Thursday, March 10, 2016

Whitefish Redemption



The look of determination and frustration in this picture led my friend Lawrence Pyne to declare that if I had had a beard I would be a dead ringer for Captain Ahab.



As I write this, the ice fishing season in Vermont is over. The ice is no longer safe, which happened very quickly. I am alright with that. I finished the season strong. 

The Vermont Master Angler Program is a passion of mine and I am determined to be the first angler to catch all 33 species that are in the program. One species that has been a thorn in my side, as my last post can attest, is the lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis). That fish is the primary reason I have spent so much time on the ice. Working in a school system affords me a break every February to spend a lot of time on the ice. Last year it was very cold and difficult to spend the time on the open lake. This year was a different ballgame because I found a flip over sled which allowed me to spend more time on the lake without risking frostbite and greatly reduced the wind factor. 

Seeing the lake I love so much from it's hard water condition is a very different experience. I am so used to being on it's waters in the summer where lush vegetation and visible fish are the norm. When there is ice it is such a different ballgame. You aren't seeing the open water but you are able to access so many places that you would normally need a boat to get to. The sites and sounds are wildly different. There is a lot of beauty in the ice itself, the patterns formed and the cracks in it. The combination of ice and sky can be amazing. 

This year, on the Inland Sea (one of the few places with good ice where there are whitefish) the water temperatures dropped dramatically which caused a mass die off of alewives. It is a shame that it didn't completely wipe out this non-native invader but it did leave a very interesting phenomenon on the ice: tens of thousands of dead alwives in the ice and just under it. 

I had been doing my research on locations. My previous blog post elicited a response from a long time follower- thedeadfisher (and thank you so very much!!!) - who sent me a link to two videos from a gentleman in Ontario named John White. These two videos on tips and techniques for whitefish really gave me a completely new perspective on what was going on with the the fish. I adjusted what I was doing and how I had my rods set up. I was ready to give it my best shot. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9dGCP6txXQ 

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkmkrYTHA6s

Saturday morning I hit the ice very early. I had been in contact with John Whyte who had been very helpful with some suggestions of locations to fish. Navionics is an app that provides a bathymetric map of the lake contours and via email John gave me some places he thought would hold fish. 

I moved around a lot, checked out a few spots and by noon I was perched over a ledge on a drop off over 65 feet of water. The borrowed flasher I was using (thank you so much Mike Hoffman!) showed a suspended school of bait or insects or plankton). I was dead sticking a Swedish Pimple on the bottom with a 1" Berkely minnow smelt flavor about 18" above it drop shot style. I started to get taps. Then I had a fish on. I could tell it was not big but I was very excited to see a smelt come up through the hole. 

The smelt population in Lake Champlain has been in decline since the alewife has taken hold here. Smelt used to be one of the most popular ice fishing targets in this area with massive shanty towns built on the ice to catch these tasty, tiny predators. No longer the case. I was pleased to catch this 6" smelt. Another quickly followed it. 

Then around 1:30 I watched my rod tip dip about an eighth of an inch. Tiny bump. I set the hook. My ultralight fiberglass rod doubled over and I started reeling. Whatever was there had some weight to it and I was going to take my time getting it up to the hole. Knowing that whitefish have delicate mouths and that horsing them can mean a lost fish I was erring on the side of caution. as the fish neared the hole I saw a white belly and grey scales. I was hit with a combination of adrenaline and fear  of losing the fish. I had on 5 lb fluorocarbon tippet and this was a deep bellied fish. 

I threw back the cover on my flip over, exposing myself to the brilliant sun. I grabbed my homemade gaff because I did not want to take the chance of losing my first whitie. As I did that the fish popped up through the hole. It barely fit through the 6" hole because it was so wide. I dropped the rod and grabbed that fish with both hands and threw it on the ice. A whitefish!  I had done it! 

I grabbed the measuring stick I had.  I needed to measure the length. I needed to do this quickly because I had been talking to the lake quite a bit in all my time alone out there. I had made a deal with the Lady Champlain, my mistress, that I would release the first whitefish that I caught. I needed to get this fish back in the hole. Of course that didn't stop me from hooting and hollering as I measured and took photos. 

After dropping it back down the hole, I raised my hands to the sky wide and screamed my head off. After a couple of hundred hours on the ice I had caught one! I danced a little jig on the ice. I started making excited phone calls and sending texts. I realize now that I should have been back to fishing ASAP because the whitefish are a schooling species, but no matter. 

