As I finish up this report, I’m sitting in a plane cruising at 30,000-feet on my way back from Atlanta, Georgia. No, I wasn’t fishing, though I wish I had been. I was at a work conference where Fish & Wildlife staff from 48 different states gathered to share ideas on how to increase fishing participation across the country. There were a lot of great presentations and talking over drinks in the evenings about programs states are implementing was inspiring. There’s been some progress, and national participation rates appear to be going up incrementally—it’s a great trend after more than two decades of losing anglers nationwide. But we need to do more.
After three days, there was one common theme I heard in every presentation and every one-on-one conversation I had with other folks. It’s clear that the best tool we have for recruiting new anglers and getting former anglers back into fishing are our current AVID ANGLERS themselves. We already have a built-in network of mentors. It’s all of you.
Getting more people to go fishing is one of the many ways we can foster respect and appreciation for our environment and get people to care about conservation. I've always believed that as active and avid anglers, we have a personal responsibility to be mentors as often as possible. We need to take it upon ourselves to introduce new people to the sport and give them the knowledge and tools they need to have fun, be successful, and become lifelong anglers themselves. These fishing reports are part of that. So, thank you to those who have contributed.
With that said, I wanted to point out a few interesting Facebook groups that might be worth checking out if you’re looking for more information on ice fishing in Vermont.
I joined these two Vermont-based ice fishing groups this winter and for the most part, I’ve found them to be full of great tips and motivation. The news feeds are mostly anglers sharing photos of their day on the ice, having a great time, usually with friends and family. Lots of current intel on ice thickness and conditions, and if you’re wondering about a certain waterbody, it seems like you can post a question, and someone is quick to provide a helpful answer. That’s when social media is at its best. People helping other people.
And, a special shout-out to the Facebook page “Fishing For Anything In Vermont.” This page makes me smile every time I scroll through it. Curtis and his brothers from Bellows Falls VT are just plain fun to watch. Curtis mentioned in a message to me that this winter was their first-time ice fishing, and they are having a great time as you can see in their photos and videos. They’re always smiling and laughing as they catch fish, no matter what kind or how big.
Be like Curtis and his brothers – go out and have fun. And take someone new with you. That’s what it’s all about.
– Shawn Good, Fisheries Biologist firstname.lastname@example.org
Northeast Kingdom (NEK)
Northeast Kingdom ice conditions are still holding up, and this past weekend’s catches in the Northeast Kingdom Derby showed just how good fishing has been. Anglers can fish over 20 different NEK waters for this derby and it’s one of the most popular ice fishing contests in the state. Looking at the final board at Wright’s Sport Shop, there was a 19-pound pike and a couple others around 15 to 16 pounds, a walleye pushing 10 pounds with a few in the 6-7 pound range, a 16-pound lake trout, some 5-pound browns, and lots of other nice fish. Looked like a good time!
Chris Hendon of Morrisville VT says the smallmouth action on Lake Elmore has been good lately, and the pike and perch bite has been steady. Bring your auger and some muscle. Chris says there’s two feet of ice. Over on Lake Eden Chris reports 13 to 16 inches of ice, but there’s a layer of slush under the top crust. This can make getting around a bit of a pain. Still, Chris had some pretty good success, catching four rainbow trout up to 15 inches as well as six chain pickerel and a handful of perch. And, kudos to Chris for dragging his friend Kevin out on the ice with him. It was Kevin’s second time ever ice fishing, and he caught three of the four rainbows. I bet he’s hooked now!
Barre angler Nate Olson says he’s had good lake trout and rainbow trout fishing in the NEK this past week, and smelt fishing at Joe’s Pond, Waterbury Reservoir, and Peacham Pond has also been great. Nate says the recent baitfish regulation changes allowing smelt to be used on other waters has substantially improved his fishing success this winter, since they are the best baitfish for lakers. For rainbow trout however, good old worms work better than anything.
Nate thinks that the end of the ice fishing season is one of the best times to take new or inexperienced anglers out—warmer temperatures and longer days make it much more comfortable and enjoyable. And the action tends to improve towards “last ice” as well. Nate recommends Echo Lake if you’re looking to take some newbies ice fishing in the next week or so. He says the place is loaded with smaller lake trout in the 18 to 22-inch range that will provide plenty of action. On a recent trip to Echo, Nate and his wife caught 12 lakers on a beautiful 50°F afternoon. He says he’s had a great winter, culminating in a 19-pound, 37-inch lake trout his friend caught while out with Nate. And, they released it!
Inland waters are still fishing well, and Matt Trombley of Pittsford VT says he felt fortunate to have the recent stretch of traditional winter weather that provided good safe ice. He was out each day of the last two weekends and managed to sneak in a few weekdays as well. Matt reports that Green Mountain Power’s annual winter drawdown of Chittenden Reservoir (to make room for spring snow melt) has started, and as a result, the perch and bass action has slowed down considerably. On the other hand, ice fishing on Lake Bomoseen has stayed steady, which is a bit surprising considering there has been ice fishing derbies on three of the last four weekends. Matt had his son and some friend’s kids out on the ice with him, and they caught a fun mixed bag of largemouth bass, northern pike, yellow perch, and even a few brown trout, mostly on tip ups set around weedlines.
The department’s Let’s Go Fishing program coordinator Corey Hart sees a lot of the state as he travels to host ice fishing clinics. And what does he do on his days off? Goes ice fishing, of course. Corey reports good ice conditions everywhere he’s been lately. He was up on Lake Carmi this past Sunday and says nice jumbo perch were being caught in about 15 feet of water. On Lake Bomoseen he’s been finding brown trout in shallow water (4 feet deep), but says he’s been hearing about browns being caught suspended over deep water as well. Corey also fished Lake St. Catherine a couple days ago and had great luck catching smallmouth bass along rock-bottom shorelines in four to five feet of water, with a few caught in 15 feet of water on tip ups set just under the ice.
Finally, Jake Michaud of Brandon VT writes in to say he had an action-packed day on Huff Pond this past weekend and kept enough yellow perch for fish tacos. A man after my own heart.
Matt Trombley has also been out on southern Lake Champlain and says he’s seeing some of the best fishing of the season in the last two weeks. The back bays have good ice, high water levels and clear conditions, and northern pike action has been excellent. At the Champlain Bridge, jigging for perch is good right now, and some bonus lake trout are being taken just under the ice.
Dillon Wells of Milton VT and his friend Matt Erkson put a lot of time on the ice recently and found 10 to 12 inches of ice and hungry fish in the Inland Sea. Perch were hitting fast and furious on both baited (spikes) and unbait jigs, and they also caught and released several lake trout between 6 and 10 pounds. Perch activity peaked between 7am and 11am, after which is seemed to shut off. Dillon says the lake trout were taken on large gold Swedish Pimple jigs tipped with a minnow. The best hits came when they reeled the jig up quickly from the bottom and then stopping it mid-column. The lakers would strike on the pause.
David Narwid of Fairfax VT fished three different spots on northern Champlain recently and offers the following observations:
- Highgate Springs: Lots of ice, 18 to 20 inches with some snow slush on top. Pike bite has been off—he only got one 6-pounder but did catch plenty of small perch.
- Sandbar: 14 to 16 inches of ice with 2 inches of slush. Zero flags for pike which is unusual for this area. However, he had one of the best yellow perch days of the winter, keeping 30 in the 10 to 12-inch range.
- Mallets Bay: 10 to 14 inches of ice with 1 to 2 inches of slush. Here he managed two nice 6 to 8-pound pike, and over 200 yellow perch averaging 8 to 10 inches, of which he kept a dozen and a half.
John and Chase Stokes of Ferrisburgh VT fished near Long Point (mid-lake area) and got yellow perch and pumpkinseed on small jigs, and this nice-looking pike-pickerel hybrid on a tip up. Very interesting species—I may have to do a species profile on this one at some point.
Drew Price of Colchester fished on the Inland Sea earlier this week and was catching lots of suspended yellow perch in 60 feet of water. Drew found the fish to be down 25 to 40 feet, and he targeted them with a tandem rig set with a tungsten jig on the bottom and a small soft plastic 18 inches up.
Connecticut River (CTR)
Roy Gangloff of West Dummerston VT had his hands full last weekend when he offered to take his nieces, nephews and some friend’s children (one of whom had never fished before) out ice fishing on Hunts Meadows. Roy says beginners luck played in their favor as Matt (the kid who’s never fished) got the first fish of the day, the most fish of the day, and a Vermont Master Angler sized bluegill to top it off. Tip ups set for perch were slow at first but picked up late morning and early afternoon as did the jig bite. All kids caught fish while jigging, with yellow perch being the dominant catch, but bluegill and crappie were mixed in as well.
Roy says the CTR setbacks are the perfect places to introduce new anglers to fishing. There’s typically always something willing to bite and keep their interest, and techniques are simple. An inexpensive ice fishing rod and reel with 4-pound test line and a 1/32 - 1/16-ounce tungsten jig tipped with 2-3 spikes makes bite detection simple in the shallow water. Roy says you just need to drop your jig down close to the bottom, give some subtle action and the fish will come.
Winter Stream Fishing
I thought I’d end with a great contribution from Middlebury VT angler Brian Cadoret. Many people forget about winter stream fishing opportunities for trout, or never knew they existed. Many Lake Champlain tributaries are open year-round and the lower sections of some of these rivers can provide steelhead, brown trout and brook trout opportunities. There are also 17 inland rivers and streams that have sections open to catch-and-release trout fishing in the winter. See Page 31 of the 2020 Fishing Regulation Guide for details.
Brian says preparation is key and choosing a warmer day during a winter thaw will make it more comfortable and reduce how often you must break the ice out of your fishing rod guides!
Brian rigs two fly rods in the warmth of his house before heading out, one with a streamer and the other with a nymph. He suggests you try fishing after a thaw, which can trigger trout activity. Also, target areas below waterfalls and dams, as the current tends to keep these areas ice-free in the winter.
For nymphs Brian uses egg patterns, worm patterns, and bead head nymphs like Golden Stones and Prince Nymphs. Good streamers to use include Wooly Buggers, Muddler Minnows and other sculpin patterns. Making sure your flies run deep is key.
Brian fished a lower Lake Champlain tributary yesterday and caught two nice brown trout on nymphs and a colorful brook trout on a streamer. A successful day for fly fishing in February.