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Friday, April 18, 2014

Sucker Spawn

One big mama sucker...
and some sucker spawn
Sucker spawn flies... see any similarities?  Did you notice the fly in the sucker's mouth?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Return of the Suckers...

This means...   
this... which means...
THIS!   (photo courtesy of Kurt Budliger)



Friday, April 11, 2014

Flowing Free!

What a difference a few days makes on a river! We have had gorgeous weather over the past few days and here are the results... I think the before and after photos in (almost) the same spot tell the story best!

Sunday April 6, 2014
Thursday April 10, 2014
Sunday April 6, 2014
Thursday April 10, 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Vermont 2014 Trout Opener Forecast- Revision

Opening day for trout in Vermont is this coming Saturday, April 12. We are coming off a pretty hellacious winter with extremely low temperatures, some significant snowfall and a late spring. I made a few predictions about the opener last weekend after getting out on the water for the first time in a long time based on what I was seeing. I think it was pretty good for the time and there are some things that I still think are important- especially being careful near all that ice stacked up along the banks (it is seriously dangerous stuff to walk on or through- use a lot of caution). It is five days later and time for an update.

Things keep getting warmer and we had a good spate of rain. Rivers are running pretty hard at the moment. Temperatures in the mid 50's to low 60's have been seen in the Champlain Valley over the past few days and temps look like they will be similar for the next little while as well. This has significantly reduced the snow here in the Champlain Valley. Rain on Monday has certainly made a difference with that as well. This bodes well.

The snow pack in the higher elevations is still significant which could impact the first weekend of trout fishing. If we were to get significant rainfall in the next couple of days it could blow the rivers out making fishing next to impossible. Fortunately the only precipitation is less than a tenth of an inch. 

Looking at the USGS river gauges is a great way to tell what is safe to fish. Keep an eye open for significant rises in river levels. If they are running high then stay away from them. The Winooski, Lamoille and Otter Creek and other larger rivers are likely to be unfishable this coming weekend. I would personally stay will small to mid sized rivers myself, especially ones that have a fairly small watershed that may have seen significant melting already. They will clear up first. Of course there are other factors, notably development and agriculture that can have a huge impact on water clarity. 

I will definitely be heading out there this weekend. I think there will be some good shots at some big fish if you know where to look for them. I do. And nope, I'm not sharing where... but if you want to tangle with some big dogs I am available to guide! Muskyflies@gmail.com  April and May are big brown months. I can do my best to put you on big trout. 
 

Monday, April 7, 2014

We Be Jammin'

I hit another stream yesterday. I found more open water but no fish this time. Serious, serious ice jams though. It isn't going to be long now before things start to happen. 

A note of caution. The river was high and dirty. I stepped in a few times to get a better place to cast from. I was standing on what seemed like solid ground but it was shelf ice. I found out the hard way- the shelf broke and I dropped about a foot. Fortunately it was onto solid ground but with water just around the freezing mark be careful out there!


Another cool thing I saw yesterday was some invertebrate activity. Brown stones, beetle larvae (which look a lot like craneflies) and Gammarus  (scuds, and they were big- size 8 or 10). I have pics that I will put up tomorrow. 

It is pretty cool to be out there while the ice jams are working. There is a slight groan as the ice starts to move, then the crush of ice falling, grumbling as it works through then the rush of ice and slush as water moves. Really very cool. Every now and then you hear a big boom and crunch as a big jam gives way. 

It won't be long now...

Yes, there is a river in there somewhere...
 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Current River Conditions/Trout Opener Forecast

Yesterday a good friend of mine and I spent some time scouting out a couple of Lake Champlain tributaries. It seemed like a great idea on a wonderful warm afternoon. There was hope that there could be a steelhead or two around. It turned into a nice day for a walk. 
So here is what I am seeing: the rivers are still iced up but in the process of breaking up. There is evidence of ice damming and then the dam gives and the process starts again. Much of the ice in rivers has sediment over it which gives me the evidence of the damming/breaking repetition. A good flush of water and lots of warm temps will help a lot.

