NH Weekly Fishing Report - September 12, 2013

This will be our last Fishing Report for 2013, but don't forget that fall can offer some of the best fishing of the year!  Read on for some prime fall fishing tips, enjoy the ice-fishing season to come, and we'll be back with more fishing news for you next spring.

Stocking report: fishnh.com/Fishing/Stocking/current.html

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NORTH COUNTRY

As we approach the fall, I think of apple picking, apple pies, bright oranges and reds and spawning brook trout.  I think of a busy netting season on the horizon and wonder how brook trout have fared over the crazy “summer” we had.  Floods, droughts and chills - that is what I think about when someone says summer 2013.  And it all went by so fast.

We have already begun to perform some of our brook trout assessments, and it reminds me of why I love my career.  Brook trout are my favorite fish.  They have endured many challenges over time, most of them human-induced, but some resulting from natural causes, and they still thrive in many waters throughout New Hampshire.  Let’s take a look at the population within the Ammonoosuc River.
      
The lovely, picturesque Ammonoosuc River runs from Sargent’s Purchase down through urban Littleton before it flows into the Connecticut River in Woodsville.  This river, once very wild, continues to support both wild and hatchery brook trout.  This river has been a focus of the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture.  This is the third year habitat and population assessments have taken place.  These assessments provide information on aquatic species, as well as the habitat they reside in.  Through these surveys, we have identified areas impacting brook trout and have begun the process of drafting recommendations for restoration.

Some of the restoration projects include buffer restoration/stabilization including tree and shrub plantings.  Other areas of impact include stream crossings and protection of land.  The headwaters of this system were still quite serene until Hurricane Irene wreaked havoc.  Now there are a lot of exposed gravel bars, eroded banks, and large wood jams surrounded by new channels.  These are some examples of natural impacts. 

Most of the human influences are centralized around town centers – development along the streambank, which prohibits the growth of trees that normally would provide natural shade and cover (protection) from predators; roads and parking lots adjacent to the stream reduce insect life and impact water quality; and inadequately designed stream crossings which reduce or eliminate migration, to name a few.  Why do I mention these, you ask?  I mention it because as I go into the fall, I am reminded of these beauties.  I think about things I can do to make the streams better for brook trout and all wildlife in general.  For example, pick up trash or make sure I practice carry-in, carry-out when I go fishing.  Also, as I walk along streams and small brooks, be cognizant of the plants and trees within the riparian zone.  Don’t walk right along the edge and knock them down.  Also, as you get ready to walk in the stream, remember brook trout are gearing up to mate and making “redds” in the gravel to cover their eggs.  Try going rock to rock versus walking in the stream, whether you are fishing or hunting.

On that note, areas to fish, of course include the Ammonoosuc and the Gale River.  The upper Connecticut is beautiful this time of year.  IF you are heading out to the ponds, make sure you check the regulations.  All of the wild trout waters closed Labor Day, so make sure you choose one of the other trout ponds that close October 15, like Streeter Pond or Big Millsfield.  Big Greenough is still open until September 30, and it is definitely worth the trip.  If you feel like an adventure, grab your float tube and head into one of the Trio Ponds in the Nash Stream State Forest.  Good luck! – Dianne Timmins, Regional Fisheries Biologist

LAKES REGION

Weather patterns are changing rapidly now.  Heavy rains and cold fronts have moved through the lakes region recently.  The “offshore” bite on landlocked salmon seems to be slowing down now.  Pre-spawn rituals will find salmon moving inshore in preparation for the spawning run, which will begin in earnest in October.  (Learn more about the life cycle of landlocked salmon at Fish and Game's annual "Salmon Sunday" event on Sunday, November 10, 2013, from 1 to 3 p.m. at Pope Dam in Melvin Village - fishnh.com/Newsroom/2013/Q3/Salmon_Sunday_091213.html).

Salmon and rainbows quite literally can be found anywhere now.  Just yesterday on Lake Winnisquam, the surface of the lake was literally covered with flying ants!  I’ve seen this phenomenon every year now, just about the same time (mid-September).  This is a tremendous food source for salmonids, and other species as well.

The alewives are still scattered throughout Winnisquam, as evidenced by large balls of bait on my depth sounder between 10 and 35 feet deep.  A recent electroshocking survey turned up good numbers of alewives both in the main part of the lake as well as in the Winnipesaukee River in Laconia.  I was amazed at the number of good-sized white perch I saw as we worked over 10 foot depths in a sandy bay of the lake.  Lake trout jigging is hot now, as lakers are congregating in preparation of spawning.  Remember, these are coldwater species, and time is of the essence if you choose to release these fish.  A good method is to plunge the trout headfirst into the water to give them a good start on their descent back to the bottom.

