Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Fly Fishing Lake Champlain by Canoe or Kayak

Lake Champlain trib at sunset
I have been chasing after all sorts of species in Lake Champlain with a fly rod for many years now, most of the time using a canoe. For most of the species that I target a canoe has been perfect for what I do both in my personal fishing and when I guide. With this in mind the other day I was thinking about the question I get asked frequently: how do I fly fish this huge lake with a canoe or kayak?

Lake Champlain can be (and in many respects should be) an intimidating piece of water. It is huge: 120 miles long, five very different segments in two states and a Canadian province with approximately 7.5 trillion gallons of water when its at its median level of 98 feet. There are numerous tributaries, vast wetlands, widely varied water types that can change in a heartbeat. On top of that there are at least 86 different species of fish in the lake with approximately 30 that can be caught by anglers (a guestimate on my part honestly). Keeping that in mind how do you start? Not an easy question.

Sight fishing smallmouth on a rocky shore
There is an old adage that seems appropriate for this: how do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time. This is a good way of looking at Champlain from the perspective of a canoe or kayak fly angler (the same applies in a lot of ways to conventional tackle as well). With such a massive body of water there is no way to cover all of it in a small watercraft effectively. The first step is to break it down into more manageable pieces that you can cover easily. Thinking about that means considering a number of factors to help decide where to go. These include the time of year, the species that you are hoping to find, the lake level, the general area of the lake you want to fish and the weather.

The only months of the year that I have not been on the lake in my canoe are January and February. Having said that, if you are unsure about your canoe or kayak skills or do not have the appropriate gear to be safe in cold conditions please don't get on the lake when the water is below 60. Lake Champlain is seriously big water folks. Safety comes first. In the beginning of the year, typically April and October through December the primary target species will be salmonids, pike, bass and panfish. Most of the other species are found throughout the summer months (May through September).

Lakers at dawn
When considering the time of year with species what is more important than the specific time of year is the temperature profile of the lake matched up with the species that you are looking for. Using the USGS Gauge for the lake to check the temperature will give you a good idea of what is going on. Having said that, the primary temperature is taken on the Burlington Waterfront which is adjacent to the broad lake. This means that it will stay cooler in the spring and then warmer in the fall. Shallower areas will warm up and cool down faster than the widest section of the lake where the gauge is located. And the lake is huge, there can be massive temperature variations sometimes because of prevailing wind conditions, sunlight, tributaries, etc. On the ground checks will give you more info. 

It pays to know the habitat that the species that you are targeting use. It is not out of the question to find an oddball fish in places you aren't expecting it but for the most part the fish know where they want to be and stick there. Chances are pretty good that you are not going to be finding gar when you are looking for lake trout (although I do have a pretty cool story about hooking a bowfin with the next cast after hooking a landlocked salmon- only in Champlain...). Most shallow weedy bays will have a pretty typical contingent of warm water species but might have cool or cold water species in the spring and fall. It can be pretty funny how two bays that are close to one another can have radically different compositions in terms of habitat and fish found there. Again, it pays off to scout a bit.
Hunting gar in a shallow bay

The level of the lake is a critical piece in finding fish with a paddled vessel. Flood stage is 100 feet, and if the lake is over 99 ft then there will be a lot of flooded forest acreage. In some ways this is a boon for fly anglers in canoes and kayaks in the spring. It gives a lot of water that you can check out (and it is super cool to catch fish in a flooded forest ala the Amazon). The downside to having so much flooded territory is that it spreads the fish out more. After leaf out having the lake really high makes things challenging- a lot of fish stay in the backwater and the brush is very difficult to navigate. I have found that my personal lake sweet spot is between 96 and 98 feet. Lots of habit for the fish to be in, lots of weedbeds, not a lot of structure to be careful of. When it starts dropping below this the fish head to different places. You have to cover a lot more water, which, while not a huge problem, does make it less efficient in a non powered boat.

There are a lot of different parts of the lake. Some of it is super shallow and weedy, other sections are sheer rock faces that drop precipitously down deep fast. Knowing the general structure of the lake will help you find your target species. The Navionics App is a great help with armchair prospecting as well as on the water. It will give you a great idea of what the area you want to check out is like.

It can pay to be in the thick of things
Probably the greatest factor in fishing Champlain in a person powered boat is the weather. The lake is big and has big weather. Keep yourself updated on what the weather conditions are supposed to be like and keep an eye on the weather you are observing yourself. Things get crazy fast and you don't want to be stuck without a way back if you can avoid it. Lake Champlain has taken lives because people were in the wrong place and weren't respecting how quickly conditions can deteriorate. Caution is the better part of valor and I personally recommend staying fairly close to shore for safety's sake.

