Trolling For Fish
In New Hampshire With
Master Angler, Jim Warner

(54 years of Lake Winni angling)





Jim Warner at age 6 getting started in his angling career.



When I thought about Lake Winni and trolling for fish in New Hampshire,Jim Warner's name came to mind.  He is one of the well-known names on Lake Winni and beyond  - especially among fly fishermen.


Jim is the creator of many successful streamer patterns sold all around the Lake's Region of New Hampshire and around the world. He is also well known among people from Wolfeboro, as the former long time owner of the main sporting and bait store on the docks in downtown Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. 


Jim is a gentleman and a Master among master fly tiers, having won much national recognition for his art.  He is also an ardent fisherman, as his stories reveal. I have never witnessed first hand such fly-tying skill.


When the ice goes out, I am trolling for fish with Jim Warner's flies -- either his Lake Winni Smelt, his "Barbara Cotton," "Lil Warner Smelt," or his "Nine-Three" if the weather is dark and overcast.


 

Jim's Early Days in New Hampshire

Jim Warner - a master angler and master fly-tier.“My dear wife would probably say, ’You can’t write a short anything.’ She has always been right (she says).   My fishing experience on Lake Winnipesaukee first started in 1949, when I married a Laconia gal.


"While she worked as a nurse at Laconia General Hospital, I fished. Actually, I was trolling for fish everywhere that I could, that is, in the hours that preceded the hours I worked at Scott & Williams Factory.


"I tied flies then, too, and occasionally I would go out with my friend Bob Moulton in Alton Bay, New Hampshire. He ran a small tackle & gas station, and who kept me busy tying flies for him to use while trolling for fish. We would troll for salmon. Otherwise, without a boat, I usually fished the Winnipesaukee River above Tilton, and the Swift, the Bear Camp, and other good trout streams, you name them.


“During the Korean conflict, I was stationed in France …and my wife tagged along, nurse that she was. I had a wonderful opportunity to fish “about” Europe, and visited many of the good angling countries, such as Norway and Sweden. 


"After the service stint, I opened the tiny Sportsmen’s Center with Bob Moulton. We were located at the bridge in the downtown Wolfeboro area of New Hampshire.


Jim Warner's old bait & tackle store, the Sportsmen Center at the bridge, followed by the Lakes Region Sports Shop at the dock on Wolfeboro Bay.



“I bought Bob out after a year and he went on his way to other area businesses. I stayed and ran the Center until 1963 when I opened the Lakes Region Sports Shop at the docks.


"In 1976 I sold it and “semi-retired” for more angling time. All through these years, I fished the big lake when I could. When I had the small Sportsman’s Center, it was easier to get out trolling for fish. I had my boat tied up in the river, at the side of the shop and would go out almost every morning early at 4:30AM.


"I would start trolling for fish in the outer Wolfeboro Bay between Sewall and Clark Points or head out into the Broads to fish the “triangle” between Little Mark Island and Black Point. It was on several of these excursions that I would meet with other fishermen, such as, Glenn Morrill.


Many of Jim Warner's beaded Winni Smelt - the fly he created and made famous for Lake Winni salmon.

"For several years, I, too, was a licensed guide on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. After I changed store locations, it was not as easy to get out to go trolling for fish, unless there was someone to take over the shop. But, I did get out on some of the early mornings and a few of the later evenings.


"The new shop was even busier, because I was still catching most of the bait sold during the day, doing the bookkeeping, and managing the store.  During all these years, at both stores, I tied all the flies sold there and was able to create some of the better fly patterns used around the Lakes Region of New Hampshire.


“After selling the Lakes Region Sports business, I was unlucky enough to get into real estate in the Wolfeboro area and stayed with it until 1998, when I officially retired and moved from my Winter Harbor home to a modest spot in Melvin Village.


"All through these years, I tied and created fly patterns. In the last 7 years I have tied for one store only, my old establishment in Wolfeboro. In the last few years of my “retirement” I have been doing "frames" of my “Originals” which seems to take most of my time now.


"I’ll soon be 78.  I list below some of my more notable accomplishments…. mostly at the fly tying bench.


Jim Warner doing the work he loves, tying flies.“My fly-tying has been listed in several books: Dick Stewart’s Trolling Flies for Trout & Salmon; Dick Surette’s Trout and Salmon Fly Index; Don Wilson’s Smelt Fly Dressings; Mike Martinek’s Streamer Fly Patterns for Trolling & Casting 1 & 2; many periodicals such as On The Water, UFT, etc; and many newspaper articles…. too many to describe.


