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Abnormal Winter, Fueled By Climate Change, Creates 'Surreal' Ice Fishing Conditions

Patchy ice cover on Lake Winnipesaukee, seen from the Weirs Beach webcam, on Jan. 29, 2021.

State officials say ice fishermen should use caution this weekend, with frozen conditions still touch-and-go on New Hampshire’s lakes and ponds despite bitter cold in the forecast.

Tim Moore, a full-time private fishing guide who works on Lake Winnipesaukee at this time of year, said the lake should normally be fully frozen over by now. 

As of late this week, he said Winnipesaukee still had large areas of open water and about a third as many bobhouses on the ice as normal. And he thinks many of the state’s water bodies are in similar shape

It doesn’t mean ice fishing is impossible – just that fishermen shouldn’t make any assumptions based on the ice in one area.

"They're just really inconsistent,” Moore said. “Be very careful when you go out. Don't take anybody's word for it – check for yourself."

This story is part of By Degrees, NHPR's climate change reporting project. Click here to take a quick survey and help shape our future coverage.

Moore said he’s seen this problem many times in recent years, which he attributes largely to climate change making the state’s winters warmer and more volatile. This season especially, he said, has been “kind of a twilight zone year.”

“It started really, really cold in the fall – thought it was going to be a banner winter,” he said. “Then it got really warm and just stayed warm, then it got cold and we started to make ice, and then it got warm, we had the rains on Christmas. So ice formation is...really unpredictable and almost surreal.”  

New Hampshire has gotten about 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer on average in the past 100 years or so, a change that research shows also causes more random and extreme spikes in temperature and precipitation – all brought on by the continued burning of fossil fuels.

Moore expects many of the state’s lakes will lose about a month of solid ice time this year due in part to those weather patterns. It’ll cost his business thousands of dollars, the kind of loss he said is getting harder to save up for.

“We have more bad winters than good winters, it seems like, these days,” he said. “It’s quite the helpless feeling a lot of the time.”

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During the pandemic, he said, higher demand for outdoor recreation has posed stressful health risks. But it has been crucial to help him make up that lost revenue.

Credit Emerson Aviation / Facebook
Winnipesaukee's "ice-out" in 2020 came on April 6th, earlier than usual.

For the first time he can remember, he said, he’s booked solid for ice fishing trips into March, when lake ice typically begins to recede. 

A recent state report found that average "ice-out" dates – when lakes are fully ice-free – now occur in mid-April, about two weeks earlier than they did when reliable records began in the 1930s.

Residents can help gather data on the state's changing ice patterns by submitting their observations to the Department of Environmental Services.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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