that having faith is believing in something that you can’t see. I surmise by this definition, then, that I have faith – I believe in electricity, gravity, fresh air. I also have faith in fish. There is no way to guarantee that water temperatures will rise every spring, but I believe that they will. I believe that days will get longer and the life cycles of fish will follow the same patterns that they have for thousands of years. Smelt will run in April. Bass will spawn in May. Everything seems so delicate, yet so certain. Regardless of what it all means or how it works, I will spend two or three days a week fishing and feel grateful to be doing so.

An early season favorite for me is pike fishing at Moore Reservoir. By now, the fish are post-spawn and gladly accepting their role as a top-tier predator. They are taking advantage of any prey that wanders near them. This means that my bait selection is quite broad. I will cast spinnerbaits, crank baits, and soft plastic minnows. It seems that speed is an important factor, and I try to make my retrieve fast and jerk-like. An important lesson is that I get a lot of strikes within five feet of the boat and never assume that a retrieve is over until the lure is out of the water. Sometimes an aggressive fish makes itself visible boat-side before turning around and disappearing into the depths.

This time of year is also my favorite to fish the open water of the Connecticut Lakes. Those locations where water is flowing into the lakes will eat away at the ice and probably offer some open water opportunity. Baitfish like smelt will be spending a lot of time drawn in by the current and swimming into the flow. I will cast streamer flies like grey ghosts and nine-threes on a sinking tip line. Some of the larger fish in the lakes, like salmon and lake trout, will be there to feed, and I can occasionally convince one to strike. Lake Francis State Park in Pittsburg is a good place to start, and the weather over the last few days has been more than accommodating. I think I’ll get out and fish before the black flies and mosquitos emerge.

LAKES REGION REPORT by Don Miller, Regional Fisheries Biologist

Spring conditions are rapidly changing to summer! We’ve had a dry spring so far, with brooks and streams rapidly dropping their flows. Now is an excellent time to fish these waters, as caddis hatches are in full bloom! Likewise, trout pond fishing is heating up. The ice just left our White Mountain ponds within the last week, and stocking trucks have been out covering the entire state. Some nice brookies have been caught in Pleasant Lake in New London recently, along with a few good salmon. Lake Winnipesaukee has been hot for salmon recently, as I can attest. I’ve had great luck trolling lip-hooked smelt and shiners tight to the shorelines, just watch out for submerged mooring balls! With lake temperatures warming rapidly, look for salmon further off shore, down a little deeper, 1-2 colors of lead-core trolling line. A sure sign of warm-up are the smallmouth bass we’ve encountered trolling the shore lines. Speaking of bass, look for them to start cruising the shorelines, sometimes in schools, searching for that perfect nest site.

I have had reports of white perch “bobbing” in shallow coves on Lake Winnipesaukee recently. This signals the start of their spawning run. Every spring, about ten days after ice-out, we hear of this occurring around the lakes region. These perch carry a large amount of eggs in their body cavity, and subsequently, find it difficult to regulate their buoyancy in the water column. Any shallow cove on Winnipesaukee and Squam will find these perch broadcasting their eggs along the shoreline. Look for them in Nineteen, Twenty and Moultonboro bays right now. Also check out the Melvin River mouth for some great-tasting white perch, which can run up to three pounds in size! On Lake Winnisquam, there is a run of perch up the Winnipesaukee River, right near the Fish and Game boat launch facility.

Recently, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department has acquired some surplus Atlantic salmon broodstock, with many fish over ten pounds in size! These fish will be stocked in the Merrimack River watershed, all the way to Ayers Island Dam on the Pemigewasset River. The traditional Atlantic salmon permits are no longer required. Upstream of the Garvin’s Falls Dam in Bow, general fishing regulations apply, two salmon per day, minimum length 15 inches. Downstream of the dam, catch and release only, with the intent of protecting any wild Atlantic salmon returning from the ocean. These fish will put a bend in the old fly rod!

Get out and fish, it doesn’t get any better than spring-time in New Hampshire!

MONADNOCK/UPPER VALLEY REPORT by Gabe Gries, Regional Fisheries Biologist

The high temperatures the past few days are pushing warmwater species such as bass, black crappie, bluegill, and white perch into the shallows, as they prepare for their upcoming spawning season. The surface temperature at Contoocook Lake (Jaffrey) was 51 degrees Fahrenheit on Friday and jumped to 56 degrees by Monday. These were morning temperature readings, and I’m sure the water reached 60 degrees by late afternoon on Monday. Based on the seven-day weather forecast, it might be a quick bass spawn this year in the southern part of the state.

When fishing for bass at this time of year, paying attention to water temperature is critical. A temperature difference of a few degrees usually goes unnoticed by humans, but to a cold-blooded animal, like a fish, it can have a profound impact on their behavior and where they are located in a waterbody. Best bets for finding active shallow bass during early May are the locations of a lake or pond with the warmest water; typically northern shorelines and/or shallow flats or coves. If you don’t find bass shallow yet in the water body you are fishing, try backing off the shorelines until you find the first section of deeper water.

I have had reports from several bass anglers who are finding cooperative fish at Highland Lake (Stoddard), Spofford Lake (Chesterfield), and Warren Lake (Alstead). Additionally, it sounds like smallmouth bass on the Connecticut River are starting to get active, as well, and walleye are still being caught from shore below the Bellows Falls Dam.

We have been getting a number of calls from anglers who are seeing buoys in the Connecticut River. These are associated with a fish spawning study and should not be disturbed. This study is being performed by Normandeau Associates as part of the federal relicensing process for the Wilder, Bellows Falls, and Vernon Dams, which are all owned by TransCanada. There are a number of other studies related to this relicensing that will be ongoing through the rest of summer and into late fall.

Otter Brook (Sullivan, Keene) has been fishing well for trout and a number of anglers at Silver Lake (Harrisville) have reported catching some nice rainbow trout from shore. A local Conservation Officer also told me that anglers have been limiting out on trout at Gustin Pond (Marlow) and Newell Pond (Alstead).


SEACOAST AREA REPORT by Becky Heuss, Marine Biologist

Fish migrations have been delayed this season by the continued cold water. Temperatures are slowly creeping up, but as of May 4, the herring have yet to make their grand entrance, with only a few making up the fish ladders at the head-of-tide dams. Striped bass are expected to be a little late this year, as well, and are still inching their way toward the Massachusetts coast.

Reports of flounder have started coming in. Flounder fishing will heat up as the harbors warm a little; bait shops are ready with clam worms, but be sure to call your local shop before heading out. Winter flounder can be caught from shore, most often from a dock, jetty, or bridge, or with the use of a small boat. A kayak is the perfect platform for flounder fishing within New Hampshire’s harbors because of the maneuverability. However you decide to fish, look for sandy or muddy bottom near inlets of harbors and tributaries. Use a spreader rig with a 2 oz. sinker baited with cut clamworm. The bait needs to be quite small, as they have small mouths. Their bite is subtle, so pay attention!

When you go striper fishing this season, remember to report your fishing efforts online, this survey is the only way we obtain length data on sub-legal fish, an important component in assessing the health of the resource. Visit http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/stripedbass each time you fish for striped bass in New Hampshire waters.

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About Carol Robidoux 5851 Articles
Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!