My Grampa called me on fathers day towards evening. He said he had a fawn running around in his swamp while the mother was hunkered down nearby keeping a close eye. I only got to see the fawn for a short time but it was well worth the trip none the less!
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.
The end of the work week brought the people of the Northeast winter storm Nemo. Most schools were closed and Boston was bracing themselves for two feet of snow, we went fishing. . .
We arrived to our setback early and found that the snow totals in this area were not as much as home. Encouraging this was but the long walk down a steep hill and the longer walk back up it killed that excitement. The plan for the day was to set up a few tip ups in hopes of getting a Walleye to take the bait. We drilled our holes, our buddy Mark cut some more holes while I set the jacks. Once we were set up we began jigging for panfish. Using the electronics we “trolled” around looking for fish. There was no shortage of fish! (but) I’ve never, in all my years fishing seen fish so lethargic. I would pull up to a hole that was literally stacked with fish, 6-7 suspended in the water column. The fish would either not move, or swim back down and disappear. This gave me the chance to refine my cadence and try some different things to try and entice these fish into biting. Two cadences seemed to work better than normal. The first was to pound, literally pound the jig. I made my jig violently bouncing through the water column as to almost upset the fish into biting. These fish seemed to become agitated with my bait as it worked down towards them, often times leading to a strike. The second pattern that worked well was a slight bounce, which was interesting since the aggressive tactic worked. There was not happy medium. It was pound or close to dead-stick that triggered the fish on this day.
We followed the fish as the slowly moved through the channel trying to pick out the aggressive ones. Mark was able to land a nice Crappie that actually got stuck in the 6-inch iced up hole.
After a few hours and no luck on the flags other than wind flags we made a move into shallower water. Shortly after re-setting Mark landed this little Northern.
I was able to find a few fish for the frying pan as we worked thro0ugh the day. All and all the day was a struggle but we made the best of it. I did manage to catch this great Bluegill suspended in 20fow. The fish was at least 10 inches and I would say close to a pound.
Having been tied up with other responsibilities for the past two weekends and not able to fish I was excited to get back on the ice. I decided to make a day trip to a spot 2 hours away. We arrived at our location with decent conditions. The mercury was finally above zero for the first time in five days, and the wind at this point wasn’t an issue. I loaded my shack and made the 80 yard walk to where I would be fishing for the day.
I drilled out an area, shallow to deep. It’s always a good idea to cut your holes first thing, one it will save you time later and two, it will spook the fish only once if the fish are sensitive to sound. I started fishing the deep hole to begin with. The vex was marking fish in 16 feet of water all through the water column. First drop produced a small crappie, second drop, small crappie. One thing that I have noticed about this spot is that these fish school in relation to size most of the time. If you’re catching small fish you’re in a nursery school of fish. I made a move to the next hole working my way out of the deeper water up towards the shallower shelf. Right off the bat I hooked into a heavier fish, bass. OK; well now I know the bass are set up waiting for those small crappie to make a mistake, I made another move, this time more drastic. I found ten feet of water, fish were stacked on the bottom four feet. First drop was a beautiful 13″ crappie. Next few fish were all decent in size, bigger than before. We continued to work the 10 foot range and were able to produce several decent fish through out the course of the next few hours.
As the morning went on the wind picked up and it became difficult to fish outside of our shacks. As the sun went higher the fish slid shallower. This is something we have noticed before while fishing setbacks off the main river. The fish tend to seek out more cover even if it means going shallower when deep holes are present. Large weed flats are great places to find active fish during high light conditions. Another important thing to note was that the fish were not tolerating a presentation for long. I was constantly changing my jigging cadence and my Maki Plastic to keep the fish interested. These plastics teamed with a Bentley gold colored tungsten jig worked well for both the deep and shallow water applications we used today.
All in all it was a good day, unfortunately I wasn’t able to “fish” the way I wanted to as was confined to my shack for comfort. It was a good day learning a few new tricks and applying some older ones to be successful.
There is plenty to be said about what you can learn about fish and fishing when the fish are active and aggressive, but most people don’t understand that the days when the fish don’t bite can be just as important for learning purposes. I actually find the bad days to be more productive.
There are many things to consider when on the water/ice in terms of understanding the fish activity and their patterns; but the weather is probably the single most determining factor in having a successful day. Weather patterns, barometric pressure, wind, fronts, water temp, air temp, and consistent weather patterns all are important things to understand. For example, a steady weather pattern for a week or so will often times lead to steady consistent fishing. The periods just before a front can be some of the best fishing, but once that front hits the fish can often times disappear or completely shut off. Like any animal, movements increase just before a storm. How is this beneficial? Well for starters, look at the weather report and plan your trips accordingly. Also, the fish don’t disappear, they relocate and will potentially change feeling patterns; the best advice is to go find them.
Saturday the 29th of December, left us with unpredictable weather patterns; they were changing almost constantly. Temperatures were rising and falling, along with the pressure. Snow would fly, then stop and the wind would blow, you get the point. The fishing was far from great. Another factor that we had to deal with that made things tough on this day was the fishing pressure. This element taught me something, MOVE!. There was an unusual amount of people out on the bay this day, 28 to be precise. That’s a lot of people for not a very large bay. The fish were not in there normal spots, no matter what we did we could not find the school or marks we were looking for. Looking at the tip ups, kids running around and augers drilling holes I made a big move. I grabbed the auger and the Vex and went chasing following the contour line down the shore. The further away I got from all the commotion the better fish and the more aggressive fish I found. I learned two keys things this day. Play the weather to your advantage, and fish are very sensitive to sound, so make a move. Hopefully this will helps you next time your faced with one of these disadvantages.