For example, in August 2018 I had a client on the lake. The weather was supposed to be fairly nice with a light breeze of 10 mph and a slight chance of a thunderstorm. We were on the water and it was fine quite a while. There was a light chop and it wasn't bad. I did notice a dark cloud over the Adirondacks and checked the radar. It didn't seem like an issue for a bit but then I realized it was time to go. As we paddled back to the launch a wind storm hit. The lake went from 4-6 inch chop to 3-4 foot rollers in a matter of 10 minutes. It was pretty scary. The lake she is a wicked mistress when you aren't paying attention, so pay attention!
Rich Hart with a nice Champlain bowfin

Wind is my greatest concern on the lake. I really watch the wind direction and speed. Fly casting from a canoe in the wind is not a pleasant experience but if you factor in the wind action from those waves it can get really challenging in the extreme. With such a variety of water it is usually easy to find a relatively sheltered area on the lake to paddle. If there is a north wind, find a south facing bay to give you some protection. This holds true with most wind directions. There are plenty of options, it is just a matter of using some common sense and map skills. With that being said, I will generally avoid being on the lake if the wind speed is over 15 mph, less if the water is 50 or under (10 is my cut off there). Safety first folks.

The best piece of advice I can give paddle anglers is to just get out an poke around. There are lots of access points along the Vermont and New York sides of the lake. The appeal of a smaller vessel is that it lets you drop into a lot of places that are not as easily accessed by a boat ramp. Hopping a guardrail or walking down a bank (that isn't posted) lets you get to a lot of places quickly without a long paddle. I could certainly list off a bunch of my favorite spots and the species found there but, damn, this is the interwebs and I don't want to blow up all the places I fish. I am no dummy!  Seriously though, if you are hitting Lake Champlain with a canoe or kayak you have a bloody big elephant to eat. Start taking some bites!

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Water and Fish

It has been a long time since I have posted much on here. It is time to change that.

2018 and 2019 have been major years of change in my life. One thing remains a constant: water and fish. That was on my mind yesterday. I have never been much for writing poetry, but this came to me and I wanted to see if it came together alright.

Water and Fish

What is the allure? Where is the draw?

Water and fish test you, challenge you, don't pass sentence.
Water and fish test your agility, your strength, your stamina,
Water and fish test your skill, your observation, your patience.
Water and fish don't judge your failures or celebrate your success.
Water and fish don't know what you earn, how you live, what you wear.
Water and fish can never forget you because they will never know you.

Water is passing through to it's next stop, ever flowing,
Fish swim, eat, get eaten, grow, spawn, survive in the water.
To join their world is to escape the world of judgement,
Moving to where you are just a moment in passing. 

Water and fish were there, will always be there. 
Water and fish may see you come and go.
Water and fish have never known you.
Water and fish never will know you.
Water and fish do not care. 
Water and Fish just are. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Vermont Master Angler Whitefish

Lake whitefish. I have spent much of my thought process on lake whitefish in Lake Champlain over the past 3 years considering these fish. What they eat, where they are and how to catch them. I spent that time compiling evidence through reading and conversations, and when there was ice, time out fishing for them. It has been both challenging and rewarding, but yesterday all of it paid off. 

I spent Saturday fishing by myself. First on, last off the ice in that particular location. It's a good spot. Pretty close to where I lost the fish a couple of weeks ago. Not the most fun walk when I initially got there at 5:30. I got into some perch. Had fun. Time alone on the ice can be like that. Also frustrating. Whitefish are frustrating. There is little question of that. 

My buddy Dave was joining me for Sunday. It is really nice to be out on the ice with
Dave and the hub. 
someone else. I had some gear that was going to make all the difference in the world: an 8" auger and a hub style shelter. I lost the last whitefish at the hole in part because when the fish got to the hole it wasn't going to easily fit through. Between the larger hole and the homemade gaff that I brought, I wasn't going to loose the next one that I got into. 

Dave and I walked through the slush to get out to where I wanted to be. I shifted the location a bit from where I had been the day before. This was partly due to the conditions near where I had been Saturday, but also because it was close to the edge of a small flat I was working. Edges are good. We were in about 55 feet of water. That thought process paid off. 

