All summer long, swimmers play in the waters of Lake Winnipesaukee, unaware that monsters lurk below. New Hampshire’s biggest lake is the home to one of the largest piscovorian predators: the togue. Scientists call them Salvelinus namaycush and locals call them lakers. We call the lake trout number 30 on our quest to catch and eat every kind of fish in New Hampshire.
These teethy beasts patrol open water and destroy their prey with frenzied lust whenever given the chance. The problem is that we do not own a M/V Catch-M-All to get us out to where the lakers live in deep open water. Also, we really don’t know where to find them in the vast expanse of the lake.
Word got out that we needed help. Jason and Gary of Salmon Patrol Charters, two of the best fishing guides on Lake Winnipesaukee, invited us to go fishing with them. They offered to take us out for the morning if we advertised their service on our blog. We’ll take that deal any day!
Unfortunately Dave could not make the midweek trip, but Clay’s dad was visiting from the West Coast, so we deputized him to be part of the Catch-M-All team. Bob, affectionately known as Old Man Groves, was happy to help out and be part of history.
It was 4:45 a.m. when the team met the fishing guide duo at the marina in Gilford. Gary had a drowsy look that suggested he hadn’t slept all night and Jason appeared to be ready for a fight. But both men were excited to go fishing and become part of the Quest. We cast off the 25-foot SportCraft fishing boat and by 5 a.m. we were fishing.
The method used to catch summer lakers is trolling—dragging lures behind a moving boat. Jason rigged the lines with two-inch flies that looked like white perch fry and then attached the fishing lines to the downriggers, which are thicker lines tied to heavy weights that pull lures at specific depths. When a fish hits, the fishing line pulls free of the heavy downrigger and the angler can fight the fish normally on rod and reel.
While Jason was rigging line, Gary steered the boat into trout-rich waters. The strategy was simple: drive toward the nice houses at precisely 1.1 miles per hour. After about 20 minutes, one of the lines snapped to attention.
Old Man Groves was the first one to tangle with a monster laker. Imagine the disappointment when he hooked a landlocked salmon. Atlantic salmon are stocked in this lake to provide anglers with more fishing options. The native lake trout is able to cope with this introduced competitor, but it does make lakers harder to find. Plus, we had already caught a salmon back in April, fish number 8.
Old Man Groves is used to fishing for chinook salmon on the West Coast with barbless hooks and heavy line. That method requires a super fast retrieve or the fish will get away. Sadly, when Old Man Groves tried the same super fast retrieve on a little Atlantic salmon, the fish water skied across the lake and the line broke.
A few minutes later, it was Clay’s turn. After a careful fight, the fish crossed the other lines and the leader broke.
The team was starting to feel like amateurs. This is how the morning went. Finally, Clay was finally able to get a fish to the boat, but it was just another pesky Atlantic salmon. Old Man Groves followed suit shortly after.
The team ended up catching and releasing five salmon before finally getting something different—a big fat rainbow trout. It was, however, another annoyance since we logged a rainbow as fish number 4 way back in February. Where were the togue?
Finally Gary started doing fish calls, which sounded like, “Heeeeere Fiiiiissshhhy!” Then Jason told us that he never catches a togue before 8 a.m. (it would have been nice to know this at 4:45 this morning). Suddenly, a bite! But again, no laker. It was a smallmouth bass, already caught in July as fish number 25 in the Quest.
As the boat putted around the lake, Gary shared his dad’s idea for a “Jaws”-like movie about togue, where unsuspecting swimmers get gobbled up by the giant lakers of Winnipasaukee. Not exactly bone-chilling since we were beginning to doubt they even existed and the biggest ever seen in New Hampshire was 28 pounds. But, just then, Jason yelled “fish!” and Clay grabbed the rod and yelled, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!” Carefully he reeled in his first lake trout, a fat 16-inch fish that looked beautiful in the morning light. Fortunately for that pretty fish, it had to be released because the legal keeper size is 18 inches.
Once the guides had “dialed in,” the team proceeded to land six more lakers, all too small to keep, and it was now pushing 10 a.m. Jason had to pick up some paying clients soon, so thoughts of Quest failure entered our minds. Jason and Gary decided to make one more pass. Suddenly, two rods sprung to action. Old Man Groves and Clay both had fish on at the same time!
Clay’s fish was a fat 17.75-inch specimen, which was sadly too small despite some stretching. All eyes were on the Old Man as he brought the fish to the boat. The togue looked skinny, but when we finally got it into the boat and its tail just passed the 18-inch mark on the ruler, we had Quest fish number 30!
Jason recommended cooking the fish in a way that hides their mud-like flavor, so we opted to wrap it in bacon and fry it. Bacon makes everything better, even mud.
Father and son called it a day and quickly packed up the gear, grateful for the help of Salmon Patrol charters. Until next time, follow all our adventures at www.catch-m-all.com and “like” us on Facebook.
-Published in The Wire on 9/7/11.