Fishing in the Winnipesaukee River watershed is a wonderful experience at all times of the year - from the shore, from boats, on the ice, it's a fishing paradise.



Here are general guidelines for responsible use of outstanding fishing resources of Lake Winnipesaukee:
  • No salmonids (salmon/trout) may be taken from October 1 to December 31; Ice-fishing season is from January 1 to March 31; open water season is from April 1 to September 30.
  • Minimum length for landlocked salmon, rainbow trout, and brook trout (very rare) is 15 inches;
  • Minimum length for lake trout is 18 inches.
  • There is a two-fish aggregate bag limit for salmon/trout during the open-water season; for example, either two salmon, two lake trout, two rainbow trout, or one each of two species for a total of two. The aggregate limit applies for ice fishing season as well, with the exception of NO salmon can be taken through the ice. If incidentally caught while ice fishing, landlocked salmon should be released by cutting the line as close to the fish as possible, without removing the salmon from the water.
  • There are NO brown trout stocked into Lake Winnipesaukee or its tributaries.
  • There is no closed season for largemouth and smallmouth bass; however, it is catch and immediate release only from May 15 to June 15, and only artificial lures and flies may be used during this period.
For complete details, other species, exceptions (e.g. the Merrymeeting River), and future changes, always refer to the Freshwater Fishing Digest law book, which is handed out with purchase of your fishing license or available online at the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department.


Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby, Meredith Bay. Photo by

Be aware of the many navigational hazards – rocky reefs and shoal areas have claimed many props and vessels. The large expanse of open water in the main lake known as “The Broads” should be considered “big water” – heavy northwest winds in particular create swells that smaller craft cannot handle. Early spring anglers have lost their lives after being swamped and succumbing to hypothermia. Mid-summer boat traffic, particularly on weekends, is so heavy that it can become hazardous. Stick to early mornings to avoid the intense recreational use. Hard-water anglers should be extremely cautious – there are many areas of current between islands and ice thickness varies greatly throughout the lake. Permanent docks frequently have aerators, which keep nearby areas ice-free. After heavy snowfalls common to the Northeast, the lake ice is “pushed” down and water seeping through cracks and holes creates large pockets of slush – walking is nearly impossible and snowmobiles can be bogged down and stranded.


Due to its size, location, fishing opportunities, and beauty, Lake Winnipesaukee receives relatively heavy fishing pressure, especially in the spring and summer months. Approximately 80 registered bass tournaments are held annually. The annual “Winni Derby”, a three-day salmon/lake trout derby held in mid-May, attracts approximately 3,000 anglers. Thousands of hard-water anglers from New England and beyond flock to the Meredith Rotary Ice-Fishing Derby, a weekend event held in early February; although a statewide event, much of the pressure is focused on Lake Winnipesaukee.
There are a wide range of online resources for fishing (rentals, guides, etc.) – here are just a couple commercial sites:


Lake Winnipesaukee is managed as a two-tier fishery (salmon, lake trout, and rainbow trout comprise the coldwater fishery and smallmouth and largemouth bass are the primary warmwater component). To meet angler demands, landlocked salmon (first introduced in 1867) and rainbow trout are stocked annually. Although salmon and rainbow trout spawn in tributaries, a variety of factors, including few suitable spawning tributaries, limit natural reproduction. Less than 3% of the salmon population is from natural recruitment; essentially nil for rainbow trout. Lake trout and smallmouth and largemouth bass are self-sustaining through natural reproduction and creel/size/season restrictions. Rainbow smelt eggs have been stocked in the past, but their population is primarily managed by adjusting landlocked salmon stocking rates to correspond with annual smelt abundance (determined through hydroacoustic and trawl net surveys).
Trap netting is performed each fall to monitor salmon/trout growth and body condition (robustness), and collect landlocked salmon eggs, which sustains this fishery (as noted above, wild salmon are virtually non-existent and cannot support an adequate fishery in Lake Winnipesaukee).
Hydroacoustic and trawl net surveys are conducted in late summer to monitor pelagic forage fish (rainbow smelt and young-of-the-year white and yellow perch) abundance, which aids in setting appropriate stocking rates (balancing predator/prey numbers). Smelt abundance has been excellent the past five years, which in concert with appropriate stocking rates, has resulted in outstanding salmon/trout fishing.
Young-of-the-year (first year of life) largemouth and smallmouth bass abundance is monitored by electrofishing in select index sites.
In 2010, the NH Fish & Game Department completed a survey of the brook trout populations in streams within the Winnipesaukee watershed.  These surveys should provide some useful information in the development of the Winnipesaukee watershed management plan; for example, NH Fish & Game will be able to point out streams that have unique fish communities, streams with wild brook trout populations, areas with water quality indicator species (i.e brook trout = cold, clean, clear water), etc.  Click here for the Winnipesaukee Brook Trout Summary.


(from information prepared by John A. Viar and Ben Nugent, Fisheries Biologists, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department)