Sebile Vibrato- rather alewife like...
We set up, and for quite a while, not a thing was happening. Not even perch. The Vexilar was quiet, top to bottom. We had three rods rigged: two were set up for jigging soft plastics, both with a heavy tungsten jig for weight at the bottom and a drop shot hook with a soft plastic about a foot over it just above a micro swivel. The other rod had a Sebile Vibrato, which is a jigging spoon that had been suggested to me by John Whyte, an excellent outdoor writer that fishes whitefish on Lake Simcoe in Ontario. The two jigging sticks were Light rods, both in the upper 20 inch range (one 27, the other 28). The Vibrato was on a medium stick that is 26".

We were getting into some perch, but it was not hot and heavy fishing by any means. Dave and I were having a blast. Talking fishing and Dave had the Grateful Dead Channel playing. Sitting on 10" of ice, staring either at a rod tip or at the Vex screen is a lot more fun with a buddy and some great tunes. It was fun to teach Dave something new too. He had never used a Vexilar nor had he ever targeted whitefish. Around 8:30 I reeled up my jigs and said "Let's see if I can shake things up a little bit by flashing the Vibrato through the water column."

Feshly iced
I dropped that thing to the bottom. I smashed it into the bottom three times then raised it up a foot and held it there. BAM! fish on! It was a heavy fish. Definitely heavier than the dink perch that we had mostly been getting. It was a whitefish, I could tell by the fight. Dave said "You were right about the rod throbbing!" The fight on these fish is very different. They use their broad sides and powerful tail to their advantage. You feel every time they use that tail, hence the throbbing sensation when you are playing them. And The Music Never Stopped was playing. Funny how you remember these things. 

The fish started to get close to the hole. Dave grabbed the gaff. This one wasn't getting away. We had talked about how I had used a gaff with my buddy Matt Lavallee a couple of years before with lakers. I had told him a funny story about Matt just gaffing a laker broadside when I figured I was going to release that fish. It was released into a frying pan instead. But a new gaff style was born: the Matt L! 

Whitefish! Look at the light in the background. I commented
to Dave earlier about the light streaming through the clouds
"It was just like that when I got my cisco with Thorny, I feel
good about today."  Truth. 
The fish circled the hole, went on a couple of runs that made me push the tip of the ice rod down the hole to make sure nothing bad happened. Dave got the gaff in there and the Matty L did the trick!  Whitefish landed!!! Bam!!! A great fish! After measuring it, it was 20". A bit short, but this fish was coming home with me. There is an amazing woman that has put up with a whole lot of talk about whitefish (that she mostly tunes out) and talked me off the ledge with whitefish a couple of years ago. I promised her a whitefish and this one was hers. I hope it is super tasty Darienne!

We took some pictures, had some laughs then got back to it. Dave was almost as excited as me. 

Time went by. Perch were playing, but it was not an easy bite. The bigger fish seemed to be suspended and we were getting them thanks to the Vexilar. Without the sonar you would have no idea those fish were there. And periodically we dropped that Vibrato through to see what would happen. No players though. 

Dave needed to grab something and handed me his rod. He had switched the reel to reel lefty. I reel righty. Easy to switch a spinning reel back and forth, but not something I am used to. Then there was weight. A lot of weight. We were both looking down the hole, waiting to see what was going to come up, but both knowing what it was. Dave said it first "That's a whitefish!"

Gaff in hand, Dave deftly hooked it near the dorsal. It came right up through the hole. No crazy fight. A solid fish. My hands were shaking as I took out my tape measure. Seriously shaking. There it was. 22". A Vermont Master Angler whitefish. My most serious fishing quest of the past 3 years on the ice in front of me. Reeled up on the wrong side too! (Well, wrong for me...) Then the photos started. And the hootin' and hollerin'... Yep, that box was now checked. For the record, Women Are Smarter was playing. There might be some wisdom there...

So, the nitty gritty of the set up. It was a Berkely Lightning rod, 27" , a Pfleuger Trion with Trilene Ice Braid in
Mr. Funnyface. Yes, both of them. 
10 pound with Orvis Mirage 5X leader on it. The jig on the bottom was a 5.1 gram tungsten with a Maki Michigan Wriggler with a micro swivel about a foot up. On the line above that was a Gamakatsu #6 Drop Shot hook that was tip hooked with a little crappie soft plastic. That soft plastic had been suggested to me by Dustin at Dockside Outdoors in Colchester. He and I have talked whitefish a lot and the knowledge that the whole crew at Dockside has been willing to share has been amazing. That little glow crappy plastic did the trick. Major props to Dustin for the suggestion! I will be back for more!

That's the one. 

