A Brief History of Lake Sunapee Fish

Little is known about fish in the Upper Valley before the last glacial period. However, as the glaciers retreated around 12,000 years ago, fish species found their way into the area. Fossil evidence can be found in varved deposits (layers of clay in lakes and rivers). Early species included trout and sculpin.

Evidence of fish species also has been found in 3,000 year old middens and ancient campfires of early native inhabitants.  When cooked, fish bones calcify and harden. The largest bones, "ear stones" (otoliths) vertebrae and centrum are the most identifiable. Among the species found are: eel, American shad, white sucker, bullhead, smelt, landlocked salmon, char, and yellow perch. (Source: David Halliwell and Art Speiss, New Hampshire North American Lake Management Society)

Early Europeans fished from the shore, and one John Josselyn in 1674 reported: “trout there be good store in every brook, ordinarily two and twenty inches”. At that time, brooks ran clear and cold, with less siltation. They stayed more level in flow, due to limited lands use changes,  spawning areas were undisturbed.

However, from the 1800s onward, heavy logging and sheep farming,  plowed fields and pasture overgrazing,  and dirt roads all took their toll on streams. Over the years, over-fishing, human watershed changes, and  stocking of non-native species changed the nature of the fishery in Lake Sunapee as well as other lakes and ponds.

Sunapee Golden trout was one species only found in four lakes in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. They either hybridized with introduced lake trout or were extirpated in the 1950s. This species was an arctic char thought to be from the last glaciation.

Initially Lake sunapee had cold water fish. Warm water species such as pickerel, yellow perch, and horned pout appeared, most likely stocked by early settlers. By 1819, so many fish were being taken, New Hampshire stepped in with regulations. Fishing methods included seines, spears, nets, and clubs at the spawning streams and tributary brooks!  For a time, violence ruled at the spawning areas, where people considered the fish their own. By 1831, all laws were repealed. And by the mid -1800s, boats were used for deep water fishing.

In 1865, The State of NH appointed Commissioners on Fisheries. Their mission was to restore Atlantic salmon and shad; introduce landlocked salmon, black bass, and others.  In 1872, Lake Sunapee was the first to hold landlocked salmon and small mouth black bass together, with smelt and whitefish before the advent railroads.  After the railroads arrived, it was much easier to stock waterbodies.

Today there are many species of fish in Lake Sunapee (see below). Drop by to view a poster describing what fish species are currently living in the lake and interesting facts or purchase a 18 x 24 inch copy of the fish poster as seen above.