"I have tied flies for scores of retail outlets (2 of which were Abercrombie & Fitch and William Mills in N.Y.C.), 3 jobber accounts, and hundreds of individuals. In 1964 I tied 6 large fly books full of area streamers for New Hampshire Governor, King, for gifts to visiting dignitaries. (Curt Gowdy & Ted Williams were among them.)


"I have taught fly tying to grade schools, high schools, summer camps, classes associated with retail stores, and under the New Hampshire Arts Council program as a Master Craftsman. (Written up in NH Wildlife Journal – May/June, 1995).


"I’ve done exhibition tying at various places including under the UFT in Boston, State of New Hampshire Arts Council, and Bob Moulton’s show at the Farmington F&G Club in 1951, among many other places.


"But I really feel that one of my best accomplishments has been a marriage to a lovely woman for 53 years (and she has put up with so much fly tying mess!)  I’ve had a wonderful life, so far. My dear wife has promised to bury me with my fly tying vise, when that time comes.


• Years angling in Lake Winni:

1950- (with break in 4 service connected years) for total of 57 years trolling for fish.

• Who taught me to fish?

My mother, who took me trolling for fish to catch largemouth bass in Lake Santa Fee in Melrose, Florida. We used a jointed Pikie Minnow, and I landed a very large bass. I have a photo holding it when I was 6. 

As far as teaching me here on Lake Winni in New Hampshire, I was self-taught. My mother gave me a gift when I was 12, a trip to Lake Sunapee, where I stayed in an old lakeside hotel by myself and rowed around the lake trolling for fish for 2 days.  What a gift! 

I was always reading the top two fishing magazines, Field & Stream and Outdoor Life.  But until I was married in 1949 to a Laconia Gal, I didn't fish in Lake Winni.

In the spring of 1950, my wife & I rented a boat on Lake Winni and I remember that we caught a nice Lake Trout in a snowstorm off the Gilford shore. 

In 1950 I met a friend who owned a sport shop in Alton Bay, Bob Moulton. He & I fished a great deal, trolling for fish mostly consisted of salmon and trout, when we could get away.  We also trolled for bass along the shoreline.

• Fishing Mentor/hero?

I have had many good friends over the years who were far better than I for the title of Master Angler!  But if I had to pick one out of all, it would be Glen Morrill of Alton Bay. 

Black Point used to be one of my favorite Lake Winni fishing spots and on numerous occasions I would meet Glenn out with a fishing customer in his small boat usually doing quite well.

Usually when I was trolling for fish alongside we would exchange information.   He would shout, "How deep are your trolling?" He would then give me a hint; "Let some more line out…" or "Take in some line." And as soon as I did as he suggested, I would begin catching both trout and salmon. 

At that time, Glen was THE guide on Lake Winni, and his motto was, "No fish -- no pay." I doubt if he ever came away empty handed. At that time, Glenn's favorite lure was a fly with red & blue and a yellow wing.

In those days, even though in the middle of the summer, we were trolling for fish using solid copper lines with long leaders and flies.

• What did I learn from Glenn?

Perhaps most important was depth and trolling speed. And another of his tips then, is just as good now. I noticed that Glenn never was never trolling for fish in a straight line. He always fished in figure "8's" and random curves.  I found out then that this caused the fly or lure to slow down and drop, and then to speed up and rise.

Color of flies was another hint, for he would use the darker less conspicuous flies. Like a "Nine-Three" for top water in the very early morning or late evening. And if the flies were being trolled on top, the longer the leader, the better the luck.

• My favorite Lake Winni fish?

Well, it is not hard to pick the landlocked salmon for this category. The lake trout, pound for pound, is a strong game fish.  But in the spring, when most are caught on top, they tend to throb and just use their weight.

On the other hand, a salmon will fight much harder.  Sometimes the acrobatics into the air can be fantastic! Of course rainbow trout are very much like salmon in the fight.

Landlocks can also be caught for longer periods too, on into the summer months, than can lakers who go down deeper. The salmon tend to stay in the top 10-15 feet below the surface on into the summer months, whereas the lakers seek the cooler temperatures of deeper water.

On several occasions even in summer, I have been out trolling for fish on Lake Winni at a very early hour to find salmon on top, sometimes just surfacing. On one such memorable morning, I cast a fly beyond the swirl, only to hook a huge salmon, which broke off.

