In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about smallmouth bass fishing on Lake Winnipesaukee.
What Makes Lake Winnipesaukee Special?
Lake Winnipesaukee is New Hampshire’s pristine lake for all freshwater activities. It is the state’s largest and most popular lake, and attracts thousands of people every year with its limitless opportunities. Popular activities on and around the lake include hiking, boating, fishing, swimming, as well as other recreation.
Lake Winnipesaukee is surrounded by mountains, which make for breathtaking views no matter where you are on the lake. On a clear day from the southern side of the lake, you can even see Mt. Washington. There are plenty of attractions surrounding the lake, including the Weirs beach area, Gunstock mountain resort, Town Docks, Mt. Major, and more. You can even go on a tour of the lake on the famous Mount Washington ship. Many events are held around the lake each year which include the great Meredith Rotary Fishing Derby, the Pond Hockey Classic, the Lake Winnipesaukee Derby, Laconia Bike week, Soulfest at Gunstock, many concert events at NH Bank of Pavillion, and the annual Lake Winnipesaukee Antique and Classic Boat Show.
Lake Winnipesaukee is heavily pressured due to its easy access and popularity. However, the fishery remains incomparable to that of any in New Hampshire. With its wide diversity of species and ability to be fished year round, there are countless opportunities for anglers to get in on their favorite bite.
There are two major fishing tournaments held on Lake Winnipesaukee every year, and many smaller ones as well. In the winter, the meredith rotary derby attracts an average of 3,500 ice fishermen a year for people to target their favorite species through the ice in hopes of winning a big cash prize. In the spring, the Lake Winnipesaukee Derby attracts anglers all over New England seeking a big landlocked “atlantic” salmon while trolling and even a monster lake trout that could be found lurking the depths. In the summer, there are a handful of bass tournaments that take place in which you will see dozens of bass boats patrolling the lake.
The Lake System
Lake Winnipesaukee is located in the center part of New Hampshire, referred to as the lakes region. Winni is a large, crystal clear lake formed by glaciers from the ice age tens of thousands of years ago. It is approximately 21 miles long and 9 miles across at its widest point, with a maximum depth of 212ft. The most open part of the lake is referred to as “the broads”. The lake also has at least 264 islands, some of which are unnamed.
Throughout the year, the temperature of the lake changes due to the seasons, but the rolling average is about 50 degrees fahrenheit. In the winter, ice covers most of the lake, and you will see many anglers ice fishing. Once the spring comes and the ice melts, the water temps stay between 45-55 degrees, which is ideal for trolling for salmon and rainbow trout. Once the summer months roll around, the lake temperature can climb to almost 80 degrees during the peak of summer. Once fall comes back around, the temperatures gradually lower into the 60s and high 50s. Regardless of the time of year however, the deeper parts of the lake always remain cool.
The lake supports a diverse fishery which includes both native, wild, and stocked fish. The native fish of the lake include lake trout, yellow perch, chain pickerel, the common white sucker, burbut (cusk), rainbow smelt and brook trout. The lake is also supported by annual stocking and a small wild (but introduced) population of both rainbow trout and landlocked “atlantic” salmon. Bass were introduced to the lake some 150 years ago, and is now supported by a completely wild population of both largemouth and smallmouth bass. The infamous lake winni white perch were also introduced to the lake some time ago, and are freakishly huge due to their main forage being the abundant rainbow smelt. They can exceed 17’’ in length and grow up to over 3lbs!
Fishing Season & Regulations
Lake Winni is open to fish all year long, with a few exceptions. Between Jan 1st- March 31st, all fish on winni shall only be caught through the ice.
You cannot target salmon during this time (although they can be a frequent bi-catch on tip ups) and if you do, it must be caught and released without leaving the water.
For salmon, the open season is April 1st-Sept. 30th, and for rainbows and lakers, it’s between Jan 1st-Sept. 30th.
Bass can be targeted year round, however, their size and bag limit differs depending on the time of year. More information about the rules and regulations can be found here: https://www.eregulations.com/newhampshire/fishing/freshwater/lakes-ponds-with-special-rules
Smallmouth Bass on Lake Winni:
Smallmouth bass are a popular target on Lake Winni, and can provide very fast action fishing. For smallmouth, the average size is between 15-17’’, but they are ferocious and bigger specimens are a common occurrence. Anything exceeding 4lbs would be considered a trophy smallmouth for winni.
Smallmouth bass prefer clear water, and can thrive in areas of stronger current, and prefer water temperatures between 65-75 degrees. That doesn’t mean they won’t feed or adapt to warmer or colder temps, however. Because of this, their location and feeding habits will change depending on the season.