The banks will take a lot longer right now. There is a tremendous amount of ice that came from the all too short break in the cold we had in January. There is 8-12" thick chunks of ice stacked like books along the banks. You can see this in the photos. It is about 3-5 FEET high. It is treacherous walking- easy to turn an ankle or break something if you are not cautious. I have seen this a long many rivers so really watch yourself. 
My forecast for the upcoming opener a week from today: cautiously optimistic with a healthy dose of reality. We have warm temps forecast for the next few days. There does seem to be a decent rainfall in the forecast as well. This would help things out. The big downside is that there is a lot of snowpack still up in the hills and mountains. Once this warms and/or we get a big rain event then things will blow out and blow out in a BIG way. That kind of situation makes for horrible fishing and, simply put, dangerous conditions to be around. Watch the weather and the gauging stations closely. Many of the gauging stations are currently ice affected but that should change quickly. That only impacts the Discharge data so you can get an idea of what the river is doing by looking at the River Stage. If it seems unsafe, it likely is. 

The reality is that the trout opener next weekend might be a wash. I am hoping that I am wrong but a lot depends on weather conditions. If we don't get a lot of rain and the temps stick around the low 40s then some rivers might open up enough to fish and have a decent color (a green stain is much preferable to chocolate milk). Fingers crossed!

 Be safe out there. Better weather and fishing conditions are coming soon!
 



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

First Champlain Burbot


 So I have caught the hardwater bug badly... really badly... What really, really got me was the fact
Check it out- it's a fly reel!
that the new hot reel for jigging is actually a fly reel... ok, so the gear is giving me a sign that I need to do this too... with that in mind I got a rig (it was my birthday gift to myself). My good friend Marty let me borrow some gear too. I was ready to rock and roll!


I did a bit of research and did a lot of thinking about where to go. I knew the habitat that the burbot is looking for. They love rocks. So I thought, hmmmm, where is someplace that has a lot of rocks, is fairly open and easy access?  The Burlington Waterfront. I asked around a bit, specifically my buddy Dale down at Biben's Lakeshore Hardware just up the road from me in Colchester. They are one of the best places to get your ice fishing gear. I grabbed some dead minnows and headed out.
Right on the Waterfront!

The set up is pretty simple. A jigging rod, a glow in the dark jig, a glow in the dark curly tail soft plastic, some dead minnows, and a flashlight to recharge the glow stuff. All pretty straight forward! 

I got out there pretty early. The place was crawling with folks because it was a gorgeous day. The sunset was spectacular. Nothing happened until the sun went down. Then things got interesting...

Three burbot hit within 20 minutes of full darkness. They were hammering that thing. Usually
right after I recharged the jig. BAM! they were on it.  Another one came in the next hour or so. I had a blast and learned a lot. 

I am really excited about this. It opens up so many new possibilities for me for the winter. No longer will I be pining for the spring all winter long. Instead I will be taking advantage of the winter months and hard water. And my friends will be taking advantage of the burbot bonzanza!

First time on the ice solo, first time ice fishing Lake Champlain, first time burbot fishing Champlain... and I nailed it! I feel like a cod among men! 

Not a bad haul! Average size seems larger than those at Willoughby

Monday, March 10, 2014

Master Angler 2013 Pin and Species List Update

The 2013 Vermont Master Angler Pin! I love this one! I put in the first Master Class Gar too! AWESOME choice!
I didn't put in a ton of entries into the Vermont Master Angler Program last year, but I did get in two new species: the Northern Pike and the Yellow Perch. I am pretty pumped about that! 

I also just got in my 2013 Vermont Master Angler pin in the mail! I thought I would show it off a bit. It is a great program and if you are in Vermont and fish I strongly urge you to participate. It is definitely a fun way of expanding your fishing opportunities. 

