VT Fishing Report - April 10, 2020

Shawn Good with a rainbow trout
Shawn Good with a nice rainbow trout
Hi everyone, and welcome to the first open water fishing report of the year. Now, a word up front – this one isn’t going to be exactly like past reports. Different times, different measures, right? With the COVID-19 virus upheaval that’s going on around the world and right here in our own backyards, Vermont anglers are understandably concerned, and in some cases confused over what it means for fishing. And since this is a fishing report, I thought it would be a great place to try and set some things straight.

Much of this report will focus on answering many of the common questions we’ve been receiving, attempt to quell your fishing fears, and provide information that will keep you and your family safe and healthy. Let’s get to it. Fish On! Stay Safe.

—Shawn Good, Fisheries Biologist shawn.good@vermont.gov

Can We Still Go Fishing?

This is the number one question the department has been getting. Everyone is worried that their favorite pastime is off limits right now. Fishing season is not canceled.

The most recent amendment to Governor Scott's Stay Home, Stay Safe order continues to exempt outdoor recreational activities, including fishing, for health and exercise. Yes – you can go outside and go fishing. It’s a healthy outdoor activity – good for your mind, body, and soul. After all, we need a reprieve from the stresses we’ve all been under, and fishing is a proven stress-reliever.

Are Boat Ramps Open?

Yes!  All the department’s nearly 200 fishing access areas remain open for public use and enjoyment. These include boat ramps, canoe and kayak put-ins, fishing platforms, and streambank parcels. One thing you may find upon arrival is that docks and portable toilets haven’t been installed yet, and normal spring maintenance clean-up isn’t done. These are unfortunately on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Has Trout Stocking Been Canceled?

No, definitely not. Department fisheries staff have been hard at work this spring stocking trout and salmon in waters around the state. As a matter of fact, Lake Champlain stocking was completed before the end of March, lake and pond stocking is underway right now, and stream stocking will be ramping up soon.

Check the Fish Stocking Schedule online to see what’s been stocked. Just remember to change the search filter from “Scheduled Stockings” to “Completed Stockings.”  Also don’t forget, there are hundreds of streams around the state that provide excellent wild trout fishing opportunities too.

What If I Don’t Live in Vermont?

Unfortunately, this is where things deviate a little for now. Governor Scott’s recent amendment to his Stay Home, Stay Safe order directs non-residents not come to Vermont unless they are part of the essential services exemption. If non-residents do come to Vermont, the order requires them to self-quarantine for 14 days before engaging in any activity including outdoor recreation.

While this isn’t great news for the many non-residents who enjoy all Vermont fishing has to offer, we hope you keep Vermont in mind once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. All our excellent and exciting fishing opportunities will be waiting for you.

I Plan on Going Fishing. What Sort of Precautions Should I Take?

This is a good question. While we’re encouraging Vermonters to go fishing for your own mental health and physical well-being, there are some things you should do to stay healthy and reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 while you’re out there.

  • Go out only if you’re feeling healthy and have not been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.fishing distance graphic
  • Only fish with immediate family members you live with in the same household. These are people you are already in close contact with every day, so risk is minimal.
  • Take the kids and have an adventure. They need the stress relief just as much as we do.
  • Fish close to home and limit your travel. The official recommendation is somewhere less than 10 miles from your home. This will reduce the likelihood you’ll need to stop on the way to or from your fishing site, which increases the risk of exposure.
  • If you arrive at a fishing location and find it crowded, move on. Avoid crowding at popular shore fishing spots. Use this as an opportunity to explore new waters. Find your own isolated place.
  • If fishing from shore, keep a distance of at least six feet (about one fishing pole length) between you and others.
  • If fishing from a boat, practice good launching etiquette. Give others time and space while launching and retrieving boats to avoid close contact with others.
  • Don’t share fishing gear. Each angler should have their own.
  • Avoid surfaces that are touched often, such as doorknobs and handrails.
  • Leash your dog! They are members of your household and need to keep their social distance as well.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water after fishing. If unavailable, use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Engage in low-risk activities. Now is not the time to try something extreme and end up in the hospital, taxing an already overloaded health care system.

For more information and up-to-date-news visit COVID-19 and outdoor recreation

Check out our fishing opportunities webpage for ideas on finding a fishing location near you.

So, What’s Up Fishing Right Now?
young angler with nice lake trout
You never know what you’ll catch in the spring fishing around warm water, like this surprise lake trout caught in the Missisquoi River by Camryn Ste Marie.

Well, there’s this little thing call Trout Season that opens April 11. It’s the unofficial State Holiday of Vermont anglers. I expect folks will be taking advantage of it as much as possible, despite the weather forecast looking a little iffy in the northern parts of the state.

Jud Kratzer, department fisheries biologist in St. Johnsbury said that river conditions right now are surprisingly quite good. Most of the snow is gone, and while the rivers are still cold, they are relatively low, clear, and fishable.

For trout opportunities, Jud recommends targeting adult steelhead rainbow trout in the Willoughby, Barton, and Black Rivers. Early in the season, the best place to look for them is downstream of the lowermost waterfall on each of these rivers. The Passumpsic River from Lyndonville downstream to the mouth has lots of deep pools where stocked trout can survive for multiple years, and early spring is perfect for hunting large holdover brown trout in those locations. 

Department fisheries biologist Lee Simard says streams in the northwest area of the state, particularly tributaries to the Winooski River, are still a bit high and cold. Lee recommends fishing low elevation reaches where waters may be a little warmer.

This same tactic will hold true all over the state on opening weekend and in the first couple weeks of trout season. Anglers will probably have more success focusing on waters known to hold wild trout and fishing small to medium low-elevation rivers or streams that aren’t too murky from spring runoff. Use larger baits and fish them slow, on or near the bottom of deeper runs and pools. Worms and brightly colored spoons and spinners work good on spinning gear, while fly anglers should try drifting flies like wooly buggers, streamers, or San Juan worms.

What About Other Species?

Not a trout angler?  Worry not!  Despite a short-term turn towards cooler weather we’re going to see in the next couple days, the earlier than normal spring and warm weather has given fishing a nice little kick-start for many different species.

A quick look at the Vermont Master Angler gallery will reveal anglers having luck with bullhead, catfish, perch, pike, pickerel, bass, suckers (YES, suckers are a ball of fun to target and catch in the spring!), and even carp.

collection of different fish species

Find a nice quiet stretch of shoreline along a shallow, dark-bottomed bay. These are the first places to warm up, and just about every fish species will be attracted to the warmer water.

Dylan Smith, department access area coordinator is a big fan of panfish fishing. He recommends targeting a shoreline that has had wind blowing onto it for a couple days in a row. This will concentrate fish in those locations. Dylan likes to fish with small jigs and work them very slow. But a worm and a bobber work just about as good as anything right now.

Get outside. Go Fishing. Have Fun. Stay Safe.

See also:

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Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife
Commissioner Christopher Herrick

1 National Life Drive
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Montpelier, VT 05620-3702

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The mission of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department is the conservation of all species of fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the people of Vermont.