Spring is the season to catch the King!
By Matt Carpenter, Fisheries Biologist, Fish Conservation Program

The prospect of catching or even simply targeting an Atlantic salmon in New Hampshire is enough to increase the pulse rate of anglers at any skill level.  Starting in May, these fish -- formerly used as brood stock in restoration efforts -- will be stocked in both the Merrimack and Pemigewasset rivers.  Stocking typically occurs throughout these rivers from Hooksett to Bristol.   The stocking rate of these fish in 2008 is expected to be higher than previous years, translating to even better chances for success.  Angler reports from 2007 showed a wide variety in catch rates, with several anglers claiming they did well in the Bristol area. 

We have some trophy-sized fish to release this spring for the Atlantic salmon brood stock program.  Currently, there are 964 Atlantic salmon available for release into the Merrimack and Pemigewasset Rivers.  The majority of these fish are three-year-olds ranging between 3 and 8 pounds, but there will be some big four-year-olds mixed in, each weighing between 10 and 18 pounds.  The prospect of hooking into any of these fish makes for an exciting day of fishing.

Jon Greenwood
Jon Greenwood, recently retired Anadromous Fish Program Coordinator.

This will be my first full year with the brood stock program after filling in for the legendary Jon Greenwood, who retired last summer.  With over 35 years of experience in anadromous fish restoration, Jon left some big shoes to fill.  Fortunately, he will continue to act as a consultant on this and other programs.  The Merrimack River Atlantic salmon brood stock fishery now falls under the new Fish Conservation Program.  Any extra money generated by the fishery will go toward conserving native fish and their habitats throughout the state. 

As a newcomer to the Merrimack River brood stock program, I am relying on your experience and advice as anglers.  The people I talked to last fall were all passionate about the fishery and their enthusiasm was contagious.  Please feel free to call me any time with advice, or just to share a fishing story (271-2501).  We will not be collecting volunteer angler diaries this year as we look into some more effective ways of monitoring the fishery.  In the meantime, good luck and don’t let the big one get away.

For a free brochure, including a map of salmon-fishing access points, call (603) 271-2501 -- or, click here for a downloadable access map, a list of license agents and lots more information on the program.

Season and Permits: The special broodstock Atlantic salmon season runs year-round, but all salmon taken from October 1 through March 31 must be immediately released. Adult anglers need an $11 Atlantic salmon permit and a regular New Hampshire fishing license. Children under 16 are not required to hold a permit or a fishing license. Each angler can keep one tagged salmon per day and five for the season. The minimum length limit is 15 inches. Note that area 1a (below Eastman Falls Dam in Franklin) is catch-and-release only. Stamp and possession tags are no longer required for salmon anglers. The salmon permit is a simple check box on the regular license application. Don't forget -- anglers now can purchase their salmon permit online (click here to purchase permit or fishing license).

When to go: The best time to fish for broodstock is in April and May and again in the fall during October and November, when water temperatures are between 45 and 65 degrees F. Salmon are migratory, and they head back to the ocean once water temperatures rise in late June. An additional stocking takes place in the fall.

Best Fly-Fishing Areas: The most successful fly fishing is found in the fast, free-flowing sections below the dams along the Merrimack and Pemigewasset rivers and its tributaries. For fly anglers some of the best spots include the area below the Ayers Island Dam in Bristol. There are two sections that offer excellent wade fishing opportunities: the first area is along Coolidge Woods Road on the east side of the river, the other is Profile Falls Recreation Area. This is a new site located near the Smith River confluence on the east side of the river.

Other recommended areas include the catch-and-release section just below the Eastman Falls Dam in Frankin, the river below this section in the vicinity of the Winnipesaukee River confluence, the section near the Stirrup Iron Brook in Boscawen, the Contoocook River below the first dam in Penacook, and the Sewalls Falls Recreational Park area in Concord.

Tackle tips: Gear recommendations for fly anglers include 7- to 9-wt. rods with either floating or sink-tip lines, depending on the height and speed of the river flow. While most fly anglers prefer heavyweight rods with 10-pound test line, nymph fishing with lighter gear has proven successful in catching big salmon. Recommended flies include traditional hair wing flies and streamers. Some patterns to try are green highlander, black bear green butt, cosseboom, soft hackle marabou and muddler minnow.

Spin-fishing areas: The area below the Garvin's Falls Dam in Bow to the MA/NH border is open to both fly and spin fishing. The best areas include in this section of the river just below the Garvin's Falls and Hooksett dams where the river is fast flowing. Fishing success in these two areas is best angling from a boat; however, these two areas offer some limited but good shoreline angling as well. Excellent boat access is provided at Public Service of New Hampshire's ramp on the west side of the river in Bow and at the state-owned ramp on the east side of the river below the Hooksett Dam.

Gear tips: Spin casting anglers would do best to use medium to heavy 6 1/2 to 7 foot rods with a minimum of 10-pound test mono line. Some of the lures recommended are Little Cleo (chrome, chartreuse colors), Blue Fox Pixie, Trixie (silver, chartreuse), Rapala's CD model, and large in-line spinners such as Mepps Aglia (nickel, green, yellow) and Rooster tails. Be reminded that the use of lures for the taking salmon is by the use of an artificial lure having no more than ONE hook point! A solution for lures sold with treble hooks is to either cut off two of the hook points or replace the treble hook with a #6 bait holder hook.


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