• Which do you prefer - lead core, fly rod, or downrigger fishing for salmon and trout?

This is a big subject.  I have always advocated the use of the fly rod; but then, I'm not a purist either. Other methods have their place and I have used them all.

When I did most of my trolling for fish on Lake Winni in New Hampshire, between the 1950s and mid 1980s, the springtime was, of course, the most fished time of the year. Back then, few anglers would follow the fish into the deep. And by September, still few fished, for it was time to think fall and the coming hunting season.

Leadcore, was a spring-into-early-Summer line. To have enough leadcore to get part of the way to the bottom, a pretty large reel had to be used to hold 200 yards of leadcore.  I doubt that 200 yards of leadcore can get down more than a hundred feet unless one was trolling for fish at a crawl.  And leadcore is difficult to work to give it action, because one tends to wear a bad spot in the outside nylon braid.

In the very early years when I was trolling for fish, copper line was the most popular and cheap.  But it got you down.  And if you hit the bottom and broke off, you might only lose the fly or lure.

Steel or Monel line was also used and its smaller diameter allowed you to get more on a smaller reel. Sometime around the sixties, a twisted steel line came into the Lake Winni scene and there were men who were trolling for fish using these steel lines with flies who were very successful.

My method of trolling for fish in the spring, especially, was with 3 rods (2 anglers).  Two rods would be on top water, whether they be with fly or other lure, and the third rod would be deeper -- a heavier rod with leadcore.

The leadcore would be let out no more than 5 colors, which would put the fly down about 5-15 feet, depending on trolling speed.  If the fish were not hitting on the top lines, then I would switch the arrangement with 1 top and two down.

When downriggers first came to the market, in the 1970s, the need for most of the leadcore/steel lines was over. The downrigger enabled fishermen to fish and catch good fish with much lighter lines and tackle.

I had a pair of the early downriggers.  They were too clumsy and far from the technology of the present. I never used them that much, but they looked good on the back of my boat -- sort of a status symbol. The downrigger, properly used, can be a deadly method to catch fish, especially in the hotter summer months.

For the most part, when spring was over, it was high time for me to buckle down to the business of running a sports shop for 18 hours a day!

• Favorite fishing months

Of course, spring is my favorite time with fly-fishing. But winter has always held a spot in my heart … when my arthritis wasn't so bad that I could brave the cold.

When I lived in Laconia, New Hampshire and long before I opened the sports shop, I used to like to bob or jig for perch through the ice. My brother-in-law and I would trudge out onto the Broads, use a hand chisel and cut through a couple feet of ice. We'd fill a bucket with nice yellow perch.  We used the small pin smelt for bait on hand lines.

Even later in the years, I can remember having a series of cusk lines in front of my Winter Harbor home and, with my daughter, pulling up some very nice cusk for chowder.

• Best time of the day for angling:

For me, definitely the early morning for trout and salmon.  But for bass, I prefer trolling for fish in the evening hours.

• Best speed for trolling:

There again, it depends. Early in the spring, I believe that the speed should be slower than later when the water warms up.

I remember a customer at my store, The Sportsman Center, who came in and bought some very small No. 1 brass Mepps spinners. When I questioned him, out of curiosity, he told me he was catching salmon like gangbusters.

I found out that he had a small rowboat and was just letting the spinners out on a long line while slowly rowing across Wolfeboro Bay in New Hampshire. I tried to copy his technique, but could not get the proper slow speed. It could be that the variable speed one achieves when rowing gave him his advantage.

Flies, in general, should be trolled faster. Lures - depending on their proper action, which one should always check in the water by the boat - should be trolled slower.

For years the ChevChase lure was the rage. And I found that the Mooselook, with proper bending and a pearl spinner blade in the back, worked almost as well.

My best advice as to trolling speed is to put the lure into the water beside the boat, and observe which action is best with which speed.


 

Month

Salmon

Lakers

Rainbows

Bass

  May

Top to 5-10'

Top to 5-10' Top to 5-10' 0-5'
  June

Top to 5-20'

10-25' Top to 5-20' 0-10'
  July

5-30'

20-50' 5-20' 15-25'
  August

10-35'

20-50' 10-35' 15-25'   0-10' night
  September

10-20'

20-50' 10-20' 15-25'   0-10' night
  October Closed Closed Closed 5-10'   0-5' night
  Ice Fishing Closed Depth varies Depth varies Bottom



Jim Warner flies who sometimes tied 25,000 flies in one year, puts together an order of flies for the customers.