We kept fishing, but honestly, we were both kind of out of it. We got some more perch, and I had something bigger on a Vibrato, but it got off. We walked out, popping holes and fishing our way back around 3. 

I cleaned the fish and filleted them when I got home. The smaller whitefish had a pretty empty stomach. The bigger one, however, had a bunch of alewives in it and some grey matter which I suspect were insects. 

Coregonus clupeaformis. I will be back after you. But first, I have a hybrid to get!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Losing the Whitefish

Making the walk
It started as a gorgeous day. Beautiful sunrise. Pretty cold, but we needed the cold to build the ice. This winter has been difficult on the ice. Warm days have not been kind to making ice on Lake Champlain. I knew with the weather we had had for the week the ice would be in better shape. 

I got out early and set tip ups in hopes of finding a Master Angler pike/pickerel hybrid. I was in a high percentage spot for this species. I was following up on a lead from several people and hopeful. I had done really well here the weekend before. Lots of flags on tip ups. And my good friend Mike would be joining me later on. 

All the holes were drilled, the tip ups set, and I got into a rhythm of jigging for pike. I haven't had a ton of success jigging so far, but it is fun to pass the time doing it. Nothing happening. A bright sunny, cold day. Mike joined me and I popped a few more holes and he set up his tip ups. We started checking the tip ups, and moving a few. When it is cold you have to chip the ice out around the tip up so it doesn't freeze in. At some point I need to make hole covers to make it easier on myself. 

Around 11 Mike started up a stove and cooked us a hot lunch. It really hit the spot. But not a single flag (no tip ups had bait taken). The pike just weren't on at all. An idea struck me and I asked Mike if he would be willing to bring in my tip ups and associated gear. He said that he would be happy to drop it off at my vehicle. I had been given some intel that a guy had hooked a whitefish about a mile from where we were the week before. I could tell that the pike fishing wasn't going to improve and morning fishing the next day proved that to be true as well. So the whitefish hunt began.

I have a harness for dragging my flip over sled. It makes things a lot easier since I have my hands free. I had to walk out to a spot I had thought looked good on Navionics. Navionics is an app that provided a bathymetric map of the bottom of the lake. It is incredibly useful for ice fishing and has helped me find the locations that I want to fish. I would be using charts instead, which would get me in a general location but not the pinpoint spots that I really need. While it isn't perfect, it makes a huge difference. 

I got to the place that I was interested in. It was a small flat near a drop off. It spoke to me. I set up and started fishing. I was using a dropper set up with a Berkely Power Nymph on the top and a heavy tungsten jig on the bottom. The jig had a Maki Plastics Jamei on it. Those things are super wiggly and look pretty similar to a Hexagenia nymph. I know that whitefish love to eat Hex and other critters on the bottom and I thought it seemed like a good combo. 

I got into some perch, some pretty nice ones, but the bit was slow. Then I had a light take and when I started reeling I could tell that this fish was different. It had a lot of weight to it and the fight was much stronger. It didn't pull off line but it did "throb". The rod pulsed as the fish was fighting against me. I took my time getting it up. I threw back the top to my flip over and pulled the sonar puck out of the hole. I didn't want to take any chances. 

Then it was there. The fish was at the hole... it broadsided the hole. It was a massive whitefish. The fish I needed. I kept the rod high with my left hand as I took my glove off with my right. Then it was off. It was off. It sat there under the ice. The ice was pretty clear, only about 4". I could see it clearly not 4 feet away from me. I dropped the jig back in the water as a pathetic attempt to hook the fish, but after about 10-15 seconds, it just swam off. 

Wow. I had it and I lost it. And it was big. The fish took up either side of the hole, so it was at least 6" deep. I could see the entire fish under the ice as well. My guess would be between 24 and 26 inches. I need 22" for the Master Angler Program. I had the fish I needed and it got away. But, I learned from the experience.

I have analyzed what happened. When the fish got to the hole and broadsided the ice the line pulled the jig out. I should have played it longer. When I checked the jig, it wasn't super sharp. I will be checking the points on anything I fish from here on. And I shouldn't have worried about my glove. Just jump in there and get the damn fish. 

The good sides that came from this. I upgraded my auger to an 8". The surface area of a 6" hole is about 28 square inches. An 8" hole is 50 square inches. Big difference and should help tremendously. I know another location. I have already returned there, no other whitefish but a couple of salmon. I will be back there soon (this coming weekend...). I have learned a lot of what not to do but also more about what to do. 

