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Peak Time

Ice Fishing Season Hits Its Winter Stride On Lake Mascoma

The burst of frigid weather has rendered safer ice conditions on Upper Valley lakes and ponds, shifting ice fishing season into high gear. Bob houses have sprung up on Mascoma Lake; ice augurs are being employed by warmly dressed hopefuls.

Valley anglers have already found success this winter, harvesting the same fish that are caught in warmer weather — perch, sunnies, pickerel, brookies and rainbows.

However, in winter some ice anglers go for species that are not always sought after in the summer, like the northern pike and the lake trout.

Northern pike (Esox Lucius) are not commonly considered a target for Granite State anglers. Though pike inhabit most northeastern lakes and rivers, they never found much of a stronghold in the Granite State.

The one body of water that can be confirmed as a true hot spot for N.H. northerns flows right through the Upper Valley — the Connecticut River.

The Connecticut features shallow grassy areas adjacent to deeper water, which is the preferred habitat for the ferocious ‘wolf of the north’.

An aggressive, toothy predator, pike will generally eat any fish smaller than they are, which is just about everything else that swims.

They have also been known to feed on small rodents and water fowl.

With proper forage, pike can grow to monster size. The New Hampshire record catch measured 45 inches and weighed in at 24.14 pounds. The fish was caught on Moore Reservoir, a Connecticut River impoundment near Littleton.

In winter, northerns can be found underneath the ice in small river bays know as setbacks.

Because these setbacks are not located in the main current of the river, they freeze over and form enough ice to hold anglers. They are also home to big pike.

Art Rafus ventured forth in search of pike during the recent cold spell, focusing on the Piermont Setback of the Connecticut.

He presented live minnows attached to tip ups. It didn’t take long for the orange flags to fly.

In cold water, fish have a lower metabolic rate, so the angler must wait as the pike drags line off the spool. It usually takes a few minutes for the fish to take the bait completely into its mouth.

Most hook sets occur after the fish stops its initial run.

Because ice fishing involves ‘hand lining’, landing a lunker pike through the ice requires patience and a light touch.

The angler may gain a few inches of line only to have a big northern strip it right back out. Depending on the size of the fish, the fight can last as along as 45 minutes.

Once the fish is brought to the opening, a dull gaff can be employed to catch the fold that runs from the gill plate to the mouth.

The pike is pulled from the ice unharmed. The catch must be released quickly if it is going to fight another day.

Ice anglers also go after another species that is not ardently pursued in summer — the lake trout. Lakers (Salvelinus Namaycush) are a not a true trout, but rather a member of the char family.

The species favors deep, clear water, seeking the ideal band where the ‘thermo-cline’ is between 37 and 53 degrees.

In spring and summer, down rigger trolling is the best way to fish for lakers. But that method can be boring and unproductive for anglers who want more action. It also burns up a lot of gas.

In winter, lakers come in closer to shore, making them easier to locate.

David Titus has found success fishing for lake trout on Lake Sunapee.

“I caught brookies on Tewksbury earlier in the season, but in February I like to go for lakers on Sunapee,” said Titus. “They’re strong and they put up a good fight.”

Titus, who won’t reveal his secret spots, has a two-fold approach in his pursuit of lake trout.

First he bores two holes which is the maximum legal number for Sunapee. Then he baits one line with a live smelt.

In the second opening, he employees a jigging technique with a lure like a Swedish Pimpel. Using a small rod or a jigging stick, the lure is raised and lowered quickly, creating a vibration that attracts fish.

Titus says to keep the lure or the smelt near the bottom. “Every fish I catch is on the bottom. And I’ve always caught more lakers fishing with a lure.”

Sunapee has a healthy lake trout population.

Five-pounders are not uncommon through the ice. The N.H. record, set in 1958 on Newfound Lake, is 28.8 pounds.

The time window for ice anglers is dwindling. Bob houses must be removed from all bodies of water no later than March 31.

So fish or cut bait and strike while the ice is still thick.