The rainfall has kept good water flows in our big rivers, the Pemigewasset, Ammonoosuc, Saco and smaller streams throughout the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF). Likewise, trout ponds will be fishing well right through the end of the season (October 15).  I always find time to hit a couple of these ponds and enjoy the fall colors.  Brook trout are in full spawning colors now; so enjoy this fall season, it won’t last long! – Don Miller, Regional Fisheries Biologist

MONADNOCK/UPPER VALLEY

Despite the recent 90+ degree humid weather over the last couple days, it is inevitable that fall will be here soon.  A fair number of anglers make the mistake of giving up on fishing once summer ends and other distraction,s such as the Patriots and hunting season(s), appear.  In my opinion, fall can offer some of the best fishing of the year.  Cool comfortable weather coupled with beautiful foliage and aggressive fish can make for some unforgettable outings.

Any trout anglers out there should hit designated trout ponds and rivers and streams soon as all trout ponds and most rivers and streams close to fishing on October 16.  My top trout pond choices for this fall include Dublin Lake (Dublin), Stone Pond (Marlborough), Gilmore Pond (Jaffrey), Sand Pond (Marlow), Mount William Pond (Weare), and Millen Lake (Washington).  According to the local Conservation Officer, Millen Lake produced some beautiful 21-inch holdover rainbows this year.

Streams that should still be holding some trout are the Ashuelot River (Surry/Winchester/Hinsdale), South Branch Ashuelot River (Route 12 portions; fly fishing only), and the Contoocook River (Henniker).  Of course, there are also numerous smaller brooks where wild brook trout abound.

We are blessed with too many bass and panfish waters in the Monadnock Region to reasonably fish in a single fall.  Waters I want to visit this fall include Stumpfield Marsh (Hopkinton; largemouth bass and panfish), Dublin Lake (smallmouth bass), Highland Lake (largemouth bass and crappie), Contoocook Lake (Jaffrey; panfish), Warren Lake (Alstead; smallmouth and largemouth), Grassy Pond (Rindge; largemouth and yellow perch), Crescent Lake (Acworth), and Potanipo Lake (Brookline; largemouth and panfish). 

small catfish from the Connecticut River

Our channel catfish pursuit will continue on the Connecticut River until the water begins to cool to the low 60’s.  Larger cats have been hard to come by this summer, but even the smaller ones are interesting and fun to catch (see picture at right).  I still can’t get over the diversity of fish one can catch in the river with a night crawler or cut bait.  I fished a 40-foot hole this past weekend that was absolutely loaded with big rock bass and a few catfish.  The rock bass were suspended from 15 feet down all the way to the bottom and made it difficult to get the bait down to the catfish. 

Recent reports and pictures from anglers confirm that some smaller cats are being caught above the Vernon Dam.  Look for a story on channel catfish in the Connecticut River in an issue of next year’s New Hampshire Wildlife Journal.  

If you have not yet fished the Connecticut River during the fall, I truly hope you start.  Opportunities for pike, walleye, yellow perch, sunfish, and largemouth and smallmouth bass are numerous, and these fish can be caught using many techniques including trolling (crankbaits or crawler harnesses on bottom bouncers), casting artificial lures, or using a jig and live bait (minnows or crawlers).  Walleye can be found in water from 5 to 50 feet deep, along with smallmouth bass and yellow perch.  Most pike are caught in the setbacks or on the shorelines of the main river channel at this time of year.

edbreast sunfish/bluegill hybrid

I received an email recently from John W., an avid angler from Stoddard.  He and his son Ben were fishing Franklin Pierce Lake in pursuit of a state record redbreast sunfish and had caught a large one, or so they thought.  The fish weighed 0.46 pounds on a certified scale and would have qualified as the state record except that the fish was actually a redbreast sunfish/bluegill hybrid (see picture at right).  Sunfish hybrids are fairly common in some New Hampshire waters, as these sunfish (bluegill, pumpkinseed, and redbreast) tend to spawn in similar locations during spring.  These hybrids can make for some interesting coloration patterns and can be challenging to correctly identify.  John and Ben took the disappointing news well and are already making plans to catch a state record redbreast sunfish next year! - Gabe Gries, Regional Fisheries Biologist

SOUTHEAST NH/MERRIMACK VALLEY

As the season winds down, don’t forgo a trout fishing trip just because stocking hasn’t occurred for some time.  Our surveys indicate modest survival rates of stocked brook, brown, and rainbow trout in the designated trout ponds.  Despite heavy angling pressure, habitat and forage in these ponds accommodate survival, and fishing up through the end of the trout pond season (October 15). 