I will have that Master Angler whitefish this year. I am confident of that. Then it is on to the hybrid... 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Master Angler Entries for 2016

I had a lot of fun with the Vermont Master Angler Program in 2016. There were two big challenges for me with it- add to the species total (I started the year at 29 species) and in 2016 the state launched the Bonus Challenge. Being an angler that is completely obsessed with this program (yep, total fanboy... I own it...) I had to get both of these done. And I ended up adding two new species and was only one of two people that got the bonus challenge. 

The two species that I added were the American shad and the cisco. Both really neat fish and deserving their own post each, which will happen soon. 

The Bonus Challenge was a different animal. 5 randomly picked species and there was a prize for the winners.  So that drove me to chase those 5 species, species I had caught before but ones I may not have been quite so driven to chase without the program. More on that in another post soon...

So here all the entries are:

Yellow Perch 13", Lake Champlain

White sucker, 20" Mill River

Bowfin, 29", Lake Champlain

Smallmouth bass

American shad, 26", Connecticut River

Northern Pike, 36", Lake Champlain

Chain pickerel, 24", Lake Champain
Longnose gar, 47", Lake Champlain

Fallfish, 15", Otter Creek

Brown trout, 23", 6 lbs, Lake Champlain

Cisco, 16", Lake Champlain

Landlocked Salmon, 25", Clyde River

Lake trout, 30", Lake Champlain

White perch, 13", Lake Champlain

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Vermont Master Angler Quest- The Final Two- I Could Use Your Help

Hey folks,

January 2017- 37" 10 lb Master Angler pike through the ice
If you have been watching this blog for a while, you will know a couple of things- first, I haven't been posting a lot. Second, you will note that I have been rather obsessed with completing the Vermont Master Angler Program before anyone else. Let me address both of these. 

Why haven't I been posting? Well, honestly, I don't have a lot of excuses. I have been lazy about posting, I have had a lot of other things that I have been doing, and honestly, when fishing for myself I have done a bunch of fly fishing, but I have been exploring other avenues of catching fish. More on that in a later post. 

What is with my obsession with the Vermont Master Angler Program? There are several parts to this:

Master Angler smelt- a massive 9"!
- I love this program! It was set up to show the amazing diversity of the fisheries available to anglers in Vermont. It does that and it has encouraged me to try new techniques, fish in places I never have before and learn more about fish I knew virtually nothing about. All good things!

- It builds excitement for angling in Vermont and recognizes anglers that have caught impressive specimens. The pins are pretty darn cool and only enough are made to provide one to each angler who earns one plus three to have for display. In other words you really have to earn one to get one.

- The last one is the most personal. I don't plan on having children. I don't have any kind of long term career (yet?). But I would like a legacy. I do hold a state record and have clients with IGFA world records but records can (and will be) broken. To be the first to do something is just that- the first. No one else can do that. I can do this with the Master Angler Program.
Master Angler cisco.. a what? A post coming on it soon! My thanks
to Captain Thorny and Cowboy!

I am really close. In the past year I added two species to my total bringing me to 31 out of 33 species. I got an American shad in the Connecticut  River in May and then in September, with the help of Captain Thorny, got a cisco (which would have been another state record... story later). I just have two left- the lake whitefish and the pike/pickerel hybrid. 

Here is where you can help. I work as a paraeducator at a middle school. This means that while I have great benefits and a lot of time off with school breaks, it also means that I don't get paid particularly well. I am an hourly employee and school breaks I don't get paid for. I love my job- I support some really amazing kids that just need some extra help to move forward. That is where I am right now. I want to move forward with my next steps in life but I need to complete this goal first.  

I know that I can get these last two species this winter through the ice. As a matter of fact, I had the whitefish I needed at the hole last weekend and lost it (another post on that soon!). I have a week and a half off at the end of February and beginning of March. That gives me a lot of time to do this. But I need some help financially to help with gas, bait, food, and all the stuff that goes around the end of this quest. With your help (and some luck) I can get this done! 
Master Angler shad. And, yes, just like Jim Morrison once
said "Some of my worst decisions have been haircuts..."

I started a GoFundMe to help out. So far I have had a great response. I hope you will consider helping me out too. I am very close to my goal. I am going to send a personal letter written on the back of one of my Master Angler Certificates to everyone who donates and if you are planning on booking a trip with me this year I will take your donation off the trip. Please help me get this done!

Thank you for reading this! Thank you to all of my generous contributors! Thank you for your consideration! And thank you for all the support that everyone has given me over the years! It means a great deal to me and had helped get me through a lot of rough patches. 


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. 



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. 
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!

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!