LACONIA, N.H. – At Martel’s Bait and Sport, there was a healthy bit of skepticism as Tuesday’s opening day of fishing season approached. Outside the cozy shop last week, it was 24 degrees, the wind was cutting and bobhouses still squatted on frozen Lake Winnesquam.
“Rule of thumb is ‘ice out’ is April 12,” said Charlie Laros of Colebrook. He was down for the “warm” weather of Laconia and noted that last year, official “ice out” – when the tour boat Mount Washington can make all her ports on Lake Winnipesaukee – was April 17. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘ice out’ goes way past April 17 this year.”
“ ‘Ice out’ in October,” retorted Andrew Fosher, who works at Martel’s, bringing laughter from Laros and fellow angler Brian Zackowski.
April 1 is a holiday of sorts for serious anglers: It’s the first day to wade into a stream or to paddle out onto a lake and drop a line for lake trout, landlocked salmon or white perch.
That will still happen, just not in as many places as anglers have gotten used to over the past couple of warmer, shorter winters. In some places on Lake Winnipesaukee, the ice is still 20 to 30 inches thick. The die-hards will come out and find those few spots of open water: Governor’s Island Bridge, Long Island Bridge, Alton Bay, maybe a handful of others.
“You’ll still get guys out there even if it’s zero degrees,” Zackowski said.
Maybe. But not in numbers like two years ago when the ice was officially gone on March 23. The latest ice out was May 12, in 1888.
“When we have ice in, at all the bridges and places like that, there will be enough water open for people to go fishing,” said Lt. James Goss of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. “But it’s going be very limited this year.”
It may be hard to believe, but this wasn’t a very harsh winter. State climatologist Mary Stampone says the winter of 2013-14 is dead-on when compared with the winter average from 1961-1990.
“It depends on how you define ‘normal,’ ” she said. “This winter is exactly what we used to experience.”
Temperatures from December through February, the definition of “winter” for climatologists, were normal in New Hampshire when compared with the average of the most recent 30-year period, from 1981-2010. March, though? Not even close. Stampone says final data could show a month as much as 10 degrees colder than normal.
Add to these colder temperatures a persistent snowpack that acts like a big reflector and insulator, and the ice has got a good grip on the region’s lakes.
It may make fishing a little uncomfortable for a few more weeks, but there are upsides, too. A slower start to the season gives species time to get stronger, keeps more of them in the water and can allow for a rebound if populations get low.
“It’s so simple, it’s profound,” said John Viar, a biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. “When you have salmon and other species under pressure, and you have extended time that they’re not fished for, there’s that much less pressure for another month.”
Stampone said current outlooks call for typical ups and downs over the next couple of weeks but she cautioned: “Those downs are going to be low.”
Anglers take heart: It may be a slow, even late start to the season, but the rewards could be great once that water does open up, according to Lt. James Goss of Fish and Game.
“I suspect they’ll be pretty hungry once the ice comes off the lakes,” he said.