The whitefish was 18" and very thick. A real slab. A beautiful fish. For the Master Angler Program the whitefish needs to be 22". No matter. I have figured out yet another piece in the Lake Champlain lake whitefish puzzle. And I have several friends that want to target them in boats this spring. The story isn't over yet but it is much closer to it's conclusion. I finally got one and can add it to my life list of fish I have caught. 

 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

I Am Ahab and I Seek the Whitefish

It's been a while blog, but here is something I have been thinking about a lot. 
http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/wf_on_snow.jpg
The lake whitefish- Coregonus clupeaformis  photo from Roughfish.com
  
I don’t have a lot in this world. I don’t own a home, I have never had a real career, and I don’t have a family, which is unlike most folks my age. In all fairness, those things might never happen. But what I do have is fishing. I suppose “I fish, therefore I am” could be a motto for my life. I guess it is appropriate that I hope that my legacy will be fishing related. I suppose that is one of the reasons why the Vermont Master Angler Program has become so important to me. Catching all of the species in the program before anyone else is a lasting accomplishment that I have hoped to hold.


In 2015 I added 4 new species to my list- the smelt, walleye, muskellunge and channel catfish. I have used methods that were new to me, notably fishing with live and dead bait and ice fishing. That brings my total species count to 29 leaving 4 left to catch: the American shad, pike/pickerel hybrid, cisco and lake whitefish. I have caught both shad and hybrids in Vermont and I am confident that I can get ones of sufficient size to enter in the next year. The cisco will be a challenge but guys who troll the lake get them and I have made a few friends with those guys so I should be able to get that done. Which leaves the lake whitefish.


I have put a lot of time and effort into searching for the lake whitefish. It is actually a fairly common fish in the lake. It used to be commercially fished in Lake Champlain, as late as the 1990’s in Missisquoi Bay. People got them with some regularity when there were smelt in good numbers in Lake Champlain, but with the introduction of alewives into the system in the early 200’s the whitefish has become very elusive. Studies done by UVM in the past 6 to 7 years show that the fish are still out there and there are some big specimens. Catching one while targeting whitefish seems to be another story.


My nemesis- courtesy of https://www.mychamplain.net/sites/default/files/image/guywf.png
I have put in dozens of days on the ice, walked at least a hundred miles on frozen Champlain ice, and drilled hundreds of holes, many by hand. I have been dehydrated, wind burned, frost bitten, soaked to my core. Right now I am sore from dragging a sled 15 miles over the past three days, I have blisters on my feet and just a few perch for all the effort I put in. I have been fishing in places they have been caught by anglers as well as in nets by biologists. I have tried many different lures and baits. Nothing so far. And just two days ago a very large specimen was caught by a young angler fishing perch. Most of the catches I keep hearing of over the past couple of years are incidental catches by people not fishing for whitefish but by folks chasing perch, lakers, walleye, etc.


I have had a great deal of support from folks, friends, family and people in the fishing community. I have had some great information shared thanks to great folks on internet forums (thank you all again!) and some less than helpful information from the same sources (gotta love armchair experts that talk like they know a lot about something they no nothing about). But with all of that I still feel no closer to catching a lake whitefish.

So, I guess here is my plea, to my fellow anglers, to Lake Champlain (where my heart and soul resides) and to the Cosmos- please let me get one lake whitefish out of Champlain that is over 22”. Seriously. And if you know anything about where and how to get one please email me at muskyflies@gmail.com.


Let my legacy move forward please. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Vermont Master Angler Program Update

This muskellunge is my latest species for the MAP
It has been quite a while since I posted anything on the blog. I do have to apologize for that. Life sometimes gets in the way and sometimes I just don't have it in me to write much. I will be trying to make up for the lost postings over the next little while...

So one thing I have been putting a lot of time into this year is to catch all 33 species in the Vermont Master Angler Program. I have been on the ice, using bait (not something this fly angler is accustomed to) and doing a lot of homework and footwork to try to figure them all out. At the start of this year I was at 25 species- pretty respectable I think. I wanted to try to get through as many of the remaining species I could this year. At this point I have upped the list to 28 species as of last Saturday with a nice big musky which is at minimum 41". 
9" Rainbow smelt- my first new species of the year.


