Winter Smelt Fishing
on Great Bay, New
By Mike Christy
Winter smelt fishing on Great Bay in New Hampshire has been going on 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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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:
- You need a can of creamed corn, cheese cloth, 4oz sinker, bread tie, string.
- You also need a lobster bait bag or fine mesh onion bag.
- Place half of the corn in the cheese cloth and close with bread tie.
- Place the cheese cloth and sinker in the mesh bag.
- Lower the bag into the water with cord/string.
- "Jiggle" it every so often to release some essence de' la corn.
- Disperse the remaining corn slowly by hand.
(Try with sardines packed in spring water without the cheese cloth!)
Business Comes and Goes with the Ice"
Winter Smelt Fishing
At It's Best On Famous
Great Bay Newington,
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.
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.
GREAT BAY RETREAT
NEWINGTON, N.H. 03801