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Photos  |  Tips  |  Chum  |  Retreat  |  Back

Winter Smelt Fishing
on Great Bay, New

By Mike Christy

Winter smelt fishing on Great Bay in New Hampshire has been going onnowater.gif (18395 bytes) for decades, if not centuries. The tradition has been kept alive by several hundred fishermen during the bleak and bitter cold New England winters.

Fishing for saltwater smelt through the ice has always been pressured from many different sources, but true to the yankee spirit, the die hards keep the tradition alive. There's nothing like a cold winter's night on the bay with a gallon of apple cider (or coffee), a warm shack and the hope of a few smelts for the next morning's breakfast...

Great Bay is a tidal estuary which makes icefishing somewhat a challenge. The ice raises and lowers with the tide. At high tide the ice can be as much as 7 feet above the bottom.

At low tide the ice can be sitting right on the mud! So while your sitting in your shack, your are going up or down, but very very slowly. Depending on the locations of your shack there is generally 6 hours of water to fish. Adjusting the height of the lines keeps you busy, as does rebaiting the hooks with fresh bait. And when the smelt are running, its chaos!

First ice is generally around New Years in coastal New Hampshire, although some of the best smelting is done in tidal creeks during November and December. We are usually done fishing on the bay in March; thats when most of the smelt have ventured up into the rivers to spawn.

A catch of 30 smelts makes a pretty good feed, but limiting out at 10 quarts (about 200 fish) is the ultimate!

What to expect on the Bay

The Chateau Shack
  A Jigging Fool
    Snow Covered Ice
24+ inches of Ice!
  Trying to Make Ice
    A Winters Sunset
Waiting for Smelt
  Setting up '99
    Heading out in '99
What we are After
  An Orangey Sunset
    Lil' Shanty Town

Smelting Tips Top  

Fishing for smelt is generally done from inside a shack or shanty that provides shelter from wind and weather. Half of the battle with smelting is moving your shack. The other half of the battle is dealing with bad ice conditions and weather. hole.gif (7682 bytes)  

The typical smelt shanty has a rectangular hole in the floor cut the length of one of its sides. A hole is either sawed or chopped in the ice and the shanty is positioned over it.

Above the hole in the floor a two by four bar is mounted and some method of storing line is attached along it's length by dowels, pegs, or nails. Typically there are 6 to 12 lines dropped from the bar. Weighted double spreaders with #8 hooks are used. Small ice fishing rods with tiny jigs tipped with bait are used for additional coverage.

    Winter Smelt Fishing Tips

  • Popular baits are blood worms and sea worms cut in small pieces
  • Keep your baits moving, it can trigger bites
  • Out-going tides at night are best fishing
  • Paint your sinkers and spreaders red to attract fish
  • Tie a small piece of red yarn to your baited hook to help catch "suckers"
  • Paint your cork bobbers white for easy visibility
  • Using sneak lines and bottom speaders cover more area
  • Green nylon "squiding" line is perfect for rigging speader lines
  • Try rigging #8 gold hooks with an orange bead on your lines
  • Soak worms in mercurachrome to toughen and color them
  • Keep speaders at least 1 foot off the bottom (evade flounders and frost fish)
  • Small brightly colored lures tipped with worm are deadly when jigged
  • Out of bait? Cut a piece of a smelt tail
  • Getting sleepy in your shanty? Open the door and release the CO & C02!
  • Use the Squamscott River tide predictions for Great Bay.


Attracting Fish Top  

Some fish love corn. To attract smelts to your fishing hole rig up a Creamed Corn Chum Bag. This may work for trout as well as smelts, let me know. One way to rig it:

  1. You need a can of creamed corn, cheese cloth, 4oz sinker, bread tie, string.
  2. You also need a lobster bait bag or fine mesh onion bag.
  3. Place half of the corn in the cheese cloth and close with bread tie.
  4. Place the cheese cloth and sinker in the mesh bag.
  5. Lower the bag into the water with cord/string.
  6. "Jiggle" it every so often to release some essence de' la corn.
  7. Disperse the remaining corn slowly by hand.

(Try with sardines packed in spring water without the cheese cloth!)

Great Bay Retreat Top  

Great Bay Retreat
"Our Business Comes and Goes with the Ice"

Great Bay

Winter Smelt Fishing
At It's Best On Famous
Great Bay Newington,
New Hampshire

   After 27 years, owners Len and Gayna are regretfully no longer offering winter ice fishing services on Great Bay. There will be no rentals, storage, bait or snowmobile service. Although, on a good note, they are still graciously allowing the faithful fishermen of past years to gain access to the bay. Like the old days, each fisherman will be responsible for their own shack. It is up to the individual fisherman to watch the weather, and to secure their own property in the event of stormy conditions. 

   The honor system will be used for donations, and in doing so please use the steel box located next to the door to pay for parking and shack entry/exit. 

Suggested donations are $2 for parking per tide and $2 for shack entry, $2 shack exit.

(603) 431-6849


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