I still have 5 species left to go. I have been putting in time chasing catfish, a lot of time, without any significant results (the lost rod is a good story though...). I hope to get out after pike/pickerel hybrids and cisco this fall. I have some ideas on where to find lake whitefish too. I won't have another shot at shad again until May or June of next year, but I think that I have a really good shot at them. 

It has been a big challenge and a big personal goal. I have put a lot of focus into it and really pushed myself (to the point where people who care about me have been concerned). This is very important to me and I intend on making it happen!

Stay tuned for stories about some of these fish coming up soon!

DP 
This 27" walleye is the species I caught closest to home and number 27 on my list.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Dinosaurs for Father and Son

I was contacted by Cameron about getting his nine year old son, Sebastian, into some "dinosaurs"- the fossil fish of Lake Champlain: bowfin and gar. Two of my specialties! We set up a trip for them and set off on a great adventure. 

I was a bit worried about the forecast with the potential for thunderstorms. For that reason we decided on an early morning trip. We met at 6 am and the skies definitely looked like a front was going to make its way through. The wind was up a bit too. We were all really enthusiastic and I had a good feeling about the day. 

After getting to one of my favorite bowfin spots it didn't take long before we started seeing bowfin, more correctly Sebastian saw the first one. It didn't take long to realize that this boy has incredible eyes! He was spotting fish easily and getting the fly right in front of them with ease. It was really remarkable. He got a nice 4 pound bowfin fairly quickly and then Dad jumped on a nice one too. The action was hot! Bowfin were everywhere.

I was talking to Cameron and Sebastian got quiet. We both realized something was going on when there was splashing at the front of the canoe. He had a nice fish on! He got into it all by himself! That fish ended up being 24" which qualifies him for a Master Class bowfin in the Youth category (it needed to be 23"). He did that one other time too with a smaller fish. 

The bowfin were definitely on the prowl and 6 were landed and about 25 were hooked. Not too bad. 


We braved a headwind to move to another bay to look for gar. At first it wasn't very promising. The water was very discolored and it was difficult to see anything. We were getting pushed around quite a bit too. Then a large gar porpoised in front of us, and another. I had Cameron blind cast which is very different than my regular sight fishing for gar. I had a feeling it might be a better option in this situation. I was right. Cameron got a very nice 40" gar doing that. His gar also qualifies for the Master Angler Program

Sebastian had to get one as well. Time was running out for us too. This boy has some incredible luck and skill though. On a blind cast he got into a nice 39" gar. He got his second Master Class fish and crushed the 30" he needed to qualify for the program! I was pretty happy about that and both of my anglers were very pleased as well!


A great day on the water!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Champlain Flats Slam... for Both Anglers!

Some serious carpage there Pete!
Any day that I get to spend fishing with my brother Pete is pretty awesome but today was one of the absolute best! Perfect wind, perfect sun, the fish were out and active... the result was that we both got a Lake Champlain Flats Slam- smallmouth, carp, and drum!  Freakin' awesome! I am riding high from that right now!

Pete is super psyched too. He has only caught one carp before and that fish was a nice one but it was in the weeds and didn't get to do what carp normally do... this one was a different ballgame. He cast to it, saw the take and the fish took off. It wasn't a huge one but his smile was! He was pumped to have his feet on the ground when he got it too. 

My carp was a tad bigger and a first for me- the first carp I have caught barefoot and shirtless! Pretty fun actually! Lovely fish too.

Pete hit a nice smallie after we chased drum for a bit. The big ones weren't playing but the smaller guys did. I hit a decent one with a new crawfish pattern (pics up soon I promise) and then I got a smallmouth. He wanted in on the Champlain Flats Slam... so we found him a nice lil puppy drum. They are fun fish for sure! His first too.

So you can see we had a lot of fun getting our Lake Champlain Flats Slam... do you want one now? Hit me up and lets talk! 


Right on! Great take with this fish- we both got to see it!
Pete's grin tells the whole story!

Drum are a blast when you get them on the fly! The big ones are on the list...

Pete's first drum... bigger ones to follow!
Smallmouth action!

Pete with the ever popular "there WAS a drum right there" look...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Master Class Smallie for Mike

Mike's biggest smallmouth bass ever and his first Master Angler fish to be entered!
So Mike approached me about getting his Vermont Master Angler pin for this year. It has been tough to coordinate getting time on the water (he is a busy guy with a great wife and two awesome kids) but we got out yesterday. The original quarry was carp but they were being, well, carp. Fortunately there are a lot of nice smallies to play with in the location that we were at so sight fishing for big smallies was the name of the game. 