Comments on lures in general:
  • For spring trolling for cold water species (trout and salmon): Use streamer flies. Lures such as Mooselooks, Chev Chase, spinners with bait such as a worm or minnow, live smelt on single small hook, Rapala type lures, pimple lures, etc (just about anything on the market which imitates a swimming bait fish.) I even created a fly to imitate the old popular balsa wood Flat Fish lure.

  • Summer fishing might include all the above but only trolling for fish at different depths.

  • Though fall fishing can be "iffy", use the same flies and lures when trolling for fish.

  • Different tactics for the warm water species such as bass and perch.
Some of these lures mentioned above are OK, such as the Rapala type lure, but live bait is usually more effective for daytime fishing.

One of the favorites for bass is the hellgrammite, the larval stage of the Dobsonfly. Bass go crazy for helgies if fished properly. Some helgies can be found along the shore of Lake Winni, but crawfish are the natural food for bass, as they can be found most anywhere on the bottom of the Lake. (Although not the norm, I have found crawfish in the innards of salmon.).

Minnows are also a good part of the bass diet and many kinds of shiners or minnows can be found along the Lake's shoreline. Where minnows can be fished at all depths, helgys and craws are usually fished on the bottom.

Night crawlers are sold in great quantities around the Lake and they have resulted in the catching of many good bass by young and old.

Bass fishing on top water in late spring, daytime into the evening hours is fantastic! Top water gurgling, bubbling noisy plugs are my favorite. Casting into shore is best, but trolling for fish is also good, but, at night, one is not sure of navigation around boats and various buoys.



• Ice Fishing in New Hampshire:

Bait for ice fishing is 90% the live type. Live smelt, if they can be found, are the best.  Jigging with pieces of smelt can provide the angler with some nice perch or a laker or cusk. Live swimming smelt on the tip up can be deadly for all species.

There are some very deep holes, which some fishermen covet over the years to bob out jack smelt. When the bait smelt are not available, then there is the emerald shiner that was introduced into Lake Winni in the 1950's.  They are far more hardy and live longer than the fragile smelt.

The red fin shiner, a native of Lake Winni, is nearly extinct. However, these are used for tip ups too. There are other types of shiners imported from New Hampshire waters and sold for bait around the Lake.

As far as ice-fishing lures go, the pimple type is used most of the time. Ice flies have been tried as well, but not often.


• My largest fish taken on Lake Winni:

Landlocked Salmon:

May 1957, 7 pound 2 oz. On a small Marabou fly. Off the dock at Wolfeboro in 15 feet of water

Lake Trout:

Many, but none enormous enough to list

Rainbow Trout:

September 1958, 6 pounds, 5 oz "Wolfeboro Bay Special Fly", off Clark Point out side of Wolfeboro Bay in 5-10 feet of water.

Smallmouth Bass:

July 1966, 6 pounds, on a Crazy Crawler at 7 PM Behind Melody Island in Alton on the surface.

Yellow Perch:

1949 2+ pounds through the ice off Rattle Snake Island on cut bait

Cusk:

1970 or 1971, 11 pounds, in Winter Harbor on small yellow perch

Pickerel: 

Almost 5 pounds, off my dock in Winter Harbor on a daredevil in shallow water


I share below two stories about the above and one on the "The one that got away."



A true salmon fishing story:

Years ago, in the late 1950s into the early 1960s, the dockside or the Smith River, as it enters Lake Winni at Wolfeboro Bay, was a Mecca of fishermen with bait or flies.

The better fishing would depend upon the amount of water being released out of Crescent Lake upstream. To swim into the river mouth, salmon needed a current.

As owner and proprietor of the Sportsman Center, I ran an "off the dock" fishing contest in May of 1957.  There were many entries of salmon to 4 pounds or better.  On any given day, I would take my lunch break and take a turn with my fly rod at the salmon in the river.

The 7 lb. salmon Jim Warner caught himself from his dock...which did not win the prize!There was one particular salmon that had caught every angler's eye, and it moved back and forth in the clear current, refusing all morsels that came its way. Darned if I didn't hook and land that fish!  He weighed in at 7 pounds 2 ounces, and a picture of him is here in these pages.