We also use surplus hatchery brood brook trout and brown trout by stocking them in waters with no closed season after the fish have been used for hatchery production.  When these larger fish are available, we look to put them into waters where anglers can catch them in the fall and winter season.  In southeastern New Hampshire, the Cocheco and Lamprey rivers and Manning, Massabesic and Pleasant lakes often receive these fish. It is important to note that after October 15, the Cocheco and Lamprey rivers have regulations that require catch-and-release and only flies or single hook lures can be used.  – Ben Nugent, Regional Fisheries Biologist

SEACOAST AREA

Attention all anglers….the summer is not over yet! Squid are still feeding ferociously in the Piscataqua River. I did well last week using a 3.5oz Squid Jig in about 20 feet of water. Slack tide seems to produce the best results, or about an hour on either side of slack; once the current gets going, the bite seems to taper off.

The Piscataqua River is still chock full of Sea Bass upwards of 15 inches! Just about any place in the river will produce fish as long as you are fishing hard bottom in 20-plus feet of water. I typically use squid scraps from cleaning the squid I previously caught on a hi-low rig fished with a 3oz. sinker. Snags are common in Sea Bass territory, so make sure you bring plenty of sinkers and gear.

Offshore sea surface temps are running in the low 60s. The tuna bite is still pretty dismal, with no bait around to speak of. The groundfish bite continues to be decent, with mostly Pollock, and a few Cod and Haddock thrown in the mix. Most anglers report that with the new 21 inch regulations on Haddock, most of the fish boarded get thrown back. Incidental catch seems to be common this month for blue sharks, as anglers targeting groundfish get the occasional strike, and those with a stout rig are able to pull them in for a picture.

Striped Bass fishing still continues to produce and should improve as we enter fall. I recently talked to three anglers fishing the Hampton Harbor Estuary by boat and all caught their limit fishing with chunks of mackerel on an evening high tide. Tube and worm rigs also produce well in this area, trolling slowly on soft bottom tipped with a natural or artificial sand/blood worm. This week, I will be fishing Hampton Harbor tributaries with live eels at night out of my kayak, looking for Striped Bass as they prepare to move south for the winter.

Other areas along the coast worth targeting with a boat are rock piles such as Sunken Rocks off Hampton Harbor by the N “2” can or the hump by Gunboat Shoals near the G “1” can. Live eels at night work well if you don’t have any live mackerel to use, but should be rigged differently than your typical live mackerel rig.

Eels can be frustrating to use if you are new to using them. Rigs vary from one angler to another, but for now I will tell you how to use and make a basic setup for eels that has worked for me when fishing humps in deep water, as well as a rig used in beach fishing for those who prefer to keep their feet on dry land.

For kayak fishing, I like to use a relatively large (3-6 oz.) sinker and a three-way swivel. First, I attach my main line to any eye on the three-way swivel with a simple improved clinch knot. Then I take a 2-foot piece of 40 lb. mono leader material with a sharp 4/0 circle hook and tie it to another swivel eye. To finish the rig, I then tie on another 2-foot piece of mono leader, preferably weaker than your main line (20 lb. works) so that in the event of a snag, you can get your rig back. For a visual aide, you can get a diagram of this rig in the NH Fish and Game 2013 Saltwater Fishing Digest on page 14 (the Digest can be viewed online at fishnh.com/pubs/fishing.html).

When fishing from shore, I change the rig up a bit. I tend to lighten up and simplify my gear with a 7.5-foot spinning outfit with 20 lb. test and a 2-foot, 15 lb. fluorocarbon leader. The leader is attached with a heavy barrel swivel to the main line and, on the business end, I like to use a 4/0 octopus hook. Making sure you use a quality hook with a sharp point will go a long way when baiting your hook. They are a little difficult to hook when they are squirming, so before you get to the bait shop, bring a bucket with some ice to let them cool down (just make sure they are not submerged in fresh water). By the time you get to your fishing site they should be calm enough to handle. I like to grip them with a rag and put the hook through the bottom jaw and out the eye. Work the eel in slow, a typical strike will not be hard but rather a few firm taps….similar to a sunfish taking a worm, set the hook and have a blast.

For those looking for something different this year, try clamming! Here in New Hampshire, we have several places to clam, with the most popular being Hampton Harbor and Little Bay. The season is just starting and typically runs into next May. Clam flats do close from time to time, so if you decide to go, make sure you check the clam flat and oyster bed status by calling the Clam Flat Hotline at 1-800-43-CLAMS or checking online at fishnh.com/Fishing/clam_flat_status.htm. - Shane Conlin, Marine Biological Aide

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