I call it "Hex Fiend"
We had some fish that came up and teased us. The Hexagenia hatch is in full swing on Lake Champlain right now and we were using flies that were very similar in size and color (I now have really good imitations for those carp though...). 

The release
I spotted a big smallmouth sitting on a rock pile. Because of the sun angle Mike could not see the fish well. I told him where to cast and he put the fly perfectly where it needed to be. I watched that bass zip right over to the fly and inhale it. It went airborne fast!  That fish put one serious bend in a 9 weight rod. It went on three good runs before we got it in the net. It taped out to be 21.5", well over the 19" needed for Master Class.

Mike will be working with me for the rest of the summer to earn his Vermont Master Angler pin... would you like to do the same?  Hit me up muskyflies@gmail.com

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Working the Weeds

I got out and hit the weeds yesterday in search of whatever I could find. I had a 9, 8, and 4 weight rigged and ready with me. So many panfish kicking around right now. Constant action with those guys. Some big bass are out and about too. A few of those bass are still guarding babies. Pretty late for sure.

The big action came with bowfin. I love how they just sneak up to the canoe stealthily. But then they hammer the fly and go nuts! Awesome fish! 

The most fun fight of the day was the 14 1/2 inch bullhead that I sight fished with a small carp fly.
That thing hammered the fly then got the reel singing for a few seconds. Pretty nice bend in the rod too. Cats are 
pretty phenomenal. Can't wait to get into a big channel cat this summer! It is on the list... 




Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Lake Champlain Report Week of 7/7/14

I have been out and about along Lake Champlain this week and here is what I am seeing:

The lake is in good shape  at just under 97 feet and is now hitting 70 on a regular basis. The water clarity is good and the weed growth isn't too heavy yet. Plenty of bait around and the Hex hatch is on. The biggest issue in the past week has been the wind and thunderstorms. They make sight fishing difficult at best and dangerous to be on the water at worse.


The carp are on! The Hexegenia hatch has begun and the carp are in feeding mode. This is a great time to get out there and chase one of the finest gamefish that Champlain has to offer. Sight fishing for these big bruisers is awesome! They will take a wide variety of flies from Clouser Swimming Nymphs, Hex patterns, crawfish patterns, San Juan Worms and many of the carp flies that are out there in sizes 2 through 10.


Panfish are hot hot hot! Big pumpkinseeds and bluegills are on their nests right now. Throw a 2 to 4 weight rod in your boat for some light rod fun! A 10 inch panfish on a light rod is a blast! They take small nymphs (bead heads are best in sizes 10-14), dries and poppers. Hit it up! 

Bowfin and gar are both out there and on the prowl too. Big predators that most folks don't chase but are really amazing gamefish in their own right. Gar flies around 8-9 inches will do the trick for the gar and you can't go wrong with Mr Bow-regard for bowfin. These guys love the heat of the day so don't be afraid to chase them then! Great chance to sight fish in the sun!
 
Smallmouth  finished up the spawn (yes, this late!).Same applies to the bucketmouths. Tons of flies work for these guys but with the heat we are having one of the most fun methods is to use a topwater fly of some kind- popper, slider or diver. That crash is a lot of fun! This works best at dawn and dusk.

Smaller pike and pickerel are in the shallows but the bigger fish have moved out to deeper weedbeds. Try a sink tip line and typical pike flies like bunny bugs, Deceivers, Clouser Half and halfs in sizes 2/0 to 6/0. Flies in the 6 to 8 inch range seem to be getting it done best right now. 

Drum are out there too and can be really tricky to coax onto the fly but when they do it is money! Keep and eye out when you are near rocky structure. They will be starting their spawn shortly so don't be surprised to see them daisy chaining. Buggers, clousers and crawfish patterns (they do like Hex patterns too!) in sizes 2-8.
 

I am running a Learn to Champlain Carp special right now that includes on the water instruction for $175 and includes a selection of proven carp patterns. Email me at muskyflies@gmail.com for more details!

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Bowfun Begins!

Alan contacted me about learning more about how to sight fish. It is summer time in Vermont and what better fish to learn about sight fishing than bowfin? They get big and teach a lot about looking for fish. Of course it helps that they are more than willing to grab onto a fly and give it a good shake too! 