With that, since I got my Master Class Burbot just two days ago let's put together my species list so far:

Bullhead
The full set of Vermont Master Angler Pins

Common Carp
Fallfish
Bluegill
Pumpkinseed
Rock Bass
Smallmouth Bass
Largemouth Bass
Northern Pike
Chain Pickerel
Longnose Gar
Bowfin
Freshwater Drum
Brown Trout
Brook Trout
Lake Trout
Landlocked Salmon
White Sucker (also the state record)
Redhorse Sucker
White Perch
Yellow Perch
Burbot

That is 22 out of the 33 species! I am 2/3 of the way through the list... And all but one on a fly rod! I have a game plan for this year too. I hope to have a few new entries into the list by year's end. I don't want to jinx myself on what could be low hanging fruit so I won't comment on which species are on my "to do" list but expect to see some cool fish coming this year! I might be using some conventional tackle along the way too (the American Eel is not a fly friendly species, but we will see).

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Thank Cod for Burbot! (A Hardwater Conversion Story)

A disclaimer: this post is going to be a part fishing story, part biology, and part consciousness awakening... 
Not my typical fishing experience (for now...)

Many years ago I went ice fishing with a friend on Lake Champlain. It was ok, but it really wasn't my style. It was classic Champlain ice fishing complete with ice shanties, the old wooden jigging sticks, lots of smelt and a bottle being passed around to "keep ya warm". It was ok but it really wasn't my style. Since that point I have poo-pooed ice fishing, wondering why anyone would want to subject themselves to the cold and risking life and limb out on a frozen body of water. 

Enter the burbot. I have known about burbot (Lota lota) for many years. Locals will call them ling, lingcod,  cusk or lawyers but to a fish geek like me they are the only freshwater member of the cod family. These critters are just plain weird! They are the only fish around here that spawns under the ice, they spend all their time at or near the bottom and they are most active when the water temps are below 40 and primarily at night. HUH? So weird... just up my alley! These fish are very popular with anglers in the Midwest, Alaska and Canada because they are delicious. I have been contemplating them for years and how to get them on a fly rod. 

Jump forward to 2010... A couple of state fisheries biologists, Shawn Good and Jud Kratzer,
kick off the Vermont Master Angler Program where anglers submit pictures of their catches and if they meet the minimum length set for that species then that angler gets a certificate that they caught a Master Class Fish. Five different species in a year and you earn a pin and the bragging rights of being a Vermont Master Angler for that year. Being me I was all about this and set out to get the first pin earned in the state (which I did) and I wanted to be the first to catch all 33 species in the program. Among those species is the burbot. The stage was set. 
Tip ups with Mount Hor in the background

I am friends with both Shawn and Jud and have fished with them both. I have had them both out with fly rods chasing after some of the weird critters that I am interested in. Shawn and I had one of the best bowfin days I have ever had and Jud had on what I believe was a new state record gar with me a couple of years ago. I really love to fish with these two guys because I really get to fish geek out to my heart's content! Jud is an avid burbot fisherman and a couple of years ago Vermont Outdoor Journal did a story on burbot fishing on Lake Willoughby that featured him. When I had the chance to get out with him to do it, I jumped on it. 

The standard method of fishing them in Vermont is to set tip-ups with a couple of smelt but I wanted to try something a bit different. A number of articles and videos that I had found talked about using glow in the dark curly tailed soft plastics on a glow in the dark jig head with a piece. That seemed to be a whole lot more active method of fishing and appealed to me a whole lot more than sitting around waiting for flags to pop. Jud wasn't sure if it would work but was interested in finding out because it would open up a lot more options for him. 
MASSIVE laker (hyperbole)

Yesterday the weather cooperated for us to get out there. Lake Willoughby is situated in a mostly north/south direction between two mountains which act like a wind tunnel. Hitting the weather right makes all the difference. I missed a great window a few weeks ago when Jud hit 15 burbot in a night. The ice fishing season comes to an end next weekend and I wanted to get this in before it did. 

