By Alex Lippa
---- — As the mercury climbed, ice fishermen and snowmobile enthusiasts’ hopes sank.
Another mild winter has meant tough sledding for snowmobiling and ice fishing enthusiasts throughout the region.
Temperatures were expected to hit 60 degrees early this morning, which has winter buffs worried about another seasonal bust.
“It just hasn’t been good,” said Shaun Croteau, vice president of the Pelham Border Riders snowmobiling club. “The trails are rough and rocky, so we need a good foot of snow to really be able to use it.”
So far, that hasn’t happened in Southern New Hampshire.
The total snowfall in Concord to date is just 23 inches, according to Tom Hawley of the National Weather Service. In an average year, snow totals are 34 inches by the end of January, he said.
The weather also has John DeYoung of the Country Pond Fish and Game Club in Newton concerned. The club is hosting its annual ice fishing derby Sunday.
DeYoung will be measuring the ice every day until then.
“It needs to be about 8 inches,” DeYoung said. “As of (yesterday), it was 10 inches and that is with an inch or two of snow on top of it.”
Despite the midweek warm-up, temperatures are supposed to drop tomorrow. DeYoung said he’s optimistic about holding the derby.
He just returned from an ice-fishing trip up north. Even in Pittsburg, the state’s northeastern-most town, some lakes weren’t safe for fishing, he said.
“There hasn’t been a lot of ice fishing all winter,” DeYoung said. “But even last week, there weren’t many ice fishermen around because it was so cold.”
But Capt. John Wimsatt of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department said most small ponds around the state are fishable.
“The recent cold weather has made most of the small ponds in the state fishable and safe for on foot,” he said. “Some of the larger bodies of water are only fairly iced over.”
Dave Copeland, a board member of the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association, said the recent warm spell could really affect snowmobile registrations around the state.
“We live and die by February snowmobile registrations,” he said. “If we are getting warm weather now, this could really hurt snowmobiling again.”
Copeland said he is concerned because registrations were down by 53 percent last year, a winter with almost no snow.
“It’s a weather-related sport,” Copeland said. “If we don’t register a lot of snowmobiles in February, we will be in the same situation. People won’t register if there’s no snow.”
Businesses that sell snowmobiles and ice-fishing gear are feeling the pinch, too.
“Last year was just miserable,” said Scott Buckland, manager of Granite State Dock and Marine in Derry, which sells fishing equipment. “This year started off slow, too. But after it was so cold last week, people were here all last weekend buying supplies.”
Jake Da Silva, a salesman at Plaistow Power Sports, said snowmobile and winter clothing sales are down.
“I think what we’ve seen all year is that people were waiting for snow to make their buying decisions,” he said yesterday. “People just don’t have that extra money to throw around. If people don’t see snow outside their window, they aren’t going to buy snowmobiles. Some local people don’t like to travel.”
But some will travel in order to ride their snowmobiles or go ice fishing.
Many are heading north, Wimsatt said.
“There is certainly a large contingent of people who routinely go up to ride,” he said. “When there’s enough snow to groom the trails, many people will stay closer to their home to ride.”
New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont just held a reciprocal snowmobiling weekend. It allowed registered operators to take their snowmobiles to any of the three states and ride for the weekend.
While it was a success up north, Wimsatt said he wishes the out-of-state riders could have enjoyed Southern New Hampshire as well.
“We wished the snow would have allowed the weekend to extend throughout whole state,” he said. “But the activity up there was exceptional. It’s the busiest they’ve ever seen.”
DeYoung is optimistic the ice-fishing derby will go on as planned. According to the National Weather Service, he has reason to be.
Tomorrow will be much colder, with highs in the low 30s, and Saturday colder still, with highs in the 20s.