We have been having some consistent success on the river this summer jigging vertical timber for walleye on the river. I spent my labor day weekend searching out more spots that were productive.
The portion of the river that we fish mostly averages 8 feet deep. This part of the river also has many sharp turns or bends in the river. These are the places I focus my attention when searching out new locations. When the water is high in the spring, or there is a big storm causing a lot of debris to flow down river, a lot of it piles up on certain sections of the river. These areas can be hard to find without the right electronics, we run the Hummingbird 998c on both of our boats and we also have it set up as a portable unit for ice fishing. This unit has down and side imaging making spots like these a little more accessible.
What I look for exactly is a sharp turn that has a small point that jets out into the river. This acts a a cup for debris and timber to stack up in. There are a few things that make this cup productive that you need to keep in mind. At this time in the summer a lot of the walleyes in the river have searched out the deepest holes to wait for cooling water temps and fall. I have seen holes on the river as deep as 40 feet deep. Once I’ve found a deep hole I check all the turns up and down stream of that hole using the electronics. The most productive spots have had debris in at least 10 feet of water with the spots that have at least 12 feet of water being the most productive.
Once we have located a spot we search for the fish. Using a 3/8 – 1/2 once (depending on the current) jig tipped with a crawler we pitch to the “dark spots”. These dark spots are shady spots that often times hold the fish. It’s also a plus to have a good pair of polarized sunglasses to help you on a sunny day follow the debris back down towards the bottom. It takes a certain level of imagination skills when fishing this sort of structure. The best locations, once in the timber are at the bases of the tress and directly down current of anything breaking the surface of the water. Another thing to remember is that these spots often get better as the day goes on. Especially on a sunny day the shade from the timber will draw in he walleye in search of shade, while at the same time they still have many great ambush points to feed. We have found that the best pattern is to fish multiple locations quickly running between maybe 5 to 6 spots in a small window of time. This keeps the fish less spooky.
I covered a total of 15 river miles and was able to find some more spots up river. Just because a spot has all the criteria doesn’t mean it holds fish. Be patient and you will be rewarded.Many of these locations hold great numbers of rock bass and perch, as well as some nice bass.
This Eye was caught in 14 fow vertical jigging a cup of timber.
On September 7th and 8th, we (Dylan Smith and Robert Booth D & B Ice Adventures – an organization formed to promote fishing in the Northeast) both of Barre, Vermont will be participating in a 24 hour fish-a-thon on the Connecticut River. The event is organized by Recycled Fish to raise awareness to the numerous issues that exist in our waterways throughout the county. Today, Recycled Fish leads the way in a national movement of fisherman who want to live a lifestyle of stewardship on and off the water. The fish-a-thon will be catch and release and time will be spent cleaning up garbage along shores. Throughout this event, we will be collection donations that will be split 50-50 for use by Recycled Fish (nationally and locally) and Trout Unlimited (locally). The Trout Unlimited donation will be dedicated to the Upper Connecticut Home Rivers Initiative. This project is focused on replacing culverts that will increase connectivity in otherwise segmented spawning stream sections due to impassible culverts as well as increasing habitat for cover. To donate to this cause visit: Here
We will be launching in the evening in search of a night walleye bite on the river. This is a relatively new adventure for us and some might think we are a bit crazy for fishing a large river at night but I think we’re prepared. We are all set try use many different methods in search of some eyes including trolling shallow cranks, bottom bouncers, vertical jigging(our bread and butter) as we will be floating the Thill Slpash Bright bobber .
For more information and questions contact:
Dylan Smith – 802-272-8351 or Dylan8351@gmail.com
Robert Booth – 802-461-5593 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Teeg Stouffer – Executive Director/Recycled Fish (402) 933-3443 or email@example.com
Even though it’s not a fishing report here are a few photos of some fish I have seen recently. The heat doesn’t seem to be bothering the trout in this low water!
Check out Non Fishing Fish Action on our YouTube page!
What can I say, walleye are addicting! After a decent day yesterday, I decided to head back as the water conditions appeared to be more ideal for my style of fishing. We were on the water right around 6:30 am and the fish were on quick. We pulled 20 fish in five hours with the majority of them being between and above the slot. It was a good day of catching walleye as long as you aren’t trying to catch fish for dinner! It’s nice to see that the quality is there for future trips but where were all the eaters!
If you have missed the description of our tactics and how we locate fish, check out “Tips on Fishing The Connecticut River For Walleye” on our YouTube page or “Walleye In Wood Part II” in a recent post. Once again white was the color of the day and crawlers were the ticket as a bait.
We started the day on the Connecticut River bright and early chasing walleye. Using the same tactics as the past few trips, we were able to hook up with quite a few fish. If you have missed the description of our tactics and how we locate fish check out “Tips on Fishing The Connecticut River For Walleye” on our YouTube page or “Walleye In Wood Part II” in a recent post. The hot color for the day was white. We tried several other colors but had very limited success.
The majority of the fish we caught today were in the slot (16-18″). We ended up taking 3 fish home for dinner. One was over the slot and two were under. With the conditions of the river we endured the results were fair. The water was not high but it was stained and they were drawing water through the dam at a faster rate than ideal. Between the two of us, we caught a dozen fish and we got to watch our buddy pull in a 27.5″ 7 pound 11 ounce hog!
I also caught this nice sized fallfish!
After the walleye got a bit shy of our jigs, we packed up and headed to a pond on the way home to search out roaming perch. Using the same tactics described in “Deep Water Perch“, we found the fish quick. Without the fish graph, our trip would have been much less successful! We caught about 15 hogs before heading home early in the afternoon to clean them. We caught them on just about every bait we tried but the Charlie Brewer Crappie Slider was the ticket. Darker colors worked best.
We ended up taking home a few good eater sized fish for supper!