The Best Places and Lures to Fish Smallmouth on Lake Winni
During the early parts of spring, smallmouth will begin to prepare for their spawn, and you’ll see a lot of these bass bunch up and suspend as they prepare to feed in preparation for their spawning period. Targeting spots outside of spawning areas (more on that below) is a great place to start. Tossing a jerkbait during this time has proven to be time effective, and another lure that works great during early spring is the chatterbait. Tossing a jerkbait during this time has proven to be very effective, and both the chatterbait and swimbait work great during early spring to cover water as you search for fish. When fish are being stingy and close-mouthed, a weightless fluke is often the rig that gets fish to bite.
During the late spring to the start of summer (I usually go by memorial day-the summer solstice), smallmouth are in their spawning mode, and will move in relatively shallow to lay their eggs. During this time, focusing on gravel, pebble, or sandy flats clear of silt or other debris that are between 8-15 ft and close to drop offs are best where smallmouth will make their beds. When targeting beds, using a slow and methodical approach, like a ned rig, stick bait or bass jig, will be your most effective presentations.
Once the spawn is over, they continue to feed up shallow while the early summer waters remain cooler. During the day you can catch them residing in the deeper sections outside of key shallow areas. During the morning and evening is when you will have your best success at catching these fish. During these key times, my favorite lure to throw is a topwater; a rebel pop-r or your favorite spook (mines the jumpin minnow and hedona spook). Nothing beats a topwater bass bite! Smallmouth will aggressively attack these baits during key feeding times all summer long until the water in shallow water becomes too warm for them to comfortably do so.
Once we get into mid summer, you will still see bass transition up into shallower areas during the early morning and evening hours, however, focus on offshore locations this time as the fish have pushed out further into the lake. During the heat of the summer, these fish can be found off of steep ledges with rocks, humps, and points. I’ve found the most effective fishing during the day is to fish the humps with a drop shot. When the evening comes, a crankbait is your best friend. Fish this over shallow flats or up on the flatter side of points.
As the summer goes away and fall gets into swing, bass start repositioning to transition where they can again target shallower areas. Continue to focus on rocky ledges, and transition to main lake points (in-shore). Here, use crayfish imitation baits like bass jigs with trailers and slowly work them around the rocks.
Be mobile in the fall, as covering water will be your best bet for success. Throwing shallow diving crankbaits on the shallower sides of ledges can still prove to be effective, and tossing tube jigs around up shallow and deeper in the rocks also proves effective.
Lake Winni Bass Fishing Tips
Since the Lake is huge, the biggest tip I can give you is to stay mobile when targeting smallmouth bass. There are so many potential spots you can fish, and things like temperature, high sun, storms, and wind direction can change the fishing in an instant. By staying mobile, you increase your odds of catching more fish by covering more water in a shorter period of time. Once you find the fish, don’t leave until the bite stops as smallmouths are notorious for hunting in small packs and at some points will even school up together, providing fast action for anglers.
When you are hooked up, remember to bow your rod when a smallmouth jumps out of the water. They frequently do this as soon as you hook up to them, and to keep them pinned, you need to maintain pressure on the line. To do so, simply point the tip of your rod towards the water as they jump. You can usually tell they are going to do so as you will feel and see your line rise upwards as the fish charges towards the surface. This makes for quite the rush, just remember to bow your rod!
When all else fails, don’t be afraid to throw live bait. Using worms and crayfish are a great way for beginners and advanced anglers alike to get in and catch these fish. One last thing is please be respectful of the fishery, and practice catch and release!
Lake Winnipesaukee Access Points
Lake Winni has multiple access points for fishing. Below, I’ve listed areas where there are public access points that are also great places to start and search for smallmouth bass:
- Alton Bay
- Meredith Bay (next to town docks)
- Wolfeboro Bay
- Center Harbor
Lake Winnipesaukee Boat Launch Map
We also created a map that includes some of the most common boat launch locations for the public:
Michael Slaven is a registered NH Fishing Guide on Lake Winnipesaukee and an avid angler. He grew up in Gilford, NH and has been fishing the lakes region and seacoast for 20 plus years. He has a great amount of experience both freshwater bass fishing and ice fishing the lakes of New Hampshire, especially his home lake on Winni. His favorite species to target inland are smallmouth and largemouth bass during open water season, and lake trout and rainbow trout during the ice fishing season. He’s an advocate of the outdoors and fishing community, and loves to be outside.