We hit the ice, drilled holes, and set tip ups at the end of the day. I set out my glowing worms to catch the last rays of the setting sun (but I also had a couple of LED flashlights with me to recharge them when I needed to). I started jigging a hole in about 50 feet of water with the jig. I do have to admit that I did tip the jig with a smelt head. Hey, with these critters every advantage counts! 

Within 15 minutes I had something on. I could tell it wasn't very big but I laughed my head off when I pulled out a 10 inch lake trout! Lake Willoughby has some of the biggest lakers in Vermont (it is the home of the state record of 35 lbs) which can be notoriously finicky. First time fishing the lake and I have one! I thought it was a fortuitous start. 
Get a Lota that fish: my first burbot ever!

Shortly after that I felt something bump the rig. A couple of times. I totally missed it. It takes a while to get used to the feel of a jigging rod that is less than 30 inches long when you are used to an 8 to 10 foot fly rod. I checked the rig, recharged the glow and put it back down. BAM! Something was on. I reeled it up and I had a nice 17" burbot! First one ever and a new species on my life list! AWESOME!  It didn't take long and I had another one. Jud didn't have any of his tip ups flag yet either. 

Then I had a bite... I set the hook pretty hard and the rod doubled over. It is pretty funny to see a tiny rod like that double over! I could tell this was a good fish. Jud came over and mentioned that the rod was really cranked. As it came up through the hole he said "That is a nice fish! You have your Master Class there!" as he pulled it out onto the ice. Sure enough I had a 25 inch burbot! Quite a beast! 
25", 4.5lb Master Class burbot! Great colors and markings on these fish!

Jud saw how effective the jigging was and started to use that. He was really psyched because it would open up a lot of different possibilities for him at the lake. There are a few other locations that have bigger fish but don't have a smelt run. The reason the burbot are stacked up here is that it is post spawn (it happened in early February) and they are ambushing schools of smelt in fairly shallow water in this location. Burbot don't move a lot except to spawn or when there are large congregations of baitfish for them to snack on. 
Admiring the slimy devil!

We finished up the night with a total of 11 fish- Jud had 6 (released one) and I had 5 (released one). Of those all but two came on the jigging method. I can't  wait to hear how Jud does with this technique next weekend. As for the fish I kept- some friends will be trying out what is described as "poor man's lobster" and I will report on what they thought of it after they chow down.

As for me, this was an awakening... I think I am a convert... I will be amassing gear over the next 9 months to get ready for the hard water season next year. Lake Champlain has a lot of possibilities and I don't have any other hobbies or activities that I do during the winter. I have been pretty oppositional to ice fishing in the past but Jud has converted me... and Cod has spoken!


A great feed for some friends (I am allergic to fish...)
PS- This puts me at 22 of the 33 species on the Master Angler list of fishes for the state... 2/3 of the way through... post on this later...

Friday, March 7, 2014

Burbot... the "Hard" Way...

I haven't wet a line since November. We have been in the deep freeze here in Vermont. Still seem to be. I am going completely crazy because of it... so I need to do something different. With that in  mind I have been talking to a friend of mine, Jud Kratzer, who is an avid burbot fisherman and also happens to be a Vermont State Fisheries Biologist, about getting out after these fish. 

What the hang is a burbot you say? Lota lota  I say! They are the only freshwater member of the cod family and have a circumpolar distribution (throughout the northern hemisphere). The best time to get them is in the winter when they congregate to spawn (they spawn under the ice) and the best method is to ice fish. I have never been an ice fisherman but I want to get one of these puppies somehow! I will be out for them when the ice is gone too... I have some ideas!!!

So off I go tomorrow afternoon to see about getting a lota that fish! I will let you know how my hard water experience plays out!

Check out Jud on Vermont Outdoor Journal here: