Category Archives: Tips

12-18-15 – Winter Prep Scout Trip

While we wait for some ice posts to  start up, lets talk about ways to improve your early ice success. In the past, we have written about scouting for productive weed patches before the ice forms but there is more to it than that. Knowing what makes them productive is key.

A few weeks ago, Andy and I spent time looking for crappie spots that would fire up for early ice on Lake Champlain. We went prepared with minnows and plastics. Knowing that there aren’t many fish that can resist fatheads, we planned on casting “Live” Baby Shad until we put some panfish in the boat, then we would anchor up and try to fine tune our presentations.

It didn’t take us long with the use of side imaging to find the main weed edges in a larger area and that was where we started fishing. While we had a strong wind from the west, there was a small bluff blocking that majority of what would have made it a very tough day. When the wind would let up, we could see the weeds. The taller weeds might have held fish but unless you can vertical jig, it is very tough to fish without constantly tangling up. Once we found weeds that were tall but tipped over at about 2′ off bottom, we started catching fish.

The crappie were suspending 2-3 feet below the surface in 5-8 feet of water and chasing minnows. Once we found the right depth to set our bobbers at, the bite stayed steady. We worked the “Live” Baby Shad all day and threw out a bonus rod tipped with a minnow. We caught pike, bass, crappie, and bluegill on it.

The bite preference changed several time over the course of the day. We had some wicked snow flurries that put over an inch of snow in the boat. Much of the day was spent in a white out! When the snow was flying and wind was blowing, the fish were super active and fishing fast seemed to produce the biggest fish with not many missed opportunities. When the wind would let up and the sun showed, dead sticking or the minnow was really the only way to catch fish.

We messed around on different types of weeds but only milfoil that was tipped over produced. Once we figured an area out, fishing the taller weed edges seemed to be the main corridors for movement. The fish preferred nastier conditions and we the best way to describe the bite was that we had to match the retrieval speed with the wind.

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The Vermont Master Angler Program

The Vermont Master Angler Program is gaining quite a following throughout the state. From young to old, anglers are contributing some incredible catches to display the top notch quality fishery that Vermont has to offer! The program began in 2010 with 200 entries and has since grown to just shy of 800 from across the state! The diversity of species being entered has grown the curiosity for anglers of many species that are not usually targeted. Bowfin, freshwater drum, and several panfish species seem to be the most popular while bass, pike, and walleye have steady following.

The program is described by the VT Fish & Wildlife as: “Vermont’s wealth of waters and abundant fish populations provide the opportunity to experience outstanding fishing. An excellent way to enhance the Vermont angling experience is by challenging yourself to catch “exceptionally-sized” fish of various species. The Vermont Master Angler Program is designed to recognize the achievements of anglers who catch exceptionally-sized fish from Vermont waters. This program recognizes the accomplishment of the angler in catching a large fish and the fish’s accomplishment in surviving and growing to such an admirable size.”

There are two categories to the Master Angler Program. They are:

Trophy Angler – Anglers catching a fish exceeding the minimum qualifying length in any of the 33 species categories. Their names and catches will also be included in the new Vermont Trophy Fish Report, posted annually on the Vermont Fish & Wildlife website.

Master Angler – Anglers demonstrating the skill necessary to catch multiple species that all exceed the minimum qualifying length outlined in this program, in the same calendar year. To qualify for the annual Vermont Master Angler Pin, an individual angler must submit qualifying entries for 5 or more species categories within a calendar year.

We contacted VT F & W Fish Biologist Shawn Good through e-mail with some questions concerning the program.

-are there any plans to make separate categories for seasons? tackle? harvest vs release?

We’re still in the early years of the program, and we don’t want to make too many programmatic changes at this point.  There’s a lot of potential with the program and many ways to make it interesting and fun with extra categories.  We’re certainly open to changes in the future.  One thing I think is on the books, though I think it will be very difficult for someone to accomplish, is a special award category for an angler who completes the entire 33 species list – kind of a “life list”.  Obviously, this would be cumulative over the years, and not need to be accomplished in a single year!

-is there any use of this data biologically or just to promote quality fishing opportunities in vt?

This is definitely one of the benefits this program provides to the Department.  Through our regular sampling activities, we have a pretty good handle on the status of fish populations in most waters, but some of the entries that have come in have surprised even us.  Having angler submissions on trophy fish catches can give the Department information on things like what waters are producing more

-have you noticed an increase in enthusiasm towards the program?

Defintely. In 2010, we had 200 entries from 90 different anglers.  In 2011, we had 481 entries from 181 different anglers – a doubling of participation in just one year.  2012, the third year of the program, is shaping up to be another record.  To date (as of January 4, 2013), there have been 772 entries from 273 different anglers.  So, not only have the number of trophy fish entries increased every year, so have the number of individual anglers participating in the program.  What’s even more encouraging is that the number of youth anglers entering fish has increased as well.  In 2010, 19 of the 90 (21%) individual participating anglers were kids; in 2011, 47 of the 488 (10%) wre kids.  In 2012 so far, 34% of the participating anglers are kids (93 of the 273 anglers).

-most people go fishing to catch fish. Do you think this makes people go out and target bodies of water that hold fewer but larger specimens?

I definitely think they do.  While this sort of fishing is not widespread, there is definitely a core group of anglers in Vermont that seek out “trophy” fishing opportunities, and that’s one of the things this program is designed to showcase.  Despite its small size, Vermont has some fantastic waterbodies that hold some true trophy fish.  All you have to do is look through the Master Angler Program website at all the entries that have come in over the last 3 years.  There are some truly gigantic fish being caught out there.  For example, who knew Otter Creek could produce a 16-lb wild brown trout!

-what species are the most reported? fewest?

In the first year of the program the highest number of entries was for bowfin!  These are caught pretty regularly as incidental catches while fishing for other things in Lake Champlain like bass or pike.  We realized however when SO many bowfin were entered that we probably set the minimum length a little too low for that species.  Our minimum lengths for each species was based on biological data on length distribution collected for each species from waters all over the state.  The intent was to set the minimum length to represent the upper limits of size for each species – basically the largest 5% out there – to truly represent trophy sized fish for each species.  For some species, like bowfin, we didn’t have a lot of good biological data, because it’s not a species we typically collect while sampling.  The first year of the program showed us that we clearly didn’t have a handle on just how big bowfin can get in Lake Champlain (which gets back to your second question you asked earlier).  We’re learning from this program just as much as anglers are!    Aside from bowfin in the first year, the numbers of largemouth bass and smallmouth bass far outnumber any other species.  That’s just a pure reflection of how great bass fishing is in Vermont.  We have so many hidden gems – small ponds and lakes all over the state – not to mention Lake champlain – that offers phenomenal bass fishing.  I think Vermont has the best bass fishing in the northern US!  There are definitely a few species that could be entered more.  We’ve only had a few muskellunge entered, and small numbers of cisco, smelt, suckers, gar.  So far, of the 33 eligible species, only three don’t have entries – American eel, American shad, and lake whitefish.  I think eel and whitefish should be the easiest of the three for people to catch and enter, if they take the time to learn about the species first, and understand where to find them and how to catch them.  Another objective of the program!  Educate Vermont anglers on fish biology, behavior, feeding preferences!  It’s all about learning and having fun!

At the end of every year, we put together an annual report that lists every fish entered into the program, and summarizes the catches in table format, so you can see what species had the most entries, what waters produced the most entries etc.  These reports can be downloaded from the Department website here: http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/MasterAngler.cfm

-has this program drawn attention to any species that were previously ignored?

Again, this was another BIG objective of the program – to profile many of these lesser known fish species that can offer fun, exciting fishing opportunities that no one thinks to target.  I’d really like people to start getting outside their comfort zone and fishing for species that aren’t traditionally thought of as “sport fish”.  Things like carp, freshwater drum, gar, suckers – they can be a ton of fun, very challenging.

The majority of fish on the list of eligible species is reasonably obtainable to those who are willing to put their time in. Both of us have been following the quality and quantity of fish that are coming in from around the state. We have also been able catch several specimens from across the state. We put together a collage for each of our entries. Bobby entered six species and Dylan entered nine.

Ice Safety

There isn’t much that chills us to the bone more than thinking about going through the ice. Like anything, it is better to be prepared for when the time comes. Knowing how to handle yourself when exposed to the frigid water can make the difference between life and death. Here is a video of what to do if you go through the ice. It is a good idea to check other videos though because there are several techniques that can be utilized.

In the last two years, I have gotten wet twice but fortunately, never over my waist. The first time, I was helping someone move their shanty after some people had punched numerous big holes all around it. They were punching groups of holes that were 4 x 2 as the ice was fading towards spring. After successfully moving the shanty, I was walking to shore and stumbled into a hole that was completely concealed by snow. Luckily, the water was less than two feet deep and I was already packed up to head home. Sure made for a long hour ride home though! The second time through was my last trip out this past season. I was stepping over open water from ice to the shore and I short stepped it a bit after underestimating the depth at shore. I only went up to my knee because I caught myself on a tree on shore but I spent the next six hours fishing with a wet leg.