There was a bit of hard feeling amongst the fishermen that day, but they all calmed down when I "disqualified" myself and went back to work.  Just one week later a fisherman from Milton Mills landed a salmon of 8 pounds 14 ounces, which clinched the prize.



Smallmouth Bass angling in Lake Winni has always been fantastic.  When running a store, fishing time is limited to early mornings or late evenings.

A friend and I used to leave my dock at 8 in the evening with a canoe strapped on and down the lake we would go to the Whorttleberry Island area, where there were lots of rocky shoals and spots where the bass would come into the shallows to feed late in the evening. This was a great area.

Another excellent area for bass was a pothole behind Melody Island, where bass would come in from the deeper waters to feed.  (I guess I am old enough to be willing to violate Hal's statement that we Master Anglers will not share our secret spots!)

I was trolling for fish there with a buddy and we were catching a few smaller 2-3 pounders.  It was getting really dark and I said that I would make just one more last cast. An explosion engulfed my black Crazy Crawler plug and I was fast to a real monster!

Two guys in a canoe is bad enough, but this fish decided to go under the canoe and with it my spinning rod bent in an almost complete circle under the boat.  Then the monster jumped.

What a magnificent fish! But its next jump was over the front of the canoe that wrapped the line twice around the canoe! How we ever landed that fish had to be a miracle, but was very well hooked!

The next morning it was on display at my store on ice in downtown Wolfeboro, New Hampshire...which caused quite a stir among the local anglers. How I wish I had that adventure on video!



"The fish that got away…" did so with fly and leader. It was a magnificent salmon -- perhaps 8-9 pounds.

I was trolling for fish between Ship Island and Black Point in the "triangle," an area known for good deep lake trolling. I had a full 200 yards of copper wire line out with a yellow marabou fly attached to my long leader.

A framed display of the Warner smelt in various sizes.

I was trolling for fish using the "8's" and circles as Glen Morrill had taught me, when a fish hit hard.  Before I could reel in the slack, I saw the fish break water and leap clear into the air. He came down on my light leader and it broke!

I just kept reeling in the slack…but I had the sight and the memory of a truly beautiful fish -- the biggest I have ever hooked.

• Passing on my skills:

This is a sticky question for me.  In one sense, I must answer with a qualified "no," except through these pages.

But in my career running a successful fishing store, I believe that I had a unique opportunity to share and pass on much of my experience, not only to my customers and friends, but also to the younger generation of anglers.

I tried to freely pass on all I had learned. The field I am most noted for in the Lakes Region is that of tying streamer flies.

After almost 53 years of tying and creating new patterns, I have also taught fly tying to young people in many of the boy's camps, high schools, and other places.

I believe that I am the original creator of many well known Lake Winni flies including the "Lake Winni Smelt." Perhaps this is how I will be remembered more than I will as a "Master Angler."

One of my proudest achievements was teaching a young man in 1995 to tie flies under the auspices of the New Hampshire Council of the Arts.   Yes, fly tying is a creative art.



Face shot of Jim Warner.


• My top 5 tips for each fish:



Salmon:

  1. Adjust your trolling speed to the action of the lure trolled.


  2. Try to increase and decrease your speed to put different action on the fly or lure.


  3. While trolling for fish do not troll in a straight line.


  4. Fish early or late in the day, and fish the shoreline where the water is roughest from the wind, as baitfish tend to congregate in these spots.


  5. Dark flies such as "9-3", the "Magog Smelt" or the Bicentennial Smelt are best in the early morning hours as well as evening.Jim Warner created this Bicentennial Smelt at the urging of outdoor writer, Roger Conant.



Lake Trout:

  1. Trolling for fish using live bait is the best for lakers.


  2. A slower speed is necessary for lakers to get the trolled lure or bait below or under the other salmonoid species that are above the lakers.


  3. An important rule for lakers, or any big fish, is to use a large net and when landing one, always lead the fish to the net headfirst.


  4. Big lakers and salmon can sometimes be found "on top" at first light in the morning. Cast a light line and lure beyond their swirls and sometimes they will strike on instinct.


  5. When trolling for fish deep in the summer months, try to bring in your fish as slowly as possible, if it is your intention to release it. Coming up from the deep-water causes a case of the bends for the fish, and it is mostly impossible to revive and save them.


Rainbow Trout:

I never went out trolling for fish just for rainbows. They were introduced into Lake Winni only in later years. On one occasion in 1958, before they were stocked, I caught one off Clark Point.  This species was not a native of Lake Winni.