The water wasn't as clear as I was hoping for because of a combination of wind (it was really blowing on Saturday), earlier storms (the July 4th storm was serious business) and feeding carp (a bunch of carp feeding on the bottom gets messy fast). There was enough clear water to find the fish, but some spots were tougher than others. 

There were plenty of shots at bowfin throughout the day. Multiple times there were several fish around the boat at the same time. We only saw one real bruiser but the water is still fairly cool for this time of year. There were other fish around too- he had shots at big bass, gar and carp. Alan learned just how spooky carp can be as well. They are awesome fish but definitely one that takes a lot of patience.

Did he have a great day? Take a look at the smile on his face! 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Champlain Flats Slam!

Some carp yummies for testing- I'm a proud Deer Creek Pro Staffer!
I was expecting to have a client on the water today. Really looking forward to that but the weather guys had forecasted gloom and doom- an 85% chance of thunderstorms with the possibility of crazy hail and even tornadoes. He and I talked and decided to postpone. I felt badly but it was a situation where discretion was the better part of valor (thanks for that phrase Shakespeare). I thought I would try to get a bit of time in before the weather world came to an end (or so it was predicted- but Nostradamus wasn't always right either weather guys...).
Love the colors on these scrappers!

Well, rain came down for less than 5 minutes. It was overcast, light wind and there were fish everywhere. By the end of the day I was seriously annoyed... at the weather people... Lake Champlain was great to me! 

I tried out a few new carp patterns... they seemed to be doing the trick. The gray seems to be the one the fish like the most. After losing both the new gray ones to fish I went back to the old standby. That did the trick as well.... Here are the results:  

The photo doesn't do credit to the colors on these fish!
Smallmouth were all over. I landed about a dozen or so of various sizes. I didn't get the biggest I saw but they were very acrobatic (the one pictured did a 4 foot leap). They are such spunky fish. Any time I saw one and threw something near it I had a fish on. 

Drum- hooked 3 landed two. Nothing huge but even the little 14" drum put a great bend in an 8 weight rod. They were all about eating today and a fly near the bottom got the job done. The bigger one came in around 19". I still haven't seen any of the real big ones in shallow  yet but that is coming soon for sure!

Champlain bonefish!
Carp- went one for two. The first one got me into my backing in no time flat then broke off. Seriously hot carp! Loved it! Most of the fish I was seeing were pretty spooky and on the move. I saw a lot of them so it wasn't the end of the world. The last fish was up close and personal. I dropped the fly in front of its face and watched it hammer on it. It was off to the races then!  That thing plowed through weeds like they weren't even there! Just went all over the place. Tore off. After I got it out of the weeds it still took another 10 minutes or so to land it. It taped out at 31". Very nice fish. A quick aside here: The leader was pretty ripped up after the time in the weeds but that Mirage 3X held up strong. I did change it out as soon as I landed the fish. Just a little friendly advice for anyone that deals with fish that burn through weeds- check your tippet!

Big gar... note the upper jaw
Gar- got one nice big ol' gar on a carp fly! That guy was HUNGRY! I can totally tell why... the top of its mouth was broken off. It still managed to grab the fly after chasing it down though. Big guy, over 48" ( I taped it to 30" and it flipped out and got away before I could finish, but there were at least 18" more fish after that). I am not sure how this fish ended up like this- I have seen boat hits before but the other thing it could be (and I hope not... but if it is true I hope to run into the person who did it in a dark alley...) is someone intentionally breaking the beak off to keep the fish from feeding. Yes, there are anglers out there, notably some bass guys, who think that gar destroy other fish populations. Well, they don't ya jackholes, and let me also point out to you guys that longnose gar are NATIVE to Lake Champlain while largemouth bass are NOT... if you ever see a guy doing that please feel free to rip off his lower jaw and throw him back to live out a long lingering death... It does tell you something about how tough these guys are though... and still trying to make a living eating anything it can!

I consider a Lake Champlain Flats slam to be a drum, carp and a smallmouth and I call a drum, carp, gar and bowfin a Champlain Oddball slam... so I was close to both today! Nick, you are on deck for the next one!

Champlain is hot right now! I can get you on fish if you let me! Hit me up at muskyflies@gmail.com

 
Obligatory dropped drum picture!