Even using every safety measure possible there is no guarantee that you will stay dry. There are a few things an ice fisherman can do to help ease their mind in preparation for an ice outing. There are a number of low profile Personal Floatation life vests on the market today.  It’s not a bad idea to wear one on the first ice of the year and the last.  Of course the most important thing to remember during these periods is to never fish a lone.  Let your family and friends know where you’ll be for the day and when you’re expected to be home.  I usually like to keep a dry set of clothes in my vehicle just in case I do get wet, I’ll have something to change into.

A second piece of safety equipment that I always have on hand are ice picks. I wear them around my neck, tucked into my bibs so that they are always accessible. Early and late season, I also like to carry a long section of rope to throw in case of emergency. Both of these items are inexpensive and don’t take up much room.

Here is a chart that is a good general guide on the strength of of specific ice thicknesses. Keep in mind that ice quality and thickness is not always consistent. Check as you go and stay dry!

6-23-12 – Walleye In Wood Part I

The Connecticut River is a vast body of water stretching 407 miles.  The river offers up some great fishing and often times an underestimated fishery.  The winter months offer anglers early ice on the setbacks in late December with chances to catch panfish, walleyes, pike, white perch and bass.  The northern region also holds some very respectable trout.  Fishing the river can sometimes be a challenge.

Summer time walleye fishing is one of my favorite times to fish.  The method I use for catching great numbers of walleye is fishing them in the “wood”.  Most of my vertical jigging has been for crappies when they move out onto deep structure in the summer months.  I use this same pattern to find and catch walleye in Vermont on the Connecticut river.

I look for big bends in the river that will cause debris and logs to jam up during high water times.  Hurricane Irene last spring left us with a lot of this.  Old logs and timber will float down stream and literally pile up on these bends.  The best jams to fish are in 12 feet of water or more.  Once I find a jam, I use my electronics to mark which part of the jam the fish are holding.  Once I’ve done that, it’s just a matter of positioning the boat so you can fish them consistently.  A good bait to rig up on a 1/4 oz jig is the Berkley Gulp Alive Leech.  The trick is getting the bait down through the timber and back up with a walleye without loosing too many jigs.  The action is often times too fast.  Yesterday I had a hard time closing the bail on the reel before a walleye had picked up my bait.  I missed more fish than I boated and I boated 28 walleye is just over 4 hours of fishing.  The technique is nothing special, all I’m doing is bouncing the bait on the bottom, pausing, and bouncing again.  The down stream section of the jam always seems to hold more fish.

This is different from most ways of catching walleye.  It can be frustrating at times but with a little patience and effort you can have a great day on the water.  Here’s some pictures from Saturday June 23 2012 catching walleyes in the wood.

Note:  If you look closely in the first picture you can see what I mean by log jams.

Walleye Season Opener

This Saturday, May 5th, marks the beginning of Vermont’s walleye season in waters excluding the Connecticut River which is open year round.  This annual event is long waited for many anglers in the Green Mountain State.

Walleye’s spawn in the spring and often times choose to travel miles up feeder rivers to lay their eggs.  Lake Champlain has three major river systems on the Vermont side( Winooski, Lamoile and the Missisquoi) that see a fantastic run of eyes starting in April and May,  ending the later part of June depending on conditions.  This is event is so popular with local anglers that you often hear he phrase, “you could have walked across the river there were so many boats.”  This is often times the case, it is nothing to see more than 50 boats on one section of the river at a given time.

We are fortunate to be friends with some of the most knowledgeable Walleye fishermen in the area in my mind.  Scott Blair of Vt Sportsman has helped us hone our skills with one of the most effective ways to catch these elusive eyes.  It’s simple.  All you need is a jig, a barrel swivel and a fathead minnow.  Scott uses 6lb mono with a 1.5″ leader, the barrel swivel connecting the two.  The swivel will reduce line twist while fishing in the current and increase bites.  Depending on the conditions, different weighted jig heads are a must.   Scott prefers to use a 1/2 oz jig head when the river has a good amount of current and he slims that down to a 3/8 oz when conditions are right.  Once rigged up,  Scott simply bounces the bottom.  He uses his trolling motor to slowly troll up and down the section of river that he wishes to fish, jigging the minnow over the side with an up and down motion, yes your arm will be sore by the end of the day.  “Once that jig hits the bottom jig it up, but slowly let the jig fall, the fish will just be there when you you feel weight, seek it and forget it!”   Early season produces some high quality fish for our area, 7-10 lbers.  It is not unusual to get a respectable limit (3 fish) in an outing.

Another popular method used is to use the current and some sort of work harness to drag night crawlers downstream.  The method will produce fish but is more effective once the water warms up later in the spring, minnows seem to work better with the early spring water temps.  Good Luck out there, tight lines!

Scott Blair with A 2011 Spring Walleye

“Must Have’s” for Spring Time Crappie (part 2)

Terminal tackle is obviously important in any fishing application but what is between you and a fish and just as vital as lure selection? Line! There are many so many options on the market that it is easy to feel overwhelmed with what to put on your favorite rod.

I have had success with many different companies and types of line but during the winter months, I like to run Cajun Red Ice as I detect the majority of my bites by sight. The red shows up well against a winter schemed background and is the first color in the visible spectrum to be filtered out under the water because of the material composition and red color. Cajun Red Line is a great option for all seasons of fishing and not to mention that it is a very smooth and long lasting line.

Recently, I came across Cajun Optix and have had great success with it. This line is marketed as three lines in one. It is described as being: “Low-visibility, High-visibility, and Depth-indicating. Optix line features alternating sections of low-vis red and high-vis yellow, and tying your lure to the end of a red section minimizes line detection by the fish, while the yellow color lets you more easily see your line above the water.” It can be purchased in pound tests from 4-30 and has a very thin diameter. The price is comparable with any other company and is definitely worth a shot!

When you like to eat fish like us, you need a good selection of knives. The majority of the time, I run an electric knife as it is much quicker and equally as efficient once you get the feel for it… I have cut through the spines of many, many fish (I still do on occasion)! It is certainly possible to use any electric knife (turkey carver included) but having a “fillet” styled blade works best.

A great starter knife is made my Rapala. When Bobby and I clean fish together after a day on the water, we can do a limit of crappie in about 30 minutes. Makes for a much more pleasant experience when one person fillets and the other de-ribs the fillets. The best knife option for removing the ribs if an electric knife isn’t available is a paring knife. You can get them for a few bucks at most any kitchen store and the last for a long time. I keep these on hand for cutting up deer as well.

During the summer months, when I work two full time jobs, fresh fish isn’t always available so I rely on the meals that I put in the freezer throughout the winter and spring. I like to use a FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer to preserve the various food that I harvest throughout the year. The packages, after being sealed, contain no air so you don’t get freezer burn. Although the bags are a bit more expensive than regular freezer bags there is no waste in the long run. You can seal your favorite dishes with seasoning right in the package so it is ready to be grilled, baked, or fried as soon as it’s thawed!

“Must Have’s” for Spring Time Crappie (part 1)

Thought I would take a quick moment to write about the baits that have been effective this spring and their presentation.This is the Baby Shad made by Bobby Garland.  This bait is a recent addition to our Crappie arsenal and has proved it-self over and over again.  This bait is made in 45 different color combo’s and they also have it in 10 glow patterns.  The presentation has been pretty straight forward.   All we are doing to rigging the bait on a small jig head.  Dylan has mostly been using a an ice jig made by Bentley.  I’ve been using nothing more than a 1/64 or 1/32 oz painted jig head that you can buy just about anywhere.  We are fishing these baits under and bobber, adjusting the depth as needed depending on the fish.  The presentation when the fish are there and active is simple.  Cast out to the school, count to “3” and set the hook.(that’s Dylan’s way)  When the fish are acting a little fussy, a good technique is to bounce the bobber back towards you.  This will make the fineness tail of the Baby Shad flutter and trigger a lot of bites.  Another great presentation is simple, swim the bobber back in, using frequent stops.  Sometimes the fish just want the bait moving.  You’ll have to try your own techniques to see what’s going to work best for that day.

We have recently been talking with the guys over at Lake Fork Trophy Lures, they have had many requests to slim down a very popular bass bait for use on Slab Crappies.  What they have come up with looks dynamite!  Lake Fort lures has a 2 1/4 “Live” Baby Shad which is the smaller version of their Magic Shad designed for bass.  From what I have seen through reports and pictures, this bait is going to be a must have for me.  Their design is a little different.  They have patented their segmented “swim slots” into the baits which gives it a swimming action as if it were a live shad.  This bait is offered in 35 colors right now and we are very excited to try these baits out.  Look for a thorough review later!