I can only think that this one I caught was "there" because of a stocking mistake, or this might have been one of the "Bows" that got away when the Melanesian Pond dam broke years before in Wolfeboro.

But any tips I might list for rainbows might follow those I have listed for salmon as they are quite similar in habitat and feeding, except that the rainbows consume more terrestrials (insects) than salmon and they often come nearer to the surface.



Black Bass:

  1. Bass are easiest to catch when on their spawning beds in the shallows in the spring.  This is also the time to catch and release!


  2. The best time for bass in the summer is after dark. This is when most boating ceases and you are virtually alone to fish.  Bass come into the shallows looking for a late dinner and are easily fooled by noisy top-water plugs.


  3. When trolling for fish using live crawfish or hellgrammites, use a fairly large egg sinker so that when the bass picks up the bait and runs with it, there should be little or no resistance on the line. The bass might feel it and spit out the bait.


  4. After a bass has run out a measure of line, then stops running, then takes off again, it is then on the second run that you should set the hook. He has usually swallowed the bait by then and he is yours…if you play him carefully and do not let him break the line. If you keep him for eating it is fine, but if you want to release a gut caught fish, you must clip the line inside his mouth. The hook will later rust out of his gut.


  5. Some of the best bass fishing on the Lake can be found in October. Try casting toward the shore where the bass have moved back to cooler water.


Ice Fishing:

  1. Stay off the ice until it is safe! I can remember a scary time out on Wolfeboro Bay, New Hampshire with the cracking and sinking just under my weight. Of course, I HAD to be there because I had a smelt house there for my store…and was carrying a pail of fresh-netted smelt back to shore.

  2. When tip-up fishing on very cold and windy days, scuff some snow into the hole. This will insulate the opening and it will be easy to clean out to check the lines.

  3. Never use an ice chisel without a line tied to it.

  4. Tie your bob house down with sticks in the frozen ice, or the next warm windy day you might find your house (and you in it!) sailing down the lake.

  5. Put big skis on your bob house as runners, so that it can be moved to shore after the heavy March snowstorms.


• Catch & Release:

At this time of my life I do mostly catch & release. To clarify, there comes a time in your life when you just feel sorry for the other being, whether it be animal, fish or fowl.

I shot my last deer 10 years ago. I remember feeling so sorry about it, that I gave up deer hunting that day.  After I put my last hunting dog down, I gave up bird hunting. Unless a fish obviously will not live after catching it, I throw it back.

This has not always been the case. In younger days, I felt it necessary to feed the family. We enjoyed lots of salmon filets, fried brook trout, deer steaks, duck stew, cusk chowder, etc.

Now, I jokingly state that my wife refuses to clean the fish, so I throw them back.  But catch & release has always been a good part of my fishing life, too. We never kept everything.

I can remember fishing the Winnipesaukee River in 1950 and rarely keeping a nice fly rod caught salmon. There were many fish caught in Lake Winni in my trolling days that were released. I love to fish!  Having one to eat was OK too, but not necessary.

Over the years I have fished in many countries, mostly, though, in North and Central America. Except for "camp food" fish were rarely kept. So practice catch & release? Yes!



• What happened to the Lake Winni Yellow Perch?

Well, I have a theory. It is my opinion that they have fallen prey to the thousands of Mergansers that flock to Lake Winni in the fall, on their migration south.  In the fall of the year, I used to see large schools of newly hatched perch from my dock in Winter Harbor.  It was not uncommon to also see schools of red fin shiners, horned pout, and lots of bass fry from my dock.

But in the 1980's through the 1990's, every late fall before ice forms, hundreds of these ducks would land in the Harbor and spread out, moving along the shore, diving and feeding for hundreds of yards.  This had to contribute to the decline of forage fish like the yellow perch. Smelt, on the other hand, are found in deeper water where the ducks cannot get at them.



• What about the Whitefish or "Shad?"

A year or so ago, I asked Pete Lyon, an ex-game warden and fishing friend, about the shad. He said that Lake Winni's shad population was never that good, although early last century the shad were a wonderful fish to catch and eat.  But they were never that abundant.

He felt that Lake Winni is on the southern most fringe of the shad habitat. In lakes such as Squam and Sebago, White fish or shad can be found in more abundance.

Years ago I asked a New Hampshire Fish & Game biologist this same question.  His theory was that shad spawn in the late fall or early winter and under the ice.  If the Lake has not frozen when this spawning occurs, then the eggs are washed to shore.  I tend to agree with Pete's theory…but who knows for sure?



A salmon sniffing dog:

By the way, Pete Lyon is the famous game warden who trained a black lab to seek illegal salmon that poaching ice fishermen had hidden in the snow. He trained his dog, "Poacher" to ignore trout, perch, and all fish except salmon.

The story is told that on one occasion he stopped in at a bob house on Lake Winni where three men were keeping warm while jigging.

Pete asked, "How you doing, boys?"

"It is slow," one replied.

While talking with them, one of the men looked out the window and said, "Your dog is going wild out there digging in the snow banks!"

Pete replied, "Yes, he likes to dig in the snow."

A minute later the dog was scratching at the door and Pete let him in carrying a nice frozen salmon in his mouth which he dropped at Pete's feet.

One of the anglers stammered, "Where did he find that salmon!"

Pete let him out again and he repeated this strange act …5 more times! 

Finally, realizing that the jig was up, one of the men, said, "That's the most amazing thing I have ever seen!  We surrender!  Whatever we owe in fines, it is has been worth it just watching your amazing dog!"



• Would I stock Lake Winni with other species?

NO Way!  There can be no good reason to bring a new species to Lake Winni to compete with an already scarce food supply. If more species were introduced, they would have to find forage fish.

Can you imagine what coho salmon might do to the smelt population? And brown trout rarely are caught until after dark, and it is unlawful to fish after the sun goes down for the salmonoid species in Lake Winni.



• One more fish story:

The one true happening, which comes to my memory, occurred on a hot day.  It was a traditional family gathering at a camp on the Lake in the late 1950s.

It was a hot 4th of July. The beer was plentiful and the spirits were high. My brother-in-law suggested that we go trolling for fish. Well, I'm never without some sort of fishing tackle.

This day, I had a heavy 9-foot trolling rod, loaded with 10-pound test wire trolling line and a tackle box full of lures. Out we went onto the smooth, windless lake. I had few thoughts about catching anything, but we were trolling for fish for an hour with fishless conversation.

Finally, I suggested that we troll along the shore back to camp. I mentioned to Leo that I would put on a large Rebel Minnow and let out most of my line. And I said, "When I hit bottom and lose the lure, we'll go back to camp."

It didn't hit bottom, though it could not have been deeper than 15 feet.  Suddenly I had a fish on…and it was a monster! After a brief throbbing struggle, I was able to bring it along side the boat. It was the biggest laker we had ever seen!  And it was thoroughly hooked on the rear hook of the Rebel. It kept swimming around the boat with me just holding on…and Leo grabbing the only net - a small 12-inch diameter one.

Master angler and flytier, Jim Warner, works on tying his famous streamer creation the" Lake Winni Smelt."We should have never tried to net it but rather just go to shore and beach it. But we tried…and it just rolled off, with the hook suddenly pulling out.  Both of us just watched open jawed, as it swam slowly away.

Later that week I asked a fish biologist how much it must have weighed, telling him the dimensions, as its back was fully 8 inches across and he told me that this was probably one of those 20+ pounders. What a day! What a memory of my biggest "… fish that got away!"

• My Favorite recipes:

Well, we have cooked and eaten about every game species in Lake Winni.  And the tiny smelt is, in my opinion, the most delicious. There have been many good "messes" of fried smelt, with heads intact and without, at our table over the years.

  • The best way to prepare smelt is to pop them into a hot, greased frying pan, and when golden brown, enjoy!


  • Yellow perch, although larger, I cook and fry the same way.


  • Cusk is best for a chowder, but cusk filets are also truly delicious!


  • Pickerel are very bony, but also make a great chowder.


  • Hornpout, once skinned, are a very tasty fried fish.


  • I prefer Lake Trout to be baked in milk.


  • Salmon, I filet and grill over an outdoor fire with lemon and butter.


  • Bass, according to size, can be baked or filets can be grilled or fried.


• What about the Mercury warnings and scares?

Though I do not know much about this, I am sure that it has been a problem for a very long time…we just did not monitor it or know about it.



Jim Warner flies who sometimes tied 25,000 flies in one year, puts together an order of flies for the customers.



To order the complete award-winning book, Angling in the Smile of the Great Spirit, or its accompanying DVDs featuring live interviews with the Master Anglers of Lake Winni, please go to: www.deepwaterspress.com






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